Saturday, March 29, 2008

america is deathly sick... and we are spreading the germs

***warning, the following is the 2nd half of a long word document ramble that i have been writing for over 2 weeks...part I was posted before this is unedited and not at all *tidied up*, but i do hope you will join in conversation with me in the comments...

"america is deathly sick..."
our country celebrates a culture that embraces promiscuity, convenient divorces and remarriages, children outside of marriage, cohabitation, and sexual promiscuity. television, movies and even music are filled with images/imagery that contain language and /or images that would have caused outrage just twenty years ago (that would be 1988- not quite ozzie and harriet territory).

whether one thinks of these as positive, negative, or neutral indicators of our society, it cannot be denied that the rate at which our culture changes and becomes comfortable with those changes is remarkably fast. it has taken roughly two generations for our country to embrace what once repulsed it.

then there is the spiritual element. last month a report came out that included the following information:

** the number of people who say they are unaffiliated
with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than
double the number who say they were not affiliated with
any particular religion as children

**Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are
not currently affiliated with any particular religion.

**the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority
Protestant country

**one-quarter of [those calling themselves unaffiliated with
any religion] consists of those who describe themselves as
either atheist or agnostic
(1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively)

**the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of
the adult population overall) is made up of people who
simply describe their religion as "nothing in particular."

even by our own admission, within southern baptist churches,
less than 40% of those on the church roll actually attend that church
where they are listed as a "member".

this is the "state of the union".

jeremiah wright's recent comments sparked a still raging outcry due to their anti-american and racially charged content- yet where is the outrage that the gospel was virtually absent from these sermons?

wright is by far not the only one. when we have "christian" preachers preaching everything else but the gospel, then we should spend little time wondering why the country is in such moral and spiritual decline.

"... and we are spreading the germs"
lest we, lest * i * place all of the blame at the feet of others... lets look inwardly...

how often do we spend even five minutes a day contemplating the state of our
own souls? (per 2 cor. 13:5; philippians 2:12;1 tim. 6:20-21)
how often do we take inventory of our lives and evaluate how our lives stand
up to what scriptures says a genuine believer looks like.
(see rom. 12, gal. 5, col. 3, james, etc.)
how much of what we knowingly do or don't do is contrary to the lord's will?

how often do we wait for someone in public office, on the school board, or at church to address those things that are wrong with other people - all the while being perfectly comfortable with our own hypocrisy? how much stock and emotional zeal do we exert convincing ourselves and others that candidate _______ or if only certain legislation would pass - that will restore america?

the only hope for america is jesus christ. and he is not on the ballot. but he is available to change and save lives if we would show less excitement for who won what ball game and more zeal for seeing our relatives care more about christ and holiness than seeing the next "must see" televison show or movie.

if you are sick of the direction america is taking... make a stand. don't be the friend or family member that excuses the spiritual laziness of the believers in your life. do not be the one who would rather feel accepted than plead with your friends or family to embrace christ every day of the week, not just those sundays that they make it to church. join with me in refusing to laugh at the inappropriate jokes and remarks made at family or friend gatherings and instead initiating conversations about those things of the lord.

and when the objections come- and they will... simply remind yourself and your hearers that one day, unless the lord comes first, we will die. our bodies will fail and we will stop breathing be but into a box and placed into a hole in the ground. and our souls -and the souls of those we care about - will go to either to heaven or hell.

if we , or they are believers, our souls will enter into the presence of the one true holy and mighty god... and he will not want to talk about last night's ball game or the scene in the movie that was pretty bad, but you just "had to laugh".

if we, or they, are not believers, there will be an eternity of deserved wrath, which may include an eternal replaying of all of the times we chose to amuse ourselves with finite mindless drivel rather than have a conversation about god or the gospel.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

symptoms of a lifelong "madness"

***warning, the following is only half of a long word document ramble i have been writing for over 2 is unedited and not at all *tidied up*, but i do hope you will join in conversation with me in the comments...

i am a lifelong sports fan. as far back as i can remember, i have played sports of some sort, whether it be for recreation, exercise, or for a team. my three favorites are baseball, basketball, and football.

i love sports. i love to play them. and i love to watch them. (except golf ).

i have attended a couple of nba games, one including the all time greatest player in basketball history, michael jordan. i have watched nfl teams from nosebleed seats in the end zone.
i have been to knoxville to see the mighty tennessee volunteers dominate lesser teams (i even endured watching peyton manning before he was on every other commercial on t.v.)

but my all-time favorite team is the st. louis cardinals. i can distinctly remember watching them on t.v. and collecting the baseball cards when i was a boy. my first major league game was in st. louis between my 4th and 5th grade years in elementary school. i was able to meet my life long baseball hero, ozzie smith, when i was in 7th grade. my gracious wife even lets me hang all of my st. louis cardinal memorabilia in a hallway in our house. i literally shed tears when the cardinals won the world series in 2006.

so i truly do understand the love and loyalty millions of people in our country and others have for sports and specific teams.

"march madness" is a time of year unlike any other in sports. starting with 64 teams, countless brackets are filled out after time spent agonizing over who the upsets will be and how far the greatest "cinderella" story of the year will make it. it is fascinating to see people root hard for other teams just so their bracket will be more accurate. some people will even root for teams they ordinarily loathe. it really is a fascinating time in american culture.

i say all of this for a reason. the thought struck me earlier last week as i was rooting for tennessee to not wait until the final 10 minutes of a game to start playing - my emotions, my adrenaline, my whole life was consumed for a whole weekend by basketball.

facts, figures, stats, highlights came to me easily. discussions over every meal and with most people from thursday until sunday somehow found their way to basketball.

thursday past. friday. until late saturday afternoon, i had no conversations about the gospel, christ, or the glory of god.

did i mention that last weekend was easter? lthat ast weekend marked the celebration of the most victorious moment in all of history?

and what did all of my conversations revolve around from thursday afternoon to saturday night?

and *i* am a pastor.

oh i studied for my sermon. i read the bible. i even paused and reflected on good friday. but everytime i got around anyone else... all basketball.

there is nothing wrong with enjoying sports. but we have to ask ourselves, "do i ever get as excited about the lord and his work, his glory, his grace, as i get about what teams beats who or wins what game?"

those who say that they aren't very emotional win it comes to matters of faith can be seen screaming like their rear end is on fire at a television that cant hear them come playoff time.

why is that?

we all deserve the eternal wrath of god in an eternity spent in hell. all of us without distinction.
yet those who have placed their faith in the life and work of christ have been redeemed and have been given eternal life... yet we get uncomfortable when someone turns the conversation over family dinner to what the lord is doing/has done.
we would rather be able to laugh at inappropriate jokes or movie quotes than reflect on the majesty of god with those we love.
we get irritated when someone doesn't find it funny when, to get a laugh, we say words or phrases that we would never dare say if we were in public and first had to announce "i am a christian...".

i guess what has been bothering me is my own lack of consistency. and as i have been dealing with it in my own life i have been noticing how prevalent it is all around me...

what if we kept a record of how much we compromise in one week? how many times we do, say, or think things that we make a conscious decision *not* to do what we know we should do?

and for what? a laugh? to fit in at work. to be thought of as "relevant" or "fun". or to prove that we are not "too religious" or unable to be fun?

where does it stop- and why doesnt it bother me more?

to be continued....

Saturday, March 22, 2008

he is risen, death is defetaed..

from easter weekend last year... may these same truths move us every easter and every day...
i received my bachelor's degree in music. i also have a philosophy minor, and now i am in the school of theology in seminary [and a pastor.] but still, music holds a special place in my heart.

over my years of study in music (which is more than most) i performed hundreds of pieces of music as a soloist, member of several ensembles, and with opera companies and combined orchestras and choirs. one of my favorites is the brahms requiem. it is by far one of the most beautiful pieces of music i have ever performed. we performed it in 1999, about two weeks after the columbine shootings. i remember singing the sixth movement and being blown away, almost unable to sing from choking back tears as we sang:

Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting?
O grave, where is thy victory? (text from1 Corinthians 15 )

just thinking about the victory over death that believers can take comfort in gave me chills as we sang that text over such beautiful music that was so powerful and deliberate...defiant music. i remember feeling like i was staring satan in the face with my eyes squinted, shaking my fist in his face! how did we get this boldness, the comfort, this confidence?

as andrew peterson put it so powerfully in his song "high noon":
And the demons, they danced in the darkness
When that last ragged breath left his lungs
And they reveled and howled at the
war that they thought they had won

But then, in the dark of the grave
The stone rolled away
In the still of the dawn on the greatest of days
It was high noon in the valley of the shadow
When the shadows were shot through with light
When Jesus took in that breath
And shattered all death with his life

Be gone, you wages of sin
Go on, don't you come back again
I've been raised and redeemed
You've lost all your sting...

Let the people rejoice
Let the heavens resound
Let the name of Jesus,
who sought us and freed us f
orever ring out
All praise to the fighter of the night
who rides on the light
Whose gun is the grace of the God of the sky! the valley of the shadow
When the shadows were shot through with light
When the mouth of the tomb shouted,
"Glory, the Groom is alive"
Be gone, you wages of sin
Go on, don't you come back again
I've been raised and redeemed,
all praise to the king
The victor of the battle...
can you feel that? "when jesus took in that breath and shattered all death with his life"
there was a cold, dead, lifeless body on a slab of stone from friday until sunday. and then it breathed! jesus took in a big breath and defeated the sting of death!
"the mouth of the tomb shouted glory, the groom is alive!!!!"
can't you just picture satan and his angels... standing with mouths open... thinking that they had won, celebrating! when all at once jesus stands up and walks out of the tomb and ruins their party!

i have written, taught and preached a lot about the death of christ. why he died. what he accomplished when he died. and those things are so very important. but we often neglect *why* they are important. how glorious that it does not end with death, but jesus christ who died in our place overcame the power of death and walked out of that grave victorious! the father's wrath against the sins that killed his son was fully exhausted, totally satisfied. and jesus rose from the grave. may you have a blessed weekend where you think often about the risen lord and savior, who lives and reigns yesterday, today, and forever.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

america is not a "christian nation"

here are a couple of figures i have run across in recent weeks. with the sbc annie armstrong easter offering for home missions in full swing, let these facts and figures wake us from the pipe dreams that america is god's favorite country....

"...the first and most important statistic is that there
are a lot of americans who don't go to church - and
their numbers are increasing. the figure has jumped
from just 21 percent of the population in 1991 to 33
percent [in 2003]. In fact, if all the unchurched people
in the u.s. were to establish their own country, they
would form the eleventh most populated nation on
the planet."
george barna, "unchurched nation" moody magazine (july-august
-read in the radical reformission by mark driscoll

    • America's Protestant majority -- a mainstay of American life from the
      colonial era to the present -- is in decline and Protestant Christians will soon become a minority. The survey revealed that only 51.3% of Americans now identify as Protestants.
    • Mainline Protestant churches and denominations continue to lose membership and now represent only 18.1% of the population.
    • Those identifying as "unaffiliated" represent a fast-growing segment of the population (16.1%), including atheists (1.6%), agnostics (2.4%) and "nothing in particular" (12.1%).
    • At least 27% of families are interfaith to some extent. The percentage rises to 37% if spouses of different Protestant denominations are included.
    • Among younger Americans (ages 18-29) almost a quarter claim no religious affiliation.

    reflections by albert mohler on a recent survey by the
    he pew forum on religion & public life

Monday, March 10, 2008

no throne at 1600 pennsylvania ave.

in the past few weeks the headlines have been full of shocking uncertainties. random acts of violence in shopping malls and schools, murders, rapes, and natural disasters. today it even came out that our drinking water is doing its best "walgreens" impression.

add to this the on going war, the daily murdering of babies in the womb, the uncertain economy, and the fact that a gallon of gas costs more than an entire meal from mcdonalds (which of course, will kill you if eaten more than twice a week).

in the midst of this chaos and uncertainty, we find ourselves in the midst of a presidential race. the recurring themes from more than one camp are "change" and "hope" and "progress". no matter what one's political ideologies are, the tendency during a campaign is to present a candidate as the one who will usher in the age of "better".

and maybe things will get better. maybe for awhile. but the trajectory of our culture shows no signs of a moral, ethical, or spiritual upswing.

it is not wrong for us to want to exercise our right to vote and participate in the process of government to better our country. but we must remember that until the lord comes, there is no perfect candidate. there will never be a ballot with one who can solve all of our problems, make all things right, and make us all safe with no uncertainties.

at the end of the day, america is just another in a long list of countries that may prosper for a season, but is eternally short of the glory of heaven. whoever wins the next election, what laws are passed or vetoed- one day it will simply be "history".

but our standing with god, our relationship with christ, those we chose to witness to or chose not to share christ with, the family members we felt too awkward to confront about their laziness in the faith, the friends we compromised with so they wouldn't think less of us...
those things will remain.

the president of the united states will not... cannot "fix" america. nor will any congressman, governor, mayor, sheriff, or school superintendent.

our hope for "the good life" must come from outside of any human institution or illusion of security. we can be good citizens, but we must never behave as if we have no hope if things do not happen the way we wish.

christ is not moving into the mansion at 1600 pennsylvania ave. - but he is waiting to take up residence in every inch of real estate of our lives. and therein lies our only hope.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

a tale of two gospels...

i have linked to both of these short videos before on this blog, (justin taylor linked to the 2nd one today) but because we cannot be reminded enough...