Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Is Media simply Anti-Tebow because they are Anti-Jesus?

Tebow is probably one of the more dichotomizing figures in professional sports. For a 2nd and now probably a 3rd string quarterback, no one draws this much attention. Perhaps its because he's a former Heisman trophy winner, but there have obviously been plenty of Heisman trophy winning quarterbacks who have just fizzled out in the NFL without much noise. Ever heard of Gino Torretta? Is it because he's such a unique player, with talent but bad form, and amazing ability to keep a play alive?
Or does he receive bad press and find people rooting against him simply because he is an outspoken Christian athlete? One lad believes such is true, and another responds to that complaint. Check it out here. It's a thoughtful article.

But Tuesday, CBS Sports NFL analyst Randy Cross said that media like me are bashing Tebow simply because he's openly Christian.....My personal belief is there are people in the media, people in the stands, who are predisposed to see a guy like that fail ... just because he's so public about the way he feels."

Now I know Randy Cross personally. By personally I mean that I once saw him walking out of Perimeter church one Sunday as I was going in. So this is obviously getting personal. It gets even more personal because before one of Tebow's bowl games, I was actually interviewed by Rick Montgomery from the Kansas City Star because my blog post related to a story he was working on about Tebow, Christianity, and sports.

Anyhow, I really appreciated Rick Reiley's article here and actually end up siding more with him than my good friend, or passing acquaintance Randy Cross.

1.) First of all, Cross and all Christians can sometimes be paranoid jump the gun in "seeing" persecution. Sometimes Christians can see "persecution," meaning that people don't like them or root for them to succeed because of Jesus. Sometimes people don't like them or want them to succeed, and it has nothing to do with Jesus. In fact it is because they are just not very likeable, or arrogant, or separatist. Of course Tebow is none of these things, but some folks like to play the "persecution" card when there really is no persecution. I don't think every anti-Tebow thought is anti-Jesus. In fact many are not.

2.) Journalists are supposed to be unbiased. Any reader of this blog knows that I consider that task impossible. However, the good ones don't let their bias control or dictate their writing. Reily has a track record of covering religious athletes. You can limit your bias and that's his point.

I've criticized Tiger Woods enough for 10 men. He's Buddhist. Am I anti-Buddhist?
Whose god Tim Tebow worships has zero to do with my criticism of him. It's his business. Like I care. Tebow is about the 1,297th-most outwardly Christian athlete I've covered. He doesn't stick his god down my throat. Doesn't genuflect after touchdowns. 
And even if he did, it wouldn't affect what I write about him. I've covered openly devout athletes for 33 years. Lord knows I'm used to it. 

3.) Look at the kind words Reiley has to say about Tebow.

Doesn't answer every question with, "Well, first, let me thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and, yes, I think I did pull my groin in the third quarter."

Yes Christian athletes can say, "Our team played well or it didn't play well," just like you can say, "Thank you," to a job well done at work.
4.) Reiley correctly blasts my good buddy Randy Cross for his duplicity.

In that case, what does that make Cross after he tweeted this about former New York Giants wide receiver and outwardly Christian David Tyree, after Tyree publicly raged against gay marriage:
Same sex marriage will create "anarchy"? Cross tweeted. Did some of the glue on Tyree's helmet effect (sic) his brain function? Let's stay in 21st century okay?

Tim Tebow has the same same-sex views on gay marriage as David Tyree.

5.) Some bad stats.

Look, roughly 85 percent of Americans are Christian. While that doesn't necessarily mean that 85 percent of media members are Christian, chances are a vast majority are. So, why would all these Christians be so hell-bent on crucifying this kid for his Christianity? It'd be like Al Jazeera ripping Khadafi for being Muslim. 

Not sure where these stats came from. Certainly NOT Barna and his "ship is sinking" percentages he likes to throw our way that cause people to freak out. Obviously for Reily, "Christian" has become an adjective to describe a person who isn't a Muslim. But even that stat seems high to me.....

6.) Is it possible some in the media probably don't like Tebow or want him to succeed? Sure. Does it seep through in their journalism? Possibly. Some people don't like that cat because he is an outspoken Christian. Its not too big a stretch to think that some bias does seep through their "pages." I just don't know if Cross is accurate in his complaint about "the media." Even Tim Tebow bashers like Colin Cowherd like Tebow after having him on his show.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Sadness and faith

I've been getting email updates from my former pastor, but current colleague and friend, about a little boy who had been suffering for a while with cancer and now has gone home to be with the Lord. I hated getting these updates, because it was almost always bad news in regards to his health. It brought on sadness, and would regularly almost bring me to tears. That's not easy to do unless I'm going through a period of depression and watching a sad movie while separated from family. 

Parents shouldn't have to bury their kids. They just shouldn't.

Sometimes life seems to ordered. It really does. For instance, when you by chance happen to run into someone across the country who lives right next door, or when you know that if X didn't happen, then Y wouldn't have. Or when you're trying to make it under the garage door before they made sensors and it lands on your head instead of your neck (that happened to me in elementary school). And you thank God for being in control. There are times when God feels so in control. A number of times. And I give my "approval" (of course he doesn't need it) or at least thanksgiving-but probably the former is more accurate.

And there are other times, like this, when God's goodness and His power don't seem to square with what's happening in the world. Those times become harder when its you, or your church family, and now it is you who find yourself now in the middle of a "Job-ean" storm. 

This is not a treatise on how or even why you should trust God in the midst of such uncertainty. This is simply my reflection, and what I have to do, so that I don't fall into Eeyore mode.

How do we know that God is out there or that He cares in the midst of this? Well, there are of course evidences of a zillion little things happening which indicate He is with us. But of course there are "indicators" to the contrary (though of course it does fit into the overall bible story of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation) like children dying, and babies being born with heart defects to parents who love Him dearly.

Well, there are two options as I see it. Either the biblical view of God as both Sovereign and Good is true, or it is not. I either embrace the world as God sees it, or I can embrace some of the "indicators" to the contrary. Two options. Either way, the choice involves a faith commitment; it is not only about evidence or "indicators," as helpful as they have been for me.

I may not get a vote, but as a child of God, I have a voice. Sometimes that voice is to cry out, "Why Lord?" But I'm crying out to Someone. Someone who cares. Some who has experienced premature death. Someone who will return one day. That sounds crazy. But it is really no less crazy than being angry at no one, or even having a legitimate reason to be angry. That's where atheism begins to NOT make sense to me.

My faith commitment isn't as "crazy" as Soren Kierkegaard may have put it. There are indicators. But indicators make no sense without first trusting in the One who indicates His presence in His world. 

I'm sad for this family and this loss. I pray that they can see a Savior who cried when His friend died (John 11). I pray that they can also see a Savior who welcomes His child home with loving arms. Both are true and real in this hard to understand, fallen but redeemable world. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Parenting class

I'm pretty excited about our new parenting class we're offering at Redeemer. Finding the right material can be hard sometimes when there are several different options from which to choose. But after re-examining and skimming (I'd already read and enjoyed it before) Gospel Centered Family by Tim Chester and Ed Moll, and getting confirmation from a trusted leader, I knew we had made the right decision. Then, the next day, Gospel Centered Family goes on sale for 60% off! I really knew we had made the right decision.  You can also get it from the Good Book Company (one of my new favorite publishers) for the same price.
This book practically challenges parents to foster a gospel centered environment in the home, but it also has a section directing parents to consider their missional responsibility as well. Some books neglect that part of it, but I was glad to see Chester and Moll wed the inward and outward component of family ministry in their short book. Again, it is very short, with short chapters and scripture passages, making it to read with a friend or a group.

But another reason I'm excited about the class has nothing to do with the content-though the content from day one will reinforce this timely truth. We're running the parent class alongside our existing Sunday School classes. Not only is this designed to give folks another incentive to take advantage of this 36 week discipleship tool (Sunday School), but it helps us reinforce that parents have the primary responsibility in discipling their children.

Sunday School, nursery program (we start teaching at 2!), children's church, youth group, bible clubs, assist parents; they don't replace them. I think we're teaching that not just with our words, but in our structure. Am I being anal? Neurotic? Possibly, but sometimes well meaning churches may have a particular vision, but their structures may actually preclude that vision from being accomplished. 
These programs are of valuable assistance, and we've been praying for increased participation. I guess I just don't understand folks who don't want any assistance in discipling their children: Amy and I teach Connar everyday formally and informally, but we need the help of Sunday School teachers and will relish the help one day from a youth group.

At the same time, parents have the privilege, responsibility, command, and often difficulty (that's whey do this stuff in community-we need it) of teaching their kids the gospel and its application to all of life. So running a parenting class alongside the children's Sunday School class retierates that the church equips parents to be the primary though not single or solitary, disciplers of their children.

Once a week Sunday School is great, particularly for 36 weeks out of the year. We see a difference in those kids who've gone through the studies for years and those who haven't. But I would bet that much of that difference is the result of godly parents who recognize, welcome, and relish the assistance, yet have also made family discipleship a 24-7 lifestyle instead of a program or a bible study.

Most folks probably fall into the "outsourcing" mode when it comes to discipling their children and the assistance has become the totality of their children's discipleship. We're hoping to hit that issue head on this Fall. Looking forward to what may happen.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? Part III: Learning from Puddy's apathy

This is the third post on adult baptisms and the dearth of them in some Presbyterian circles. It is ironic, or maybe just apropos, that last night I watched one of the few "spiritually" minded Seinfeld episodes. Elaine eventually realizes that her churl of an on-again-off-again boyfriend David Puddy, is a professing Christian. It took the "Jesus" fish and pre-set Christian radio stations for the sirens to finally sound in her head. 

In all of the humor of the episode, and it is a fine one at that, I found it raised some wonderful concerns and questions about evangelism. Puddy, with his outwardly, culturally Christian indicators like Christians music, memorabilia, utterances of the 10 commandments when it suited him, displayed a quality consistent with many true Christians today. He didn't care one bit about Elaine's eternal salvation.

In fact, Elaine calls him on this, and posits this contradiction present within many of us: "If I am going to Hell, which I'm not, but if I am, you should care that I'm going to Hell." Wow. How true.

While I'm not going to psycho-analyze a fictitious character, I think we can at least see WHY he didn't care about the salvation of his girlfriend. And from that, how WE can care more about the salvation of our friends and neighbors.

1.) Outward Christian signs don't necessarily reveal any spiritual depth. The "Jesus" fish, the Christian music, even facebook posting of bible verses (I'm obviously pro-bible verse posting and am often encouraged by such verses; however, we shouldn't NECESSARILY equate their posting to the Spirit working) are all accepted, and sometimes expected forms and demonstrations of personal faith. Yet it is possible to display such signs, even good signs, without the Spirit really at work changing our hearts. That is one reason we often don't care: the Spirit isn't at work in our lives and His fruit has been tossed aside and ignored so that we can focus on external demonstrations.
2.) The outward keeping of the God's law, which is a good thing (His Law), can also lead us to care less about the salvation of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Puddy told Elaine to steal her neighbor's newspaper. Elaine responded, "But that paper belongs to Mr. Potato guy. Why don't you steal it?" Puddy quickly retorted," Sorry, Thou shalt not steal." Outwardly he didn't steal, but inwardly he was obviously breaking the heart of the commandment by trying to get Elaine to steal it for him. Sometimes the outward conformity to God's law, or simple morality can become an enemy of love for others, because we are in actuality, missing the arrow of God's law: pointing us to Jesus. Hard to love others when we don't see Jesus love for sinners like us.

3.) No grace, no care. Puddy then explains why it is OK for her, but not for him to steal: "Why does it matter if you steal it; you're already going to Hell?" Obviously he has no concept of grace. If Puddy does break God's law, he is hurting His chances of going to Heaven. So at this point, he knows nothing of grace. God has offered a salvation plan, which means following Jesus example. He doesn't want to depart from that path because He doesn't want to miss out; the doesn't want to get zapped. That's not grace. It's no wonder he doesn't care. That's not really good news: do your best and don't mess up or you'll be cut from the team like an injured NFL star. 

On another Seinfeld episode Puddy declares, "I got nothing." He's got nothing to share because he hasn't tasted grace. When we don't regularly taste grace, that we can't screw up our salvation, we will care to share. We won't care less, we'll care more.

4.) Know grace, care. Finally at the end of the episode, Puddy has his heart broken as the priest delivers him the bad news: because he and Elaine are sleeping together, they are both going to Hell. At one point, this is beautiful. You see someone so confident in his good works realize that his sins have disqualified him for heaven. Unfortunately the priest tells them nothing of the gospel and so Puddy is left with nothing.
If he were a believer he could say, "I do need to repent from this sin of shacking up. And I will. You're right about that. But no sin disqualifies me from Christ's one time atoning sacrifice. I'm repenting and resting in Him."

But because Puddy knows religion and not the gospel he is left hopeless. He didn't care to share the gospel because he didn't understand the gospel. He didn't care about the life of his friend because He didn't realize what Jesus has done for his people already. In order for our lives to demonstrate a greater concern for those outside Christ, we have to go back and see ourselves in both Elaine and Puddy. We do sin, and sin quite often. And we do many times follow the law, but our hearts have various motivations. 

Yet the offer of the gospel is for the licentious and the religious, for people like you and me. And once we see that no one can say to the true believer, "You're going to Hell," that God would be even be acting unjustly to send the believer to Hell because he doesn't re-punish sin, we will begin to see our apathy evaporate.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? Part II: Desire

This is a follow up post on why someone may not have seen as many adult baptisms in a Presbyterian setting as in a Baptistic church. One reason, and I don't think its the only reason, is that there just might be fewer conversions. 

However, I want to depart from comparing denominations or convictions on baptism. Comparing theological differences, particularly when they deal with gospel truncations can be helpful. And comparing evangelistic strategies can also be helpful as we have much to learn from each other. But comparing the "results" of evangelism, which are ultimately the Lord's work (Acts 13:48), can lead to either pride or jealousy. So I'll focus particularly on why we don't see more conversion than we would like, and not on why we don't see more conversions than them

All Presbyterians-and when I say that I don't mean folks who necessarily subscribe to the polity or theology of the P.C.A., but who are currently attending/members of such a church-should at least consider why we don't see more conversions.

Here are a few possibilities. In no ways am I zeroing in on evangelism to the neglect of other ministries of the individual believer and the church; it just happens to be the a pertinent issue when dealing with a dearth of conversions. All of these particular possibilities are couched in lack of desire.

1.) We don't care that much, so we don't pray that much. This sounds un-spiritual, and that's because it is. But it may very well be a good representation of our hearts-mine included. Perhaps we just don't care as much as we say we do. If we're not regularly praying for specific people to come to faith, we should probably not be surprised when specific people don't come to faith. If we don't have specific people we would like to see come to faith, and plug into the life of the church, then we need to ask God for specific people to come into our lives. God is cool with that: He's opened some doors for us recently. 

Then open up your eyes and see who's there. And if you need the faith to believe a specific someone could come to faith, you can ask for that too. I think we all have people we deem "un-reachable." I guess sometimes you could say our lack of conversions may stem from lack of faith as much as lack of desire. It has for me.
2.) We don't care that much, so we don't prioritize any time for such relationships.
Time is precious. We have family. We have work. We have hobbies which help burn off stress or help us spend time with family. You can't invite your friends to work, but you can invite them to things that are currently in your schedule. Checkers motto, "You gotta eat" rings true. Invite them to things you already do and you'll find you actually do have the time.

3.) We don't care that much, so we aren't inentionally trying to move our non-Christian relationships to the next level of verbally sharing the message of the gospel. This is where I stink. I'm great at building relationships, pretty good at inviting folks to church, but often don't find myself being as intentional with my questions that till the soil for personal gospel sharing. Praying for desire is still a legitimate prayer in this stage.

4.) We don't care that much, but we never recognize our apathy. As a result, we don't repent of it. None of us probably care as much as we think we do. Again, I'm not highlighting evangelism above leading your family, honoring Christ at work, mercy, discipleship, but simply want to raise the point that many of us probably don't care as much as we think we do. Perhaps that's one of the main culprits.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Do you guys baptize adults in this place? (ammended)

Someone asked me the other day whether or not Presbyterians baptize adults. Surprised at the question, I told him that we do. He responded that he had never seen it in his several years at one P.C.A church. I told him that I'd baptized an adult and his two young daughters one Sunday, assuring him it does happen. But why does it not regularly happen, or at least as often as you might see in a Baptistic church?

1.) One explanation could be that Baptistic churches will re-baptize folks. So if they have been baptized as an infant, the church may require or at least encourage re-receiving the sign of baptism. People can be baptized more than once, sometimes more than twice. In a Presbyterian church, we will not re-baptize. So if someone who was baptized as a child or a teenager, and yet truly comes to a embrace and cherish Christ for the first time as an adult, he or she won't be re-baptized. Baptistic churches tend to think of baptism as an outward sign of an inward reality, whereas Presbyterians see baptism as sign and seal of the promise. I have no desire to argue the validity of the latter, but simply want to show why we and they do what we and they do. So that may account for some of the lack of adult baptisms in Presbyterian churches.

2.) There is another other explanation; I don't like it, because it is a bit more condemning. Yet I think it may be more likely the culprit in the dearth of Presbyterian adult baptisms as compared to our Baptistic brothers and sisters. It is possible that Baptistic churches just do a better job at reaching people for Christ than Presbyterian churches. It is possible that they simply "see" more conversions, or at the very least, more professions of faith. That's probably the reason as much as I hate to admit it.

Now of course some Presbyterian churches do see plenty of adult baptisms. It has not been my experience in PCA churches where I've been a member or minister. Yet. I'm not throwing in the towel.....

As far as to why there are discrepancies in new professions of faith, which soon lead to the adult baptism discrepancies, well, that's for another day. By the way, hope you enjoyed the picture of the 80's Mormon baptism in the right hand side of the post. Apparently they immerse. Somehow I missed that in all of my front door Mormon conversations. Just for the record, Presbyterians would baptize you if you came to faith out of a Mormon background. Their baptism is not Trinitarian and so we would "legitimately" baptize for the first time. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Terrell Pryor, Re-Punishment, and the Cross

Ohio State standout QB Terrell Pryor who "withdrew" from the school was declared eligible for the NFL supplemental draft. The question of whether or not he was eligible stemmed from the fact that he had been under a 5 game suspension for some shenanigans like selling Big 10 merchandise and the like. He hadn't been kicked off of the team but "quietly" withdrew preceding what could have been quite an ugly scene.

In order to qualify for the supplemental draft, a player must show that his status has changed -- such as being declared academically ineligible by his school -- after the NFL's regular college draft has been held.

His eligibility for the NFL draft came with a caveat: he would be suspended for the first 5 games of the NFL. He and his agent had this to say about the suspension:

"The five games we happily agreed to, voluntarily," Rosenhaus said. "The alternative wasn't very attractive. We're grateful for the chance." 

Now it sure beats the alternative of not being drafted and having to get an actual job, like basketball star Delonte West looking to Home Depot for employment (due to the NBA lockout).

Some NFL players have wisely pondered how far back the NFL can punish future NFL players for sins committed in college.

"I don't understand," said Buffalo Bills safety George Wilson, an NFLPA representative. "My question is, with this Miami probe, are those players who took those gifts, are those guys -- guys that violated NCAA regulations -- are they subject to his discipline as well? Is it retroactive? This opens up a big can of worms.

Since I'm not an NFL player, or college football player for that matter, I could really care less about the precedent it sets-though I do see the point. But I am a pastor and so want to offer a take from my pastoral vantage point.

Is the NFL punishing someone who has already been punished? Had Terrell Pryor already served his punishment? Perhaps yes and no. He hadn't served his 5 game suspension but instead quit. But he quit, because of his 5 game suspension. Regardless, lets just say some sort of punishment happened. If so, then the NFL re-punished Pryor. 

That matters very little to most of us. But what is more consequential is the notion that God re-punishes His children, after already punishing the sins of His people on the cross of Christ. Either Christ bore the punishment for sins and there is no longer any punishment needed or allowed, or there is sin left that we need to be punished by God and others. 

Christ exhausted the punishment for all sins of all believers, so we need not be fearful of God's wrath upon us. We shouldn't self flagellate (not really sure how anyone would think this is a good idea), but most Christians find ways much more subtle like moping, feeling guilty, reading more of the bible or praying longer. Nor should we use the cross as an example of our restorative discipline practices like spanking, time-outs, or church discipline. For instance, saying things like, "Jesus went to the cross because God hates sin so much, so I need to spank you so you can know that God hates sin," is, well, detestable, demeaning, and discounts the person and work of Jesus.
ESV 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

ESV 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, 

The work of the cross is complete and erases fear of re-punishment for the believer. So don't re-punish yourself, re-punish others, or think God needs to re-punish you in any sort of punitive manner that satisfies your debt of sin or compares the act of discipline to the cross.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The irony, I think, of Fantasy Football

Football started back last week and that has me happy. I'm glad the yahoos that are football players and owners finally realized that they both needed each other to make money. But one thing I'm also excited about is fantasy football

I find an incredible irony in fantasy football. Football is the consummate team sport, for no one player can carry the team. The running back, regardless of his talent, needs an offensive line in front of him. The quarterback needs the offensive line, and needs some quality receivers if he (or rather his team) is to succeed. The same thing goes with the defense.

Yet fantasy football is about individual stats (with the exception of a "team defense"). That's the point. It highlights the individual so much so, that some "fantasy folks" (real folks, just a bit too much into fantasy football) could care NOTHING about an actual team. All they follow are individuals and their stats. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this-in fact it can be helpful when the team you care about stinks. It is just ironic how this team sport has denigrated into such an individualistic endeavor.

I don't think fantasy football (or fantasy anything) could have developed in the East. It certainly couldn't have developed 50 years ago, regardless of the lack of technology. For better or worse, we in America quickly reduce things to the lowest common denominator: the self as opposed to the family or community or nation.
And still, fantasy football, further adding irony to the mix with its attention to individual stats, CAN end up fostering community. Of course there are those who spend hours and hours on fantasy football, getting lost into the cyberspace transactions of players. They probably need to get a life or a job or work harder at both.
But because men often need a "reason" to get together, fantasy football can become that reason. This year we are hosting a draft party together, as opposed to the on-line draft fiasco of last season where some folks couldn't log in and so flooded my inbox. This will give folks who don't know each other, or don't know each other as well, an opportunity to get together. And at the end of the season, when the winner will get something from the losers, we'll have another chance.

During the season, menfolk who didn't know each other now have an opportunity (a "reason") to interact with one another. Youth now have an opportunity to further build relationships with adults they are "playing" that week.

In the end, fantasy football, which reflects ardent individualism, can actually lead to community. Ironic? I think so. Or maybe the whole process of redeeming the culture is itself an ironic process, as we move from from one's intention to Another's intention...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brief Break

I'll be taking a brief blog break here the next 2 weeks but will be up and at it again shortly after that. Thank you for following this blog, and I look forward to writing again soon.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Justification by faith or convictions?

One of the things I neglected to mention in my last sermon, probably due to the awkward pause caused by my temporary thought vacuum, was how easily well intending folks can fall into the trap Paul warns against in Phil 3:1-6. For Paul its not "Who let the dogs out," but "Don't let them in!" These "dogs," the "mutilators" of the flesh are trying to convince folks to place confidence in their good works in order to gain more favor with God and be a real part of God's community.

But who are dogs which we should watch out for today? All kinds of parenting models or books on varieties of topics pop up from time to time and gain quite a following. Some can be quite terrible. Some can be OK, others great, but even good stuff can become divisive very quickly because we are so prone to need some sort of justification before God and others. I think that's really the issue. You need Jesus, but you also need to school, or parent or think, or look like us. That's why we tend to very fiercely at times propagandize our convictions. Some churches have been so infiltrated with "dogs" that they become a ________ friendly church. Ultimately something either good or bad (doesn't really matter) has become another source of justification. Folks are justified before each other, aka, considered true committed Christians, when they follow a certain model of parenting, schooling, politics, etc...

So its not that folks are necessarily trusting in this stuff to save them from Hell, but they are trusting in this stuff to make God and others like them more. In other words, to "get in good" with God and us, here's how you can belong. If you don't think like us, we'll make you feel marginalized with our little jabs, inside jokes, or celebration of how well our political, parental, schooling, worship models work.
Fellowship is granted and maintained based upon whether or not the other Christian shares the same convictions. Or fellowship is sought solely based upon shared convictions. But fellowship can also be granted by folks in the church based upon what they DON'T believe in. Sometimes we're hesitant to grant the right hand of fellowship to folks who DO believe in something the majority of folks in the church DON'T believe. While some churches say, "You must believe in this model to be a part of us," others may say or act like "You must not believe in this model if you want to fit in here."

I think Paul is arguing that this behavior can't exist alongside of justification by faith. Justification by faith reminds us that God justifies us before Himself. But now that we're justified before God through faith in Christ alone, are we left to justify ourselves before others by our works, or convictions? Nope, justification is a one size fits all thing. It's redeemable before God and the church. 
Heresies certainly cause much needed church splits; there can be a time to divide. Personality, improper peacemaking, and worship differences cause more. But I think even more church divisions, and denominations as a whole, have sprung from people trying to justify themselves before God and others by their convictions. Jesus' work is easily marginalized if we're not super careful.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I got by with a little help from my friends

Two Sundays ago I preached a sermon called "I get by with a little help from my friends." I focused in on how much Paul, Ephaphroditus, Timothy, and the Philippians really needed each other. Today its no different; we still do need one another. And I didn't mean to, but God actually used me to illustrate that point during this Sunday's sermon "Who Let the Dog's Out? (I've been trying to stick with song titles, though I've obviously varied the genre of music!).

I literally only "got by" with a little help from my friends. Since we meet in a movie theater, I heard some rumbling. I paused and said, "Is that from another theater or is it thundering outside?" Then I completely forgot where I was. Completely. So much so that I couldn't go back to my notes (I really wasn't following them anyway). I couldn't move forward or backwards. My brain completely shut down. It's a lonely feeling up there when you have no words to say. Lonely and scary for sure.

As much as I tried to get to the next point of application, I basically had nothing. So I asked my dear friend running the power point, "Mark, where was I?" He had nothing too. Finally, a woman yelled out, you said, "If we know more, we rejoice more!"

Then I was back up and running. I finished without much of a problem. I can't describe to you the elation of her answer to my question.

I learned a few things:

1.) If my ADD wins, then I lose. I can't respond to outside stimuli. And I have a history of it. Once during a beach wedding, I stopped the homily and said, "Oh cool, there's a shark!" But I picked back up and didn't miss a beat. I learned my lesson this time.

2.) People paying attention to the preached Word is not just important for them, its important for the preacher. But I hope to never have to "need" them to pay that much attention in the future.

3.) It was embarrassing for sure. But from what people talked about afterwards, I think the Word was preached clearly, illustrated effectively, and applied personally. I think Jesus exalted Himself, while at the same time humbling this preacher. Sometimes he does that to us, doesn't He? Sometimes he likes to make Himself look good even at the expense of not allowing us to look so good. In other words, just what John the Baptist prayed, "He must increase but I must decrease." I should not be bummed when God answers that prayer by increasing Himself but decreasing myself.  Though I didn't pray that specifically, I nevertheless I'm glad God will always do "His thing."