Wednesday, November 28, 2007

separation anxiety...

here is a great article written about the issue/abuse of "separation of church and state". it is very well written and informative without getting overly technical.

from the writings of congressman and presidential canidate ron paul: (FYI:this post does not necessairily mean an endorsement)

The entire nation seemed to condemn [the] federal court
ruling that the pledge of allegiance cannot be recited in schools.
The notion that the phrase "one nation under God" renders the
pledge unconstitutional is ridiculous to most Americans, who
strongly believe that expressions of religious belief should be
an integral part of public life. Yet although the public outcry
against this terrible ruling is understandable, the real issue
of religious freedom has not been addressed by Congress or
the media.

The judges who made this unfortunate ruling simply do not
understand the First amendment. It does not bar religious
expression in public settings or anywhere else. In fact, it
expressly prohibits federal interference in the free expression
of religion.

Far from mandating strict secularism in schools, it instead bars
the federal government from prohibiting the pledge of allegiance,
school prayer, or any other religious expression. The politicians
and judges pushing the removal of religion from public life are
violating the First amendment, not upholding it.

It’s important to recognize that the First amendment applies
only to Congress. Remember, the first sentence starts with
"Congress shall make no law..." This means that matters of
religious freedom and expression should be decided by the
states, with disputes settled in state courts. The First amendment
acts as a simple check on federal power, ensuring that the federal
government has no jurisdiction or authority whatsoever over religious

The phony "incorporation" doctrine, dreamed up by activist
judges to pervert the plain meaning of the Constitution, was
used once again by a federal court to assume jurisdiction over a
case that constitutionally was none of its business.
Similarly, the mythical separation of church and state doctrine
has no historical or constitutional basis.

Neither the language of the Constitution itself nor the legislative
history reveals any mention of such separation. In fact, the
authors of the First amendment- Fisher Ames and Elbridge
Gerry- and the rest of the founders routinely referred to
"Almighty God" in their writings, including the Declaration of
Independence. It is only in the last 50 years that federal courts
have perverted the meaning of the amendment and sought to
unlawfully restrict religious expression. We cannot continue
to permit our Constitution and our rich religious institutions
to be degraded by profound misinterpretations of the Bill of Rights.

Friday, November 23, 2007


here in 2007, i am the pastor of a baptist church, but it has only been in the last 4 years that being a pastor has even been on my radar.

i grew up the son of a music minister. i sang in *every* church musical from the time i was in elementary school through college. i received my undergraduate degree in music (classical voice).

aside from all of that, i sang and played guitar in different settings in front of countless people over the course of 5 years, including a stint in the nasvhille area playing music "for a living" (a meager one!) i even opened for derek webb a couple of times in 2004. i have played in churches, in bars, on college campuses, coffee houses, and outdoor events and concert series galore.

i say all of that only to make the point that as much music as i have been exposed to (classical, instrumental, christian, and "music not sold in christian stores" music), andrew peterson's "behold the lamb of god" is by far one of the most amazing albums i have ever heard in my life and would be on my desert island list without hesitation. (a list including the beatles, nirvana, U2, r.e.m., andrew osenga and caedmons call among others...its a long list...)

it is not a collection of old christmas 'favorites", it is all original material written by andrew himself, including the best song you have never heard - "labor of love".

the theology is sharp, the music is heart wrenching, and the lyrics themselves are some of the best songwriting i have ever heard. and not just a few of the songs.. the whole album is a work of literary art.(appearing on the album with peterson are such artists as derek webb, sandra mccracken, andrew osenga, randall goodgame, jill phillips, among others)

every music loving believer needs this album. it will make you listen to "christmas music" all year long because you can't get enough of it.
you will listen to it throughout the year because your heart will become so attached to it, you will find yourself *needing* to hear it -much like i did shortly after my son was born and my back went out. i was exhausted emotionally and mentally, so i would put my ipod on and gain much comfort from this album as i fell asleep each night.

i have written about this album here before, and i "implore" you again , go to andrew peterson's website and buy this album. it has had a profound impact on my life and many others. so much in fact, that 3 out of the last 4 years i have made the trip to nashville for the "behold the lamb of god" concert at the ryman auditorium in nashville to meet up with friends from north carolina, alabama, south carolina, kentucky, georgia, missouri, pennsylvania, delaware, texas, mississippi, arkansas, and even *MORE* places just to experience this music in person.

(peterson does tour this show, you can see if it is coming close to you here, including a free show in memphis tn. at bellvue!)

just trust me, buy this album. it will profoundly affect (and effect) the way you view not just christmas, but "the author of the faith that could make the mountains move".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the outrage of religous intolerance

those crazy christians. more cries of "intolerance" are surely swirling over those texas skies in recent days.

a church in texas is taking some heat because it refused to allow an "interfaith" thanksgiving meal and prayer service involving christians, muslims, hindus, jews and other religions.
the gathering was scheduled to be on the property of hyde park baptist church, but upon receiving information that the event was to contain prayers of other religions (thereby to gods that would be considered false gods to the church who owned the property), the church pulled out of the event. (read the whole story here)

"They notified us four days before to say that we
could not have the Thanksgiving service on their
property," said [AAIM Interim Executive
Director]".They said they did not realize
that we'd have non-Christians at the service."
Church officials told her they thought "interfaith"
meant different sects of Christianity.

we cannot know what was said and the exact circumstances that went on that led to the churches decision to not allow the service to be held on their church property.

the wording in the above paragraph is crucial, and we must remember that the events being described are being interpreted by the person writing the article.

to say "they did not realize there would be non-christians at the service" sounds very bigoted and just plain mean. but i think it is safe to say that the concern was that there would be non-christian religions using a christian church property to pray to false gods-not just that "non-christians" would be there.
i would dare say that no true christian church refuses fact any true christian church that is behaving in a scriptural way would welcome non-believers into their midst every week and celebrate the fact that they came.

another phrase worth examining is "Church officials told her they thought "interfaith" meant different sects of Christianity."

when i was in college, there was a student center called "interfaith student center". it was a religious organization (like b.s.u./b.c.m. or r.u.f.) that did not have a denominational affiliation. the students that made up that organization were catholic, methodist, pentecostal, etc. but all of the groups represented were christian groups.
in addition, often times "interfaith worship services' or "bible studies" were advertised around campus. these, too, were made up of many denominations within christianity.

so it is not a stretch to say that when the church initially received a request for an interfaith thanksgiving prayer service on their property, that they assumed it was a group made up of different christian denominations.

should they have found out exactly who was in charge and what the event was before giving the ok? most definitely. but to simply state "the church thought interfaith meant different christian groups" is misleading and can come off as a condescending comment.

now.. what actually happened at the service?

The Interreligious Ministries service blended traditions
from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Baha'i, Sikh
and Buddhist faiths, among others. It began with a procession
of leaders of a variety of religions, followed by customary
Muslim and Jewish calls to prayer, and a Christian bell
choir signaling the start of worship. There were offers of
gratitude to God in the Christian, Muslim and Hindu
traditions. A Buddhist ritual closed the hour-and-
15-minute celebration.

i am all for dialogue with other faiths. in fact, as christians we are called to share our faith with unbelievers. to do this well takes more than just handing someone a "tract and a weak-faced smile", but that we actually are able to talk *with* the person, not *at* them.

we should not be scared of people of otehr faiths. i have friends of ther faiths who have been great friends. so we should not close ourselves off from anyone who is "different".

so i am not at all against the idea of discussion and conversation, and even understanding with other religions.

but the line is drawn when anything resembling an act of worship or honor is given to another god. the muslim god is not the christian god. jews are not christians. hinduism and buddhism are false religions. this doesn't mean we cannot get along with people of other faiths, but to worship with them as other/false gods are given homage and prayed to is wrong.

we do nothing but muddy the gospel when we blur the lines of christianity in this way. we need to be clear that there is no god except the god of the bible (old and new testaments), that there is no salvation outside of faith in jesus christ, and that while we can get along with people of other faiths, we will not dishonor our god by participating in services where people worship false gods, and in doing so dishonor the one true god.

rather than join in on an inter-religious(a better term i think) service, perhaps we should take the time to befriend those of other faiths around us and share with them the good news of jesus christ so that they may spend an eternity in the presence of the glory of god. we may hurt their feelings by not joining in their worship, but perhaps the lord will save their soul because we don't.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"friends of god" his worst enemies?

[this is part 3 of a discussion started here]

"friends of god" is a documentary aired on HBO that explores some of the more visible, as well as lesser known "evangelicals" in america and their message.

HBO describes the show as follows: (its worth reading to get a feel for what the content was)

The estimated 50 to 80 million evangelical Christians
living in America today have become a formidable force
in our culture and democracy.

But the evangelical movement is a big tent. To try and
get a better understanding of the range and diversity
of this community, intrepid filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi
hit the road to meet some evangelicals and learn about
what their influence may mean for the future of the country

Pelosi ventures out over a year-long period for up-close and
personal encounters with some influential members of the
evangelical community, from Joel Osteen, the most-watched
TV minister in America, to pastor Ron Luce, the founder of
"Battle Cry," a concert tour that has drawn more than two
million young people to its events nationwide.

Pelosi also visits with a spectrum of others who embody a
wide range of evangelical experiences, among them visitors at
religion-themed parks, a Christian comic, creationist educators,
Liberty University students and activists in Washington, D.C.

...Pelosi travels to the red states and beyond to meet an array
of open and forthright evangelicals who represent a broad
sampling of the community. Many are pro-life and against
gay marriage, and believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible,
rebuking Darwinism.

Among them is Pastor Ted Haggard, who recently stepped down
as president of the 30-million strong National Association of
Evangelicals - the largest evangelical group in the U.S. - following
allegations that he had sex with a male prostitute and bought illegal
During her journey, Pelosi also visits with Rev. Jerry Falwell,
leader of The Moral Majority and chancellor and founder of
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., who articulates a
commitment to change the country and urges his congregation
to "vote your values" in elections.
"Evangelicals are the largest minority block in this country," he says.
"It's not a majority, but I don't think you can win without them.
John Kerry learned that. Al Gore learned that. And Hillary will learn
that in 2008."

i happened to have the t.v. on while i was reading a book (i know.. i need background noise to concentrate..weird but true) and i heard the intro the program. i happened to have a blank tape in the v.c.r so i recorded as i watched. i sat in disbelief at how foolish it was.
my initial reaction was shock and disbelief, then frustration, then border line anger.

i watched it again about two weeks later after it had a chance to simmer and my reaction was similar, albeit with several audible laughs. it seemed it was better to laugh than throw a perfectly good television through a perfectly good window. fruits of the spirit and all.

you may be thinking that my anger was directed at the filmamker, alexandra pelosi (and yes, she is related to speaker of the house nancy pelosi, alexandra is her daughter-though i must point out that i did not know who the filmmaker was until after the second time i watched the program)

but in truth, all she did was ask people questions about what they believe and filmed them doing what they do. it wasn't the filmmaker that made evangelicals look so closed minded, ignorant, and absurd- it was [a lot of but not all of] the "evangelicals" that were interviewed.

i won't hit (much) on ted haggard as his downfall has been very public and it couldn't be ignored as he was interviewed for the film before the scandal broke (but unfortunately not before it was released with comment).

some of the"highlights" were
* the flagrant mixture of the gospel and "church" with american patriotism to the point where the two could not be distinguished. (this shameful aspect was the most prevalent theme in the film)

* laughable if it weren't so pathetic and shameful "gimmicks" such as a drive through bank window converted into a "drive through church".

* a christian "comic" who bemoans the fact that christians aren't allowed to perform in the broader media while pontificating and stomping his soap box about politics and patriotism and christianity - but not doing what stand up comedians do -namely doing stand-up comedy.

* a pastor, when confronted with a chance to explain the gospel to an unbelieving film crew instead unbelievably chooses to "explain" that christians have better sex lives than non-christians, and takes a random survey about the intimate details of some of his congregants bed room lives.

there are more and perhaps i'll cover them in more detail another time.

lest i be leveled with the charge that i cannot see anything positive, there were some neutral and even enduring moments in the documentary. but overall, if i were an unbeliever and saw this documentary, i would be stupefied that anyone would care what an evangelical thought or believed.

and i say this in light of the fact that scripture clearly teaches that the gospel is foolishness to the unbeliever and is not discerned by the darkened mind. (1Cor. 1:23; eph. 4:18)

but if i were an unbeliever, it wouldn't be the gospel i would reject, because amazingly enough, after an hour of examining what evangelicals believe, what comes across loudly is not that we as a human race are fallen creatures in need of a savior who calls all to accept the gift of eternal life and freely gives it to all who come.

unfortunately and sadly, the message that comes across loud and clear is that "evangelical christians" are mad that the liberals, homosexuals, and pro-choicers have taken over god's chosen country and we want it back.

this is a tragedy and i fear the repercussions could be severe. not because of a 60 minute HBO special, but because if this is really the prevailing view of "evangelicals" in our country...we are in big trouble... and we are failing in our mission as christians.

Monday, November 05, 2007

no life in the best life now

[this is a continuation of a discussion started here]

the first program i saw that made me wonder why anyone in our country, let alone the world, would take american evangelical christians seriously was the episode of 60 minutes that aired sunday night, october 14th.
one of the segments was devoted to joel osteen. now i can hear some of you saying "ok stephen, we know, you hate joel osteen... give the guy a break."

while i have discussed joel osteen in the past on this blog, it is not true that i hate him. in fact, i honestly believe that he is sincere in what he is doing and what he teaches. i also believe that he means no harm and has all of the best intentions in the world. i do not believe that he would deliberately lead people astray.

but sincerity can be sincerely wrong.

the fact that he has a large church is not the primary reason that i am so wary of him. some of my greatest influences(spurgeon, piper, etc.) pastor or pastored churches with thousands in attendance.

large crowds do not an evil preacher make.

the fact is, i do not hate joel osteen. i fear him. more accurately, i fear the effect he has on the thousands who are given a hopeless hope.

for starters, here is how 60 minutes started their program:

Joel Osteen's positive, upbeat can-do message has turned
him into America's most popular preacher and earned him
the title of most influential Christian in the country.
He pastors the biggest and fastest growing
American church and his services are the most watched
religious broadcast in the country

so what is it that america's "most popular preacher" and the "most influential christian in the country" teaches?

Osteen preaches his own version of what is known as the
"prosperity gospel" -- that God is a loving, forgiving
God who will reward believers with health, wealth and
happiness. It's the centerpiece of every sermon

as stated before on this blog, it is hard to reconcile this with the scores of passages that promise suffering and for some, torture and death for the sake of the gospel. what would the believers in third world countries who go to bed hungry or are persecuted by their government for their faith think of osteen's message that god will reward believers with health, wealth and prosperity?

quoting osteen, the interviewer notices what i hope you have noticed by now..

" [quoting osteen]
'To become a better you, you must be positive towards
yourself, develop better relationships, embrace the place
where you are.'[end quote]

Not one mention of God in that. Not one mention of
Jesus Christ in that," [the interviewer] remarks. "

"That's just my message. There is scripture in there
that backs it all up. But I feel like, Byron, I'm called
to help people…how do we walk out the Christian life?
How do we live it? And these are principles that can
help you. I mean, there’s a lot better people qualified
to say, 'Here’s a book that going to explain the scriptures
to you.' I don’t think that’s my gifting," Osteen says.

the problem is, pastors and preachers in the new testament are called to use scripture, to teach their hearers the word of god.
paul told timothy "preach the word" jesus commanded to "teach them to observe all things i have commanded". the new testament is full of passages speaking of "preaching" being the proclamation of the gospel to unbelievers and the reiterating of the need for the gospel in the lives of the believers. the new testament is a collection of books written to believers with its emphasis being the glory of god in the gospel of jesus christ. our need for the gospel isn't over after conversion!

so i guess therein lies the root of my problem with joel osteen. what he does is not preaching.
now you may ask... why does that matter?

here is why it matters.

"I like to see myself as a life coach, a motivator to
help them experience the life of God that God has
for them. People don’t like to be beat down and told '
You’ve done wrong... think that most people already
know what they’re doing wrong. And for me to get in
here and just beat ‘em down and talk down to ‘em,
I just don’t think that inspires anybody to rise higher.
But I want to motivate. I wanna motivate every person
to leave here to be a better father, a better husband, to
break addictions to come up higher in their walk with the Lord "

if joel were simply on the speaking circuit doing motivational speeches, with teh same content, at conferences, business luncheons and trainings, self help groups, etc., for the most part, i wouldn't bother being worried about the content of what he teaches.

but the rub comes in here. people don't go to motivational speakers with an idea that what they are hearing will make them right with god. the preacher doesn't have to "beat people down" with what they have done wrong. but he is called to make people aware that their sin separates them from god and nothing they can do will ever be enough to earn his favor or mercy. this opens the door for teaching of grace and mercy!

osteen's message is that we are good people who haven't reached the goodness of our internal potential because of external problems.
the bible's message is that the problem is internal and the remedy is external.. in christ.

these are two different messages.

the gospel as presented by jesus and his disciples is this "repent and believe".
yet osteen himself in this 60 minute special and in an interview with larry king has explicitly stated that he tries to steer clear of speaking of sin or guilt.
how can one in need of the gospel "repent" if they have never been told they are in need of it and what it *means* to be a sinner in need of repentance?

so how is it that those who need the gospel can hear it at one of osteen's services?

these verses from romans are quite troubling in light of what osteen *isn't* saying:

rom. 10:13-15
For "everyone who calls on the name of
the Lord will be saved." How then will they
call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in him of
whom they have never heard? And how are they to
hear without someone preaching?
And how are
they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,
"How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the
good news!"

suppose someone goes to osteen's church. the are motivated by what they hear. they may even take great steps in improving their lifestyle. that is a credit to the way osteen seeks to encourage his hearers to take responsibility for their lives.

but what if they are lost?

will they ever hear the call to "repent and believe"? do they even know their need for the gospel? or is what they hear convincing them that the secret to happiness lies within themselves and their own efforts? hopefully you can see how dangerous this is.

osteen is not unaware of his critics. he responds to the charge that his teaching is dangerous by saying:

"I don’t know what can be so dangerous about giving
people hope...Causing people to have better relationships.
I'm not leading them to some false God or something like that."

osteen may not be preaching a "false god", but is he building up the "self" to the detriment of the realization for the need for the gospel?

i occasionally will watch osteen's services late on sunday nights. its true that he will hold up his bible and say (with those in attendance repeating after him):

This is my Bible.
I am what it says I am.
I have what it says I have.
I can do what it says I can do.
Today I will be taught the Word of
I boldly confess my mind is alert, my heart is receptive.
I will never be the same.
I am about to receive the incorruptible, indestructible,
ever-living seed of the Word of God.
I will never be the same. Never, never, never.
I will never be the same. In Jesus name.

after reciting this (notice the power of what "i" can do), osteen goes on to give clever jokes, some anecdotes, and some encouraging comments after having read a passage of scripture. but he never preaches the word of god.

i am scared for the lost persons (perhaps in the hundreds or thousands) who attend lakewood's services or watch on television and think that because they have heard and sincerely believe what osteen has said, that their attendance or assent to the "message" makes them right with god.

so what you have is a 20 or 30 minute motivational talk that encourages people to try hard and not give up, that god wants good things for them, then says "if you want to become a christian say this..."

this is terrifying.

certainly the bible does speak to what are called "practical matters" of life; love, finances, work, relationships, etc. but from genesis to revelation the emphasis of scripture is living life for the glory of god. (1 cor. 10:31 for example). when the emphasis is always on "me", how can we expect anyone to know that the greatest joy in life is joy in christ?

john piper asks a great question in his book, god is the gospel

"Would you be happy to go to heaven... to have all
your family there, to be free from all diseases, to
have every kind of pleasure you desire, etc....
would you be happy to go to heaven... if God were not there?"

if the message heard week end and week out is absent of the call for finding fulfillment in joy in christ, how can the heaer answer yes to that question.. or even know that they should?

to be sure, christians are to have blessings and pleasure. but if at the root of our blessings and pleasure the joy is in the gifts and not the giver, then we are idolaters.

having our best life now is recognizing that any and all good things in our lives are the result of the grace and mercy of god, the chief of which is the salvation of undeserving sinners offered freely by god through the life, death, burial and resurrection of jesus christ. this is teh message of christianity. we can be better husbands and wives, better parents, better employees, have better relationships with our friends and families, even put in a lot of hard work and effort to improve our lifestyles. but if the foundation of our joy is not rooted in joy in christ, then how will we view our lives if all the "stuff" goes away? when thieves steal and moth and rust destroy?

our best life is the gospel- and the benefit comes not from our trying harder, but from our recognition of our inability to satisfy our deepest desires and the utter ability of christ to do just that. but not because of the lifestyle he can give us- but because of the life he gives.

so no, i do not think joel osteen is evil, or the anti-christ, or even a mean person. i mean no disrespect of his person and i do not call in to question his character.
but the message of joel osteen makes me fear for those who hear it and assume it is the gospel. rather than getting their "best life now.." they may be missing any chance of life at all.

(for previous discussions and further concerns regarding this matter see here and here)

are we serious?

in the 3 weeks since i had back surgery, i have spent a lot of time doing 2 things. reading and watching television. i have been able to read more than usual since i am at home 24/7 and i have enjoyed that. but the major difference is the amount of t.v. i have watched.

normally, my schedule is such that if i watch television at all, it is either early morning sportscenter and/or news, or late at night (around 11:30 pm) when i get home from work before i go to bed. before my back went out, i had, besides news and sports, 2 shows that i intentionally tried to watch (or at least record) each week. over the last three weeks i have been amazed at how easy it is to get sucked into television habits.

bare with me, this is not going to be a rant against television...(though i suppose that wouldnt be entirley bad)

there were two programs that i came across recently that made me wonder why anyone in this country would take evangelical christians seriously at all.

it wasn't due to an unfair summary of a biased news anchor, it wasn't because a reporter mis-represented the views of the estimated 50-80 million american evangelicals.

nope. what made evangelicals look so ridiculous were the evangelicals that did all of the talking.

the two programs were the october 14th edition of 60 minutes and a documentary on HBO called ""friends of god".

over the next few posts, i will review and explore what it means if the evangelicalism presented by these two programs are representative of the actual substance .