Monday, July 25, 2011

Christ-Centered Marriages:

Matt. 7:3-5  3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I'm the kind of guy who likes to get the root of of issues. Admittedly, I'm not always able to do so in the best way possible.  

For example, a couple of months ago my sister-in-law wrote this post on why the church should not teach Christ-centered marriages.Wrongfully, I didn't focus on the conclusion of the post (which, for the most part, I agree with), but instead I focused on the differences of opinion we had in the reasons for it.  And while, as a pastor, I may continue to remain hesitant/defensive toward words of what the church should not do, I must confess my intentions of focusing on the differences of our opinion on this regard was the wrong way to go about it (especially since, this subject matter is most likely a Jar 3 or Jar 4 issue.)

On the subject of "Christ-Centered" marriages and whether or not this verbiage ought to be used, at this moment it is my opinion the church ought to refrain from it for the following reasons.

1) The Christian-life isn't compartmentalized, it's all-encompassing.

The main point of my SIL's post was that the church should spend it's energy focusing on "Christ-centered lives".  This, I must agree with.  As Dallas Willard noted (I believe in Spirit of the Disciplines), one of the things the church has done poorly over the past 20-30 years is to compartmentalize the Christian life into different areas.  We may teach, "Be Christ-centered at your work place...or in your marriage...or in whatever" instead of simply acknowledging that the Christian life is all-encompassing.  Therefore, we must acknowledge that we are representatives of Jesus in all we say and every part of our lives, not only our marriage.

Recently, I attended the annual conference for our association of churches and one of the speakers admitted there's one part of ministry he does on a regular basis that he swore he would never do when he went into ministry; that is, he preaches the gospel every single week.  While it may not be an invitation to receive Christ as savior, he admitted that we all need to be preaching the gospel to ourselves on a regular basis.  By doing so, we'll be able to best live out the gospel in every aspect of our lives.  Truer words may have never been spoken, and I would recommend this book to anybody interested in applying this in their own life.

2) The Church is not the Holy Spirit

Don't misunderstand me, here, I firmly believe the church is God's chosen vehicle to reach the world with the gospel message.  Jesus said, "Go!" and we are to go. And the book of Acts clearly indicates that Jesus' disciples went and went boldly.  But we should still acknowledge that it is His church, and not our own.  And that only the Holy Spirit can truly convict others of their sins. Therefore, on the subject of marriage, if one member of the marriage is a believer and the other is not, the believer is to continue keeping Christ at the center of their life with the prayer that their actions will lead their spouse to one day choose to do the same.  (This isn't a statement made to produce guilt, as there's really no greater satisfaction than living an all-encompassed life truly based on the teachings of Jesus.)

With these above thoughts, I'm indicating how I believe the church ought/ought not teach "Christ-centered marriages".  In the marriage seminar my wife and I have taught in the past, we didn't use the phrase. And while it may very well be possible for one to use the phrase, "Christ-centered marriage" and present a very good explanation as to what this means, perhaps it's best to teach others how we may focus our attention on the plank in our own eye, so we may then see clearly.  Because it's only when we see clearly that one will allow us to easily remove the speck from their own eye.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Summer Insitutute At Xenos:

Through the years I've attended many conferences and events.  I've been to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit and Arts Conference.  I've read many books about North Point and listened to enough of their talks and read through enough of their curriculum's to know how they operate.  But the Summer Institute Conference at Xenos in Columbus may be the most intriguing of all conferences I've attended.  This is probably why they have a document on their website titled "Why Xenos is not a good model for your church."  They simply do things...well...differently.

My primary purpose of attending the conference this year is to attend a 3-hour credit Master's Degree class by J. P. Moreland.  I've mentioned him before, but Dr. Moreland is a philosophy professor and apologeticist.  Anyway, it has been fascinating to sit under the first 2 hours teaching and listen to a good bit of evidence (philosophical, scientific, etc.) for the existence of a G/god.  Some of it is kind of difficult to comprehend, but much of it simply makes sense....and I look forward to the remainder of the course.

Concerning the conference, I've had the opportunity to listen to a number of great speakers, but the main highlight so far was a 3-part break-out session series I decided to take part in yesterday.  I'm the kind of guy who likes to be challenged, and the presenter held no punches.  The session started out with out 50 people in the room, and he gave us a scenario.  In short, the scenario was about being invited to a homosexual wedding by a friend who's son/daughter was being married.  He asked everybody to choose a side of the room -- will attend on one side; will not attend on the other; or a small section of "I want more information before making a decision."  (For the record, I landed on the "I will attend" side of the room.)  The rest of the sessions were challenging as well and the conversations that took place throughout those sessions were well worth the price of admission for the conference.

Other than the presenters/sessions, the culture at Xenos is unlike the culture at any church you've probably ever attended.  While waking to the main building on opening night I overheard 2 students:
Student A: "A friend a mine, a girl, got saved last weekend."
Student B: "F _ _ _ 'n - A!!! What was her name?!

This kind of conversation, while maybe not "normal" at Xenos, is mostly accepted.  Last year at the conference I saw T-shirts with the phrase "Cussing is not a sin."  Whether or not one agrees with this or not is irrelevant.  But from my perspective, the gospel is being preached, and people/students are very, very excited about it.

Another interesting aspect of Xenos is that there is no "worship" music like most contemporary churches see it today.  There is tons, tons, tons, of teaching/education/community, but no "worship", at least in the realm of music.  So the bookstore within the church has maybe 7 CD's available.  1 by Rich Mullins, 1 by Fernando Ortega, and TWO by Bob Dylan. Yup, this is how they roll.  And the pre-message/teaching music isn't necessarily "worship" music either.  The first night was a local rock band singing "When Love Came to Town" by U2/B.B. King, and last night the crowd heard 3 Irish Jig's before the main presenters of the evening.

All in all, for those who attend conferences and wand the best-bang-for-the-buck, or who want to experience a church culture different than most, feel free to consider the Xenos Summer Institute in the future.  It's definitely a unique, but very worthwhile conference/church to attend.


What churches or conferences have you attended that have been unique experiences?

Next Post Topic: Reasons Churches Ought Not Teach "Christ-Centered" Marriages

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Ocean:

I'm heading to the beach.  It's been a while since I've seen the ocean.  But a glimpse of the ocean can always be found elsewhere.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Emotions, Reason, and Fear:

This summer I have the opportunity to take a class with J. P. Moreland.  Professor Moreland is most known for what he refers to as "The Kingdom Triangle", and as such, I had the opportunity to read his book as one of the requirements for the class.  (Just so you know, his writing style is far from...let's say, Donald Miller.)  Anyway, throughout the book he argues against naturalism and postmodernism, and instead of solely using theology, he uses a great deal of philosophy to counter both.  It's a hefty read, and one I'm not sure I would recommend to most.

However, I also had the opportunity to read Dallas Willard's "Renovation of the Heart". This book is fantastic!  In fact, I look forward to reading it again later this year, because Willard makes so many good points throughout the book it's difficult to grasp each of them fully.  Of all the "how to" books on growing stronger in one's relationship with God, "Renovation of the Heart" is probably in the top 3 for sure.

And while it's difficult to remember everything he writes about, one of the arguments Willard makes in the book has stuck with me: the differences between Emotion and Reason.  While it would be impossible to condense all of what he says into a simple blog post, he essentially writes that many people today base their thoughts and beliefs on emotions instead of reason.  Even those in "intellectual circles" (which, he notes, we're all a part of these days) form their beliefs outside the realm of reason, and well inside the realm of emotions.  For this reason, he writes:

"This explains why it is so hard to reason with some people.  Their very mind has been taken over by one or more feelings and is made to defend and serve those feelings at all costs.  It is a fearful condition from which some people never escape.  We have noted how thoughts generate feelings.  If we allow certain negative thoughts to obsess us, then their associated feelings can enslave and blind us -- that is, take over our ability to think and perceive."

From my observations, Dallas Willard is right on.  Far too often people become obsessed with a certain thought because it's how they "feel" about a certain subject.  If asked about why they have a certain belief, I've discovered it's generally based on a personal experience, an experience of another person, or some other emotional factor.  Scripture doesn't matter.  History doesn't matter.  Philosophy doesn't matter.  Wisdom, it seems, is thrown right out the window.  But if their belief or conviction on a certain subject makes them "feel" good, then it's most likely the correct conviction. "God is good," they say, "so my belief in this area must be correct."  When tough questions are asked, the conversation ends, because they don't really want to wrestle through questions that may inevitably make them feel differently.

All in all, when a belief system is based on feelings, it is, as Willard notes, a fearful condition.  It's ultimately a system based on fear.  One is afraid of potential consequences based on a change in their belief/s, but instead of attacking the fear head-on, they allow the fear to drive them.  They feed off fear and their emotions and due to this, they are never truly set free.  They may feel good about their beliefs, but they're still living in fear...and therefore, are living a life in bondage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that emotions are bad in any way, as our emotions are a gift from God.  And we have the freedom to turn to Him whether in times of gladness or sorrow.  But I'm not sure we should have a belief system based on how we feel, but rather, on what we know.

So I'm wondering: Is our relationship with God based on how we feel about Him, or is it based on what we know about Him and what He's done for us?  Is there anytime when it would be OK to have a conviction based on feelings instead of reason/knowledge?