Month: March 2014

Signs in the Flowerbeds

There are two very interesting times of year here in the West Virginia hills.  Both are eerily similar in a lot of ways.  They are both short.  They are both indicative of what’s to come next.  And both feel exactly the same.  Yet despite their similarities, they have one distinct difference.  They are occur at the exact opposite time and they mean very different things.

If you’ve spent time in these storied hills, you know that one of the things we boast about is our four very distinct seasons.  Springs are breezy.  Summers are hot.  Autumns are a tapestry of color.  Winters are cold and snow covered.  It’s quite a delightful place to live.  West Virginia has often been called an “Outdoorsman’s Paradise.”  If you love being outside in any or all weather, this is the place to be.

I’m immensely thankful for these distinct seasons for I remember back when I was a young punk just out of high school.  If I uttered the phrase “I wanna get outta here” (not so subtly laced with teen angst) once, I said it 50,000 times.  And outta here I got.  I traipsed out to the Land of the Cheesesteak and spent four years at 138 feet above sea level.  I realize immediately that I had been missing the literal forest for the literal trees.  I’ll never forget my first drive back home over Fall Break and coming over those mountains and seeing the colors.  Nothing quite like it.

But, despite all of it’s distinction, there are two very interesting times here in West Virginia.  I don’t call them seasons because they aren’t long enough.  They both occur within their own season.  Opposite seasons at that.  What’s interesting, though, is what they have in common.

When planning on visiting the Mountain State, I would’t recommend coming during the few months that fall between the end of Fall and beginning of Winter (usually Mid/Late-October to Mid/Late November) or the few months that fall between the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring (usually End of February to End of March).  

Speaking honestly, if I blindfolded you, spun you around in a circle three times, and completely disoriented your understanding of the time of year and threw you into one of these two times, you would have no idea what season you were coming out of and which you were going into.  These two times function almost identically.  Random temperatures.  Random types of precipitation.  No leaves.  Brownish grass.  At this point, you are left out in the middle of the field not knowing which way is Summer, looking at me saying, “What is coming next?  Winter or Spring?  Is it going to get colder or warmer?”  Because in those two times of the year, there is no way of knowing by looking around.

I believe that the Church is in one of those two ambiguous times between the seasons.  We’re not sure what’s next for Christ’s Bride.  We’re not sure which way is Summer and if we’re heading into a bitter cold winter where everything is just going to move from bad to worse or if we’ve weathered the worst of it and we can start looking for signs of life on the trees and in the flowerbeds.

The problem with this station is that looking out the window is no indicator for the faithful in Christ to establish what’s next.  So, many of us don’t know and we determine what’s coming next by the kind of day we’re having.  But the problem with these two times of year is that it’s 65 and sunny one day and you wake up the next morning to snow on the ground.  Then, by the end of the day, the snow has melted and the temperature is back in the low 40s.  

You see, we must determine what seasons we are in between because that fact inevitably regulates our behavior in the here and now.  If I believe that in the next three months, we are going to experience warmer weather and the sun is going to be up longer, it will fundamentally change the way I act today.  I’m going to pack away my winter clothes, get out my bermuda shorts and Coppertone, and plan a weekend picnic with my family.  

If the Church believes that nothing awaits her but pain, misery, death, and potential extinction, she is going to behave a certain way today.  But if the Church believes that the days ahead will be better and brighter and the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the water covers the sea in spite of what she sees out her stained glass window, it’s going to radically change the way she operates in the present.

What time is it?  What awaits the Church in the future?  Is the sun setting on her reign leaving us to only expect greater darkness or is it rising giving us hope that this is the darkest we should ever expect it to be again?  Which direction is God taking the Church?  Into colder and more perpetual winter or a resurrection spring that gives new life?

As Christians, we must allow Scripture, the very words of God, to tell us what time it is.  We must allow God’s divine decree to inform us when we aren’t able to make sense of what we see out our front door.  For if we don’t, while Aslan is melting the world of the White Witch, we run the risk of heedlessly slumping along all the while lamenting that there is still snow.

So in order for the faithful to know how to behave in the time being, the task of the Church is to realize what time it is as informed by God through His word to us.

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28)

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O LORD, for they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD, for great is the glory of the LORD.” (Psalm 138:4-5)

“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:2-4)

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:6-10)

“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

“And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him” (Daniel 7:14)

“And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one.” (Zechariah 14:9)

So what time is it?  It’s almost Springtime.

Friday’s Internet Grab-Bag – March 28th

The Office Time Machine – If you are a fan of NBC’s The Office in any capacity, you have just struck the motherload.  Joe Sabia took far too much time to find every pop culture reference in the show and divided them by year and they are here for your viewing pleasure.  It’s interesting to note how much our idea of humor is dictated by cultural references.

Explain Bitcoin Like I’m Five – Don’t understand the hullabaloo about bitcoins?  Don’t know what a bitcoin is?  Don’t understand what I’m even talking about?  This should help clear up some of the confusion and allow you to have conversations with intelligent people while seeming intelligent yourself

Hobby Lobby Case – The Supreme Court is divided over the Hobby Lobby case regarding the contraceptive clause in the new Healthcare Mandate.  But their division, however, seems to with respect to gender.

False Teacher’s Series – Tim Challies continues his series on false teachers including the founder of Jehovah’s Witnesses Charles Taze Russell, founder of Seventh Day Adventism Ellen G. White, and one of the most vocal theological liberals Harry Fosdick.  Keep your eyes open for more in this series!

Whirled Vision – After the whole World Vision nonsense, Doug Wilson examines the organization’s repentance, our forgiveness, and subsequent trust.

Noah: Watch Before You Speak – Over at West Virginia for the Gospel you can read my take on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah epic set to premiere today.

Jesus as a Gateway Drug

There is a difference between a principle and a method.  A principle is the thing that never changes regardless of the time, people, place, culture, or setting.  A method, on the other hand, is a time-bound cultural expressions of a principle.  Someone wise once said, “Principles never change.  Methods always do.”  Our methods constantly need updating because our method communicates our principle.  Our methods not only communicate our message, but often times they are our message.

The unchanging message of the Church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And the point of that Gospel is that people are justified before a holy God so that they can become more like Jesus.

It is long past time for the modern Evangelical Church in America to seriously look at some of the methods we are utilizing and ask ourselves how congruent those methods are with our message.  Because not only do our methods communicate our message, our methods are our message meaning that we should gladly get rid of any method that is counterproductive to the unchanging message of the Church of Jesus Christ for the past 2,000 years.

Having gone to school with a number of people who are currently in ministry, my Facebook wall has kept me up to datewith the current methods of the day.  And I have become increasingly convinced that though our spoken and written desires align with that of the message of the Church, our methods do everything but.  (I write to you admitting my own culpability in this area, so you won’t see me calling the “Leg Warehouse” trying to order something to stand on.)

worship-leader

I have no doubt that many of the youth groups around the country preach and teach about the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ and the good news of His Gospel…but they lure teenagers in to the youth room by appealing to their idols (food, video games, prizes, the opposite gender, music, movies, etc.).  And while we proclaim with our mouths that we desire to see the Gospel change hearts and minds and lives, we have unwittingly made Jesus a gateway drug.  Jesus just becomes a way for me to get what I really want which, as it turns out, isn’t Jesus at all.  I wanted to go on a trip and miss school.  I wanted to find a girlfriend.  I wanted free pizza.  So, sure, I’ll listen to the faux hawked guy in the skinny jeans ramble on about Jesus…if it means I get what I want.

In the same way, I have no doubt that many pastors across the country preach the Biblical message of dying to self…but they cater to people’s preferences when it comes to music style, carpet color, or age demographics.  They advertise their church as a place for families and what they really mean is when a family walks in the door, each member is pulled in a different direction and they aren’t a “family” again until they walk back out the door.  Don’t want to strain to hear the pastor’s sermon over a crying baby?  Don’t want to teach your first grader how to sit still and be quiet?  Don’t want to take personal responsibility for the spiritual life of your teenager?  You won’t ever need to! We have a program for that with a specifically designated “pastor” for the job.

Similarly, I have no doubt that there are many churches in America that preach about the necessity of the faith community…but they don’t emphasize the reason Jesus told us to live that way.  We have life groups/community groups/cell groups…for the purpose of having life groups/community groups/cell groups.

The list goes on and on.  Bible quiz?  “Sword drills?”  By the way, I am almost positive that speed at which someone finds the book of Habakkuk isn’t any indicator whatsoever of their understanding or acceptance of the Gospel or their progressive transformation to look more like Jesus.

What I’m advocating for is a serious processing of the question, “Why?”  Why are we doing what we do?  Let me suggest that if the answer isn’t, “To make people look more like Jesus,” then stop it!

In our entertainment and consumer driven culture, not only should the message of the Church stand in stark contrast to what the world ‘preaches,’ but so should our methods.  Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.”  Posited differently, the medium (or methods) through which we communicate holds equal, if not greater, value than the message itself.  The medium (or method) through which the principle is presented plays a vital role in the way in which it is perceived.  This alone should make all of us seriously consider the methods we use to communicate our principles.

However, in an effort to sell our “product,” many pastors, churches, and youth groups attempt to “win” people with great marketing campaigns, a slick website, and lots of hype.  But, ultimately, what we win people with, we win them to.  Jesus isn’t a brand name, but the more we try to sell Him like one, the more our medium will become our message and our methods will overtake our principles.

“What you win them with is likely what you’ll win them to. If you win them with the Gospel, you’ll win them to the Gospel. If you win them with technique, programs, entertainment, and personal charisma, you might end up winning them to yourself and your methods…”

– Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church