Monday, August 25, 2014

Jesus, the Celebrity Culture and the Church

I have observed with some interest over the last few weeks the ongoing Mark Driscoll saga. Unless you are a pastor or some other church leader chances are that you are unaware of who Mark Driscoll is and why he is important. Driscoll is the pastor of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.

The controversy surrounding Driscoll took a disturbing turn in the last two weeks when the Acts 29 network, a church planting organization that Driscoll himself helped found, asked Driscoll to step down from his position and removed Mars Hill from the membership of the organization. This is just the latest brouhaha involving Driscoll in the last few months. Accusations of plagarism, inappropriate speech and abusive behavior towards church staff have swirled around Driscoll and there seems to be no end in sight. Recently Driscoll announced that he would be taking a leave of absence as the charges against him are examined.

Driscoll represents, at least to me, part of a greater problem for North American Christianity. I am speaking of a celebrity culture that seems to have crept into every corner of our faith. Strong men with strong personalities have become the "stars" of the American version of the faith. The same problem is present in the world of Christian music. I am not saying that Driscoll or any  other "famous" pastor has actively pursued such a status. But the truth is that we are wired to worship, and in our fallen state we will worship just about anything. The early church was not immune to this struggle, as illustrated by Paul's comments about the controversy between followers of Paula and Apollos in 1 Corinthians 1. The problem that Paul deals with there, and that the current controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll illustrates so well is one of following men rather than God. The amount of heated emotion and vitriol on both sides of the Driscoll controversy demonstrates the dangers inherent in tying our faith to men, no matter how good (or even great) they may be.

The answer is not simple. Pastors need to make themselves accountable to God and seek, as Paul did, to take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5). I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to take those thoughts captive. How difficult to let go of the praise that people want to give you, especially when praise and encouragement is so hard to come by. We need not only accountability before God but we also need to make ourselves transparent, willingly allowing God and others to have access to the far corners of our lives.

But mostly we/I need prayer. We don't need fawning fans or book deals. We need the fervent prayers of those who fill our pews, those who serve with us, those who serve around us. There are too many men who serve "alone," without the benefit of accountability and encouragement from fellow pastors and elder saints. Many of us don't have that, some by deliberate choice, but some by circumstance.

I have begun to pray for Mark Driscoll. I trust that God is not through with him yet, that there are still great things for him to accomplish for the kingdom. Will you join me in praying for him....and will you pray for me?

We both need it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Somebody's Watching....Always

One of the regular parts of my morning routine is listening to sports talk radio. While I spend time in front of the mirror shaving I like to listen to Mike and Mike. I find that sports is both a distraction and a reasonable reflection of our culture. I must also admit that I like sports, especially football.

This morning as I was shaving I heard about an incident involving Johnny Manziel. For anyone who might have been in a cryogenic sleep the last two years or so; Manziel is a rookie quarterback for the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. He has a tremendous amount of ability, and an ego to match. Manziel is a polarizing either love him or you don't. It seems that Manziel has been in the news more for his lifestyle than his ability over the last few months. That's not a good thing, at least in my opinion.

During a recent preseason game Manziel made an obscene gesture towards the opposing team's sideline. Not a smart thing to do, especially when you are the visiting team. When asked about the gesture during the post game press conference Manziel attempted to downplay his actions. Needless to say those actions have been the talk of sports radio this morning. Johnny Manziel can't seem to understand that the spotlight he's living under is harsh, unforgiving, and never turned off. His actions will only hurt his team and himself.

Manziel claims to be a Christian, and I'm not here to debate the relative merits of his faith claim. But I do want to consider for a moment the reality of the life that Manziel lives and its comparison to our own. Each of us is a billboard that displays much more about us than we would like to admit. Johnny Manziel can't seem to allow his talent to overcome his character struggles. The sad truth is that we are all like him, struggling to balance character, talent, and expectations.

Please understand that I am not talking about perfection....I talking about living honestly. We will make mistakes. Hopefully not as severe as Manziel's, but we will make mistakes all the same. We need to live in a way that owns up to our shortcomings and displays the grace and forgiveness that are ours through Jesus. The best Christians are the ones who get up after falling down, seek forgiveness and make amends to those who they have wronged. In short, they demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit and the character of Jesus.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 "Let your light before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." That's a tall order that is much more difficult that it might seem. The world is always matter the venue; work, play, school, home, even the football field. Our every word, every gesture and action are on display and are seen and evaluated by those who see us. Pastors aren't the only ones who live in fishbowls: quarterbacks and moms and you and me do too.

So today when you mess up...and we all will. Simply confess, make amends and keep trying. I think we will all find that we will escape being the subject of talk radio.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Life, Death and Empty Nests

August 12th is always a different day in our house. It used to be a difficult day, perhaps the most difficult day of the year, at least for us. You see it was on August 12, 1987 that our first child was born. His name is Johnathan. He lived less than four minutes.....the time of his life on this earth is not important, that he lived is. His birthday was for many years a day of tears and mourning. There was very little to celebrate. For many years I would take the day off from work so that I could spend the day with my wife. I can remember feeling guilty on the first day that I chose to work rather than staying home to mourn.

Today Johnathan would be 27 years old....I imagine that he would have long ago left the safety of our home to engage the world. Perhaps he would have married by now and even given his parents a grandchild to spoil. The thought gives me pause to smile. I look forward to one day having a grandchild to pass on my "wisdom"....if it could be called that. I'm sure that my wife would have a different opinion.

When Johnathan died a part of me died. That death became even more pronounced when 19 months later our second child died shortly after birth. His name was Timothy and he would have been 25 now. The combination of blows left me staggering, reeling, breathless. There are no words to express the depths of our pain. It was the love of God that brought us through those long, dark days of pain and questions. Our marriage survived and we have been able to pick up the pieces.  That doesn't make their birthdays any less difficult, but we know hope and it is that hope that we cling to everyday.

The news today has been dominated by the death of comedian/actor Robin Williams. It is indeed sad that a man of his immense talents apparently decided to take his own life. I will not judge him. Indeed, none of us is in the place of God. Robin Williams will stand before God and be judged not on the method of his death, but on his relationship with God. My prayers are lifted for his family.

This day is a difficult day not because of the loss of Robin Williams or the anniversary of the birth and death of my son Johnathan, but because the emptying of our nest continued today with the departure of our second son for college. Matthew has chosen to go back to Southwest Mississippi Community College. He has just completed a term as a summer missionary in Oklahoma. His mother and I joked with Matt that we would move while he was gone, and that is just what we did! But we did pick him up at the airport and he was with us for a couple of weeks. But today he loaded up his truck and moved away. There were tears in his parents eyes as he drove away. Matthew may or may not be ready to face the world, but I can assure you the world isn't ready to face Matthew. He has a way of changing the lives of everyone around him and I am sure that he will continue to do just that.

Tomorrow his twin sister Rebekah will go back to college as well. Our nest is slowly but surely emptying. The beginning of May found our house full but by the end of May two-thirds of our kids had moved away. My wife and I have always known that our nest would empty....we just never saw it happening so quickly. Four kids leaving in one month was a lot harder than we ever thought it would be.

The days of summer saw not only four of our kids moving away, but we also left our place of service after six years and moved away from an area that we had been in for the last fourteen years. All of these transitions have been difficult. But God has been with us throughout each of them and we cling to His promise that He will be with us through all the days that are yet to come. We have learned not to despair but to rejoice. God has turned our mourning into dancing and our tears into laughter. I have joked many times that the reason we had six kids (eight counting Johnathan and Timothy) was that I wanted to change the kid at a time. My plan is about to be put into motion!

I thank God for August 12th. On each August 12th and every day that surrounds it He has proven his love and power and goodness. In spite of life's changes, death, and even empty nests.