It’s recently been the focus of David Platt and Ray Comfort et. al., that we use the phrase, “Invite Jesus into your heart.”, and they suggest that the phrase and concept isn’t scriptural. It’s a great metaphor that helps understanding of the relationship we begin when we repent with contrition and acknowledge Christ as Lord and savior and accept the gift of salvation.
Legalism? Or something to contemplate when we choose our words when explaining the gospel? What biblical language would fill the role if it were to be retired?
Part of this concern is in response to a change in how we explain/spread the gospel in the “Evangelical” Christian Church that’s occurred over the last half-century or so that Ray and others believe has actually resulted in a great many false-converts who, instead of becoming Christians with contrite repentance and sincere giving of Lordship to Jesus Christ, are instead becoming inoculated against ever making such a conversion/repentance/confession of faith. I see direct links to this giving rise to Prosperity Gospel, Word of Faith teaching, and the Emergent Church movement where folks like Rob Bell of Mars Hill write books explaining that there really is no such thing as Hell.
“I’m not talking about Hellfire Preaching. Hellfire Preaching will produce Fear-Filled converts. Using God’s law will produce Tear-Filled converts.” — Ray Comfort“Hell’s Best Kept Secret” @43:47
Are our words really so very important? I was unconvinced at first, but over the last month, I’ve really begun to ponder that question and become convinced that in trying to reach people and make Christianity palatable and ‘hip’, we’ve watered down the gospel to something perhaps less strong than the proverbial church punch/lemon-aid.
This definitely qualifies as ponderings and wonderings as I don’t know where I stand entirely, let alone what to do about it once I do.
I was privileged today to get to go out with my roommate Dwight as he took sandwiches to give out the homeless folks in Columbia. As with most ministry efforts, I expect I was more blessed than those we ministered to.
Ended up talking with a guy for over half an hour. He told us up-front that was all over the God-thing. He wanted to engage on spiritual discussion but he was all over the map before I figured out where he wanted to go. He wanted to avoid going anywhere while showing me that he had a huge breadth of knowledge.. Dinosaurs in the bible. Belief that Christ was an angel. Lots of different odd bits from Jehovah’s Witnesses, a bit of Mormon doctrine, and a veritable Smörgåsbord of others.
It made for interesting discussion, and I told him so, but at the same time I tried to get him to think over the question of whether or not all these extra topics were as important as making sure you’ve got the core stuff squared away.
I really don’t know if I had much of an impact. I expect what he’s been used to is getting people to bounce around from topic to topic. The topics are compelling. They’re intriguing. They were calculated, I speculate, to touch nerves no matter where the person he engages is “coming from”, and engaging enough to keep things from getting into uncomfortable territory. I say calculated, but I can’t really say that I believe that he’s ‘calculated’ some plan, but I think he has learned “what works” to get what he seems to want… discussions on spiritual matters but nothing especially personal or meaningful.
If anything we talked about has lasting impact, I think it will be my response to a story he told us to explain why he avoided spending time with other believers and going to church. His mother’s ultra-charismatic Pentecostal worship, along with some other stuff poisoned him against being in fellowship with other believers. I sympathized, but perhaps not entirely in the way he expected. I told him that it seemed regrettable that in addition to having to go through the bad experiences he went through before he was 8, it sounded like they’d also robbed him of being able to be in fellowship for his entire life. I’m having a difficult time putting things down in words. As badly as I’m able to recall and explain it now a couple of days later, I’m still left with the feeling that it might have given him pause to wonder if all the legitimate ‘reasons’ he’d used his whole life were more excuses and that maybe something valuable might have been taken from him. It may just be wishful thinking on my part.
We made an appointment with him for Sunday afternoon to return with some clothing items he needed. Dwight was unable to find him but did meet some other folks who were in similar need and was at least able to find a place for the clothing to bless.
I look forward to future forays. Talking to folks who are either mentally dysfunctional, or high/drunk, or both, presents its own challenges. It certainly forces me to lean on Him more that I might otherwise, in my lack of humility, do. I rather like that.
I ran across an article that filled me with sorrow while at the same time giving me a smidgen of hope.
Columnist Virginia Heffernan has been in the conservative/Christian news for the past couple of days. Her admission of believing in Creationism and her handling of the expected vitriolic assault from the mainstreamers is both confirmation of our fears of how hostile and intolerant society is to faith and differing belief and encouragement because one of us has courageously stood up and spoken honestly and then courageously stood up to their hatefilled response as well with character and backbone.
Virginia’s article titled “Inside the Infidelity Club”, gives me much the same duality of feeling.
I love marriage, family, and relationship, and more specifically God’s perfect blueprint for them. Seeing what society has made them… the destruction of the family, hearts, and lives is a topic never far from my consideration. It’s so difficult for me not to be filled with sorrow bordering on hopelessness as I perceive a continual and accelerating decline, and find little to give hope of a return to sanity and health. Virginia’s article took me into the deepest regions of that dark valley as she describes a message-board for women who gleefully discuss their extramarital affairs: having them, loving them, justifying them, planning them, recounting them, feeling entitled to them, encouraging one another to greater depths of betrayal, etc. She contrasts it with a second message-board for women* who are trying to survive being betrayed by their spouse.
My smidgen of hope is engendered by her choosing to explore/expose this difficult subject in a mainstream forum and wasn’t afraid to be honest and call the bad bad and speak truth regarding the terribly selfish immoral hateful behaviors and the horrible pain they cause others… to be honest and say that it’s unequivocally wrong. Maybe that’s part of the answer to turning stampeding herd that is rushing headlong for cliff’s edge… people standing up and clearly saying, “This is wrong. It’s hateful, selfish, immature and despicable. It’s wrong and there’s absolutely no justifying or rationalizing it.” What a gift to those who have operated under these lies so very long with the rest of the world cheering them on to new depths of depraved inhuman behavior.
She doesn’t stop there however. She goes on to outline efforts she intends to make to be certain that she is protecting and building her own marriage… not things she sees that need fixing in her spouse, but extra efforts she herself plans to make to grow herself and her marriage. If anything, I suspect this final bit may be of even greater value to those living the lie than even her speaking truth to the lie. I could see this finding chinks in hardened hearts and exposing self-deceptions that might have stood unexamined indefinitely. The thing that seems to be most feared by persons of a moral-relativist humanistic bent is self-examination. Denied pre-knowledge on a much-suppressed honest level, that they would -not- like what they would find, fills them with a terror-driven goal to avoid such an exercise at all cost. Perhaps her critical self-examination will be ignored just determinedly as the usual frontal-attack on their lifestyle, but I have hope to the contrary.
Even if the results on the heart of one who reads and absorbs her personal exploration is not immediately and drastically felt, it may be that what Ravi Zacharaias says is true of the application of apologetics on a hardened spiritual heart may also be true of her efforts on a hardened relational heart. He states that apologetics can only take you so far and no further in many cases. He said that it is rare if not unheard-of to -argue- an atheistic heart into belief in God. Over the years he’s been told by many former-atheists that such arguments, while admittedly having some small influence on their shift, were not the cause of or impetus behind the shift.
* No indication if there are similar communities of devastated men.
Does the gospel need a $300,000 sound/lighting/video system to reach hearts?
Is the gospel relevant to the heart of someone today, or must it be made relevant with pithy gritty angst, a rock-concert atmosphere, and the Holy Spirit riding the back of the mega-church smoke machines?
I discovered that I have a mailbox at church last week, or rather that the A/V Ministry does. This is apparently a fixture established for two reasons. The first is for the member [dearly loved] of the congregation who reminds me nearly every week that our 87dB worship service is too loud and prohibitive to worship. I found a collection of photocopied journal articles and even journals themselves with bits circled and notes paper-clipped to pages outlining the dangers of exposure to heavy sound pressure levels. *chuckle* I feel bad because there were some contributions that had sat there languishing unread for a long while. The second purpose is to serve as a place to stick all the adverts and catalogs from sound/lighting/video/production suppliers.
In perusing the pages of these full-color glossy tomes, I ran across testimonials from churches that had been helped by the catalog’s company. It was apparent that the answer to these questions was indeed, ‘yes’. The photos from these installs showed booths and stages that a pop-recording mega-artist and their sound-tech would feel quite at home within when performing.
I am a creature of ADD extremes, flights of fancy, bursts of strong (sometimes unwarranted, oftentimes inadvisable) emotion. I know this. God knows this. My friends and family bless me (Thank you. I love you. Thank you God) with an attitude similar to that which we Missourians express towards our capricious weather… “If you don’t like it, wait five minutes.” That’s not to say that I’m an untethered kite being blown by a storm with no emotional/intellectual anchor. Quite the contrary… I just have a heart that rushes on ahead and a mind that labors to catch it up and remind it that has again run away without a prayer consult, and left all the notes and lessons learned behind, sitting uselessly in a discarded backpack. The tether and the anchor are there, there’s just a regrettable amount of slack in the line that usually runs-out with a semi-painful ‘snap’.
I had a few hours of personal crisis. Despair, disgust, sorrow. I just wanted to turn in my monitoring phones along with my 2 weeks notice. This lasted, fortunately, only a few hours, before reason reasserted itself and I was able to view my own goals to repair, expand, and otherwise meet the modest ‘needs’ of our Sunday service, with a peaceful confidence that our answers to those questions, if asked, would be a simple, ‘no’, and if ever we stray into that mentality, we have only to reevaluate and tell ourselves ‘no’.
It helped to have the clear words of Ravi Zacharais from a few days earlier to remind me that the people that I turn to and trust for good teaching and insight into matters of faith aren’t caught up in this troublesome church mindset/trend:
The Lord’s affirmation of the physical and spiritual tells me there’s a place for my body to be used rightly… and there’s a place for my spiritual depth… and when those two converge, you’ve found the beauty of worship. You’ve found it. …and a church that thinks we can only worship if we get ourselves all hyped-up in music is an extreme. It’s not going to work. What you win them with is what you win them to.
Here’s the bottom line I want to make for you: The rationalist had an angle at truth. The Existentialist had an angle at truth. The Empiricist had an angle at truth. The problem was in taking this single line, they blocked off all the others… and the church that only goes for the intellect is going to send out dry people… that only goes for emotion… is going to send people bouncing around with no mind. You’ve got to bring all of these realities and converge into a composite whole. That’s what the Christian ought to do best in this world.”
— Ravi Zacharias, “Engaging Cultures with Conversations that Count, part 2″ @15:39 Previous Article
David Platt described his realization thus in his book “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream”
“The youngest megachurch pastor in history.”
While I would dispute that claim it was nonetheless the label given to me when I went to pastor a large, thriving church in the Deep South — the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. From the first day I was immersed in strategies for making the church bigger and better. Authors I respect greatly would make statements such as, “Decide how big you want your church to be, and go for it, whether that’s five, ten, or twenty thousand members.” Soon my name was near the top of the list of pastors of the fastest-growing U.S. churches. There I was… living out the American church dream.
But I found myself becoming uneasy. For one thing, my model in ministry is a guy who spent the majority of his ministry time with twelve men. A guy who, when he left this earth, had only about 120 people who were actually sticking around and doing what he told them to do. More like a minichurch, really. Jesus Christ — the youngest minichurch pastor in history.
So how was I to reconcile the fact that I was now pastoring thousands of people with the fact that my greatest example in ministry was known for turning away thousands of people? Whenever the crowd got big, he’d say something such as “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Not exactly the sharpest church-growth tactic. I can almost picture the looks on the disciples’ faces. “No, not the drink-my-blood speech! We’ll never get on the list of the fastest growing movements if you keep asking them to eat you.”
By the end of that speech, all the crowds had left, and only twelve men remained. Jesus apparently wasn’t interested in marketing himself to the masses. His invitations to potential followers were clearly more costly than the crowds were ready to accept and he seemed to be okay with that. He focused instead on the few who believed him when he said radical things. And through their radical obedience to him, he turned the course of history in a new direction.
Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were the most important. So what was I to do?
I’m still troubled, but I think that’s a good thing. As Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “We have cause to be uneasy.” and ” And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”. I want to stay uneasy. I don’t want to fall asleep. I want, at the very least, when I get excited and think, “This would be so cool for our sound system.” to ever have a voice that reminds me to ask myself (and God), if the Gospel needs my tech, or even my technique. Am I helping, or would I help more just by getting out of the way?
“The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable” — Brennan Manning
From the heavens to the womb to the heavens again
From the endin’ to the endin’, never got to begin
Maybe one day we could meet face to face
In a place without time and space, happy birthday
This song really touches me. It’s an incredibly powerful and honest self-confession to his unborn child about a choice he’s come to regret as so many do. He has the courage to express what so many feel yet never share. If all these voices were to speak aloud they would deafen those spreading the nonsensical lies that few if any women and men suffer from having chosen to abort their baby. I praise God for this man’s courage and for giving him a talent that [here at least, I’m unfamiliar with his other work] he chose to redeem.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear –
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
With great joy I now realize that I would much rather spend the remainder of my life knowing, desiring, having found, but never having, than instead reach the the terminus knowing that for all my seeking, I never found it, never knew it, and yes, perhaps questioning if I had done all that I could have done to find and if I had been faithful to myself and that which is truth.
I want to fit into my Birthday Suit.
It used to be small and soft and cute.
It fit like a glove with room in the boot.
Yes, I want to fit into my Birthday Suit.
I could buy an ensemble off Savile Row;
Double-breasted with waistco’t; gold buttons in row;
Fashioned and tailored with savoir-know;
It’d cost lots of money and contain all my dough.
Gone are the days when first it was fine;
Now stretched, distorted, all bezier lines.
The volume integral I cannot define.
Reminiscing my salad days [pureéd], when first it was mine.
Stretched thin in places, and darted midway;
Taut on the ends, support catenary sway.
Avian footprints imprint both my eyes;
and inverted horseshoe lacklucksters my smile.
Twice the compliment;
Allotted just one.
My beard-holder’s doubled;
With more like to come.
Furniture Disease, diagnosed not in time;
No treatment or tonic may halt the decline.
Gravitation. Migration. Direction? The floors;
What once was my chest, occupies now my drawers.
I suppose I’ll just have to love what I’ve got;
Content with evidences of battles well fought.
Sure, right, tattered, battered, in places threadbare;
The darned thing a patchwork of sewn notions of care.
The elbows gone shiny; cuff buttons not there;
I know not the when, less know I the where.
Rumpled and crumpled with creases and tears;
Rump fabric well felted where posterior meets chair.
I realize it now. I have all I’ve sought;
A lifetime of love, wonderful memories wrought;
My Birthday Suit given, but this one, I bought;
I don’t miss what I once had, near much as I thought.
An economy established, most fragile;
Nay Smith, nor Friedman, but God.
Bespoke of His heart, when time became time;
In garden where feet divine trod.
A balance contrived by holy design;
In pairs to be joined one to one.
Never again to be separate, till death us do part;
Together until life is done.
Untouched it would remain perfect;
The GDP both joy and life.
These products; harvest of such union;
When man doth cleave he to wife.
Now enter a serpent most deadly;
With him lies and corruption of heart.
Emotions, desires, selfishness inspires;
That serve to tear them apart.
And here inspiration fails me… I’m thinking that it may be that in God’s economy, we are given but a single marriage token to wisely invest. I see in Genesis that God establishes Man and Woman and Marriage… all a simple straightforward plan for which He had to make Man and Woman. I see that man deviated from that plan often in the Old Testament by practicing plurality, but never ever does God endorse that deviation, and usually in every example there’s a little morality tale of that deviation causing no end of heartache and trouble. When Christ speaks of marriage in the New Testament he basically says, “The model you were given was…” and then quotes the establishment of marriage from Genesis. He mentions that because of your hard hearts, deviations were tolerated (but never endorsed… marriage was never ‘ratified’ to include man’s amendments). The the additional treatments of this topic by Paul speak of the ideal and then he goes on to provide some personal thoughts on how to handle the problems that come from situations that fail the ideal… He takes pains to say that he’s not speaking words given him by the Holy Spirit, so even that advice is not ‘canon’ or modification of the original design. I really struggle with this topic… especially because nearly the entire world tells me that I’m dead wrong on this, but I keep coming back to these things in scripture that seem to me… to me… to say otherwise.
They saw the harvest inside me.
They saw what was not there to see.
Purpose which God embedded within;
Created with promise to be.
The seed the farmer rejected;
Hull and husk long fallen and gone;
The surface pitted and battered;
Discarded, deemed worthless and done.
So small the seed holding promise;
Which for lack of nurture and sun;
For rich soil never embracing;
Germination never begun.
Giv’n themselves as His instrument;
Samaritans on the stark lane,
Upon which lay, discarded kernel,
Hopeless. Wretched. Consumed by pain.
God’s sorrow-filled heart apparent;
The song He put there unsung.
Yearning to see the seed planted;
The prelude well written begun.
Redeemed by hand of a stranger.
Examined through lens of God’s love.
Found there what others were missing,
Hidden in quotidian shell.
Warm embrace of earth enclosing;
Showered with undeserved love;
Radiant grace of acceptance;
Infusing the core from above.
Slowly the shell starts to soften;
New growth breaking free from within.
The process now set into motion;
God’s symphony of joy begins.
Secure roots of hope descending;
Supporting as shoot starts to raise;
Bursts forth from cocooning seedbed;
Lifting dicotyl arms in praise.
This is written as a poor attempt to express boundless gratitude to my friends and family, the love and acceptance of which, have taken me from the broken, hopeless, joyless, and rather feckless man of recent past, to someone who is beginning to embrace life and full of joy and the knowledge that God has a purpose for him.
Looking at him the way she used to look at me.
I knew that look was only for me.
Could only then be for me;
Could only ever be for me.
That look told me that I need never doubt
and would never need to seek or fear again.
The words underscored and reinforced the look.
The look is no longer turned upon me.
I look upon the empty void, and I sorrow.
It’s good to be able to share this here on PoaM in the now and indeed, be able to Look Back and see the terrible hurt I was experiencing then, whilst being able to Look Now and see the healing God has blessed me with, and having confidence as I Look Forward that, even if there are more such sorrows, there will be more such love, healing and blessing.
Playing at house; pretend husband and wife.
If this works out well, we’ll make it for life.
And if it unravels, at least we had fun.
We said pretty things to capture a heart;
Sincere for the moment, playing a part.
The threshold passed, no pathway back.
Joined and committed.
But where have you gone? The fantasy lost.
Summer’s warmth over, panes crazed with the frost.
The silence now speaks, in deafening voice.
But we’re still in love; still each others’ choice.
Fun while it lasted. But moving ahead.
Finding new playmates to pretend to wed.
What we had was special, no one could replace.
Our dream plays again.
Now without me.
Another wound, to hide deep inside.
So many scars, tears of flesh, tears of eye.
Betrayal of heart; pain rending wide.
But we’ve healed.
Inspired partially by Joshua Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and “Does Anybody Hear Her” by Casting Crowns. June 23, 2011
I don’t usually wri… I -don’t- write poetry. This rather came on it’s own. Not fantastic prose, but it was meaningful for me. June 27, 2011
[I guess I did start writing poetry after this first outpouring. I don’t know if it’s good, but it makes me happy and it helps to take it out and fashion something from it rather than leaving it blocking things up inside. July 30, 2013]