Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dealing with the Ugly H word: Hypocrite

You've heard it. I've heard it. We call other people it. God forbid if anyone calls us one. And it's an ugly word, isn't it?


Hypocrisy: Saying an act is morally wrong, yet doing that very act or something much worse, all the while failing to acknowledge this as an inconsistency.

85% of young Americans outside of the church would define the American Church as hypocritical.

My question? What are we going to do about it?

We could start by pointing the finger at Christians we would consider hypocritical. You know the ones I'm talking about. The ones on the news. The ones with signs. The ones sitting in pews. We could to turn to Matthew 23, the rebuke of the Pharisees, to strongly make our point.

"For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues. But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness. You clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean." (Matthew 23)

It would make us feel justified to stand behind Jesus and point the finger at all of the people we think are hypocrites.

But this would be wrong.

I believe that the first temptation after reading Scripture is to think who needs to hear this passage. Using Scripture as our argument, to be our justification. All the while forgetting that we read Scripture first to change our own hearts.

That being said, as we read Matthew 23, we first ask ourselves, "How am I inconsistent in what I say, do, and believe?"

Do I practice what I preach?

Am I willing to lift a finger to help the burden of others, or do I make them feel worse about themselves?

Do I do what I do just to be seen?

Has my life ever shut the kingdom of heaven in someone's face?

Have I neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness for my own personal interests?

Do I clean my appearance only to hide my greed and self-indulgence?

When Jesus examines my heart, does he call me a hypocrite?

And then our inconsistencies begin to become evident.

But let me share something with you that will free you:

The opposite of hypocrisy is NOT perfection, it's transparency.

First, transparency with God. We approach God not as perfect creatures, but creations in progress. Our transparency and honesty with him spurs healing.

Then transparency with others.

No one is expecting you to be perfect. No one is expecting you to follow every Biblical passage flawlessly. What they are starving for is people admitting their mistakes. To show that they are not perfect like Jesus, but strive to be.

If 85% of young Americans outside of the church would define the American Church as hypocritical, then real change starts, not with pointing our fingers at others, but with YOU being transparent. With ME being transparent.

So for starters, to everyone who is reading, I know that I put up a front like I have it all together. But I don't. I struggle with this very idea of pointing my finger at people of my faith who are messing up. I read Scripture so I can have good arguments, not a good relationship with God. And sometimes I write a little blog to show people that I have better ideas that others, as if I knew how to fix the big problems in America and the world. I tend to be hypocritical, not transparent. But God is still working in me. And he is making progress.

There. I feel better with you knowing that.

And again, with most issues I bring up, I believe we need to be intentional about this. We need to initiate these conversations with people who have hypocrisy as a barrier between them and Christ. We need to confess our sins. And we need for God to bring us to transparency.

Be the exception to the rule. Be transparent, rather than hypocritical.

Gandhi said to us,
"Be the change you want to see in the world."

So I say to you,
"Be the change you want to see in Christianity."

(for the record, I have nothing against pews)

Who do you need to confess to?
What are other ways that we can influence those who have hypocrisy as a barrier between them and Christ?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Evolution: America's Biggest Barrier to Christianity?

It's not every day that you read an essay that changes the way you see everything. But that's exactly what happened to me this week. And I wanted to present some of it's ideas to you. I'd like to paraphrase some of the ideas that Ken Wilson shared in his essay entitled Science & The Evangelical Mission In America. You can read it here.

Wilson suggests that America is divided into two main groups:

• Votes Republican
• Considers Earth 10,000
• Typically a Creationist

• Votes Democratic
• Considers Earth 4.5 billion years old
• Typically an Evolutionist

Science and religion are the two most powerful forces in the world today.

I think most of us would agree that this is a fair representation of America. Of course it is not exact, what generalization would be? But let's add one more characteristic to this group division.

• Votes Republican
• Considers Earth 10,000
• Typically a Creationist
• High church attendance

• Votes Democratic
• Considers Earth 4.5 billion years old
• Typically an Evolutionist
• Low church attendance

This is not a political post, so please don't get bogged down in that detail. The number of democrats in or out of church is not a factor of this blog.

Rather, evolution is.

The question that we should be asking is, where is the mission field in America? What massive people group are not being reached? The science community.

Picture the science community as concentric circles.

In the smallest innermost circle are those with advanced degrees, whose education depended heavily on biology, physics and chemistry.

The next, slightly bigger circle includes people who read periodicals like Scientific American, Discover, Nature, and National Geographic without thinking, “I wish they wouldn’t put so much stock in evolution and climate change.”

The next circle, the widest circle, encompassing roughly half the population of the United States, includes those who identify culturally with those in the inner two circles.

We’re not just talking about a small group of science fanatics; we’re talking about half of America, a massive mission field.

The Theory of Evolution is highly influential to this people group.

Evolution has always been a barrier for people to believe in God. How could they believe in a literal Genesis Creation account if their worldview is founded on the evidence of creation's antithesis: Evolution? Everything about their worldview hinges on the Theory of Evolution.

So let me ask this very difficult question:

Is the a Literal Creation account of Genesis, one that calls Evolution a lie, a theological hill that we will die on?

There are some theological beliefs that I would die for:

The Trinity. The deity of Christ. The authority of Scripture. Salvation by grace through faith.

These are foundational and essential parts of the Christian faith.

But there are some theological issues that matter less to me. I have my own opinion, and other Christian friends share different opinions:

Calvanism, Open Theism, Post/Pre/Mid Tribulation, Young Earth, Dispensationalism, Ceasationalism.

So here, I ask, both myself and you, is a Literal Creation account of Genesis, one that calls Evolution a lie, is this a belief that we will refuse to compromise?

What about Theistic Evolution?

Theistic Evolution is the theological idea that God sparked and guides the work of Evolution.

Historically, in the church, the idea of Theistic Evolution has been rejected. It has been seen as a compromise of Biblical beliefs for the sake of scientific evidence.

If the barrier for half of the US population is Evolution, and if a literal creation account is not a theological hill to die on, then
can we both allow this idea of Theistic Evolution AND embrace those who want to believe it.
Few pastors or biblical scholars in the United States, when pressed, would insist that rejecting evolutionary science is part of the cost of following Christ.

I am NOT asking you to change your view from a literal creation to Theistic Evolution. I am asking you to reconsider the fact that Theistic Evolution is not the compromise that we all thought it was.

Ken Wilson shares this story from his church,

"A year after listening to my sermon series on science and faith, Susan approached me in the church lobby with tears in her eyes and the following story. After wrestling through the material, Susan gathered her adult children together. None of her children were active churchgoers, though they were raised in a strict fundamentalist Baptist setting. In prayer, Susan had discerned that her approach to evolution had unnecessarily alienated her children from the gospel. Susan apologized to her children for insisting that they had to accept her young earth creation views. Susan told them that she didn’t accept evolution herself, but she deeply regretted insisting that they accept her views as the only view a faithful Christian could accept. Susan was never more evangelical than when she engaged in this soul-searching work."

Are we unnecessarily alienating people from the Gospel?

Here is my main point:

Maybe you have strong convictions that Evolution cannot coexist to the Literal Creationist Account. Maybe Theistic Evolution can be the first step of an atheist's beliefs towards a Literal Creationist Account. No Christian doubts the Holy Spirit's power to work on our theology after we become followers of Christ.

This proposal may come as a shock to many of you. I know it was for me. Process this new information for about a week or so. Test it, try it, pray about it. If you feel that my paraphrased presentation was not convincing enough, I ask that you read Wilson's
full essay. Wilson also acknowledged that this is an unpopular, even destructive to our reputation.

"In order to be truly evangelical in American culture today, we may have to risk our reputation with some fellow evangelicals. That is the sad but painful truth. Which is more important though, reaching the lost or maintaining our reputation with the found?"

Now the hard part: what do we do next?

Restore credibility.

And that takes initiative. A non-Christian evolutionist is probably not going to approach you to talk about this. In the past, Christians have been intolerant to the idea of evolution. I believe that your approach of Theistic Evolution will be a breath of fresh air.


What do you think? Is a Literal Creationist account a theological essential to the Christian Faith? Or is openness to Theistic Evolution a valid option for non-believers? What are ways that we can restore credibility among the science-influenced community?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Challenging Conventional Christian Wisdom – Part 3 – Why we have Jesus Action Figures

So I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but at the right of this blog, you can now subscribe. You get an email with a link every time I post a new blog. This means that I don't have to post (is it annoying?) facebook posts about new blogs. I really want to move AWAY from weekly facebook posts, and I hope this is the answer.

So be so kind and subscribe, just one email a week, promise.

Thanks guys.

Now on to the blog.


Our world moves fast. Even faster now that we have the Internet. If a business doesn't adapt quickly, then the it fails. If the head of the business is smart, then (s)he makes the right choices to survive (thrive). As for the church, I think that creates a problem. Because the church has no one president. No one leader. Aside from the obvious, of course, God/the trinity. As a result, we have Jesus action figures.

But for this purpose (the reading of the times, the leadership direction for a changing world) we, the Church, do not hear clearly from Jesus, or are directed by the Holy Spirit clear enough to all be on the same page. I know that sounds bad. But, isn't this the reason for so many problems between church today? Because we are all reading the same script, just on different pages.

At one time, trends and fashions would be in for decades. Now the shelf life of a style is a few years. Because now, we overkill. We see it everywhere (facebook, twitter). This is why Chuck Norris jokes aren't funny anymore. They're dated.

Think about videos. What was funny last year is cliché this year (Rick Rolling, the Evolution of Dance, William Hung).

That's why we still have Christian T Shirts that look just like something in the business world, except with an evangelist's touch.

That's why we still have Church marque signs that rhyme.

That's why we have Jesus action figures.

And I think that's why we still have "You're going to Hell" signs.

Because we don't have one person saying, "Ok, enough with this. It was good last year, but this year it just looks tacky."

This became most evident while I was having a conversation with an American missionary here in Britain. He told me, "I'd yell on street corners, if it worked here. I'd carry a big cross around, if I knew it would make an impact. But it doesn't. People would just look at me weird. That sort of things works in Africa. If I were in Africa, I'd do that sort of thing. But here, it won't make an impact."

To me, this is smart. Some things don't work everywhere. Times change. So should our methods.

And some people are smart enough to see these, and many other things. And they tell us. In their books, blogs, and seminars.

If we are smart, then we listen, and try to see what they see.

It's harder for us as a church than a business, because we don't have that one person. We have a multitude of these thinkers who tell our pastors. And we have our pastors who tell us.

But maybe that's better.

Sure, it makes us slower to adapt to a constantly and rapidly changing culture.

But it also shows how strong the church is. Businesses go bankrupt without rapidly changing.

But the church is still here. Still passionate. Still learning.

So back to the missionary. What worked in his context, if not cross carrying? Something I'm sure you could guess:


Fancy that.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Storybook Biographies

Everything about a story is true. Except that its fiction, of course.

Seriously though. We have always made up stories. From cave paintings to Avatar. Not to just escape from our real world problems, but to remind our hearts of what is true, what is right, what is noble. More than just mere stories, the characters that we create, the heroes that we imagine are powerful, yet are also handicapped with their flaws. The page that we read from looks less like paper, and more like a mirror. Yes, they are more spectacular and charismatic than we are, but that is because they symbolize everything we want to be.

When we leave the pages of a great story, we are changed. We begin to see connections between our lives and the fiction we experienced. We see our crisis, finally, as our opportunity. The problems that interrupt our lives seem less desperate, and more as a chance to make life better. For us, for our loved ones, and for those who desperately need us to save them.

Story is an opportunity for you to make yourself into a better person. The person God intended you to be. Your greatest gift to the world is fully becoming the person God intended youto be.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Isaiah's Greatest Prophecy

I wanted to take a break from my current series just to post something about the Resurrection Sunday.

Today, at an African church in central Amsterdam, I preached my first Easter sermon. I chose to use Isaiah 53, the Messianic Prophecy. Read this powerful passage that speaks about the passion of our Lord.

1Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has
the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

The service went really well. It was my first time preaching without notes.

Next week I will resume my series, Challengeing Conventional Christian Wisdom. I have a lot more to say on the subject, but nothing is more important than Resurrection Sunday.

God Bless, and spend quality time with your family.

Oh, and what do you think of the new layout?
Feedback wanted.