18 December 2013

Has Phil Robertson Crossed the Line?

That sound you heard this morning was the heads of journalists exploding as they read the GQ interview with Phil Robertson right before they dashed off to their computers to tell America of the unbelievable, anti-gay remarks Robertson candidly made.  GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) was quick to respond with what you would expect - with a mixture of outrage, misconception of Christian belief and biblical ignorance.

A spokesman from GLAAD stated, "Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe...Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to examine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families."

In the full interview (which I have read) the GQ writer Drew Magary visited with the Robertsons in their home place in Monroe, LA.  He spent the day in Phil's home and out riding in an ATV around the property while they talked.  Magary was perplexed by Phil and his family.  He was taken back by how much Phil genuinely wanted to talk about Jesus and how real his religion was to him.  He was also astonished at his lack of political correctness on the topic of homosexuality.  But this foul-mouthed (or writing) journalist did have this to say about Phil: "He is welcoming and gracious.  He is a man who preaches the gospel of the outdoors and, to my great envy, practices what he preaches."

Magary easily got Phil to reveal his thoughts on homosexuality.  I think one could question Phil's judgment is the overly earthy language he used to make his point, but that just seems to be who he is.  He puts things in such a way that it makes you listen, whether you're aghast or appreciative.

Here is the main quotes that are causing spastic fits among gay activists:

"It seems like, to me, a vagina -as a man- would be more desirable than a man's anus.  That's just me. I'm thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes!  You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man.  It's just not logical."

Or how about this one?

"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.  Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men...Don't be deceived.  Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers - they won't inherit the kingdom of God.  Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."

To give Magary some credit on the interview, he did also include this quote: "We never, ever judge someone on who's going to heaven, hell.  That's the Almighty's job. We just love 'em, give 'em the good news about Jesus - whether they're homosexual, drunks, terrorists.  We let God sort 'em out later, you see what I'm saying?"

Well, with ammunition like this for GLAAD and others to fire out to the LGBT community, the Robertson family and A&E are going to have to decide to retract and apologize or resist and ignore. 

While GLAAD will describe Phil as using "vile stereotypes" to describe the LGBT community, I find it hard to argue with the logistics of gay sex Phil so vividly reminded us of.  It just doesn't sound so great when he puts it so bluntly. 

So, has Phil Robertson finally crossed the line?  I got to be honest, I reacted with a bit of a cringe on reading the article in GQ, thinking to myself something like, "Really Phil, did you have to go there and say that? Couldn't you have made your point a little more diplomatically?"  However, as a Bible believing Christian, it's impossible to refute the substance of his critique of homosexuality.  As I have stated before, Bible believing Christians are constrained to condemn homosexual behavior because God's Word does.  It's really pretty simple from a Bible believing Christian's point of view.  It's just not popular among non-Christians and among so many self-proclaimed cultural Christians.  Actually, it's down right offensive to the homosexual community and those who support it.

We'll see where this goes for the Robertsons.  My guess is Phil doesn't give a squirrel's tail what anyone thinks or if A&E even cancels the show.  It should be obvious to all that this backwoods, red state, duck hunting, southern Christian really believes what the Bible teaches about homosexuality and if asked a direct question will give you a straight answer. 

It will be interesting if he is afforded the same tolerance to hold his beliefs publicly that those are vilifying him desire for themselves.  Probably not.        

06 December 2013

A Must Read for Pastors

By the providence of God I attended a pastor's retreat sponsored by my association of churches.  A pastor from a town about an hour away from where I live came and conducted the devotional times we shared together.  He over viewed some of the basic ideas in a book he gave to us provided by my denomination's North American Mission Board.  I just finished the book, of which I had not heard of, and I have been devastated by it.  The book is entitled Dangerous Calling (2012) and it's content hit me square between the eyes and cut me to my core.  I didn't just merely find myself tritely encouraged by it, but guilty through identification with much of it.  I must confess that I saw myself engaged in much of the behavior, attitude, and thinking described in it's pages.  It has worked a wonderful grief over my own pride within me.  For this I am grateful. 

The author, Paul David Tripp, of whom I know nothing about, writes from his own experience and candidness about the unique challenges of vocational ministry.  He has lived and thought deeply about the struggles with which pastors secretly wrestle.  He cuts right through to the reality and dangers of pride and duplicity in ministry and so many other issues that threaten to incapacitate a pastor from inside his own soul. 

To my pastor friends, I highly recommend Dangerous Calling to you.  Going into it, I didn't feel particularly overwhelmed by ministry or discouraged to the point of crisis, but while reading it I could see that I am standing too close to some dangerous cliffs.  If you are in a time of crisis in your ministry or marriage or both and you feel stuck, confused and angry, then get this book as quick as you can and move it to the top of your reading list.  Even if you feel like everything is going just fine, I believe God can use it to bring a fresh perspective to your calling that you may not even realize you need.           

03 December 2013

Moving the Church Foward Faithfully

As a pastor I am constantly considering how faithfully to move the church God has entrusted to my leadership forward.  How can I lead a congregation in need of revitalization and renewal from where it is to where it needs to be?  If you're like me and so many other pastors, you labor within a church that needs desperately to move forward faithfully and attempt greater things for God.  However, you probably encounter the same apathy and contentment with mediocrity that all churches in need of revitalization possess.  You may be in a ministry context that is so mired in complacency and compromise that you don't know where to begin.  I feel your pain, but I believe there is always hope for Christ's churches.  That hope is found in what we call revival.  I don't mean revival services, but true revival of the soul of a church when enough individuals of the congregation collectively become the spiritual critical mass necessary to unleash real revitalization and bring revival to the ministry of the church.

Genuine revival is the work of God.  By the Spirit of God, conviction over the sins of worldliness, selfishness, and complacency take hold of the people of God bringing them to genuine repentance.  This repentance in turn leads them to authentic and grateful worship and sacrificial service.  This turning to God-honoring and focused worship and true service revitalizes the ministry of the church with renewed enthusiasm for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And this revived commitment to ministry fosters a refreshed fellowship centered on the right things.  This is what I earnestly desire for First Baptist Hazard.  I bet you want this for your church too.

Even though I know that ultimately revival is the work of God, I know that God mysteriously uses people, particularly his called-out leaders, to lead revival and renewal.  This is not a contradiction, but a marvelous mystery of His providence.  Therefore, my job is not merely to pray and wait, but to pray and lead.  This still begs the question:  How do I prayerfully lead the church forward faithfully?

The first matter to settle is what I want to lead the church toward.  I must first be wise and biblically faithful about what I set up as the target.  I can't buy into the idea that I can just shoot at any target.  It's not simply about hitting a target; it's about hitting the right target.

The target I want to set up for the church is one that is Gospel-centered, disciple-making, and service-oriented.  The Word of God (i.e. the Gospel) should always be the focus of worship and teaching.  I should desire for my flock to love God's Word and be passionate about the Gospel.  I should desire to see my flock become mature disciples of Christ in both their knowledge of His Word and how they live.  I should expect that if my flock is healthy in Christ, they will give sacrificially and generously of their money, time and effort to demonstrate compassion for others needs and the sharing of the Gospel locally and globally.  I believe that this is the right place to desire to lead the church.  I think this is faithful to God's commission for His church.  Notice, this has nothing to do with simply getting bigger. 

However, I am still left to figure out how to hit the target.  If I know where I need to lead the church, it does me little good if I don't know how to get her there.  My target must be faithful and my methods must also be faithful.  What can I do to move the church forward faithfully?

First, biblical literacy must increase.  The best overall strategy for this is expository preaching and discipleship classes and small groups that focus on the learning the biblical content.  People can't live the Bible when they remain functionally ignorant of its contents and have gross misconceptions of what's in it.  Learning the Bible needs to begin in earnest with our children.  Churches need to utilize curriculum that effectively gets kids familiar with biblical content.  The Gospel Project is excellent material for age-graded small groups and well-run Awana Clubs are good choices for this goal.  Youth ministry has to be Word-focused - the Gospel contained in the Word of God truly transforms young people and gives them a faith that sticks.  I'm still trying to strategize greater ways to create more opportunity for people to simply learn the Bible.
Second, expectations of leaders must increase.  Pastors need to lovingly, wisely, firmly and determinedly expect more of lay leaders.  The pastor and staff are just the tip of the spear in regards to leadership for the church.  It's takes numerous lay-leaders to come along side the paid pastors to create a healthy ministry.  The deacons or elders are critical spiritual leadership for the congregation.  These men must be held to a high standard of Christian living and commitment to the Gospel.  They are charged with the spiritual care of the congregation and to be the example of Christian faithfulness.  Directors, team leaders, committee chairs, teachers and others who hold positions of leadership need to be held accountable for the responsibility that has been entrusted to them.  Over time a culture of expectation for leaders needs to emerge as normal.  This does not mean that leaders are those who have spiritually arrived and no longer need grace.  Just the contrary.  Leaders should be those (including the pastor) who exhibit a clear, humble dependence on grace, awe of God, and boldness in the power of God and not themselves.  Leaders have to grow and mature in that grace.  The church should be a safe place for leaders to make mistakes and not get beat up for it.  However, leaders should be committed to grow personally, give the time necessary to lead, earnestly seek God as they lead, and know that they set the example for others.     

Third, a reasonable and rightly-focused plan must be pursued.  It is not a spiritual thing to not have a plan; it is not a guarantee for success simply because you have a plan.  Total dependence on God is always primary.  I must pursue ministry leadership with a humility and personal neediness that makes much of God and His grace and provision and little of my own ability.  However, God has called me to lead. Therefore, God has called me to make decisions about matters.  And if God has called me to make decisions, then he has called me to be intentional about moving the church forward and not to be haphazard about it.  And if God has called me to be intentional about leading the church, then he has called me to have a plan.  However, this plan does not have to come completely from me.  The Bible directs us toward the wisdom of counselors and collaboration.  Other leaders in the church need to help prayerfully develop, buy into, and implement the plan.  The plan must be faithful to Scripture and conform to the purpose of the church.  The plan is just a tool that will be retooled periodically for greater faithfulness and effectiveness.  The plan is not the goal, but it is the method for reaching the goal - a healthy, faithful church.     

Fourth, a commitment to prayer and patience must remain strong.  It is easy to get busy with the business of ministry and forget to feed the soul with prayer and personal devotion.  This can be particularly easy for us pastors if we are not careful.  The subtle slide into self-sufficiency in all our ministry tasks is toxic to our souls.  Leaders, beginning with pastors, must nurture a vibrant personal faith walk with Christ and allow that to flow into all those ministry tasks.  The congregation must always be reminded of the importance of prayer and given opportunities to gather corporately to that singular purpose.  Leadership teams must always remember that their effective leadership is grounded in a commitment to prayer as they plan and strategize ministry. Additionally, leaders and congregations must exercise patience.  Patience in ministry is not despairing, panicking, or allowing fear to hurry you into bad decisions.  Patience is not complacency.  Patience is the ability to treat one another graciously even when our efforts come up short of what we hope.  Patience is celebrating the small things.  Patience is demonstrating a rock solid faith in the Lord as you work in the ministry and wait on Him.  Patience is staying on course and doing the hard work of lovingly confronting compromise and while encouraging greater faithfulness.  Above all, patience is love because we are told love is patient. 

Fifth, an abiding sense of dependence on God must prevail.  I've already hinted at this, but I want to emphasize it here.  Moving the church forward faithfully ultimately and totally depends on the power of God working in people's lives (including mine) in transformative ways.  The key word here is faithfully.  There are big movements and huge church growth experiences that are not necessarily faithful.  In the end those movements have been manufactured with gimmicks, marketing, and strategies that undermine the Gospel rather that lift it up.  Sometimes those methods appeal to the self-centeredness that the Gospel has come to eradicate.  Many times it seems we are building our own little kingdoms, rather than focusing on the dynamics of His kingdom.  As I attempt to lead the church to revitalization I must never forget that I desperately need God and He doesn't need me.  I'm a servant in a position of leadership of others yet always under the One who made me and saved me.  My calling is to be faithful to Him personally, dependent on His grace always for all things, to love His church, to point people to Christ, and work for His glory.

So many churches need revitalization.  My hope is that I and other pastors will be the leaders God has called us to be by moving churches forward, but only in a way that is faithful to the Gospel with which we have been entrusted.

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