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A twitter account that I follow (@pulpitandpen) tweeted out the picture you see on the right with the
comment "All that's wrong with American Evangelism in one tweet."  The more I looked at this, the more I agreed with the sentiment.  There are at least 3 realities of American Evangelism present in this picture.

First, the unbiblical elevation of so called celebrity pastors.  To even become one of these celebrity pastors you must pastor a church that can only be classified as "mega".  Not that the size of a congregation is an any way, shape, or form a biblical measure of a pastor's having faithfully discharged his duty according to scripture.

Rick Warren, the man on the left as you look at the picture, is the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County California (which averages around 20,000 people each Sunday).  Despite numerous concerns over his theology in the past (here, here, and here) and his pragmatic approach to ministry, Warren continues to be a driving force in the evangelical world.  In American evangelicalism book sales and church growth are far more important than a right understanding of who God is and how He calls us to serve Him.

The second trait of American evangelicalism in this picture is the over emphasis on social justice.  Now, I am not against seeing good done around the world.  I am in favor of clean water, hospitals and medicine, and education in countries where those things are lacking.  But those things are not the mission of the church.  No matter how badly Millenials want to "be a part of something bigger than themselves", social justice is not what God has called His people to do as their primary focus. (FYI, the mission of the church is to glorify God by making disciples of all nations through the proclamation of the gospel.)  In American evangelicalism it is more important to do things the world will applaud as good than it is to do the one thing that will actually do the world good.
Saddleback Church

The third, and perhaps most tragic, aspect of American evangelicalism displayed here is the inability of the majority of American evangelicals to distinguish between biblical faith and practice and a placebo faith that leads to a faulty practice.

You see the comment of the person who originally tweeted this photo?  It reads in part: "This is how you change the world."  I assume this person is referring to Warren's willingness to partner with unbelievers like Elton John in the pursuit of social justice causes.  The lack of biblical knowledge and discernment in what passes for Christianity in America is appalling.

What Warren should be doing in that picture if he wants to change the world is to stand up and preach the terrifying wrath of God against sinners and the astonishingly lavish mercy of God to save those save sinners if they will only repent of their sins and follow Jesus.

But I guess that might cause too many feathers to get ruffled in the American evangelical world,
One of the struggles every church leader faces is how to cut through the apathy demonstrated by so

many professing Christians.  How do we motivate people to evangelize, to make costly personal sacrifices for the sake of their families? In short, how can we motivate them to be disciples who follow Christ with everything they have?
Of course, in one sense we can't make people decide to do these things because these are decisions that require the heart to change and only God can change the heart. However, we do have access to the instrument that God has left us to be His change agent: the scriptures.  And the scriptures do give us some insight into what can help motivate people (including ourselves) to live a life devoted to Christ.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us -- Romans 8:18
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. -- 1 Peter 1:3-7
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of thhope laid up for you in heaven. -- Colossians 1:3-5
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began -- Titus 1:1-2

The first thing to notice here is that none of these passages reference worldly things as motivation for following Jesus wholeheartedly.  None of these writers mentions physical health, material wealth, worldly success, or the respect and admiration of your peers. (That is part of what makes the prosperity non-gospel so heinous.  God never intended any of these things as rewards for exemplary faith.  When He does grant them they are meant to bring Him glory by being used as means of gospel proclamation.) Instead, the scriptures point us to look ahead to the world to come. 
We are reminded that in Christ we have been granted an inheritance.  
What motivates us to abandon everything in the pursuit of Christ is the understanding that in Christ we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing, including a glorious inheritance as a co-heir with Christ. This world truly is not our home.
So remind your people and remind yourself of this glorious truth. Because of Christ and the gospel, we are freed up to completely abandon the things of this world because our hope is in the world to come. 

We are reminded that our inheritance is undefileable, unfading, and imperishable.  
We are reminded that the Holy Spirit is given to us as a sign that our inheritance is guaranteed us.  
We are reminded that our inheritance is promised us by an eternally faithful God.
We are reminded that nothing we give up or suffer through in this world can compare to the glory waiting us in the next.

If that doesn't motivate us....nothing will.

My pastor posted this on Facebook today:

One of the most important sermons I've preached. Genesis 3:1-13 The big idea of today’s passage is If we do not trust in God’s word it will lead to death. Our aim is to found our lives on Jesus and His words so that we don’t make shipwreck of our faith as well as present the real Jesus to a broken world. ‪#‎share‬ 5th Avenue Baptist Church - Rome, GA

His post remined me of  this tweet by Dan Phillips (@bibchr) of Pyromaniacs and Biblical Christianity:
If you are ever tempted to think the professing evangelical church is fundamentally healthy, just say publicly that the Bible is sufficient and watch what happens. That'll cure you. Seriously.
As I thought about the sad truth Dan is speaking to, the phrase that continued to bounce around in my head was "Yeah, but...."   I am sure you have heard it before (and if you are like me, at some point uttered it yourself).
Usually it emerges during a conversation about life and the difficulties associated with it.
Someone mentions a struggle or problem they are dealing with or wondering about.
Usually someone else mentions what the bible has to say about that struggle of problem.
And then that is (way too often) followed with "Yeah, but....".

Let me give you a few examples......

A wife is struggling in her marriage and her friend points her to Ephesians 5 and councils her to respect her husband even if he doesn't seem to deserve it.  Her response? "Yeah, don't understand my husband and the things he has done."

Or the flip side of that equation where the husband is encouraged to love his wife as Christ loved the church even if she doesn't seem to respond.  His response?  "Yeah...but some of the things she does...."

Or the pastor trying to figure out how to reach the people in his church and see them become excited about the mission God has called them to.  Another pastor recommends preaching exegetically through the bible. His response?  "Yeah...but they have so many issues that I need to address first."

Or the new church plant that wants to reach the community for Jesus.  It is suggested that they simply and clearly proclaim the gospel in their services.  Their response?  "Yeah...but we have to compete with this entertainment focused culture and people with short attention spans and......"

Or take the church that has to make difficult decisions about a sticky situation like church discipline.  The bible says that if a member will not repent of sin then they should be placed outside the fellowship of the body of Christ.  The response when asked to follow through with biblical church discipline is, " Yeah, but I just think there must be a better way to restore this person."

What all these people think they are saying is "I know that is what the bible says about my situation but my circumstances are unique and have dictated a different course of action for me".  What they are actually saying is that the bible doesn't really have the answer to my problem and I can and need to find an answer that will actually work.

We parents know the truth of this.  When my kids respond to a directive I have given them with "Yeah, but..." I stop them and say "No buts about it....go do it."  When we are in the position of authority we recognize "Yeah, but Syndrome" for what it attempt to usurp and undermine our authority.

The truth is that when it comes to what God has revealed to us in scripture, "Yeah, but..." is just a subtle substitute for "I do not believe that the bible is the perfect, sufficient, revealed will of the sovereign God of the universe."  When our response to God's word is "Yeah, but..." we are usurping God's authority over us

We may say we believe the bible.

We may say the bible is important to us and to the life of our church.

We may say we believe that the bible is the infallible Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and sufficient for faith and practice.

But talk is cheap and our actions all too often say, when it comes to the sufficiency of God' word:

"Yeah, but....."

I watched part of a debate this morning between a Christian apologist and a "former" Christian turned atheist
apologist.  When it was over both sides, as is often the case, thought they had prevailed.  Certainly neither of the two men debating had changed their stance at the conclusion of the verbal sparring.  Not that I was surprised; that seems to be the case in most every debate I have ever seen or even heard of.  It did get me thinking, however.

What would it take to change the mind of a professed atheist?  What type of evidence would one have to produce to convince someone who has invested so much time and effort into disbelieving God that God, in fact, does exist?  I couldn't think of any evidence or proof that I hadn't heard from people much smarter than myself that hadn't already been shot down or mocked in a debate somewhere.

As I thought about the seeming paradox of those asking for proof of God's existence refusing to believe every proof given, I couldn't help but also think of Paul's words in Romans chapter 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
The reason it is so hard to convince atheists, agnostics, and skeptics of the existence of God is because they are suppressing their knowledge of Him.  They know He exists, but in their unrighteousness they suppress that knowledge. So the problem is not one of a lack of evidence.  It is the lack of righteousness that is the problem.  Scripture says they are "without excuse".  God is not hiding from these people.  He has revealed Himself sufficiently to be known.

This is why the Bible never commands the believer to prove God exists or to even give evidence supporting His existence.  We are commanded to proclaim the Gospel to the unbeliever because it is only the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel that the true problem of the unbeliever can be solved.  Only the power of the Gospel can produce righteousness.

So don't despair when the world mocks your faith or calls it unreasonable.  Remember that no amount of logic or evidence will change their minds and it isn't their minds that need changed anyway.

It is their hearts.

So pray for them, share the gospel with them, and wait for the God they don't believe to change their hearts with the power of His grace.
What is the true meaning of Christmas?

This is a question one hears a great deal this time of year.  Usually it is asked as some form of rebuttal to the idea that Christmas is all about getting newer, bigger, better, faster stuff.  Of course, there are almost as many answers to the question as there are people asking it.

One of the most given answers is that Christmas isn't about getting but about giving, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves.  Generosity is the true meaning of Christmas.

Another very popular idea is that Christmas is all about family.  We should forget all the petty squabbles and disagreements and come together to celebrate and be thankful for one another.

One might also hear that Christmas is all about putting other ahead of yourself.  Selflessness is the true meaning of Christmas.

All those ideas, generosity, family, and selflessness, are worthy things to pursue.  Certainly we could all stand to demonstrate these traits in our lives more consistently and not just during the Christmas season.

But none of those things are the true meaning of Christmas.

No, the true meaning of Christmas is much greater than all those things.  The true meaning of Christmas can be found in Philippians 2:6-8.

  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Christmas is about celebrating the mind blowing grace and mercy of our God who would leave His glorious throne in heaven to become human, die a criminal's death on a cross so that He might redeem all who believe on Him.  The true meaning of Christmas has very little, if anything at all, to do with us and everything to do with Jesus.

Remember that Jesus wasn't obligated to come, wasn't obligated to save any of us.  As a matter of fact, had He chosen instead to condemn us all for our wicked rebellion against His holiness He would have been just in doing so.  However, in His great mercy condescends to put on the very flesh of the creatures who spurned His goodness and to set about rescuing all the Father had given to Him (John 6:37-39).

So, this Chrismas season as you gather with your family and experience the joys of giving generously to others, remember the true meaning of Christmas: that Jesus left glory and became a man to seek and save that which was lost.

Don't let the Christmas tree obscure your view of the Calvary tree.

Evangelism is one of those areas of the Christian faith that nearly everyone affirms as vitally important.  For those of us holding to a reformed view of scripture it is especially central to our lives as disciples.  We believe that God has elected  His church  from before the foundation of the world and that He has called us to be the means by which He calls and redeems His church from the world. The method we use to accomplish that task is the proclamation of the gospel. It is evangelism.

And yet despite that nearly everyone also affirms they aren't nearly as faithful as they should be when it comes to the mission of evangelism.  We know the Great Commission and many can quote Matthew 28:19-20 from memory.  But actually putting feet to our knowledge seems to be very difficult.  The move from knowing the Great Commission to carrying out the Great Commission causes many a Christian to falter.

I had an interesting conversation with a friend this weekend about importance.  More specifically how you can tell what is really important to a person.

Because, let's face it, we all say things are "important" to us that really aren't so much.  What we really mean is "I prefer that thing, but really only if the getting of it is fairly convenient for me".   The way we can tell if something is actually important to a person is the lengths to which they are willing to go to obtain that thing.

So I may say that it is important for me to exercise more.  But if I don't exercise because in order to do so I would have to get up much earlier in the morning than I am accustomed to and drive to the gym or run in sometimes inclement weather....then getting more exercise isn't really that important to me.  And it is certainly less important than the things keeping me from exercise.

I am afraid this is an all too often occurrence among Christians.  We say things are important to us but our actions tell a different story of different priorities.  I think this is partly because we know the things we are saying are important to us as followers of Christ should be actually important to us.


We say sharing our faith is important......but we rarely do it.

We say spending time reading the Bible and praying is important......but we don't get up early enough or set aside time to make it happen.

We say fellowship with our church family is important........but we only go on Sunday mornings and sometimes we sleep in and miss that.

We say this is important........but we do that instead.

The very simple (and very convicting) truth is that we are already doing the things that are important to us.  So if we want to know what is really important to ourselves or others, all we have to do is look to see what we spend our time doing.  This truth is what spawned sayings like "Talk is cheap" and "Put your money where your mouth is".  We know that we can say anything, but our actions prove what we say to be either true or false.

We can see this truth illustrated very clearly in the life of Jesus.  What He said was important to Him was the same as what He did.  Here are a few verses where Jesus explains what is most important to Him.

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work." - John 4:34

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. - John 6:38

but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. - John 14:31

Jesus makes it very clear that He has come to do the will of His Father who sent Him.  And if we keep following the story we will see Jesus in Gethsemane on His face before His father pleading for another way to accomplish the Father's will if it is possible.  Jesus knows the pain and agony that awaits Him if He continues to do the will of His Father.  He knows that at the end of that road is a cross and His death.  And yet we know that Jesus tells His father "Not My will be done, but Yours" and that ultimately He faces the torture and humiliation of death on the cross.  Despite knowing the pain, the agony that was coming Jesus proved that obeying His father was the most important thing to Him by doing it, by actually obeying the Father's will.  His actions proved His words to be true.


If sharing our faith is important.....we will build relationships with lost friends, family, and coworkers and share the gospel with them.

If spending time reading the Bible and praying is important.......we will find the time to do it even if it means getting up early or staying up late.

If fellowship with our church family is important.......we will spend time with our church family when the church has events to encourage that (even if they are not on Sunday mornings) and we will invite our church family to spend time with us in our homes.

If we say this is important.....we will find a way to do this, not that.

While perusing the interwebs Saturday morning I came upon this post by David Mathis over at The Gospel Coalition website. David references a quote from Robert E. Coleman's book The Master Plan of Evangelism  that he says changed his life.  Having read Coleman's book (and been challenged and impacted by it myself) I got out my copy and discovered that I had highlighted the very same section that David quoted.

Here is where we must begin like Jesus. It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don't live to see it. Seen this way, though, it becomes a big decision in the ministry. We must decide where we want our ministry to count---in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for. (The Master Plan of Evangelism, p.38)

My fear is that too many churches and Christians have made that big ministry decision without the next generation in mind, choosing instead the momentary satisfaction of recognition and applause. And in one sense, I get it, I really do.  Making disciples is hard work.  It involves one imperfect person trying to help another imperfect person learn how to completely surrender their lives to Christ.  It is filled with frustrations, failures, and fatigue.  And even when things are going fairly well, it is an extremely slow process.  (Let me say  here that I realize there are churches out there who are devoted to the gospel and to disciple making.  But there are way to many who aren't.)

So I get why churches end up abandoning this process or never give it a chance at all.  It is not likely to rapidly grow your church or get you invited to speak at the latest and greatest conferences.  Pastors from around the country won't seek you out to learn your secrets to success.  So I get it......

Except I don't get it at all.  This is the mission Jesus Christ has called us to fulfill.  This is the Great Commission.  This is the reason we are still here on this Earth.  We have been called to pour out our lives in pursuit of this call.  So you will understand, perhaps, if I am not impressed with your fancy signs, your slick website, your state-of-the art facility, and your edgy worship.  Or if your relevant messages don't ring true to me.  I understand why you do these things.  I know you want to entice the lost into your facility and you think this is the way to do it.

But you are wrong.  The best way to entice non-believers into your church is to make disciples that love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and then unleash them back into their homes, communities, workplaces, and schools.  Let those Christians be the ambassadors for Christ they are called to be.  Our job as pastors and teachers is to equip them to do the work of spreading the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-12). I know this is the best way because this is what Jesus calls us to do.  This is what the Bible teaches.

So stop reading all the latest books on how to be a great leader.  Stop spending so much time worrying about achieving just the right environment k for the next Sunday morning "experience".

Preach the whole council of God to your people.
Equip them to be ministers of reconciliation.

Please, go make disciples.
I ran across this paragraph as I was studying today to teach.  So convicting......

If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as on of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary life and a life committed to Christ. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 88-89

Good Friday.

The day that God died for me.

Think about that for a moment.  The only reason you and I can stand here on this day and thank God for redeeming us is that Jesus Christ, the perfect, spotless, holy, Son of God, died.

The bible says that in our sin we were storing up wrath for ourselves (Romans 2:5).  One way or another that wrath had to be poured out.  As sinners we blasphemed God by worshiping His creation instead of Him as Creator.  We did not love Him and honor Him as God.  We deserved to be condemned and punished for our sin.

Instead of consigning us to our deserved fate, God, in His infinite mercy, sent His very own Son to stand in our place.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved. -- Ephesians 2:4-5

Jesus Christ came to this earth and in His perfect innocence willingly gave up His life and absorbed the wrath of God that we had been storing up.  Every drop was poured out on Christ on our behalf.  Because of that we will never know God's wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Instead we get salvation.

Not because we deserve it.
Not because we earn it.
Not because we choose it.

Only because on this day centuries ago, God died.