Friday, October 31, 2014

All Hallows Eve

Albert Mohler has kindly reposted his original article on Halloween.  It is well worth the read.

Christianity and the Dark Side - What about Halloween

My wife and I have chosen to keep ourselves separate from this "holiday".  In the past we have participated in Trunk-or-Treat or "harvest festival" events, but have found that at various levels these attempts at evangelism were feeble at best and only resulted in an excuse for Christians to do what everyone else was doing while feeling better about it.   In the end we have felt that this is one of those occasions where "coming out from among them" was a better testimony.  Why?  Because sometimes it is important to demonstrate that we, the church, are not like the world.

We are sinners saved by grace.  We are part of a fallen race starting with the father we all share with the rest of humanity and yet we all, in some mysterious way, bare the impress of God.   Yet we are not like everyone else.  We have been made new creations.  We have been given new hearts of flesh, we have been sprinkled clean with water and we have been filled with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ezekiel 36:25-27).  This makes us fundamentally different than everyone else.  However, unless this translates into a difference that is recognizable to a dying world it will mean little to those outside our own enclaves and christian ghettos.

For too long we have misused such passages as 1 Corinthians 9 to excuse our love for the world and the things in the world in order to blend in and feel comfortable with the secularization of the church, all the time claiming we are merely becoming "all things to all people".   Has it worked?  I think an honest look at the state of the church today should answer that question.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Take a stand already!

Recently a firestorm was ignited by comments made by the pastor of Hillsong, Brian Houston, and quoted in the New York Times.  The Times wrote: "The comments by Brian Houston, the senior pastor of Hillsong, immediately attracted concern from the right and applause from the left..." (The full article here).

I'm not going to comment on the article itself but rather Brian's comments about his comments at the Hillsong website here.   Brian believes himself misunderstood and misquoted (something that media outlets are prone to do from time to time) and he aims to set the record straight.  Unfortunately he fails in his goals.  In what seems to be the trend these days, Brian attempts to clarify his and his church's stand on homosexuality by making vague statements about his position.  

One comment he makes which, on the surface, appear to clarify his position but in the end really doesn't:

"My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject."

Considering the comments that follow and what appears in the Times article it would have been important for Brian to clearly state what he sees as these "traditionally held Christian views" and what he actually believes Paul to have said on the subject.   Am I being too nit-picky?   No, I don't believe so.  Considering the fact that homosexuals not only attend his church but also have positions within the fellowship it would have been vitally important for Brian to clearly state what he means by staying relevant.  Brian writes:

"I explained that this struggle for relevance was vexing as we did not want to become ostracized by a world that needs Christ."

It is this sort of statement that makes me wonder how far Brian is willing to go in order to stay relevant and to not be ostracized by the world?  Apparently encouraging homosexuals to be a part of the congregation isn't too far.  Why is this a problem?

First,  the Bible makes it clear that we will in fact be ostracized by the world if we follow Jesus:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me."

(John 15:18-21 ESV)

Second,  although I welcome anyone to come and hear the message of the gospel and the preaching of the Word of God, we must preach the full council of God and that means preaching for righteousness and against sin.  No one living in sin should feel comfortable in our churches.  Do some remain in our churches, even in leadership positions, living in secret sin?  Of course,  we cannot judge the secret thoughts of the heart.  But when sin is out in the open, when it is clear and unobstructed by secrecy, should these people remain active participants in our fellowships without challenge?  Absolutely not!  

What is Paul's teaching on homosexuality (and not just homosexuality)?

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV)

It isn't love that allows people in our churches to remain living in sin without hearing and knowing what God has to say about their sin and their destination should they not repent.  It is the complete opposite.  This isn't a time for pastors to make vague statements about their stance concerning sin.  It is vital that we are honest and, like Scripture, to the point for the sake of the sinner.

But Brian's response isn't new.  Over two years ago  Pastor Andy Stanley got into similar hot water when he gave a sermon illustration that raised not a few eyebrows in the conservative church.  Andy's response was similarly vague and dodgy.  And to this day I do not think he has clarified it.

For some odd reason these pastors appear to believe it to be unloving and unbiblical to take a clear stand against this particular sin, even though the bible they claim to adhere to takes a solid and unflinching stand.   Why?   I cannot pretend to judge their motives, but I would encourage every pastor everywhere to truly show their love for their Savior and for their neighbor by taking that stand before it is too late.  To do anything less is to shirk our responsibilities as leaders.  To quote Paul one last time:

Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

(Acts 20:26-30 ESV)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What is my desire?

Psalm 37:4 says,

Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Many read this passage and see in it the key to health, wealth and happiness.  "If I just delight in the Lord then I can have that new car I've always wanted!"  or something else along those lines.   Not only do I think this is the wrong way to think about this passage, I think such thinking is extremely shallow.  It is settling for a stone when you could have a world class diamond!  Not only that but this sort of thinking looks frightfully like what James was thinking about when he wrote,

"You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people!" (James 4:3, 4a ESV)

If we delight in the Lord I believe he will shape our desires to delight in the right things.  If we are constantly lusting after the world and the things that are in the world, then I believe it is a sure sign we are delighting in the wrong things (even the wrong god).

However I see Scripture telling us that there is one thing worth delighting in that is above all else and that thing is not a thing at all but a person.  God himself.  And also if we delight in the Lord then our desire will be the Lord and he will give us himself.  This is something that was promised God's people from the very beginning:

"If you search for the Lord with all of your heart and all of your soul you will find him."  (Deut. 4:29)

The Song of Songs is a great place to see what this "delight" might look like (Yes, I am one of those nuts that believes, along with a great portion of the early church, that this book is best seen as an allegory of Christ and the Church rather than something as simple and crude as a manual of love - although it is a love poem extraordinaire).  Check out this passage from the third chapter that says much the same thing as our text and the passage from the Law:

The watchmen found me
    as they went about in the city.
"Have you seen him whom my soul loves?"
Scarcely had I passed them
    when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
    until I had brought him into my mother's house,
and into the chamber of her who conceived me.

Do we seek him like we delight in him?  Do we find God delightful and desirable?  Or has he become merely a means to some end?