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/

Let your light shine???

Some blogs I write and then some blogs write themselves as is the case with the most recent actions of Pastor Karl Lentz, the senior pastor of Hillsong NY.  I’m certain that the accompanying picture (which I had to edit) to this blog is not what Jesus meant when He exhorted us in Matthew 5:16 to “let our lights shine before the world in such a way that they would see our good actions and glorify our heavenly Father”.

let your light so shine

I don’t care who you are, where you pastor, where you work or minister, as Christians we are portraying Christ to the world 24/7.  The most important question we MUST ask ourselves in light of that fact is “what is the world seeing?”.  I read well over 100 comments attached to the original article as well as subsequent Tweets about the pictures seen here of Pastor Karl Lentz and Justin Bieber.  Not one, I repeat, not even one came anywhere close in anyway to defending or giving the benefit of the doubt to Pastor Lentz’s display.  They were fraught with mockery or sensual comments from girls & men.  I will let Twitter comments and the comment section of AOL Entertainment speak for what the world (and perhaps many Christians) thought.

  • Papi,
  • God Bless,
  • what religion is this:)
  • if that’s his “pastor/boyfriend” no wonder he’s so f…… up!
  • Whose man is this???
  • Jesus!
  • Daddy Lentz! Sprinkle you holy water on me!
  • Everyone who is a parent in this church needs to watch their kids,
  • Well, it looks like he lost the “cloth” somewhere.
  • A pastor running around showing darn near his private areas?
  • Holding JB like he’s a female around the waist?
  • What’s wrong with this picture?
  • Looks like JB is a choir boy and pastor a molester.
  • No straight pastor would walk with his shorts hanging down his legs like that!

And these were the nice comments.  I have no idea what either of them (Karl or Justin) were thinking or what is in their hearts but I can say, as plainly as James – “these things ought not be!”

justin & Karl

Brian Houston, the founder of Hillsong, has made statements in the past as to the challenges Pastor Lentz has created for leadership.  Much of this has been in the position Karl took in refusing to take a stand on gross sexual sin even when present in some levels of leadership in the church (feel free to read my blog entitled “Did another one bite the dust?  We’re not quite sure” from Aug. 6 2015).  I believe it is time for him (Pastor Houston) to take what action he can to remove Karl Lentz from any leadership role in Hillsong in an attempt to possibly regain or salvage some level of integrity at the church in NY.  Believe me, the world is watching and even the un-churched understand enough of the bible to know when things have gone horribly wrong.

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/

Shacking up with universalism

It was probably a dozen years ago when I first read the Shack.  I loved the book and the message of forgiveness worked some much needed healing in my life.  I vaguely remember some small dust ups of controversy back then but was able to set it aside since the book was in fact fiction and all of the theologically questionable things actually happened during the course of a dream – and we all know how weird dreams can be.

Fast forward to present day and my wife and I went to see the movie based on the book and, as before, we loved it and embraced the main message of the movie being the necessity to deal with forgiveness.  It was also true that a couple of the theologically questionable things came through a bit more in the movie.

The two events which left me with some questions as to what Paul Young actually believes were when Papa seemed to be shocked that Mackenzie made a reference to a vengeful God and towards the end when Mackenzie’s dad is included in a large group of people presumed to be those who have passed on and are in the congregation of a heaven of sorts.

Actually there was one other thing that really bothered me and that was the fact that anybody, and I mean anybody other than Morgan Freeman was used to play the role of God.  I am going to choose to believe it was because his fee simply too much for the films budget.  But in all seriousness, I had no problem whatsoever with God being portrayed as a warm and affectionate black woman nor an aging American Indian.  I know that some, maybe many, took special exception to the whole God as a woman part and to those I have a couple of things to say.  God is portrayed as many things in scripture to include Father, mother hen, spirit, a flaming bush, strong tower, nursing mother, wind, judge, comforter, cloud, pillar of fire, etc. etc.  Hopefully you get the point that to think that you know what God looks like is, well, frankly, arrogant, narrow and religious.  I have read and heard all the arguments and most of them go something like this “God is most often portrayed as male” or “isn’t He called Father for a reason?”.  The thought that our finite minds could even begin to visualize all that God is and all the forms that He has manifested or described Himself as during this incredibly short blink of an eye moment called world history is shallow at best.  What percentage of the image of God is the form we call the human male?  50%? 100%? 1 billionth of a percent?  Do you really think God can be condensed down to a form so contained, controlled and simple as to be a something we could replicate in wood, stone or gold?   I don’t think so.

So what does Paul Young believe?  Actually, a lot of what I believe!  But with all the questions and discussions about error, universalism and issues about hell I decided to buy his most recent book, “Lies we believe about God”, and dug in.  It is crystal clear, in this book, that Paul Young has gone all the way down the road of universalism.  Here is a short excerpt from the book and I promise you that I am not taking it out of context.

“God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.

Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?

That is exactly what I am saying!”

Paul has also embraced a similar view of hell as Rob Bell in which there is no eternal physical punishment.  I do not presume to know for certain who will be saved or what hell is or isn’t.  But I do know that I do not want to be in the position of that person mentioned in scripture for whom it would have been better if he had never been born because of leading people astray.  The appeal of all being saved is significant as I have many friends who I love and who do not follow Jesus and the thought of them not being in heaven is not pleasant and the thought of them experiencing eternal physical punishment is horrific.  But I cannot but continue to exhort them that Jesus is the only way and that to choose any other path will result in serious eternal consequences.  As a visual, to promote a Gospel message in which the broad road and the narrow pathway ultimately converge in heaven could be the greatest deception and disservice to humanity ever put forth.  This would of course give little incentive to choose the hard and narrow road over the broad and easy one.  To put it another way, there really does appear to be a special place in hell for those who lead other away from the narrow way.  Brings a whole new sobriety to the saying “better safe than sorry, really really sorry.”

In closing this blog, I can freely encourage you to read the Shack or watch the movie and embrace the message of forgiveness while at the same time understanding it is fiction.  Unfortunately, I must also place several chapters in Paul Young’s most recent book in the fiction category as well.  May God be merciful to Paul and those who are led astray by him and other like him.

Restoring the fallen!?

I, more than most, understand and appreciate the forgiveness of the Lord and the tremendous grace that has been poured out in my direction.  I am a sinner saved by grace and a repeat offender who has experienced the unmerited gift of forgiveness in my life where I continue to falter on the road to sanctification.

I also understand that scripture gives us standards and expectations for spiritual roles in the church.  The roles of elder and deacon have similar high standards and it would follow that these requirements, if not even higher ones, would be true for any role of shepherd or pastor as well.

There have been seasons in my life when I would not have met the minimum requirements for elder/deacon as not all my children were following the Lord.  That did not affect my salvation, but I believe it did disqualify me for certain roles in the church.  I also believe that sins which occurred prior to a salvation experience, in some cases, should not count as disqualifiers.  For example if someone had committed adultery or been divorced prior to salvation they might still aspire to the role of elder or deacon.  But let’s be clear, I do not see someone’s current character as some magic formula that guarantees Godly character in the future based on their past “performance”, but there is a reason such high standards were given as a threshold for leadership in the church.

And it is for good reason those highest standards have been set.  You need look no further than the highest office in our land, the presidency, to see how a lack of moral character there affects and changes the moral landscape for millions in the upcoming generations.  How much more influential would the person in the role of elder, deacon or pastor be in modeling character, or the lack thereof, for you and your children.

So if I consider a few of the qualifications in 1 Tim. 3:  vs12 “husband of one wife” (which I interpret to be only one ever and not one at a time), vs11 “trustworthy in every way”, vs13 “excellent reputation”.  I would not consider someone who has had an affair or committed adultery as fulfilling those requirements. And it was with that interpretation of scripture I read with quite some confusion recently an article entitled “The Elephant in the Church”.  It was an article about a conference attended by over 50 pastors, among them Ed Gungor, Ted Haggard, Ruth Graham and others who have similar stories of moral failings in their marriages while holding church leadership positions.  The main point of the article covered the complaining as to how strict or limited the pathway to restoration was for them.  And by restoration, they meant restoration to the same position of leadership they held before adultery and affairs.  Keep in mind, many of these 50 pastors rejected the discipline their church elders gave them and went off and did their own thing anyway which for most resulted in significant monetary windfalls – and they are the ones complaining???  It would be like a bunch of college students who chose to get some degree that doesn’t serve them well in the real world and then sitting around complaining about having to pay the price of their burdensome school debt.

I want to be crystal clear here.  I am an absolute believer in full forgiveness and restoration of all sinners.  But my understanding of that restoration is a spiritual position in Christ and not necessarily restoration to some physical position of leadership at the top levels in the church.  Where there is full forgiveness for sin, there are also consequences for sin. And for a pastor/elder/deacon to betray the trust put in them by a congregation by choosing some significant moral sin, I believe scripture is clear that one of those consequences is a disqualification to hold those positions in the church.  Is it so radical that I want the upcoming generations to walk in such an awareness of the Holiness of God that they would have the Holy Spirit whispering in their ear (and if need be yelling) “there are consequences for sin”.

I look at it like this.  Say you are a trusted public bus driver and you choose to get drunk and are involved in a serious accident. It doesn’t mean you are any less of a person, but you should NEVER again be allowed to hold that trusted position of public bus driver.  It sends a terribly wrong message to other drivers not to mention the potential danger it would mean for those in your care.  I see significant moral failing in the highest positions of leadership in the church the same way.  It doesn’t mean you can’t be a SS teacher, missionary or evangelist.  But you have forfeited that most honored role because of the huge mixed message it sends to everyone that holiness and excellent moral character is “only mostly” important.

Are we that lacking of people with stellar moral character to fill these crucial roles?  Do we really want to send the message to our young people that character in leadership in the church is viewed the same way as in the secular society i.e. “wink wink, nod nod”?  In reference to the article mentioned above, I basically agree with main premise of the entire article and the need for the church to learn how to be advocates for each other in the restoration process.  But that agreement stops short of the part where restoration includes regaining the pastoral/elder leadership role once held.  The article speaks about the fear they experienced surrounding the exposing of sin.  Doesn’t this put the focus all on them and the struggles they are having?  I suggest the removal of the adulterer from the pulpit places the focus on the fear of God, where it should and creates an atmosphere of sobriety for the next person who might aspire to one of the highest offices in the church of Jesus Christ.

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/elephant-church