Saturday, October 18, 2014

Gilead, Darkness and Miracles

"In all that deep darkness, a miracle was preparing".

That is a line from Gilead, a novel by Marilynne Robinson. The context is that the narrator is discussing a long time when he was single. As a pastor in a small town, he was seen as quite a catch, so many daughters and nieces were presented to him. But, no one caught his eye. This caused him to feel sad and lonely.

In every life we go through periods of deep darkness. Its almost like our time in the womb prepares us for similar times of murky shadow times. It might be helpful to consider that when we find ourselves in those times that a miracle is in fact being prepared.

For the character in Gilead, the miracle was the woman who would become his wife. The woman tells him "You ought to marry me." The effect was so tremendous that his response was:

"That was the first time in my life I ever knew what it was to love another human being."

Darkness is ok. Shadow seasons need not frighten us. Because darkness, sadness and deprivation are often fused into a powerful alloy out of which the miracle is birthed.

God created light out of darkness.
YOU first existed in darkness (the womb) before emerging out into the blinding hospital lights.
And you were a miracle to those first people who heard you cry.
But the miracle came out of darkness.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

After your Pastor Preaches a Sermon


The scientist (Cornell professor Dr. Jonathan Butcher) and
the pastor (me) answer some questions from students.

So, I'm a pastor. Part of my job is preaching. I share the preaching load at our church with our interim lead pastor. Since he's the lead guy, he preaches slightly more than I do.

I want to share with you a little bit about what it's like to prepare and deliver a sermon. And one thing to please not do to your pastor immediately after he or she preaches their sermon.

I normally start my preparation for my sermon Monday morning. I print out the text in the version I will preach from and in Greek, so I can access both the Greek and English while reading and making notes. I read the Greek first to get a good handle about how it sounded when it was first written.

Then I read through the passage several times, making notes and waiting for an outline to emerge - After about an hour I have a pretty good idea of how the passage is laid out. Now, it's time for deeper study. I crack open the commentaries and start to study. If possible I will listen to the passage preached by some of my favorite preachers. Usually:
John Stott, Martyn Loyd Jones, Tim Keller and Darrell Johnson.

This usually takes about 8 hours. And then I write the sermon. The actual writing of the sermon can take anywhere from 2 to 8 hours. It depends on how easily the outline emerged. Writing a sermon is more like wrestling with a biblical text - moving it around, trying to figure out what God's truth is lying in there - what specific thing he wants to communicate with my church.

Most of my reading, studying and praying is done over Monday, Thursday and Friday. I will still meet with people on Monday and Friday but usually try to block Thursday completely out to do serious uninterrupted study and writing.

If I think it is finished, I put it away for awhile. And then later come back to it for final edits - usually Friday afternoon or sometimes Saturday morning. When I am convinced I have done all I can I pray a final prayer dedicating it to God.

And then I preach it (I'll write another post about preaching later).

Now - here's the thing I want to tell you to NOT do immediately after your pastor preaches a sermon. Please please please do not correct him on something he or she might have said wrong. Do not point out an area you feel he or she was in error.

I am not saying never communicate it - I'm just saying, give it a couple of days. When you preach you are giving everything of yourself. You are often spent, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It is a time of great vulnerability and fragility.

I am fortunate enough to have a very gracious and loving congregation who often compliment me on my sermons. But, there are also sometimes some people who for some reason feel led to tell me all the errors I made. Last month someone felt they needed to tell me I had mis-pronounced a name. Now, remember I'm not saying never do it - just give your pastor a day to 2 to recover (or even a few hours!)

I can't tell you how deflating and discouraging it is to put so much energy into a sermon, deliver it as well as you can and then IMMEDIATELY following to be told all the mistakes you made.

So, be kind to your pastor. He or she is doing the best that he or she can. They might not always get it right. But, believe me, they know when they have fallen short in a sermon. They really don't need your correction all the time.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mars Hill: The Only Way Out is Down

I am actually completely stunned at the continued fallout of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The latest wrinkle is that 9 CURRENT pastors have now publicly stated their opinion that Mark Driscoll should step down for an entire year instead of his current 6 week staycation.

Now, one of those 9 pastors has been fired.
Swell.

The most damning observations of the church comes from respected pastor, speaker and author Paul David Tripp. Tripp served on the accountability board of Mars Hill for awhile until he realized the board could not do very much, least of all provide actual accountability.
Here are some snippets from Tripp:

"I don't think even now that there is the recognition of the depth of what Mars Hill Church and Mark is actually dealing with. This is without a doubt the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I've ever been involved with."
"What is happening is they are managing a crisis, instead of dealing with the deep personal sin at the bottom of the crisis."

This is bad.
This is dark.
This is shameful.

We are witnessing what happens when ego, success and power become secret idols in the heart of a leader. While publicly we can say and write all the right things - our inner lives can be dark, corrupt and damaged. The worst thing is the fallout in the local church and the scorn that comes our way form those outside the faith.

The hurt for those still IN Mars Hill must be deep to see their leader fall and their church crack and totter. And the watching world has a good snicker as their stereotypes of Christians gets reinforced.

The only path forward out of this mess is continued repentance, genuine sorrow and humility.
My only fear is that these tools of the Spirit have been so long neglected in this church that they will be difficult to recognize. Which means there might simply be more cover up, deception and prolonged pain for more and more people.

God have mercy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

None are Precious in His Sight - Richard Dawkins


I hate kids.

I believe the most famous atheist in the world is losing his mind.
Last month Richard Dawkins wrote that we shouldn't condemn what he called "mild pedophilia". The term itself is a stunning.
Pedophilia might be a lot of things but the one thing it can never be is "mild".

And now Dawkins has stumbled again in the twtterverse.
Some misguided seeker mentioned that they would be in a real dilemma if they found out the child in their womb had Down's syndrome.
And here the ever compassionate anti-God professor let's loose with this missive:

Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.

It is more moral to terminate a Down's Syndrome child, than to give it a loving family.
I wonder why stop at the womb? In Dawkin's world, perhaps it is moral to terminate any kid that doesn't measure up to whatever standards Dawkins deems worthy of life.

Children with Down's Syndrome are not a mistake.
Children with autism are not a mistake.
Nor are blind children or deaf children.

I contrast Dawkin's callousness with something I saw last week.
I had the privilege along with 15 other people from my church to be able to participate in the Leadership Summit out of Willow Creek Church in Chicago.
As part of the Summit, a special ministry was profiled. Willow Creek has a large and significant ministry among children with special needs - providing all kinds of ministries and programs to support these precious children and their families.

A video was played of the kids practicing a dance routine to Katy Perry's song "Roar". As the video died down, all of a sudden all these beautiful kids burst onto the stage and did their energetic dancing.
It was beautiful.
I was glad none of their parents had had the chance to listen to Dawkin's stupid advice. If they had, 90 000 leaders watching across America wouldn't have had their hearts touched by the purity of those kids.

The speaker who followed the kids said, "That is not the best thing I have ever seen at the Summit - that is simply the best thing I have ever seen".

Dawkins' comment betray the ethics emerge out of a naturalistic worldview. Care for the poor, marginalized and disabled cannot emerge from the ethics of pragmatic naturalism.

So, you want "mild" pedophilia and the morality of aborting disabled kids, become an atheist like Dawkins.
But, if you want a worldview where "all are precious in his sight", then follow the only religious leader, Jesus Christ, who encouraged the little children to come to him .... because he loves them .... ALL of them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Are You Robin Williams?



When we lived in Vancouver for awhile I had the interesting fortune of meeting celebrities - I never sought them out - they would just sort of be where I was : grocery stores, video stores, etc.

In 2005 Felicia and I were out for a movie. After locating our seats I got in line for popcorn and soda.
As I was standing in the line, I glanced over at the man next to me. He was short but very muscular - I thought he might be a body builder.
I looked at his face and thought he looked familiar - he returned my gaze and I thought he looks a lot like Robin Williams - his chin is much more pointy than in films and tv.

A few more seconds and I was confident it was him - I asked him "Are you Robin Williams?"
He said yes.
Then I fumbled into verbal idiocy as I wasn't sure what I should say now.
So I said "I'm a big fan of your stand-up". which is true.
He said thank you.

At this point, I should have shut up and focused on the line. Instead, I kept going.
"Is Vancouver treating you well"
Oh my gosh - what was wrong with me?

He said Vancouver WAS in fact treating him and his family well.

And then I shut up.

He then left his line to get 2 bottles of coke out of a fridge to our left.
When he turned around to come back, 3 people entered the line ahead of him.
He sighed and took his spot at the back.
He got his popcorn (2 large bags) and headed to his film.

And that was it - I interacted with him for a total of maybe 40 seconds.

The question I am left with tonight is how could a man with so much resources available still be incapable of dealing with depression and mental illness?

It's a question without an answer because the answer went with him this week.
For some reason, there was a pain and pathos behind the comedy that finally took him down for good.

For me, it is a painful reminder and plea that if you struggle with depression - TELL SOMEONE - your isolation compounds your pain.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

This Must be The End - Mark Driscoll





Felicia and I visited Mars Hill Church in Seattle in 2005 when we were starting to consider church planting in Vancouver.

Mars Hill Ballard (at the time), met in a retro fitted warehouse. It had a very cool vibe and was filled with young people. The worship I think was good - but I can't remember it now.
Mark Driscoll spoke on an unpopular passage of Judah and Tamar from Genesis 38.
I remember that Driscoll made a remark that women should not go to night-clubs because they are at risk for assault there. The way he said it sounded like he was insinuating it was their own fault if they were assaulted.

After that visit, I kept track of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. There seemed to be no stopping them. They continued to grow and expand at an incredible rate. Driscoll was writing a lot of books and speaking in a lot of places.

In 2007 two popular elders were fired when they voiced disagreement with a new governance structure which centralized the power to Mark and I think 2 other executive elders - so now this mega church was being run by basically 3 people. This is where I think things began to go off track. Focused on growth and success, the church seemed to jettison other things such as humility and sacrifice.

In the past 3 years there has been a series of scandals that culminated in a "peaceful protest" outside one of the church locations a couple of weeks ago.
Many of the scandals are documented elsewhere, so I don't really need to list them again - just google Mark Driscoll and they will all pop up.

My assessment is that we are witnessing the final climax of an extended period of institutional spiritual abuse from this church. Church leadership at Mars Hill has been shown to be controlling and deceptive for years now.

This kind of behavior has a shelf life before it comes out of suppression. Spiritual abuse and religious authoritarianism happens a lot in all forms of organized religion. Psychological manipulation and abuses of power occur not just in religion, but anywhere where human beings organize themselves: business, schools, etc.

What is unique here is the breadth and depth of the dysfunctional behavior. Mars Hill is a big church that meets over several states. The fall out is massive - it is not confined to some small local congregation somewhere. The abuse also is linked to someone who at one time was a leading voice in evangelicalism. I don't believe Driscoll is getting very many invites to speak anymore or is being commissioned to write any more books. This is the end of one chapter of his ministry.

Today I found out that the church planting organization that Driscoll FOUNDED has now removed his church from their membership and the board has unanimously asked for Driscoll's removal from ministry for a period of time.

Here's the link:

 http://www.acts29network.org/acts-29-blog/a-message-from-the-board-of-acts-29-concerning-mark-driscoll-and-mars-hill-church/

This is unbelievable. The board of his former organization - men that he had worked with very closely, some of whom he had even appointed - have now in concert accused Driscoll of no longer being fit for ministry.

(Note - Mars Hill has responded by saying they were never contacted prior to the announcement from Acts 29 and are disappointed with the "divisive" decision. They also called the letter "friendly fire". There is no acknowledgment of any wrong doing on their part. I guess if you embrace a false narrative long enough, truth can no longer enter into it).

Wow. This must be the end.
The writing is not just on the wall but on blog posts, web-sites and discussion boards across America.

What we can learn from all of this is that the ends can no longer justify the means when it comes to fulfilling Jesus' mission on earth. 
Growth of our churches cannot happen by using worldly methods deprived of the Spirit's leading.
The celebrity pastor is a ridiculous contradiction which must come to an end.
Pastors are servants and shepherds, not rock stars.

The end has come for church as big business.
It is time to confess, repent and humble ourselves.
Paying a marketing company $200 000 to make your book a best seller does not make Jesus famous, it makes the church look duplicitous.
Diverting funds away from your global fund to start more churches in America is deceptive.

The events at Mars Hill have forced the church in America to look in the mirror and question our techniques and strategies.
Is big always best?
Does more people and more money always equal the blessing of God?
Mars Hill teaches us absolutely not.

As I write this I am reflecting on my motives.
Am I writing to malign or slander Driscoll or his church?
No - that has been done by much more force by others more closely connected to it.

I think I am finally sharing my thoughts out of a deep sense of sadness.
Mark Driscoll entered the ministry with a desire to share Jesus Christ with those who don't know Christ.
He has done that extremely well - I am sure there are thousands of people in the kingdom as a result of Dricoll's obedience to that call.
But, my sadness is in the fact that he was unable to diagnose the start of the cancer and the blindness that made him incapable of seeing what was happening through his ministry.
An inability to see people being deeply deeply hurt through the authoritarianism and power that was happening in the church.

And I have a sadness for the the church in America. This affects us all. We should all be saddened by the fact that the incredible impact Mars Hill could have had has now been sharply stunted. Mars Hill could have gone down in history as one of the most significant movements of the early 21st Century. But now sadly, Driscoll's legacy will forever be tied to these series of scandals.

It is a time for sadness and repentance.

And I believe it is the end of this chapter of Dricoll's ministry.



Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Praying for the Peace of Israel (And Palestine)

We have now been living in the United States for over one year.
One of my first observations is how political this nation is.
People have very strong political views and feel propelled to voice them loudly at times.

The Middle East always raises some strong pitched points of views - especially among evangelical Christians.
There is a branch of evangelicalism which is completely and totally blindly pro-Israel (I mean this in terms of being completely and totally supporting Israel's claim to their land in the Middle East AND full and complete support for any and all military campaigns carried out by Israel).

There are other Christians who are moderate.

And there are some whose support for Palestine borders on a soft anti-semitism in terms of viewing Israel.

Where do I stand? I am pro-Israel - I support the Israeli people to have a nation and land, like every other country.

But, this support of Israel needs to be balanced by a concern for the Palestinian people and the humanitarian blow out of the West Bank. The West Bank is one of the neediest and desperate places on the planet.

The media paints Hamas and Israel war hawks with the same brush.
Each with a rigid inability to speak to one another in civil tones, reverting to missiles and guns instead.

And between these two extremes lie the civilians - often innocent bystanders killed by ambitious missiles.

Into this chaos steps Dr. Cornel West.

Dr. West has the unique gift of actually LOOKING like an Old Testament prophet with his wild frizzy hair often speeding off in all directions.
I caught this clip of West speaking at some pro-Palestine rally.

Here are some lines from this brief speech:

"A precious Palestinian baby has the exact same status as a white baby in Newtown Conneticut,
as a brown baby in the East Side of L.A.
as a Jewish baby in Israel.
Every human being is created in the image of God".

"I would be here if there was a Palestinian occupation of Jewish brothers and sisters because it is wrong.
It is unjust. 
We stand not with the level of skin pigmentation or ethnic identity. This is spiritual with political consequences."

Praying for the peace of Israel does not mean we ignore peace for the rest of the world (including Palestine).

Here's the whole Cornel West clip: