Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Priest Used Church Money to Live Lavish Double Life That Included Male Escorts

The Republican-American website has an interesting article about a priest gone bad. Not exactly news these days, but it does provide me the opportunity to make a pithy, ironic observation at the end.

It seems beloved and respected 64-year-old Rev. Kevin Gray was living an extravagant double life that his parishioners knew nothing about:

Detectives say they discovered Gray, a well-respected Catholic priest and former leader of several city parishes, siphoned roughly $1.3 million from Sacred Heart to pay for a lavish lifestyle usually reserved for the wealthy.

Investigators claim this money went to pay for male escorts, $200,000 in restaurant bills, and hotel stays in the lap of Manhattan luxury.

. . . expenses amassed by Gray and paid for with the church's money

Furthermore, Gray had apparently told his congregation he was battling cancer. Investigators have determined that Gray has never had cancer and they believe he was using this ruse to explain his absences from the parish.

It's interesting to me how the police were tipped off that Gray was dirty:

Police have investigated Gray since May, when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford came across financial "discrepancies" during an internal investigation. Archdiocese officials presented their findings to police, who say they've confirmed Gray embezzled the funds.

Now, there's where Gray messed up. He messed with the church's money, and NOBODY messes with the church's money.

If he'd just been molesting children, the church would've covered for him . . .

Monday, July 5, 2010

Puppet Pastors

On July 1, President Obama gave a speach on immigration reform at American University, an event to which he invited several key pastors and national church leaders. Pastor Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Illinois introduced the President.

This prompted Dave Welch over at to write a commentary sounding off on politicians using nationally known pastors as props for their agendas. He calls them props, I call them puppet pastors.

Here are a few choice tidbits from his article:
. . . clergy have been used and abused by politicians as props as long as there have been politics.

. . . well-known in the political world – shared and confirmed by Chuck Colson – is how Richard Nixon would "wine and dine" key pastors, give them the red-carpet treatment and send them home to be good mouthpieces.

When highly influential pastors like Hybels and Joel Osteen (e.g., his giving thanks to God for "raising up" activist lesbian mayor of Houston, Annise Parker) give cover to reprobate politicians, they yield not only their own moral high ground and influence, but that of pastors all over the nation whom they are perceived to represent.

We need patriot pastors holding elected officials accountable to God's standards, not serving as pawns by enemies of our faith and our country

Truth is, this article speaks not only to the issue of reprobate politicians, but also to the current condition of a lukewarm, man-pleasing church.

Included in the article is this reference that I found troubling:
. . . Erwin Lutzer illustrates magnificently in his must-read book, "Hitler's Cross," [how] the theologically shallow and nationalistic nature of the German clergy proved easy pickings for Hitler.

Although there are some who would argue with me, I don't think Obama is a Hitler. But the description of the German clergy as "theologically shallow and nationalistic" is a frighteningly accurate description of the popular American church.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Are You One of the De-Churched?

Over at the Out of Ur blog, there's an interesting article about a new segment of Christianity that has been labeled and is currently being discussed in seminars all over Christendom.

For a while we've known about the churched and the unchurched. The churched are the ones who've got it right and their mission is to bring the unchurched into both a saving relationship with Jesus, and a tithing relationship with the local church.

But there is now a new group: the De-Churched. These are people who were at one point involved in a local assembly, but have left the conventional structure of church and are now experiencing God in a different way.

Now, don't get all judgmental; sheathe your Sword of Rebuke. They've not abandoned the faith and they haven't forsaken the assembling of themselves together, they're just burnt out on the church machine and they're doing it a different way.

This article over at Out of Ur explores several different reasons people are leaving the church in alarming numbers. First, referencing the below video of Mark Chandler, pastor of the Village Church near Dallas, the exodus of young people is attributed to:

. . . the proclamation (explicitly or implicitly) of a false gospel of "moralistic deism." This understanding of the Christian life says that if you obey God's rules he will bless you with what you desire. This represents a form of the prosperity gospel . . . The problem arises when God's blessing doesn't come-or doesn't come in the form we want. Divorce, illness, poor grades, failed relationship-virtually any hardship has the potential to destroy one's faith in Christ and the church that represents him. So, according to Chandler, people walk away. They enter the ranks of the de-churched.

The article goes on to explore other reasons why so many of the churched are becoming the de-churched:

These Christians have simply lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is not an aid in their faith and mission. Rather it's become a drain on time, resources, and energy. It feels like a black hole with a gravitation pull so strong that not even the light of the gospel can escape its organizational appetite.

I'd love to know your thoughts.

So, what are these de-churched people doing to express and grow their faith? In the next post we'll look at the burgeoning Simple Church movement.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Skeptic Month: Hey, Babe, Shut Your Pie Hole!

Continuing with the skeptic theme here at Pastor Kip, we come now to a very uncomfortable section for the conservative fundamentalist: the issue of a woman's place in the church. According to the critic, this one issue deals a serious blow to the Bible's claim to both relevancy and inerrancy.

The Declaration
In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, the Apostle Paul clearly states that he does not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man, She must be silent and learn in quietness and full submission. Paul remains consistent on this teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, going so far as to say it is "disgraceful for a woman to speak in church."

The main reason for the woman's subordinate role, and a passage that you'll rarely hear preached on, is that, while man was created in the image and glory of God, woman wasn't. She is the glory of man. This according to 1 Corinthians 11:7-9.

As you can imagine, this ruffles quite a few mother hen feathers.

The Response
The Biblical inerrancy crowd has several different reactions to this one. Some take it for what it says and do not allow women to hold authority over men in a church. It's fine for them to change diapers, run the children's ministry, and oversee the activities of the Women's Auxiliary, but their privilege of service ends there.

Then there are those more progressive types who teach that Paul's admonition isn't applicable today since it dealt with a situation specific to the culture at that time. Women, emboldened by the liberation given to them by Christianity and apparently insensitive to the most basic sense of decorum, had begun to ask questions of their husbands in the midst of the church service. This was distracting to say the least, since (according to some sources) men and women were seated on opposite sides of the room, the questions had to be shouted across the aisle.

Then there are the liberals who teach that, ages ago, church officials actually changed the language in the Bible in order to subjugate women. They claim that wherever the word "man" is used in this context, it should more appropriately be translated "husband". In other words, Paul was merely setting forth the order of accountability in a Christian home, not the administration of church leadership. I sat under a pastor who taught this, and I asked him if he was bothered that this might bring the whole authority of Scripture into question. He admitted that it was a risk, but he felt it was worth it to correct the teaching.

The Critic's Response to the Responses
The first response is both the least acceptable and the most honest. These people teach the inerrancy of Scripture and are determined to follow every jot and tittle in spite of social and political objections. And why shouldn't they? They are following the word of God.

The second response of cultural differences must then concede that, at least on this issue, the Scriptures do not apply to this day and time. In other words, the infallible word of God has failed to be relevant to our culture.

The third response is the most damaging to the integrity of the Scriptures. The preacher who holds to this teaching - that the Bible has been vitiated by human bias - has seriously weakened his ability to teach anything from Scripture with any authority. He cannot honestly claim to believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.

Finally, not one of these last two responses deals with the basic reason Paul gave for the woman's subordinate role: she was created subordinate.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Skeptic Month: Giants, Josephus, and More Giants

Here at Pastor Kip we’re continuing on with Skeptic Month. Today we’re looking at a remarkable event described in the book of Genesis that critics say gives credence to the idea that the Bible is on a par with other ancient books of mythology.

In Genesis 6 we’re told that the Nephilim were on the earth in the days of Noah. Nephilim is rendered in some translations (such as the revered KJV) as “giants”. We’re also told that the sons of God were attracted to the daughters of men and had children with them. These children became “. . . heroes of old, men of great renown”.

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Sounds a lot like Greek mythology, doesn’t it? We learned in school that the Greek storytellers told of how the gods intermarried with humans and had children by them, and we call those children “heroes”.

Hercules was a hero – son of the god Zeus and the mortal Alcmene.

Now, Christian apologists like to quote the Jewish historian Josephus as an extra-Biblical source proving the existence of Jesus, because he mentions Jesus twice in his work Antiquities of the Jews. It bears mentioning that one of those references (called the Testimonium Flavianum) is highly suspect because it makes overtly Messianic proclamations that Josephus did not espouse.

But did you know that Josephus also mentions Hercules? Yep, three times in fact – here are the references: 1.15; 8.5.3; and 10.11.1. Now, to be fair, one of those (8.5.3) is a reference to the temples of Hercules, but the other two speak of Hercules as a historical figure.

You’ll hear many sermons quoting Josephus on Jesus, but you’ll never hear an evangelical preacher mention Josephus’s references to Hercules. Why? Because it makes it easy to argue that Jesus is on the same level as Hercules. If, as it is sometimes alleged, Hercules was a true historical figure around whom many mythologies were constructed, why couldn’t the same be said about Jesus?

And what about those giants? We’re told in Genesis 7:21 that all creatures other than Noah and his family were annihilated in the flood, but then these giants show back up in Numbers 13:33. Where did these Nephilim come from?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Skeptic Month: Holy Postpartum Discrepancies!

Only two of the Gospels record Jesus’ birth – Matthew and Luke. They come at the story from different perspectives and there are no real problems between the two, until we read about the events that came after the birth.

In Matthew’s account, there is some major stuff going on! The wise men come to see the child in Bethlehem, and are warned in a dream to not return to Herod because he’s planning an outrage of epic proportions. Likewise, Joseph is told to take his family and flee to Egypt because Herod is looking to destroy the child.

Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt and Herod slaughters all the male children under two years old in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. Once Herod dies, Joseph and his family return to Nazareth. Matthew points out that this was done so that the word of the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: "Out of Egypt I called My Son."

In Luke’s account, Jesus is circumcised eight days after the birth and they remain in the area of Jerusalem for about forty days (to complete the time of purification) and then they take Jesus to the temple to present him to the Lord. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Nazareth and the child ". . . grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."

No dramatic flight to Egypt. No devastating slaughtering of the children.

Why the difference? Did Luke simply choose to leave out a few major details because he didn’t consider them germane to his purpose in writing the story? Or was he ignorant of the additional stories in Matthew?

Are they reconcilable? Or are these just two versions of the same myth?

To understand what's going on this month at Pastor Kip, click here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Skeptic Month: Jesus' Jumbled Genealogy

We are in the midst of Skeptic Month here at Pastor Kip. The first two challenges we dealt with (here and here) were extraordinary events to say the least, but they could be explained away as being miracles. I’d like to shift gears now and deal with some direct contradictions and alleged inconsistencies that bolster the skeptic’s claim that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God.

The first we’ll consider is the problem of Jesus’ lineage. This is an important issue with Christianity because, in order to lay claim to being the Messiah, Jesus had to have descended from the royal lineage of David. So, both Matthew and Luke determine to lay out the foundation of Jesus' ancestry.

Problem is, they don’t match. And it’s not even close.

Both genealogies trace Jesus’ ancestry from Joseph back to David. In Matthew 1:17, Jacob begat Joseph and there are 28 generations from David to Jesus. In Luke 3, Joseph is the son of Heli and there are 43 generations from David to Jesus.

The conventional fundamentalist wisdom is that the genealogy in Luke is best seen as being the lineage traced through Mary, even though Mary is not mentioned. This is explained away as typical Jewish misogyny – women weren’t normally mentioned in genealogies – and where Joseph is said to be the son of Heli, it could just as easily mean son-in-law of Heli in the original language.

That’s all well and good, except it is traditionally agreed that Luke was a Gentile writing to Gentiles. Would he be so careful to observe Jewish tradition in this manner and risk confusing his Gentile audience? Moreover, Matthew was most definitely Jewish and was writing to Jews to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah – and his genealogy mentions four different women.

And that still doesn’t address the issue of the dramatically different numbers of generations.

In the notes on this passage, the venerable Believer’s Bible Commentary offers this advice:
What attitude should the Bible student take toward these difficulties and seeming discrepancies?

First, our foundational premise is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Therefore, it cannot contain errors.

Second, it is infinite because it reflects the infinity of the Godhead. We can understand the fundamental truths of the Word, but we can never fully comprehend all there is in it.

So, our approach to these difficulties leads us to conclude that the problem lies in our lack of knowledge rather than in the Bible's fallibility.

Basically, there are two rules when it comes to Bible difficulties:
  1. It’s the Bible and it’s inerrant.
  2. If you happen to stumble upon an error or contradiction, see rule 1 and stop thinking about it, reprobate.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Skeptic Month: Jesus and the Zombies

Continuing on with the theme of Skeptic Month, here’s a hard one for even the most die-hard fundamentalist to defend.

According to Matthew 27:51-53, upon Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection graves around Jerusalem were, ". . . opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised."

And this wasn’t just some secretive act of necromancy carried out in the dark of night. Verse 53 tells us that these disinterred patriarchs then took their party into the holy city and appeared to many. Wow.

Now, this is hard to believe. But even if you chalk it up to an incredible miracle, don’t you think there’d be some extra-biblical source out there to corroborate this? Wouldn’t the Christian’s favorite historian Josephus have something to say about it? But, no, there is nothing outside of these three verses to verify this extraordinary event. Not even another mention anywhere else in the Bible!

This is not to say that Jesus didn’t exist, or that he wasn’t an influential figure in human history. The point is that the biblical account of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is suspect at best. And while it may contain some historical facts, the story (along with all of Scripture) is vitiated by mythology and human bias.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Skeptic Month: Does the Bible Contain Mythologies?

Is the Bible made up of mythology?

This is a common criticism: the Bible does contain certain historical and geological truths – often proven by archaeology, but it also comprises a significant amount of wild stories and mythologies.

This is noteworthy because a lot of Christian doctrine is based on these narratives. Pastors guide their congregations based on principles learned from these ancient stories, and these exhortations are given authority because they are assumed to have come from the word of God.

But, the critic would ask, what if they didn’t come from God? What if they are simply man-made stories passed on through generations until someone wrote them down? What if we are being led by nothing more than a collection of fables?
Case in point: Joshua, the Amorites, and the Sun.

The tenth chapter of the book of Joshua tells about the battle between Joshua and the Amorites. After all the warfare and a miraculous hailstorm (that kills off a bunch of the Amorites but apparently misses the Israelites), there is just not enough time in the day for all the God-ordained killing. Joshua orders the sun to stand still and we are told that the sun stood in the midst of heaven, “and did not hasten to go down for about a day.” The moon, we are told, also stood still – apparently to preserve the natural order of things. We can’t have the moon gallivanting around while the sun is in timeout, now can we?

Okay, quick show of hands: how many out there would say, “I have no trouble believing that the God of Miracles could stop the sun as it traveled about the heavens”?

Wow, there are a lot of you out there!

Okay now, those of you who raised your hands, how many of you understand that the sun doesn’t actually travel anywhere? You do realize that the sun stands still and the earth revolves around it, right?

And now the million-dollar question: Doesn’t the geocentric nature of this story reveal that it was created by man? Certainly an all-knowing, creator God would have gotten this little detail correct.

Now, Christians dismiss this pretty flippantly by saying that it was simply told from man’s perspective and is no more damaging to the veracity of the Scriptures than the weather man’s giving the time of today’s sunrise and sunset is damaging to the science of meteorology.

Fine. But then you're left with the idea that in the Joshua story, God actually stopped the earth’s rotation for about a day! Are you comfortable with that? Do you realize what would happen if the earth suddenly stopped spinning? One astronomer has imagined that very scenario:

Earth is rotating at a speed of about 1100 miles per hour. If our planet suddenly stopped rotating, the atmosphere would still be in motion at that speed. The atmosphere would be moving so fast it would literally sweep the land masses clear of anything not anchored to bedrock, this would mean rocks, soil, trees, buildings, people and animals. All would be swept up into the atmosphere.

Now, you can still say that God is the all-powerful, creator and sustainer of all things, and by Him all things hold together. If He so ordained that the earth should stop its natural course of action, He is more than able to maintain everything as it should be.

But, the laws of nature are important; we often explain away such natural disasters as earthquakes and hurricanes by blaming them on the natural laws of creation. Cold air mass meets warm air mass and trouble ensues – because that’s the way God designed it. And if it is to be believed that God is so cavalier about upsetting the natural order of the universe, why did He bother to include the little detail about the moon stopping as well? Either He was concerned about that, or the person who made up the story was . . .

In his excellent study Bible, John MacArthur says that this story, ". . . is best accepted as an outright, monumental miracle", and therein lies the problem for many. When the Christian literalist's back is finally pushed to the wall, he's left with the simple, feckless assertion that God did it, which reduces the power of God to an absurd deus ex machina.

How do you respond to this criticism?
To understand what's going on this month at Pastor Kip, click here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Skeptic Month

For the month of March, I'll be taking on the mindset of the skeptic, consider this a lame attempt at reverse psychology.

Lately I’ve been considering some of the strongest and most legitimate criticisms of Christianity and the Bible. I believe that truth has nothing to fear and will overcome any serious test. The only thing that can give truth a run for its money is a really good deception . . . and even that will fall eventually.

I think something like this must have been on John Stott's mind when he wrote the following:

The hallmark of an authentic evangelicalism is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions, but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh Biblical scrutiny and, if necessary, reform.

My intention this month is to not answer the criticisms, but to simply present them. I’ve tried to weed through the easily dismissed objections and pull out the heavy-hitters, so be warned – these are some of the most challenging objections I’ve found. Many of these claims I'd never heard before, and some I'd casually dismissed as the reckless musings of the damned (sorry for that last comment, but hey, I was raised Southern Baptist - it's in my blood!), but now that I'm no longer dependent upon the church's teat for my sustenance, I feel free to examine these things honestly.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reaction to Tiger's Apology

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that I’m a sucker for three things:

  • Movies about cute-but-mischievous family pets that die.
  • Songs featuring an acoustic guitar and harmonica.
  • Sincere apologies.

I believed Tiger Woods when he spoke to the media for the first time in nearly three months.

I’m not a golf fan, and I’m certainly not a Tiger Woods fan. In fact, for years I’ve been somewhat of a Tiger Woods critic, mainly because I knew it was irritating to family members who greeted every mention of his name with a fawning, doe-eyed expression (yeah, I can be a real jerk like that!). And along with everybody else in America I was disgusted by the continual revelations of his many revelries.

But the way many in the media are attacking his apology can only be described as arrogant and disgraceful.

Here’s the video of his mea culpa:

Religious issues aside, here are the most vociferous complaints I’ve heard so far:

  • He’s a control freak. People are upset at the way the whole thing was staged, but I think I understand that this was a sensitive moment that affected a lot of people. It needed to be controlled. And I’m not sure how much of this was Tiger and how much of it was his PR and legal team.
  • He didn’t take any questions. The questioning could quickly get out of hand and be damaging. Could he really risk taking questions from a sensationalist media? How long before he was asked about whether or not Elin beat the bejesus out of him with a golf club? How long before someone asked him to verify the rumors of threesomes? Or foursomes? Multisomes?
  • He wasn’t sincere. How do you know? Seriously, how can you tell? His mettle will be tested and proved over time, but I’m not comfortable judging his sincerity based on a 15 minute speech. To me he appeared broken and contrite.
  • He seemed so robotic. This is Tiger. I don’t know the guy, but I’ve always heard that this is his strong point. Cut the guy some slack, this was without question the most difficult thing he’s ever done in his life.
  • I wasn’t impressed. Ooooh, touch you! So, at his lowest point as he comes before the world to flay himself, he gets a demerit because he didn’t impress you! Wow, his PR team should’ve done more research into what it would take to impress you. This is the arrogance that prompted this rant.

Was it perfect? No. But I saw a man defending his wife against accusations of domestic abuse, blasting himself for being spoiled and feeling entitiled, and taking full responsibility for his actions.

I think that's a pretty good start.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Following Pastor Ed Young's Money Trail

The latest mega-pastor to come under fire is Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. Here's a quote from WFAA News 8 in Dallas/Fort Worth:

Not long ago, the Fellowship Church in Grapevine was one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the nation.

Its pastor, Ed Young, was making national headlines by encouraging married couples to have more sex.

But since that time, sources say membership has waned and some say Pastor Young may have lost his way — putting himself and secrecy over God. …

One former staff member who says he was close to Young but wishes not to be identified, described it this way: “The lack of accountability. The lavish lifestyle that keeps increasing, while the attendance keeps decreasing.”

Here's the video from that report:

And here is Pastor Young's address to his congregation on the matter (WARNING: it's rather lengthy):

There are several things that I'd like to comment on, and I'll try to do so in a rather succinct manner:
  1. I don't trust mega-pastors.
  2. I don't trust people who accuse mega-pastors while wearing creepy hoods and having their voices distorted like Darth Vader.
  3. I believe those are good men who serve on Fellowship Church's board of Directors (they close out video #2).
  4. I believe good men are trusting by nature, and can be duped.
  5. I don't like the flippant way Pastor Young tried to dismiss the allegations.
  6. I believe there's more to come.

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Valuable Lesson From an Unexpected Source

Gayle Haggard has been through more than most pastor's wives.

In 2006, her husband, high-profile evangelical pastor Ted Haggard, was outed publicly by a former male prostitute, Mike Jones, who said Haggard had paid him for sex over three years and had used methamphetamine in his presence.

Haggard also later admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a 20-year-old male church volunteer.

But it's Gayle's testimony that is grabbing my attention. Despite the incredible difficulty, she's stood beside her husband and maintained her faith in God. Here's a quote from the article:

"I haven't doubted my faith in this process but I have redefined it," Gayle Haggard said. "Early on, I was so satisfied with my faith walk and I felt as though my life was just wonderful.

"But then I went through this very dark time where I felt like there was nothing good. ... But I held on by a thread because I trusted God was going to show me the way through that and he did."

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

I admire Gayle Haggard. No one would have blamed here if she'd walked away gracefully from the marriage, but she honestly loved her husband and trusted her God.

I makes my petty annoyances and actions seem so small. For me, her actions provide a real-world example of the power of faith - even when that faith is as frangible as a thread.

Thank you, Gayle. I needed that . . .

Here's a video clip with Ted and Gayle on the Larry King show.

WARNING: It's interesting, but they talk about the issue of intimacy within their marriage after the revelations of infidelity. Some may find it uncomfortable.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Liberal New Ager On Mega Churches

It's interesting and instructive when a liberal UK news source offers up a stinging indictment of the way we go about church these days.

. . . popular evangelical Christianity is religiously vacuous. It is directed to secular ends which, arguably, should be promoted by secular means.

As a navel-gazer, I was depressed by [Rick Warren's church] Saddleback. It seemed the butt end of Christianity: stripped of history and icon­ography, wholly immersed in its secular surroundings, constructed according to a business model and promoted by motivational speakers – bland, cheerful, dull.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

It's disturbing when non-Chistians can recognize the emptiness found in modern man-centered ministries, while we dance around and pat ourselves on the back for the big numbers and outlandish budgets we generate.

Is this what happens when the salt loses its savor?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Article: Mega Churches Mean Big Business

Here's an article at that discusses the money-making machines that are mega churches. A few quick quotes and then some salient observations:

Mega churches across the United States are becoming increasingly popular which is not only bringing thousands of worshippers together, but also billions of dollars in profit.

Scott Thumma, professor of sociology and religion at Hartford Seminary told CNN that "the mega church on average has about $6.5 million in income a year."

The Lakewood Church which [Joel] Osteen is in charge of has a yearly budget of more than $80million, but church officials deny that it's about money.

However, some critics argue that it's hard to be both a pastor and someone in charge of a yearly budget in the tens of millions.

You can read the entire article here.

The Scripture says that where words are many, sin is not absent (Proverbs 10:19), and I suspect the same can be said of dollars. Now, don't get angry with me - I don't mean to impugn any of these mega ministers, and I'm very well aware that sin can germinate when there is little money present.

I guess what I'm saying is that money carries with it a certain inherent danger - and there are plenty of Scriptures to back that up, with warnings about being pierced with many griefs and having your faith shipwrecked.

Then there's the more subtle warning in Proverbs 30:8-9 about how having an abundance of money can lead to forgetting God, and that's where my concern about these mega churches lies. It's just far too easy to abandon faith in the leading of the Holy Spirit and lean on slick marketing campaigns, demographic data, and sermons based on felt-needs polling.

And large attendance and financial success are not necessarily indicators of God's blessing. Just ask the Laodiceans . . .

Scoring Christian Bumper Stickers

Over at the Stuff Christians Like blog, John Acuff talks about Christian bumper stickers.

I've had a long love-hate relationship with Chritsitan bumper stickers and billboards. Sometimes they make me cringe with their puns and cliche's, and sometimes they are genuinely funny and poignant.

On a recent post, Acuff created a scorecard of sorts, based on real stickers that are available. Here are some of his scores:

Your sticker features a bit of wry Christian word play. “Jesus accepts knee-mail.” Or “This car is prayer-conditioned.” = +1 point

You give America a bit of a “talking to” with the sticker. “America needs a faith lift!” = +2 points

You find a sneaky way to have a swear on your car. “God’s last name is not dammit.” = + 5 points

You find a way to work topical, relevant issues into the mix. “Jesus Recycles.” = +2 points

Acuff then offers up some of his own bumper sticker ideas:

“Quit judging! I direct deposit my tithe.”

“Sorry I cut you off. I’m a Christian, but I drive like an agnostic.”

“My other car is a chariot of fire.”

Good stuff! I'll leave you with this one I saw the other day:

"Jesus Loves You! Then again, He loves everybody."

Have you seen any good, interesting, or gosh-awful Christian bumper stickers lately?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pat Robertson and Ecclesiastical Idiocy

If you haven't seen it, here's the video where Pat Robertson cites a Haiti legend as the reason for the island's troubles, most notably poverty and earthquakes.

Now, I'm a Christian, but I'm not hyperspiritual and I don't buy what Pat Robertson is saying.

The pact with Satan is an unsubstantiated rumor from Haiti's past. A World Net Daily article quotes Haitian Christian minister, Jean R. Gelin PHD, who has studied the issue (emphasis mine):

. . . such a strong affirmation should be based on solid historical and scriptural ground. But, although the satanic pact idea is by far the most popular explanation for Haiti's birth as a free nation, especially among Christian missionaries and some Haitian church leaders, it is nothing more than a fantastic opinion that ultimately dissipates upon close examination.

This really bugs me. Aside from the inherent cruelty of the statement (that being the idea that Haiti brought this on itself), when a high profile minister such as Robertson publicly cites this as a reason for the earthquake, it threatens the credibility of every Christian minister. How can we expect the world to take our claims of eternal life or damnation seriously when we are seen as giving credence to legends and rumors?

John Piper: Is it ever appropriate to call out prosperity gospel teachers by name?

A friend sent me this video of John Piper discussing the dangers and merits of naming false teachers. I've admired Piper for a long time and really appreciate his approach to the subject. In typical fashion, he's balanced, Scriptural, and self-effacing.

Back in 1985, author Dave Hunt published a book titled The Seduction of Christianity. He was widely criticized for naming specific teachers and pointing out the harmful effect their doctrine was having on Christianity. Even though the critics agreed with his general assessment for the most part, they objected strongly to his publishing the names of these teachers.

Me, I had no problem with it. Still don't. My position has always been that if you're going to accept the call to teach the Word of God to the people of God, you are publicly accountable for what you say.

Honestly, what's the big deal? If you're teaching is in line with Scripture, you're not afraid of criticism. If your teaching is off base, you should be humble enough to accept the truth and repent.

Anyway, I'm curious about your response: Are you offended or put off when a minister publicly outs another minister?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Survey Says: Half of Clergy Members View Pornography Every Month

Here's the disturbing story from the Canada Free

The reality of Christian America’s shift away from faith in God and sound doctrine is evident by some staggering statistics.

. . . perhaps the most shocking news coming from these surveys concerns the men (and women) in the pulpit. In any given month at least 50% of priests, pastors, and ministers have visited at least one pornographic website.

Why this decay? Why is the church worldlier than ever? There are many reasons: Liberal theology that denies the inerrancy of the Holy Bible; the attempt by many churches to grow in numbers instead of making disciples; churches that love tell you ‘God loves you’ but don’t preach the need for Repentance.

You can read the entire article here.

Ingrid Schlueter over at the CrossTalk blog adds this salient commentary:

The enemy has used porn to derail more lives and ministries than probably anything else . . . If half of all pastors are watching this filth, you can only guess at what the laity is doing.

We are living at a time that resembles the that of Noah. Everyone, including tens thousands of professing Christian pastors, seems to be doing what is right in their own eyes. Scripture tells us that judgment begins at the house of God. Porn-viewing pastors, and porn viewing Christians in general, have reason to tremble.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Revival of the Labrynth

In the wake of the current Biblical drought facing American churches, we have news of the revival of an ancient practice: walking the labrynth.

The has the article here, and here are a few quotes:

Advocates say walking a labyrinth will quiet the mind, feed spiritual hunger, heal suffering, release the ego, bring order to chaos, amuse, amaze, transform the psyche and give firsthand experience of the divine.

More labyrinths have been built in recent years than at any other time in their known 4,000-year history, labyrinth historian Jeffrey Saward said.

The labyrinth was fashionable again in the 19th century, Saward said, and its use has exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The labyrinth had re-emerged in the early 1980s, here and there, in relatively small circles of geomancers, dowsers and New Age adherents . . .

[Psychotherapist and Episcopal priest Lauren] Artress is largely credited with reviving the ancient spiritual discipline in contemporary Christian experience after it had largely slipped from awareness for some 350 years.

I've been reading about this practice for quite a while now, and it does concern me. This is all part of the growing Emergent Church movement, which is a lot of New Age theology dressed up in Evangelical Christian clothing. Whenever God's people begin seeking "new" ways to experience Him outside of the Scriptures, serious error is not far behind.

It must be understood that we are not priviledged to seek or experience God any way we want. We are invited to come to Him freely, but on His terms alone.

How can we be so blind as to accept these practices that find equal acceptance in New Age thought, neo-paganism, and the church?

Once again, I lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of today's pastors. Solid biblical instruction has been replaced by man-centered psychology, leaving the congregation bereft of discernment. Vapid preaching leads to an emptiness of the soul, and the people will seek out other means to find spiritual fulfillment.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dr. Dobson's Problem Child

Get has an interesting article on what James Dobson is doing now. Seems he’s launching a nonprofit Christian group and will be hosting an accompanying radio show with his son, Ryan.

This new ministry will be focused on the family (it’s called James Dobson on the Family) and will be in direct competition with Focus on the Family – a ministry Dobson started back in 1977 and stepped down from in February 2009. Dobson is already hitting up potential donors for the startup costs of $2 million.

According to sources within FOTF referenced in the article, Dobson was frustrated at being forced to leave before he wanted to go.

Furthermore, there’s speculation that Dobson had wanted to pass the torch to his son, Ryan, but couldn’t do it at FOTF because Ryan went through a divorce in 2001.

You can read the article by clicking here, but here’s my take on the whole thing: I question Dobson’s motives. He seems to have an axe to grind and, while everybody’s saying the right things, it looks like he’s sticking it to his estranged child, Focus on the Family.

Three years ago I wouldn’t have thought an iconic religious leader like Dobson could be motivated by power, greed, and ambition. But I’ve seen the ugly side of the ministry business, and it does things to people. With this much power and money flowing through a ministry, I can see how a person’s “focus” could get skewed.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Inside a Church Business Meeting

Allow me to take you inside a church business meeting. I’ve been employed by three different churches over the past 25 years, and have had the opportunity to sit in on many of these meetings of ecclesiastical minds.

Full disclosure here: I learned at an early age to dread and despise church business meetings. My first youth pastorate opened my eyes to just how mean, ambitious, and self-promoting humble children of God can be.

But, I must admit, meetings are necessary for any organization, and over the years I’ve attended many good, profitable business meetings; meetings where people demonstrated humility and sacrifice in the interest of the ministry. As I’ve reflected on my past experiences, I’ve realized that there are certain individuals who seem to appear in most church governing boards, like characters in a play.

The Figurehead
In many cases, this is the pastor. He’s the one everybody sees behind the pulpit, but he doesn’t wield any real power. God Himself may charge the pastor with the responsibility of the welfare of the congregation, but his hands are often tied by policies and procedures, politics and precedents. Oh, he’s loved and respected, but he’s also weak and ineffective.

The Bully
This is where the real power lies. This individual usually runs the business of the church as treasurer, president, elder, or deacon. The Bully knows what he wants and how to get it. He enters each meeting with an agenda and a plan to execute it. He usually already has his supporters lined up and knows just how the votes should turn out. Anybody who opposes or questions his agenda is blasted with emotional outbursts, and is usually intimidated into silent compliance.

The Manipulator
The Manipulator often works in conjunction with another, more aggressive personality (often paired with The Bully). The Manipulator prefers to work behind the scenes, allowing someone else to do the real dirty work, but make no mistake, she (females work best in this role) is very active.

The Spiritualist
This person wants to solve everything with prayer. There's nothing wrong with that, until it becomes a subtle form of manipulation itself. Often, after an extended prayer session, the Spiritualist receives a word from God that solves the issue at hand. Ironically, God’s direction usually agrees with what the Spiritualist had been saying all along. The Spiritualist and the Manipulator can sometimes be the same person. In this case the Manipulator teams up with God to push his or her agenda. At least that’s what she would have you believe.

The Pragmatist
The Pragmatist is the antithesis of the Spiritualist. He feels like spiritual matters are too goofy even for church business – after all, these are called “business” meetings, are they not? It all comes down to money and property, the Pragmatist will say. Spiritual stuff is fine for the pulpit, but the boardroom requires a certain worldly savoir-faire. Often Pragmatists have proven their mettle in the business world and it is widely assumed they’d be good at running the church. The Pragmatist and the Bully can also be one and the same.

The Pacifist
This person lives by the Rodney King credo: Can’t we all just get along? Everybody’s right and everybody has a good point. Pacifists can’t bear offending anyone, so they pretty much agree with whatever is being said at that very moment. Even if it contradicts something that had just previously been said. With which they also agreed.

The Servant
The Servant is able to set aside self-interest in order to seek first the kingdom of God. The Servant has no hidden agenda, but serves with humility and grace. Church boards are full of Servants, but, unfortunately, their abusive counterparts (the Bully, the Manipulator, and the Pragmatist in most cases) often overrun them. Servants tend to be meek and are ill-equipped for the fight. They are trusting by nature and don’t discern the treacherous doublespeak used by more savvy members of the committee until it’s too late.

Time for you to add your own. What other personalities have you encountered in church business meetings?

John MacArthur: Raising the Error Alert

Here's a great article by John MacArthur. In this short burst, he clearly articulates what many of us have been saying for several years: good, solid Bible teaching is in short supply in America's pulpits today.

Here are a few quotes:

Why do so many evangelicals act as if false teachers in the church could never be a serious problem in this generation?

Biblical ignorance within the church may well be deeper and more widespread than at any other time since the Protestant Reformation.

Bible teaching, even in the best of venues today, has been deliberately dumbed-down, made as broad and as shallow as possible, oversimplified, adapted to the lowest common denominator-- and then tailored to appeal to people with short attention spans.

You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Fox News' Brit Hume to Tiger Woods: Turn to Christianity

Wow. I didn't think I'd ever see this. Way to go, Brit.

Okay, so he didn't go into the theological basis for salvation by Christ alone - I'm sure there were time constraints - but he'll take some serious flak for the little bit he did say. Notice co-host Bill Kristol's uncomfortable little joke at the end.

Churches across America are filled with Sunday morning pulpiteers who could learn a lesson or two from Brit Hume about boldness.