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Jul 27, 2014

To The Evangelical Church: From A Recovering Progressive

Emily T. Wierenga has written a trending piece that many Christians will relate to: growing up in a home and church in which being a Christian meant a lot of rules, and struggling with the consequences of always trying to perfectly follow the rules handed down to her.

In her piece titled, To the Evangelical Church: From a Recovering Progressive, she writes, “All I could find were a bunch of hard-fast rules, leotards and sitting up straight and don’t stare, don’t interrupt, don’t talk with your mouth full, don’t swear, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t let anyone know that you might have doubts about anything. Because saved people don’t sin. But where are the ‘do’s’? Where are the YES’s? Where are the hurrahs and the hosannahs, where is the wine of Canaan? Where are the resurrected?”

Can you relate? Has much of your faith life been about keeping rules, saying no to things, trying to make up for sin and cover up guilt and shame? This is often a natural path Christians can go down when they don’t understand the freedom that Christ’s atoning death brings. It can lead us to try to make up for our sins and try to earn favor with God, which the Bible says we just can’t do.

But, there’s another danger than Christians can fall into, and that’s thinking that we don’t have to strive for goodness, we just have to “love Jesus.” This can be equally crippling to our faith.

This pendulum swing eventually happened to Wierenga. After growing up evangelical, she gravitated to a more progressive faith. “I didn’t have to be good. I didn’t have to be nice. I just had to love Jesus. And for a while, this emergent, progressive, neo-Christian theology sustained a relationship with Jesus, with no strings attached.”

Eventually, though, Wierenga realized this too was a broken path, one that left her feeling like God owed her something. Now her theology is a little clearer:

“It's not bad to have rules. In fact, it's good, and sin is something we battle from day one, and we need saving from it. We need to overcome it and live in the fullness of the resurrection. We need sanctification, justification, and one day—glorification.

But before all of that, we need grace. Grace is not the end but the beginning. From day one, it's about a loving God pursuing us, and the theology follows. Because once you realize how much your Father loves you, all you want is for him to teach you how to live.

We don't learn how to live in order to feel the love of God. We feel the love of God and then desire to know how to live.”

How can we safeguard from these extremes of legalism and liberalism in our faith? It starts by understanding the full story of God’s salvation and His plan of restoration for the world. Christine Hoover writes about just this in her post Life after Salvation: Why the Second Half of the Story Matters. She notes, “The second half of the story is that God has known all along that we’d fail Him, and that we’d continue to fail Him after His sacrifice for us. It’s not that our sin doesn’t grieve Him, it’s just that He made a way to deal with it on our behalf, precisely so we could get on with the business of enjoying Him and He us…It’s important to note that the first half of the story is largely about us and our sin, while the second half is about God and His actions on our behalf. Our thoughts and our focus, then, are a good litmus test to what part of the story we’re living in.” -Cross Walk

Phase 3 pt.8/20 (The Holy Land)

The Gospel At The Gates Of Hell

I had the opportunity to be a part of a discussion with Tim Keesee of Frontline Missions International about his new book, Dispatches from the Front: Stories of Gospel Advance in the World’s Difficult Places. 

In the book and the accompanying video series, Keesee shares his experiences visiting Christians and observing God’s work in places as diverse and dangerous as China, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, North Africa, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, former Soviet republics, and Southeast Asia.

Jesus promised, “I will build my Church,” and try as they might, the Gates of Hell are no match for the Holy Spirit’s work.

It wasn’t long into the conversation before the growing problem of religious liberty came up. China is, in various ways and various places, cracking down on churches and arresting pastors. The Muslim world continues to grow increasingly intolerant of Christians, the plight of Christians in Iraq and Syria being especially troubling. And many in India see Christianity as a pernicious “Western” influence despite the fact that it’s been Indian since the first century.

One of the reasons governments feel free to deny their citizens religious freedom has to do with the Obama administration’s apparent lack of interest.

Consider that it was more than two years after his inauguration before Mr. Obama filled the legally mandated State Department post of Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom. Then he chose the Rev. Susan Johnson Cook, someone, according to Religious News Service, “whose international experience was mostly acquired on the job.” That is, he chose someone no experience in diplomacy or expertise in international religious freedom, someone who would have little influence.

Cook served from April 2011 to October 2013 and the post is still vacant. As Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Liberty Project at Georgetown University told Religious New Service this past January, “A continued vacancy will confirm the suspicion that already exists among foreign governments, persecutors, victims and American diplomats that the issue is not a priority.”

On February 6, the president told the National Prayer Breakfast, “We will keep standing for religious freedom around the world…. I look forward to nominating our next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to help lead these efforts.”

Now it’s July and we’re still waiting. Hardly the way that you treat an office that, as the State Department website puts it, “has the mission of promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.”

And make no mistake: international religious freedom should be “a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.”

First, religious freedom is the first freedom. Without the freedom to live out of our deepest convictions about truth, life, and God, every other freedom—speech, assembly, press, and even economic—are hollowed out and empty.

Second, love for neighbor demands that we fight for the legitimate rights of others. No one should be arrested, beaten, imprisoned, or killed for attempting to live out a relationship with God according to his or her conscience. And the moral influence of the United States has in the past made a great difference in how religious individuals and groups have fared under repressive regimes.

Third, religious freedom is a national security issue. Take it away and you breed unrest, lawlessness, and terrorism. Having done the historical, sociological, and political research, Oxford Univerisity’s Monica Duffy Toft, Notre Dame’s Daniel Philpott, and Georgetown’s Timothy Shah concluded in their book God’s Century, “[I]f governments fail to respect the institutional independence of religious actors [their religious freedom], especially through systematic repression, the more these governments will encourage pathological forms of religious politics, including religious-based terrorism and religious-related civil wars.” And religious-based terrorism and religious-related civil wars spill over borders as we are seeing most poignantly in Syria and Iraq.

Toft, Philpott, and Shah describe how Saudi Arabia, which brutally enforces a single strand of Islam, encourages violence. “Since [Saudi Arabia] afforded no space for its militant dissenters to exist, much less operate, and since the political theology of these dissenters gave the a much wider set of ambitions, they went global, with an ever expanding field of operation that encompassed Afghanistan, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, and—in time—New York and Washington.”

Religious freedom is not just of concern to religious believers. It is vital to peace in the world. Letting it slip away internationally or here at home creates a clear and present danger for everyone.

The third century Christian theologian and apologist Tertullian famously wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” While Timothy Keesee’s book demonstrates that it is still true today, U.S. foreign policy needs to do all it can to stop the bloodshed. –Christian Headlines

9 Wasteful Yard Care Habits and How to Kick Them

Summer means balmy weather, longer evenings and a more leisurely pace of life. If you’d love to sit back and enjoy your garden but are too busy planting, weeding and watering, it’s time to stop. Take a closer look at yard care habits that are wasting your time, not to mention money and natural resources. Then apply the following easy-to-do life hacks to simplify your lawn and garden maintenance routine … and give you more time to relax.

Fighting Mother Nature. Do a soil test and find out which nutrients should be added to your yard to grow healthy grass or other plants. Choose a species of grass that will flourish in your particular soil and climate conditions. These actions will pay off in terms of a yard that needs weeding less often; the right grass in the right soil generally crowds out weeds.

Mowing your lawn too much. Adjust the lawn mower height to 2-3 inches (and use a manual or electric mower for the sake of the planet). Your grass doesn’t need a crew cut and in fact, the “longhair look” will expose more leaf surface to the sun’s rays, enabling it to photosynthesize more efficiently. This makes your grass stronger, more drought resistant and better able to compete with weeds for space in your lawn. While you’re at it, start fertilizing less as well. Twice a year – once every spring and fall – is plenty.

Fighting the grass at the edge of your flower beds. You’ll have no need to use a weed whacker to cut in close to stone borders if you set the stones level with the earth. This also holds true for flagstone paths.

Trying to create a golf course in your backyard. Mega-lawns are also mega-water guzzlers. Replace at least part of your grassy lawn with native plants, especially if you live in a drought-prone area. Pozo surf, a hardy bush with attractive bright green foliage, would be an excellent choice for the dry San Diego landscape, for example.

Watering the garden too much and incorrectly. One inch of water weekly is generally recommended for both lawns and vegetable gardens. Subtract the amount of rainfall per week from this figure to calculate how much you’ll need to supplement. Water early in the morning, before 9:00 AM, to minimize water loss due to evaporation. Watering deeply two or three times a week – as opposed to a light sprinkle every day – promotes deep root growth, which helps plants to utilize the moisture more efficiently and increases resistance to dryness and heat. Try to direct the water toward the roots rather than the leaves; wet foliage is more vulnerable to sunburn.

Not using recycled water. Set up a rain barrel (simple), or greywater (more complicated but worth it in the long run) system to recycle water from precipitation or household runoff for use in hydrating your lawn and garden. You can also use a shower bucket to help water plants.

Having a wasteful water feature. We may sound a tad obsessed by this point, but water conservation is such an easy way to help the environment … and it reduces your bills as a homeowner, so here goes: Recirculate the H2O used by your yard’s water feature with a closed loop system. Or go even more green by harvesting rainwater for your fountain, waterfall or pond.

Not letting your lawn breathe free. Aerate it – a project that is simple to DIY – twice a year, in springtime and autumn, to improve drainage and allow air, water and nutrients increased access to your grass’s roots.

Weeding your vegetable garden too much. There is a modification you can make for next year that will revolutionize your gardening habits. Replace your conventional veggie garden with raised beds, raised rows or containers. Besides less weeding, these offer many other benefits: a smaller area that needs mitigation through fertilizing and composting, better water retention in sandy soil, improved drainage in clay, less soil erosion and fewer pests like snails and slugs. –Care2

Mystery Shoppers Rate Church Size

Over six years, more than 4,000 unchurched mystery guests visited churches of all sizes across the U.S. Here’s what they thought.
Small churches are friendlier, while large churches have better publicity and higher sermon quality, according to the results of a church marketing project that uses unchurched mystery guests to rate church programs and atmospheres.

Local community members who don't usually attend church visited more than 4,000 churches over six years and rated them on 16 categories, from community awareness, greetings, and music to diversity and youth ministry programs. Faith Perceptions, which has more than 13,000 mystery guests in all 50 states, spearheaded the study and paid community members $45 to participate.

They found that churches with fewer than 80 people in attendance often don't do well with children's ministries or having information available (think updated website). But they lead the pack in greeting guests upon arrival, the pre- and post-service atmosphere and friendliness.

Megachurches, which are often aimed at the unchurched, fared best. Churches with 1,000 members or more ranked top in 10 of the categories, including raising awareness of the church in the community, seating arrangements, message delivery and the pastor's public speaking skills.

Microchurches (those with less than 80 in attendance) topped four categories (noted above), and mid-sized congregations rated best for the in-service greeting (81 to 150 attenders), the effectiveness of church signage (151 to 300 in attendance), and children's ministries (Churches with 501 to 1000 attendees tied megachurches in this category).

All church sizes scored "very poor" — 5 to 6 out of 10 — in diversity and outreach, explained by Faith Perceptions as "how diverse the church is and how it connects with its community with respect to age, socioeconomic status, gender, and various ethnicities that live in the area." Except for megachurches, churches also scored poorly on raising community awareness about themselves and the likelihood that mystery guests would return based on their first impression. Churches with fewer than 500 members scored poorly on children's and youth programs.

All church sizes scored well on welcoming guests upon their arrival, though the smaller the church, the better the greeting. The same held true for pre- and post-service atmosphere and friendliness: the smaller the church, the more welcoming the atmosphere.

Churches also scored well on seating arrangements, though approval typically grew with church size. The overall music and the public speaking skills of the service leader also generally scored better the larger the church, as did children's programming and the likelihood that a guest would return for a second visit.

CT often covers megachurches, including the Supreme Court's decision to maintain the ban on megachurch graduations, the financial health of megachurches in 2013, and which four states still don't have a megachurch. CT also editorialized on how megachurches hold up a mirror to American churches. –Christianity Today

The Truth About Leviticus And Homosexuality

The Dead Mule Sale

Two fellows saw a FOR SALE ad for a mule for $100 in the Starkville Daily News, the local newspaper of Starkville, Mississippi.

They bought the mule.

The farmer agreed to deliver the mule the next day.

However, the next morning the farmer drove up and said, "Sorry, fellows, I have some bad news, the mule died last night."

The buyers replied, "Well, then just give us our money back."

The farmer said, "Can't do that. I went and spent it already."

They said, "OK then, just bring us the dead mule."

The farmer asked, "What in the world are ya'll gonna do with a dead mule?"

One of the fellows said, "We gonna raffle him off."

The farmer said, "You can't raffle off a dead mule!"

The other fellow said, "We shore can! Heck, we don't hafta tell nobody the mule's dead!"

A couple of weeks later, the farmer ran into the two guys at the local Piggly-Wiggly Supermarket and asked them, "What'd you fellers ever do with that dead mule?"

They said, "We raffled him off like we said we wuz gonna do."

One of the guys said, "Shucks, we sold 500 tickets fer $2 apiece and made a profit of $998!"

The farmer said, "My Lord, didn't anyone complain?"

The other guy said, "Well, the feller who won got upset. So we gave him back his two dollars."

The two guys now work for the US government, and they're overseeing the federal bailout program.

Limit all US politicians to two terms: one in office, one in jail.

~Contributed by Ralph

Spiritual Abuse Is Alive And Well

Spiritual abusers produce tainted fruit poisonous to the cause of Christ

Not too long ago a young lady wrote to Got Questions describing a spiritual lashing from a church leader that left her shaken. Already a devoted follower, she was severely reprimanded for declining to help finance a special project, even though she was already a faithful tither. Left crying and babbling for thinking she was fallen from grace, the apostle* continued the verbal lashing by reminding her she also needed to apologize for challenging apostolic authority.

This lady (I will name Faith) wrote, "I went home completely devastated. I got up...that morning and sent an email telling her that what she did was callous, hurtful, and totally ungodly and that I would never place myself in this type of situation again." She went on to say, "I am done with church!"

So sad, and yet this is what genuine believers encounter all too often in abusive churches. Abusive leaders, like this self-proclaimed apostle, are like a diseased vine that draws up a full measure of abhorrence from the pit of hell (2 Peter 2:1). Their often double-dealing oratory produces tainted fruit that is poisonous to the soul and damaging to the cause of Christ (Matthew 7:17-20). I have witnessed these abusive church leaders firsthand and know the damage they do. I am no longer surprised by the lives they destroy. They and their kind do not know the peace of God (Romans 14:17). They are wholly unaware of what they are doing because they are blind guides walking in darkness (Matthew 23:24).

For some time now a growing number of evangelical churches have been promoting the five-fold ministry described in Ephesians 4:11. They reason if we still need evangelists, pastors, and teachers then we also still need apostles and prophets. While the ministry gifts are for building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12), it is important to remember these gifts have always been in effect and are so today. But as we have seen, the five-fold ministry has been hijacked by charlatans to build up new movements by ensnaring and mishandling the innocent.

May I assure you, there is no need for a new movement by prophets and apostles to speak afresh what the Holy Scriptures have already spoken? Everything God had to say was said and recorded in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2). There is no "new thing" God is saying to the church today.

Faith went on to say her former church embraces Myles Munroe's "Kingdom Now" message.** While Munroe is a prosperity preacher, his beliefs parallel the New Apostolic Reformation movement.*** Munroe believes there is great need for spiritual leaders (apostles and prophets) to help lead people, and herein the need for these special anointings to guide the church. Of course, they are wrong because the Bible disagrees (John 16:13). As a result, Munroe endorses extra-biblical revelation by way of apostolic and prophetic utterance. The problem with the Kingdom Now message is its doctrine is tainted by false teachings and self-promoting leaders.

The author of Acts writes, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29). While there are Bible-based churches, many others have devolved into deep fountains of heresy. These religious institutions excel at displaying pretense, promoting greed, and spinning webs of unending confusion while trying to rid themselves of doctrine they view irrelevant.

Wounded and saddened, Faith left her church to get away from the sham, control, and abuse. She would no longer tolerate mistreatment from anyone at any time for any reason. She wasn't rejecting Christ, but: spiritual abuse :

    The word abuse is used to describe the mistreatment or misuse of virtually anything. We speak of abuse of trust, drugs, institutions, and objects. These forms of abuse are sinful for the same reason that abuse directed at people is sinful. Such mistreatment is motivated by selfishness and results in damage and destruction. People abuse others for a variety of reasons, but selfishness underlies all abuse. We tend to lash out when things do not go our way.

I cannot think of a better place for Faith to be right now than in His presence, away from the madness of those who claim to be Christian. Jesus had strong words for abusers: "But whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:6)."

In flow with the words of Jesus, are we not also like the little ones who gathered around the feet of Jesus to learn of His holy ways? While there are many things yet to learn, learning how to handle abuse from the brethren (if they are brethren) should not be one of them. The apostle Paul wrote about learning experiences when he wrote, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Apart from God's plan to deal with Faith's abuser (Romans 12:19), the Bible says forgive those who hurt you (Matthew 6:14). Why? Because abusers do not always know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). Whatever the reason for Alice's abuse, this apostle was ill-prepared to lead anyone because she did not know that leadership begins by addressing the needs of others before your own, like a mother caring for a child (Matthew 23:11).

On the upside, not all abusive people are dark spirits. "The hurt and harm of spiritual abuse is rarely inflicted upon people with the intention to wound anyone. Most spiritual abuse is inflicted by Christians who are very sincere, who believe they are obeying the Bible in sharing Christ with others, and who often believe that they are being led by the Holy Spirit." [1] But even the most sincere among us can get it wrong from time to time.

While spiritual abuse does occur in churches, the abuse experienced by Faith was in a church operating in deep error (Revelation 3:1-3). In his article "Spiritual Abuse," Major Scott Nicloy quotes evangelical sociologist Ronald M. Enroth's Churches that Abuse:

    Abusive churches...are first and foremost characterized by strong, control-oriented leadership. These leaders use guilt, fear, and intimidation to manipulate members and keep them in line. Followers are led to think that there is no other church quite like theirs and that God has singled them out for special purposes. Other more traditional evangelical churches are put down. Subjective experience is emphasized and dissent is discouraged. Many areas of members' lives are subject to scrutiny. Rules and legalism abound. For those who leave, the road back to normalcy is difficult.

Dark and mean-spirited abusers do not love because they do not know God (1 John 4:8). Consequently, the apostle that abused Faith never sensed the need to apologize for the abuse because in her mind disciplining Faith, however severe and for whatever reason, was for God's glory.

But even when abusers fail to apologize, the Bible admonishes us to pray for those who abuse us (Matthew 5:44). Forgiving someone removes the arrow shot deep into the heart. When the heart is free from the penetrating sting of the arrow, it will pulse freely with the grace of God's healing love.

By sending the email, Faith removed herself from the madness. Now, she is on the outside looking in. Finding another church at this time may be difficult for Faith, but that is okay. She probably knows what to look for:

    The importance of true Christian fellowship is that it reinforces these things in our mind and helps us to focus on Christ and His desires and goals for us. As iron sharpens iron… Christians in fellowship sharpen one another's faith and stir one another to exercise that faith in love and good works, all to God's glory.

In closing, there are many stories like Faith's; and, while many victims have agonized at the hands of church leaders for centuries, abuse can never be right and it can never be justified for God’s glory. While each story is unique and notable, each is also disquieting. Though Faith's story is all of these things and worth sharing, the good news is she is now free from her oppressors to discover the truth about the true church (John 8:32; Ephesians 4:4-6). –Blogos