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.