When You Stand for Nothing…

My wife is a podcast addict. That’s also the name of the app she uses to listen to podcasts. There are certainly worse things a person could be addicted to, and she does listen to some pretty great podcasts as she is going about her day – stuff that makes this Longmont Pastor proud: D.A. Carson, the Gospel Coalition, Timothy Keller…

One podcast she listens to every day is The World and Everything In It by World News.

She played a recent episode for me which was reporting on the rapid decline of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church in the USA) as opposed to the growth of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with these denominations, the PCUSA is the older of the two and the PCA split off from them in the 1970’s because of doctrinal differences – specifically that the PCUSA was moving steadily towards a much more liberal theology which no longer believed in divine inspiration of the Bible or in the unique saving work of Jesus.

These theological changes inevitably led to many changes in the PCUSA’s stance on moral issues, in which they succumbed to cultural pressure to affirm certain practices which the Bible asserts are sinful. When you no longer believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, divinely inspired by Him, but just a product of an ancient culture, then none of the biblical injunctions regarding morality or conduct are considered binding – and at that point, you no longer have a rudder to guide your ship and you will be subject to the wind and the waves of your own culture to take you where they will.

I have embedded the audio of that message below. (Those of you who subscribe by email will probably need to click on the post to view it on the web in order to listen to it.)

I think what surprised me the most, amongst all of the moves the PCUSA has made, is that in 2011 they removed the requirement of fidelity in marriage for their clergy. 

Sure, the PCUSA and other historic mainline denominations have made a lot of shocking moves, which in my opinion fall under the category of what Isaiah the Prophet says in Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,

but this one blows my mind. Essentially that means that a pastor could cheat on their spouse and continue being a pastor. Not even atheists or agnostics would say that is acceptable, but yet this “church” is trying so hard to be like the world, that they would even affirm something as destructive and hurtful as infidelity in marriage – an institution which has concrete roots in the gospel (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

For me, the decline of the PCUSA and other such denominations, along with the growth of theologically conservative Christian movements, bears witness to the fact that when you stand for nothing and you believe in nothing, then you no longer have any reason to exist.

Just like sea fish spend their entire lives in salt water without becoming salty, it is the calling and mission of Christians to be in the world, but not of the world.

We are to be salt and light – having an impact and influence upon the world for Christ, not isolating ourselves from the world.  But if salt loses its saltiness, then it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot… (Matthew 5:13)

Here’s that audio clip:

Easter Weekend Recap

This past Saturday White Fields had our annual Easter Outreach, an Easter egg hunt and festival that we do in Roosevelt Park, right next to where our church meets at the St. Vrain Memorial Building in downtown Longmont. We had a lot of great volunteers who made the event a success both in terms of hosting a fun event for our community and sharing the message of the hope that we have because Jesus Christ died for our sins so that we can be forgiven and justified, and rose from the dead so we can have everlasting life. We estimate that 1500-1700 people attended this year.

A crowd watches the puppet show at our Easter Outreach which shares the meaning and message of the Resurrection

We want to say thank you to the Longmont Times-Call and Boulder Daily Camera for covering the event once again this year. When we saw the article come out on Saturday night, we were disappointed that it failed to mention that White Fields was the sponsor and host of the event. In past coverage of the event, White Fields has always been mentioned. Several members of our church and others who attended the event wrote the Times-Call about this, and yesterday morning the editor called our church  to let us know the online version of the article had been updated. We were impressed with the quick and gracious way they handled it.

Our daughter made the paper.

Sunday morning we had two services at White Fields. We broke attendance records, we had visitors from the outreach on Saturday, and we had people respond to the gospel for the first time to become Christians.

After lunch our family (minus one who had to work) headed up to Winter Park for a family get-away. Yesterday my son and I snowboarded.

Right next to Winter Park ski area is the western portal of the Moffat Tunnel, a train tunnel built through the Continental Divide in the 1920’s. My family is actually part of this tunnel’s history: my great-grandfather worked in it as a welder during its construction and his brother died in it in a dynamite explosion.

I hope you had a great weekend celebrating Jesus’ resurrection!  He is risen indeed!

Easter Services in Longmont

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This year White Fields will be having two services on Easter Morning – at 9:00 & 10:30 am.

The first service will be a family service, where children are invited to sit in service with their parents, and the second service will have children’s ministry classes available for kids to learn about Jesus on a level that speaks to their age-group.

If you are in the Longmont area, we invite you to join us and invite friends and family to come and celebrate the greatest event in all of history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

It is because of his resurrection that we can have hope beyond this life, and beyond the grave! It is truly good news to celebrate, and we invite you to join us as we do so this Easter Sunday!

Marriage Retreat Weekend Recap

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Blue skies and the Mummy Range in RMNP behind us

This past weekend we were up in Estes Park with some couples from White Fields for a marriage retreat we organized together with a couple other churches.

For Rosemary and I, this was our first time team-teaching together, and it was a great experience. We taught a session on the importance of Christian community and the local church for a healthy marriage.

In preparing for the retreat, our thought was to get away from the things which we don’t like about marriage retreats, such as:

  • The awkward sex talk
  • Going to a great location and then spending all of your time cooped up inside a building listening to lectures
  • Brow-beating lectures about what you need to do “more and better”

I have been to marriage events in the past where instead of strengthening and encouraging marriages, the retreat seemed to only fuel existing discord and frustrations, so that on the car ride home the wife was saying: “Were you listening to what the speaker said? Those are all the things that I’m always telling you that you need to change and do better!” – and the husband saying: “Did you hear the part about how important it is to have sex even if you don’t feel like it? That’s what I’ve been telling you for years!” And both wonder why they spent $200 to get in a fight, when they were doing alright before the “retreat.”

Instead, our vision was to host a true retreat – and focus on the experience rather than a particular speaker. Our theme was connecting with God, your spouse and Christian community and our goal was to encourage, give some tools, biblical guidance and challenges, and create a setting where couples could be refreshed and reconnect with each other and spend time with other couples.

The retreat turned out even better than I had expected. Some great admin work was put in by the staff of Calvary Belmar in Lakewood. Brian Boehm of Trail Ridge Counseling taught one of the sessions and presented some great material that Rosemary and I will be looking at for weeks to come. Brian and his wife Nicole did a ton of work to make the retreat special and they deserve much of the credit for it being a success; they designed and led several key parts of the weekend.

If retreats are done right, they can be awesome experiences. We look forward to doing more of these in the future.

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Mule deer at the retreat center

Preaching While the Bombs Fell

Just a few blocks from Buckingham Palace and a short walk from Big Ben and Westminster Abbey is a building which has been used to influence London and the world greatly.

Westminster Chapel, pastored by G. Campbell Morgan and then by Martin Lloyd-Jones has served as a light to the city of London and to the UK for over 150 years.

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It was G. Campbell Morgan who invited Martin Lloyd-Jones, who had studied to be a medical doctor rather than a minister, to come and serve with him and be his successor at Westminster Chapel.

Lloyd-Jones was from Wales, and had been serving at a small village church there. At the time, doctors were considered the true heroes of society, whereas Christianity was already in steep decline in Britain. To give up a career in medicine to pastor a small church was considered a fools errand by many, but Ll0yd-Jones’ decision to become a pastor rather than work as a medical doctor had been aided by something he had witnessed from one of his mentors as he was studying to be a doctor:

He witnessed a doctor who was at the top of his field, the most respected position in that society, who supposedly “had it all” – and yet he had fallen into despondency, hopelessness and depression because of a failed marriage. Having witnessed this, Lloyd-Jones would later say, helped him to decide that he wanted to help people in a way that went beyond just caring for their physical bodies, he wanted to be a doctor for the soul.

Martin Lloyd-Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel in 1939, right before the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. The people of Great Britain knew what was coming: they had seen the aggressiveness of the German military, the how the Luftwaffe had no qualms about bombing highly populated areas. They knew that soon the war would probably come to London, and they were right.

In 1939, Martin Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons which prepared his people for the war. He told them that whether the German bombs killed them or not, they should be prepared to stand before God, and he urged them to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ as their hope.

Throughout the war, as people evacuated London, Martin Lloyd-Jones continued to preach to those who gathered at Westminster Chapel. On one occasion, a bomb fell only a few yards from the church during a service, causing the plaster from the roof to fall on the heads of the congregation. When the bomb hit, Lloyd-Jones was praying. He paused for a moment, and then finished his prayer, and went on to preach his entire sermon.

Theologian J.I. Packer sat under Lloyd-Jones’ ministry and called him “the greatest man I ever knew – not just brilliant, but wise.”

Westminster Chapel continues its ministry in its efforts to be “a prophetic voice to London, the UK and the nations.” Their website here.

A documentary was made about Martin Lloyd-Jones’ life and ministry a few years ago called Logic on Fire. Here’s the trailer for it:

Want Your Marriage to Succeed? Harvard Study Shows What Can Help

Wedding cake visual metaphor with figurine cake toppers

A recent study by Tyler VanderWeele, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, on the topic of the relationship between religion and health, shows that there is a direct link between church attendance and lower rates of divorce.

The study shows that married couples who regularly attend religious services together are 47% more likely to not get divorced, than couples who don’t go to church.

You can read Tyler’s thesis here.

Want your marriage to succeed? Attend church regularly.

A few months ago I wrote about some of the “bad church statistics” that go around, one of them being that the divorce rate amongst evangelical Christians is just as high as amongst people who are not Christians (roughly 50%). The conclusion that is often drawn based on this incorrect statistic is that being a Christian really makes no practical difference in the way people live. This statistic is, however, incorrect. As this new study out of Harvard shows, the more a couple attends church the less likely they are to see their marriage end in divorce.

Not only is it good for your marriage, but it’s also good for your kids. The more a couple attends church, the more likely their kids are to have faith of their own when they grow up. (Those statistics and more on this topic here)

VanderWeele’s study also linked church attendance to lower rates of depression and suicide.

In an interview with the Christian Post, VanderWeele said,

“Religion is, of course, not principally about promoting physical health or decreasing the likelihood of divorce, but about communion with God. However, it turns out that the pursuit of this goal also has profound implications for numerous other aspects of life, including health and marriage.”

“religion is about both communion with God and the restoration of all people to their intended state of complete wholeness and well-being. The evidence suggests that it can indeed accomplish both,”

“The religious community provides social support, a constant reinforcement and reminder of the religious teachings, family programs, and a communal worship and experience of God.”

On a personal note, I believe in the Church. I believe in it not only for practical reasons, but for theological reasons. Even if I were not a pastor, I would be committed to church; in fact, it was my belief in and commitment to and service in local churches which led me to become a pastor – a path which I had never sought after or imagined for myself.

I believe in the church because I see in the Bible that it is something which was ordained by Jesus, built by Jesus, and commissioned by Jesus, not only to spread the gospel, but also to start more churches!

It isn’t because church “works” that church is true, it is because church is true that it works.

The US Election and Some Reasons to be Hopeful

This past weekend I went with the elders of White Fields Church to Allenspark, where we had a marathon of meetings, but in such a beautiful spot that we could also enjoy some hiking and the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

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Sunrise on Mt. Meeker
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We happened upon this mama bear and her 2 cubs in a tree near Lyons

We had a great time together, but I was surprised how exhausted I felt at the end of it. However, I feel very encouraged about where our church is at and where we are going.

Speaking of exhaustion and encouragement: the US election is coming up in 3 days.

I’m exhausted by the campaigns, by the division it causes, I’m exhausted because both of the major party candidates have major character flaws and neither of them are someone I can be excited to vote for.

However, I am also hopeful. Yesterday I ran across an article by Carey Nieuwhof that was a breath of fresh air. True, he’s a Canadian, so he doesn’t really have any skin in the game, but then on the other hand, they have Justin Trudeau and pretty much all of the things conservative Americans are concerned about happening in the US have already happened in Canada – so maybe a Canadian is the exact person who can speak into our situation.

Here’s the article: Despairing about the US Presidential election? 5 predictions that point toward hope.

Here are the 5 predictions he gives:

  1. There will be renewed interest in the sovereignty of God
  2. The church will look to Christ more and to the state less
  3. Living out your values will become more important than ever
  4. The tone of public discourse will get worse…or better
  5. The work of the local church will be more important than ever

Carey expounds on each of these in his post – it’s worth reading, but the tone of what he is saying is something I have found curiously lacking from Christian leaders during this election season.

I, for one, cannot lose hope – because as a Christian I know that 1) God is sovereign and 2) the best is yet to come.

Christianity and Singleness

When I lived in Hungary, we used to take our church to a summer conference every year in Vajta, where the group of churches we belonged to ran a Bible college and conference center in an old castle. Every year various pastors from our churches would speak at the conference; I spoke several times.

One of the sessions I remember most vividly, I remember not for good reasons: one year a particular pastor was asked to speak on the topic of singleness for an afternoon session. When he stood up to the platform, he said something to the effect of: “I don’t know why they asked me to teach on singleness. I’m not single and I haven’t been single for a long time. So I decided that I’m not going to speak about singleness, I’m just going to teach a Bible study about something else, since this is the only chance they gave me to speak.” You probably won’t be surprised to hear that this person was never asked to speak at a conference again.

But that wasn’t the only memorable part of his session. Half-way through his session, the speaker got annoyed at some people who were whispering to each other while he was speaking, and he stopped everything and proceeded to call them out, and kick them out of the session, making them take the walk of shame past over 100 people who were gathered in the hall for the study. I admit, I was kind of jealous that they got to leave…

This session should be contrasted with the one on singleness which had been held at the previous year’s conference, at which a younger pastor had spoken about singleness in a message that was so well presented and so encouraging to me (I was single at that time), that I still remember his opening lines: “You are in a race!” He then went on to teach about the biblical perspective on the goodness of singleness from 1 Corinthians.

It was a hugely different perspective: the first man I mentioned had disdained the thought of teaching about singleness – he clearly saw it as unimportant. The second man taught in a way that was encouraging and edifying to the single person.

The other day I posted some thoughts about the topic of gender roles in marriage and how the biblical view on this is based on theological views about the relationship between the persons of the Trinity. I got several comments on it from a single person who expressed feelings that Christianity tends to over-emphasize marriage over singleness. There is some validity to this point – however, statistically most people will be married at some point in their lifetime – and, just because some people are not married does not mean we should not talk about marriage, just like the fact that some people are not airplane pilots doesn’t mean that we should never talk about airplane pilots.

However, these comments did lead me to look into some things about Christian teachings about singleness, and what I found was significant.

Stanley Hauerwas, one of the great theologians of our age, argues that Christianity was the very first religion to hold up single adulthood as a viable way of life. This was a clear difference between Christianity and all other traditional religions, including Judaism, all of which made family and the bearing of children an absolute value, without which there was no honor.1

In ancient culture, long-term single adults were considered to be living a human life that was less than fully realized. But along came Christianity – whose founder was an adult single man and whose great theologian (the Apostle Paul) was also single and advocated for the value and goodness of singleness.

Timothy Keller points out that in Christianity, “single adults cannot be seen as somehow less fully formed or realized human beings than married persons because Jesus Christ, a single man, was the perfect man (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22).”

He goes on to say that, “Paul’s assessment in 1 Corinthians 7 is that singleness is a good condition blessed by God, and in many circumstances is actually better than marriage. As a result of this revolutionary attitude, the early church did not pressure people to marry and institutionally supported poor widows so they did not have to remarry.”2

Keller points to Rodney Stark, a social historian, who states, “Pagan widows faced great social pressure to remarry; Augustus even had widows fined if they failed to marry within two years. In contrast, among Christians, widowhood was highly respected. The church stood ready to sustain widows, allowing them a choice as to whether or not to remarry, and single widows were active in care-giving and good deeds.3

As opposed to societies which idolized family as the only means of giving a person significance, the Christian gospel offers a greater hope and a greater source of significance.

Singleness, according to Christianity, is not Plan B – it is a viable option for those who choose it.

In our modern pop culture, it is not family which is idolized so much as romance. Think about Hollywood and even Disney narratives: they begin telling the story of a person seeking true love, and once two people do come together, the story ends! The message is that what matters in life is finding romance, everything else is only leading up to that, and what happens after that is not worth spending too much time on. This is also reflected in the huge amount of focus which is given to weddings in our culture.

The Christian church provides the space for single people of different genders to worship, serve and study together, to know and be known by each other, without the pressures of our romance-driven culture.

Churches don’t always do a great job at making single people feel that they belong and not pressuring them to get married and treating them as if until they are married, they are incomplete – however, it is in the design. At our church, we have purposefully sought to change the language we use away from always speaking of “you and your family” – so that we don’t communicate the wrong thing to single people who call our church their home.

Interestingly, Timothy Keller, who pastors a church in NYC which is majority single people, points out that single people and married people alike need good teaching about marriage and relationships, so that marriage is held to its biblical place of honor (Hebrews 13:4), without idolizing it as the end-all be-all of human existence.

 

1. [Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character, p.174]
2. [Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp.222-223]
3. [Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders Historyp.104]
 

The IOC on Religion: Nothing New Under the Sun


One of the things we do at White Fields Church every week is invite people to text or tweet questions during the sermon and then I respond to them on our members’ website called The City. I really enjoy this aspect of it, and I think that such engagement aides in the learning process.

For the past several weeks I have been teaching through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and what I have found most interesting about it is that the core message of the book is something which is incredibly relevant to our day, which is the uniqueness of the Christian gospel as it relates to every other religion and philosophy in the world.

When you look into the culture of the Roman Empire, interestingly what you find is a society which was very similar to modern Western society in many ways. It was a pluralistic society, a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, in which there was freedom of religion – and yet… the prevailing notion was that in order for there to be peace in a mixed society, no one should say that their tradition or religion was any better or more true than anyone else’s – only that it was different. Furthermore, a person’s religion or tradition was considered to be something they were born into rather than something they had a responsibility to choose for themselves, and therefore it was considered taboo, rude and even wrong to try to “convert” someone to another religion than that which they were born into or brought up in.

Now, if that doesn’t sound familiar to our day and age, then you should check your pulse.

I discussed this in more detail this past Sunday. If you’re interested, check out the audio of that message here.

In response to that teaching, a member of our church texted in:

The unifying/melting pot of religions that Paul is warning the Colossians about in today’s passage is the same message delivered by the president of the IOC at the opening of the Olympic Games. It’s clear that making exclusive claims about right or wrong in regard to religion is frowned upon internationally.

I unfortunately missed the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and have not been able to find a way to watch the whole thing online – if anyone knows a way, please let me know!

Although I am not surprised by this, I am surprised by the naivety in thinking which it represents. For educated people to say that no one should make exclusive claims is to ignore the fact that EVERYONE makes exclusive claims, including the people who say that you should not make exclusive claims. For example, if you say that it is wrong to say that something is wrong, you are doing the same thing which you are claiming should not be done. I only wonder if this overlooking of the obvious is sincere/naive in nature, or it is it a willful ignorance for the sake of pragmatism; in this case that everyone would just get along. Either way, to make such a claim reveals a sort of patronizing disregard for the validity of the claims of any and all religious beliefs, which is itself a form of judgment about them… Oh the irony…

Don’t fall for this underdeveloped, recycled logic. We can absolutely live in a free society where honest and open dialogue of the validity of certain ideas, traditions, practices and beliefs exists.