Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sipping or Drinking Deep?

Last night, our pastor preached on Genesis 5:22-23 – the profound reality that Enoch walked with God for 300 years.

Enoch did not have a Bible. He did not know anything of the Cross. As far as we know, he was not indwelled by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t have a local church, a pastor, thousands of years of the history of God’s faithfulness recorded for him, Christian radio, commentaries, best selling books, or CBD. Yet he walked with God so fully and completely that he did not even die – he was simply taken up.

How did he learn the secret of consistency? How did he get to the point where God was his constant companion, confidant and refuge?

At the end of the message, we were challenged to identify things in our lives that hinder us from such walking. We were also challenged to ask the Holy Spirit to show us things we need to add to our lives in order to begin the journey towards the kind of walk that Enoch discovered.

Almost immediately, I knew one of the reasons I am so far from where I want to be.

I sip.

I pray, have my quiet time, and really try to think deeply. I read good books and teach and lead and invest in young men and women and employ my spiritual gifts in the body.

But I really don’t drink deeply.

I don’t linger in the presence of Jesus. I don’t pore and meditate and agonize over the text of Scripture unless there is a difficult passage I must teach. I rarely fall on my face and stay there until I’m touched by the hand of God. I don’t follow the advice of one of my heroes, Thomas À Kempis:
"The Kingdom of God is within you, saith our Lord. Turn thyself to the Lord with thy whole heart, forsake this wretched world, and thy soul shall find rest. Learn to despise all outward things, devoting thyself to spiritual things only, and thou wilt perceive the Kingdom of God come unto thee. For the Kingdom of God is peace and Joy in the Holy Spirit, the which is not given to the wicked. Christ will come unto thee, and give thee His consolation, if thou prepare for Him in thy heart a worthy dwelling place. All His glory and beauty are from within, and there He findeth delight. The inward man He often visiteth, sweetly communing with him, and granting unto him gracious comfort, peace, and wonderful friendship.

Come then, O faithful soul; make ready thy heart for this Bridegroom, that He may vouchsafe to come and dwell within thee. For thus He sayeth: If any man love Me, he will keep My word, and We will come and make Our abode with him. Give admittance, therefore, to Christ, and deny entrance to all others. When thou hast Christ, thou art rich, and He sufficeth thee; He will be thy faithful and provident helper in all things; and thou wilt not need to rely upon man. For men soon change, and quickly forget thee; but Christ abideth forever, and standeth steadfastly by thee unto the end."

And as a result I’m often tired, short-sighted, nearly powerless, and reasonably shallow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Emerging Urban Evangelicals?


What if the churches of the cities and people of color led an Evangelical renaissance... a resurgence of biblical Christianity?

What if we could answer the legitimate criticisms of the Emergents with a holistic and biblical Christianity? One that does not compromise clear absolutes, yet values people. One that is activistic, contemplative, doctrinal, and truly orthodox?

What if urban people, often on the front lines of social evolution and cutting edge ministry demands were to restore the biblical intersection of evangelism and justice? Of holiness and compassion?

What if we could engage our culture and participate in the political process without compromising the essence of biblical Christianity, and make this a viable paradigm?

What if we restored the relevance and integrity of the church by bringing truth and good theology and love to bear on people's real needs?

What if all that is good and right about Evangelical Protestantism could be preserved and all that is dead be burned away?


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Some Emerging Thoughts

I have decided to post some thoughts. First, from Nate Payne, who is a very good friend of mine – a brother who has labored alongside me and gone to war with me over the last five years. He and I serve together in the Youth Ministry here at Armitage. He is African American, and like many people here at our church, defies easy classification. He is a new kind of leader, not fitting the typical description of a Black man, a Baptist, or an Evangelical, but still identifies with all those labels at some level.

He wrote the first message below.

The second thought I posted is an old quote from Mark Driscoll. Some of you may know him as an early leader in the Emerging Church.

Both statements intersect with the changes that are happening in the church today. I feel that the worst parts of the Emerging movement are mainly neo-liberal, post-modern reactions to the worst parts of Evangelicalism. I also think that the best parts of the Emerging Church are new wine in new wineskins.

What do you think?


Steve, Since I know you blog a lot, think a lot, and get into numerous discussions, I thought that I would send you some of my thoughts about how to describe our demographic. The subtext is that for the most part when the term "evangelical" is used, the image is a white, suburban, middle to upper-middle class professional, educated, isolated from social ills, socially conservative, politically conservative, doctrinally conservative, republican. I think that guys like us (who are white but not suburban or isolated, black but not politically liberal) get a bum rap.

Therefore, I am now introducing the term URBAN EVANGELICAL to the cultural lexicon. We are indeed socially conservative, but not socially isolated. We are politically conservative, but not politically self-interested. We live in a city filled with religious "buffet-style" picking and choosing, yet we actually maintain a strong stance on clear, scriptural TRUTHS that we will not waiver from. We are doctrinally conservative (i.e. high view of scriptural authority, deity of Christ, even Calvinistic!), yet we are not so entrenched with our viewpoints of EVERYTHING that we are not willing to work with fellow believers who hold a differing opinion on some less essential conclusions.

We stand against all sorts of sins: fornication, adultery, drug use, theft, abortion, and homosexuality to name just a few, yet we don't throw stones because these are people we live next to, work with, pray for, and minister to. We aren't isolated FROM them, we live AMONG them.

You see, URBAN EVANGELICALS actually live IN the real world, but are not OF the real world. The regular evangelical as has been described elsewhere simply does NOT live in the real world, but is OF the world. We are not white; we are White, Black, Latino, Asian, African, and whole lot more. We are not rich. We are not poor. We are not capitalists, and we are certainly not socialists. We believe in free enterprise, but most of us give large chunks of our earnings back to ministry. We are URBAN EVANGELICALS! I will let you take the rest from here Steve. Pass the word. Change is comin!! =)


Mark Driscoll:

There is a strong drift toward the hard theological left. Some emergent types want to recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in His hair, who drank decaf and made pithy Zen statements about life while shopping for the perfect pair of shoes. In Revelation, Jesus is a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone BLEED. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up. I fear some are becoming more cultural than Christian, and without a big Jesus who has authority and hates sin as revealed in the Bible, we will have less and less Christians and more and more confused, spiritually self-righteous blogger critics of Christianity.

What do YOU think?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Reflections on an Earlier Time

Pilgrim’s Progress – A summary:

In this work, John Bunyan uses an allegory – the story of a “pilgrim” named Christian and his journey – to illustrate the life, from conversion to death, of the faithful disciple of Jesus.

The story begins when a man named Graceless from the City of Destruction (Earth, or this world) comes across a Bible and upon reading it becomes profoundly convicted about his sin and guilt, with the understanding that he is unable to survive God’s judgment. This guilt of sin becomes in the story a great burden strapped to his back that he in no way can relieve or rid himself of. He takes to walks alone in the fields and sleepless nights as he is in deeper and deeper despair over his state. Because of this behavior, his wife and children and neighbors begin to think he has lost his mind and try various abusive tactics to “bring him back to his senses”, but to no avail. Finally, Graceless encounters Evangelist, who shows him the path to the Celestial City, which he enters through the “wicket gate”, visible at some distance with the help of the Light.

Graceless decides to go on pilgrimage, and sets out for the gate. Of course, his friends and relations in the City of Destruction do not understand him and try to dissuade him from such a foolish and costly journey. Nonetheless, he will not be dissuaded and sets out with a companion named Pliable. Unfortunately, he meets with one of the many obstacles he will encounter along the way at the Slough of Despond and nearly gives up before he even gets to the gate. The Slough represents the kind of discouragement and despair that can entrap and work against anyone who seeks to follow Jesus, and sure enough Graceless, who is now called Christian, loses his companion, who returns home.

Before Christian can get to the wicket gate, he is met by Worldly Wiseman, who attempts to convince Christian to rid himself of his burden in an easy and expedient manner by resorting to Morality – essentially avoiding the cross and attempting to be justified by religious works. Christian begins down this path, but seems to sense its danger. He is met and admonished by Evangelist, who turns him back to the path that leads to the wicket gate.

Christian enters the gate, and so begins his journey on the King’s Highway. He follows the highway to the Interpreter’s House (the Holy Spirit) who illuminates him in the essentials of a disciple’s journey, and finds himself deeply refreshed by the experience. Soon after leaving the Interpreter’s house, Christian encounters Mount Calvary, where he sees the cross of Jesus and the empty tomb. It is here, at the cross, that he is fully and finally relieved of his sin burden.
Christian encounters a number of other things on his journey, many of them great difficulties, but also some simple and unique joys. He scales the Hill Difficulty, but at the top finds the House Beautiful (the local church or congregation) where he is greatly refreshed. He battles the fiend Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation and overcomes him. He passes through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and though terrified by what he sees and hears, finds encouragement from the 23rd Psalm in the midst of it. He is despised at Vanity Fair along with his traveling companion Faithful, who ends up losing his life in that town; he is tempted to return to the delights of the world at Hill Lucre, and his detour at the Bye Path Meadow costs him greatly when he and his new companion Hopeful from Vanity are captured by the Giant Despair and held at Doubting Castle.

Through all these experiences, he learns great truths, is constantly comforted and provided for by God’s people, has profound fellowship and communion with fellow pilgrims he meets along the way, and learns how to evade temptation and resist the urge to give in and give up. Ultimately, the highway leads him to Beulah Land, just across the River of Death from the Celestial City. It is here at Beulah that he is refreshed and encouraged to overcome the final obstacle, which is death. In the midst of the river, Pilgrim is nearly overcome with fear, but is encouraged and reminded at last by Hopeful of his secure status as a Son of the King, and finally passes into the Celestial City to the great joy of the Shining Ones and all who dwell there.

Book Two is the excellent sequel of the story of his wife Christiana and their four sons, who themselves follow the footsteps of his journey and arrive safely at the other side.

How this book challenges us to live today

One of the things that immediately stood out to me and that I found in contrast to the church in the West today was the emphasis on self-mortification and suffering as positive aspects of the disciple’s life. In an age where we try to keep church members attending by serving expensive coffee and making sure the climate control is optimum, the challenge is to present cross-bearing as a fundamental aspect of true Christianity without apology while still meeting people at their various stages of spiritual development. We have grown very comfortable in the Western church, and we must regain the self-denying spirit of an earlier time before we lapse into a collective spiritual coma.

I was impressed with how the characters on pilgrimage were all horrified by their sin and were deeply grateful for forgiveness. It reminded me that we need to be unapologetic in talking about, preaching against, repenting of, and grieving over sin. Not that we want to live a life of “sin management”, but rather that the pursuit of Christ needs to include a healthy loathing of sin and all its attendant death.

Another recurring theme in the book is endurance. Like the pilgrims portrayed in the allegory, we will encounter opposition, persecution, temptation, and weariness. In an ecclesiological climate that tolerates and even encourages a certain amount of catering to our flesh, it is imperative that we fight hard to remain “in the way” and continue to fight the battles that are part and parcel of the Christian life. Parallel to this idea are the concepts of combat and delayed gratification. I know that for me personally, it is difficult to remain on a “war footing”, yet the greatest reward comes to the one who waits on God for his gratification, and the greatest rest comes to the one who has labored the hardest in spiritual combat. Thomas À Kempis said, “If thou willest not to suffer, thou refusest to be crowned. If thou wouldst win the crown, fight manfully, and endure patiently; for without labour, there can be no rest; without combat, no victory”. This goes against the grain of most of American Evangelicalism today, but would be so profitable for us if we could recapture it. A final facet of Bunyan’s portrayal of endurance is the need for complete dependence on God, which Christian finds so true in his journey. The reality is that we are helpless by ourselves, and we simply will not endure unless we are living in humble dependence on the provision of God.

Bunyan makes no apologies for an insistence on sound doctrine. Interestingly, this was written well before the Evangelical era, yet its distinctive Reformation theology is still fresh today. Because of the battles that have been waged in the last 150 years over theology and doctrine, some have come to conclude that doctrine is the problem, and if we are to ever have “unity”, then we must forgo insisting on certain theological essentials. The challenge for us is to be united around truth as well as mission.

Related to the things I have already mentioned, Bunyan’s vivid portrayal of Christian’s perspective on this temporary and perishing life is a real tonic to the contemporary church. While we must engage this world intelligently and compassionately, it is imperative that we keep in perspective the fact that it is passing away. Only then can we “store up treasures in heaven.” Particularly compelling is Christian’s response when he realizes his city faces judgment and he must leave it. What he values becomes clear. He counts all things loss – even his family – for the sake of Christ Jesus (Php. 3:7-10) and goes on pilgrimage without them. He sees the goods of this world as they really are – useful and even necessary, but of no real value in comparison to that which is coming.

Finally, a challenge to us today is Christian’s fear of God and his sense of the preeminence of God’s glory above all other things. We have created a very humanistic and anthropocentric take on our theology, at least at the street level, where we fool ourselves into thinking the thing God cares about more than anything else is people. In reality, it is God’s glory and His own great name that is foremost on His mind. A man-centered theology leaves one helpless to understand, then, things like the Egyptian plagues, the destruction of Jericho (“men, women, and children”), and God’s wrath poured out in Revelation. And it hobbles us in any ability to understand human suffering or to truly comfort someone who is experiencing it. I was challenged anew to fear God more and tremble at His Name by reading this book.