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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Some Straight Talk Long Overdue

OK, my Christian friends, it is time for some straight talk, "telling the truth in love," that is long overdue. I say these things not to offend anyone or to be vindictive but to be truthful.

If we know anything at all about the Gospel and Ministry of Jesus Christ, we know that it involves honesty, often painful honesty. Jesus never minced his words when hitting head-on the accepted mores of His day when He thought they were unacceptable.

Today we have come to expect a "mollycoddle" Christianity with nothing but soothing words that tickle the ears of those who wish to remain blinded by their spiritual shallowness. The result is a shallow pulpit, a shallow preacher, shallow teaching, and shallow Christians.

Now, down to the issues I wish to address. At what point does the church do nothing but merely reflect the culture, and thus become irrelevant, as opposed to being a watchdog of the culture, exposing the wrongdoing, injustice, lies, deception, and debauchery of the culture?

To be sure, to a degree the church will always be a reflection of the culture. That is inevitable. We are all products of the culture in which we were raised. And the church will reflect it.

But in order for the church to remain the called-out body of Christ in the world, it must be able to step outside the culture and offer sane and sober commentary on it. The culture sometimes must be condemned. And people sometimes must be reprimanded and rebuked.

You won't find much of it in today's church, however.

The prevailing wisdom in Christian circles is that churches must become "seeker friendly" by tailoring worship services to the culture of the times. Thus, preachers dress in shorts and t-shirts. Jazz bands replace choirs. Teaching sessions on "tips on practical living" replace sermons.

Brethren, this is a travesty of Christianity!


When coming into the presence of God in the holy sanctuary for worship, we owe Him our very best out of respect and reverence. We don't come into the holy place looking like we just got up out of bed in our PJ's. We don't approach the place set apart for the worship of God by coming in dressed like we just walked off of a beach or came out of a bar. We wear our very best, and we act accordingly.

This is something that has been largely lost in today's society, much to our detriment. And I admit that my denomination is one of the worst offenders.

20 years ago or so, a man by the name of Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist pastor, went to the west coast to start a new church. That church is now known as the "Saddleback Community Church."

When Warren began his ministry in starting the church he conducted local surveys to determine the interests of the people in the area--the music they listen to, the way they like to dress, the things that matter to them the most, etc., etc., and then geared his worship services to reflect the local mindset. Warren more often than not preached in Hawaiian shirts and shorts. Jazz music greeted worshippers as they entered the sanctuary. And instead of sermons, Warren would do a "teaching session" on some subject that people in the area consider interesting, such as "how to raise a happy family," or "how to be a better steward of the environment," and other such "practical" matters.

The church grew, alright. It is now the largest Southern Baptist Church in the United States, although it does not promote itself as Southern Baptist.

But at what cost?

I admit I am not impressed. Not one bit. This sort of thing is not my cup of tea, nor do I think it helps to spread real Christianity. I say this not to slam Warren. From what I hear he is sincere and a good man. But I deplore his methods.

When I first moved to a certain southern city roughly 20 years ago, someone invited me to attend one of these so-called "seeker friendly" churches. It was a very large church with a majestic sanctuary. But when I entered, I was greeted by a "greeter" who took me to my seat because it was pitch dark inside. A jazz band played on the stage. The "greeter" told me that she would sit right behind me and that if I needed anything during the service, just ask her and she would help me. She would even escort me to the bathroom if I needed it.

The pastor came out in casual dress. He used an overhead projector to teach something or another about "living a successful life."

Once it was all over and I was headed out the front door, one of the persons who had invited me to that church asked me what I thought about it. I stated, "I feel I have been in a bar rather than church. And the only thing missing was the whiskey."

I never went back. And I will never darken the door of any church that uses that methodology because I think it is sacrilegious, disrespectful, irreverent, trivial, shallow, and a shameful display to the world of what the church is supposed to be. In fact, it was an example of what the church is NOT supposed to be.

How, I ask, is this sort of thing a corrective on the culture? How can such a church be a needed voice of rebuke to a culture gone amok when that church is so thoroughly intertwined with that culture?

It is, thus, totally worthless as a transforming presence in the world. When you "win" people using these methods, what, pray tell, have you won them to?

Southern Baptists are not the only ones guilty of this travesty. Other Protestant groups have done the same thing. I view it as selling one's soul for a mess of porridge. We have sold out the Gospel for a big crowd that knows no more about real Christianity than a rank pagan.

This MUST change, my friends.

When I go to church, I want it to look and feel like church and not a bar. I want the Pastor to look the part, IN A SUIT or official clergy vestments. And I want the members to show some respect for the Divine Presence by dressing in their Sunday's best. And for heaven's sake, ditch the cheerleader jingles and sing hymns. Show some reverence toward what worship is really all about.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Spiritual Thought for the Day, 8/10/2012

The book of Genesis in the Bible tells the story of Joseph, who, though cast into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt where he spent time in prison, managed to become a powerful official in the Pharaoh's government. Under Joseph's leadership the nation was spared total destruction.

Egypt had entered into a period of great wealth and abundance. But instead of squandering it, as do most of the politicians of today on reckless spending, Joseph initiated a program of savings. A large portion of the fruit of the labors of the Egyptian people was stored away in case of future famine.

And it was an act of Divine providence that led Joseph to implement such a plan.

In a few years the Egyptians suffered through a severe drought and famine that would have normally killed most if not all of its inhabitants. But Joseph had made sure the nation was ready, and the goods and commodities he had stored away saved their lives during the years of famine.

The lessons for us as individuals and as nations abound. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Spiritual Thought of the Day for 8/8/2012

To say that one's spiritual life does not influence one's political views is like saying that one's genes do not influence one's life. While our genes alone do not determine what we become, it is ludicrous to think that they have nothing to do with the nature of our individual lives, the color of our eyes, bone structure, disease, whether or not we go bald. In like manner, our spiritual life influences everything about us, our outlook, our worldview, our choices, our values, and how we vote.

My inherent political conservatism is driven to a great degree by my firm conviction that individual choice is the centerpiece of the Christian faith from a practical perspective. We are as humans alone before God, one on one, and there as individuals we decide how we are going to respond to God's truths. This is not a collective decision but an individual one. The individual is all important in spiritual decisions.

Collectivism says the opposite. The individual is minimized for the "greater good." And in spiritual liberalism, the emphasis is not on individual decision before God but on collective social action. Such a thing ignores the personal questions that are directed to each of us individually, "What are you going to do about your sins? What are you going to decide about Christ's sacrificial work for you on the Cross? Will you accept or reject His offer of forgiveness through that sacrificial work? Are you going to take responsibility for your actions or will you instead blame society, your parents, or someone else? Are you going to make sound decisions about your life that shows spiritual, moral, and ethical responsibility?

God comes to each of us individually and deals with us as individuals. This is my firm belief, my core conviction. And that is one of the major reasons I adhere to conservative political ideas. Individual initiative, individual decisions about my life, my personal choices about how I conduct my life, are matters that are left to me and not to the collective whole.

In my spiritual life, the individual is all important. Thus, in politics it is the individual who is all important.

When I tend to me effectively, I will make decisions that deal with others fairly. But unless I start with me, then no matter what I think I am doing for "the greater good" amounts to a hill of beans, and in fact it is quite harmful.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Spiritual Thought of the Day for 8/6/2012

"Christ and His sacrificial work on the Cross is the centerpiece of Christianity. Nothing is more important than this, nor is there any belief or doctrine that more fully differentiates Christianity from the other religions of the world. Without a fully Divine Christ who was willing to lay down His life for sinners, there is no Christianity, nor is there any salvation for the human soul." -- Anthony G. Martin

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Spiritual Thought of the Day

When in doubt about whether an action is right or wrong, ethical or unethical, moral or immoral, then don't do it. If there is any room for doubt, that alone shows that something deep inside you knows intuitively that the action, for you, is ill advised. If it were right, there would be no doubt. -- Anthony G. Martin