Thursday, August 28, 2014

Process, results, and Mark Driscoll

In my last sermon, I opened with a bit about "destination people" versus "journey people." It wasn't meant to be serious, or to provoke much serious thought. It was mostly to help people to relax and engage with the text of Exodus, which is a book about Israel's spiritual journey out of slavery and toward their destination of the Promised Land. So it was fascinating to me that after the service, as people were making their way out and greeting me (as is still tradition in our church), that a friend stopped me with a serious comment about this illustration.

He told me that journey vs. destination is another way of talking about "process orientation" vs "results orientation." Which is true. Some people don't care about how something is done, only that it is done. For others, how you get there is at least equal in importance as that you arrive. This led to a further discussion about politics and also about church ministry. My friend told me that he is usually more process than results oriented. I lean the other way.

The conversation was sharpening for me in light of recent events involving Pastor Mark Driscoll. I have read much of what Mark has written and found much of it beneficial and helpful (esp. Doctrine) and enjoyed a few of his sermons. Moreover, I respect the fact that his church, Mars Hill, has been able to effectively share the Gospel with so many people (esp. young men) in a city as aggressively secular as Seattle. I did have questions, as many did, about various comments he made or actions he took, but somehow, through a combination of my own spiritual immaturity and results orientation, I largely ignored the warning lights.

Now the warning lights have given way to smoke pouring out of the engine. I have no desire to join in what has become a generalized internet pile-on. Yet, I do think that pastors (like me!), who tend toward seeking results above all do well to pay attention to what has occurred. Too many of us were willing to ignore evidence of immature and ungodly behavior in Mark because his ministry was going so well. There really were lots of people coming to faith in Jesus. There were churches being planted. And that's what many of us pastors (again, including me!) hope will one day happen in our churches too. At our best, we want to see those things happen not out of some megalomaniac desire to build a monument to ourselves, but because we really do believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the dividing line between heaven and hell and that life is only found knowing Him. So out of love for others, we greatly desire to see as many as possible know and love and follow Jesus.

Yet it is apparently easy for that good desire to transmogrify into ugly self-exaltation. May I and my fellow pastors never be granted influence that outruns our character, nor allow ministerial results to so overrule the process of obtaining them that we discredit the Gospel message we so earnestly desire to spread.

A sharp sword

Like most men, I have found that maintaining my "covenant with my
eyes" (Job 31:1) is a difficult fight, at least at times. Our culture confronts me (and us) daily with opportunities to see and sinfully enjoy that which I (and we) should not. Our culture's movies, TV, news sites, advertising, and yes, our neighbors provide virtually endless sources of temptation. Yet our temptation need not become sin. It is possible, in spite of temptations, to live in a holy way.

A while back, I read parts of Kevin DeYoung's The Good News We Almost Forgot. I don't remember a lot of the book, but one beautiful little nugget has implanted itself deeply into my brain. He refers to Matthew 5:8 ("Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God") as "a sword for the fight against lust." So it has proved. For the past few years, whenever I have been tempted, I have recited that verse to myself as part of my efforts to "take every thought captive" (2 Cor. 10:5, my emphasis). It reminds me that my desire to find satisfaction through what I can see is not simply wrong; it is also misdirected. It's not that I want too much, but too little. The pure in heart will see God Himself, and the sight of Him will make all else pale in comparison. Nothing and no one in all the world is so desirable or beautiful that they are worth missing out on seeing God in all His glory and greatness.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Abortion, cohabiting and our moral intuition

Two recent incidents in my own life illustrate the reality that we all possess moral intuitions, and whether we want to admit it or not, our own hearts convict us:
Incident #1 involved a recent online "conversation" which reminded me why I tend not engage in many of them. It was about abortion and the forms of contraception (like Plan B, for example) that sometimes "work" by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg (aka an embryo or early stage human) and I was, as gently as possible, offering the opinion that abortion, whether surgical or chemical, is morally wrong. In reply, I was told in no uncertain terms that I should shut up because I was a man, and religious besides (apparently that adds up to three strikes!). Wisely or unwisely, I persisted for a while, until my highly agitated conversation partner told me that all I really wanted to do was control women's lives with my religious dogma and besides, she wanted to reduce abortions, which is why she recommended Plan B and its compatriots.I found that last bit revealing. It reminded me of Hilary Clinton's famous line that she wanted to keep abortion "safe, legal, and rare." (To know much about the abortion industry is to conclude that its practitioners have evidently concluded 'one out of three ain't bad', but I digress). The bigger question is "Why 'rare'?" Why should my internet interlocutor feel compelled to tell me she wanted to reduce abortion?

Incident #2 involved a couple from a while back who told me that they are cohabiting, but keeping it quiet from their children until their upcoming wedding. Again, why should they respond that way? If there is nothing of which to be ashamed, why keep the fact that you are sleeping over a lot from your children?

The answer is obvious: because in your deep heart you know that there's something not quite holy about what you have decided to do. Moreover, you are trying to convince yourself that it is good in spite of your moral intuition to the contrary. The Scripture unsurprisingly proves itself true. We are adept at "suppressing the truth," (Rom. 1:18), but it relentlessly pops up again like a beach ball held under the ocean, condemning us with our own lips (Rom. 3:15). This is an example of common grace, meant to drive us toward finding the repentance and forgiveness we innately know that we desperately need. May we all find freedom from all our sin and shame in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A hunter is born

Karen went hunting with me for the first time the first year we were married. I shot three squirrels on that particular stalk through the Hoosier National Forest. Karen had a good time on the trip and enjoyed being with me doing something I love, but as I recall, she wasn't much interested in learning to do it herself. In more recent years, we have talked about getting her out in the woods "when the kids are older." Well that day has arrived. Our kids are now old enough to be able to stay home by themselves for a few hours without a babysitter while the dear wife and I slip out for coffee, or a walk, or a hunting trip nearby. Last fall it got serious. Karen bought a deer tag and sat in a treestand. The deer didn't cooperate for either of us during gun season, but she conquered the most difficult challenge of it, which is getting in the stand, 20 feet up, and sitting there with enough focus to be able to shoot if a deer appears in range. We drew turkey tags this past spring but despite early excitement on the one morning we got to go, no toms came close.

Squirrel season opened on August 1st and Karen asked if we go for the opener. I took time off work and away we went. The woods near home where I like to go was still, buggy, and sweaty, but the result was this:

Those are the faces of happy hunters, smiling despite a collection of mosquito bites on our hands and heads that made us later look like Looney Tunes characters after they get hit by a mallet (despite generous application of bug spray beforehand!). She is smiling with accomplishment and joy. I am smiling because a dream I have held close since I was first married is now fulfilled. My bride has become a huntress!