the gospel matters most

Tim Challies is a Canadian blogger and church elder.  Last weekend Christian luminaries like Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Wendy Gritter and Peter Rollins swept into Tim’s hometown of Toronto for an emerging church conference called “The Eighth Letter”.  Each presenter had 15 minutes to share what they thought God’s most urgent message would be today if He addressed one to the North American church and added it to the 7 he wrote to Asia’s churches in Revelation.
Facing something of a lion’s den at the podium, Tim passionately insisted that getting the gospel right is the most urgent thing for the church.  Every other good thing pales in comparison.  It’s worth a listen for every Christian.  It’s about 2/3 of the page down on the 10/6/2010 entry.  http://www.challies.com/   

Houston, we have an authority problem

When I was a high school student trying to be a hippie without the commitment, I didn’t have much good to say about authority; any kind.  The underground newspaper I published my senior year was full of broadsides against the establishment (60’s jargon for authority).  I volunteered no alternative and I doubt I ever really thought about what would happen if the president, the police, my parents, my teachers, or church leaders decided I was right and quit.

Anarchy is what happens in the absence of governance.  It’s when no one calls the shots, no one leads, no one rules; or maybe someone tries to but governs too weakly to influence those they lead, are too weak to restrain the violent or the opportunists in their midst.

Yesterday I began preaching a series of sermons on submission called “Can we learn to love the grace of authority?”  “Grace” because I think authority is such a good thing that it can fit into the category of “undeserved blessing.”  Yet I don’t think people in general like it–not even Christians.  


Maybe some of our evangelism tips our hand.  You know, when we skip the whole sin thing.  “Celia, I know you’re feeling very alone; just invite Jesus in and He’ll be your friend.”  Or, “Craig, I know you’ve been battling depression for a while; just trust Jesus and you’ll find a purpose for living.”  Those may be benefits of the gospel, but they certainly aren’t the gospel.  The gospel is a new and forgiven life from Jesus that requires humbly bowing the knee (Philippians 2:10).  Do we shy away from saying so because people–maybe people like us–are allergic to authority, period?

When some Christian parents won’t correct their children in love and strength, I wonder if with some it’s because they themselves have a bad taste in their mouths about authority.  Which leaves them few choices except pleading, yelling, pouting, bribing, or effectively turning their God-given authority over to their hapless child.  What a tragic and lifelong price children may have to pay for mom and dad’s misunderstanding.


And then there are the husbands who won’t lead their wives.  Good riddance to the men who have mistreated, bullied, or led their wives harshly.  But as the pendulum arcs back the other direction, can’t we jump off in the middle and be strong men who are willing to assume our calling to lead our wives like tender shepherds instead of the stereotypical tyrants detractors take us for?

What about the government?  Many of us evangelicals are politically conservative.  Accordingly, we fume and rant over a government we think is too intrusive, too liberal, too quick to spend money.  Some justify cheating it because its laws are ridiculous–or just because it’s too confiscatory and they feel entitled to keep what they can get away with.  Those of us who wouldn’t go that far pay taxes and vote, but do we realize the institution is God’s?  Pray for it and rejoice in it, accordingly?


Submission to authority has a pecking order: if human authority tells me to sin or opposes God, I must resist it, object to it like Peter and John did (Acts 5:29).  And there is a way to submissively disagree with any authority.  Even the prophets were able to do that with God.  But I hope this series gets us all to peer into the Word and let it checkmate any misconceptions about authority that our friends or culture have instilled in us.  Because based just on Genesis 3:1-9 alone, rebellion against any authority God’s established is Satanic.  Check out the Satanist’s pentagram.  And then the symbol for anarchy.  Hmm. 
 

Mutant Christianity

This post is for those 35 and younger (hey, I had to pick some cutoff age!).  On Sunday Pastor Brandon mentioned a CNN article on a troubling new book entitled Almost Christian.  The author is Princeton Seminary prof and United Methodist minister Kendra Creasy Dean who suspects many “Christian” teenagers, actually aren’t.  Aren’t Christians.

Teen or not, what do you believe?  About God, Christ, yourself, grand purposes, the world, the future?  I’m not talking about the things you don’t know, but what you say you do believe.   

OK, next question: will you find it in the Bible?  You sure?  Read the CNN article:

If you’re over 35 and went ahead and read anyway, do you think this is a problem limited to the younger set?  Me neither.  Luke 6:46.

Not the cape & mask kind

Friday afternoon Tyler and Becky made each other the same promise I’ve had most couples repeat at the marriage altar: “…whether you are healthy, sick, or even bedfast.”  

The next morning Sam died.  My neighbor was 65 but had been dying for seven years.  A welder by trade, he also served as a pastor for 31 years in various places.  Then he fell from a roof and suffered major head trauma.  The injury and necessary medications left him physically and mentally disabled.  He could speak but not hold a conversation; he could shuffle along to the car sometimes, but not get up and walk on his own.  

Instead of letting him waste away in a nursing home, Hannah tenderly cared for him at home.  By herself.  Weak as he was, her husband still towered over her.  She fed him, bathed him, dressed him, cared for the house and grounds, took him to the doctor.  She did it all.

Without complaint.  No pity party.    

“…or even bedfast.”  A couple of years ago I told her, “You’re one of my heroes, Hannah.”  No cape and mask could substitute for the love-in-practice of tenderly caring for a mate who can no longer care for you, no longer love you, no longer protect you, no longer provide for you, no longer keep you warm on cold nights, no longer take care of himself.  


You’re still my hero, Hannah.  You stayed, you served, you glorified God.  Well done.

Daddy’s Wallet

When Chelsea Clinton recently got married somebody wrote out a very large check.  Initial speculation put the soiree’s price tag between $3 and $5 million but it looks like it came in at a modest $2 million.  I guess the checkwriter was the former president.  He said his only jobs were to walk his daughter down the aisle, and “pay the bills”.  I guess he can swing it.  But should he? 
Last week I read a letter from a hapless father to one of those advice columns in the newspaper.  For their daughter, his ex-wife and her second husband were planning a very expensive wedding.  Dad was on disability due to a work accident and wondered if he was still responsible to pay for half of a wedding in which he had no say and which he could not afford.

The columnists assured him that he was not obligated to pay more than he could.  Then they gave some blanket advice to engaged couples: We strongly urge young couples to help pay for their own weddings and stop bankrupting their parents for one day’s festivities.
1 day?  Part of 1 day.  The ceremony may last 20-30 minutes, the reception 2 hours.  Add some minutes here and there and let’s call it 4 hours.  At an average US cost of $27,000 (not counting the ring or the honeymoon) that’s $6700 an hour.  If the groom’s parents take the initiative, costs are sometimes divided between both sets of parents.  But it’s still a chunk of change–and you’re in my prayers if God blessed you with all daughters!  
I’m with the columnists–but my beef goes beyond weddings.  For some time its been prevailing doctrine that parents are morally responsible to pay for extravagant weddings, pricey college tuitions, and anything else their kids want that a friend’s parents buy her.  Parents fall in line as if this is holy writ direct from Mt. Sinai.  If they fail, they sin.
Trying to be good parents, moms go back to work, dads take a second job, maybe remortgage the house, or raid retirement accounts or take out loans.  The really desperate put some more on a credit card that’s not yet maxed out.  And the children?  Most have no clue the enormous sacrifices their parents are making.  That’s OK.  Sympathy’s not the point; financial savvy is.  Parents who liberally fund their children’s wish lists for 22 years inadvertently handicap them.  The studies all say that in general the twenty-something crowd is woefully ignorant about money; “financially illiterate” one said.  That’s to be expected when Mom and Dad have always picked up the tab.  It’s like taking the pitches at home plate instead of handing the bat to your children so they can learn to swing themselves.  

No student who’s paying half of his way through school is going to party away his freshman year.  In fact, he’s probably too busy with his part time job.  The student with some financial skin in the game is both motivated and appreciative for his education in a way that his friend whose daddy’s got it covered, isn’t.  Same with the bride who’s been given a wedding budget.  Besides how to plan a wedding, she’s learning money management.  “Oh boy, this requires decisions: if I do one thing, I can’t do another.  If I get the swans and white doves, I can’t invite Cindy and Bryan or my two cousins.” 
On the matter of college, parents get defensive, “My kids could never afford to go without my help.”  All three of mine did.  They weren’t the first or last to do so.  Many, many more have paid a part of the costs.  There are scholarships, grants, summer jobs, jobs while in school, options to attend a jr. college or less expensive school, loans and the military.  For many years, people without money who wanted to attend college, FOUND A WAY to go.
When the time came for our children’s weddings, we set a figure we thought we could afford and said, “This is how much we can give you.  If you spend more, it’s your own responsibility.”  They made some very frugal choices.  Not quite a Bride’s magazine splash, but very nice and special nonetheless.  On the first day of their honeymoons, they were just as married as they would have been with $20,000 weddings.

Here’s the thing: children have no idea what it costs their parents to provide all that they provide.  Even once a daughter is 18 and bound for college, nothing’s changed because Mom and dad are still picking up the tab for most or all of her expenses.  If he’s in college or just out, many young people are still living at home off their parents largess.  They don’t pay rent (a mistake, I think), pay utilities, buy food, stock a kitchen with utensils and small appliances, don’t have to buy furniture…  If they didn’t pay for college, and still aren’t paying for most of their living expenses, how will they learn what living really costs, managing income and outgo?  Are they ready for marriage like they think?  The financial learning curve might be stalled.
Parents can help by starting young.  Limit what you buy little children, and as they grow require them to buy some of what they want.  I advise engaged couples, “If you have children buy them less than you can afford.”  Buying them too much stuff turns them into little materialists instead of disciples.  Who then grow up with a sense of entitlement instead of a sense of servanthood.  Go ahead, buy them some of what they want.  But some, they should buy (with allowance money, odd jobs pay, birthday money, etc.), and some, nobody should buy.  If you want to help them get a car, go ahead.  Help them.  College?  Help them.  Weddings?  Give them a budget.  
I don’t think it is moral to help our kids more than we can.  It’s certainly not moral to help them more than we should.  Requiring them to pay for some things themselves will get them started to seeing the world as it is, not the world mom’s and dad’s generosity pretends that it is.

I think Gratz would approve

Parking on Orange I walked down the alley and crossed King St.  Opening the Literacy Council door I stepped inside and looked around.  “Can I help you?” a woman in the other room asked as she peered around the corner.

“Yes,” I replied, handing her a business card.  “I’d like to know how the people of our church can help others learn how to read.”  Her mouth dropped open, “Oh that’s so wonderful!”

“Several months ago we buried a longtime church member who didn’t know how to read until he was well into adulthood.  He was very bright and had been able to fool his boss for a long time.”
“That’s very common,” she explained.  “People who can’t read often have very good memories and get by with them.”
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for our church for 15 years; helping people learn to read.  Kinda slow at getting around to it,” I admitted.  “Do I understand that you train the volunteers?”

“That’s right.  And we provide the materials.  Sometime it’s one-on-one, sometimes as a small group.  Sometimes it’s for a relatively brief time.  We have a lot of people who are functionally illiterate.  That is, they can read some words, but not a prescription on a medicine bottle.  Or something on a job application.  We have people who want to learn to read well enough for citizenship.  Or to get their driver’s licenses.  Or for a job.  We have people who want to learn how to read just so they can read the Bible.”
I thought of how Wycliffe Bible translators have seen entire cultures transformed.  Yes, because of the Scriptures, but first they reduce unwritten languages to writing, and then teach how people how to read their own languages.  Who can walk according to the Scriptures if they don’t know what the Scriptures say?  What possibilities!
I wondered, “Would there be people in our community that we could work with, or would it all be done in Lancaster?”

“Oh no, we have people from all over.  There are people many different places waiting for someone to help them.  But there might be some whom people would have to come here to the city to help.”

“Hmm.  Actually, we’re a rural church but a growing number of our people have bought houses in the city–including our youth pastor.  Maybe some of them would be interested in helping those in the city.”  I was getting more and more enthused.  So was she.

“Pastor Rohrer…, is that right?  The woman who handles this just left for vacation a few minutes ago and will be gone all next week.  Is it ok to wait and have her call you when she gets back?”

“That would be fine.  I’ll wait to hear from her.”

“Oh pastor, you have no idea what a blessing this is; it’s like an answer to prayer!” 
I read a book about every five days.  Plus the daily newspaper, a couple of magazines, and articles on the internet.  How radically different my life would be if reading terrorized me instead of filled me with joy: the Bible would have nothing to say to me, I’d know nothing of other cultures, and I’d know only the opinions of those I surrounded myself with.   
So, …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16.  I’ll let you know more when I do.  But I think Gratz would approve.

God forgive us

Is Islam the fastest growing faith in the world?  Yes.  Is authentic Islam a physical threat to others?  Well, moderate Muslims will object but I think jihad Islam is more faithful to the Qur’an than their brand.  Is authentic Islam a threat to religious freedom in America?  I believe so.  Do Muslims need Jesus?  Yes.  Who is to reach them?  Us.  Christians, that is.  Is burning their holy book a good way to do that?  Uh…, I doubt it.
A small Gainesville, Florida church caught the attention of CNN with its plans to burn copies of the Qur’an on the 9/11 anniversary.  Dove World Outreach Center stated their purpose on Facebook: “…in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 [ok, that’s good] and to stand against the evil of Islam.  Islam is of the devil!”  Maybe I’ve missed it but I haven’t found any Bible command to symbolically trash other faiths.  And I don’t see how this shows Christian love.  Sounds more like the template of Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist.

Is it really some sort of compromise with the world to stay away from a soldier’s funeral except to pay respects?  Is it a sellout somehow not to brandish signs that rage “God hates fags”, or not to burn the Qur’an?!  Where is the humility?  Do Dove’s professing Christians forget the days when they too were condemned sinners, justly headed for hell?  And that is what some of you were (1 Corinthians 6:11).  And where is the love for Christ that usually spawns a love for lost people?  Where is the sympathy for those whose eyes are blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:4)–as ours once were?

A love for Christ which ignited a love for lost people and reached an Ethiopian diplomat, a Jewish zealot, a Roman officer, a Greek philosopher, and across the centuries has set free millions of others from every tribe, language, nation and religion–including Islam.  Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among the peoples (Psalm 96:3).  e3’s Tom Doyle reports that last year 23,000 American Muslims turned to Christ in faith.  I wonder if the ashes of some charred Qur’ans will make that number soar this year…  Or plummet.  God forgive us.