The Tragedy Of The Entertaining Church

This week just doesn’t allow me to produce fresh content, but I published an article on March 26, 2018 that fits several conversations I’ve heard on Christian podcasts lately. I believe this article will benefit all of us.

Powerful Word

“Show people that Christians are just like  everyone else.”

“If we have non-threatening activities like movie nights, people will get comfortable enough with us that they’ll want to come to church.”

“Unless we have games and refreshments, kids won’t come to youth group.”

I heard all these comments, and more, from a church I used to attend, usually in connection with evangelism and church growth strategies.  We want to attract people to the Lord, not scare them away from Him, the leadership of the church reasoned. For a while, they even made sense. Why not make visitors comfortable before hitting them with the Bible?

Sometimes the promoters of such ideas supported them with 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Never mind that this passage, in context, refers to restricting one’s Christian liberties to avoid offending people with anything but the Gospel. But in his next epistle to that same church, Paul made it clear that presenting the Gospel would, in fact, offend those who would not receive salvation.

15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. ~~2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV)

Churches, including youth groups, act deceptively when they advertise themselves as being cool, hip and in touch with the world, only to slip Jesus in there when they can do it inconspicuously. They know that a blatant bait-and-switch will expose them, so they have to continue making Scripture palatable. Sermons include stand-up comedy, movie clips and props rather than verse-by-verse exposition of the text, knowing that the folks they attract through entertainment require continuing entertainment in order to keep them coming.

Contrast that mindset with Paul’s command to Timothy.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~~2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

God’s church can, and should, be overflowing with joy. Fellowship halls should ring with laughter, and youth groups should include extra activities outside of Bible Study hours. As someone known for practical jokes, I’m hardly adverse to having fun at appropriate moments.

But when we use fun as an evangelism tool, and especially when we blur the lines between Christians and the world, we tend to obscure the Gospel. After all, the call to repentance can’t be slipped in between funny stories or during a game of Pictionary if we expect non-Christians to take their sin seriously.

Churches must preach the Word, even if so doing makes people uncomfortable. In fact, we want people to feel uncomfortable about their sin in hopes that they will then desire the Savior. Preaching a compromised gospel that elevates human comfort over the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ may fill churches, but it won’t save souls.

Saturday Sampler: February 26 — March 4

Tom, author of excatholic4christ, has found a free online course out of Southern Baptist Seminary that has him extremely excited. In Back to School: Essentials of Catholic Theology — Introduction, he gives an overview of the course, tells us how to access it and promises weekly summaries of each lecture. Most evangelicals know little about what Roman Catholicism really teaches, making the course an invaluable resource.

Responding to some Dusty Comments from a non-Christian on social media, Jason Whitaker uses his Dear Woke Christian blog to explain why the Bible is an adequate tool for defending the truth of Christianity. It’s a very short post, but it definitely packs a punch.

Evaluating A saying that sounds pious but isn’t — “Let Go and Let God”, Elizabeth Prata draws on her past experience as an investigative journalist to show a variety of credible sources that refute the motto as unbiblical. Her blog, The End Time, is a wonderful resource for learning discernment skills. This essay is a shining example of how and why Christians must develop discernment.

Most articles about dressing modestly tend to lay out firm guidelines, which may be helpful. But Michelle Lesley takes a different approach in The Mailbag: Is It OK for Christian Women to Wear Bikinis? Rules, she reminds us, lead to legalism. As an alternative, she walks us through Philippians 2:3-8 to help us check our hearts as we decide how to dress.

Does Jesus Love Me? To answer that question, Keith Evans begins his post for Gentle Reformation with some remarks about the wrong assumptions that cause us to wonder about God’s love. From there, he takes us to the Scriptures that prove His love for us, liberating us from all doubt. If you struggle to find assurance that Jesus loves you, please don’t neglect this one!

Let’s visit Michelle Lesley again as she launches her Bible Study on discernment. Choose What Is Right: A Study in Discernment — Lessen 1 — Introduction gives very flexible guidelines for using this study and then gets us thinking about what Biblical discernment entails. I’m certainly intrigued! Please remember that her studies are for ladies only.

Henry Anderson joins The Cripplegate team to write some thoughts on Life and Death based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We need this reminder.

Commenting on the inconsistencies of most atheists, Aliens and Pilgrims author Jacob Crouch writes that he’s Shocked by Surprise as he watches their outrage over various moral injustices. I only wish he hadn’t described the world as broken instead of rebellious and sinful, but maybe that’s a minor quibble on my part. Certainly, his main point deserves attention. It might be useful if you witness to atheists.

I May Never See Boston Again

Growing old, as my mother once said, isn’t for the faint of heart. And as I approach my 70th birthday, I can’t decide whether I’m too old to be crippled or too crippled to be old. 🙂 Either way, the combination doesn’t appeal to me.

At the end of 2020, I fractured my back for the third time. The other two times, I’d recovered fairly quickly, and even enjoyed day trips into Boston until September of 2019. In 2020, an acute bout with anemia and malnutrition left me unable (and frankly, uninterested) in going to Boston, but I looked forward to taking my new, easier to drive power wheelchair into the city. I imagined jetting up the Rose Kennedy Greenway or tooling down Boyleston Street without the struggle that my previous chair caused. Sadly however, trouble with Personal Care Attendants just as my back fracture was healing kept me in bed much longer than I would have otherwise stayed down. As a result, my back muscles have become weak, and driving is sometimes painful.

At this point, I don’t see myself even returning to church (although John and I remain members in good standing and stay accountable through an elder who comes each Friday to lead us in Bible Study). Those cherished excursions to Boston are therefore entirely out of the question! After all, fellowship is infinitely more important than sitting on Boston Common watching tourists or going to the North End for cannolis. Slowly, I’ve accepted that I may never see Boston again.

And it’s all right.

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Does The Bible Say That We Should Evaluate Popular Teachings And Trends?

I recently shared a post on Facebook that a friend of mine wrote. He wrote about some current evangelical movements, commenting that such things capture the attention of people who prefer emotionalism and experiences to studying the Bible. He stated flat out that most people jump on these bandwagons because, whether they admit it or not, they don’t truly believe that Scripture is sufficient.

Predictably, several of my friends, rather than engaging with the matter of Scripture’s sufficiency, began defending the most prominent of the three examples he mentioned, accusing critics of that particular example of fearing an actual move of the Holy Spirit. Never mind that neither my friend nor I definitely condemned that specific movement. We questioned it, certainly, and said it should be evaluated against Scripture. And my friend did say that he believes people are more attracted to these things than they are to the hard work of Bible Study. But his Facebook post was not about that singular issue. Our critics completely overlooked the primary message in favor of defending a popular trend.

Additionally, the majority of our critics equated questioning popular trends with judging the hearts of people caught up in those trends. A few pointedly demanded to know where Scripture gives us the right to question anything that might be the work of the Holy Spirit.

That demand is fair. Maybe a bit ironic, given their resistance (and sometimes outright indignation) toward the idea of evaluating what they see as God’s activity — but fair. We should give Biblical reasons for holding popular trends up to the measuring rod of God’s Word.

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Saturday Sampler: February 19 — February 25

Praise the Lord for His compassion! Tim Challies, reflecting on a conversation he had with a friend from another religion, writes Daddy, I Need You to celebrate the kindness and love of our gracious Father in heaven.

For some Biblical thoughts on Asbury, Revival and Discernment, look to Michelle Lesley. After laying out strong principles for evaluating things of this nature, Michelle walks us through several elements of this event. You may disagree with some of her points, but I’d challenge you to hold up your opinions against God’s Word. Whatever else, Asbury certainly provides us with a great opportunity to develop discernment skills.

100 years ago, J. Gresham Machen published his seminal work entitled Christianity and Liberalism, which is available on Kindle. In Liberal Christians: A hundred-year oxymoron, Nathan Eshalman reviews this book as a commentary on 21st Century evangelicals. Apparently, we’d learned nothing from Machen.

How does A Present, Perpetual, Personal Revival sound? It would be a lot less expensive than traveling to Kentucky, and it would never have to end! Jacob Crouch of Aliens and Pilgrims offers three simple steps to this type of revival. And this type of revival will — I guarantee it — bear real fruit that honors the Lord Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth Prata, author of The End Time, is best known for her essays on discernment. But her Worship Interlude: Praising a sovereign Savior shows a more poetic side of her. More importantly. it directs our attention to the Lord and His intimate care for His creation.

Sigh! It’s that time of year again when people think they can please God by giving up bad habits or pleasurable treats for 40 days. Beginning with the idea of giving up Lent itself, Michelle Lesley lists 40 Things to Give Up for Lent. I knew she publishes this article every year. But Protestants continue to observe the season, forgetting that we find our security in Christ alone. For Ash Wednesday, I ate chocolate cake!

Having been saved through the Jesus Movement in 1971, I was interested to read The Jesus Revolution? by Taigen Joos on the G3 Ministries Blog. I believe his allegation that converts in that movement merely added Jesus to their lifestyles of drug abuse and sexual immorality is a misrepresentation, but otherwise I think the article accurately portrays what happened. I commend Joos for acknowledging that some of the conversions were authentic.

On his blog, Theology & Life, Blake Long assures us that God Hears our Prayers by taking us through Scripture. He also wants shows us why consistent Bible intake is absolutely essential for real communication with the Lord.

Let’s enjoy a second helping of Elizabeth Prata, this time as she answers a reader who asks Is it OK for Christians to be vegetarian/vegan? She examines all sides of the question, carefully drawing on Scripture before making a final conclusion.

The Little Word That Doesn’t Seem All That Important

The apostle Paul sometimes does interesting things. Titus 2:5 has me scratching my head and feeling a bit amused at his order of words. Look again at Titus 2:3-5, and then I’ll show you what has me so befuddled.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (NASB95)

Right between “workers at home” and “being subject to their own husbands,” he puts the word “kind.” Wouldn’t submission to husbands better follow being a homemaker? And if we read Titus 2:5 through a 21st Century lens, the insertion of this little word seems even more out of place.

And yet, I don’t think many people find it very startling. Actually, I don’t think many people even notice its presence at all. We’re too busy arguing about the other two phrases and their practical implications that we barely notice that older women must teach younger women to be kind. After all, in our English translations it’s such a small, unassuming word that nothing about it commands our attention. I only really noticed it because I’m blogging through Titus 2:3-5 and therefore knew that I’d have to deal with it.

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How Influential Are You?

A reader on The Outspoken TULIP Facebook page suggested an article on how we might influence the church culture, especially when so many are compromising God’s Word. Her suggestions intrigued me. I also see declining fidelity to Scripture in most churches as well as among Christians on social media, and catch myself thinking that, if only this blog would go viral, evangelicals would straighten up and fly right.

It’s easy to imagine ourselves as modern day reformers, isn’t it? Initially, those imaginings come from right motives. Most of the work by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli (as well as lesser known 16th Century Reformers) to restore Scripture as the authority for everything in Christian life has long since been corrupted by worldly philosophies and practices. As we look at the way God worked through them, we find ourselves thinking that perhaps He’ll do similar things through us. We hate seeing people fall into deception, and we hate the deceptions that pull them away from pure devotion to Christ. Naturally we long for God to use us in restoring people to Himself.

But frequently our zeal for purity within His church lulls us into believing that we have the ability to influence our local churches and/or the evangelical world at large, If discernment bloggers would just give us the magic key, we could unlock the Spirit’s power and transform Christian culture. Or so we think.

So John and I once thought.

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Saturday Sampler: February 12 — February 18

In Why Modern Dating Is So Difficult, Tim Challies walks us through several changes in Western culture that influence even Christian singles. Pastors, parents and older Christians who mentor singles need to understand these pressures even as we stand firm on Scripture and God’s design for human sexuality.

For far too many years, I subscribed to Christianity Today magazine. But about 25 years ago I began understanding that it had a liberal bent — both politically and theologically. Evidently it’s grown worse since I’ve stopped reading it. Pastor Gabriel Hughes, writing in The Majesty’s Men, confirms this suspicion in What Does Christianity Today Believe the Bible Says About LBGTQ? While I don’t think I should accept everything Pastor Gabe alleges in this piece, I love his example of loving and respectful confrontation. For that reason, I’m sharing his post here.

Are any of you ladies skilled at photo editing? If so, Michelle Lesley is launching her New Bible Study Kickoff and Title Pic Contest for this spring. I’m considering giving it a try. If any of you have such inclinations, perhaps you might enjoy the creative challenge. The upcoming study on learning discernment from the book of Job sounds intriguing too!

Tom, at excatholic4christ, takes us into a little art history to discuss A Revealing anti-Protestant sculpture in the heart of Rome. Did I cut my Baroque art history class in college the day my professor went over that sculpture (I actually did cut that class a lot) or did its meaning go right over my head? Either way, I appreciate Tom’s analysis of it, and grieve that the Roman Catholic Church took such a violent view of the Reformers.

What do Cake and Truth have in common? If I answer that question, you might not read Leslie A’s Growing 4 Life blog post. And I really don’t want you to miss out on her wisdom!

A lot of talk online has been going on about about the supposed revival at Asbury University in Kentucky, with the usual heated opinions on both sides. Jordan Standrige, in The Cripplegate, writes Why It’s Good to be Skeptical of the Asbury Revival in an effort to encourage careful evaluation of this event. He never denies that God could be doing a genuine work at the campus, but he raises some important questions that we all should be asking. And he demonstrates why Christians should exercise some skepticism when things of this nature occur.

In his post for the G3 Ministries Blog, Nathaniel Jolly asks What’s the Big Deal About False Teachers? Of course, he answers that question, using the epistle of Jude to explain the devastating effects of of false teachers on Christians. He closes (still drawing from Jude) by listing three ways of ministering to people who have been influenced by false teachers. Even if you feel educated on this topic, I strongly urge you to read this piece as a refresher course.

Short Thoughts On Asbury

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard at least a little about the so-called revival at Asbury University in Kentucky. I haven’t done extensive research into the matter, and I probably won’t. But I’ve heard enough about it to know people on both sides of the controversy ought to step back and take a wait-and-see attitude.

This so-called revival, we should note, started with students feeling convicted by a message given during a mandatory chapel service. Apparently, they remained in the chapel singing, confessing sin, crying and repenting, and have continued flooding the chapel with spontaneous worship for two weeks now. Other people have, as a response, flocked to Asbury in hopes of participating in the blessing.

Could this event truly be a work of the Holy Spirit? Possibly. I think we’d be foolish to rule it out. If it really is His work, however, we won’t know that it for a few years as we see whether or not its effects last. I remember several supposed revivals in the 1990s that have long been forgotten. Friends of mine who passionately supported those revivals haven’t matured much in the faith since then, and a few no longer walk with the Lord. Clearly, fruit takes time to develop. If Asbury is experiencing a true revival, its fruit will last and even ripen.

My skepticism comes largely from the fact that college kids initiated this revival. I remember being a college kid, and getting swept up in a plot to “reform” the administration. Though I don’t recall most of our grievances, at the time a group of us passionately believed we needed to address wrong policies. Since the ringleader happened to be the editor of the campus newspaper, we devoted an entire issue to exposing the perceived infractions of the president and deans.

Our rebellion ran on emotion. As I recollect, none of us had much interest in actually discussing matters with the administration. We just wanted to feel the power of changing things. The editor kept our emotions whipped up as we plotted our attack. Those emotions carried us through a full month, making me wonder how any of us maintained our grades. Looking back, I can see that we were enjoying the emotional high of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

Obviously, the students at Asbury aren’t fomenting a rebellion; their administration completely supports this alleged revival. But, like the college gang I was in, they appear to be caught up in something bigger than themselves. Having been through my college episode, I can testify to the heady feelings that accompany such an experience.

I may be mistaken in comparing Asbury to our little rebellion. On the other hand, maybe we should consider the likelihood that the emotions of enthusiastic kids could be driving this thing. Perhaps I’m wrong. Let’s just wait and see what kind of fruit it bears.

A Wheelstroke Closer

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve decided to reprise the following article about my early courtship with John, first published April 4, 2016. An earlier article told how John and I met online, an important detail in understanding this article.

First visit with John

Since neither of us can walk, John wanted to take our relationship “one wheelstroke at a time.” Easy for him to say, since he had been living in the Greater Boston Area pretty much all his life. He knew, of course, that I’d moved back to San  Rafael, California just a few short months before we first chatted online, but he had no idea that my interest in a future with him required me to put off major life decisions until  either he proposed or we broke up.

John’s Polio had affected his breathing, making plane travel unwise (and probably dangerous) for him. Consequently, I would have to make all the visits, as well as be the one to move if we married. For that reason, the course of our relationship would affect my future more dramatically than it would affect his. This being the case, I felt an urgency about our future that wanted a faster progression of “wheelstrokes” than John seemed willing to make. In addition to my own eagerness (after all, I was in my mid-40s), I felt pressure from other people to make decisions about my life.

Most notably,  a family member had legitimate concerns about my mom’s ability to care for me in her advancing age. She threatened to find a nursing home for me if I didn’t make an effort to procure a new living situation. Thankfully, I convinced her to wait until we knew what would happen with John. That decision, along with other major decisions, had to stay on hold.

I did, however, begin teaching the Junior High Sunday School class at Church of the Open Door, knowing that it could be a temporary ministry while I waited. I thought it might teach me to control my temper (it didn’t), and the church really  needed teachers for that age group. Other than teaching that class once every three Sundays,  I tried to minimize my attachment to San  Rafael…just in case the Lord brought me and John together.

But John made a significant “wheelstroke” on March 31, 1999 by telling me that he loved me. Not long afterwards, we began making plans for my first visit.

Knowing that we believed we loved each other didn’t assure me that we’d feel the same when we   met face-to-face. Nor did it mean that the Lord wanted us to marry. To further complicate matters (at least from my perspective), a former girlfriend of John’s contacted him as she was dying of cancer. Remembering how my feelings for Bob intensified after he died, I feared that this lady’s death would have a similar effect on John. So I tried to approach my upcoming visit with the attitude that God might use it to show us that He wanted us to just be friends.

Often, when I struggled with confusion and frustration over John, I’d drive my power wheelchair around Terra Linda and pour out my feelings to the Lord. I remember one afternoon when I sat in a secluded little park (a favorite of mine, even though I seldom got to go there) and prayed. I comforted myself with the thought that, even if things with John didn’t work out, the Lord would have blessed me with the opportunity to see Boston.

When John greeted me at Logan Airport that October evening by kissing my hand, I knew it wouldn’t be our last visit. He, on the other hand,  had such difficulty feeding me (selfishly, I’d asked him to do it from my left) that he went home from  my hotel sorrowful that he saw no way of making a marriage with me work.

For my first full day that visit, John planned a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts followed by a lobster dinner in the Oak Room at the Copley Fairmont Hotel. He’d known that I spent the night of my Senior Prom studying Macbeth, so he wanted to make it up to me. Therefore he figured that, rather than spoil my “prom night.” he’d wait until the next day to break the news.

He hadn’t counted on our first in-person date confirming that he was in love.

The next day, before we had lunch with his mom and his pastor,  we kissed for the first time. Later that evening we had dinner at Wolleston Beach with our Personal Care Attendants, and at his church on Sunday I joined him in doing the Children’s Sermon.

Breaking up was the last thing on our minds when John and I said goodbye at Logan Airport that Monday. We’d taken a big “wheelstroke” in our relationship, trusting that the Lord Jesus Christ had plans for us. As yet, I wasn’t certain He had marriage in His will for us, but I sure had hope!