Ethics


I realize that I have probably just shocked the life out of you with this post’s title.  However, I thought I would say what I feel a majority of Evangelicals are telling the world these days.  I have not simply grown weary, I have grown exhausted by the rabid fascination most Evangelicals I know have with the coming of the Lord Jesus.  Now, let me be clear that I fully believe in the Lord’s return to Earth to judge “the quick and the dead.”  The growth of the New Testament Church is directly attributable to the apostles belief that Jesus would return in their lifetime.  They could not stomach the Lord returning and their loved ones being left behind to face the judgment.  Accordingly, they were motivated by overwhelming compassion for their fellow-man and engaged in intensive evangelism.  I often fail to hear any underlying compassion behind many of the songs and sermons spewing forth in the modern Evangelical church.  The only thing I hear is “Yay, the Lord is going to return and we will not be here for all the trials and tribulation the world will endure.”  We are so consumed with reading, singing, and preaching about the retired bliss of Heaven’s avenues that we fail to recall that such bliss is not what Heaven is all about.  The Christian is redeemed to give eternal glory to God for the gift of salvation, not to recline in a mansion sipping tea waiting for the next angel choir concert.  When I hear the prophetic prognosticators give us their latest “Return of Jesus” forecast, I fail to hear anything about God’s grace.  I do hear that the Christian is not going to be here and those left behind are going to face unbearable horrors so come to Jesus.  I am sorry, we are simply scarring people out of Hell at that point.  Where is the recounting of God’s great love for us that He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins?   It often appears as if the only thing the average Evangelical is on the lookout for is whether Christ is on the next cloud floating by while ignoring the fields ripe for harvest around them.   Furthermore, I think it important to remember, lest we fall guilty of the same sin as the ancient Israelites, that the Day of the Lord will result in judgment upon the Church as well.  Paul told the Corinthians that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  I cannot help but think that the Lord will find us guilty for focusing on His return above preaching the full Gospel and accordingly that the Day of His appearing will not be as pleasant as we would desire.  I sincerely wish we would stop using the Parousia as means to greater attendance figures or increasing DVD and book sales, and instead return to an intense love affair with God.  I pray that my colleagues would return to the fundamentals of our faith and preach sermons on the richness of grace, declaring war on sin, and growing more each day into the redeemed image of our Creator.  Our world lives solely in the moment and has an acute awareness of its needs.  It finds nothing to meet those needs in sermons devoted to whether the European debt crisis is inching us closer to a one world government and the arrival of the anti-Christ.  I once heard a talk focused solely on the fact that the preacher thought the anti-Christ would be Spanish.  Who cares what his nationality is as long as people are trying everything but Christ to fill the intense longing of their souls.  Let us once more give the world Christ and His grace, mercy, love, and peace.  Let us so taste Heaven through communion with Him that we feel the same fire to evangelize that the early Church did.  Let us stop telling the world to go to Hell and instead say to them, “come to Jesus and live.”

Peace be with you.

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There is no one, and that includes Glenn Beck despite my respect for him, who will ever convince me that Jesus’ call to radical discipleship omits advocating for social and economic justice in the world.  However, I will admit that I am greatly troubled by those who think that it is the sole component of following in the Nazarene’s steps.  We lose sight of the fact that humanity’s physical needs are for a corruptible body which will one day molder in the ground when we focus solely on Jesus’ admonition to meet the physical needs of our fellow-man.   When Jesus calls us to promote justice, and yes I know that phrase is not explicit in the Gospels, He does so as a means to evangelism.  Let us be honest, people will be more likely to hear the Gospel call if they first see that we care about them and are not simply trying to get them in our churches and get their money.  Accordingly, churches should be prepared to spend money without expecting an immediate return as building this amount of trust takes time, but is not seeing even one soul come to redeeming faith worth every dime we might spend?  It is this soul saving aspect that fires my passion for social justice.  After all, the story of Good Friday and Easter morning is the story of God providing a means for saving the lost.  So, when I read yesterday an article promoting “Barefoot Sunday” on Easter Sunday I was appalled.  Easter is the pinnacle of the church year.  It is why we mark Christ’s coming at Advent, why we spend Lent’s 40 days preparing our hearts for the glory of Easter, and why we spend the remaining period of Pentecost continually being reminded that as the blood bought children of God we are to fight against sin and live in what Paul called “the power of the His (Christ’s) resurrection.”   Dr. Bart Ehrman said it best when he told our New Testament class at Carolina that without Easter there is no Christianity.  I do not believe anything should compete with preaching the hope of Easter to our fallen world and I find it mind-boggling that Christians are promoting such a cause that day.  The only feet we should be drawing attention to are the nail scarred feet of Jesus and there to offer our grateful obeisance for the gift of salvation.  Please, let me be clear, I think that the Samaritan’s Feet program is wonderful program that should be supported.  I believe that using the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination to remind the world of his call to fight injustice is normally a proper tribute to his life.  However, April 4th commemorates something far bigger than the plight of the world’s shoeless and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he gave his life for the cause of justice, combined.  The whole of humanity’s hopes, dreams, and eternal destiny hang  on hearing the glorious news that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, arose from Joseph’s cold, dark tomb.  Indeed, as Robert Lowry penned so perfectly, “He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”   If we could let the world hear that oppression and enmity have already been defeated, that we do not have to search aimlessly for new solutions, we just have to fix our gaze on the resurrected Lord, then things will start to change in our world.  If we lose sight of this great truth, we can have barefoot Sunday every week while sitting the dark because we have given every dime we have to the poor and the world will still be going to Hell.  Let us rally around the cry, “Christ Above All” and see our world change.

Peace be with you.

My fellow bibliophile Allen Williams suggested that I read John Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage” after he studied it last spring in preparation for our wedding sermon.  I listen to Piper preach regularly and while I do not always agree with him, I find his insights to be Biblically based and thought provoking.  “This Momentary Marriage” is so thought provoking I finished the book in shock.  Piper dives deep into the Biblical concept of marriage and reminds the reader that covenant marriage is to be a reflection of God’s covenant love for us.  I believe that our not proclaiming this simple truth from our pulpits more often is the reason why so many Christian marriages are failing apart and our society’s moral fabric is being shredded.   Piper writes, while speaking of covenant grace, that “a profound understanding and fear of God’s wrath is exactly what many marriages need, because without it, the gospel is diluted down to mere human relations and loses its biblical glory.  Without a biblical view of God’s wrath, you will be tempted to think that your wrath–your anger–against your spouse is simply too big to overcome, because you have never really tasted what it is like to see an infinitely greater wrath overcome by grace, namely, God’s wrath against you.”    Oh how I wish everyone who was signing up for a “no-fault” divorce would let those words sink deep into their spirits.  Piper spends a considerable amount of time exegeting Ephesians 5 on the nature of marriage.  Southern Baptists have often been skewered because of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message’s statement on marriage and the inclusion of the Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 admonition of wives submitting graciously to their husbands.  I will readily admit that the statement has often heightened my discomfort level because of the immediate negative connotations the word “submission” conjures to mind.  Furthermore, I have seen the use of Paul’s statement abused by husbands, a number of whom are sadly pastors, to the point that it has caused me to think twice about teaching from the text for fear of it being misused.  Piper takes on the subject head-on and paints a picture of submission that is hard to refute.  He uses 1 Peter 3 as his proof text and strongly argues 6 points of what submission is not.  I found it reassuring to see Piper include that “submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the wedding altar,”  “submission does not mean that a wife is to act of fear,” and “submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says.”   Piper spends considerably more time in the book dealing with a husband’s marital duties including placing  sole responsibility for resolving marital disputes on the husband.  Piper asserts that as the husband is the Christ figure in the marriage, he is the one who is to go to his wife and seek reconciliation, just as Christ came to His bride, the Church, to seek reconciliation.  I will say that I have been convicted repeatedly by this after more than one disagreement with Eliza and I am still working to fully implement it.  A significant reason why I left the book shocked is that Piper leaves no stone unturned as it relates to marriage, including intercourse and whether to have children.  My shock though stemmed from my own wonder in why I had failed to grasp the concepts in the light that Piper shined on them and not from any unbiblical assertions.  While there were issues that I simply disagreed with Piper on because of my personal theological proclivities, they failed to warrant enough disagreement for me not to recommend it for every married couple I know.  In fact, should I ever do a marriage retreat, I will probably base it in part on “This Momentary Marriage.” I hope you will check it out and see how best to strengthen your marriage.

Peace be with you.

Our nation has waged war in Afghanistan for the last 9 years, longer than the time we spent fighting the Civil War and both world wars combined.  Yet, I feel confident in asserting that the average American knows little if anything about the history of our enemy.  Our ignorance creates a soulless, faceless combatant that we cannot even feel enmity toward, let alone the compassion that Jesus calls us to feel toward our enemies.  Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” peels back the curtain shielding the Afghan people and reveals a thriving society that has suffered under almost 40 years of continuous war and destruction.  The narrative is woven around the friendship between Amir and Hassan.  Amir’s father is a rich businessman in the days before the Soviet invasion who will eventually flee to America with Amir after the Soviet’s arrival.  Hassan, a member of the Hazara ethnic minority, is the son of their servant and the same age as Amir.  The first third of the book details the highs and lows of a typical childhood friendship and explains the vicious secret why the friendship ultimately dissolved and how Hassan and his father felt compelled to leave.  The story then moves to America and chronicles Amir and his father’s life in Southern California as members of  the Afghan expatriate community.  The final third of the book focuses on Amir’s quest to bring Hassan’s young son, Sohrab, back to the United States during the Taliban’s final days and his acclimation to American society.  Most would point to the need for redemption that Amir feels as the driving force of the book and certainly that figures prominently.  Yet, I found Amir’s redemption to be half achieved for even after he brings Sohrab to the United States the situation remains tenuous.  I would argue that because Hosseini’s work so perfectly captures the human experience he is simply pointing to the fact that we cannot achieve true redemption apart from Jesus Christ.  I recognize that Hosseini never intended that picture to be painted, but I have to allow a book to speak to me and shape me.  I find little value in reading if the book does not shape me in some way.  Hence, while I was on an emotional roller coaster throughout the book, it was the middle narrative that chipped away at my heart.  Let me establish from the start that I believe part of America’s greatness is found in our population’s diversity.  Eliza and I are proud of our German heritage and have been shaped by it.  However, I have intense difficulty in understanding why current immigrants disregard adopting American culture and hold so strongly to their own.  It seems to me that they should have stayed where they were if their love was so great.  “The Kite Runner” helped me better understand why this occurs.  Amir and his father never desired to leave Afghanistan, but were forced to due to circumstances beyond their control.  Thus, when they come to America and join with others in the Afghan community to celebrate Afghan customs and celebrations, it seems perfectly natural because it is how they maintain some small part of the home from which they have been torn.  I know full well that if I were ever forced from American soil, I would certainly carry out some of the traditions that form our culture.  It occurs to me, however, that I am already an alien in a foreign land.  1 Peter urges Christians “as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”   Christians today spend a lot of time trying to look like the pagans around them.  We have created church models that better resemble corporations than the book of Acts.  Our models of success are copied straight out of leading business strategies and so cause us to miss the level of success God commands.  We are not faithful to our Christ due to exorbitant baptism statistics, we are faithful when we grow more in His image each day.  A strange thing happened to me as I read “The Kite Runner.”  I suddenly desired to learn more about Afghan culture.  I have purchased and read several books on the country and the people since completing Hosseini’s work.  I have even found a restaurant in Raleigh that serves strictly Afghan food and am anxious for us to go and try it out.  In other words, Marc, the outsider, has looked at the Afghan community and desired to know more about it.  Can you imagine what would happen if the Church realized it’s alien status and started acting more like it?  I doubt we would have as much trouble as we currently do attracting people to the Gospel and our Christ.  “The Kite Runner” is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it, but only read it if you are willing to let it shape you.

Peace be with you.

I have a lot of interaction with pastors, probably more than I need to sometimes.  The idea behind “networking” is not a new concept, it’s just finally found a title.  It is simple human nature to surround yourself with people who share similar circumstances as you for encouragement and strength.  It is in my interaction with pastors that I have recently seen a very troubling move within Baptist life in how we view the role of the congregation.  I am a firm and absolute devotee in the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.  It is a fundamental tenant of our polity that we make decisions from the bottom up and not vice versa.  In other words, Baptist churches are strong because they reach decisions together through the long-established democratic principle of the “consent of the governed.”   The problem with a growing number of pastors today is that they are not operating under this principle.  I will readily recognize that the pastor is the God ordained head of the local congregation and that it is a local congregation’s obligation to treat their pastor with due respect and submit to their leadership.  I also acknowledge that far too many congregations fail in meeting that obligation.  I know quite a few pastors who are treated as little more than “hired help” and are in no way compensated as they should.  However, there are as many if not more pastors who shepherd their flock as domineering CEOs and not in the way that Peter instructs in his first epistle.   We are to gently lead God’s flock into greener pastures and trying to beat them about the head to get them there will not work.  We need to build consensus from the bottom up and by doing so we can trigger momentum and possibly even a stampede toward the place we are trying to reach.  The reason why people do not follow in the way that we believe they should is that they have not bought into the idea initially.  Our churches will never become healthy as long as we continue to focus our attention on winning over the hearts of pastors and not the people.  John Adams wrote while speaking of the American Revolution that “the Revolution was effected before the War commenced.  The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.  This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”  A fundamental shift in how our churches operate is required if we are to ever reach our changing world with the Gospel.  It will require a thought shift similar to the one that resulted in the American Revolution.  Our Founding Fathers leadership would have been insufficient to such a momentous task if the American people were not with them.  Our conventions must understand that the hearts and minds of our people must be captured in ways never before realized if we will achieve what they desire us to do.  The CEO mentality of our pastors must be destroyed and the priesthood once more empowered to achieve Kingdom work.  I have often thought that the chief problem with today’s congregations is apathy.  I am beginning to question whether it’s really that the Church has failed to motivate their hearts because they certainly seem motivated to do a host of other things.  I think it’s time to quit asking we pastors what we think and start asking our people what they need and want.  I do not mean we turn our churches into theological Burger Kings, but that we hear the cry of their hearts and we engage them.  Then, and possibly only then, will they start listening to us and have their hearts moved to embrace Kingdom work.

Peace be with you.

I was intrigued by this article on ESPN’s website about some of the basketball coaches in Conference USA.  I would not trade anything for having Roy Williams as Carolina’s basketball coach, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for Matt Doherty.  I think that Matt could have succeeded if he had moved a little slower in his changes and had a less toxic team to coach.  I cannot imagine the pain he endured as the Carolina family turned their backs on him and threw him to the dogs.  I felt the same way about Indiana’s Mike Davis, particularly after I learned all that he had overcome due to a speech impediment to become the Hoosier coach only to be cast aside as well.  It appears that Conference USA is the place where these coaches are getting their second chance and proving themselves once again.  I wish that more churches would act in the same manner.  We are to take the broken and bruised of our world and point them to Christ and redemption such that they can find their second chance.  Instead, we point to the bruises and only begrudgingly offer the necessary salve far too often.  I find it beyond amazing that churches are to be the gathered people of a God who forgets our iniquities and yet we continue to harbor memories of the sins of those around us.  Do we really think it necessary to drag up the past of someone who God forgave decades ago?   Secondly, I wish churches would be more nurturing to their pastors.  I have friends who have been beaten senseless by their churches and they move on to their next church with these open wounds that need healing only to find another church ready to shadow box.  Why aren’t we fighting sin with such abandon?  I do not know of many other professions or callings that beat their leaders the way churches do.  Did not our Lord command us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us?  How do we expect pastors to be nurturing if churches do not act in kind?  I heard recently that 5 years removed from their seminary studies, 50% of ministers quit the ministry entirely.   The percentage increases to 80, 10 years after completing their studies.  Only 5% of those graduating seminary right now will retire from the ministry.  I am so glad these coaches have found some healing and did not quit a profession they loved.  I think they have many life lessons to pour into these young men’s lives that they need to hear, because life will knock you down and you have to get back up.   I know a lot of pastors who have the same lessons to offer churches.  Maybe it’s time the Church started acting a little more like Conference USA.

Peace be with you.

I picked up Ron Suskind’s “A Hope in the Unseen” while leafing through the current events section at Edward McKay and thought the story sounded compelling and well it was only $2 so I did not have much to lose.  The truth is that there is a great deal to lose by excluding Ron Suskind’s look at the high school and early college career of Cedric Jennings from your library.  Cedric Jennings is an African-American honor student being raised by a single mother in the middle of inner city Washington, D.C.  Cedric works mightily to attain his goal of being accepted in an Ivy League school and escaping both inner-city poverty and the prison fate of so many African-American inner-city males, including his father.  Cedric’s decision costs him popularity and leads to derision by many of the other students in his school.  One continuing thread of the book is the fact that Cedric’s decision impedes, severely I believe, his ability to interact socially.   Indeed, the roller coaster that Cedric experiences as he learns these skills is part of the driving force of the book.  There are other important threads such as the development of Cedric’s faith and his relationship with his mother that are at the forefront throughout that are also commendable.  Cedric proves that one can successfully have a deep and abiding evangelical faith while holding reason in tension.  I fear we lose that view far too often these days as Evangelicals either surrender their college students to the supposed terrors of a liberal arts education by failing to adequately equip them for the concepts they will be exposed to or we impair them by sending them to like-minded Evangelical institutions where open exposure to such concepts are muted.  Yes, as Cedric proves, there will be ups and downs to reach this tension, but it seems that Peter took a similar path in understanding the person and work of the Christ and it was to his benefit that he did.  The thing that disturbed me most about Suskind’s account is that it lays bare severe deficiencies in the American education system.  My heart broke as Cedric is sitting in one of first classes at Brown University and fails to comprehend a reference to Ellis Island.   Can you imagine anyone passing through the halls of an American high school and not being taught about the portal through which so many entered the American melting pot?  Cedric wonders if he has reached too far because of the difficulties he experiences during his Brown tenure, but I believe America and not Cedric’s reach is at fault.  We have too long thrown money at the education system while not demanding significant returns for our investment.  I am sorry, but what good is it to require our students to pass standardized exams when we have people teaching them who have no business doing so.  Please do not think I am bashing the education system.  My beloved wife is a teacher and I would defend to the death the right to public education.  I just think the Cedric Jennings’ of the world deserve better.  Additionally, if the majority of our congregations are supposed to learn the critical skills of reading, reasoning, and comprehension through the public education system the Church deserves better.  How do we expect folks to be transformed by the reading of God’s Word without these skills?  How do we expect them to begin to be able formulate the phrases needed to share their faith if they have never been taught how to expand upon ideas?  I cannot encourage you enough to read “A Hope in the Unseen” and gain inspiration from Cedric and motivation to fight for the countless thousands like him.

Peace be with you.

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