Tuesday, April 24, 2012

15 Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church

On Mondays, I sometimes slip into the "I'd rather be an ice cream truck driver" blues. Anyone who is a pastor will understand these "after Sunday doldrums." Of course, you don't have to be a pastor to wonder why in the world we put up with one another in the body of Christ. Plenty of people are throwing in the towel, or just moving on to the next group of misfit believers. Why have I stayed? 

I was born on Sunday, August 6th, 1967 (in the same hospital as Brad Pitt, but that's for another post). The next Sunday I was in church. Since then, I can count the number of times I have missed Sunday worship on one hand (and that's really not an exaggeration). I am a son (and grandson) of a preacher man and now I'm a preacher with a son (and two daughters). My whole life has revolved around this wonderful, marvelous, but not yet "without spot or wrinkle" Body we call the Church. With all that my parents went through as leaders in the Church, and all that I deal with as a pastor, I wonder if my children will continue in our steps. In my darker days, I wonder why should they? In my stabler moments I'm pleading with God for them to be the next generation of Reformers. My life's calling centers around the need for ongoing Reformation in the Church. It is what Christ is in the middle of doing, building up and beautifying His Bride. I want to play a role in this process. After all, I'm part of the wayward Bride that Christ is calling to the Wedding Feast.

My bride knows me well. She knows when to graciously critique my sermons and when I just need to sleep it off. Thankfully, she was a cheerleader for her school and now she is mine. When Heather passed on a link to a list of 'Fifteen Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church' I was so encouraged, I bookmarked it, shared it with all my Facebook friends and now I am archiving it here on my blog. I will return to it often, especially on Mondays.
Fifteen Reasons Why I Stayed in the Church
  1. I believe that there is no such thing as Church (with a capital “C”) without church (with a lower case “c”)--as messy and as difficult as that may be.
  2. I want to be the change in the world that I seek. And that means engaging the problems closest to me. Like in the next pew. Like in this pew. Like in my own seat.
  3. I believe that reconciling nations and people starts at home. If I can’t work toward reconciliation in my own church, there is no way I will be able to accomplish it on a broader level anywhere else.
  4. I’m not a militant separatist. I don’t believe that everybody has to think EXACTLY the way I do before I will worship with them. Even if they are more conservative than I am.
  5. I don’t expect the church to be anything other than it is—a group of difficult, broken people plodding their way to glory. The kingdom of God is coming; it isn’t here yet.
  6. I believe the church is bigger than political parties even if the people attending it don’t understand that. Even if the people who leave it don’t seem to understand that either.
  7. I believe Jesus can and wants to redeem Pharisees as much as publicans.
  8. I believe by staying in the church I earn the right to speak about the problems I see. It’s the old adage that you can criticize your family but no one else can. By staying with “my family,” I can speak about our failures and the doubts I wrestle with.
  9. I believe that 2000 years of church history holds a bit more weight than my personal experience.
  10. I have brothers and sisters in Christ who have been imprisoned and lost their lives for doing the very thing that I would be giving up.
  11. I do not want to lose people I love and who love me and my family. And while there are times that conviction must trump relationships, these relationships act as a grid to help me determine whether my convictions are sufficient enough to risk losing these people from my life.
  12. I need the church to regularly remind me about the things that I don’t like in the Scripture. Things like God’s anger and my sinfulness--things that if left to myself, I would conveniently ignore or rationalize.
  13. I am not an island. My choice to leave church affects everyone else in the congregation. Remove one part from the whole and it is no longer the same entity.
  14. I have children. And while I’ll be the first to admit that it’s dangerous to raise your children in a church that distorts the gospel, it’s equally as dangerous to raise them apart from church altogether. One way the gospel is expressed is in the loving covenant relationship that happens in the church – I want that to be part of the warp and weave of their experience. I want them to know that real commitment means taking the good with the bad.
  15. Jesus hasn’t left the church. No, of course, I don’t mean this in a sanctimonious way. (If I had, I would have put the word sanctimonious in asterisks.) I mean simply that after he threw out the money changers, Jesus continued to worship and sacrifice in the temple. His work is to purify and redeem, not to alienate or destroy.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why We Need a King

I'm starting a sermon series on the book of Judges tomorrow. It is a confusing and sometimes offensive book to many. Murder, treachery, immorality, slavery, sorcery, genocide fill its pages. Why do I think this book deserves a close study? Why would I even say it is needful in our day? Because our time is much like their's when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." In both places where this phrase occurs (17:6 and 21:25) it is linked to the telling statement: "there was no king in Israel."

This points to the theme of Judges, an apology for the Davidic monarchy. Without a righteous king to rule, people slide into ruin, apostasy and chaos. Indeed, as the book progresses, things go from bad to worse. The only hindrances to hellish conditions are the judges that God raises up when the people cry out for deliverance.

If we are not able to rule ourselves righteously, we will be ruled by another. If we do not master ourselves, we will be mastered. Our efforts to govern ourselves (in the political sense as well as the personal) have fallen woefully short. Just read the book of Judges to see what happens when people "do what is right in their own eyes" and compare it to our present society.

Do we need a dictator to come in and clean up our mess? Certainly not. Can we at long last make "a clean sweep" of the corruption in Washington, Tallahassee, Miami-Dade, the city counsel? Not a promising prospect.

Why is government (and especially monarchy) discounted or even despised throughout the world today? The only legitimate reason that kingship is not attractive to us is because in this age and this world the only kings available are finite and sinful. Listen to C. S. Lewis describe why he believes in democracy:
I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man.I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.
The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . .
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
       —C.S. Lewis, “Equality,” in Present Concerns 
If there could be a king who is not limited in his wisdom and power and goodness and love for his subjects, then monarchy would be the best of all governments. If such a ruler could ever rise in the world—with no weakness, no folly, no sin—then no wise and humble person would ever want democracy again.

The question is not whether God broke into the universe as a king. He did. The question is: What kind of king is he? What difference would his kingship make for you?

The theme of my series on Judges is that we need a king--the king who bore the cross for us, now wears the crown and will come again to put the world to rights.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Need for Strong Marriages

My friend Eric Metaxas asserts, "If strong marriages are the foundation of a healthy society, we've got a lot of repair work to do."

He cites several alarming statistics. In 2010, for the first time in our history, married couples no longer form the majority of American households. In 1950, married couples made up 78 percent of all households. In 2010, they made up only 48 percent of American households--a nearly forty percent decline! Furthermore married couples with kids comprise only 20 percent of households in America. This makes me, a man married to the same woman for 18 years with three kids, a rare breed in America. Dare I say an endangered species?

I am not trying to toot my own horn. I am making a humble plea for couple to get married and remain faithful to their wedding vows. Examine the raw data. Fidelity in marriage results in more wealth, better health, and more prosperous children. The statistics all point to the same conclusion: If you want your kids to do well in life, get married and stay married.

Of course, marriage isn't for everyone. I have many friends and some family members who are single. Some have chosen to remain single. But for those who want to live together and those who want to have kids, marriage is clearly the best option. Oh, and yes, it is God's design.

To view or listen to Eric's commentary, click here.