Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Reflections on Safety

I'm sitting in my office in the church, with air conditioning. I sit here getting ready to lead a Bible study tonight with students who are fellow Christians. I live in a country where my faith is no secret, in fact our website boldly proclaims who we are. But now I write an entry about preaching an unsafe Gospel in an unsafe world.

Why is the message we preach unsafe? Because it has to deal with several realities that we are not comfortable with. We must proclaim a message that teaches the reality that mankind is in sin and cannot do anything to warrant good or save himself. It must also preach a message that God is holy, just, and demands punishment for sin, and that punishment is death. It also must be a message that deals with a bloody cross where God the Father unleashes His full wrath on His Beloved Son. It also is a message that teaches the idea of, as my pastor calls it, uncomfortable grace; this idea that salvation can be given to the worst of offenders and that the worst offense against God or man can be covered by the blood of Christ and stricken from the records of heaven.

The reasons for this message being unsafe are numerous and lengthy to explain. But suffice it to be summed up in this simple message: We preach a message that is not about us at all, but all about God. We as people are not the center of the story, we are simply a part of the great tapestry of the Triune God. Why is this not comfortable? Because our culture teaches us that self is the center of existence and that self is the determiner and agent of truth. When you begin proclaiming a message that is not centered on people but on something external, something outside the realm of our understanding, it will create enemies, especially when you tell those people that they are outside the fold of a relationship with that something, namely God.

The results of this unsafe message can be seen around the world. It's been said that the number of martyrs in the last 100 years is greater than in the previous 19 centuries since Stephen was stoned under the approval of a man named Saul. Christians around the world face death on a daily basis, I think of two men whose story I read online a couple months ago and who I have heard nothing of since then. I can only assume they met their fate at the hands of their captors, and my prayers are with their families and especially their children. The Gospel is a confrontational message, it is not safe. Safe is not a Christian theme, because Jesus said He would divide families, split mother and daughter, brother and brother.

The Gospel is a radical message because it flies in the face of everything we are taught in a self-centered society that puts all the emphasis on YOU. The Gospel puts all the emphasis on HIM, and out of that emphasis comes the beautiful picture of restored fellowship between us and Him. The Gospel is not safe, but keep preaching it. Derek Webb talks about Jesus Himself not being safe, comparing Him (as Lewis did) with Aslan the roaring lion from Narnia. He is certainly not safe, Beaver says, but he is good.

Safe preaching is never biblical preaching. If a minister stands in the pulpit and never faces hardship for his preaching, he is not preaching from the Bible. In America our comfort and societal acceptance of Christianity is in its waning days, and soon it will be very clear who is a true Disciple and who is merely chaff in the church. I heard a phrase from Dr. Mohler, it has resounded in my mind, "embrace the danger." Our comfort in America is to our downfall. We need to be about preaching an unsafe message, because that is what our Lord commanded us.


Saturday, August 23, 2008


As most of you know, I am only serving at the church in a part-time capacity. That leaves me with the need to supplement my income through Starbucks. Starbucks, a company I have worked for since 2002, affords me ample time off for church events, flexible hours, free coffee, but more important the chance to have great (and cheap) health insurance. As God's call on my life has become more evident, the health and benefits package has remained the only reason I have stayed at the company for about 2 1/2 years.

But my soul is not at peace with this setup. I have been very blessed to be able to have insurance in the event of medical necessity, and the dental/vision package has been most helpful in recent time. The tension is great, eating away at the very fiber of my soul on a daily basis, but the struggle is simple: I work for a company whose values and endeavors I wholeheartedly detest, and by being an agent of that company in a way I feel like I am giving my tacit support to these causes that I find ungodly and part of the downfall of our society.

I first began to notice the tension when reading about the long-standing SBC boycott against Disney for its gay-friendly policies and celebrations. What struck me is that Starbucks has long held a "domestic partner benefit" in its business and benefits. The same insurance package that would protect a traditional family is also extended to people who are in a committed monogamous relationship with a member of the same gender. Health insurance being a premium and a necessity today, I (from a utilitarian perspective) can see some good in this policy by getting as many people covered for medical emergencies. But it is the approval and celebration of an "alternative lifestyle" that I must, based on my Christian convictions, stand in opposition to and declare to be an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

Recently I read a partner magazine that talked about Starbucks being on the forefront of the movement regarding transgendered employees, and how they are promoting acceptance of a diverse array of lifestyles. What this is doing is confusing the distinct genders that God has set forth since Creation, that they are separate, distinct, equal in value and worth, but yet very different. The new concept of gender is whatever you want it to be, not based on biological factors (hardware). In a day where men are lining up to be neutered as the Brad Paisley song indicates, and when the lines separating the genders are becoming increasingly blurred, it is no surprise that a progressive-leaning and socially liberal company would so endorse such a movement. But again, as an agent of the company I feel like by working for them I am giving my support to this.

What makes all this even more troublesome is the fact that the Siren has become such an integral part of American culture that Starbucks has ubiquitously put stores in major cities, malls, and other common thoroughfares. It would not surprise me if the percentage of people who have visited a Starbucks in America is pushing 75-80%. That is roughly 225-230 million people, which displays a huge influence over our wallets for one and our minds also. Companies who are central to the American "image" are increasingly supporting causes that are decidedly anti-Christian in their moral stances and approval of what used to be called "sinful." Now, instead of calling something a sin, we give them a float in the parade and clap our hands that they are "expressing themselves." Starbucks has even become part of the Christian subculture in America, being the place where youth groups hang out, pastors meet with one another and with prospects, because in fact coffee is a great connecting drink to allow people to share something and fellowship with one another.

So what is one to do who holds deeply to personal convictions regarding morality and culture? Is it possible to distinguish one's personal life from one's vocation, especially when holding that position is out of necessity rather than by enjoyment? I have enjoyed my time with the company coming on six years, have met some wonderful people, been able to share Christ, learn what our culture truly desires (community, face-to-face relationships, not the rubbish text messaging and internet chats), and scored a ton of free coffee. Is there anyone else who has worked in a job where they felt such a tension? Share your thoughts!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Thoughts on the Olympics

The Olympic games are in full swing and there have been stories of dreams reached, hopes crushed, controversies over judging (seemed a bit suspect, especially in women's gymnastics), debates over the eligibility of athletes, and everything in between. These Games have been the personal show of Michael Phelps who put himself into the history books as perhaps the best swimmer ever, the return of American pride in basketball by assembling a team of amazing talent led by three young superstars who have all decided to put their personal statistics behind them in order to win gold, the world's fastest man crushing the previous world record and making it look so easy, etc. I have enjoyed watching some of the less-popular sports and seeing people who do things with a ball or with their bodies that defy the laws of gravity and nature.

And what is the reward for the athlete who finishes first? A gold medal, national pride, endorsements, a Wheaties box, ticker-tape parades, and much more. Sadly though, all are perishable, able to be stolen, temporary, and in the end, fleeting. In 2012 no one will be happy with Phelps unless he wins everything, the world record in the 100m will be the topic of conversation, endorsement money will be spent and lost by many athletes, the gymnasts will experience premature arthritis and nagging injuries. All for what? History will never forget them, long after their medals fall apart, the money is spent, and the Wheaties eaten. But they still pursue a temporary glory, a treasure that will not matter in time eternal.

That's why the Apostle Paul writes about imperishable crowns in 1 Corinthians 9, that we as Christians should be about the discipline and rigor in training and preparation that the Olympians go through in order to receive something that does go away, and even more so in our discipline and effort. Run the race he says, and we as Christians should not take a lazy and apathetic approach to our faith, but should rather look at it the same way an Olympic runner looks at the marathon, as something to prepare for, work hard at, and be disciplined in mind and body to prepare for it. Life, especially as a disciple, is hard. And it can wear out a weak Christian the same way a marathon course will wear out someone who has not properly trained and prepared for it. May we take seriously the commands of Christ and put them in our lives in such a way that we run for the imperishable prize.


This is an awesome clip, it's the last scene from Chariots of Fire, where we see a person who truly ran for the imperishable prize, Eric Liddell. Thank God for people like him who show us what it truly means to run the race

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Great Listen

Following on the coattails of my comments about a great read, I have to say that tonight I listened to some of the best new music I have heard in a long, long, long time. It is by a young artist named Phil Wickman, who at 21 has a maturity in his lyrics and melodies that provokes both the mind and emotions to worship of the Living God.

I have often been disappointed by a lot of the music that is promoted in churches as new worship music, finding that most of it is trite and shallow and devoid of any real depth of doctrine, significance, and in some cases Gospel. While the "style" of music is for me a foolish argument, because the hymns were written to be the contemporary music of their day, I believe whole-heartedly in expecting music played and sung in church to actually say something instead of mindless repetition of a Christian cliche designed to go on a t-shirt or bumper sticker.

I will attach the lyrics to a song from the album, called Beautiful, which is such an awesome way of describing Christ in song. The last verse is highlighted, and that is the awesome hope we have as Christians, that one day we will dine with the Beloved and we as His Bride will be joined to Him forevermore, never to struggle with pain or loss or death or sadness or sickness, but will forever be in His glory and in His Sabbath-rest. In the words of John, "come, Lord Jesus."

I see your face in every sunrise
The colors of the morning are inside your eyes

The world awakens in the light of the day

I look up to the sky and say... You’re Beautiful

I see your pow’r in the moonlit night

Where planets are in motion and galaxies are bright

We are amazed in the light of the stars

Its all proclaiming who you are... You’re beautiful

I see you there hanging on a tree
You bled and then you died and then you rose again for me

Now you are setting on your heavenly throne

Soon you will be coming home... You’re Beautiful

When we arrive at eternity’s shore

Where death is just a memory and tears are no more

We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring

Your bride will come together and we’ll sing... You’re Beautiful

You are Beautiful... Thank you..


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Great Read

While we were at World Changers, I took with me a book to read during down time and before I'd go to bed. Now that I am done with school I want to be able to read things that interest me or that I have always wanted to but because of class obligations I was never able to.

The book I took with me was a book by Dr. Al Mohler called Culture Shift which is in essence a series of essays relating to cultural issues and how we as Christians should engage them. I found it to be a very helpful book, especially considering my role as a student minister working with young people who are dealing with issues that I never had to deal with at their age, living in a world that is increasingly anti-Christian and hostile towards the Truth claims of Scripture. I don't know if I necessarily agree with him on his stance of pulling children from public schools, but I appreciate his thorough and thoughtful examination of the issues and how we as thoughtful Christians should engage the culture at large.

It is a book I would highly recommend for anyone who seeks to understand the evangelical faith and its place in the contemporary setting. And if you're in Memphis, let me know and I'll let you borrow my copy! Just promise to bring it back


Monday, August 11, 2008


On Sunday there was a segment(click to view) on Good Morning America that featured the latest trend in a long tradition of indulgences and faith-for-profit, the marketing and commercialization of Christianity featuring items such as Christian sole insoles, candy bars, Bobblehead dolls, and other trinkets. The debate raged about whether or not this was exploiting people's religious sensitivities or was a genuine effort on the part of Christian businessmen to take the Gospel message to the masses through creative and marketable means. There is even a whole association of Christian retailers promoting Christian wares at a convention.

Is this the latest in a line of indulgences meant to deceive people into thinking that because they have a certain thing or buy a certain thing that they can impact their eternal spiritual condition? Is this the latest in a long line of Vanity Fair issues where people should be offended at what they see? I have no doubt that some of these businessmen are in it for the right motives, but more than anything else running a business is about turning a profit and making money, and this is a $4.6 billion per year venture to sell Jesus.

Open it up for discussion, does this trend offend you or do you think it's ok? This is a free country, so voice your views!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Just want to say this, man am I glad I'm not marrying crazy... Something like this won't ever happen to me, and I'm quite grateful for that

Still with that smile, does it ever go away?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gimmicks Hard at Work

In a day where the slow nature of the economy has forced unforeseen layoffs and cutbacks, many companies are turning to marketing and sales gimmicks in an attempt to boost revenue, raise customer confidence, and invigorate a slow-moving stock market that is growing increasingly conservative. Many companies are turning to gimmicks who have never done so before, most notably Starbucks which has always kept itself away from advertising and gimmicks, relying on the testimony of regular customers and trustworthiness of the brand name to promote growth. Now the company is releasing a promo promising discounted drinks for those who purchase one in the morning as an afternoon pickup. This satisfies to some extent the bloggers who demand that Starbucks do something about its extravagant prices in order to stimulate customer traffic in a shaky economy. While I do agree that this is a good move to promote customer traffic, I do believe that this is a compromise of the company's approach towards marketing and advertising.

But is this the case only in secular, corporate America? Or have churches succumbed to the allure of advertising and marketing gimmicks in an attempt to be part of the "church growth" movement? Has the "seeker sensitive" movement caused us to compromise our doctrine and practice of worship and what it means to do church? Churches are so often looking to draw in people that they seek after the next wave of programming, the next big speaker to come and do a conference, catchy websites and billboards and license plates and t-shirts. In the effort to make our churches bigger and increase our programming and ministries and stuff, I believe it has made the back door of our churches as big as the front door. Thankfully the SBC passed a resolution to put an emphasis on Regenerate Church Membership which will hopefully make it possible for churches to take seriously the issue of church membership and will put an emphasis instead of numbers on growth and discipleship and maturity. By making our churches Gospel-centered and Christ-centered, I think it will result in numeric growth by the equipping of the saints for the work of the Gospel. Any program or ministry done by a church has to be God-glorifying and Gospel-centered or it is nothing more than a social gathering of Christian humanists who seek the happiness of man rather than the glory of God. Programs and ministries and efforts to reach out to the lost are great, but never for the sake of a gimmick to selfishly promote but rather to unashamedly point to the Cross and to the Gospel.
I pray gimmicks never have a part in my ministry, may the Lord guide me in that daily.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Broadmoor family, here is the list of who you are in Christ from the message tonight. I pray this encourages you in your faith this week.

Child of God
Forgiven by God in Christ (1 John 1:9)
A New Creature (2 Cor 5:17)
Temple of the Spirit (1 Cor 6:19)
A Saint (Romans 1:7)
Blessed in Christ
Set Free (John 8:31-33)
More than Conqueror (Romans 8:37)
Alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
Reconciled to God through Christ (2 Cor 5:18)
Citizen of Heaven (Phil 3:20)
Powerful (2 Timothy 1:7)
Adopted as a Child (Ephesians 1:5)
Salt and Light (Matt 5:13-14)
God’s workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)