Life Christian Center – Resurrection Reality Teaching Series: 

So far we’ve covered…

4/8: Resurrecting Right Relationships in a World of Relationship Destroyers

4/15: Resurrecting Truth & Honesty in a World of Cheats & Liars

Continuing this Sunday…

4/22: Resurrecting God’s Sexual Ideals in a World of Sexual Idols

4/29: Resurrecting Personal Peace in a World of Pain & Abuse (This is also BLUE SUNDAY – Day of Prayer and testimonies for all physically abused or molested as minors)

5/6: Resurrecting Respect in a World of Murder & Apathy (…especially relevant as the bullets have been really flying around Salinas lately)

I hope to see all from Salinas and the outlying areas join us at 1327 E. Alisal St., Salinas, Sundays at 10AM as we continue our after-Easter resurrection theme.

LCCers, please keep inviting those you know who want to wrap their brains around the impact God and the Bible can truly have concerning some of the most crucial real life issues we face in our world today.   – James 1:21

 

PS: Blogpost likely forthcoming to address the recent number of high profile Salinas public school authorities involved in molestation of students, child pornography, public promotion of antibiblical indoctrination (including tomorrow’s day of silence to promote the normalcy of homosexuality), as well as the overall indifference shown within the community (including the general parental response).  Stay tuned…

 

Quick reminders:

1. Set clocks ahead an hour on Saturday as Daylight Savings Time begins. (2 hours ahead if you live in Salinas:)

2. 3/11 Topic @ LCC @
10am in our Hard Questions Series = “What’s the big deal with getting drunk, high, or laid (outside marriage) – especially if you’re not hurting anyone?” [or at least nobody but yourself- maybe]

This is not a HQ that is making a cheap attempt at “relevance.” This is a major barrier for many – something I saw in a devastating manner among the youth of England when I was there in 1995. The conscience of the culture has changed dramatically in America as well in just a few generations.

It was questions like these that kept me from investigating God in my younger years- mainly out of a fear of what God might tell me and how it might affect every part of my life that mattered to me. Many people (like me 25 years ago) are honestly wondering about this but they really do not want an answer from Scripture because they deceive themselves into thinking that if they don’t know, they’re not responsible to do anything differently. Wrong. Plus, you may be surprised by God’s views and purposes when it comes to His kids having a good time. Come and see-

Posted: 03/08/2012 in Hard Questions

As an addendum to the Hard Questions series that I’m teaching at Life Christian Center of Salinas [this week’s question: “As long as I believe in God and I’m a good person, why should I bother going to church?” Subtitled: I believe in God, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”], I’ve added a commentary regarding the popular YouTube poem that has gone viral (I love Jesus, but hate religion).  I was given the video by a young man I invited to come investigate the claims of the Christian faith when I asked what he believed.  Since the video is approaching 20 million hits, and I have seen it used to rationalize blowing off church – I felt compelled to add my two cents to the already saturated market of religious commentary concerning this poem by 22-year-old Christian, Jefferson Bethke.  His email exchanges with Kevin DeYoung were very encouraging as they were an example of a zealous young man humbly admitting some errors and accepting kind correction from one older and wiser in the realities of Christian theology and history. You don’t need to agree with either of their theologies in total to appreciate the spirit of their exchange (which I linked at the end of my comments).

Meanwhile, Jeff has not removed it from YouTube nor repudiated it sufficiently in my opinion (and the potential damage it has already caused), and he has been on various news shows becoming a minor religious celebrity.  My intent is not to bash him, but to interact with the content of his words – a cultural issue that has directly impacted an evangelistic effort of mine.  DeYoung has already engaged him well enough.  He has certainly sparked much discussion, so I added my commentary for the benefit of our congregation in view of our teaching series and how the discussion dovetails with it.  I trust God will use this discussion that Jeff sparked to promote a greater digging of truth in all of us, and what he will believe and proclaim at 42 or 62 may prove to evolve positively.  Hopefully, he will use his abilities to point people to the Jesus of Scripture without undermining or harming the Christ-construct known as the church (even inadvertently).

Below I will comment on the lines of the poem from my perspective.

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?

  • Really?  How’d you come to that conclusion?  Especially since He perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses… which He gave to Moses since Jesus claimed to be the God who appeared to Moses in Exodus.  Jesus was against legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and man-made commandments being proclaimed as God’s requirements, but He was a practicing, religious Jew.
  • Jesus founded the Church. Please explain how Jesus came to build His church while abolishing religion?
  • We want to abolish false religion in ourselves while closely following Christ (which is an expression of… our religion)

What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t His mission? What if I told you republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian?

  • I would say you’re right because the Republican Party didn’t exist until the 1800s in America; therefore, this part of the poem is like saying driving a Honda wasn’t his mission – it’s nonsense.

And just because you call some people blind doesn’t automatically give you vision

  • True enough, but I don’t know what the point is since it isn’t explained.  Moving on…

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?

  • Religion doesn’t start wars, sinful people start wars.  An incredibly small percentage of wars were truly begun for supposedly religious reasons alone (most by Muslims, not strict Bible-believing Christians).  Should we hate and abolish every other contributing factor to wars – money, resources, desire, political ideology, boundaries, sovereignty, etc.?  What if a war is truly just?
  • God commanded Israel to go to war against sinful pagans who tempted and hurt His people and were blatantly immoral. Using Jeff’s logic, is God not great because He started some wars?

Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?

  • How many poor people did Jesus feed?  Occasional miracles in a pinch, but eliminating hunger wasn’t His mission – building the church was!  He said the poor you have with you always.
  • This is intellectually dishonest because it is mostly religious institutions (people in churches) that have given hundreds of billions to charity, built hospitals, served in soup kitchens, fought against evil in parts of the world that results in devastation/poverty/hunger.  Meanwhile, Jeff was baptized in & attends an 8000-member MEGACHURCH whose stated mission is to… plant churches (spread religion) – not to feed the poor! Should his church sell their properties and give the money to feed the poor?  Is Christ’s main purpose to help spiritual or physical hunger?

Tells single moms God doesn’t love them, if they’ve ever had a divorce

  • I am still waiting for the name of the first minister or Christian who has EVER said this.  It’s a lie.
  • I want to publicly proclaim God’s love for all single moms and divorcees, as evidenced at Calvary.

But in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores

  • Actually, God commanded His people to be religious according to His revealed Word and only called them whores when they left Him and His true religion and got involved in idolatry.

Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice

  • Actually, only Biblical Christianity preaches salvation by grace – not Islam, not Judaism, not Buddhism, not Hinduism, not Wicca, not Mormonism, not Jehovah’s WItnesses, or anything else.
  • As individual Christians we may fail to practice living out the grace we claim to believe, which would make us inconsistent and struggling against our sin (like Jeff claims he is) – or blatant hypocrites needing to repent.  This is just a talking point for unrepentant sinners to gobble up and rationalize their continuing rebellion against God.

Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist

  • Don’t be mean, and remember, JB preached at people to change their lives and do very specific things.

They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it; Not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket

  • Jesus preached this against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, so I agree that we cannot fix our own problems without God & His grace, but Jesus didn’t ever portray pure religion as casket perfume.

See the problem with religion is it never gets to the core; It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores

  • If you make religion a list of rules you need to follow in order to earn God’s favor or salvation, I agree it’s wrong.  How does using Christ’s power and Scriptural principles not get to the core?
  • Behavior modification? Jesus, John the Baptist, the apostles all demanded it = repentance.

Like lets dress up the outside make look nice and neat; But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath

  • Paraphrasing Jesus preaching against the Pharisees’ religion – I agree with Jeff on that here.

Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look

  • Yes, you is judgin’ – this is one big judgmental rant by a sincere but theologically confused young man that may be used by millions to bash the institution known as the church of Jesus Christ.
  • Jeff is right to call out religious fakery and hypocrisy – he is slamming those who lived as the devil this weekend but came to church Sunday like nothing’s wrong.  He’s advocating pure religion.

Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook

  • I agree 100%, though too many of us tend to come across more un-Christian on Facebook.

I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy; It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey

  • I’m with him here about living your faith (religion) consistently, but he’s contradicting himself.

You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me; Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography; See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded; Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted; See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness; But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness

  • If it’s not about behavior modification, why’d you give up porn, drugs, and fornication?  He’s arguing for living out a consistent religion that trusts in Christ & His Word while hating religion?
  • I support him for exposing the fact that church kids and adults can live such sinful lives, and I support his call for them to know Jesus instead of living hypocritical religious lives. True religion!

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean; It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken

  • Good stuff here.  But the grace-ocean church = organized religion, which he resents and hates?
  • Both hospitals and churches try to get broken people healthy and whole – using disciplined ways.

Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin; Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him

  • Agreed.  This is a true statement… if you believe in the religion known as Biblical Christianity!

See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan; He looked down and said I want, that, man

  • Good.  Actually some stuff we can support with that religion book known as the Bible! (Rom 5)

Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools

  • Book, chapter, verse? This may make people feel they’ve got Jesus’ blessing if they hate church.

Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules

  • By telling me all these things I should and ought to do – where believers need to change their beliefs and behaviors and hate religious rules – it sounds a lot like… preaching your religious rules!

Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes I believe in sin

  • Jesus + Church + Bible + belief in human sinfulness = RELIGION.  “Let me write a poem telling you how much I hate what I really love – and why you should really hate what I really love also?”

But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in

  • It’s His church, and He animates it 24/7.  And He’s the one who lets people in (Acts 2:47).

See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men; But the son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then

  • True enough.

Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention; How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum

  • Ummm… no, they’re not.  Even mocking atheists are kind enough to remind us of this fact.

See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention

  • No, One’s the Word of God, and if man invented religion – specifically Christianity – wasn’t it Jesus Christ – the God-man – who invented it?  Isn’t He the chief cornerstone of the faith?

See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection

  • So Jesus establishes His church (organized religion) to cure mankind from… religion?  I thought Jesus died on the cross for our sins (the real infection).

See because religion says do, Jesus says done

  • Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Jesus says, GO into all the world…MAKE DISCIPLES… BAPTIZE THEM… TEACH THEM TO DO ALL THAT I COMMANDED YOU…(Sounds like a lot of “doing” and a lot of “religion”) and then lo, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS.
  • Except for Philadelphia, Jesus had some pretty strong “do’s” for the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3!  Apparently things weren’t “done” according to Jesus.  Cornelius was told by an angel to have Peter tell him what to do.  The epistles have a lot of “do’s” too!

Religion says slave, Jesus says son; Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free; Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see; And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans

  • Religion says and does all this bad stuff?  Sin, Satan, self-justification, self-righteousness, even legalism may, but not the Christian faith of Scripture… you know, a religion started by Jesus.
  • The apostles self-identified as slaves of Christ more than sons. Is it possible we find a Father figure more appealing because it’s non-threatening, and we are accustomed to disrespecting and disregarding our earthly fathers.  Slaves of Christ sound a lot more serious… and apostolic.

Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man

  • Some religions are man’s search for God, and Christ came to earth to save man – but since Christianity is, by definition, a religion, Jeff contradicts himself by contrasting religion & Christianity

Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own; Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone; Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face; He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace; And while being murdered he yelled; “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”; Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you; And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb; Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room

  • Preach it.  The best content in the poem, and the most gospel-centered.  Of course, once someone believes this message and aligns his life by it, he is now engaging in the “r-word.”

So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it; Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it

  • I believe He meant it too. He fulfilled the righteous requirements of God’s Law, He took the cup of God’s wrath for the sins of humanity – successfully offering Himself as an acceptable sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, but I doubt Jesus meant, “It is finished… I’ve abolished religion!”
  • Hate religion?  Resent it?  To paraphrase Jewish commentator, Dennis Prager, I’d ask Jeff this:  “If you found yourself walking alone late at night in a dark alley in south-central Los Angeles – and were suddenly approached by a dozen young men – would it make you feel any better if you knew they were coming from a Christian Bible study?”  If so, I guess you don’t hate religion that much!

To see the exchange between DeYoung and Bethke click here.

Post Script:  Though I do not ascribe to much of Lutheran theology, I think this Lutheran’s link is a valuable rebuttal/balance to this recent cultural YouTube phenomenon:

1 Thessalonians 5:5-6 NIV

You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

This very, very part-time blog is primarily intended to connect with the saints of Salinas who attend Life Christian Center…

Consider… C. Britt Beemer – Former Senior Research Analyst for the Heritage Foundation.  Managed 14 senatorial campaigns, including the detailed research and strategic planning involved.  Founder and Senior Director of Research at America’s Research Group (ARG) which he founded in 1979.  Premier marketing strategist who has been cited by Wall Street Journal, NY Times, CNN, Fox News, and many other media outlets.  Beemer designed a detailed questionnaire, performed data analysis, and interpreted the results of a comprehensive survey of young adults raised with weekly attendance in various “conservative, Bible-believing” churches who have left church altogether.  Beemer examined the reasons and factors involved in young adults who leave Jesus Christ altogether versus those who leave church altogether while maintaining a basic belief in Jesus.  The results of his work are too vast for me to list in detail here, but some of his findings were shocking – especially to Beemer himself.

Beemer’s research has indicated that the overwhelming majority of those who ultimately left the faith were already gone before graduating college.  Roughly 11% surveyed reported giving up on God or the church as a result of what they were exposed to in their college-aged years.  The rest had already left in their hearts and minds before graduating high school – with the spike beginning in middle school and increasing in high school where over 80% of them reported being lost.  Roughly half were already gone in elementary school and middle school.  Beemer’s research shows that churches lose many more people by the end of middle school and many more by the end of high school than they ever will lose in college.  The difference is that by college or their 20s they can decide to stop attending church much easier than if still minors living at home.  Among those completely out of church by their 20s, 40% began doubting the truth of Scripture in middle school and 44% began doubting the truth of Scripture in high school.

WARNING about what they found next.  Beemer’s research also shows that:

Sunday school is actually more likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of our children.  Students who regularly attend Sunday school are actually

    1. More likely NOT to believe that all the accounts in the Bible are true
    2. More likely to defend that abortion should continue to be legal
    3. More likely to defend premarital sexual activity 
    4. More likely to accept that gay marriage should be legal
    5. More likely to believe God used evolution to change one kind of animal into to another
    6. More likely to view the Church as hypocritical
    7. Much more likely to have become anti-church through the years
    8. More likely to believe that “good people” don’t need to go to church

Quote from Beemer & Ham’s book:  “This was our most stunning and disconcerting result of the entire survey.  First, we found out that we were losing our kids in elementary school, middle school, and high school rather than in college.  Then we found out that Sunday school is one of the reasons why.  The “Sunday school syndrome” is contributing to the epidemic, rather than helping alleviate it.  These numbers are statistically significant and absolutely contrary to what we would expect.  This is a brutal wake-up call for the Church, showing how our programs and our approaches to Christian education are failing dismally…  You would naturally feel those who attended Sunday school would have deeper religious convictions.  However, we found the exact opposite… These results have come from the Christian education programs of the most dedicated, Scripture-affirming churches out there.”

The Barna Research Group discovered some interesting statistics in its polling.

  • Religious activity in the teen years does not translate into spiritual commitment as individuals move into their 20s and 30s as only 1 out of 4 spiritually active teenagers are maintaining a similar level of commitment into their 20s and 30s, while 3 out of 4 are “spiritually disengaged” – not attending church, reading their Bibles, or praying.
  • “It’s not entirely surprising that deep, lasting spiritual transformation rarely happens among teenagers – it’s hard work at any age, let alone with the distractions of youth.  And, since teenagers’ faith often mirrors the intensity of their parents’ (faith), youth workers face steep challenges because they are trying to impart something of spiritual significance that teenagers generally do not receive from home.”

Sociology professor, Christian Smith, conducted a massive study on youth and religion and published a book on his findings: He discovered (unsurprisingly) that school and media dominate the religious views of youth (therefore school and media are spiritual issues because of how they shape the worldview of youth).  As a result most kids – including churchgoing youth – end up with a religion that Smith calls MORALISTIC THERAPEUTIC DEISM (See article previously mentioned by Dr. Al Mohler: http://www.christianpost.com/news/moralistic-therapeutic-deism-the-new-american-religion-6266/)

Good news from the Barna Group:  “One of the most striking findings from the research is the broad base of opportunities that Christian churches in America have to work with teenagers.  Overall, 81% of (all) teens say they have attended a church for a period of at least two months during their teenage years.  This represents substantial penetration and significant prospects for influencing the nation’s 24 million teens.”

According to Dr. Voddie Baucham’s research, less than 10% of “born-again” youth have a Biblical worldview and less than 5% are theologically literate enough to be called “Christian.”

According to the research of Alvin Reid: The largest rise of full-time youth ministers in history has been accompanied by the biggest decline in youth evangelism and retention.

Lifeway Christian Services conducted a survey of Bible-believing church parents and asked them to describe how they would define their children’s becoming successful:

  • Only 9% said that their definition of success for their children was for them to grow up to be godly (Christians) of faith.  
  • Most parents responses revolved around education, careers, money and other possessions/materialism.
  • This survey also discovered that the majority of Bible-believing Christian parents spend 0% of their time discipling their kids (in the Scriptures and in the faith).
  • Less than 1% of parents have family devotions.  Therefore, we must refocus our efforts to align with the Biblical pattern of home discipleship that is clear in both the OT (e.g., Deut 6:1-15) and the NT (e.g., Eph 6:1-4).  This problem is not just parents who are dropping the ball but also the long-held church system that led many to wrongly conclude that it’s “the church’s job.”  We must fix this together.

I realize that statistics can be manipulated by some, but these are reputable sources – often with no dog in a proverbial fight.  The traditional Sunday school-student ministry paradigm does not work at producing mature disciples in the long term.  Anecdotal stories of God sovereignly moving in a one-time instance are wonderful but they do not negate decades worth of research.  I have personally witnessed and received reports of astounding churches with Christian education and youth programs and Christian schools and quality leadership where youth retention was less than 10% upon entering adulthood.  The… emperor… has… no… clothes…  What most churches are doing, is not working.  Much of it may be related to the cultural influence as a whole that is far more pernicious than our programming can defend against.  Plus, how many kids become cultural Christians without evidence of true spiritual regeneration or doctrinal soundness?  This shouldn’t be surprising when much of the system is anti-Biblical, usurp authority, and world-borrowed to begin with.  In no way does this opinion invalidate the ministry of individuals who have successfully presented the gospel of salvation to children and youth – these are often legitimate evangelists, pastors, and teachers using legitimate spiritual gifts with God-ordained results.  But the traditional system and methodology is undermining their very ministry in many cases!  Let us return to Scripture.  The word of God and an adequate defense of the faith must be promoted and rooted in the Christian home and in a unified Christian church (public worship and house to house).  Can new technology and other advances be tremendously helpful in changing the ministry paradigm?  Absolutely.  Technology usually loses battles with tradition though, and so does challenging a failing methodology with hundreds of emotional strings attached.  Courage and intellectual honesty required.  I realize that I have no corner on the market of any specific ministry – in the scope of the church world and church history, I am quite literally, but a speck, but I have become a desperate enough speck over the years to endeavor to try new (old?) methodology to improve our kids’ odds.  I have no panacea, and this is not intended as an attack on anyone. But something must be done in our homes and in our church that bucks these disturbing trends.  Probably more than just one thing, so this becomes a journey rather than a quick-fix.

One of the largest evangelical churches in the country is Willow Creek outside Chicago.  Willow Creek popularized the “seeker-sensitive” church growth movement which certainly led to big crowds, eventually numbering in the thousands upon thousands.  However, WC took inventory to determine how many were actually growing spiritually as a result of what their church was doing.  They wanted to discover what actually helped people grow spiritually and more like Jesus.  Four years, 200 churches, and 80,000 surveys later, they found this:  “Everywhere we turned the data revealed the same truth: spending time in the Bible is hands down the highest impact personal spiritual practice.  More specifically… a contemplative process, one of thoughtful and careful deliberation.  This practice of ‘reflecting on the meaning of Scripture in my life’ is about using God’s word as a mirror that reflects back the truth of Scripture on the actions, decisions, and defense of one’s daily life.  This is not about skimming through a Bible passage or devotional in a mechanical way.  This is a powerful experience of personal meditation that catalyzes spiritual growth, starting at the very beginning of the spiritual journey.”

The tsunami sweeping kids away:  The evil worldviews most promoted through secular education and entertainment outlets…

SECULAR HUMANISM:  An atheistic and naturalistic philosophy that its committed to human reason, intelligence, pleasure, etc., as the main driving force for morality and decision-making rather than God or the Bible.

MORAL RELATIVISM:  A view that beliefs and morals (right and wrong, good and evil, true or false) are determined by the individual rather than absolutes determined by God.

MORALISTIC THERAPEUTIC DEISM:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over humanity
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself
  4. God does not need to be…involved in one’s life except…to resolve a problem
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

SEXUAL LIBERTINISM:  A view that humans are encouraged to freely engage in any sexual activity that they desire (presumably without physically hurting another person) without any restrictions or limitations put on them by God or government.  This is opposite of Biblical Christianity in which God clearly condemns all sexual activity one chooses to engage in outside the covenant of man-woman marriage.

Obviously, the Christian faith and experience has a supernatural advantage in that the grace of God – the power of God – the work of God can accomplish in a short time what might take much longer in a non-spiritual context.  However, given what we and our children are practicing (ingesting secular entertainment and educational philosophies) for many, many hours a day, week, and year – how much more time for disciplined training in the Christian faith must we be practicing – at home and at church – in order to be “world-class experts” in terms of our walk with God.  Is it a priority?  Do we want to be extraordinary Christians?  God, we cannot do this without Your grace.  Help us to evangelize and disciple more effectively.  Begin with me. (To be continued…)

It is my sincere hope to begin to offer more opinions and (hopefully) insights on this blog, and one thing has stirred me enough to want to jot a few thoughts down…

John Ortberg recently tweeted a snippet from Malcolm Gladwell who claimed in his book, Outliers, that it takes 10,000 hours of practicing something to become world-class in terms of one’s expertise. Even if this is a subjective opinion, or if it fails to account for certain prodigies (Mozart? Tiger Woods?), I think it’s a fascinating concept. In other words, if you practice a skill/habit/etc., 4 hours per day (factoring in getting progressively better and more knowledgeable throughout the process), it would take just under 7 years to become expert in some particular skill or knowledge set. I decided to calculate how many hours Jesus poured into His disciples if He spent 8 hours a day discipling them for 3-1/2 years. This unscientific estimation gave them time for sleep (8 hours) and work/family (8 hours), and obviously included just hanging around Jesus (which sounds good). The time before sending them off to turn the world upside down? About 10,200 hours of Jesus practice. Interesting… to me at least.

If children spend 14,000 seat-hours of schooling by the time they graduate high school, then is it safe to assume that whatever skill set, knowledge base, or philosophy has been progressively drilled into them will make them experts? Obviously, they do not graduate as world-class experts in hard sciences or history or language arts or mathematics – so was Gladwell in error? I believe the modern educational system in America is indeed designed to make world-class experts of high school graduates – just not in these academic disciplines.

Instead is it possible that they graduate as world-class experts in the worldview of secular humanism and moral relativism? In our very conservative church congregation in which we just had a couple months of midweek Christian apologetics instruction – an interesting exercise was conducted by the minister leading the sessions. He invited two high school students to role play an interaction between a Bible-believing Christian and a skeptical, somewhat belligerent student. Even with the assistance from the congregation offered at the end, I noted the following observation publicly: we are so used to living, breathing, eating, and sleeping the language and ideas of secular humanism, moral relativism, and practical atheism (or at least Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to cite the work of sociologist Christian Smith) that it is actually easier and “more natural” for the committed Christian (of any age) to role play as the proverbial devil’s advocate than it is to honor the command to defend the faith in a conscientious manner. Is it possible that we have been so thoroughly disciplined by cultural forces that we are easily deceived into sitting in the seat of the scornful as described in the first Psalm?

I estimated that if you take the average seat hours at government school and add it to the reported average number of hours children consume secular entertainment (particularly through television and movies – but don’t forget music), it should take around 4 years to turn a youth into a functional, if not fluent, secular humanist, moral relativist, religious pluralist, Moralistic Therapeutic Deist – if not outright atheist or agnostic. Could I be mistaken? Absolutely. But my guess is that honest inquiries at local high schools, middle schools, and church Sunday schools and youth groups, would invariably lend support to my suspicion. Take the kids to Sunday school, the teens to youth group, maybe throw in some midweek services – for what? 3 to 6 hours of religious training? That low number means it would take about 65 years to produce an expert… churchman. That’s while taking the leap that their instruction, knowledge, and practice got progressively better. (Uh oh…)

Many statistics are available regarding the troubling trends of Christian youth and their religious beliefs and worldviews thanks to the efforts of individuals like C. Britt Beemer, George Barna, and other ministers and statisticians. In part 2, I hope to share some of the figures that such men have uncovered, and then dare to imagine how Christian parents and clergy would respond if we took these statistics more seriously.

I am so grateful that someone of superb intellectual heft in Dr. Al Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) would be so wise and brave to say previously on his radio program that Southern Baptists need to seriously consider developing an exit strategy for removing their children from public (i.e., government) schools. As one who has spent the last 20 years as part of a strict “holiness” movement that eschews many worldly trappings and carnal entanglements, I have heard many impassioned speeches regarding the need to “come out from among them and be separate, saith the Lord.” I believe this portion of the New Testament and preach it myself. However, I do not believe that I have heard any preacher or ecclesiastical official in my circle make a more sensible holiness statement than this point made by Dr. Mohler.

It is undeniable at present that the world (as defined by John in 1 John 2:15-17) appears far more adroit and successful in ensnaring American children of faith than the Church is at evangelizing American children in need of Christ. This is particularly troubling when you consider the curse of Jesus Himself upon those who cause the little ones who believe in Him to stumble. How many Christian parents (with the complicity of Christian clergy) have unintentionally fitted themselves for a proverbial millstone by sacrificing their children to the modern-day Molech of secular humanism and moral relativism via government education in its modern form? (And I include the often obscene “socialization” that occurs among peer groups in these school settings)

Rare, if not anecdotal, examples of the children who “did just fine” going through public schools do not negate overall reality. There has been an astronomical and unacceptable “backsliding” rate amongst kids raised in Church, which appears to have only worsened over the years as more money, excitement, and passionate ministers have been honestly aimed at the Sunday schools and youth departments of America. Having done worldview surveys of Church youth, and in examining the findings of others who have tested the philosophical integrity of these precious young souls, I have serious doubts that they all “did just fine” navigating the shark-infested waters of secular education and secular entertainment. How many who “did just fine” were simply more comfortable in the familiar trappings of their “churchanity” than they were in leaving altogether? They may be physically “in church,” but is their worldview Biblical?

If I were to take an honest look at Biblical holiness teaching and applications in the Church, I would have to confess that there have been numerous times I have witnessed and participated in straining at some (perhaps legitimate) gnats of worldliness while choking on more obvious camels. May the consciences of honest Christian people be respected as we love one another despite sincerely-held differences, yet is it possible that many of us Christians are sacrificing the minds and worldviews of our children via government education, secular entertainment, and undiscerning socialization when our children are too young to discern this propaganda and indoctrination – and are too defenseless to fight back effectively. Is this an indictment against me as a pastor? Yes. The need to better equip parents and children against this relativistic tsunami is a source of personal angst. I realize that some students’ home situations necessitate their attendance at government schools (and that in some instances productive evangelism occurs!).  I also know that there are some overly-zealous homeschool advocates that can turn people off by spreading more heat than light in their awkward or odd manner – or tragically in cases of their homeschoolers’ sinfulness, since only Christ can eradicate sin – not “doing homeschool.”   Furthermore, I am fully aware that the entertainment genie will not soon be forced back into the cultural bottle.  Do these instances make the need to preach against being “of the world” any less a mandate of the Church?  Do these realities exempt parents from taking an honest look at their situation with a willingness to make radical changes for the benefit of the next generation?  Of course not, yet human nature often chooses to ignore, scoff, or criticize that which cuts against one’s convenience.  Therefore, I must sound this alarm:  the government-media cultural black hole is a very real spiritual danger to children and youth of faith.  The volume, sophistication, and complexity of worldly philosophy through secular education and entertainment is more than the average kid could hope to handle, and it strikes me as silly to send an ill-equipped child against such entrenched demonic forces with a pithy claim that junior should go and be salt and light.  Does making this claim public smack of evangelistic suicide (even while the irony of church youth spiritually dying at unacceptable rates goes unchecked)? Is the answer a Mohlerian exodus of Christian youth from the public schools?  Is there a need to attempt to overtake the entertainment industry by creative people of faith while shunning the moral and philosophical poison that emerges from various media?  Bottom line – how can we effectively get our kids their 10,000 hours of progressively-improving “Jesus practice” – known as “effective Christian discipleship”?  Each individual has limited amount of time, energy, and attention – can we and our families honestly hope to attain expert-level Christianity without eliminating some things that fill up our lives or even contradict our Christianity?

Change is imperative – not because of Gladwell’s theory, but because of Christ’s Commission to make disciples. I want to do it better. I want the Church I love to do it better. God please help – start with me – that I may better make disciples – starting with those priceless gifts who call me “Daddy.” Let our delight be in You, and may we ever stand in the congregation of the righteous. Amen.

PSALM 1

Blessed is the man

Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinners,

Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

3 He shall be like a tree

Planted by the rivers of water,

That brings forth its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper.

4 The ungodly are not so,

But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Paul and Barnabas take their evangelistic missionary ministry to the city of Lystra.  Gospel preaching and a miraculous healing leads to the event many consider to be Paul’s near-death experience in which he was taken up into Heaven.  “Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good…”

In Lystra sat a man who could not use his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked. 14:9 This man was listening to Paul as he was speaking. When Paul stared intently at him and saw he had faith to be healed, 14:10 he saidwith a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man leaped up and began walking. 14:11 So when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in humanform!” 14:12 They began to call Barnabas Zeus and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 14:13 The priest of the temple of Zeus, located just outside the city, brought bulls and garlands to the city gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifices to them. 14:14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard about it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, 14:15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We too are men, with human natures just like you! We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them. 14:16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own ways, 14:17 yet he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy.” 14:18 Even by saying these things, they scarcely persuaded the crowds not to offer sacrifice to them.

14:19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and after winning the crowds over, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, presuming him to be dead. 14:20 But after the disciples had surrounded him, he got up and went back into the city. On the next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.  -NET

I’m struck by just a few observations/applications of this passage in the context of evangelism (in principle rather than a straight method):

1. Otherwise forgettable preaching becomes more effective when accompanied by a supernatural sign.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s also how many of us were converted (or took our first few steps).  We may have no recollection of what all was preached (apparently Luke didn’t in Lystra), but supernatural signs are pretty memorable if not generally effective.  Persuasion, doctrine, apologetics, love, serving, etc., are all Biblical and wonderful expressions of true faith and evangelism.  Don’t neglect the opportunity for supernatural assistance.

2.  Supernatural displays do not always have the intended effect.  Miracles, like sound apologetics, do not save.  They are used to bring down barriers to faith in Christ by confirming the truth of God and His word, but the human will (in its fallen state) can resist the most persuasive apologetics as well as the most dramatic miracles.  The citizens of Lystra see, believe, and celebrate the miracle while missing the One who performed it.  If the supernatural were enough to ensure everyone came to faith and served God, there would have been no wilderness funerals for the Israelites leaving Egypt.  Pray for the miraculous, but understand it’s evangelistic limitations in view of the reality of humanity.  Some will believe, others won’t.

Paul witnesses to a non-Jewish crowd (notice that his evangelistic appeal does not include any Old Testament lessons) that has a very messed-up religious view.  Sound familiar?

3. The apostle questions their beliefs and religious practices. “Men, why are you doing these things?” Too often we feel the need to have answers to every possible question or objection concerning the Christian faith, but one of the best evangelistic tactics is to ask someone why they believe what they believe.  Why are you doing this?  Why should you believe your view of ultimate issues (like God and religion) is correct? Sometimes the best starting point is by questioning others about their religious perspective and practices.

4.  In attempts to evangelize lost souls for whom Christ died, the next good thing to remember is this: let’s not pretend to be something we’re not.  ” We too are men, with human natures just like you!” There is a difference between hypocrisy and inconsistency.  All Christians are inconsistent, but not all are hypocrites. We should be different than those we are evangelizing, but we have a human nature like theirs.  Paul and Barnabas do not accept the crowd’s attempt to make them more heavenly than human.  Don’t glamorize or revert to your past sin, but be real and let them know you’re just as human when sharing the gospel.

5.  Expose the worthless counterfeit gods of the culture.  We are proclaiming the good news to you, so that you should turn from these worthless things…” It’s actually good news when you can relieve people of their idolatry since their idols contribute to their misery, anxiety, and deception.  Better to attempt this in a small setting because the crowd may want to stone you when you challenge their gods.

6.  Paul appeals to God as the Creator.  “the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them.” God has revealed Himself through creation, so leverage this apologetic to open minds to the gospel.  A solid case for the true and living God can be made by a thoughtful appeal to creation without ever having to quote a Bible verse.

“he did not leave himself without a witness by doing good, by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying you with food and your hearts with joy”

7.  An evangelistic appeal or apologetic based on the reality of goodness is apostolic.  Beauty, gifts, providence, satisfaction, blessings, etc…  Most understand these concepts and find themselves thankful or grateful.  Those emotional virtues mean nothing apart from God.  Leverage their experience of goodness, blessings, and gratitude as a powerful evangelistic witness.  Let them see God, not just the Creator, but the ultimate Giver of all good things.

Conclusion:  I think all these evangelistic appeals can be legitimately and effectively employed in our attempt to rescue sinners from destruction.  However, especially in a large, hostile group setting, you may find your apostolic tactics and power on the short end of some very nasty rejection.  Paul warned Timothy that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  It’s a promise that you will be rejected and persecuted by some for your Christian witness.  Be like Paul in v.20- surround yourself with other disciples, get up, and do it all over again!

But I would not feel so all alone… Everybody must get stoned.

14:1 The same thing happened in Iconium 1 when Paul and Barnabas 2 went into the Jewish synagogue 3 and spoke in such a way that a large group 4 of both Jews and Greeks believed. 14:2 But the Jews who refused to believe 5 stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds 6 against the brothers. 14:3 So they stayed there 7 for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified 8 to the message 9 of his grace, granting miraculous signs 10 and wonders to be performed through their hands. 14:4 But the population 11 of the city was divided; some 12 sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. 14:5 When both the Gentiles and the Jews (together with their rulers) made 13 an attempt to mistreat 14 them and stone them, 15 14:6 Paul and Barnabas 16 learned about it 17 and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra 18 andDerbe 19 and the surrounding region. 14:7 There 20 they continued to proclaim 21 the good news. – NET

 

V.1:  I’m struck by the phrase “spoke in such a way that a large group of both Jews and Greeks believed.” If the gospel words by themselves were sufficient to persuade men to saving faith, almost the whole world would already be in Christ.  Seemingly, the more often I speak out with a boldness and a confidence in the message of grace, the more I perceive God’s grace empowering me to speak better, more persuasively.  May I not be a polished orator so much as a gifted speaker.  “Gifted” implies grace.  God grant me the grace and the opportunities to “speak in such a way” that the unbelievers of my generation and those coming after me will be persuaded to believe the gospel to the saving of their souls.

V.2:  Notice the phrase, “who refused to believe.” Understand that unbelief is usually not a pure rejection of the reasons for the hope that lies within us, nor is it a rejection of our Christian character (however imperfect).  It appears most often to be a matter of one’s will.  It’s not that they couldn’t believe or that the Christian faith is unreasonable.  There are simply some “who refuse to believe.”   The other frustration in evangelism is the tragic reality that those voices of bitterness are not satisfied with their own refusal to believe – they must also poison the minds of others who are more open to the gospel.  This is a vexing evil. Deliver us from this evil.

V.3-7:  Is it possible that if we speak courageously for the Lord in the face of poisonous opposition that He will testify on behalf of His word through signs and wonders?  Do we sometimes lack the miraculous because we have shrunk from poisonous opposition – losing our voices – rather than speaking courageously for the Lord?  It’s fascinating to me (as I have seen it in Scripture and in my experience living for God) that signs and wonders confirming the message of Christ do not convince or convert everyone.  Such is the power of the fallen human will – to refuse to believe in the very face of the miraculous. God allows His miracle-working servants to be mistreated to the point they run for their lives. Seems as if miracles could be done at our whim, that would have been a good time to whip one out.  Rather than give up in frustration with a sovereign God and their experiences with bitter men, the apostles soldiered on. God may I ever persevere as as a faithful soldier of the Cross – undeterred by experiences with embittered men and unshaken in faith if my King orders an unexplained retreat when I know He has a supernatural arsenal. What is the answer in the face of these evangelism frustrations and opposition?

“…they continued to proclaim the good news.”