Is Church an (un)Necessary Evil?

A few days ago I received this comment on one of my posts called The Impact on Kids of Dad’s Faith and Church Attendance:

Laura says:

What is the benefit of attending church? A person is demanded to surrender personal faith in Jesus and personal relationship with Jesus Christ to become a Borg in a socialist swamp. It’s great for becoming robotized, lobotomized, Romanized, and institutionalized.

But its pointless for knowing Jesus Christ personally.

Don’t go. Jesus isn’t welcome there. Conformity is King. Not Jesus.

I was tempted to ignore the comment, but I think this view of church is actually pretty widespread, even amongst professing Christians, that it warranted a response. And since I’ve recently started the Theology for the People Podcast, I figured this would be a good topic to discuss in more detail there.

You can check out the episode here: Podcast Exclusive – Church: a Necessary Evil?, or by listening in the embedded player below.

Podcast Exclusive – Church: An (un)Necessary Evil? Theology for the People

In this episode Nick and Mike discuss a comment that came in to the Theology for the People blog claiming that church is only good for "becoming robotized, lobotomized, Romanized, and institutionalized," and is "pointless for knowing Jesus Christ personally." This comment represents a not-uncommon attitude to "organized religion" in general and church in particular. This episode includes discussions about the Bible, Jesus, American history, and Henry David Thoreau. The book recommended in this episode is The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History  — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app

Rebranding Our Radio Ministry: “Life in the Field” Has Become “Be Set Free”

Our radio ministry has been expanding and we felt this was a good time for some rebranding. As of April 1, 2021, “Life in the Field” has become “Be Set Free”

Our program airs Monday-Friday at 9:30 AM and 2:30 PM, and Sundays at 1:00 PM on GraceFM: 89.7 FM along the Northern Front Range (Cheyenne, WY – Castle Rock, CO) and 101.7 in Colorado Springs, CO. We can also be heard online at gracefm.com and on the GraceFM app.

Along with this rebranding, we have started a dedicated webpage for Be Set Free, where you can find each day’s message from the radio: besetfreeradio.com. You can even sign up on the site to have those messages delivered directly to your inbox.

You can also subscribe to the Be Set Free Podcast, and every day you will get that day’s episode delivered directly to your podcast app. Go to: Be Set Free Podcast

Be Set Free is a listener-supported ministry, and if you would like to contribute to helping to spread the gospel over the airwaves through clear, relevant expository Bible teaching, you can donate here.

How to Live as Citizens of Heaven Here on Earth Part 2 Be Set Free

Airing Date: 2021 April 14 Romans 13 Governing Authorities From our series: Romans: Saving Grace
  1. How to Live as Citizens of Heaven Here on Earth Part 2
  2. How to Live as Citizens of Heaven Here on Earth Part 1
  3. How the Gospel Transforms Relationships Part 2
  4. …Has Not Proven His Existence Part 2
  5. How the Gospel Transforms Relationships Part 1

Rebranding: “Theology for the People” + Podcast

Recently I was talking to my friend Aaron Salvato who heads up the GoodLion Podcast Network. I reached out to him regarding the idea of possibly creating a podcast with audio versions of some of my articles from this blog. Aaron’s advice was that I consider rebranding the blog since “Longmont Pastor” might tell people who I am, but it doesn’t help them know what this site (and potential podcast) is about.

So, in light of Aaron’s advice, the “Longmont Pastor” blog has been rebranded as “Theology for the People” – which better reflects my goal with this site: to bring understanding of God’s Word and application for the questions that people are asking today.

Theology for the People Podcast

I have also started a Podcast, and I would love it if you would subscribe and share it with others. You can find it on all major podcast platforms, but you can click here to find it on the podcast platform of your choice: Theology for the People Podcast

On the blog you will now see this icon above some posts:

If you click that icon, it will take you to the podcast episode in which you can listen to an audio version of that post.

I plan to create podcast-specific content as well, so make sure to subscribe!

Thanks for reading (and now listening!) – and please continue submitting your questions (click here to ask a question or suggest a topic), and I will continue doing my best to write and record helpful content!

Here are the episodes currently on the podcast:

Podcast Exclusive – Church: An (un)Necessary Evil? Theology for the People

In this episode Nick and Mike discuss a comment that came in to the Theology for the People blog claiming that church is only good for "becoming robotized, lobotomized, Romanized, and institutionalized," and is "pointless for knowing Jesus Christ personally." This comment represents a not-uncommon attitude to "organized religion" in general and church in particular. This episode includes discussions about the Bible, Jesus, American history, and Henry David Thoreau. The book recommended in this episode is The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History  — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app
  1. Podcast Exclusive – Church: An (un)Necessary Evil?
  2. “Preaching” or “Sharing”?
  3. Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up
  4. Does Easter Come From Ishtar?
  5. The Gospel of Caesar Augustus, & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

Jerks for Jesus?

Sometimes you spend hours preparing for Sunday’s sermon, but the one thing you say that gets remembered most was something you said off the cuff, that wasn’t in the notes. That happened to me this past Sunday.

I was teaching a message called “Thriving in Exile” in which I was looking at Daniel and Jeremiah and what it took for the people of God to live faithfully in the Babylonian exile, especially since the Apostle Peter states that the Israelites in exile in Babylon is a perfect picture of what it means for us to be Christians in the world today.

During a section in which I was pointing out that the exiles needed to have conviction in order to live faithfully in exile, I pointed out that Daniel and the others with him were also very courteous towards those in Babylon who didn’t believe what they believed, which is notable since it seems that some people think that to be a person of conviction means to be a “Jerk for Jesus.”

In contrast to that, the example we have throughout the Scriptures and from Jesus, Paul, and Peter specifically is that rather than an adversarial approach, we are to take a missionary approach to those who believe and think differently than we do, so that we might be used by God to help bring his light, love, and truth into their lives.

The fact is, it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to influence people who can tell that you despise them. Those bombastic people who think they are dropping “truth bombs” tend to only embolden those who already agree with them and further alienate those who don’t – rather than wooing them to consider the beauty of the gospel.

Below you can listen to the podcast of this discussion and/or watch the video of it.

Here is a link to the book Mike and I discussed, in which I heard the phrase “Jerks for Jesus:” Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne. I recommend this book. In it, Larry Osborne points out how the pharisees never set out to become “pharisees” – they started out as people who cared about truth and following God whole-heartedly, but this devolved into pride, exclusivity, and creating rules which God never ordained, as well as fences which God never put in place. For those of us who truly care about truth and walking with God, this should be a warning to us lest we accidentally become pharisees ourselves. The book of course goes into much more detail and explanation. I especially appreciated what he had to say about Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the “secret disciples” mentioned in the gospels. It’s definitely worth a read.

Also embedded below is the video I mention about Ray Comfort, the Kiwi evangelist. I watched this film with my kids, and it was so inspiring. He speaks with so much compassion and empathy, and is a good example of how to not water down the truth, but still be courteous – and how many doors that opens for effective gospel ministry. The movie is called The Fool

Sermon Extra: Is a Burning in the Bosom Proof the Bible is True? White Fields Community Church | A Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado

In this week's sermon extra, Pastors Nick Cady and Michael Payne discuss why would God have kept Jesus from being recognised by His disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the Mormon concept of "a burning in the bosom" when you read Scripture.  Also, Pastor Nick shares an embarrassing story about his feelings! You don't want to miss it.   To listen to Sunday's sermon: Seeking Jesus Anew — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support
  1. Sermon Extra: Is a Burning in the Bosom Proof the Bible is True?
  2. Seeing Jesus Anew
  3. Sermon Extra: Is Easter Derived From Ishtar?
  4. Risen to New Life
  5. It Is Finished

Cancel Culture, Sarah Silverman, and the Hope of Redemption

Sarah Silverman — Armchair Expert

Years ago I was telling my dad about the moral failure of a high profile Christian leader which had disqualified him from ministry. I concluded the story by saying something to the effect of: “Well, I guess he showed his true colors.”

My dad’s response was: “What if that’s not who he is at the core, but a mistake that he made?”

There I was, judging this man based on one of his worst moments, and saying: “That is who he IS!” My dad was willing to say that while what this man did was wrong, he should be given the opportunity for redemption rather than being forever dismissed and defined by his worst moment.

This isn’t to say that people are not sinners or that sinful actions are justifiable, or can just be chalked up as an “oops” that doesn’t count against us. No.

And yet: What do we do with sinners? Do we write them off and condemn them, standing upon their fallen frames in order to make ourselves appear that much taller? Or do we believe that redemption is possible and desire to see it take place?

I don’t pay much attention to Sarah Silverman, but I stumbled upon this clip of her talking about cancel culture and how it labels people as irredeemable. She makes a great point: Don’t we want to see people change? If so, we should encourage and celebrate transformation rather than self-righteously writing off people forever who have made mistakes.

This is what made Jesus so incredible: he showed love to those whom his society considered irredeemable: prostitutes, tax collectors, sinners. Far from affirming their sins, he offered them redemption, a new identity, and a new destiny.

Here is the clip from Sarah Silverman:

Sarah is not a Christian, but she is touching on something that is core to Christianity.

May we as the church be those who champion redemption, who provide a place where people are loved and are shown that they are not irredeemable because of Jesus!

In him, fallen people like us have had our sins dealt with before God, and therefore we can receive forgiveness, redemption, a new identity, and a new destiny. That’s good news.

Expositors Collective Webinar w/ Ryan Huguley

Because of the ongoing Coronavirus situation we postponed the Expositors Collective in-person two-day training weekends in Seattle and Honolulu, but we continue to look for ways to continue our mission to equip, encourage, and mentor the next generation of expository Bible teachers and preachers.

Our next webinar will be on September 19, 2020 from 9:00-10:00 AM Pacific Time (10:00-11:00 AM Mountain Time), and the theme is: Preaching to the Heart of Our Hearers.

We will be joined by pastor and author Ryan Huguley. Ryan is the pastor of Ridgeline Church in Salt Lake City, Utah and is the the author of 8 Hours or Less: Preparing Faithful Sermons Faster.

Ryan has a heart to help teachers and preachers grow in their calling. He has been a guest on the Expositors Collective Podcast and we are excited to have him join us for this webinar which will include a short message followed by an opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics.

Here’s an audio clip from Ryan introducing the webinar:

This is a free event, but is limited to the first 100 who sign up, which you can do by clicking the button below.

A Biblical Discussion of Current Politics and Where Our True Citizenship Lies

My friend Nate Morris is the pastor of a great church: Mountain Life Calvary Chapel, which has campuses in Edwards and Carbondale, Colorado, serving the communities of the Vail Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley.

Recently Nate started a podcast: the New Day Podcast, which aims, in his words, “to talk about the topics which you shouldn’t talk about around the dinner table,” such as religion, race, politics, and so on.

I was honored to be a guest on his podcast; you can check out our discussion here: Special Guest: Pastor Nick Cady – A Biblical discussion of current politics and where our true citizenship lies.

In the episode, we talk about how my decade as a missionary in Hungary has affected my views on politics, as well as my concerns and hopes for the church in our current political and social situation.

Check it out the episode and leave a comment on this post with your thoughts and reactions, and make sure to subscribe to the New Day Podcast with Pastor Nate Morris!

Writing Faithful Sermons Faster: Discussion with Ryan Huguley

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Click this image to listen to the episode

It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2017, and we were in San Diego, where my wife Rosemary is from. The next day, Saturday, we were driving back to Colorado, so I could make it back for church on Sunday, which meant that I had one day to prepare my sermon for that Sunday.

Rosemary and the kids decided to go to the zoo, which gave me 12 hours to prepare. At this point, I usually spent 20-25 hours preparing each sermon, so this was a daunting task.

8 Hours or Less: Writing faithful sermons faster by [Huguley, Ryan]

After they left our AirBnB for the day, I was scrolling Instagram (instead of studying!), and came across a post of someone holding a copy of the book: 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley.

I immediately did the math in my head: If this book could really help me do what the title claimed, then that would give me 3.5 hours to read the book, and 8 hours to write my sermon! I purchased the book on Amazon, read it, wrote my sermon, and made it back to Colorado on time for church that Sunday. That sermon can be found here: 5 Solas: Soli Deo Gloria (Colossians 3:16-24)

Since that time, I have implemented Ryan’s process, and shared about my growth in this area at the Expositors Collective training weekends.

Related post: How Much Time Should a Pastor Spend Preparing a Sermon?

Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Ryan over Zoom about doing ministry in Salt Lake City, his method for sermon preparation, and what advice he has for those who teach and preach.

The recording of that conversation was just released on the Expositors Collective Podcast. You can listen to it here: Expositors Collective Podcast: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster – Ryan Huguley, or click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Check it out, and I’d love to hear your feedback on in the comments!

Preaching Funerals

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In the latest episode of the Expositors Collective podcast, Mike Neglia and I discussed preaching funerals.

Click here to listen: Episode 100 – Preaching Funerals. Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts, or on Spotify.

As it so happens, this is the 100th episode of the podcast. As Mike shares in the intro to the episode, he had planned some fanfare and celebration for this milestone, but with the current COVID-19 crisis, it seems that an episode on preaching funerals is more apropos.

Mike and I recorded this episode in Austria back in January during the Calvary Chapel European Pastors Conference in Millstatt.

Whether you find yourself in the position of preaching or leading a funeral, or if you simply want to listen in to my process and insights, I encourage you to check out this episode.

Book Review: On the Road with Saint Augustine

A few years ago my thinking was shaped about the process of spiritual formation by James K.A. Smith‘s book, “Desiring the Kingdom.” In it, he explains the role that “liturgies,” not only ecclesial, but personal and “secular” liturgies play in that formation.

For more on that book and its ideas, see: Why Go to Church If You Already Know It All? Here’s Why

In “Desiring the Kingdom“, and Smith’s related book You Are What You Love, it is clear that he has been highly influenced by Augustine, particularly Augustine’s “Confessions”. The idea of sin as “disordered loves” is particularly Augustinian, as is much of what Smith says about formation, namely that idolatry is more “caught” than “taught”, i.e. idolatry is less of a conscious decision as much as a learned disposition. not so much conscious decisions to believe falsehood, and more like learned dispositions, which is why people’s idolatries often reflect their environments. Since we “practice our way into idolatry,” we need to “practice our way into freedom,” through liberating practices which direct our loves.

I was surprised and excited a few months ago when I saw that Smith was featured in an episode of the Art of Manliness podcast, in which he clearly articulated the Christian hope of the gospel while talking about his new book: “On the Road with Saint Augustine“.

In this book, Smith not only details his travels to retrace some of the footsteps of Augustine, who was originally from North Africa, but came to Italy seeking success and influence in the civic realm, only to have the course of his life changed by meeting Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. As a result, Augustine later returned to North Africa where he became a bishop and influential Christian thinker, whose writings played a large part in the Reformation.

Augustine: the Father of Existentialism

Smith’s main point, however, is not to write a biography of Augustine, or a memoir of his travels, but to explain that Augustine is actually the father of modern existentialist thinking.

From Jean-Paul Sartre to Albert Camus to Jack Kerouac, modern and post-modern existentialists who often describe life as “a journey” or “the road”, whether knowingly or unwittingly, got this idea from Augustine who articulated existentialist ideas and used the terminology of life as “a journey” and “the road” way back in the 4th Century.

The great difference, of course, which Smith is eager to point out, is that whereas the modern and post-modern existentialists (like Kerouac in his novel “On the Road”) like to describe “the road” as “home”, and assert that there is no ultimate destination to which the road is leading (i.e. it is only the journey itself which matters, not the destination) – this is not at all what Augustine taught or believed. Augustine asserted that life is a journey with a destination, and it is only in light of this destination that there can be joy and purpose in the journey. Augustine taught that there is indeed a true “home” which awaits us, the “home” that all of us long for and the search for which underlies all of our pursuits and endeavors; thus, “the road” itself is not “home”, and if we expect it to be, our lives will miss the purpose, meaning and significance they are meant to have.

Why you hated the ending of Lost

If you were one of the many people frustrated by the ending of the show Lost a few years back, here’s why it was so frustrating: the ending of Lost was the epitome of post-modern existentialist thinking, which says that it is the only thing that matters in the end is not getting all of your questions answered or understanding the meaning of things, but only the enjoyment of the journey.

The ending scene in which all of the characters come together in the future and hug each other, without answering the many unanswered questions that were posed on and with the island, is meant to communicate the idea that, with these characters, the viewers of the show had enjoyed 6 years of excitement, mystery, and community. These things, the ending insinuated, were the reward and the ultimate purpose, not having all the questions answered.

The ending of Lost was famously frustrating for dedicated viewers. Why? Because built into us (existentially!) is the understanding that there must be a destination, there must by a purpose, there must be a “home” – and that all of our seeking is not actually in vain, but our lives do have a purpose and what we long for does indeed exist.

This is the promise of the entire Bible – from Genesis all the way through Revelation. It is through Jesus Christ that God has provided the way “home” – and it is through Him that we will truly experience the meaning of our existence. This is what Augustine articulated so clearly and compellingly, and yet the modern and post-modern existentialists, while taking elements and motifs of his teachings, missed the ultimate point of both what Augustine taught and life itself.

Summary

In this book, Smith helpfully disseminates some core elements of Augustine’s teachings and connects them to the modern person’s hopes, fears, and dreams in a way that is helpful and hopeful, as he points us to Jesus as the answer to the great riddles.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I hope you will too!