The Worst Birthday Party Ever

After looking forward all week to the festivities, I walked into Chuck E. Cheese’s and looked for the guest of honor.  He sat, tucked away in a corner, nearly hidden from view by the beautiful decorations, signs, and balloons which had been carefully arranged around the table.

As guest were arriving, there were hugs and laughter and everyone was genuinely glad to see one another. The mood was festive as the children were handed cups of tokens to use in the arcade. But the guest of honor sat quietly, lost amid all the activity.

And then… the music!

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls! Please return to the party area to celebrate our special guest!”

The children rushed back to the tables, the adults quickly found their seats as the party started with blaring music from the Chuck E. Cheese band.  The crowd would sing along and shout out the guest of honors name at all the appropriate times in the song. The entertainment was well received and ended just as the pizza arrived!  Parents and children alike dove into the pizza and seemed to really be enjoying themselves, except for the guest of honor who still sat quietly, overshadowed by the noise and decorations.

Then, things got, well, weird.  First, party planner extraordinaire (Mom), quieted the crowd and began to speak:

“Thank you all for coming!  Wow, what a party, huh?  I think it turned out pretty well! (the guest cheered in approval) I spent weeks planning this, so enjoy yourselves!”  The crowd cheered and thanked her for her hard work. It was indeed a beautiful party.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

Next up?  The Manager from Chuck E. Cheese!  He thanked everyone for coming and marveled at the beautiful party. The most impressive he had ever seen in his store!  And then he did something truly odd:

“Chuck E. Cheese is built around making every child the guest of honor at their party!  And to that end, we’re expanding the size our store to nearly double it’s current size!” (And the crowd cheers)  “It’s going to be EPIC!  We’re adding more games, and more than 10 jumbo screens to enhance the party experience.  We’re also adding more than 50 new employees to facilitate this growth! How ’bout that?!?!?” (And the crowd showed it’s enthusiastic approval.)  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

And they came, one after another; guests to speak about how the guest of honor made them feel, the cooks to talk about the pizza, the baker to talk about the cake, and a dozen talented musicians and singers taking turns performing songs about the guest of honor with tremendous skill and passion. And through it all, great festivity and great fun.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

Finally, the mother wrapped up the party:  “Thank you for coming! I hope you enjoyed yourself. Let’s have a hand for all those who made this special day possible!” (applause)  “Isn’t it wonderful to celebrate someone we love so dearly?”  (applause).

And with that, the guests smiled, hugged, and left.  And the guest of honor sat quietly on the sideline.

For all the trappings, and mentions of his name, he was overshadowed by the activities, the festivities, and the entertainment.  All good things, but shameful when used to overshadow the guest of honor.  For all the fun, it was… The Worst Birthday Party Ever

And yet, this scene plays out Sunday after Sunday in some of the largest, most “successful” churches in the country.  People gather for the purpose of honoring the one deserving of all honor, and we spend so much time with entertainment, with speaking about the interworking and program of the organization, focusing on our gift bags, and enjoying the party itself that, well, apart from a few mentions during the singing  (which is often about how He makes us feel) and a verse or two of His word, we forget to actually focus on the guest of honor.

Talented musicians, tremendous programs, entertaining and humorous speakers, and beautiful campuses; All good things. But if we can spend 10 minutes on intro, 30 minutes on blazing guitar riffs and angelic special singing, time for humorous stories and jokes, and time to sell merchandise.. how then do we skip entire sections of His word due to time constraints? I’ve actually heard speakers say “Time doesn’t allow me to read the entire chapter, so I’ll unpack the following verses:” How do we stand to read God’s word only to be met with 10 minutes of story telling, not to explain the context of the scripture being read, but setting the narrative into which we will drop a verse or two out of context?  When we leave do we know more about the “party” and the “planning” than about “the guest of honor”?

Lord, forgive us for abandoning our first love.  Forgive us for making time for every manner of program and entertainment and only giving you a round of applause and a nod of the head as we spend less time working through your word than we do on talking about explaining the logistics of our next event.  Do I think the people at the birthday party love the guest of honor? Of course I do. Do I think they meant harm? No, I don’t. But at some point they lost focus. They forgot why they were there.  Let’s return to our first love.

I know that I’m sometimes perceived as “negative”, a “hater”,  or “nitpicky”.  I understand that, I really do.  I’m not saying the activities of the party are bad.  What I’m saying is that I truly love the guest of honor.  I came to spend time with him and to make it about him… and to see him pushed into the corner as we speak about the party?  It breaks my heart.  As a wise man once said;

So if you are somewhere where there is a focus on reading and learning the Word of God, you are truly blessed. I attend a service every week where I hear the reading of large portions of scripture, often entire chapters in context; feeling both the weight of the Law, and the grace of the Gospel.As an example, in a recent service we bowed our head to confess sin, to read together Christ’s words declaring us forgiven, confessed our faith together, read large portions of 3 chapters of scripture, had the gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins clearly presented, and met together at the Lord’s Table where we received His body and blood. And, yes, we worshiped together in song.  Certainly not any tremendous vocal performances, no melt-your-face-off guitar solos, no performances of any sort actually. But we worshipped. Together.

In an hour.

Does your church have time for multiple solo performances and none to spend actually reading the text of God’s word?  Do you spend more time on announcements than on scripture? Are you getting a verse or two which serve as nothing more than an amplifier to a story about the speaker, or merely a nod in His direction as you sing songs that could just as easily be about your boyfriend as they are about the Savior? If so, you’re too much party and not enough guest… and it may be time to leave the party.

I’m sure you love the party, who wouldn’t? It’s FUN! You love the other guests! The music is FUN! The people are FUN! The entertainment is FUN!  But do you love that fun more than the guest? Nobody at the birthday party would have ever said they loved the party more than the guest of honor.. but their actions spoke volumes. Nobody wants to leave a good party, especially if it’s aimed at our enjoyment.  If you leave the party, you may end up with a few less balloons and decorations, and you may hear grandma doing an off-key rendition of  “happy birthday” instead of the Chuck E. Cheese band, but our “guest of honor” deserves all honor.

Marc

Just in Time for Halloween: Children of the Corn at Your Church!

Something horrifying is happening in local churches.  Pastors are taking the pulpit and doing their best “Isaac” impressions from the movie “Children of the Corn”.

Am I exaggerating?  Let’s take a look.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsWH1Ngtfx0

What made Isaac so creepy? (Apart from the whole spooky demeanor and, well, killing people?)

For one, what he was saying was just close enough to being a “preacher” to fool his followers and make it creepy for the moviegoer.

Secondly, he was given direct revelation (and marching orders) from a god. His orders were not the orders we are given in scripture.

Thirdly, He was above being questioned in this role. (After all, who would argue with “He who walks behind the rows?”)

And yet this very horror story is playing out in some of the largest, highest-profile churches in our country.

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How?  A charismatic leader stands before a group of people and charges his followers with the mission he was given, through direct revelation.  These followers now believe that what they have been saddled with is their responsibility.. not only to the leader, but to god himself.  The problem?  The problem is that even with the lingo and trappings of a church, if this mission they are being charged with is not the BIBLICAL mission, it’s a false message.  And what would you make of a “christian” leader who replaces the biblical mission with  their own “direct revelation”from god?

How do you know if you’re on mission?

Well, the bible is pretty clear about what your PASTOR should be doing as well as what YOU are called to do.

Your Pastor’s marching orders?

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

(2 Timothy 3:14–4:4) – ESV

If your “Pastor” is doing something else, he’s off mission! And who is to blame for the off-mission pastor? Well, he is certainly to blame for being off-mission and not preaching the gospel of repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins.. but who is to blame for him being a pastor?  His congregation!  Isn’t that a bit harsh?  Nope.. look at that verse again:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

People get the Pastor they want.  Those who will not endure sound teaching will accumulate to themselves teachers to suit their own passions (“relevant” “life purpose” to “impact the world”) and will turn away from the simple foolishness of the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, into myth/pop-psychology and off-mision vision casting nonsense.  Take a cold, hard look at your heart for a minute; Do you feel great hearing your pastor’s “pep talk” sermons and then have little interest in reading the actual Bible?  Be careful, you might just enjoy having your ears tickled.

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These “Pastors” aren’t only failing their calling to “feed the sheep”, but failing their mission as christians..

[18] And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. [19] Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

So, how do you know if your “Pastor” is an Isaac?

1. He “preaches” without an open Bible.  I’m not talking about him throwing a single verse or two on the screen and then talking about himself, politics, or pop-psychology for 30 minutes; I’m talking about opening the bible, teaching the entire text in context and then explaining what it means.

2. He has “direct revelation” from God about what WE are supposed to do.  Whether God still speaks to people is not the point. The point is that if your Pastor has a vision for Christ’s church that involves something other than preaching the gospel of repentance and faith?  I can assure you, with the full backing of God’s inspired word, that his “vision” isn’t from God.

3. He talks more about himself than about Jesus.  Listen closely as he preaches. Sure it’s entertaining, but at the end of the sermon, do you know more about your pastor and his ministry than you do about Jesus?

Who is the hero in these stories, him or Jesus?  Is he like Isaac in Children of the Corn, wrapping his own goals and mission in church-garb and christianese-lingo?

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4. He’s above question.  “Question me not, Malachi!”  Is your church built around the pastor’s vision? Is anyone who questions it seen as questioning God?  First of all, it’s Christ’s church and He’s laid out the mission pretty clearly: Preach the gospel. Feed the sheep the full counsel of God’s word.  Administer the sacrements.  If your pastor’s vision is something different? Well, you’d better obey him in his church, because it’s clearly not Christ’s church.  You can wrap it up in whatever lingo, music, and style you want… “it ain’t a church”.

5.  He tells you God has given him a vision for you to “Do church a new way!” Ugh. Let me guess, it involves building a gigantic, multi-site campus and doing “relationship evangelism” and “serving your community” with “cell groups”.  How original. I’m guessing you’ll get to that whole “gospel thing” later.. after you fulfill your Pastor’s mission, huh? (Actually you might give Jesus a guest appearance as you have an altar call following your pop-psychology “self-help” sermon and ask them to “make a decision to become a Christ follower”.. of course, no mention of sin, wrath, or atonement, so I’m not sure WHY they would need Jesus, other than his being some kind of power source to plug into to get all the happy family, good kids, successful business stuff you promised them in your “sermon”. Sorry. Ranting here.)

So don’t be afraid of ghosts and goblins this Halloween. Don’t be afraid of things that go bump in the night…

[28] And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

(Matthew 10:28 ESV)

To paraphrase a fried of mine who has gone to be with the Lord:

Ghosts and goblins aren’t real. They can’t hurt you.  False teachers tickling your ears?  That’s real. They can kill the soul.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Marc

Note: Chris Rosebrough from “Fighting for the Faith” has done some TREMENDOUS work in this area.  If you aren’t already listening to his podcast and reading him, you’re missing out on a phenomenal resource.  Resources on todays subject can be found here:

http://www.letterofmarque.us/2012/07/is-vision-casting-biblical.html

The Five Solas: Sola Scriptura

What are the Five Solas, and why would I spend time reading about them on your blog instead of playing Doodle Jump? Or Words with Friends? Or watching sneezing Pandas on YouTube?

The Five Solas (sola from the latin “alone”) are the bedrock of much of what you believe if you are an evangelical christian. (Great, a history lesson.. with latin no less.) OK, before you run off and start looking for “fail compilation” on YouTube, stick with me for a minute. You need to know these things for a few key reasons:

1. Only by knowing what you believe can you identify and defend against what you don’t.

2. Really smart people have defined these truths over the centuries. I get it, they dressed funny and they’re all dead now, but in spite of the fact that they didn’t have iPhones or access to google, they did the heavy biblical, linguistic, and theological lifting that most of us have no ability (or work ethic) to accomplish.

3. It gives us an early warning capability. There is truly nothing new under the sun; every “new wave” that hits the modern evangelical church is a simple twist on a centuries old heresy. If you don’t understand them, you’re easy prey to them. (Molinism anyone?)

4. We’re called to do so in scripture:

[15] Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

(2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)

With that, the first Sola….. SOLA SCRIPTURA “Scripture Alone”

Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) is the belief that the Bible is the only inspired word of God and the sole guide to our faith. This means that everything that God has ordained for us to know is made clear in scripture alone.

[16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Let that scripture sink in. Understand that Sola Scriptura was written in response to the Roman Catholic church which believed that scripture alone was not the sole guide to faith, but also the extra-biblical (outside of the bible) traditions and rulings of the church. The scriptures make it clear that scripture is “God-breathed”. The greek here is fantastic… θεόπνευστος (theos/God pneuo/breathe). Literally, the scriptures were God-breathed. (Make you want to read your bible more?)

Not only is scripture God-breathed, but it is sufficient to equip the believer for every good work. It’s ALL you need! It’s the breath of God!

(This is NOT to mean “solo scriptura”. We believe the bible is sufficient in all areas of our faith, but there are other books which are helpful for subjects outside of our faith..like car repair, mathematics, world history, etc.)

Now, this was written to say that we have what we need in the Bible. Most of us agree 100% there. We don’t tolerate church leaders giving us “new” stuff outside of scripture. (Joseph Smith/Mormons, Jehova’s Witnesses, etc.)… but do we truly believe Sola Scriptura in practice, or do we allow people to take information, which is not θεόπνευστος (theopneustos/God Breathed) and put it on par with scripture?

In practice, we often unwittingly deny the sufficiency of scripture. How are some ways the modern church brings in extra-biblical sources and puts them on the level of scripture?

1. Vision Casting: If you haven’t been exposed to the seeker-sensitive movement, this is THE focus. The pastor has a vision for what God wants for the church, puts it into a plan, “casts” the vision before the church and that vision (since it’s “directly from God”) is now on par with scripture. (If you ever hear “without vision the people perish” and the speaker is talking about church planning.. run.) In fact, this plan often takes the place of the biblical mandate in many churches, and puts them in direct contradiction/competition with God’s stated plan for the church. (Preaching the Gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins, and making disciples is often pushed aside for “Meeting the needs of the community”.)

2. Extra-biblical sources/Personal Experiences: Every few years, someone comes out with a “return from hell/heaven” type book and they sell like hotcakes. The problem? It’s not biblical. To say you believe that scripture is sufficient, and to then grab another source is absurd. If you won’t read your bible, but are willing to devour the testimony of a 4-year-old, you need to reconsider. We’ve reached such a state of post-modernity in our country that the one thing you cannot question is someone’s personal experience. So, we unwittingly take personal experience (feeling, “burdens on the heart”, visions, extra-biblical prophesies, “words from the Lord”) and make them equal to scripture. This is absolutely not sola scriptura.

3. Pragmatism: Pragmatism is, in a nutshell, a philosophy which assesses the truth of beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application. In other words, if it works, it’s true. (The problem here should be glaringly obvious! We base truth upon scripture, not upon what the world views as “success”.)

How does this play out?

The Church Growth Movement (aka Seeker-Sensitive)

We’re called to preach a crucified savior, and to call sinners to repentance and faith for the forgiveness of sins. The problem? Telling visitors that they stand as objects of wrath before a Holy God will not likely lead to the “success” of your church.  So what do we replace the offensive message of the gospel with?

The Church Growth Movement (aka Seeker-Sensitive)

Is growing the church bad? I mean, don’t we want more people? Church growth isn’t bad, it’s just not our mission! We are to focus on and preach the gospel, GOD grows His church! If our focus is growth and not gospel it leads to adoption of what works, not faithfulness to what we’re called to.

This is pragmatism. This is pragmatic to the core. It’s market driven. Find out what people want to hear and give it to them. Maybe season it with a “verse” here or there, but nothing offensive like sin, wrath, atonement.  How about better marriages? Better kids?  Happy communities?  And to grow you can’t ask people to repent of sins against a holy God… that won’t do at all. How about “make a decision” to become a “Christ follower”?  “Step into the great plan God has for you?”  That’ll sell.

The problem? In a pragmatic search for “success”, we’ve replaced the god-breathed scriptures with… what?

The Bible speaks very clearly to this in 2 Timothy 4:

[4:1] I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [2] preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. [3] For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, [4] and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

(2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV)

Ouch.

Ask yourself the next time you’re listening to a sermon; Are you hearing Scripture? Are you hearing the very breath of God, sufficient for every good work? Is the speaker fulfilling his obligation to preach the word of God? Is the focus on reading, understanding, and applying scripture in context, or are you having you ears scratched?

Here are a couple of ways to tell if you’re hearing the word:

1. Are you learning sections of scripture, in their original context or are you getting a single sentence, without context, sandwiched between cute stories or jokes?

2. Can you take your notes from the sermon (or series) and find it clearly laid out in the text of scripture, or does the message need single verses, plucked from context, to assemble a thought not found clearly taught in the bible? (Red flag:  “This word/verse speaks to…..”  you’re about to hear something from OUTSIDE the text added to it, and I can almost guarantee it will be “do this”/law).

How to test it?  Take the verse that is used, take notes on what is said.. now go BACK to the verse, read the chapter in CONTEXT and see if what was preached is found IN THE TEXT. Is it what the author wrote or would the sermon you were given be completely foreign to the author. Would you ever, from an actual reading of the TEXT, get out of it what was just preached to you?

3. Is the focus more on your felt needs (more money, better job, your goals, happiness) or on Christ? Is the problem you face being defined as a “best life now” or as a sinner under judgement and in need of a risen savior?

4. Is the hero in the story Jesus and his victory of sin, death, and the grave or is it you over the “giants” in your life?

5. Is there a presentation of sin, repentance, and forgiveness or is it a checklist for self-improvement?

Jesus said the scriptures were about HIM. We are called to teach about Him for the remission of sins. If you aren’t hearing scripture, and you aren’t hearing about Christ and his atoning work to call sinners to repentance, what are you trading it for?