Archive for December, 2013

I’ve only seen four episodes of Duck Dynasty, all of them through the magic of a Roku box.

While eating frogs, duck calls, and blowing up beaver dams aren’t my preferred style of entertainment, I can see why they’re amusing to many people.

Right now, everyone seems to be weighing in on Duck Commander Phil Robertson’s recent comments about homosexuality to an interviewer from GQ.

So let me share some broader thoughts about the way Christians -like Commander Phil – communicate to the culture:

First, the gulf between culture and Christians is widening at an accelerated rate.

Popular culture doesn’t care what Christians think or believe anymore.

Thirty years ago, politicians asked, “How will this play in Peoria?”  There was a cultural sensitivity toward middle America, which included devout believers.

That’s now gone.  When an artist writes a song or a producer funds a film, nobody considers how Christians will react.

As the culture races to experiment with new moralities and family structures, most Christians hold the same beliefs we did twenty centuries ago … and because we’re not playing along, the perception is that we’re standing in the way of “progress.”

Today’s article from Atlantic Monthly writer Larry Alex Taunton explains this divide well and is worth reading:


Second, we Christians are losing our ability to say anything meaningful to the culture.

Christian leaders remain unaware of how they sound to a postmodern culture.

Last week, I watched an interview with a prominent megachurch pastor on a national news station concerning the Phil Robertson controversy.  I’d give that pastor a “B+” for talking to Christians but a “D-” talking to the culture.


Because when most evangelical pastors are given a public forum … even when they preach … they speak only to their constituency.

You can hear it in their language … tone of voice … lack of sensitivity … and, sad to say, arrogant assumptions.

Let’s face it: in the culture-at-large, evangelicals have few spokesmen who can address an issue with both truth and sensitivity.

If some truth is missing, Christians will be angry.

If some sensitivity is missing, the culture becomes angry.

What works in our pulpits doesn’t always translate well to secular journalists.

Phil Robertson spoke biblical truth, but his coarse language made him sound angry.  Because his views and manner play well with his family, church, and region, he’s probably expressed himself like that scores of time in the past without recrimination.

But his words didn’t resonate well with millions in our culture this time.

I believe that Jesus wants His followers to win souls rather than arguments.

When we focus on being right, we win few if any souls.

But when we focus on souls, we’re forced to speak the truth in love … and in the process, we win more people to Jesus.

Third, when Christians speak to the culture, we need to lead with arguments followed by Scripture.

Increasingly, our culture doesn’t believe in God … or the God of the Bible … and rejects the Bible itself.

So when we quote Scripture to make a point, most people shrug it off … like Christians would if Muslims quoted from The Koran.

Last week, I even heard a prominent conservative commentator call Christians ignorant because of some of our biblical beliefs.

We have to know our audience better.

Sometimes Jesus went right to Scripture while teaching … like He did in Matthew 22:34-40.

Sometimes Jesus made arguments first and then quoted Scripture … like He did in Matthew 22:23-33.

Sometimes Jesus bypassed Scripture altogether and just told a story …. like He did in Matthew 20:1-16.

When Phil Robertson quoted Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:9, some of his hearers thought he was equating homosexuality with beastiality and murder.

They missed his point that we’re all sinners … because gays and their apologists don’t believe they’re doing anything wrong when they have sex with each other.  Because what they’re doing is legal … and even moral to millions … Christians seem to be attacking a practice that’s already culturally acceptable.  

I wish Robertson had gone on to read verse 11 because it encapsulates the gospel message: “And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Paul says that regardless of our sin – even adultery or homosexuality – Christ can wash us clean … declare us righteous … and make us whole.

Maybe the truths of verse 9 would have been better received if the good news from verse 11 had been added.

Finally, the more controversial the issue, the more articulate Christians need to be.

Throughout the course of my pastoral ministry, I didn’t shy away from any controversial issue in the culture.

I presented entire messages about the New Atheists … Intelligent Design … homosexuality … abortion … racism … and gay marriage, just to name a few.

But before I delivered those messages, I studied all of Scripture on that issue … became familiar with secular arguments … wrote out my message in manuscript form … and was very careful about what I said.

Because if I offend people with the way I say something, then they won’t be open to the biblical position I’m trying to convey.

When discussing homosexuality in public – still an incredibly sensitive topic to millions – Christians need to preface their remarks by saying something like this every time:

“The Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation that sexual expression belongs only inside a committed heterosexual marriage relationship.  For a follower of Christ, this rules out premarital sex … extramarital sex … and same gender sex.”

I’ve often began discussions about male homosexuality by asking this question: “What do you think of anonymous and promiscuous sex?”

My guess is that most people think sex should have some aspect of commitment and love built into it.

Then say, “That’s why the Bible is against homosexual conduct … even when two gay men are married … because one or both partners nearly always give the other permission to engage in anonymous and promiscuous sexual activity outside their own relationship.”

And those facts have rarely been considered by those who champion homosexual behavior.

One wonders: why have Christians singled out homosexual behavior when heterosexual sexual sins are far more common?

My guess: because those who commit heterosexual sins aren’t organized (there’s no equivalent of GLAAD for adulterers) and aren’t considered a threat to the practice of Christianity in our culture.

I wish those who espouse the blessings of homosexual conduct and gay marriage took the time to understand how scary militant homosexuality comes across to devout Christians.

Last week, I ran across a comment from an expert who stated that civil rights should trump religious rights … and that’s what scares Christians to death.

We’re afraid that we’re going to become a persecuted minority … or even extinct … for practicing our faith the way we always have.

While Christians and gay advocates may never agree on the topic of sex, can we at least agree to COEXIST and COMMUNICATE in ways that demonstrate compassion, dignity, and respect?

If so, then maybe this whole Duck Dynasty controversy will have done some good.

Read Full Post »

How would you like to have Santa Claus sitting in your living room for two hours?

That’s what happened at our house last night … and I was the one who played Santa.


I agreed to be Santa for a party my wife Kim was having for her preschool children and their families.

But playing Santa isn’t as easy as it sounds.  There are so many decisions to make:

First, where do you buy a Santa suit?

Amazon has scores of them … in all price ranges … but I didn’t want to pay too much for a suit … and the variety was confusing.

In the end, we drove to Walmart, ventured into the Christmas area, hoped we’d find a suit … and they had just one left.

Second, how well does the Santa suit fit?

The hat, wig, and beard were okay … as were the pants … but Santa’s shirt was attached with Velcro, and I couldn’t insert a pillow without busting open the shirt.

So … compared to other Santas … I looked relatively thin.

My wife put baby powder on my eyebrows and face, so it looked like Santa had just come from the North Pole.

However, after putting the suit on, I noticed small red threads embedded into the carpet.

It’s not even Christmas and the Santa suit is already unraveling.

Third, how does Santa enter the living room?

In our place, there are only three options: the hallway, the sliding glass door to the backyard, and the front door.

Since it rained yesterday, I opted for the front door … just went through the garage, magically appeared on the doorstep, and rang the bell.

Fourth, how does Santa interact with the children?

I searched online for Santa tips, and settled on these four questions:

*What is your name?

*How old are you?

*Have you been naughty or nice?  (Every kid said they’d been nice.)

*What would you like for Christmas?  (Favorite answers: a skateboard or a dollhouse … although one kid wanted the latest Playstation.)


I didn’t promise to bring specific gifts to any child.  I merely stated that Santa’s sleigh is already full and that he’ll see what he can do.

Santa doesn’t want a broken promise to harm a child’s trust.

Fifth, how well does Santa pose for photos?

Although I posed for dozens of pictures, no smile was visible through my beard.



Some might say that Santa looks emotionally repressed … but when I remembered, I did say, “Ho ho ho” a lot.

Sixth, how did the kids respond to Santa?

Some walked right up to me and immediately posed for photos.


Some approached me with trepidation, but finally sat on my lap.

A few played games nearly at my feet.


Several children were petrified that Santa was anywhere near them.

Most kids were happy to take a candy cane.


Several kids asked me where Rudolph was.  I told them that after Rudolph and the other reindeer dropped me off, they went flying through the sky, and would pick me up when the night was over.

The kids seemed to buy it.

Finally, were there any surprises about playing Santa?

Yes … the suit is warm, and after two hours, I was relieved to remove it.

I also discovered that it’s hard to eat anything when you’re playing Santa because pieces of the beard get caught in your mouth.


The families seemed to have a great time.  After everybody left, we didn’t have any cupcakes … M & M’s … cookies … or any other goodies left.


Playing Santa is hard work.  I’m exhausted today.

But at least a dozen families had their own personal Santa for a little while … without having to stand in line at the mall and pay for pictures … and in the end, a good time was had by all.

But if you want me to come to your place and play Santa … you’ll have to speak with Miss Kim first.

And I’m not sure Rudolph wants to go out again before Christmas Eve.

Read Full Post »

How much influence should people with money have in a local church?

According to the New Testament, while wealthy people are welcome in a church – after all, everybody needs Jesus – they are not to use their wealth to make demands or influence decisions.

Probably the best passage along this line is 1 Timothy 6:17-19.  Paul writes:

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

During my 36 years in church ministry, I cannot remember a single time when a wealthy believer threatened to give or not give unless I did what he or she wanted.

Maybe some gave more if they liked the ministry, and gave less if they didn’t, but I was never aware of anyone using their wealth as a bargaining chip to get their way.

But this does happen in churches today … as the following two examples attest.

Several months ago, I received a phone call from a pastor and his wife on the East Coast.  This couple were both upset because he had been invited to a committee meeting that night, and he had received advance notice that he would be asked for his resignation.

Why?  Because a wealthy and influential woman on the committee didn’t like the pastor and decided his ministry was over.

While this committee could advise the pastor, it lacked the authority to fire him.  As I recall, the pastor could only be removed from office by congregational vote.

But, this pastor told me, this woman had run out the previous three pastors, and he was next on her list.

And because of her wealth and influence, nobody in the church had the guts to stand up to her.

I gave the pastor some counsel on how he could do exactly that … but I never found out what happened.

However, I do know what happened with a pastor friend of mine.

My friend had been pastoring a church for three years.  A wealthy board member insisted that the pastor do ministry a certain way.  The pastor resisted his demands.  (The pastor was typically labeled uncooperative.)

The wealthy board member then threatened to leave the church.  The pastor was willing to let him go, but the other board members wanted him to stay because he was wealthy.  (The more he gave, the less they had to give.)

So they talked him into staying … and then the entire board turned against the pastor and fired him outright.  Because of the pastor’s age, his career in church ministry is essentially over.

And that rich board member quickly hired a pastor that he wanted to run the church … but know that board member will really be running the church through the pastor.

And yet who does God call to lead a local church: a wealthy “board member” or a godly pastor?

Let me share three principles about pastors and wealthy donors:

First, pastors ultimately serve Almighty God, not the Almighty Dollar.

Most pastors cannot be bought, and that’s how it should be.  While pastors are sometimes aware of who has money in a church … clothes, cars, houses, and vacations make this obvious … no pastor can let people with money dictate how a ministry is going to be run.

As Paul says in the 1 Timothy 6 passage above, the rich are “to put their hope in God” … not wealth … and the pastor is to do the same.

If a pastor … or a board … or a congregation lets money make decisions, then money has become that church’s god, and the church will eventually experience freefall.

Every church needs to make sure that its priorities are GOD/MONEY, never MONEY/GOD.

Second, pastors are wise to listen to the wealthy, but not obey their dictates.

Some relatively poor Christians give generously to their church, while some wealthy believers give little, so there’s no direct correlation between wealth and donations.  In fact, some wealthy people manage their income poorly and are in debt up to their eyeballs.

So just because someone has money doesn’t mean they should be given disproportionate influence in their church.  I always tried to hear the concerns of those who donated generously – they were heavily invested in the church’s future, after all – but I could never allow their desires to determine ministry direction or priorities.

Finally, pastors need to confront anyone who uses money as a weapon – even if that means they leave the church.

“Now listen, pastor, I insist that we hire a full-time youth pastor.  If you do, I’ll pay for the remodeling of the youth room, but if you don’t, our family can’t stay at this church any longer.”

“Well, Joe, I’m sorry you feel that way.  I am God’s man, and I cannot be bought, so if that’s your attitude, I encourage your family to find somewhere else to worship.”

“Pastor, you need to know that others agree with me, and they are willing to remove you as pastor if you don’t do things our way.”

“Really, Joe?  Who are these people?  What are their names?”

“I can’t reveal any confidences, pastor, but if I leave, they’re going with me.”

“Well, Joe, that may be the case, but unless you’re going to pastor a new church, those people are fools to follow you anywhere.”

Okay, maybe the pastor shouldn’t make that last statement … but it feels good to say it!

I thank God for the wealthy believers that I have known over the years who loved the Lord … served faithfully … gave without strings … offered occasional suggestions … but let their pastor lead the church under Christ’s headship.

I suspect this is reality in most churches.  But when the wealthy try and buy influence in a church, they need to be confronted … or shown the door.

How much influence do you believe people with money should have in a church?

Read Full Post »

This morning, I went to the post office to mail a package and buy stamps.

This meant that I would have to wait in a long line, but I was up for it … I thought.

The line was long, with maybe 15 seniors ahead of me … but even though there are 4 “windows” at our post office, there were only 2 clerks.

Directly behind me in line was a young mother … holding a toddler while pushing a large stroller … trying to balance several packages on top of her stroller.

I mentally told myself, “When it’s my turn, I’ll let that mother go ahead of me.”

While we were waiting, a third clerk appeared and began waiting on customers on the far left side.

After interminable waiting, a customer left the third clerk’s station, and I was next … but first, I let the struggling mother go ahead, and she thanked me as she passed by.

I assumed she would go to the clerk on the left, but as she passed me, the middle window opened up, and she stopped there … so I went to the clerk on the left … who had now disappeared without warning.

I waited … and waited …and heard someone talking on the phone.

Finally, that third clerk appeared, and when she saw me, she asked, “Did I call you over here?”

I was startled.

I asked her, “What would you like me to do?”  I tried to explain that her window had been open … I didn’t know it had closed … I thought she would be there when I arrived … but she didn’t care.

Maybe I was supposed to wait until she said, “Next!”

I had violated some sort of unwritten protocol … like when George and Elaine visited the Soup Nazi and were told, “No soup for you!”

The clerk didn’t want to hear any explanations … and I was feeling very uncomfortable.  I’m not going to argue with a government employee in public … especially since I go to that post office all the time.

So I told her I would leave her station … told the next person in line to take my place … and got back in line and waited for another – more civil – clerk.

And when I did, I overheard that clerk talk to the next customer about me …  but I wasn’t going back to her window.

(I tend to be a charming and cooperative customer … unless my dignity is assaulted in public.)

When conflict arises – and it does nearly every day for most of us – God’s people need to be assertive (standing up for ourselves) without being aggressive (adding anger to assertiveness).

Theologian/author R. C. Sproul once visited a department store with his young daughter and felt that a clerk was treating him rudely.  Rather than address the clerk, Sproul said to his daughter – within earshot of the clerk: “When you grow up, I hope you learn to treat people with respect and dignity, unlike this clerk.”

Have you ever said anything like that?  I have … but there’s another way to handle things.

Proverbs 17:14 says, “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”

Proverbs 20:3 adds, “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.”

If you find yourself in a conflict situation, and disagreement escalates into arguing, rather than fault the other person and exonerate yourself … sometimes the wisest course is to walk away.

Especially if you find yourself inside a government building.

Read Full Post »

Would your church be better off without your present pastor?

Sometimes I’m surprised by how many lay people – especially board members – think this way.

Here’s a typical scenario:

Joseph is called to be the pastor of Trinity Church, which averages 80 people when he arrives.

Three years later, average church attendance stands at 240, meaning that Trinity has tripled in size.

While most churchgoers are excited by Trinity’s growth, three veteran couples – along with two board members – are very unhappy with Pastor Joseph.


They claim that he preaches too long … doesn’t offer enough invitations for salvation … doesn’t use enough Scripture when he preaches … isn’t involved in denominational work … and doesn’t listen to their ideas.

Most of their complaints are smokescreens … except the last one.

That’s the real issue: these pioneers sense that they’re losing control of their church.

Go back and read that last sentence again and note three key phrases:

these pioneers = since they’ve been in the church longer than most, the 8 believe that their feelings take precedence over the rest of the church.

losing control = the pastor’s values, ideas, and plans are being adopted by 95% of the congregation … while theirs aren’t being taken seriously by anyone.

their church = they mistakenly believe that the church is owned by human beings –  not Jesus Christ – who boldly proclaimed, “I will build My church!”

In all too many churches, some people are uncomfortable unless they’re running the church.  And when the pastor becomes too successful, they feel threatened … especially when he’s attracting too many newcomers … who seem to adore their pastor without knowing much of anything about the pioneers.

And the pioneers resent the influx of newcomers because they don’t know them and can’t control them.

In this case, the three couples and two board members – a total of 8 people – begin holding informal meetings … especially in restaurants and in each other’s homes.  These meetings are initially closed to anyone else.

The purpose?  To stop the chaos … and all the newcomers … and return the church to the way it used to be … when they were in charge!

If they’re that unhappy, why don’t the 8 just leave?

Because most of the time, they feel that they’ve invested too much time, sweat, and money to let someone else – even their pastor – run the ministry.

And so, 8 people meeting in secret will attempt to subvert the will of the other 232 people in the congregation just so they can alleviate their own anxiety.

It’s the height of selfishness … but this is precisely what happens in thousands of churches every year.

Of course, the pastor is too busy focusing on leading, preaching, counseling, and loving people to even pay attention to those secret little meetings.

And he’ll continue to be unaware when each of the 8 works their network and tries to recruit a few more people to join their subversive cause.

And then one day … after a Sunday service … or during a regularly-scheduled board meeting … the church board will ask the pastor for his resignation.

And the pastor will be so shocked that he’ll give it to them.

And after the pastor leaves, the following five things will happen at the church:

*The church board – and their network – will exaggerate charges against the pastor in an attempt to ruin his reputation so that people in the congregation drop all contact with him.

*Most of the pastor’s supporters will gradually leave the church – something the 8 never foresaw.

*The 8 will not be venerated, but vilified by most of the pastor’s supporters … causing several of them to leave the church.

*The congregation will struggle financially for a long time because (a) the pastor’s supporters took their money with them; (b) the church will now need to hire an interim pastor … usually at the same rate of pay that the pastor received; (c) the church will need to put together a search team for a new pastor; (d) several staff members will be released because the church can no longer pay them; (e) some ministries will have to be dismantled because the church can no longer staff them or fund them; and (f) overall costs will jump 10-15%.

Finally, the congregation will never fully heal because few people will ever learn the real reason why the pastor resigned … and most church leaders won’t want to tell the real story.

Wouldn’t it have been better for the 8 to leave the church quietly if they were that unhappy?

What do you think?

Read Full Post »

Why do some professing Christians seem to hate particular Christian leaders?  That’s what I recently asked Dave Rolph, today’s guest blogger.

Pastor Dave Rolph

Dave is the senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Pacific Hills in Aliso Viejo, California:  http://www.ccpacifichills.org/

Dave is also the teacher on the nationally-syndicated radio program The Balanced Word (he’s one of the best Bible teachers I know) and is the editor of The Word for Today Bible: http://www.amazon.com/Word-Today-Bible-Chuck-Smith/dp/0718009029/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386010957&sr=1-1&keywords=the+word+for+today+bible

Aside from his impressive credentials, Dave has been my friend through thick and thin for 45 years.  We attended the same church, graduated from the same college and seminary, and rooted for the same sports teams.

Here are Pastor Dave’s thoughts on this timely topic:

I think sometimes we are too hard on the Pharisees.  We are amazed by the fact that they rejected Jesus, hated Him, and were ultimately complicit in killing Him.  And while we rightfully regard them as being wrong, we are sometimes unfairly ignoring why they were the way they were.  When I put myself in the place of a Pharisee, I can at least understand their motivation.

The Pharisees were good, well-meaning people.  They knew the Bible well, and were plugged in with history and tradition.  They understood that all the past problems of the Jewish people had come about because of an attitude of syncretism, whereby their faith was watered down by paganism.

This compromise had been the cause of hundreds of years of slavery, and they were determined that they would never compromise again.  You can understand why they were frightened by this new, young radical rabbi named Jesus.

His teachings were unbiblical, in their eyes.  He was twisting the traditional practices and understandings, and reinterpreting their long-held convictions.

Associations were so important to Pharisees.  It was how they maintained their purity.  But Jesus was associating with all the wrong people.  Of course, the first century brought many radical cult leaders to Israel. Most of them weren’t seen as threats though.  What frightened the Pharisees the most about Jesus was His success.  If He were allowed to continue, He had the potential to swallow up everything they held holy.  He had to be stopped.  The future of the faith was at stake.  So they hated Him and they killed Him.

I get it, but it was tragically wrong.

Jesus told them that by hating and killing Him, they were simply repeating what their fathers had done to every prophet who came before Him.  It occurs to me that the sons of the Pharisees do the same thing, when they are threatened by new success.  It has happened throughout church history, where people were burned at the stake for doing things differently.  Radical ideas like translating the Bible into English, or suggesting that salvation comes by grace through simple faith in Jesus.

I get the hatred, and I understand the fear, but it was tragically wrong.

In my lifetime, I have seen good, conservative, fundamental people who love God, and hate Billy Graham, because he didn’t do things their way.  They didn’t like some of his associations.  They were afraid of his success.

I witnessed the same fear as I was saved, and began my association with Calvary Chapel and Pastor Chuck Smith.  Really good people who I greatly admired, including many of those at the college and seminary I ultimately graduated from, were threatened by a guy who would put dirty hippies on a stage.  These were new methods, new outreaches, and a frightening level of success.  Church as they knew it was in danger.

I now understand the hatred and fear. But it was tragically wrong.

Now almost every day I read about someone who seems to hate Pastor Rick Warren.  They are suspicious of his methodology.  His associations are sometimes disturbing.  He does things differently than they’ve ever been done before.  His success and notoriety are staggering.  His influence is frightening.  His approach threatens to swallow up everything that came before.

I get it. But like before, like always, it is tragically wrong.

I have sympathy for Pharisees.  I understand their motivation.  I have been one on occasion.

But they have always been wrong, and they are still tragically wrong.

What kind of hatred of Christian leaders have you witnessed?

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: