Bastions of Sex, Drugs, and Violence

I am a card carrying public school father.  For the most part, my kids have been in the public school system their entire school careers.  There were those few years we homeschooled our oldest daughter, but other than that, it’s been the public schools for us.  So, when I saw this church/Christian school sign, I was a bit taken back.

Maybe it’s because I wouldn’t characterize the schools my kids have gone to as bastions of sex, drugs, and violence.  Do problems like this exist at their schools?  Yes?  Are these things pervasive there?  No.  Are these things my #1 main concern about their schools?  Not even.

Maybe this bugs me because I know that Christian schools unfortunately have some of the same problems as public schools, and so I’m surprised this school would use this advertising technique.  I’m sure that there have been students at this school who have toyed around with sex, drugs, and violence.

Or maybe this bothers me because I wonder what the majority of the passerbyers think when reading this sign.  My guess is that most people are numb and cynical of the ways in which we Christians market ourselves and our “product.”  There has to be a better way.

Elder Leadership: Who’s Supposed To Do What?

This is a condensed transcript of my May 22, 2011 sermon.

In the book of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter encourages the early church to continue to live their lives for Christ, their King – in spite of the persecution and suffering they experienced for doing so at the hands of the Romans.  He reminds the persecuted Christians that living according to the code of Christ rather than the code of the Roman culture will result in the overwhelming blessings of the Lord – in this life and in the life to come.

In 1 Peter 5:1-7, Peter reminds the church what the code of Christ is pertaining to the way in which the community of faith (the church) operates.  By the time Peter penned these words, the church was already being led by proven, goldly men called “elders.”  As a matter of fact, he says that he is one himself.  So, he’s not instructing the early Christians to make sure their churches were being led by elders, but he is reminding them how this ought to look – both for the elders themselves and for everyone else under their leadership and care.

1 Peter 5:1-4
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

It’s clear that these words were written for elders specifically, but they are instructions that all Christians must hear because of what Peter says next.  Peter’s main instruction to the elders is to shepherd the flock of God that is among you. The imagery here is rich, but while the shepherding imagery would have been clear to his original audience, it’s somewhat unfamiliar to us.  A good shepherd showed great concern for his sheep.  He provided for them in terms of nourishment and rest.  He guided them, leading the way.  He was intimately involved with the flock and concerned for the safety of each animal.  And he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort, even his own life, for the sake of his sheep.  We know that in Psalm 23, the Lord is called “the Good Shepherd.”  Elders are to serve as His under-shepherds, caring for their flocks as He would.  Verse 4 says that the Chief Shepherd will one day come back and will reward those under-shepherds who served faithfully…but until then, elders are to shepherd their flocks in His stead.

Here is how elders are specifically instructed by Peter to lead their flocks…

1. Not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.

It seems as though early church elders did not volunteer; they were appointed through prayer and fasting.  We see this in Acts 14:23 where it says, “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”  1 Timothy 3:1 says that men should aspire willingly to serve as elders; they are not to feel forced into it.  Christ (the head of the church) will reveal elder “candidates” to the elders through prayer and fasting, and then these men should be invited to willingly serve as elders.

2. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly.

Men are not to see being an elder as a business venture where one seeks power and wealth.  Power is a temptation for all men, and wealth can be a temptation for those who are paid (vocational elders).  The Scriptures are clear that some elders are to be paid, but they are NEVER to serve as elders for the money.  There is no place for power and money-seeking among elders.  This leads to disgrace and distortion of the gospel message that they are called to uphold and protect.  Instead, rather than being eager for money and power, elders must be eager to shepherd the flock.  Shepherding takes all the energy a man can muster.  His eagerness must not be divided.

3. Not domineering, but examples.

Elders must lead like shepherds lead their flocks: from the front; not behind the sheep.  Shepherds did not allow their sheep to lead the way.  They always positioned themselves in front of their flocks so that the sheep would see them and follow them.  Not dominating them, but firmly and definitively leading them.  In our culture, strong leadership is often mistaken for dominance. Elders should not be domineering, but they should be given the latitude and freedom from their flocks to strongly lead.  A shepherd that would beat his sheep with his rod would have a lock full of scared sheep, reluctant to follow him.  Elders that lead in dominating ways will have angry and hurt congregants – many of whom will leave the flock and either join another one, or worse: stay away from flocks all together.  There is a balance that elders must strike between domination and abdication.  Pray that your elders find this, and pray that they follow the example of Christ (the Chief Shepherd) who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Here is how the flock is instructed by Peter to respond to the leadership of their elders…

1 Peter 5:5-7
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Be subject to the elders.

First of all, most scholars agree that “you who are younger” refers to all who are not elders in the flock – whether young or old.  The phrase “be subject” is the same Greek word Paul uses in Eph. 5:21-22 where he says “submit one to another…wives to husbands.”  It literally means to willingly line-up under someone.  Christians, then, have a biblical mandate to line-up under / be subject to the leadership of their elders.  This doesn’t mean that questions aren’t asked of elders and discussions are not had with them, but in the end, all Christians must subject themselves to the leadership of their elders.  This is part of Christ’s code for His people.

Elders are to lead and serve the flock as Christ did (in all humility and with great sacrifice), and the flock is to respond in all humility by submitting themselves to their leadership.

The Rapture That Didn’t Happen

The “rapture” didn’t happen.  I didn’t think it would.  The Scriptures teach that Jesus will return one day, but I was pretty sure that it wouldn’t be yesterday, and I’m losing confidence that it will happen like I was taught growing up (i.e. a LaHaye/Jenkins-esque “rapture”).  And so…I am free to blog once more!  I have many thoughts and emotions regarding the events (or lack thereof) of this weekend, and I turn to my trusty blog to express them.

I am mad.
I’m mad that, once again, someone claiming to be a Bible scholar neglected to include Matthew 24:36 in his theology.  But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. After so many failed attempts by so many other “scholars” over the years, including Harold Camping himself (1994), how can this kind of nonsense continue to happen?  In a New York Magazine interview just 10 days ago, Camping said of his May 21 prediction, “It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. God is not playing games. It is going to happen.”  As of this post, it’s being reported that Camping has gone missing, unwilling to face the music of all the damage he has done.  I’m mad at him and the many others in my lifetime who have falsely predicted the same thing.  The damage these false prophets do to their naive followers and to the watching, jeering world is unnecessary and far-reaching.

I feel bad.
I feel bad for all of Camping’s followers who took the bait – at great personal expense.  One follower took $140,000 from his retirement and bought 1,000 subway car placards and ads on bus kiosks and subway cars in New York City.  Another man from Maryland packed up his family, skipped a week of work (unpaid), and drove 3,000 miles to California to be close to Camping’s headquarters when the rapture occurred.  A married couple quit their jobs and spent the last penny in their bank account on a rented house in Orlando. She said, “We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.”

I was comforted to read that now that Camping’s prediction has proven to be a complete failure, attention has been shifted to his devastated followers. Church groups are actively providing counseling and advice for the damaged souls. On May 21, around 4 p.m. (local time), a group of “rescuers” came in front of Camping’s Family Radio headquarter in Oakland, CA, with signs and banners, and offered to provide counseling and spiritual support to the dejected followers. One pastor said, “We are here to reach out to those people who might have bought the lie.  What we are hoping is that we would be able to invite people who might have been affected to our church and hold a special service that would embrace them and reach out to them.”

I am sad.
I’m sad that non-Christians have been exposed once again to the ridiculous and radical antics of extreme wackos like Harold Camping.  When will Christians learn to let their love for others do the talking rather than their mouths?  When will we heed the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:2 and “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way?”  It would be great if Camping would publicly apologize for misleading so many and for making all Christians look like goons in the world’s eyes.  I’m sad that this will be yet another reason that skeptics and critics of Christianity will use to steer clear of the One who loves them and sacrificed His Son for them.

I am glad.
I’m glad that May 21 came and went like every other day.  I’m glad that the Lord continues to shower mankind with mercy and grace by choosing to wait to return.  Don’t get me wrong…I long for the day when Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  But, each day that He doesn’t return is another day for more and more people to be ushered into His Kingdom.  This is what I work and live for, and I’m glad for another day to share the love of Jesus with others.  On Friday, I was able to share the love and mercy of Jesus with three people who were seriously unsettled by the possibility of Saturday’s doom.  My prayer is that the Lord will take this ridiculous and false prediction and use it for His glory and for the expansion of His Kingdom.

had some skepticism but I was trying to push the skepticism away because I believe in God,” said Keith Bauer – who hopped in his minivan in Maryland and drove his family 3,000 miles to California for the Rapture.

He started his day in the bright morning sun outside the gated Oakland headquarters of Family Radio International, whose founder, Harold Camping, has been broadcasting the apocalyptic prediction for years.

“I was hoping for it because I think heaven would be a lot better than this earth,” said Bauer, a tractor-trailer driver who began the voyage west last week, figuring that if he “worked last week, I wouldn’t have gotten paid anyway, if the Rapture did happen.”

My Final Blog Post

This will be my final blog post.

According to Family Radio based out of Oakland, California, this Saturday, May 21, will mark the Day of Rapture and the start of Judgment Day (which, they say, will last five months). On that day, those who are saved will be taken up to heaven, and those who aren’t will endure unspeakable suffering. Dead bodies will be strewn about as earthquakes ravage the Earth, they say. And come October 21, the entire world will be destroyed.

On Saturday, a massive doomsday earthquake will start at the International Date Line before moving west. New Zealand will get hit first – at 6 p.m. local time. And then that wave of destruction will roll around the world, wreaking havoc at 6 p.m. in each time zone.  Here’s how they came up with this concept and this date…

Genesis 7:4, 10-11 says, “For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth.  And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the Flood were upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.”

Because one day is as 1,000 years to God (2 Peter 3:8), the seven days referred to in Genesis 7:4 can be understood as 7,000 years.  And here’s the leap: They say that when God told Noah to prepare for the flood that God was also telling the world there would be exactly 7,000 years (one day is as 1,000 years) to escape the wrath of God that would come when He destroys the world on Judgment Day.  So…

Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).  4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000  (One year must be subtracted in going from an Old Testament B.C. calendar date to a New Testament A.D. calendar date because the calendar does not have a year zero.)

Because the year 2011 A.D. is exactly 7,000 years after 4990 B.C. when the flood began, they say the Bible has given us absolute proof that the year 2011 is the end of the world during the Day of Judgment, which will come on the last day of the Day of Judgment.  And, they say that May 21, 2011 is the 17th day of the 2nd month of the Biblical calendar of our day.

I’m emptying my bank account today and will be taking all my money ($68.35) and spending it on myself.  Maybe a meal at my favorite restaurant on Friday.  Maybe a one-day pass to the local amusement park tomorrow or Friday.  Maybe a full-body massage to limber me up for my celestial transport on Saturday.  I’m also supposed to preach on Sunday, but I’ve decided to stop preparing for that too.  As a matter of fact, I’m packing up now and heading home.  No need to work anymore.

I’m sure glad the scholars at Family Radio did their homework.

This will be my final blog post.  Unless they’re wrong…

Expecting (And Even Welcoming) Conflict and Loss

This is a condensed transcript of my May 15, 2011 sermon.

Many new parents are often totally surprised at how tired they are.  Babies wear parents out; they did for me and Michelle!  Our two youngest children are only 13 months apart, and when they were babies, we had 2 cribs, 2 car seats, diapers everywhere, and our house was permeated with the smells of babies (both good and bad!).  We were exhausted, and like most young parents, we were surprised at how tired we were.  We now refer to that period of time (which began in 1995) as “the baby years,”  and we don’t remember much because it seemed as though we were walking around in a fog.  Babies are wonderful, but they are exhausting. So, parents: Don’t be surprised at how tired you are…as if something strange were happening to you!

Parenting babies and exhaustion go hand in hand.  The Apostle Peter reminds us that following Christ and suffering go hand in hand too.

1 Peter 4:12-14
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Not only should we not be surprised by suffering, but Peter says that when we suffer with and for Christ, we should REJOICE AND BE GLAD.  Understand what Peter is saying…

  • Lose your job for Christ’s sake: rejoice and be glad.
  • Lose your social status for Christ’s sake: rejoice and be glad.
  • Lose your friends for Christ’s sake: rejoice and be glad.
  • Lose your family for Christ’s sake: rejoice and be glad.
  • Lose your life for Christ’s sake: rejoice and be glad.

We rejoice and are glad even in our suffering because we are looking forward to that day when Christ’s glory will be revealed.  We are living with our eyes fixed on a day when all suffering will end, and we will see Christ face-to-face.  This enables us to live in anticipation…anticipation that helps us endure the temporary sufferings we face in this life.

I’ve married many couples, and I’ve seen first-hand the anticipation they experience as they await their wedding day.  As a matter of fact, I came across a fax my wife sent me on February 10, 1993 letting me know how many more days we had to wait until our wedding day: 136!

There are many trials and hardships for couples as that magical day approaches like: the mine-field of wedding planning, the struggle of dealing with in-laws and outlaws, the hardship of watching their bank accounts drain quickly, the stress of finding a place to live, and so on.  But, in the midst of it all, there’s still rejoicing and excitement because that day is approaching when they can finally be together for good.

This is what Peter reminds us to live in light of.  Even in the midst of suffering, there is a day coming when all will be made right; a day when we will finally partake in the full glory of Christ.  So, in the meantime, we are to rejoice as we await that day – no matter what we face.

When Peter wrote these words, he was writing to Christians who were suffering greatly under Roman rule.  Our modern context is much different.  Praise God that we live in a country where we are not persecuted by our government for following Christ.  Few (if any) of us will ever lose our jobs, be beaten, be disowned by our families, or not be able to eat because of following Christ.  However, there are many Christian brothers and sisters around the world who are severely persecuted for following Christ.  One application of this text is to remember to pray for them.

But what about us?  We are not persecuted like the early Christians were or like other Christians around world are  today.  But, if we truly follow Christ and His teachings; if we really allow the Holy Spirit to shine in and thru us, then we will experience criticism and loss to some extent.  Loss of status, honor, prestige, and position in our culture.  As we follow Jesus radically, we should expect criticism and loss, and based on Peter’s words, we should not only expect it, but welcome it with rejoicing, knowing that our temporary suffering is a mark of a true follower of Christ and knowing that one day we will be full partakers of Christ’s glory.

Have you suffered criticism and loss for following Christ?  For making a stand for your faith?  For loving those who others don’t?  For responding in a biblical way to conflict rather than joining others in responding sinfully?  For ordering your life according to God’s Word rather than the world’s word?

If so, then let me encourage you with Peter’s words: Beloved, don’t be surprised as if something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.