Saturday, March 3, 2018

How To Be A Church that Offends People Effectively!

JUDY AND I ARE in southern Arizona enjoying the dessert sun.  Last weekend we attended a Gospel Coalition/9Marks church in the local area. The people were sincere and kind. We were graciously and effectively greeted several times.

But the church exhibited an all-too-common problem. The church culture offended us, but there was nothing in the message that would have offended an unbeliever. God wants the local church to do the opposite. God wants the gospel to offend the pride of Believers and unbelievers, but he doesn't want the church culture to offend. In the case of this church, the result was predictable. There was no sense of gospel joy. The congregation was elderly. There were few young families. It was a dying church.

By church culture I mean its music, website, demographic, bulletin, PowerPoint slides, etc. Had I been a non-Christian visiting for the first time, I would have never gone back, and not because it lacked the "cool factor." I am sixty nine! So, what was so offensive?

First, the music. The songs were from a by-gone era. Old songs are not necessarily bad. Many are still relevant, but not these. The lyrics were saccharine, sweet, and sentimental. Of greatest concern, they had little to do with the biblical God or the gospel.

The musicians were not especially talented, but that was not a problem either. Many relevant worship teams are not especially talented. It was the choice of songs, and the lack of congregational engagement.

One of the songs was the the theme from the movie, The Shack. The congregation wasn't liberal, nor would they have agreed with the theology of The Shack, but by using this song the leadership implied empathy with the movie and its message. At best it was confusing.

The second offense was the PowerPoint slides. Faded out behind the lyrics was the iconic picture of Jesus, with long wavy hair and a robe falling to the floor. He was knocking on the door. The whole experience said irrelevant, never mind the second commandment prohibition of images.

The last offense was the preaching. It was not offensive, and it should have been. Good preaching makes God big and people small. It confronts us with our sin and God's awesome mercy. It reminds us of our unworthiness and God's grace. We leave humbled, hopeful, and longing to worship the God who is now bigger than when we walked in the door. In biblical language, the sermon fills us with the fear of God, and where the fear of God is there is joy.

But that is not what happened. The preacher was organized and articulate, and, I am sure, very sincere. But the content was morality. The text was Micah chapter six. "And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8). The preacher exhorted us to try harder, to be moral. He missed an opportunity to remind us that God commands justice, mercy, and humility, but we can't do it consistently. We must look at Jesus! He did it, and now, because we believe the gospel, his perfections are imputed to us. Therefore, throw we can seek to obey. We can seek to do justice. We can love kindness, and walk humbly with God. And, when we fail, there is a river of mercy and grace flowing from the throne of God.

I longed for him to turn my attention from myself, and my failures, to Christ and his all sufficiency. I didn't want to leave discouraged by my inadequacy, but encouraged by God's grace trying even harder to lead a life pleasing to him.

So, how about you and your church? What offends, the gospel, or your culture? God wants it to be the former, and when it is, God's joy will permeate your congregation. People will spontaneously give. They will reach out to the lost in the pew next to them. Your church will gain a reputation for friendliness, joy, and cheerfulness.

That is how God wants us to offend, not with our culture, but with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Who Is Responsible for the Mass Shootings?

TRAGICALLY SEVENTEEN TEENS died in a Florida High School shooting last week. Mass shootings in High Schools are happening so consistently that the nation is approaching a state of panic. 

What is the solution? Gun control? Weaponizing teachers? The solution to any problem is usually dependent on a thorough analysis of the cause. So, if we can isolate the cause of the mass murders we can provide an appropriate solution. 

We know there is a cause because in the last two decades something has changed. Mass shootings were almost non-existent in the fifties and sixties, but in the late sixties they began to occur, and since then with increasing frequency. 

What changed during those decades was the family. It has increasingly broken down. The retreat of fatherhood is the seismic shift of greatest significance. About 35% of our youth now grow up away from their biological father. The causes of this change are multiple, but I want to focus on the two most prominent, the sexual revolution and the emergence of an aggressive, militant feminism. 

In 1960, before neither the sexual revolution or feminism existed, only 5% of live births were to unwed mothers, and since many of those mothers eventually married their child's father, fewer than 5% grew up apart from their dad. 

The sexual revolution changed all of this. It decoupled sex from marriage and family. Sex became just another "recreational activity." In his book, Cheap Sex, sociologist Mark Regnerus makes the point that women are the "gate keepers" of sex. They decide when, or if, a man can have sex. In previous generations, men had to give something up to gain access to this privelege. They had to make a life commitment. It inevitably followed that men were motivated to marry. Not today! Sex is easy and free. It requires no commitment. Therefore, men are reluctant to marry. As my father used to say, "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" 

In addition, because it prioritized career over marriage and family, feminism decreased the motive for female marriage. With the advent of the pill, women could now enjoy casual sex with no constraints on their career. Thus feminism also added fuel to the sexual revolution. 

In the mid-seventies, as these two movements were gathering steam, George Gilder predicted the decline in marriage that is now occurring. Why marry a woman who brings home the bacon, serves in the National Guard, and rules the household? What does a man have to offer? What is his function? He is just a useless appendage. The result is predictable. Men are fleeing marriage. 

Fifty years later the familial foundations have crumbled. In a recent Fox News article, Suzanne Venker pointed out that every mass killer in recent years, with one exception, grew up without the influence of his biological father. Here is the problem. Fathers are desperately needed. Fathers socialize boys. They tame and channel the testosterone-induced aggression that every young man feels at puberty. Fathers transform that God-given aggression into a socially productive force. 

But when fathers are absent the opposite happens. As University of Virginia Professor Brad Wilcox pointed out back in 2013: "Nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s list of U.S. school attacks’ involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.”[1]

Fatherlessness is the root of many of our other social problems. "70% of juvenile offenders came from single mother homes (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988). 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (Center for Disease Control). 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools).”[1]

In light of these facts, is it unfair to blame the mass shootings on feminism and the sexual revolution? I don't think so. And, if these two movements are the cause, then the only solution is national repentance. If the problem is moral and spiritual, so is the solution. 

Of course, this analysis is problematic. Feminism and the Sexual Revolution are two holy grails of contemporary culture. We will never put the blame where it belongs. Without some unforeseen catastrophe, or a great outpouring of God's Spirit, feminism and the sexual revolution will not be repented of. 

As always your comments are greatly valued. 

[1] Adams, Steven (2013-12-05). Women First, Men Last: Feminism's War On Men and Its Devastating Effects (Kindle Locations 2592-2594). Steven Adams. Kindle Edition.