11 things many in the church, yes even YOUR church, are in denial about.

  1. America is a Christian nation. There are still plenty of “die hards” out there still holding on to fantasy land.  Contrary to wishful thinking, the moral high ground, once held by a more singularly focused majority of Christian/Catholic believers in America, has been ceded over to secular society and a cultural “Christian club” atmosphere significantly lacking in immovable and unchangeable standards.  The unthinkable 50 years ago in terms of marital, moral and societal character has become tolerated if not boldly promoted in more and more denominations and churches across the breadth of this country.  The mantra of being “on the right side of history” is being heard with increasing volume as the church attempts to “fit in” and be found relevant in the eyes of a society which has embraced a philosophy of “all of the above” when it comes to work and play.  A humble attitude of servant hood, holiness and intercession is more imperative than ever in our role as “occupied” Christians.
  2. Divorce is not that big of a deal. This is a topic which, in most cases, requires one to change the entire focus and origin of marriage from being one of sacrifice, commitment and servant hood to a focus of selfishness and a “what makes me happy” attitude.  Marriage was intended to be a picture of the unfailing commitment of God (the groom) to his people (the bride).  So for the church to let this institution fall from its rightful position of highest importance and honor is deplorable.  In fact, if any were wondering why answered prayer seems to be harder to come by these days one need only read Malachi 2:13-16 where God plainly states that our petitions and sacrifices are no longer acceptable because of the high divorce rate among His people.  These verses should be an aha moment for the church but instead is perhaps our biggest area of denial.  High divorce rates, which God clearly hates, are literally denuding the church of its effectiveness by surrendering this most important standard to the enemy.
  3. Pornography is primarily a problem among the un-churched. Patently FALSE!  YOUR men sitting in YOUR pews in YOUR church are viewing pornography at alarming rates.  All surveys indicate that pornography viewing among Christian men is on par and in some instances higher than that of their secular counterparts.  Here are some statistics spanning 20 years.  In 1996 an informal poll was conducted at a Promise Keepers conference which indicated that 1 in 3 of the attendees admitted to struggling with pornography.  By 2009 a poll conducted by the Barna Group found 21% of Christian men saying they were fully addicted to porn and a staggering 64% saying that they viewed porn at least once a month.  By 2014, just a short 5 years later, a new Barna poll saw that number had ballooned to as high as 79% among adult Christian males. This epidemic is also probably one of the single biggest contributing factors to denial #2.

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/pornography-use-among-self-identified-christians-largely-mirrors-national

Footnote:  At a recent men’s meeting at our church only about 10% of the over 200 men present raised their hands when asked “who here feels comfortable praying with their wives”.  Likely there is a direct and devastating relationship between that percentage and the percentage of those viewing porn since what guy is going to feel comfortable praying with someone they are being unfaithful too?

  1. Our Christian youth are remaining chaste. Again, patently FALSE!  And again I’m talking about your youth in your church.  Partly as a direct result of denials #2 & #3 with the added enticement of denial #5, our youth see little reason or import in purity and chastity and are in fact seduced in the opposite direction by media, movies and moral relevance.  They have watched increasing numbers of grown adults, pastors or lay church workers getting caught up in divorce, adultery, affairs, pre-marital sex and pornography with little accompanying stigma, shunning or earthly consequences.  As a result, they have grown to view participation in these areas as inevitable and the status-quo.  What was once normal and healthy curiosity held back by well articulated and time honored standards of character and chivalry has morphed into rampant sexual experimentation run amuck as any consequences of sexual sin has been clouded as they witnessed the preceding generation’s promiscuity given a progressive wink and a nod.  What has become accepted as normal in the church has little resemblance to biblical or traditional virtuous behavior.  A study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy  conducted in December 2009 indicated that 80% of evangelical youth had had sex compared to the only slightly higher 88% of secular youth of the same age.  Young Christians simply do not understand or care “what’s the big deal” as the church has failed miserably in articulating to them the abundant blessings and benefits of sexual holiness nor the dangers, statistics of sadness, divorce rates and diseases related to rejecting God’s plan.
  2. With the things people wear now days, modesty is not that big of a deal. Historically, everyone would have agreed that men are stimulated visually.  With what “passes” these days as modest one would think this well established fact had gone by the way side.  I’m here to let you know that nothing has changed in the water as myself and all the guys I know are still very affected visually by form fitting, almost revealing and “cute is the new sexy” attire popular in today’s society.  And, truth be told, this is a contributing factor in denials #3 and #4.  In no way am I suggesting Burkas as the norm for Christians.  But surely we can find some reasonable middle ground between the biblically described “bloomers” under full length robes, as instructed for those who minister before the Lord, and the almost nothing is too tight or revealing practice we see common today.  One need only do a Google image search of “sexy jeans” to understand that the very popular leggings and skinny jeans are understood by society to be “sexy”.  Is this what we want to be seeing, teaching (by practice or acceptance) and displaying as normal among Christians.  I am suggesting that it should not be so.  When almost nothing is left to the imagination, as if men needed help with their imaginations (again see denial #3), where else can you go.  I do not believe I should have to put a guard over my eyes at church.  I have to do this all day long out in “the world” and I think church, at a minimum, should be a safe place for me, my sons and the men around me (to a person, this is the opinion of almost every guy I have discussed this topic with).  Men are drawn away because of their own lust and they can’t blame anybody else. My understanding of the “preferring my brother” concept in scripture has me, for example, forgoing alcohol around a brother for whom this has been a struggle in the past and see this principal as applicable in being considerate towards all with modest dress, especially the weaker brother.  And with the porn viewing stats in denial #3 it’s clear the overwhelming majority of us are that weaker brother.
  3. Why all the fuss about homosexuality? Simply put because it is sin and it destroys lives.  It is included in a long list of sins in Romans 1 including gossip, murder, envy etc. for which there is a punishment of death.  Churches left and right are falling all over themselves to capitulate on this subject.  The Pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, recently said “we have a lot of men and women who are gay in our church and I pray we always do”.  This was his way of avoiding taking a firm position on the acceptance of homosexuality after a couple of men in their choir (one on staff) announced they were getting married.  Can you imagine substituting a different sin in that narrative such as “we have a lot of pedophiles in our church and I pray we always do”?  That would be absurd (at least as of this writing).  Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God (no more or less than other sins) and even many in the gay community are skeptical about the goings on.  The following article is a fascinating read. http://thefederalist.com/2016/05/16/loveless-narcissistic-sex-addicts-a-gay-man-critiques-his-community/
  4. The voice of the prophet is pretty much gone/ignored. That would depend on where you look and what kind of prophecy you are looking for.  The last 3-4 decades has seen a different kind of prophet come on the scene.  They tend to be more philosophical, political or personal in their target subject.  I have no doubt that the Lord can use almost anyone to deliver His Word to His people.  I fancy myself as having prophetic leanings but I am constantly reminded that a jackass did it once which hopefully keeps my errant ego in check.  My personal take on the most common role of prophets (at least biblically) is one where the prophet indentifies areas of concern, gives a warning of impending consequences and offers steps of correction or repentance in order to prevent some or all of the fallout.  Having witnessed numerous “personal prophecies” which have been delivered to others, and even myself, over the past half century, I have not always seen these types of prophecies producing enduring fruit or valuable direction.  It certainly has happened, but it seems to be more the exception. Very recently some “prophets” identified a certain political candidate (now president) as “God’s man of the hour” – maybe, but also maybe not.  The main thing I believe is lacking when it comes to prophecy and the prophet today is accountability.  There were pretty severe consequences for false prophets in times past and I think many would think twice before opening their mouth if punishments were re-instated.  I do believe there are countless prophets today calling for holiness, integrity and commitment – unfortunately fewer and fewer are listening.
  5. God’s message is one focusing only on mercy. This one is a “two sides of the same coin” issue or one of both/and. One of my main mentors when I was a young adult was Dr. Charles Farah of the theology dept. at ORU.  He defined heresy as emphasizing one truth at the exclusion of another.  This is exactly what is occurring with the plethora of “feel good” preachers pouring in over the horizon emphasizing all the blessings and none of the curses.  The oft extravagant lifestyles and mansions combined with 6 & 7 figure incomes fly insultingly in the face of the lifestyle and message of the humble servant Jesus whom they claim to emulate.  It is these same preachers who have been the quickest to capitulate on whatever is trending in society in order to maintain their popularity as their income and lifestyles depend on it.  When a spiritual leader omits consequences or judgment from the narrative they likely do an eternal disservice to the hearer.  This is unconscionable on the part of these self serving demagogues.  The cost of discipleship is terminal as it brings us to the foot of the cross.  It is at this beloved monument where true acceptance and riches are found as we follow Jesus, embrace holiness and find true joy in the knowledge that Jesus took our judgment on Himself.
  6. Love wins! This is actually not an area of denial as much as it is an area where wishful thinking is taking a front row seat. I’m referring to the very popular book of the same name (Love Wins) by Rob Bell.  This is different than the preachers in denial #8 as Rob takes a more Universalist view of religion (I can’t bring myself to call it Christianity) in which any eternal consequences are non-existent, hell is not real and everyone will ultimately be “saved”.  I can understand the immense popularity of this message especially for those with friends or relatives who have not accepted Jesus.  The thought of some eternal physical punishment is not a happy one and to cast some spin on scripture which insures an eventual address in paradise is universally appealing.  The knowledge that we serve a patient God who is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance affords me the peace to leave ultimate judgment to His discretion.  But lacking a Judeo/Christian basis for a Universalist/no hell scenario, I cannot be party to a message which, according to the scriptures we have, defrauds the hearer by giving some transitory peace of mind.
  7. The road to heaven is wide and easy to find. No we would never actually say this, but the growth of the “Club Christian” atmosphere in the world defies the fact that scripture actually says the opposite is true. And although somewhat related to denials #8 & 9, this is perhaps the most sobering point to ponder here.  I have a love/hate relationship with the parable in Matt. 20 where the kingdom of heaven is described as being like a land owner who hires various groups throughout the day and then pays them all the same as if they had all work the entire day.  I especially like to think of God that way as I might be one of the last hires and I want all He has for me.  But then the prideful part of me sometimes feels like the one hired first with an inability to appreciate the last person getting the same as me.  I am so very glad to leave in God’s hands justice, reward and judgment.  At the same time, He did leave in our hands an abundance of scripture indicating there is both judgment and mercy.  In fact, it gives me great pause to consider the full context of Matt. 7:13, 14 which plainly states that the road to destruction is broad and MOST will find it and the way is narrow and hard that leads to life and FEW will find it.  God, be merciful to me a sinner and please help me find that most narrow of pathways that leads to life eternal!
  8. I’m sure these are issues in some churches, but not in mine. That is why I call this the top things many in the church are in denial about.  Having been youth pastors for the better part of 15 years in churches that would be considered very conservative and evangelical I can tell you my biggest concern is for our youth.  I say it that way because most all of the denials above which directly impact adults have devastating consequences on our youth.  Parents and pastors easily notice or identify problems with other churches or other people’s kids but are often blind to that which is closest to them.  I personally know several circumstances where cultural Christian young people are having sex while their parents, youth pastors or churches are clueless.  And I use the term “cultural Christian” very intentionally as this is the best way to describe the children of God fearing parents for whom Christianity is seen as a social identity instead of a relationship with Christ with eternal ramifications.  If you are in denial that these are issues in YOUR church, then this blog is ESPECIALLY for you!

I am not suggesting this is a complete list.

PS Abortion:  Thankfully this is not a denial in most churches.  But I am not sure all Christians understand the absolutely demonic nature of what has become such a norm in our society.  It is only in modern day in which the murder of babies either in or outside the womb has become acceptable.  It was only backward and barbaric nations which practiced the sacrifice of babies.  It was only amongst the most heinous of civilizations in which to slice a baby out of its mother and cut into pieces in their dying presence was considered the ultimate insult.  Here are some facts to have at your disposal if you encounter someone considering abortion and they have no “moral” reason not to.

  1. 31% of women having abortions report suffering physical health complications (1)
  2. 10% of women having abortions suffer immediate, potentially life-threatening complications (2, 3, 4)
  3. Women have a 65% higher risk of clinical depression following abortion vs. childbirth (5)
  4. 65% of women suffer symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after abortion (1)
  5. Women’s death rates from various causes after abortion are 3.5 times higher than after giving birth  (6, 7)
  6. Many women describe their experience as ‘a nightmare’, which can hardly be equated with ‘choice’. 60% of women surveyed after abortion responded that:’Part of me died’ (1)
  7. Suicide rates among women who have abortions are six times higher than those who give birth (7, 8)
  8. Abortion increases a woman’s risk of future miscarriages by 60% (9)

References

  1. Source: Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10(10): SR5-16, 2004.
  2. Frank, et.al., “Induced Abortion Operations and Their Early Sequelae,” Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 35(73):175-180, April 1985.
  3. Grimes and Cates, “Abortion: Methods and Complications”, in Human Reproduction, 2nd ed., 796-813.
  4. M.A. Freedman, “Comparison of complication rates in first trimester abortions performed by physician assistants and physicians,” Am. J. Public Health76(5):550-554, 1986).
  5. JR Cougle et. al., “Depression Associated With Abortion and Childbirth: A Long-Term Analysis of the NLSY Cohort,” Medical Science Monitor 9(4):CR105-112, 2003.
  6. M Gissler et. al., “Pregnancy Associated Deaths in Finland 1987-1994 — definition problems and benefits of record linkage,” Acta Obsetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 76:651-657, 1997.
  7. M. Gissler, “Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland 1987-2000,” European J. Public Health 15(5):459-63, 2005.
  8. Gissler, Hemminki & Lonnqvist, “Suicides after pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: register linkage study,” British Journal of Medicine 313:1431-4, 1996.
  9. N. Maconochie, P. Doyle, S. Prior, R. Simmons, “Risk factors for first trimester miscarriage—results from a UK-population-based case–control study,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Dec 2006.

Note: Studies 6, 7 and 8 looked at death rates for an average for up to one year after the end of the pregnancy. Another study found that looked at suicide rates for up to eight years found that, compared to women who gave birth, women who had abortions had a 62% higher risk of death from all causes and a 2.5 times higher suicide rate. Source: DC Reardon et. al., “Deaths Associated With Pregnancy Outcome: A Record Linkage Study of Low Income Women,” Southern Medical Journal 95(8):834-41, Aug. 2002.

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Push me pull ewe!

The ‘ewe’ spelling in the title is very intentional and it will become abundantly clear as to why.  Over just the past few months a couple of fairly high profile Christian personalities have taken nontraditional public positions on the subjects of same sex marriage and abortion.  The first to stray was Eugene Peterson (The Message) back in July when he replied yes when asked the question as to whether he would perform a same sex marriage.  Then a little over a week ago Pastor Carl Lentz (Hillsong NY) was a guest on The View and declined to decry abortion as wrong.

In both these cases the outcry from evangelical Christians was immediate and voluminous.  So much so that both of these men walked back their comments eventually landing back on what most would view as solid ground from a Christian perspective.

It has become all too common for popular Christians, or perhaps it’s more accurate to call them pop culture Christians, to feed from both sides of the fence at the same time in the vain, and misguided effort, to somehow make peace with the secular society.  Much like the fictional push me pull you of Dr. Dolittle fame trying to go in opposing directions at the same time.  Problem is when attempts are made to find nourishment and direction from opposing sides, much like the good Dr’s lama, you have two faces (innuendo intended) two mouths and no (how can I say this politely?) outlet, which basically means you become full of ….. stuff, really messed up and bad stuff.

pushme

I can only come to one conclusion which makes any sense to me as to why there is this great effort to appease and pay so much homage to the world and its ways and that is a lack of the fear of God.  Maybe there are other nuanced reasons, but I believe if we drill down there is simply a diminishing belief in the wrath of a holy God who will judge the living and the dead.

Will God change His mind, His scriptural declarations and His judgment eventually welcoming all into His holy presence as many other well known Christians would suggest.  It could happen; He is after all God and can do pretty much whatever He wants with His creation.  I chose to hold with the traditionally held beliefs in scripture of salvation, grace, judgment and hell.  If you want to characterize that as being rather safe than sorry or careful then so be it.  Personally I would characterize it as finding tremendous gratefulness to, and love for, Jesus who made a way for me to fellowship with the Holy Father.  I could be wrong (if I am there is no down side for me), but if not then it could literally be hell to pay for those choosing not to fear and serve a Holy God.

I could be wrong!

In fact there is a good part of me that hopes I am wrong.  Let me back up a little, in fact to really be thorough, honest and academic we will need to back up at least 100 years (if not a couple thousand).  What I am talking about is a subtle agenda being pushed to the fore by many very talented and gifted communicators in various forms to include TV, media, books and movies.  I’m speaking about universal salvation as well as several other beliefs which seem to be commonly tacked on to the coat tails of universal salvation.

In short, universal salvation, or Christian universalism, is “a school of Christian theology focused around the doctrine of universal reconciliation – the view that all human beings will ultimately be restored to a right relationship with God” (Wikipedia).  Naturally and closely associated with Christian universalism is the belief that there is no eternal physical punishment (a burning hell).  There are numerous other practices or beliefs which follow closely behind these 2 schools of thought such as acceptance of gay lifestyles in the church, a de-emphasis on chastity as well as embracing a philosophy of never judge and always include.  But for the most part I will only offer some thoughts on Christian universalism and hell.

Let me first say, as I hinted at earlier, I completely understand the appeal of Universal Salvation and the absence of a physical and eternal hell.  I have many family members and friends who do not profess Christ and who would benefit from an eternity lacking a permanent physical punishment and the opportunity to be reconciled to the Father beyond the grave.  That would be wonderful on so many levels even if mildly disconcerting to me and my, before the grave, efforts to embrace the cross and commands of Christ.  However, the above views are not what I see in scripture, but if I’m wrong it’s still a win win for everybody.  Yes I, and many like me, may have endeavored to live more circumspectly in this life to no real avail, but in the end, that end being eternity, there would be no real down side to having been wrong and having lived a life of discipleship and devotion to Jesus.

Here is my concern and caution with the increasing evolution of some mainstream Christian beliefs and the direction in which they are moving.  These beliefs, theologies and practices did not follow 50 – 100 years of respected Christian theologians from the most respected Christian seminaries beginning to question and debate the possibility that we may have been wrong about salvation and hell.  In fact the opposite has happened.  Secular philosophies of “if it feels good – do it” and other related beliefs which were introduced in the 60’s ultimately carried influence into the walls of an insecure church desperate to “stay relevant”.  This was closely followed by accusations of intolerance and hate towards anyone or any church/denomination which dared to hold onto traditional beliefs instead of getting on the “right side of history”.  Barbie and I have even had very dear friends with whom we have discussed some of these issues pull back from relationship, cut off relationship or “unfriend” us because we are the ones perceived as narrow and intolerant – I trust you see the sad irony there.

So, in what I believe to be a misguided effort, many churches in recent decades have embraced the all inclusive universal salvation position complete with setting aside significant moral prohibitions in what can best be described as a “land for peace” deal with secular society.  I will be the first to admit that it appears compassionate and inclusive to promote universal acceptance of varying cultural practices.  This is especially effective when combined with the elimination of hell as a place of punishment.  And perhaps if I had sat under different teachers in my life I might easily go there as well.

As I said earlier, if I am wrong there is no real downside to me or anybody else to having held fast to traditional beliefs of what it means to be like Christ and to hold traditional views of salvation and hell.  However, and this could be the costliest however in the history of the church, if these highly influential teachers, church leaders, movie makers and book writers are the ones who are wrong then 100’s of millions of lives could be forever separated from the Father.  That is a down side none of us should consider as an acceptable risk.

http://babylonbee.com/news/progressive-criticizes-jesus-not-christlike/

Off “Message” – Biblical principles and social media – Eugene Petersen test case

Many are aware that about a week ago Eugene Petersen was “put on the spot” by the question of whether he would perform a same sex marriage.  Eugene answered in the affirmative and thus ensued 24 hours of social media backlash against this oft revered pastor.  So, as is so often the case these days with politicians, reporters, entertainment or sports figures, Eugene walked back his comments saying “on further reflection and prayer, I would like to retract that”.  The fact that Eugene “saw the error of his ways” garners little respect from me since it took an almost overwhelming flood of reaction to cause his eyes to be open to what is already clearly pronounced in “The Message” (with full double meaning!)

This, unfortunately, is just another example of how social pressure is dictating church policy and practice in a modern world controlled by the click of a mouse or the posting of a poignant mem.  The church is losing respect and participants in droves today and it’s not for the reasons one might think.  Society is not impressed when Christians “get on the right side of history” by acquiescing to rapidly changing social practices any more then ISIS is impressed with efforts to appease their message of hate.  Giving in like this makes us (the church) look like spineless milquetoast minions with no guiding principles – and who wants to be a part of that?

I believe principled people who practice their beliefs with grace and kindness will be the ones looked to for guidance and wisdom for the seismic challenges in the years to come as well as being pleasing to the Lord  – if that even matters anymore!

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/opinion/eugene-petersen-affirms-traditional-marriage/

If you aim at nothing that’s what you’ll get – Nothing!

There is a famous quote from John Lydgate which says “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.  There is a serious problem in trying to please more and more people more of the time.  The value or significance of the pleasing “thing” is continually diminished in substance and scope.  It’s like trying to find a drink that everyone will enjoy.  You might love soda, tea, coffee or a nice glass of wine.  But you will not find a consensus with everybody so you start diluting the offering more and more until you have nothing left but water and you still won’t make everybody happy.

It was announced last week that Target will change the toy and bedding department in their stores to be “gender neutral”.  If they had done this with no fanfare we would probably never be the wiser.  But they didn’t!  They made the point they are no longer going to label toys or isles as being for boys or girls, effectively choosing gender neutrality.  This marketing plan appears to cater to those who, although being only a small fraction of a percentage of the population, are militant, loud and influential and who identify as gender neutral.

What about the other 99+% of the population who still identify as male or female.  Have we become merely “chopped liver” in the presence of right side of history activism and politically correct mantras?  A full 22% of our population identifies as Catholic.  Would Target ever stop selling contraceptives to cater to this less loud or less militantly active group?  Of course not!

I received my annual Consumer Reports survey this week.  It was interesting to find out they too have blurred their aim when addressing gender and social statuses.  At the beginning of the survey I could choose male, female or other.  Later on in the survey when asking who drove the 2nd car, I was only offered “significant other” instead of spouse.  Really, my wife of 34 years was reduced to nothing more than “other” status.

For the record, I don’t plan to boycott Consumer Reports or Target at this point.  The fact is I’m hedging my bets because, in the not too distant future as our entire society goes down this road, our idealism expressed through boycotts will leave us starving and with no place to shop.  We must understand these actions are the result of a mental disease which is at near epidemic levels today.  I call this disease nothingness.  And it produces just that in those infected by it – nothing.  Nothing to stand for, nothing to do with religion, nothing to value, nothing to fight for and most importantly nothing in anyway related to a Creator God.

One of my favorite movie lines come from the Patriot when Mel Gibson and his younger sons are going to rescue his oldest son from an unjust arrest and execution.  They are hiding behind a log above the road where the soldiers are coming and he ask his sons “what did I teach you about shooting”?  His boys reply “aim small, miss small”.  The full clip is below and if you would rather not watch the bloody part you should stop at the 2:00 mark.

Aim small, miss small!  How profound that line.  How effective purposeful targeting like that can be.  They were after something valuable.  Their father and their lives had prepared them to handle this moment.  And because they held their ground, fought hard, took intentional and careful “aim” they succeeded in their goal.

But to look at the US and the world is to watch an increasing percentage of the population headed into the void of nothingness.  Male, female doesn’t matter, husband and wife doesn’t matter, religion is seen as harmful and judgmental and to have strong opinions or convictions is viewed as anti-social and hateful.  But no matter how hard they try and improve the world by diluting humanity down in gender, social and religious identities they will, in the process, loose everything and be left, in the end, with nothing.

As Christians, we have something to offer.  But all too often we make the mistake of cramming instead of offering.  I love the quote which is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi “Preach the Gospel at all times.  Use words when necessary”.  What we have to offer is in no way neutral or nothingness.  It is in fact polarizing, challenging and confrontive.  It doesn’t look like Joel Osteen with his I’m ok, you’re ok and everybody’s ok milquetoast “Koolaid”.  Nor does it look like hateful Westboro’s, “convert or die” congregants.  But somewhere in the middle, guided by the loving and convicting power of the Holy Spirit is the heart of God crying out for holiness, a laying down of one’s life in servanthood and a returning to the rock of our salvation – Jesus, who considered Himself as nothing so we could be, eternally, something.

What’s in a headline?

I am no tabloid reader, in fact I loathe them.  Love child this, the other woman that, mutant baby this etc. etc.  One is often challenged to ask the question, “who makes this stuff up”?  Yes I know there is horrible and weird stuff that goes on but I have always chalked most of this up to fringe, one off exceptions to the norm.

But the song “the times they are a changin” came quickly to mind a couple of days ago when scanning the top headlines of the day as I do each morning to try and keep up with the pulse of what is going on in the world.

The top stories that morning started with the bachelorette reality star explaining the reason she had sex so early on in the show was “because that’s how I felt in the moment”, followed by the news flash revelation that Bruce Jenner would soon be on the cover of Vanity Fair in the role of his/her new personality as a woman???  Next was a story about a UN “peace” keeping force in Africa trading food for sexual favors from children right next to a story about former speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert, likely facing charges for lying to the FBI as to the reason for withdrawing almost 3.5 million dollars.  Turns out it was hush money paid to a youthful male victim of his sexual advances while Hastert was a wrestling coach many years earlier.  Next it was announced that Barnard’s Women’s college will be voting next week on the issue of admitting male transgender students.  With quotes like “History is moving very quickly on this issue”, “We really want to do the right thing, We just have to figure out what the right thing is”, “these issues are changing the game” and “WE DON’T WANT TO BE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF HISTORY” it’s clear even they are confused and in fear of the political pressure brought by those who fight so militantly for these fringe issues.  The final headline “Father and adopted son dissolve adoption in order to marry” was the tipping point to prompt this blog.

Those lines from Dylan’s song written in 1964 come rushing back in now 50 years later as being just as true today as they were then, perhaps on a grander and more fringe scale.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

I have no intention of trying to send some correction to secular society.  But what & where is the church’s responsibility to the inevitable moral slide of society.  And just to be clear, unless God changes His mind – which He of course can do, this moral slide is not only inevitable but clearly prophesied to happen in the last days.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:1-4)

And back to discuss the church’s role in all this is very challenging.  We must pray, seek and embrace holiness and be prepared with the Gospel.  Those 3 things seem rather obvious but I suspect are less practiced than promoted.  It is imperative for our own salvation and the salvation of many that we not allow the “little foxes” of life to distract, water down or discredit the witness of Christ in our lives and in the church.

I have no interest in “being on the right side of history”!  I pray my goal is to be at God’s right hand, running the race, anchored firmly in His laws of justice and grace and not caving to the pressures of the declining secular society who are going to hate us either way.  Lest we forget, just 100 years ago divorce was very rare in Christian society, 50 years ago being a virgin was still a virtue instead of the exception and 25 years ago to have a homosexual pastor was unheard of.  Even still some might dismiss this exhortation saying “the church won’t go down that road”.  But the truth is instead of being united leaders away from this moral decline, many churches are already down that road, albeit some miles back, of societies steady decent.

So I choose to cling to the unchanging God, creator, savior and my friend – for to bow to social pressure and change is to deny the work of Christ on the cross – and I just can’t go there.

Rules be damned?

Having lived just a couple hundred yards from the River Parks for over 30 years has brought with it many benefits not the least of which is enjoying countless bike rides there.  There have been regular improvements to the trails over the years from dirt paths, to gravel trails, to paving and now separate lanes for walkers and bikers.  This most recent improvement of separate lanes has been a huge plus as traffic has increased over the years.  It has also brought with it frustration and perhaps my biggest pet peeve in life (right behind those who come to a complete stop in merge lanes instead of speeding up to actually merge).

On a bike ride earlier this week I came across 3 people walking shoulder to shoulder across the entire bike side of the trail totally blocking all bicyclists.  As I went off the trail to pass I politely mentioned they might consider moving to the walking side instead of being on the bike side.  For the record, this was just the most recent of literally hundreds of such encounters.  That particular group was polite in their response and moved to the walking path.  Just as common has been those with snide remarks like “#@** who died and made you king/boss/god/etc.”.  After crossing to the other side of the river I came upon a lady who had set up her lawn chair covering half of the bike side and her son was playing in front of her with their dog on one of those extendable leashes which had much more than the entire bike side blocked.  As I slowly passed mentioning they might move to the other side the mom retorted “sorry, my son wasn’t paying attention”.  Truth be told, her son was paying attention to how her mom was “breaking the rules” and he was, understandably, simply doing likewise.

shoulder

Yes, circumstances like these are frustrating to me, but I truly don’t lose sleep over them.  But as I have witnessed these “rule breakers” over the years I have come to the realization that many of us, including myself at times, are guilty of similar actions and attitudes in the church.  A friend posted an article earlier this week on facebook in which the writer’s point was that we need to mind our own business in the church citing the rebuke of looking at the speck in the other person’s eye and the need, instead, to get the beam out of your own eye.  I totally agree that we must first and always be aware of our own weaknesses and watch out for sin in my life.  This philosophy/theology is quickly becoming the prevalent school of thought when it comes to accountability and confronting within the church – MYOB!

We are most certainly not to judge, that lofty role is the sole realm of God and His alone.  But here is where I believe we are shooting ourselves in the foot, check that, in the heart when it comes to accountability and discipleship within the church.  The point of that verse in Luke 6:42 is exhorting us to be careful and humble regarding holiness in our own lives first in order to then “see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer’s eye”.

head stand

It is only recently that the PC mantra of MYOB has garnered traction in the church.  Historically this has not only never been the case, it is simply not scriptural.  In fact, our charge to speak to/confront/challenge (insert whatever word works for you), an errant brother or sister goes so far in more than a couple of places to hold us responsible for their death if we do not confront sin – Ez. 3:16 is one example.  And by the way, I embrace the same general list of sins listed in scripture and identified by the church for the better part of 1950 years, not the abridged list found to be more popular today in many churches.

So back to the River Trails, why make two paths with the designation of one being walking and one being for bikes.  Just for fun?  To be mean and controlling?  Just because they can?  No, but because after decades of experience they realized how many accidents could be prevented by having separate paths.  I can attest to this having been a significant problem historically.  Take the lady in the lawn chair and her son and dog.  Had that been a group of much faster road bike riders coming over the rise and not having enough time to stop or dive off into the grass it could have been disastrous for all involved.  Rules are there to help us, protect us and in the case of biblical rules, to save us from hell.  God knows that sin hurts us, damages us and separates us from Himself, so in His gracious goodness he gave us laws to live by to save us from damnation.  Damning “the rules” hurts us, perhaps others and ultimately brings it back on ourselves.

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