If Isaiah, Jonah, Jeremiah or Habakkuk were to show up today in the United States preaching their prophetic messages of repentance, rejection of wickedness and transformative action, 90% of the evangelicals would reject them for being divisive, criticize them for being judgmental or harsh or willfully choose to be identified with those they were condemning so as not to be associated with them. With few exceptions, prophetic voices who stand against sin are shouted down by Christians in the United States. We look for more reasons to disagree with them, than agree with their message. We are so desperate to avoid the labels of intolerance or “hatred”, that we are quite willing to remain silent or even join in with the bashing. We give the wicked the benefit of the doubt and rarely do the same for those who are actually in the Family of God. No wonder we have no impact, no influence, no respect and no virtue. The salt has lost its savor.
Sometimes I hate to be right.
A decade ago, I wrote a series of articles on my blog (don’t look for them now, I took them down some time ago) on the problems facing the Christian Colleges largely supported by Independent Baptists. (I was still ensconced in that identity at the time.) It was a serious of 3-4 articles wherein I very pointedly named about a dozen things they would need to change if they were to survive in the coming decade. It created a firestorm. The articles got 10′s of thousands of hits — particularly in cities like Pensacola, Tampa/Clearwater, Greenville, Chattanooga, Springfield, MO, etc… I was informed I was no longer welcome on the campus of one of my alma maters for daring to publicly challenge them. Another one banned faculty and students from accessing my blog. (Such childish reactions, ftr.) Others accused me of being a rabble rouser.
Today, I heard that Clearwater Christian College is closing. This follows recent announcements from Tennessee Temple that this was their last year and they were “merging” with Piedmont (which has largely become an “online” institution) and also Northland International closed its doors. Prior to that, Calvary in Lansdale, PA had closed, as had Spurgeon Baptist Bible and Atlantic Coast Baptist. (Piedmont hoovered up their assets as the last two were closing.) Baptist University died. BJU has been hemorrhaging students in recent years as has Hyles — largely due to various scandals — and most other extreme right institutions affiliated with churches are barely functioning with the possible exceptions of Crown and West Coast which are both church-based colleges which will likely disappear when their founders die off or retire.. There are a handful of tiny ones run by churches, but they have never been credible. Cedarville does well, but they have moved more mainstream with excellent academics and a recent alignment with the SBC. Pensacola can afford to give away its education due to Beka Books, but otherwise would be struggling as they still don’t have credible accreditation. BBC/Clark Summit has changed its name as they struggle to find their niche and BBC/Springfield is on life support and I predict they’ll be one of the next 2-3 to close. Boston Baptist and Davis are about as small as a school can get before it collapses without outside support. Liberty has sucked the life out of most evangelical schools as they have developed a world-class campus and a national student body base with nearly 100,000 students. Ironically, some of these schools once had robust student bodies numbers in the thousands at their peak. (BJU/TTU/BBC-Springfield had 4,000+, HAC had nearly 3,000. BBC/CS had around 1,000.)
Years ago, I noted that if these schools wanted to survive they had to start thinking regionally, instead of nationally as Liberty and Cedarville took over the national market. I wrote that the right-wing schools had to get over the fixations with music styles, Bible versions, affiliations/associations, the hyper restrictive dating and dress rules, the lack of academic freedom, the incestuous over-hiring of alumni and over-control by alumni. They had to stop their foolish disparaging of any form of accreditation or their students would leave for more credible institutions. I was right. They refused. Called me a liberal and compromiser. They disparaged my ministry — PCC refused to allow us to recruit faculty from them and the Sword of the Lord magazine did a two-part series trashing my church, me and a conference we hosted.
I wish they had listened. Now it’s too late. As has been the case with many fundamentalists I know, if they can’t control something, they’d prefer to kill it. In their mind, they won by losing. It’s really sad, if not pathetic. I was right. I wish this time I hadn’t been.
I’ll probably write more on this in a few days. Stay tuned.
This post is a reprint of an article by Dr. Charles Wood of South Bend, IN. He has been my friend, mentor, father figure and confidant for many years. His wisdom gained from a long life well lived is a constant inspiration to me. You can get a daily missive from him by writing him at LORCHUCK@aol.com and asking to be on his mailing list. You’ll be blessed if you do it!
“We’re all vulnerable. Everyone who walks in the church door can be helped or hurt in what happens during the next hour. Whether saint or sinner, preacher or pew-sitter, old-timer or newcomer, child or geezer, everyone is vulnerable and should be treated respectfully, faithfully, carefully. No one, however, in the church family is more vulnerable than the pastor’s wife. She is the key figure in the life of the pastor and plays the biggest role in his success or failure….And yet, many churches treat her as an unpaid employee, an uncalled assistant pastor, an always-available office volunteer, a biblical expert and a psychological whiz. She is almost always a reliable helper as well as an under-appreciated servant. You might not think so, but she is the most vulnerable person in the building. That is to say, she is the single most likely person to become the victim of malicious gossip, sneaky innuendo, impossible expectations and pastoral frustrations.
“The pastor’s wife can be hurt in a hundred ways – through attacks on her husband, her children, herself. Her pain is magnified by one great reality: She cannot fight back. She cannot give a certain member a piece of her mind for criticizing the pastor’s children, cannot straighten out the deacon who is making life miserable for her husband, cannot stand up to the finance committee who, once again, failed to approve a needed raise, or the building and grounds committee that postponed repair work on the pastorium [Does anyone have a “parsonage” anymore?]. She has to take it in silence, most of the time. It takes the best Christian in the church to be a pastor’s wife and pull it off. And that’s the problem: In most cases, she’s pretty much the same kind of Christian as everyone else. When the enemy attacks, she bleeds. The pastor’s wife has no say-so in how the church is run and receives no pay, yet she has a lot to do with whether her husband gets called to that church and succeeds once he arrives. That’s why I counsel pastors to include with their resume a photo of their family. The search committee will want to see the entire family, particularly the pastor’s wife, and will try to envision whether they would “fit” in “our” church.
“The pastor’s wife occupies no official position, was not the object of a church vote, and gives no regular reports to the congregation on anything. And yet, no one person in the church is more influential in making the pastor a success—or a resounding failure—than she. She is the object of a world of expectations …She is expected to dress modestly and attractively, well enough but not overly ornate. She is expected to be the perfect mother, raising disciplined children who are models of well-behaved offspring for the other families, to be her husband’s biggest supporter and prayer warrior, and to attend all the church functions faithfully and, of course, bring a great casserole. Since her husband is subject to being called away from home at all hours, she is expected to understand this and have worked it out with the Lord from the time of her marriage – if not from the moment of her salvation – and to have no problem with it. If she complains about his being called out, she can expect no sympathy from the members. If she does voice her frustrations, what she hears is, ‘This is why we pay him the big salary,’ and ‘Well, you married a preacher; what did you expect?’ She is expected to run her household well on the limited funds the church can pay and keep her family looking like a million bucks. And those are just for starters! The pastor’s children likewise suffer in silence as they share their daddy with hundreds of church members, each of whom feel they own a piece of him, and can do little about it. (But, that’s another article.)
What do we owe to the pastor’s wife …
1. We owe her the right to be herself. She is our sister in Christ and accountable to Him. My wife was blessed to have followed pastors’ wives who cut their own path. So, in some churches, Margaret taught Sunday School and came to the woman’s missionary meetings. In other churches, she directed the drama team and ran television cameras. A few times, she held weekday jobs while raising three pretty terrific kids. And, as far as I know, the churches were always supportive and understanding. We were blessed.
Allow the pastor’s wife to serve in whatever areas she’s gifted in. Allow her to try different things, and to grow. But do not put your expectations on her, if at all possible. Do not try to tell her how to raise her children. Do not try to get to her husband through her with your messages or (ahem) helpful suggestions.
2. We owe her our love and gratitude. She has a one-of-a-kind role in the congregation, which makes her essential to the church’s well-being. Recently, as I was finishing a weekend of ministry at a church in central Alabama and about to drive the 300 miles back home, a member said, ‘Please thank your wife for sharing you with us this weekend. I know your leaving is hard on her.’ How sensitive – and how true, I thought. That person had no idea that my wife underwent surgery two weeks earlier, and I had been her nurse ever since, and that in my absence, my son and his family were taking care of her, and that I was now about to rush home to relieve them. Church members have no clue – and no way of knowing – regarding the pressures inside the pastor’s family, and should not investigate to find out. What they should do is love the wife and children and show them appreciation at every opportunity.
3. We owe her our love and prayers. While the Father alone knows her heart, the pastor may be the only human who knows her burdens. Pray for her by name on a regular basis. Then, leave it to the Lord to answer those prayers however He chooses. If we believe that the Living God is our Lord and Savior and that He hears our prayers, we should be lifting to Him these whose lives are given in service for Him. Ask the Father for His protection upon the pastor’s wife and children – for their health, for their safety from all harm, and for Him to shield them from evil people. Pray for His provisions for all their needs, and for the church to do well in providing for them. Pray for the pastor’s relationship with his wife. If their private life is healthy, the congregation’s shepherd is far better prepared for everything he will be asked to do.
4. We owe her our responsible care. What does she need? Do they need a babysitter for a date night? Do they need some finances for an upcoming trip? If they are attending the state assembly or the annual meeting of the denomination, are the funds provided by the church budget adequate or do they need more? Is the wife going with the pastor? (She should be encouraged to do so, if possible.) Ask the Holy Spirit what the pastor’s wife (and/or the pastor’s entire family) needs, and if it’s something you an do, do it. If it’s too huge, rally the troops.
5. We owe it to the pastor and his wife to speak up. Sometimes, they need a friend to take their side. If your pastor’s wife has a ministry in the church, look for people to criticize her for: a) dominating others, b) neglecting her home or c) running the whole show. To some, she cannot do anything right. You be the one to voice appreciation for her talents and abilities, her love for the Lord, and her particular skills that make this ministry work. Imagine yourself standing in a church business meeting to mention something the pastor’s wife did that blessed someone, that made a difference, that glorified the Lord. Imagine yourself planning in advance what you will say, asking the moderator (who is frequently the pastor) for a moment for ‘a personal privilege,’ without telling him in advance. And, imagine yourself informing a couple of your best friends what you are planning to do, so they can be prepared to stand up ‘spontaneously’ and begin the ovation. (Hey, sometimes our people have to be taught to do these things!) The typical reaction most church members give when someone is criticizing the pastor’s wife is silence. But you speak up. Take up for her. Praise God for her willingness to get involved, to not sit at home in silence, but to support her husband and bless the church.
6. We owe them protection for the pastor’s off-days and vacations. After my third pastorate, I joined the staff of the great First Baptist Church of Jackson, Miss., and quickly made an outstanding discovery. The personnel policies stipulated that the church office would be closed on Saturdays and the ministers were expected to enjoy the day with their families. Furthermore, when the church gave a minister several weeks of vacation, it was understood at least two full weeks of it would be spent with the family in rest and recreation and not in ministry somewhere. As one who took off-days reluctantly and would not allow myself to relax and rest during vacations, I needed this to be spelled out in official policy. When a pastor is being interviewed for the position and when he is new, he should make plain that his off-days are sacred. The ministerial and office staffs can see that he is protected. The lay leadership can make sure the congregation knows this time is just as holy to the Lord as the time he spends in the office, the hospitals or even the pulpit.
7. We owe them the same thing we owe the Lord: faithful obedience to Christ. Pastors will tell you in a heartbeat that the best gift anyone can give them is just to live the Christian life faithfully. When our members do that – when they live like Jesus and strive to know Him better, to love one another, to pray and give and serve – ten thousand problems in relationships disappear.
“Finally, a word to the pastor’s wife …It’s my observation that most wives of ministers feel inadequate. They want to do the right thing, to manage their households well and support their husbands, keep a clean house, sometimes accompany him on his ministries, and such, but there are only so many hours in a day and so much strength in this young woman. She feels guilty for being tired, and worries that she is inadequate. The Apostle Paul may have had pastors’ wives in mind when he said, ‘Not that we are adequate to think anything of ourselves, but our adequacy is of God.’ We are inadequate. None of us is worthy or capable of this incredible calling from God. We must abide in Him or nothing about our lives will go right. One thing more, pastor’s wife: Find other wives of ministers and encourage them. The young ones in particular have a hard time of it, with the children, the young husband, the demanding congregation and sometimes, Lord help us, even an outside job. Invite a couple of these women for tea or coffee. Have no agenda other than getting to know one another. See what happens.”
In order to avoid having to answer a bunch of private emails and questions in public about whom I’m supporting for this election, I am posting my endorsements here. Please note that these are my private endorsements and may or may not the opinions of my employers, associates, family or friends. They are mine alone. I’m not super enthusiastic about some of these choices, but have taken in a variety of factors in making my list. Feel free to distribute, use or ignore.
North Carolina Endorsements
Tillis (A vote for Haugh equals a vote for Hagan)
US House of Representatives
District 6 — Neither Candidate
District 8 — Hudson
District 9 — Pittenger
District 12 — Coakley
NC State Senate
District 41 — Tarte
NC State House of Representatives
District 98 — Bradford
District 104 — Dan Bishop
Mecklenburg District Attorney
Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners
At-Large — Carlisle and Zuyus
District 1 – Puckett
District 5 – Ridenhour
District 6 – James
Clerk of Superior Court
NC Supreme Court Chief Justice
NC Supreme Court Associate Justices
NC Court of Appeals Judges
NC Superior Court 26B
NC Superior Court 26
Mecklenburg Tax Referendum
Recently, I was asked to teach at my church, Life Fellowship Church, in the Lake Norman region of metro-Charlotte, NC. We are in the middle of a month-long series called “Home Improvement.” I chose the topic of “Family Discipleship” as found in Deuteronomy 6. The 50-minute talk was transcribed and is now available in addition to the podcast. Here is the introduction to this message:
When I was a kid it was Father Knows Best. I wasn’t watching it when it came on
originally, but I saw the reruns. It was from the 50’s and I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s and you could still see Father Knows Best. I grew up friends with the Cleaver family, Leave it to
Beaver, anyone remember him? And then in the 70’s we got Little House on the Prairie and we had The Brady Bunch. And in those homes, in a variety of ways, we saw reinforced values of what had been parenting and home life for generations in our country.
In the 80’s there was a little bit of a shift that turned into a tsunami of change as to how
we viewed family in popular culture. Some of you grew up and remember The Cosby’s, an
intact family, dealing with the problems of everyday life, with a mom and dad who were engaged in their kids. That was the early 80’s. But by the end of the 80’s we had a show called Married with Children. And that shift was best indicated through the role of the father in the public culture from that time on. You see when you looked at the father in Father Knows Best, even from the title; and then Ward Cleaver
in Leave it to Beaver, and then Michael Landon as he played Mr. Ingles. You had Mike as head of The Brady Bunch’s blended family, and Bill Cosby in his role as Dr. Huxtable. These were men who weren’t perfect, but who led with integrity, doing the best they could.
In the 80’s things shifted and dads became dummies. And whether you are talking about
Married with Children or Roseanne or even today’s, Modern Family, the whole concept of
fatherhood and roles in the home, and how families function in a healthy way, and how they
communicate with each other shifted. Today the communication is rife with sarcasm, rife with bitterness; there is hostility between parents and children, and between husbands and wives. Dad’s a dummy, mom is the smarter one, but you never lift up the role of one by tearing down the role of the other, and that is what our culture seems to have tried to do.
Parenting today is hard. We don’t have the cultural support that we once had. When I
went to Kindergarten, we prayed before we had cookies and milk. We said the Pledge of
Allegiance and we talked about the Ten Commandments and this was in a public school. In the public school in which I grew up, I had the lead part in the Christmas story because I was able to read aloud and I read from the Bible the entire Christmas story. Can you imagine that happening today? It is not going to happen. There would be lawsuits so fast it would make your head spin.
You see there was a day when kids would even come to church with a basic knowledge
of who Adam and Eve was, and who Noah was, and Moses, and the Ten Commandments and
Jesus and the disciples. Those days are gone. When kids come to our Kid Life many times we
have to start from zero. Many times you have to start from zero. The culture has changed. Now the question remains for us, what are we going to do about it? How are we going to address it?
You know today we have this disparity in America between a culture that values family,
that you might see portrayed on a show like Duck Dynasty. On the other extreme we have
young role models who for a period appeared to be rather traditional in their childhood, who
when they grow up celebrate the worst values that any parent might consider for their child. I can’t think of any better example of that than Miley Cyrus. The fact is this, rearing children has never been super easy. The fact is it is hard. But it is not impossible.
For example, consider Noah. Noah raised three sons who were willing to leave
everything behind and to get on a boat because they believed God. You might want to consider the fact that the children of Israel reared their children in order to give them the land that God had promised them for a forty year camping trip. Now that had to be pretty hard. I couldn’t survive a four day camping trip and they were doing it for forty years. You say well those were some success stories and that is true because you know there are no guarantees in parenting. Jacob, who was a man that God had blessed and honoured, had ten of his sons gang up and sell another brother into slavery. Not exactly a father’s proudest moment when he learns of that, is it? You remember Eli, the high priest, and what happened to him. He raised two boys before he raised Samuel. Samuel was the one we remember, but don’t forget his own two sons who ended up being so vile, so anti-God, that God finally killed them. So even among those that loved and pursued God, there is no guarantee that your kids are going to turn out in the way that you pray and desire.
You say, well, it’s bad today; it’s bad in this time in history, and our generation, and in
America, and so forth. Yeah, you are right, this is a tough time to be a parent, but consider the parents of the early church because those parents were rearing their children in a generation where many parents would take their pre-pubescent children to the local pagan temples and allow them to be used as prostitutes in pagan worship. Now we are bad, but we are not quite there yet. And still the early church was able to parent by good Biblical principles in the midst of a culture like that.
So in other words, there is no throwing our hands up and giving up. There is no saying it
can’t be done. There is no acquiescing to the culture that isn’t of a Biblical stance. Parenting
has never been easy.
Let’s consider Miley Cyrus for a little while. Many of you remember those days of Miley Cyrus when she was Hannah Montana, the sweet little gal of Disney fame. And many, many of our young people, and I will even tell you this, even in my house, Miley Cyrus was considered to be ‘safe enough, vanilla enough’ that from time to time the kids could watch her on the Disney channel. That’s something I quite honestly regret now because you see Miley Cyrus didn’t stay young and innocent. She has now become the poster child of a hyper-sexual worldly child star turned adult, all so she could make more money than she had even made with Disney. And this is a girl who is Billy Ray Cyrus’ daughter, his little girl. I have to think if Billy Ray Cyrus loves his little girl, he is heartbroken today. How did she go from Hannah Montana to Miley Cyrus?
Now, here is the fact of the matter; we ought to pray for Miley Cyrus. I think she knows
better. I think she sold her soul to celebrity. And in our culture today celebrity is purchased
through notoriety. I believe there will come a day when Miley Cyrus, I pray so, will wake up
and be embarrassed, or hopefully even ashamed. And maybe at that point, Christ will use her as a spokesperson for the dangers of chasing celebrity. This isn’t about her, it about our culture. She needs our prayers. The fact is there are a lot of parents today who are willing to offer their children on the altar of fame and success and money and Hollywood and Nashville and New York and notoriety, so they can have the perks and privilege that come in this culture with celebrity. And it is heart breaking.
But now let’s look at the other side. On the other hand you have the boys of Duke
Dynasty. And the fact is this, they are plain spoken, they are earthy, they are oblivious at times. They are rather simple, yet they have struck a chord with many of us, many middle American families, who desire relationships over riches, and values over celebrity. Let’s look at a few of their comments and see if you can relate. (Video is shown)
“[Phil Robertson on video] You got old Papaw here being your chaperone. John Luke,
never touch her below the neck until you sign the dotted line.”
[New scene with Phil Robertson on video.] “Hey, are you there? Can you all hear me;
can you all hear me now? Remove it from your head. What, are you all in a trance? What’s on
the video game? Huh? What’s these modern day girls up there you all fool with now, what do
they think about video games, Cole man? Find fast talking women and that will pick up the
slack on you all’s lack of conversation. You all might ought to go by Walmart and pick you up a personality. Reckon? “
[CNN Entertainment Reporter speaking on video] “You know guys, one thing that really
stood out to me as a mom; I mean this couple is definitely doing something right with their five kids. They have three biological and two adopted and they are involved in this orphanage. And these kids have fame, money, everything at their fingertips, and I said how do you keep those kids grounded? How do you keep them from being a Justin Bieber or a Lindsey Lohan? And bottom line, they love family. And their faith is number one. And you look at those kids and go, wow! They’re definitely doing something right.”
And so you see folks like this, and the sad thing is, in many parts of our culture, they are
the freaks. They are the ones we are concerned about. They are almost abnormal. And I just
have to say, if that is abnormal, give it to me. All right? By the way this isn’t about the
Robertson’s or the Duck Dynasty culture, second amendment, and camouflage, any more than it is about Miley Cyrus and Billy Ray and his one famous song, Achy Breaky Heart,’ and all the other things that go on Disney Channel. It is not about that.
But what I am trying to remind us of is that there is a cultural war that is going on and it
involves our families. And if we want parenting advice let’s not go to Billy Ray for sure, and
let’s not go to the Robertson’s. Let’s go to the book of books, and that is the word of God. So
turn with me if you will to Deuteronomy Chapter 6 and we are going to see a little bit here about what God was using for a plan for his children as they reared the next generation.
To read the remainder of this talk, click HERE. A podcast of the talk is also available at www.lifecharlotte.com.
Take some time and read THIS interesting essay from the recent issue of Christianity Today.
I think this is a very good and reasoned argument for abstaining from alcohol. Not drinking has never been difficult for me — I didn’t grow up with it around me, I decided early not to imbibe, (once I make a decision on something — I’m completely bull-headed about it), I don’t trust myself and my tendency to get gun-ho about things, I’ve seen the utter destruction it causes in families and individuals, it costs more than I’m willing to pay and I don’t want the potential stumbling stone that it clearly is for some as I perform my responsibilities as a pastor and seminary prof. I’m as unwilling to say every use of it is sinful as I am to say every use of it is permissible. I just think it is mostly unwise — particularly in the life of a spiritual leader.
For my position, I’ve often been misunderstood. I don’t think it makes me morally or spiritually superior. I like carbohydrates way too much to think that of myself. More often than not, my non-teetotaling brethren have accused me of being a “legalist” or some sort of “religious fanatic” when they find that I haven’t/don’t/don’t intend to drink. In something that is a mild irritation to me, I find that my non-Christian friends give me far less of a hard time about not drinking than do most of my Christian friends. It’s like they truly don’t understand (or agree with the idea) that I’m just not going to start drinking at this stage in my life. To some, it would appear that this commitment on my part makes me some sort of circus freak. I’ve rarely had to endure intense questioning, polite “jabs” of “humor” or those smirks exchanged between others who think that I didn’t notice them from my non-believing friends. It’s not really a big deal…I’m well past junior high and peer pressure… but it is an interesting reality. I just truly find no “upside” that is Biblical for me to drink, therefore I don’t.
But I agree with this author that the pendulum has swung too wide on the topic. For all our emphasis on “not drinking to excess” or “avoiding drunkenness”, there are just too many stories of alcohol-fueled excess in the evangelical church today and I personally think it is because we’ve become far too frivolous about it. I just wish I heard anywhere near the amount of warning about it’s dangers as I hear the rationalizations and justifications for Christians to use it.
It’s a decision each of us must make — Christian or not. It should be made thoughtfully and carefully. It should not be made with a group of half-sloshed college freshman chanting “chug, chug, chug.” It should not be made when one is depressed or stressed and looking to escape. It should not be made because we desire to prove we aren’t fundy puritan legalists and want to show we really are enjoying the grace-filled life. Being a non-drinker should not be a commitment that we think will give us special status in the Kingdom, favor with God or immunity to other addictive tendencies. But perhaps we should look at the whole of alcohol’s impact — both potential and present. I think if we did, fewer of us would feel that our freedom in Christ need be demonstrated at the lip of a bottle or can.
It has been said that “a faith that costs little will accomplish little.” Considering the trends that are rapidly taking hold in our American culture, we might well find out how much our faith is worth to us individually in the amazingly near future.
Much has been made in recent days of privately-owned Christian businesses which are being targeted by everything from boycotts to lawsuits to legislation for various positions the ownership has taken. Chick-Fil-A was in the midst of a firestorm last year for comments made by one of the primary owners and officers of this 100% private company regarding the issue of the definition of marriage. Shortly thereafter, competing “boycotts” and “buy-cotts” and even a totally failed attempt at a gay “kiss-in” were the topic of the month all over the news and internet. Private evangelical university, Lynchburg, VA’s Liberty University (full disclosure: I am an employee of Liberty University) and craft and home accessory retail chain, “Hobby Lobby” have challenged different aspects of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” (aka “Obamacare”) which would require them to potentially provide abortion coverage in their health plans. A similar lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the Sisters of Charity — a Catholic association of nuns — which objects to the requirement to provide birth control which violates their Catholic tenants. In Arizona, Colorado and Washington State, multiple small business owners in the wedding industry have been sued and even run out of business because they want to deny services to homosexual “marriage” ceremonies. Thus far, the courts have been ruling against them with regularity. The Obama administration has unconstitutionally stopped defending the Family Protection Act which helped insure discrimination against those who do not want to be forced to violate their religious convictions.
The battles to stop government recognition of homosexual marriages has been lost. The momentum is too strong. The media and activists successfully categorized it as an “anti-gay” thing when the debate was really never anti-gay marriage, it was about having the government give legal recognition to a form of marriage unrecognized as legitimate for over 4,000 years of civilization. There have always been homosexuals and homosexual couples — that wasn’t the issue. It was about what it meant to define family. Those who stand for historical and Biblical morality lost.
Today, even some evangelicals have called into question whether or not a private business owner should have freedom to discriminate based on religious convictions. They are so interested in presenting a social reasonable definition of the Gospel that they are missing a bigger point. If private businesses are to have any freedoms at all apart from the dictates of the state, then the state needs to stay out of them. A private business owner who does not want to serve Christians or gays or Muslims because of their religious faith — even if it means they will ultimately not have sufficient income to survive as a business — should be allowed to do so without government prosecution. Should a Muslim-owned business be required to sell pornography because it is a “first amendment” issue to have freedom of the press? Should a Christian wedding photographer have to go to a gay strip club to record a homosexual wedding ceremony even if it violates their conscience to enter such an establishment? Should a gay florist be required to hire a fundamentalist Christian to arrange bouquets even though it might drive away potential customers? Where does the intrusion end? With clients and customers? What about with insurance and benefits? What about hiring and promotion? If religious organizations and private businesses aren’t free to live out their values, shouldn’t a private Christian school have to hire a lesbian PE Teacher? Shouldn’t a church be required to retain a pregnant youth worker? Would an atheist organization need to have a quote of evangelicals to demonstrate non-descrimination? These are the very issues at stake right now — both constitutional issues and moral/faith issues and they don’t just affect Christians such as me and many of you who read this blog.
But on to the bigger question…
When the day comes — and the day WILL come as it has come to other generations in other nations before us — will we be willing to take a stand that would require us to pay a price? Frankly, that might be just what the Lord has in mind for our future and it might not be an altogether bad thing. Granted, I’m not looking to be some sort of martyr or activist. My firebrand days are pretty much over. However, it is a worthy topic for conversation and thought. Would we, in fact, be willing to suffer loss, discrimination, opposition or worse for the values that come with our faith in Scripture and God.
Dead leaves and dead fish go with the flow. Taking a stand causes ripples and waves. Turn on a light and watch the cockroaches run for the shadows. Put some salt on ice and watch things start changing. Taking a stand on matters of propriety, morality, philosophy, ethics, values and conduct is going to exact some sort of price at the hands of those whose values are different than yours.
We should expect nothing less.
Years ago, my oldest son (now 26, but around 10-11 at the time) was on a city baseball league that made it to the playoffs. He was a pitcher and was scheduled to pitch one of the playoff games. The problem was that the game was scheduled for 10:00 on Sunday morning. At 10:00 on Sunday mornings, our family is in church. No exceptions. Everyone on the team knew that we didn’t miss Wednesday nights or Sunday services for baseball. Thus, he got there late and was a relief pitcher instead. Now a decade and a half later, I have no recollection whether or not we won the game, but we do still talk about taking a stand for our priorities as a family. We had told the coach that the first day of practice. Sometimes we’d come to a game right after church as it was a few innings old and sometimes we left a game a few innings early to get to church, but it was church first, baseball second. We didn’t ask for special consideration, we didn’t start a petition drive to change the game times, we didn’t gripe when it meant that he didn’t get to play as much. It was just the price of having priorities that were important to our family.
(I often wonder if all the professing Christians in the country had a priority scale that placed spiritual matters before athletic events, if sports leagues would not be forced to take that into consideration when scheduling games. I’m old enough to remember when they didn’t give homework on Wednesday nights so as not to interfere with Wednesday night church services and this was in PUBLIC SCHOOLS.)
Part of bearing the “shame” of the cross is to pay the price with patience that doing right costs us.
For years, I’ve watched Orthodox Jews refuse certain foods and walk rather than drive to places on the Sabbath without complaint because of their beliefs. I’ve seen Muslims stop and drop on their prayer rugs in the middle of airports during their pre-appointed prayer times. I recall Jehovah Witnesses not participating in Christmas parties at public schools and Seventh Day Adventists not being able to play ball games on Saturday because of their religion.
So my question for evangelical believers today is “When was the last time you paid a price for taking a stand?” So many of us seem bent on “blending in” so as not to “turn people off” and as a result — we’ve watered down the change that the Gospel should be having in our lives. Today, dropping swear words and consuming adult beverages with the boys is considered an act of cultural evangelism as we emphasize relevance over holiness. Our priorities are such that we adjust our lives around schedules that are filled with vacations, entertainment, recreation, work, athletics, etc… and if it is convenient, we’ll even slip a worship service or a ministry task in there from time to time….but as long as it doesn’t “cost” us too much. We’ll sit silently while someone defames our Savior’s name with staccato emphasis and yet, some Muslims are quite willing to behead you for drawing a cartoon of Muhammad. (I’m not suggesting we use violence, but do you think it is wholly inappropriate to request someone to stop staying “Jesus Christ!” as a curse in our presence and then kindly explaining why that name is special to you? Does the name of “Muhammad” have greater value than “Jesus”?)
If we are to be salt and light in the world, then it might just mean we get turned down for a job (I experienced this a few years ago — passed over for a job at a charter school in favor of someone significantly less qualified because my resume was “too religious” — something that is potentially illegal, but let’s face it….it happens.) We might have to turn off our cable in order to tithe or give to missions. We might not be invited out with the important business associates because we’re not going to play drinking games or hit the local strip club and that may effect our job evaluation. We might pull our kids out of an assembly or request an exemption from a certain course lecture or even not allow them to attend a certain party or school activity (ie…an amusement park’s “Night of Horrors” — something we faced in a Christian school in Miami that my children attended) and get labeled as “one of those” parents.
Right things are seldom easy and easy things are seldom right.
Just some things to ponder as we navigate this interesting culture in which we have called to be ambassadors and in which we are called to be ‘aliens’.
Recently, I’ve been doing some reading regarding unhealthy and even dangerous assemblies which call themselves “churches”, but which possess characteristics that defy the healthy components of a church we see discussed throughout the Book of Acts and many of the Pauline epistles. Just for the sake of discussion, I offer a few warning signs of what I would call unhealthy churches. Perhaps after reading these you might want to debate some of my conclusions or add a few warning signs of your own.
1. Does your church leadership tightly control the flow of information within its ranks suggesting that anything that is negative or which questions something is ‘rebellious’ or ‘gossip’?
2. Does the pastor use public shaming as a method to gain the compliance of followers or does he use the pulpit as a place to “call out” individuals who have crossed him?
3. Are all the previous pastors “unwelcome” back to where they once served and is there a rather regular cycle of pastoral resignations or dismissals marked by infrequent long-term pastoral ministries?
4. Is the pastor of the church the exclusive means of knowing “truth” or interpreting Scripture?
5. Does the pastor and leadership foster an attitude that frequently suggests that it is “them/us” against “the world” and that outsiders are constantly “out to get them”.
6. Are you instructed to dis-associate with any former members, being warned that they are “evil” or “back-slidden” and to be avoided and/or shunned?
7. Is leaving your group to join another church equal to leaving God?
8. Is the power of the church held by a single person (usually the pastor) or in a board that is unaccountable or outside of a defined Biblical role or office? Does the governing board act like a board of directors more than a board of spiritual advisement and leadership or accountability?
10. Are there a significant number of related parties that serve on the governing board or on the ministry staff?
11. Do you sense fear of rebuke or retaliation for respectfully voicing a contrary opinion or position? Is there a freedom to disagree agreeably on non-doctrinal matters of lesser significance?
12. Is there a pattern of an inability to get along with others you would clear identify as members of the body of Christ but who may not hold all of the same position on non-doctrinal issues?
13. Is there an unusual allegiance to a school/university, association, fellowship, tradition or “camp” which promotes a sense of spiritual superiority for those in the “group” and a disdain or spiritual deficit among those who aren’t?
14. Are the primary sermons more often personal diatribes or topical addresses that reflect the position of the pastor or association rather than expositional studies and explanations that examine the Scripture?
15. Are there political, financial, educational or other non-Biblical demands made of the membership in order to fit within the fellowship or to be eligible for leadership?
This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but simply to open some discussion. Feel free to jump in and share your thoughts. What did I miss and where am I off base. The lines are open for your calls!
Some have asked me if I’m supporting the upcoming movies about “Noah” and “The Son of God”. I don’t care much one way or the other if people go as long as they know that historically, Hollywood does a LOUSY job of accurately portraying Scripture on the big screen. As for me, I don’t plan on seeing either movie at a theater, if ever. The church where I serve as a pastor isn’t using the movies as some sort of evangelistic outreach as many churches are. I have been reminded of an article that I wrote about 7 years ago wherein a “rethought” my participation in the great “Passion of Christ” movie debut in which I coined the phrase, “Pimping for Hollywood”. This article and the phrase were latter cited in Warren Smith’s excellent book, “A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church”. Because there are some similarities, I thought I’d post a link to that article here:
We gave up sending Christmas cards several years ago. With the popularity of Facebook, blogs and Twitter, it was one of those traditions that just seemed easy to discontinue along with our home telephone landline. Instead, I like to use this blog to catch up with our friends and family who might be interested in a quick synopsis of our year.
The Lord is always better to us than we deserve and 2013 has been no exception. The absolute highlight of our year was the arrival of sweet Ellie, our first grandchild. Her debut was in April, and after putting mom through 33 hours of labor, she was well worth the wait! Justin and Megan are wonderful first-time parents and we love the fact that they live not far from us which allows us regular Poppy and Mimi time. She has the best qualities of both her mommy and dad and at this point, has zero…I mean ZERO bad qualities. :-) I’ve turned into “that grandpa” and find myself scrolling through my own facebook photos just to look at her.
Other than her arrival, we actually had quite a quiet year — and we’re not complaining.
Julie continues to be the best mom ever to our two remaining homesters. She taught a Bible study at our church, Life Fellowship last Spring and this Fall. She spends a lot of time on the road shuttling two teenagers back and forth to work and to their other activities. She loves it when Justin and Megan have to work out of town together and she gets to be Mimi for a day or so keeping an eye on Ellie. She’s definitely the favored grandparent on the Burrell side and if I’m holding Ellie when she walks by, there is a sudden (and sometimes loud) request for a transfer of possession. But once she gets old enough to spoil……things will be different!
I continues my work as Executive Pastor at Life Fellowship Church and as a Professor and Faculty Mentor for Liberty University. Working two full-time jobs doesn’t leave me a lot of spare time, but that’s a good thing as I’d get in trouble if I didn’t stay busy. I was asked to develop a couple of classes for Liberty and did an on-campus course last January. The church is in the middle of a $6,000,000 construction project which I’m overseeing so 2014 promises to be busy as well on the church side. I enjoyed taking missions trips to Cuba and Vietnam this year and will visit Cuba again in 2014 as I enter my 12th year of working with national pastors there. I’ve been invited back to Vietnam to teach for two weeks in 2015 and am already looking forward to that. I had a few minor health issues this year mostly due to age and not enough exercise (who has time for THAT), but other than a few aches and pains from aging and an “old man fall” I took in the driveway last fall, I’m doing great.
Nathan has returned to Charlotte and gotten off the road for work. He has his own place in town and works in a nice restaurant in Ballantyne. We enjoy seeing him regularly though he’s putting in a ton of hours. He still likes to hoop it up when he gets a chance though he’s starting to realize that middle-age can sneak up on someone quite quickly.
Megan and Justin’s business, Gambol Photography has really exploded this year and they do a lot of weddings and family photography. They’ve won several awards for their work and are in the process of hiring a couple of assistants so that they can double their booking schedule. They traveled with us to Missouri for the 4th of July holiday and have made several trips to Lynchburg to see Justin’s family. They are active at our church and so it’s good to catch Sunday lunch with them many weeks.
Katie is seventeen and still working at Chick-Fil-A. She took Driver’s Ed this year and we’ve located a special college in Wisconsin she’s hoping to attend in a year or two if everything works out for her. She often does volunteer work at church and stays pretty busy socially with a few very close friends. She’s a master at Facebook and other social media connection points and likes keeping in touch with her friends and family that way.
Josh is sixteen and continues to home school via Liberty Online. Every afternoon, he goes to work at a local dry-cleaners that is close enough to our house for him to walk to it. He is Mr. Personality and knows just about every neighbor for blocks around. The good part of that is that he often gets hired to do odd jobs for them. He also volunteers at church and takes a big load off of dad every Sunday by helping him get everything set up and organized.
We took our bi-annual trip to Missouri last summer to visit my family. It’s always great to see my mom, sisters and their clans. We do a big cook-out and fireworks thing on the fourth and spend a lot of time eating, fishing, shooting and enjoying country living. In June, I was invited to return to our former church in West Palm Beach, Grace Fellowship, to be a guest speaker as they are without a pastor at this time. Julie and I had such a great time seeing old friends and making new ones. We returned to WPB in November for the wedding of a dear friend and I was able to reconnect with some friends whom I first met 20 years ago in Albania and who are now all U. S. citizens and remain wonderful parts of our lives. I was asked to stay over and speak at Grace Fellowship again and to help with the dedication of their new campus expansion property which we prayed for when we lived there in the 80′s and 90′s. It felt like home and we truly enjoyed it. From time to time, we spend a few days at our lake house in Lake Lure, but it is difficult to spend as much time as we’d like there due to the kid’s schedule and work.
As we reflect on God’s goodness to us this year and throughout our lives, we are humbled to be part of His family, to enjoy so much in our daily lives and we anticipate the future with absolute confidence in His Sovereign plan for us on this earth and in eternity. We’d love to hear from each of you as you are able. We are all on Facebook, I am on twitter and I will warn you up front, putting nonsense on my social network is a bad habit of mine, so brace yourself if you decide to connect.
May the Lord bless you and your family in the year to come!
Dan, Julie, Katie and Josh