Monday, December 16, 2013

Pastor Stuff: Sunday School

Growing up in church I cannot remember a time where I did not go to Sunday School.  Sunday School has always been an integral part of the "church experience".  It was where all the "fun lessons" and the "deeper stuff" was often given to us.

Yet, if the studies coming out recently are accurate, it would seem that Sunday School does more to hurt the chances of young people to come to faith more than encourage it.

Now, I am not one to tout numbers too hard, but I understand the philosophical value to noticing trends... and this is not a good one by any means.  It just doesn't seem to make sense.  How can MORE knowledge of the Word cause more injury to our changes to bring people to faith?

God's Word rains down from heaven and does not return to Him empty (Is. 55: 10-11).

In fact, I found a salient point made by a CPR class I was taking recently.  When someone is not breathing and unresponsive you cannot do any MORE harm to that person by performing CPR on them.  In fact, you are increasing their chances of survival ever so slightly by doing something versus nothing.

And I really like that analogy for Sunday School because according to the Scripture we're already DOA (dead on arrival).  We can do no harm in providing more knowledge... so far as it is truly Biblical knowledge.

To be sure, I'm not doubting the efficacy of false doctrine to steer people away from Christ.  Paul thought it truly an important point.  Most of what he wrote about in the New Testament is in refutation of errors and heresy and promotion of the true gospel.

However, much can be said of providing more opportunities to draw out the sophistication, complexities, and mysteries of Scripture and its importance to ALL people.

Whether you are a child or an elderly adult or anything in between the Sunday School can be beneficial for faith.  It can be a haven for thought, engagement, and questions.

Practically speaking, it's when the soldiers go off to the shed to sharpen their swords.

If anything, the problem is that we don't realize that we engage the world with dull blades!  And with faulty equipment, how can we be prepared for what the world has for us?

From my limited experience it would seem that today's Christians are much less Scripturally read for various reasons:  1.  They're over read with the breadth of knowledge out there available, 2.  They're overs saturated with other preoccupations, 3.  They have no possession of desire to learn more because they think they've made it, just to name a few.

To be fair, there are many factors that may draw people away from the Sunday School.  However, the underlying problem across the board is understanding the value and wisdom in prioritizing our Christian education.

Let's be honest...

Many curriculum out there is watered down to the point that it feels like a waste of time.

Many out there have lost the drive to dig deeper and explore more sophisticated questions.

So what can we do to change that?  Well, I can't say there is one solution, but I have a few ideas that I try to implement.

  1. Teach more sophisticated material - You'd be surprised how students react when you give them more than they can chew.  Being reminded that there is MORE to learn can encourage people to value the insight they receive.  A wise friend of mine once told me that they prepare for Bible Study by giving a ladder for his students to climb.  That's because if you only give a footstool they can only climb those two steps, but if you give them a ladder they may fall... but they'll still be higher up than with the footstool.
  2. Mix up the material - I have found that having a "devotional" week once a month in Sunday School has been helpful in letting students engage with Scripture directly... because a lot don't do it on their own.  It's amazing how insightful the thoughts the Holy Spirit can give to others.  Usually, I have half an our where they do it on their own before we go through it together and collate, add, or explore the insights more.
  3. Read MORE - It's amazing how a little insight can really light a fire in the belly of a teacher.  By reading more and over preparing the frustration may set in the teacher with how little the students are learning.  But that can be a good thing as it inspires the teacher to find ways to be a) more effective and b) show their excitement for God even more to their students.  Ultimately, teachers are examples for students.  We should explore what it means to be "an example" of Christ to them.
  4. Show your students the plan - If you have a road map to the destination you should show it.  This is so that everyone can be on the same page.  More so, it shows that you are prepared as a teacher (even if you're not) and there are things your students can look forward to.  
  5. Try not to be mechanical about it - Getting into a groove is one thing.  Having your style can be a strength.  BUT, the church is always in flux.  It's organic.  It's comprised of people and their nature as creatures should be taken into account.  We can all use a little variety sometimes and challenges that meet us face to face.  So Sunday School can be tailored to your organic group.
These are just a few things I do, but what do you or your pastors do to fight the statistics?  I'm curious.  

There are never any easy answers to the problem of people leaving our churches or having a lack of interest in church... but it's not a numbers game.  We know we are the minority.  More so, we know that if any good comes about this it is because of the Holy Spirit.  So trust Him.  Use wisdom.  

Above all, let's remember that it's God who is the cosmic surgeon.  All we do is CPR in waiting for His hands to work on the hearts of our people.  Be brave, there's really not much worse you can do for your people unless you do nothing.

Confessions of a Gospel "Brute"

If you're an Asian American Christian who has been in touch with the news on the internet you'll know that as of late there has been a lot of controversy surrounding race.  In particular the race issues that stem from two recent incidents involving the prominent pastor Rick Warren and a conference featuring a video depicting ministry as "Karate Kid" style training.

In response, you can see there have been a myriad of blogs, statements, and even a letter written and signed by various "leaders" of Asian American Christianity.  However, as I reflect upon these events I cannot help but wonder if this latest reaction to racial insensitivity is, in no small part, a result of our own doing.

To be sure, this issue between Asian Americans and White Americans has been stewing for quite some time.  Recently, there was that racist Texan on "Big Brother" who told some Asian girl to "make some rice".  Then there was the "Chink in the Armor" incident with Jeremy Lin.  There was also the John Piper incident some years ago when he said was astonished that the "Asian face" was the face of missions.  And of course, the list goes on and on and on...

As of late, it seems that Asian Americans are starting to find their voice in American Christendom and they're not afraid to use it.  Personally, I think that it can be a good thing... yet, it's also a dangerous thing.

Historically, Asian culture has been a point of fascination for Americans as well as humor.  Early on there were a lot of racially charged overtones.  No one wants to remember that the railroad was built on the blood and sweat of Chinese migrant workers.  No one wants to remember that the immigration of Chinese was at one point limited by the US Gov't because they feared the overwhelming swell coming into the country.  No one wants to look back at the internment camps of WWII where many Japanese American families were displaced and often looted of their property.

Asians have been caricatured by White Americans in film, often made fun of by slurring accents and exaggerated "Asian" features.  Yet, by the same token Americans are drawn to the mysteries of the East.

Bruce Lee was really the first one to effectively import the culture into the US as a culture of beauty, mystery, and exotic.  Through dynamic action sequences, his brilliant film work, charismatic nature, and suave move to really mystify the culture Bruce Lee was able to build a bridge with North America.

Soon to follow were Kung Fu films, Eastern medicine, and many other distinctly "Asian" things being imported into the country.

Yet in the move to mystify Asian culture, the bad came with it:  2nd Generation angst.  Asian Americans, born in this country seeking a distinct identity could not be embraced by their native North America nor could they themselves fully embrace their Asian roots.

As a result, many Asian Americans are divided among themselves.  They are a people without a country, land, or place of complete belonging.  They are a people longing for an identity.

But, that's why I love the gospel.  It has provided the answers to these questions we're looking for.  Being a Christian, the answer is clear.  As Revelation 21 tells us, this will all pass one day for the New Jerusalem.

In other words, I don't have the confines of culture to define me... I have Christ.  I have a country:  the high countries.  I have a place of belonging... with my own kind... Christians.  And I am satisfied.

When I was in college I was part of a fellowship called Asian American Christian Fellowship.  I have many fond memories of that time, but since then I found the moniker insufficient to describe the person I am.  In fact, I prefer the label Christian Asian American.

My citizenship is in the Kingdom of God.  And though I still get upset over issues of race, it is not because I am yellow in skin tone, it's because of sin in this world and the lingering injustices that lay to waste my LORD's original intentions for this world.

Revelation 21 carries many of the great mysteries and wonder I desire to focus on.  A city adorned as a beautiful bride.  It's a city which is complete; 12 giant pearl gates open to all the nations of this world, 12 gates which never close to me, 1 focus and source for light in Christ, and there shall never be an unending banquet table.

In the mean time, I am still a brute.  I am one who is easily swayed by much of what is in the world.  I get upset and frustrated with the battles going on with Asians and whites, especially with this Christian infighting and lack of decorum... but I am reminded by my African brother Augustine, "Semul ustes et peccator"...

I am a sinner and a saint... until eternity comes and the righteousness of Christ allows me to find His comforting presence and peace away from all this.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Peace, Purity, and Unity?

Recently, I ran across a couple of different blogs discussing some loosely related topics.

The first was an article on rampant Calvinism popping up in historically non-Reformed and non-Calvinistic churches which you'll find here.

The second article was a response of sorts to a pastor who thought himself slighted by Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt in their light-hearted prodding of Baptist ecclesiology.  You can find that here.

In short, I found these two articles quite unfortunate in their tone and substance because I believed they had their good points.

Just for some background, one of the highest charges of a pastor is to keep "the peace, purity, and unity of the church".  That's because this is Christ's church.  He's the head, the King, and the church is His bride.  Hence, to divide the bride of Christ is an unacceptable outcome for any pastor.

The problem is, things get complicated when dealing with people.  Sometimes the lines between dividing the church and keeping it pure can be muddled.

One may have the motive of keeping pure the church as a reason for division.  Others may understand that their sense of unity is so precious that it can cause friction among members who wish to seek change.  It's an unfortunate reality that is seen quite frequently be it among 1st generation churches or established American churches or any other church in the world.

To the first article's point, there is a lot of wisdom in understanding the context of a church and it's history.  Just because you go to a Methodist or Presbyterian church doesn't mean you can teach whatever you want.  In fact, that's why confessions and books of church order are important.  They provide the rubric with which one must take vows and have a clear guide as to what constitutes their understanding of Biblical teaching contra what would be considered anathema to them.

On the other hand, there are many good people who cause a stir in their churches because their view of what is "biblical" has changed (Read Rachel Held Evans and Anthony Bradley's response for more).  We live in a postmodern and post Christian culture after all.  Now, I don't know how rampant Calvinism is in non-Reformed churches (Frankly, it's a problem I wish we had in the Bay Area and Chinese churches in general), but I do know that Calvinism doesn't simply comprise of the Canons of Dordt.  In fact, John Calvin gave us a pretty thorough work on the subject.... The Institutes of the Christian Religion.

Why bring this up?  Because I agree that people need to know.  Knowledge is a powerful thing.  And along with great knowledge and power comes a great responsibility.  In the church, that can either mean that you can't teach a convictions because it'll divide your church, or you gotta leave it to join the part of the body of Christ that you're in agreement with said convictions.

Granted, you will never fully agree with the teaching of the church... or any church.  That's a sub point to the 2nd article.  Every church wishes to do their ecclesiology "a little" differently... because they're different people.  Do I necessarily agree with this?  To an extent no (Note:  My above point with confessional theology).  A little can mean various degrees to various people.  To that, I leave pastors to their use of wisdom in such matters.

However, when things are clear they're clear.  If you're serving in a church and there's a line you can't cross... don't cross it.  If you HAVE to cross it due to your convictions, it's time to weigh that conviction.  Is it something to divide the church over?  Will you stumble others and cause damage to the attitudes of faithful servants and community?  Is it worth it?  To you, maybe it is... but at the end of the day you can't expect a church to change the confession they believe in.  The pastor is still God's man.  Maybe it's time for you to leave in peace.  I know I've had to make such decisions while in pastoral ministry.

But that's why we complain about these "labels" within the church, isn't it?  Sorry Tom Chantry if I offend you, but in all seriousness, if your denomination allows for elasticity in the way you conduct your church business you must grant the same on the other side.

Everyone thinks they're an exception to the rule.  But, exceptions do no make the rule rather they are under the rules... and if your church falls under them and the claims against them are rooted at those rules then they are fair.  The question is, whether or not that is the case.

To be sure, pursuing this idea of the peace, purity, and unity of the church is not easy business.  I do not envy the task of such people as I who are called to navigate these waters.  But let's be careful how we do it... or at least try.  There's only one Savior King of the church after all... and that certainly isn't you or me.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pastor Stuff: Preparing the Preaching Schedule

As a pastor one of the most gratifying things for me is preaching.  However, as with most of us young guys, it's also a cause for a lot of other emotions as well ranging from joy to utter pain from stress and fear.

Preaching, to be sure is one of the important tasks of the minister.  His role is to stand there in the place of Christ to deliver God's Word to His people.  As some of my professors from Westminster pointed out to me, one of the translations for Romans 10: 14 says,

"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him FROM whom they have not heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"

That translation is important as it is consistent with the role and character of the minister.  He is to be "God's man" as the Hebrew implies that the "man of God" is a much closer relationship than those words carry.

Jesus, being the greater High Priest (Hebrews 7: 15-16) who lives forever, is the one who properly stands where today's preachers do.

So how do pastors plan on what to preach?  This being Christ's church, Christ being the head of the church and we being the servants, how do we discern God's will for our congregation?  Do we do the lectio-continua thing only for a consistent teaching trend?  Or do we need to do topical preaching because it seems more "practical" for our people?

Well... suffice to say, every pastor is their own man.  We're unique.  I am no exception to that rule.  We all prepare differently (in another blog I might go into how I sermon prep a little).  I am certainly NOT the best preacher I know.

That being said, this is what I do and think about when approaching a preaching schedule:

  1. I ask the question, "What is the long term spiritual direction the church needs to go?"  This is an important question.  Each church has their own strengths and weaknesses.  As pastors, our duty is to see God's long term will for the church and figure out what steps need to be taken to get there.
  2. Figuring out the long term goal of the church and factoring weaknesses I ask myself, "What are the annual themes for the church?"  I think about this because if you have a goal it only makes sense you set the trajectory you need to travel in order to get there... regardless of whether or not YOU will be there.
  3. The quarter system.  In terms of preaching, I break my year up into quarters... because that's what everyone else in the real world does.  People have a rhythm they like to follow.  Quarters represent a finite portion of time in which certain goals get accomplished.  Knowing this, I figure out broadly what books to preach from (that's right... books!).

Considering the fact that I preach about 10 times per quarter that doesn't leave a lot of room to cover a book of the Bible.  This is absolutely true.  However, there are many benefits to switching so often:

First, there is variety for your people.  The minister is called to preach "the whole counsel of God".  That means we cannot neglect the rest of Scripture as we focus on a book.  Rather, our call is to give our people ALL of the teaching of the Word (Matt. 28: 19-20).  By going back and forth between OT and NT in the yearly rhythm of quarters I try to keep things fresh while giving them a broader understanding of how Scriptures comes together.

Second, there is a treasure trove of future sermons in preparation.  Part of sermon preparation through the book is getting to know it.  That means, as pastors it forces us to read the greater strokes of what a book of the Bible teaches.  In pursuing different books in my own preparation I've come across sections of Scripture I read and say, "I will get back to this down the line."  In fact, I'd say that my preparation often yields 3x the sermon treasury than if I'd stuck with one book.  So for every year of preaching I'd get 3 years of future sermons to preach.  Plus, with the legwork you do in the book it'll be easier to go back to it later.

Third, it challenges me to grow in faith.  That's good because in our preparation we come across passages we want to preach, themes which we want to cover in the future, and richness toward our own spiritual growth.  That's not only challenging, but important for the minister.  One of my philosophies of ministry is, "If we are not growing then we're not going.  If we're not going anywhere people aren't following anywhere and growing either."  God's people are always moving... we're never static.  The moment we are static in our pursuit of Christlikeness is the moment we are doing more harm than good to God's people.

Fourth, I find there is greater focus in my preaching.  One of the greatest pitfalls of a young minister is the lack of patience in the pulpit, not only with people, but with the substance of our preaching.  Since I'm following a particular theme for the year it must reflect in the preaching.  That means I will end up over preparing research for my sermon.  I will have different themes that rise out of the text, but I understand the annual theme is there for a reason.  In God's wisdom He has given us discernment to determine how we are to follow that theme.  Practically speaking people like it when you stay on point.  It makes it clearer and easier for you to understand and build unity among the minds of your people.  Even Paul knows that we are to be united as such (Philippians 1: 27, 2: 2; 1 Cor. 1: 10).

There may be even more benefits I have not accounted for, but this is what I've seen thus far.

Like I said, everyone is different.  My hybrid topical-lectio continua model may not be what your church needs.  That being said, I am my own man as God has created me as such.  I have been called to the people at my church and using the discernment God has given me to do the best I can for His name's sake and His church's sake.

If you're a pastor with a unique strategy on sermon planning comment below.  I think this sort of stuff can only benefit others ministers serving the body of Christ.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Time, Time, Time...

In my contemplation as of late one of the prevailing themes has been "time".  It just escapes me (quite literally).  For when I was young time seemed to go by so aggravatingly slow that I felt my energy overflowing into nothingness.  As I've matured over the years at times I long for those days.

Currently, I've been at my church for about a little over a year.  Yet, it seems like yesterday I moved from LA.  To think before that, I served two and a half years at a Korean church in downtown LA.  Which means I'm four years removed from seminary at this point.  I spent four glorious years of my life at Westminster Seminary... to this day I still find so many of those lessons helpful in what I do in the day to day.  However, the more I look back, the more years I see pile up behind me like a closet full of clothes I've been packing away in suitcases.  As of now, it's hard to believe but it's been 8 years since I first entered the halls of grad school.

Just this day too, some of my elementary school friends on Facebook started getting active again.  We're planning a reunion in December (I'm hoping I make it for that night).  To think, I've had those friends since first grade (Go class of 1991!).  

As I get older I realize that time slips by quicker with each passing moment.  In fact, it made me reflect on the wisdom of the teacher in his wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3.  Life goes through many seasons.  Yet those many seasons come and go.  It's a matter of how we use that time, how we focus it, and that's why our values are so important.

It's no wonder that guy (Qohelet) had so much angst over the brevity of his life and what he did with it.  For only in his aging wisdom did God show him that all that mattered was God Himself.  

With so much to today's "on the move" mentality it seems almost a far gone conclusion to me that we're losing our perspective on time even more.  We're like Qohelet (the teacher) in that sense, only more extreme.

Personally, I've been encouraged by the life God has granted me.  I'm privileged to serve Him as a pastor.  My purpose is clear... preach the gospel.  With moments like these I often rejoice.

In the past I've wasted man moments, but with no regrets.  In a sense, that's what I pray for the generations after me.  No regrets.  I pray for their focus to be on Christ in all things.  And in their wasted moments, I pray that God would bring value to them as He has to me.  I pray that they would continue to find God's grace, mercy, love, and presence as the constancy that walks with them in life.  I pray that they would realize their union with Christ is real at all times.

As for me, I pray that my wasted moments become wisdom moments.  I pray that I would grow to appreciate time, not as something that simply flees from me, but as something that pushes me to pursue Christ more.  I pray that the seasons of my life would continue to add unto me the character God desires.  

People often see time as an enemy... truth be told, time is a servant of God.  Maybe we ought to appreciate it a little more lest we treat it with the sinful prejudice.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Religious... But Not Spiritual

Earlier this past year I ran into a news story which introduced the world to the first "atheist church" which started up in the UK.  Since then, I recently came across a sort of "follow up" story in which we see that the atheist church has grown and is growing... quite fast.

Started by two comedians in the UK it seems like a joke.  But upon closer inspection it seems as if it's one of the biggest (and probably cruelest) jokes being played upon the souls of men.  What do I mean?

The idea of the atheist church is like an archer who broadly aims at a target with no intention of hitting the bulls eye.  In many ways, it tries to mimic something spiritual that human beings innately recognize, and that is the need for worshiping God.  In other words, that which the atheist has abandoned is something they are seeking out subconsciously.

People were created to worship God.  That's why God gave us the Bible, a conscience, and a soul.  We were created in His image (Gen. 1: 25-28).  By the nature of God's lawful command to humanity to procreate and fill the earth we are to fill the earth with His image.  Furthermore, we were created distinctively apart from other creatures for this purpose.

As the theologian Meredith Kline also points out, the Garden of Eden itself functioned as a Temple for man to have communion with God.  The reason humanity was kicked out in the first place was because in sin, the priestly duties of cleaning the Temple could no longer be performed by Adam.  Instead it was up to God.  That's why every Tabernacle and Temple thereafter had a divide between the Holy of Holies where God's presence sat and the people of God.

So in essence, as humanity is created for worship it is only natural that we would gather together to do so.  We have the propensity to seek that which is beyond ourselves.  The atheists in this church community then in only trying to emulate something which they were designed to do by natural law.  Humanity has urges to worship.

This is apparent as it is no coincidence that one of the church's founders was a former Christian.  They admit that there is a sense of community within the church that atheists cannot have because there is no organized irreligious way for them to gather.  Thus, they have invented a gathering which in itself is religious though not "spiritual" in the sense that their object of worship is none other than themselves.

As their preacher says, "Just being alive; to be conscious that you are alive, and celebrate that, is just as transcendental as anyone's god."

The atheist, you see, does have a god.  It's the one in the mirror.  Their own celebration of life is their attempt at spiritualizing their hollow life experience.  They worship life itself as if it is a god.

Indeed, a lot of eastern meditation seeks this kind of subjective experience of the divine within themselves.  This however can go nowhere outside of oneself.  It contains no objective truth.  It has no redeemer for their sin problem.  It does not deal with injustice in the world or cosmically.  It only seeks to falsely elevate their own sense of superiority over others who have faith outside of themselves.

I doubt this was what Nietzsche had in mind when he said that God was dead.

Even the great French postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida said that after post modernity the next big thing was "religion".  It seems that the atheist has finally found it.

But that's the cruelty of the joke.  For there may be temporal pleasures in the things of this world, but there is nothing for them after the experience.  Their momentary sense of gratification slips through their fingers like sand and their deepest needs still need to be addressed.  Sadly, there is no peace found in the atheist church, it's just smoke and mirrors.    

Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Isn't Right...

Some time ago I had heard of a tragic story of a teenage girl who had committed suicide.  What struck me most about this particular case more so than other such tragic stories was that it happened no more than 10 miles away from where I live.  Even more so, it really hit home when I got a chance to read Nina Burleigh's account in Rolling Stone and realized how I could see the same thing happening at every high school across America.

That's because everyone from the parents of these teenagers, the administration of the school, and the students reminded me so much of my own experiences some 15+ years ago in high school.

Granted, sex, drugs, image issues, and popularity contests are nothing new to high school.  I shouldn't expect much else considering my high school was no different.  Hearing stories of girls giving up their virginity to rumors of abortions and rampant drug use among the popular students isn't anything new... especially in affluent areas.  But something about the particular focus of the cruelty really churned my stomach and fueled the fire of anger within me.

It was the barbarism.  It was barbarism masked in the adolescent proving ground of manhood and pranks. Wickedness without boundaries is a cancer with no defense.

There need not be any proof of human depravity for we see it even today.  People easily forget their place before God and become butchers.  It's been happening for thousands of years.

In the climax of the book in Judges 19-20 we see the callous nature of a Levite when he sends his faithful concubine to the horde of Gibeanites to violate (instead of himself).  After which, the Levite wakes up from a nights rest to find this woman violated beyond his "use".  As a result, he cuts her up into 12 pieces sending them to the 12 tribes of Israel to rally them into retribution for this act.

The problem is, there was no justice done.  The Levite sought to protect his pride.  So he manipulated Israel into civil war over it failing to mention that it was he who offered this women to the savages.

Sin affects a community in profound ways.  Wretchedness like this cries out for justice yet where do you go for justice when those who holding responsibility, respect, and religious authority are so corrupt?

That's the parallel we see here in this modern day tragedy.  Where was the administration in all this?  Where were the teachers who heard whispers of rumors?  Where were the upright Christian students?  Where were the parents?  Where were the consciences of these boys?  Where was the sensibility of this girl to stay away from drunkenness?  The more questions we ask the greater the anger for we know there is something not right with this world...

In the end the greatest questions we must ask is, "How much can one pay until they've paid enough?  What can be done to repair that which cannot?"  Is there really such a thing as "an eye for an eye"?

I would gather not.  There isn't enough justice in this world to satisfy such crimes.  And if there is not enough justice in this world there isn't enough hope in the world to get us out of the holes we dig for ourselves.

That's why we need the Kingdom of God.  I need a hope that comes form something greater than humanity.  That hope can only be found in Christ.

Only one who was fully divine and human can pay for sins.  We need a mediator of such quality to pay such a high price.  The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us as much in Q&A 14-18.

Jesus brings something we need.  He's the solution for sin and such evil in the world.  And that's insulting to many to think that His forgiveness can extend so far.  Yet I tell you it extends even further than that... much further.

At the end of the day that gives me comfort, but more importantly it gives me purpose and a message to preach.  It's a message of identity in Christ.  To know thyself in our sins, but to also see thyself in the light of Christ.  That is what our young people really need.  It's what our parents need to teach in their homes.  It's what our administration needs to embody in the form of intolerance of injustice.

All this to say, I can't save that little girl and I can't forgive those boys or anyone else involved... but I'm not supposed to.  I just point to the one who can.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Church of Many Tongues

I recently came upon a blog from "The Gospel Coalition" website written by David Wright.  In this article, Wright points out the disjointed nature of Christian education in many churches across North America.  For the most part Wright sticks to the segregation of age groups in churches as a primary cause that leads to throngs of young people leaving our churches.

Being a 2nd generation pastor I totally hear what Wright is saying.  For sure, this is one of the main issues of American Evangelical Christendom.  Covenant worship (AKA "Family worship") is not practiced as regularly today as it used to be (I would argue, the way God meant it to be).  We have become a religious segment which specializes in meeting needs.  Though meeting needs is a good thing, the question is whether or not we're doing a good job and if this is how God desires us worship.

Deuteronomy 6: 4ff seems to tell us the role of parents and the church is to bring up our children in the faith.

Ephesians 6: 1-4 rests the role of being discipled and discipling in parenting.  But, the greater context of Ephesians does point us to the church is unified in its efforts.  We are not alone, but rather one body in Christ.

Matthew 19: 13-15 supports the attitude we are to have with children.  They are not to be denied Christ.

Yet, interestingly enough the attitudes of adults and church leadership today are very much reflected here.  We often know how to say that Christian education is important to the little ones of our church.  We confess we fall short and that we want our children to be believers.  But, at the same time we do little to nothing about this truth.  Instead we focus on growing adult ministries and people because those are "our people" while perhaps some of us may also be thinking, "That's where the money comes from."

In the book "Already Gone" by Ken Ham, Brit Breemer, and Todd Hillard, we are told that as churches we are failing our children.  They already decide by the time they are in 6th grade whether or not they would return to church when they have become adults.  Mostly with no's.  And why not?  On average, every year churched children get less than 5% of Biblical teaching time than they would instruction in their schools.  That's not even counting homework time, sports, music, or any other extracurricular activities.

In many Asian and other bilingual churches it's more of the same.  Our kids are too busied with the things of the world to ponder the spiritual reality they are part of.  What's worse is that in bilingual churches we are left with a great cultural and linguistic divide.

On both sides there is a lingering tension which snaps by the time the kids enter college.  Many young people do not return to their home churches because that is their "parent's" church.  Yet, often efforts to address this flight lead to much discussion and argument.  Parents don't want to be embarrassed and uncomfortable in a cultural setting that they're unfamiliar with just as much as their children.

So where is the hope for these churches?  That's where Wright doesn't go far enough in his blog.  Quite simply it comes from the top down.

When we read the book of Acts 2: 5-13 it describes how the Holy Spirit leads men to speak in the native tongues of those around them.  Peter subsequently preaches the gospel and there are masses moved by the Spirit to come and believe in Christ.

For church leaders today we must see this as an inspiration for us.  There is no task too hard, no divide too wide which the gospel of Christ cannot bridge.  That means that for people like me, 2nd generation pastors, our job is to reach across the isle and tell others to follow suit.  That also means that the 1st generation also be pliable to reach across that divide as well.

It also means that church leadership always seeks to promote the peace, purity, and unity of the church.  That is a call for all pastors.  For it is not their church, but the head of the church is Christ.  Sometimes that means that we give up things in order to bring people together.  Certainly, I have had my share of disagreements with leadership, but at the end of the day I submit to what the majority desires... because I can.  Submission and love are two key hallmarks to a healthy relationship because they promote unity.

Granted, it is not an easy path, but it is a path worth taking... because it's the call of God to serve Christ's church.  Leaders must always think like parents.  For when the kids see their parents they learn.  In the same way, we as pastors and lay leaders are seen as examples to our people.  We must stay united and rejoice in our points of agreement and encourage others to do the same.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Field of Kingdom Hope

Today I was sitting at home reflecting on the nature of the Kingdom of God.  Most particularly on the passage of Daniel 1: 1-21.  For those of you unfamiliar, Daniel and his friends were taken away from their homeland and families.  The Jews of Judah were a conquered people and Jerusalem, the center of their faith, the city of David, and the location of the Temple were plundered and pillaged of their best and now they're an exiled people.

Most particularly, I noted that even then Daniel and his friends remained faithful to God in recognizing how faithful He was to them.  Daniel had refused to eat of their best food and drink because they did not wish to be "defiled".  But their defiling was not in the physical food or drink.  Their dietary restrictions had nothing to do with their laws.  Jewish people do eat and drink wine.

So what are we to gather from this?  Upon further investigation we understand that the word translated "defiled" is actually the negative form of the word we would translate as "redeem" from the Hebrew.  See, it was Daniel's denial of Nebuchadnezzar as their king.

To quote the eunuch, "I fear the lord my king..." (Dan. 1: 10).  Daniel on the other hand feared The LORD his king.  He held on to God's provision.  For instead of taking the daily bread of the Babylonians, Daniel sought the daily bread of God which was raised from the ground... from seeds.

And the word "seed" has a great connotation as an Old Testament concept.  It represents a redeeming hope in the coming of Christ.  It's a shadow of what was to come.  Daniel held on to that hope.

In any event, I pondered this as I got home and caught the movie "The Field of Dreams".  A movie in which the main character Ray Kinsella is dealing with the harsh realities of the world while wrestling with past regrets in his relationship with his father John.

As Ray deals with the seemingly immanent loss of his land and his past sins against his father there came the final scene in which they meet on that field of dreams.  Here is the scene...

Honestly, it hit me.  As John asks Ray, "Is this heaven?"  Ray sheepishly replies, "It's Iowa..."  and then Ray asks, "Is there a heaven?"  Of course, John emphatically replies, "Oh yeah, it's the place dreams come true."

And Ray replies, "Maybe this is heaven." Then they play catch, symbolically washing away the sins of his past and living in the moment of perfect harmony.

In many ways, that one scene reflects the hope of heaven which Christ secures.  It's a place where our sins don't matter any more and as we are reconciled to God we live there with Him in that perfect moment where the Kingdom of God intrudes into this world.

And in fact, the Kingdom of God is better.  There will be no looming mortgages or debts to be paid.  There will be no more suffering, pain, or self-loathing.  There will be only everlasting perfect moments of joy and peace away from the savagery of our pilgrim/exilic life.  And that's a powerful thing.  We need to yearn for it.  We need to chase after it, even in the face of being counter-cultural.

That convicts me and brings tears to my soul.  For in that, I find my faults and see them replaced by hope.  Just as we see Daniel's hope in Christ as everlasting.  Daniel went on to live and extol the virtues of that hope as a witness beyond Jerusalem, beyond Babylon, and beyond time as we read about it today.

Such is the lasting witness of Christ.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Much Ado About Something

As of late there have been many discussions on the internet in regards to transformational Christianity.  Much of the discussion has been circulating around comments from renowned Church historians and theologians such as D.G Hart, Carl Trueman, and Anthony Bradley over the consequences of ministries such as Tim Keller's in New York.  

Truly, something as esoteric and academic as this seems all much ado about nothing.  All of them have their points.  Hart and Trueman speak in terms of what is called 2-kingdom theology.  And yes, Bradley has his reasons to critique this view and I empathize with his bias against the likes of Hart and Trueman.  But what is really going on here?  

It seems to me everyone here is fighting over scraps.  The 2-kingdom people are made out to be caricatures of cold hearted Presbyterianism while Bradley is seeking to defend his PCA brethren with warm and socially conscious Presbyterianism.  And I'm here to say they're both a little wrong and a little right.  They're pushing and pulling around the X-factor in both their ideologies... human sin.

Hart and Trueman call for the church to cease and desist from pursuing this desire to "transform culture" on the basis of church identity.  The church is not a civic institution nor should it be run as such.  Social justice should be mitigated by the fact that the true nature of the church is spiritual, not physical.  

Bradley on the other hand feels that the distinction does not exist in such a robust manner.  In fact, he takes it a step further to say that if it were not for organized Christian movements in culture devastating repercussions may have been allowed in society.

But for any serious 2-kingdom minded individual it should be recognized here that both sides nick the mark without hitting it.  Our citizenship is a dual citizenship.  We live in this world though we are not of it.  We are physical corporeal beings that knows there is a spiritual reality.

And it's by simple virtue that the spiritual has an affect on the physical by which we pursue justice in the world, though the degree of change is subject to the limitations of the flesh.  

Kuyper had to step down from the pulpit to step up to reform Amsterdam.  Also it wasn't the church that stopped the slave trade, it was a Christian man in England convicted of his conscience.  It was a coordinated movement by God through the spiritual and sovereign force of His will.  It is no different than today's widespread movement towards social justice by Christians.

For example, I know of an organization (hereby: "X") which seeks justice and the social well being of North Koreans who are refugees trying to escape in China.  They are Christians, but they cannot simply call themselves a Christian organization.

Why is that?  It's partly practical as much as it is a spiritual witness to Christ.  They can't do it themselves.  They need help.  And it's because of this precious gift of common grace that those of saving grace can work together to better society along side of those who do not love Christ as we do.  

In fact, it's not just these figures of history either... there are many Biblical figures of which this is true.  Joseph and Daniel, among others are among the believers of history which worked with secular people and secular institutions to better society.  And that should answer Hart and Trueman's gripe about the affects of transformationalism for it points to the need of Christ in so many ways.  We are fallen creatures who live and die.  Christ is eternal and though the measure of justice here is nominal, it is a shadow of that which is to come from Jesus.  

Likewise, Bradley should recognize that these weren't organized movements by man's will, but rather common grace.  For when these movements of positive cultural change take mass effect religion becomes neutered.  The gospel will eventually take a back seat to social justice itself.  And then, as we sinners often do, we will lose our way from the purpose of our reforms.  Hence the trap of seeking an over-realized eschatology.

I was in fact discussing these issues with a friend of mine today and he's right to say there needs to be more work done in the realm of academia towards understanding common grace.  For in it we will never be satisfied... and that's kind of the point.  For the Kingdom of God is the greater spiritual and corporeal reality (prophetically speaking) we look forward to.  So I say seek it... however you're led by God to do so.