In Search of a Better Christmas Experience

The six week long holiday season that begins Thanksgiving week and ends New Years Day is in full swing. While we all love this time of year, most everyone says they are glad when the season is over. I never understood this as a child, but as an adult I get it. I enjoy this season and many things about it, but I have felt there is added pressure on my family and have heard others express the same about feeling much more pressure on them in the last few years than they ever thought there would be there as adults. 

What is particular interesting are the reasons we feel this pressure. I know our parents felt pressured during Christmas. They wanted us to have a joyful Christmas and to bless us with gifts in ways they couldn’t all year. I didn’t understand that until I had my own children. I used to watch parents when we didn’t have children and had a sense of haughtiness because I would see them overwhelm their children with gifts and continuously tell myself, “My kids will never be this spoiled.” And then I had children, and now I understand. Although we don’t break the bank to buy our children presents, I do want to bless them with gifts. This is the kind of pressure our parents felt. They wanted us to enjoy our gifts because it brings them joy to see their children happy. Right or wrong, this was their belief and their pressure, which brings me to the pressure that our current generation feels about Christmas and our lives in general. We have different pressures during Christmas that may be harder. It’s the pressure of the Christmas experience that is lived out on the internet, specifically social media web sites. Let me explain.

Our culture is still a culture of excess, but today’s craving isn’t so much a craving for possessions but for an experience. We want this Christmas to be the best Christmas season we’ve ever had. Now we make our homes themed for what experience we are going for: old cottage in the woods, urban loft Christmas, Christmas at the beach, all while we are taking lots of pictures to post on all our social media pages to show everyone else how wonderful our home is to be in during the holidays, which is the heart of the problem. We want all the stuff, in the best setting and it cannot be boring or outdated.  We will not settle for an ordinary Christmas Day. We must have a season. We must have an experience. It must be filled will Christmas cookies that we made with our kids help that is followed by Christmas movies and singing Christmas carols. We no longer take our kids to see Christmas lights. We have to have pajama parties in our cars while looking at Christmas lights. My wife told me that some families send their kids a note and say they are being kidnapped to a pajama and Christmas light party. Huh? 

The pressure doesn’t end there. In fact it hasn’t even started. The real pressure begins when you log in and see what everyone else is doing at their home for Christmas and then you ask: Why didn’t we get a real Christmas Tree like them? Why didn’t we hand make our ornaments like them? Why don’t I look like that when I put up my tree? Next year I will. And then we resolve to a have better Christmas experience for ourselves and our kids. 

Christians are equally guilty. Why did we only read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Matthew and not from the Gospel Luke like they did? We only bought clothes for our own kids, so next year lets donate more money to charity like them so our kids will get the experience of giving back at Christmas. I only lit the Advent candles five times this year. They did one every day. I had advent devotions planned, but only did three and none them were written by John Piper! The manger scene we painted wasn’t as biblical as theirs. We sang jingle bells too much. We need to sing more Christian Christmas carols. Next year we will. And then we resolve that next year we will have better Christmas experience for ourselves and our kids. 

The reason we have more pressure than our parents did is because the whole world is watching. If you wanted to, you could have your entire life documented in film, photo and word. You can take videos, post pictures, an give frequent short updates about your Christmas on Facebook, Twitter or longer versions on your blog. There isn’t a problem inherently with posting pictures and giving updates through the internet. What sits uneasy with me is the way these outlets are used for self promotion. Why do we do the things we do with the tools we have? In other words, why do we use the ability the internet gives us for information and communication for self promotion? It’s not that we are more selfish than other cultures and time periods. If they had Instagram, they would do the same thing and likely did within the context of their time and tools. We do this because within us there is a void that longs for greatness and because we are modern and postmodern, we believe that greatness is to be found within ourselves and this world. We believe that we are great and we need a great experience to make our greatness even better, so we use the internet to show the world how great we are and how great we do things. No need for the heavens to declare the glory of God, we have an iPhone with our camera and social media sites just waiting on us to upload and declare our own glory. See if there is no God, then there is nothing for the heavens to declare the glory of. Its just open space. But glory needs to be declared and if I am the greatness in this world, then I and others need to declare my glory and there is no better time than now to declare to all of the human race your glory. It’s just one click away. Any wonder then why we feel exhausted after Christmas?

What we need is this void to be filled. We need to renounce our belief that greatness is within us. We have to renounce our desires to declare our own greatness. Ultimately, we have to renounce our belief in our own deity. There is only One who is deity in human flesh. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. Look to the heavens and see them declare His glory. See union with Christ the Lord as the greatest experience that anyone can know, an experience that never ends and is only getting better. Come to His church and participate in the greatest experience that happens on this side of eternity until Christ returns. Come see the body of Christ. Come and be a part of the body of Christ. Come and sing to Him. Come and praise Him. Come confess your sins to Him. Come and confess your faith in Him, which is your rejection of modernism, post modernism and self worship. Come and make your union with Him known to the world by passing through His water of baptism. Come and share a meal with Him, His Father and His brothers and sisters, who will be your Father and your brothers and sisters. And leave with His blessing over you as we go to different places of life until we meet again. The longings for a new and different experience doesn’t fit with Christianity, because we have been doing the same thing for thousands of years. But this gathering and this union never ages, grows outdated and only gets better with time. 

I don’t want a new experience. I want the same one over and over. I want Christ and more of Him. I don’t want a new worship experience each week. I want to worship Christ the Lord, the same yesterday, today and forever. I don’t need a better Christmas experience. I have union with Christ, the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. This is the experience not of a season, not of a lifetime, but of eternity. It’s an experience that refreshes instead of drains. Our burdens are heavy, but His shoulders can hold all our burdens and exhaustion. So cast them on Him, for He cares for you. 

Advent 2016 A.D.

A Better Story Than Santa

Once you have children, Christmas becomes a much more enjoyable experience. The joy of giving to your children is a better blessing than receiving a gift. I enjoy their joy immensely. The blessing of Christmas extends beyond the actual day of Christmas. It starts at the beginning of the Christmas season, with the decorations, the change of weather, the parties, the rotation of Christmas books, the singing of seasonal songs and many other things. It is the most wonderful time of year in our culture and it should be for Christians. The anticipation of Christ’s advent to earth to dwell among us is an event so wonderful that we have dated history and centered our Church calendars around it. It is a great story that needs to be told annually. 

American Christians are in a unique place with the story of Christmas because we simultaneously have a cultural holiday and a religious holiday mixed into one. In other words, you have two stories either being told separately or being twisted together into one where you end up with manger scenes that have either Santa Clause flying overhead or Santa bowing down at the manger in worship of the Christ. Certainly if the historical Saint Nicholas had been present at the birth of Christ he would bowed before Him. But Santa Clause bowing down to Christ seems rather strange.

What I find strange about mixing the two holidays isn’t that they create a tension for people to choose between Jesus and Santa Clause, but that they are two completely different stories and one of them is obviously superior to the other. The story of Jesus Christ coming to earth, is a much better story than that of Santa Clause. That statement isn’t to condemn the cultural story of Santa Clause, but to point out the superiority of the Christian story, which is why it is strange to mix the two together: they aren’t very similar. God becoming a man is a much better read than a man flying all over the earth and leaving presents for children. 

Our home isn’t interested in mixing the two stories. However, we love and appreciate the unique American heritage we have and its Christmas stories that are told. As Christians, we aren’t to hate all things that our culture does, but we can receive the things that are good from our cultural celebration of Christmas and can celebrate them with others who may not be Christians. I have no problem with those who aren’t Christians who want to celebrate Christmas and even if they want to remember the origins of Christmas and the birth of Jesus. The angels did declare that the birth was for all men. We shouldn’t object to anyone remembering the birth of Jesus Christ, or object to a non-Christian who celebrates the distinctly American/Western part of Christmas history. I desire that they come to worship the Christ who came to earth to bring peace and am saddened that they choose the lesser story and not the great one, but pertaining to this holiday, I have no objections to their choosing to celebrate this day as non-Christian.

What is disappointing about these stories is when Christians do not see the superiority of the Christian story to the Santa story, particularity those with small children. These are Christians who love the Lord Jesus, love their families and desire to keep the birth of Christ at the center of what they are celebrating and to this I say Amen. The disappointment surrounds what story is being told and why its told in this particular way. These families are rightly turned off by the swaths of money spent on presents and novelties, the lack of Christmas worship services, and the declining number of families and churches that devote time reading and mediating upon the Christmas story. These are legitimate concerns that lead to levels of avoidance. 

Christians are right in our desire to avoid falling prey to banality, gluttony, greed, vainglory, and envy. But is fear and avoidance enough to fight against greed, mass consumption, reckless spending and omnipresent eyes from the North Pole? No. We must believe our story is superior and then teach and celebrate it in our churches and homes. Avoiding cultural sins isn’t enough to keep Christ in Christmas. Until we come to believe that Christ’s putting on flesh and dwelling among us is a superior story than Santa Clause, our progress will be small and potentially null. We will be fighting from behind and become angry that we are losing. 

I’m using the word believe intentionally because I fear our lack of belief that our story is superior is contributing to our frustration. I know we believe our story is true and that the Santa Clause story isn’t true. What I’m suggesting is that we either don’t believe our story is superior as a story or that we aren’t telling our kids and churches of its superiority. If we believe that the story of Jesus is actually true, real, good and beautiful then we must make that a joyful and intense focus of our Christmas season. We can’t expect our kids to believe this story if all we hold out to them is that Jesus is the reason for the season and we aren’t going to give you presents because we fear you may focus too much on the presents and forget Jesus. If this is what they hear, then sadly we are telling them that the Santa Clause story is a superior story to ours, but you aren’t to participate in that story because its not good for you. What can then happen is that the exact opposite of our intentions can take root: even though we sought to avoid Santa and focus on Jesus, we end up with kids who want to know more of the Santa story and can become bored with the Christian story. 

What we are to hold out to our children is the story of Jesus and our place in it. Jesus came to earth, the place where we live. Jesus is eternally God and He left heaven and came to us, even though we have sinned greatly against Him. Jesus was born to a teenage peasant girl because God loves to exalt the humble and humble the proud. God sent his message first to some of the outcasts of society because they were the ones who needed the good news. They needed peace from God and peace with God. The healthy and the righteous don’t need peace from Heaven because they have made their own. For those of us who need God’s message of peace, He came to people who are just like us: the Shepherds. 

Jesus, by taking a human body to himself remained in one person fully God and fully man. By doing this he could save us and empathize with us and our broken, sinful condition. He can bear our sins and pay for our sins. He understands us and makes the truth known to us. He doesn’t just understand us, but He saves us. He felt what sin has done to the world. He didn’t come near us and sit at a distance. He came near. He got his hands in the dirt. He became flesh and dwelt among us.

The Christian story is much superior to the world’s story. Once we believe this, we aren’t to fully reject the culture’s Christmas story. We can learn to appreciate it and empathize with it. We can celebrate with all and be a part of what is good here. We can read stories of Santa Clause to our kids for fun because our kids are used to reading make believe stories. Christian kids can hear about Santa Clause and think it’s a fun story that they can hear about and laugh at, no different than Jack and the beanstalk. Once that has settled into our hearts, Santa and Christmas cease to be the enemy, but just another part of a culture that is searching for someone outside of themselves to care for them and love them, but unfortunately Santa’s love for them is still dependent on their inherent goodness. Not so in Christianity. Someone outside of us does in fact love us and care for us, based on His goodness and not ours. He saw our inherent weakness and sinfulness and it moved Him to become one of us, to save us and bring us back to the only one who is truly omnipresent, our Father in Heaven. He gives us good gifts in this life to enjoy and good gifts that are eternal, the greatest of which is adoption into His family through His Son Jesus Christ. 

So what do Christians do with this? Many different things, all of which are to celebrate and tell this great story. We eat and drink and are merry because it’s Christmas. We gather with others because the coming of Christ gives glory to God in the highest and brings peace on earth. It brings goodwill towards all men and because thus we often give gifts to bless those we love to express our love for them and to celebrate with them. Some Christian families choose to not give gifts to each other and to express their joy and gratitude to God by blessing others with gifts. As Christians we say amen and take delight in all of this because He was promised and He came. He was with us and is with us, forevermore. Best of all, He’s coming again and that will be the ultimate celebration with good food, good drinks and good fellowship abounding for days on end. So come, thou long expected Jesus. Come quickly. And Merry Christmas to all.

Advent 2016 A.D.

On Becoming the Person I Didn't Want to Be

I like to ponder from time to time about things that I didn’t think I would ever do that I catch myself doing. It’s a sobering thought really. You have such a perfect view and understanding of normal that only a teenager, just out of college, recently engaged, or recently married person could discern. Wisdom is ancient. Being teenage and young is fleeting. I do things I didn’t think I would ever do. I’ve become that person. 

I want to be comfortable in my clothes much more than I want to be fashionable.  

I’m almost completely out of touch with pop culture, and my reasoning for being out of touch would give my younger self a grand opportunity to boast: I just don’t understand what is going on. 

I don’t like volume really loud. In fact, my understanding of loud volume is totally different than it was 15 years ago. 

I don’t go to many concerts, but when I do I prefer one that starts on time, ends early and require very little standing. 

I talk to my kids in a really excited tone when they wake up and I’m almost certain they hate it as much as I used to. What I didn’t understand, nor do they, is that like me towards them, my mom really enjoyed my company and was delighted when I came in a room. Only some age and experience will explain this. 

I take delight in having no plans on weekend evenings, which was a living nightmare to me when I was 17 

I love to wake up early. 

I love to go to bed early. 

I love to sit in a quiet room. 

I value being educated formally much less than I ever thought I would. It is certainly important, but I value having a trade, wisdom and experience much more. 

I’m more concerned with what people become, than what they intellectually adhere to. 

Going on a road trip, or to a conference isn’t that appealing to me. But when I go, I enjoy the drive and talks in the car, meals and the time in between sessions of a conference much more than the actual conference. 

Traveling the world, seeing different places and experiencing different cultures was a tremendous experience, but they can’t even come close to the experience of having a family. 

I get bored with watching sports rather quickly. 

I enjoy talking about the past, reliving old memories, and hearing others do the same. 

Yes, I’ve become that person I didn’t want to be in many ways, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Ironically, I still have many of the same interests, but my affection and approach towards them is what has changed. I enjoy watching a game, but I’m not emotionally invested. Where my emotions and affections are spent are doubly rewarding in satisfaction and delight, and yet costly in heartache and pain.  

Matured delight and heartache has taught me this above all: I am finite and limited. What I do with my time and what I give myself to is also limited and finite. This leaves me with little time, and little interest in some of the things I previously highly valued. I’m more interested in my friends’ job than I am the economy. I get more excited watching my son, niece and other friends children playing soccer than I do about any professional sport. I enjoy playing baseball with my kids much more than watching the Yankees. Baseball is more of game to me than its ever been. What I'm learning that I didn’t I understand when I was a teenager, or in my early twenties was how the proper value of things. Music, television, sports, and traveling are becoming to me what they should have always been: recreation, accessories, an added bonus. They don’t make a life, they only add flavoring and color in high spots. 

What I thought about myself 15 years ago is what I am today, and what I wasn’t then. I’m more seasoned, more experienced. I haven’t arrived, but that’s part of the experience, learning you’ve got a long way to go. Which means this: I’m going to become that person again one day: the person mid-thirty year olds don’t want to be. 

June 2016 A.D.

A Critique of Being Missional & Gospel Centered

This post is written to explain practices that stem from a theological perspective. I write this not as an exegetical, theological rebuttal filled with quotes and references, but as to the consequences of theology and philosophy. Today’s topic of being missional, being on mission and the broadly used term gospel centered, depending on who you are is either outdated, or timely. 

For quick reference, I am referring to a movement and way of thinking about the gospel and the mission of the church that believes that the primary purpose of Christians and the local church is to be missionaries within its local context. It believes that all Christians are in some sense missionaries, and have a duty to view their life and work as missionaries, and in so doing will bring the gospel to bear on all of their life. In summary, the church is a mission sending agency and also a gathering of missionaries. A missionary isn’t limited to someone who lives in an un-evangelized foreign country, but includes all Christians. The end goal of this movement would be to see the kingdom of God bear on earth. Thus, an accountant, urban farmer, teacher, lawyer, artist, etc, are missionaries and have missionary endeavors.

I first encountered being missional and gospel centered teaching while in seminary. Being honest, I was a rather bitter person for various reasons that are for a different time and article. I mention bitterness first because I want to let you know what was happening with me personally, and that in no sense am I blaming my prolonged bitterness on any missional minded church or teaching. If missional thinking creates bitterness, that’s for another writer to discern and explain. I can only speak to the time at which I began to read and consider these things.

At any rate, I became attracted to the missional, gospel centered movement because it was saying many of the things that I was feeling about the church, my seminary and fellow students. The bitterness, combined with the intrigue of the writings drew me into a large amount of reading and thinking about the mission of the church and the role of the gospel in the Christian life. I read quite a bit of the writing, and was energized and hopeful about being missional and gospel centered, believing it was the thing that would change the church. Being missional, I felt, was better able to give weight and value to the calling of Christians and to the things we do in life. I had previously believed that most activities were considered less than valuable to many in my circles if they weren’t directly tied to evangelism, pastoral ministry, church growth, etc. As well, being missional was clearer as an application of theology rather than a call to do Christian work. There is a lot of talk of theological doctrines and application in missional and gospel centered circles, and this was important to me because the thing I felt most embittered about was arguing with those I felt had no theological thought or understanding. This is a discredit to me, because many of those people understand well their traditions and theological basis. While I still disagree in many ways, the real problem was me, which leads me to how I moved away from the missional movement and thinking.

Three very important things happened for me to begin to change. First, the Spirit of God through friends and pastors made me aware of the deep sense of bitterness, self righteous, entitlement, and pride that was in my heart and spewing out of my life. Second, I was ordained and serving in my first non-student minister role of pastoral ministry. Thirdly, the birth of our first child. Combining my sin being exposed and subsequent repentance with full time pastoral work with adults, and having to consider things in light of having children to raise and care for, the missional, gospel centered thinking began to unravel. I began to reconsider the doctrinal teachings and practices that gird and come forth from being missional, I read older traditions that were steeped in a different application of some of the same doctrines I previously thought were misunderstood, more study of Christian history and practices, and asking questions about the long term consequences and confusions I was seeing, and how that would affect my family. When I considered all these things, I came to understand that the missional, gospel centered movement, while not all incorrect, often doesn’t and can’t accomplish the things it desires. Allow me to address some particulars.

1 Incorrect application of the doctrine of the incarnation
As a note, my critique isn’t to say all missional, gospel centered teachers and pastors aren’t orthodox in their belief about the nature of Christ being fully God and fully man. I don’t recall knowing personally one person in this movement and stream who denied the historic doctrine of the incarnation. My critique is over their application of it. The belief follows: as Jesus himself came amongst us and was sent on mission from God to seek and save the lost, so the church finds its missional nature to be incarnation, to the degree that we are encouraged to “be Jesus,” “live the incarnation” and “embody the gospel.” While we can find mission encouragement from the incarnation, the incarnation is never meant to be seen as something we can do. You can’t be Jesus because you aren’t Jesus. The incarnation uniquely belongs to Him and no other. The incarnation is something we are to stand in awe of, and invoke gratitude in us that God would come and live amongst us. It is mean to show the glory of Christ, not to show us how to live in the world. It is meant to show us the degree to which Jesus understands us, to which he suffered, the degree of our depravity, the wonder of His deity to never sin, and many other things. While I can find encouragement to sympathize with someone those outside of God’s atoning work in Christ and to care for them in a uniquely Christian way, the incarnation isn’t meant for me to embody or live. It’s meant to show that only Jesus is the mediator between God and man, that only God could save me and only a man like me could bear the wrath of the sins I committed in the flesh. A spirit can’t do that. I’m not to be Jesus, I am to imitate Jesus.

2 Incorrect understanding of the identity of the church
Because the incarnation is applied incorrectly, this often leads to an incorrect understanding of the identity of the church. Missional thinking sees the identity of the church as mission, and thus all the members are missionaries. This is a kissing cousin of highly evangelistic churches that view one to one witnessing as the highest calling of the Christian. Missional thinking calls all Christians to embrace their identity as teachers, bankers, architects, real estate agents, waiters, mechanics, farmers, and all other vocations as the avenue in which God has you as a missionary to your community, town or city. As the thinking would go, whatever your vocation, don’t identify yourself as that first, but as a missionary from God. You are to be Jesus to those people, to embody the gospel to them.

But the church should not understand itself primarily as a mission, or as a people on mission first. We are to understand ourselves first in terms of our identity as the people of God, as those in the world in union with Christ. The language of the Scriptures is filled with this: adoption, children, reconciled, family, people, bought, chosen. These are all titles that reflect our nature as a people who belong to God.

Further, for the church to understand its identity as mission over being a people of God, then our identity is in something we do, and not what we have received. We have received the gospel. We have been brought into the kingdom, into the family of God. That defines us above all other things. The gospel is precisely about what God has done for us. If you want people to be on mission, then they must know who they are before what they do. If you don’t know who you are, how can you know what you are to do? Fundamental to reform in the church is knowing our identity. This will in turn shape how we see our mission to the world. 

3 An incorrect use of, and watering down of the term gospel
Often in this teaching, nearly anything can be classed as gospel work or gospel ministry. If the mission is a gospel mission, and all of our life is mission, then the natural result has been the overuse of the term gospel. Gospel driven literature, Gospel driven teachers, Gospel based coffee shops, Gospel based views on political issues such as immigration, social security, taxes, gospel based urban renewal, not to mention that everything we do is based on the gospel and asking, “What does the gospel say about this?” The gospel message of the life, death and resurrection Christ and his ascension to the right hand of the Father doesn’t provide the answer to every single thing. It is a specific message that is uniquely Christian. A good correction here would be to speak of common grace, wise practices and Christian principles that have long been held and taught, such as the Christian understanding of tyranny, depravity, the love of neighbor, good of creation, sphere sovereignty, the kingdoms of the left hand and the right hand, etc. 

While there may be other theological flaws in missional, gospel centered thinking and the movement overall, It seems to me that these three doctrinal errors tend to produce the negative consequences that come with missional thinking. While there has been good fruit and work coming from this, there have been unintended consequences that I think are much worse than a theological critique. So what are the errors and consequences of the missional and gospel centered movement?

Corporate worship has been devalued because the missional activities of the church become primary over the gathered worship of the church.
Small groups, outreach efforts, service projects and the like have become the main duty of the church. This can be tested by asking what missional churches, pastors and teachers emphasize and desire for their members: small group attendance or corporate worship, and which ones are you warned to never forsake? What meal are you encouraged to participate in more, the Lord’s Supper, or the dinner at small group?

Corporate worship changes from being a time to meet and fellowship with God and be renewed in His grace, to a time for missionaries to be equipped and/or to be an event to invite non-Christians to help them understand Christianity.
While guests should be welcomed, the purpose of gathering and the intended audience need not change for the sake of mission. Worship is for the gathered congregation, the body of Christ and to feed their souls with His gospel of grace, and this will naturally feed into the normal lives of the congregation.

Cultural importance becomes improperly emphasized.
Missional thinking places cultural importance and change over the change and growth within the church. This is a direct consequence of the misunderstanding of the doctrine of the incarnation. The culture is important, but the health of your local church and the wider Christian church is more important. We ought not want a healthy city over a healthy church. But if you want a healthy city, then you must have a healthy church.

Further, the missional and gospel centered movement is often unable to provide clear answers to cultural problems and will at times echo popular culture talking points. In fact, much of the talk feels like a Christianized version of popular discussion, such as urban renewal, caring for the poor, marginalized and hurting, the opportunity to open borders as a Christian mandate, the value and beauty of multiculturalism, police brutality, systemic injustice, and a few other things. Certainly all of these points have Christian answers and response to some degree or another, but my emphasis here is to see how similar the language is of that in the culture. Christians certainly may speak about these issues and form opinions, but it is no mere coincidence that the language in these circles is eerily similar to those in the main stream culture. While that may not be inherently wrong, it is inherently inconsistent to speak with such similarity to the culture on many important subjects, while also emphasizing the need to change the culture.

Improper emphasis of mission and being gospel centered have led to improper critiques and expectations of Christians and “Christendom”
In many gospel centered places, the problems of our culture are laid at the feet of the old Christian culture, or there are sharp critiques of Christians for how we have mishandled the current social problems. While I said previously that a healthy city is linked to a healthy church, this doesn’t necessarily follow that all the failings of the culture are laid in the old Christian way, nor that the church has failed the culture by not solving a particular problem, or supporting a particular proposal or cultural change. We are told from this movement that we should want the old Christian way to be gone. I understand the sentiment. Christians and churches who have lost their way may need to be reshaped or simply disband. However, what is often missed in these circles is that the church becoming worldly is fundamentally different from a unique Christian church and society founded on true Christianity. The problem is that the world is in the church, and thus the church is sick and needs healing. But make no mistake about it: while the church may have approved, adopted, and welcomed many of the sins and morals of the world, it isn’t true Christianity, the old Christian way that is referred to at times as Mayberry, that brought these problems. Marxism, socialism, liberalism, perverse sexual practices being approved, redefining marriage, abortion, redefining gender, feminism, slothfulness, massive debt, worship education, broken families corrupt police forces, Donald Trump, deep seeded racism, social justice warriors, rampant violence, a love for the foolish and banal, and I’m sure a few other things don’t flow naturally from the old, true Christian way. The true, old Christian way isn’t Mayberry and is better than Mayberry, but it didn’t produce those things: Babylon did. Our problem isn’t that we are Mayberry or Babylon, but that we are committing adultery with Babylon. But if I had to pick between Mayberry and Babylon, I think the choice is clear. Christendom didn’t create the mess we are in, and often missional and gospel centered folks will critique the church for things that simply aren’t our fault, or presume upon all Christians what is the true gospel answer to issues. 

Cities and urban life are given an unnecessary, heightened importance.
Once mission and cultural change is the top priority, then where do you go to make the most impact and change? According to missional teaching, you go to cities. Biblically, this is not only a far stretch, but inherently prideful. God does not love cities more than small towns and suburbs. God is not urban in His sensibilities. Because cultural change is so important in missional thinking, urban emphasis becomes more important because cities tend to be the places where the stream of culture happens. Thus, if you live in a city, you are inherently affecting cultural change in small towns and suburbs more so than those who live there. This creates an unnecessary division on what is important and right use of time and resources for churches and Christians. Rarely is a Christian encouraged in a missional or gospel centered church to move to a farm to raise crops.

Impact becomes more important than faithfulness in daily vocation 
This follows from the previous point. If urban life and work is inherently more important because it shapes the culture, then certain urban places are inherently more important. This creates an unneeded tension in Christians, because the desire to be impactful creates friction with the desire to be faithful. Christians should desire faithfulness wherever they are over impact. Let the incarnate Lord decide the impact of what we do, and this goes for all vocations.

An over heightened sense of vision and calling for ministers Pastors are expected in this movement to be called to a certain place, which means they must have a certain plan, a vision for the work they are doing that is unique to their calling. Knowing what you are called to do is important, but a call to pastoral ministry should have significant overlap, no matter how urban or rural. An unintended consequence is that seasoned ministers may not be seen of value because they haven’t been in the context of what your calling and vision is.

So if this is what led me away from the missional movement and being on mission in this sense, what did I begin to see that was better? I’ll share them quickly.

  • That the gospel is a message proclaimed and received, not something you do or create. 
  • That being a child of God is what identifies me most.
  • That corporate worship is the height of the Christian week.
  • That faithfulness to God is more important than impact.
  • That obedience to God is desired more than creating culture.
  • That faithfulness and obedience in small things does more to create culture than any missional activity.
  • That being rooted in a tradition creates culture and stability.
  • That I’m brought into God’s kingdom. I don’t bring God’s kingdom.
  • That fellowship in Jesus is different from creating fellowship around a mission.
  • That I’m not a visionary, I’m a pastor.
  • That preaching to the people in front of me is more important and fulfilling than who hears my podcast.
  • That the Christians I preach to first are those in front of me, not the church or Christians I hope hear the podcast.
  • That historic, simple Christianity has often been marginalized and deemed irrelevant and still changed the world.
  • That the culture around me is inferior and always leaves me wanting.
  • That true Christianity never leaves me wanting, no matter how bad it may seem.

May 2016 A.D.

13 Thoughts of Gratitude on Mondays

1. If all of my days were like the last few, where I spent much time with friends, family outside playing games, reading, writing and finishing up projects that I worked hard on, then was able to see presented and delivered, watching a little baseball and eating good food, then I suppose I would understand Heaven better than any who hadn’t been there.

2. Not all days are like this, but by God’s grace I get these often due to the wonderful folks in my life

3. Waking up early enough to see the sun rise and sit in a quiet house can be a real treat

4. My distractions from my office today are lots of birds chirping, and my kids playing outside. Some distractions are worth the interruption.

5. Mondays aren’t that bad because I get to plan out my week, which means I get to use my moleskin journal

6. My wife cooks breakfast similar to my mom and grandad, which means I eat a good breakfast most days of the week.

7. I have an elders meeting tonight, which means root beer out of the bottle

8. I have an elders meeting tonight, which means I get to spend time with some of my best friends.

9. After having to drink a Dr. Pepper for dinner, I’m thankful for real Cokes

10. After yesterdays presentation from Wycliffe Bible Translators, I’m grateful for the written word more than I knew

11. 1 Peter 2:17 is helping me keep things in perspective lately on whom I serve, and whom I love

12. I’m grateful God works little by little, like yeast in a loaf.

13. What would any of your ordinary things matter without God’s Beloved Son? Yet it all matters because of God’s Beloved Son, doesn’t it?

We ought not allow ourselves to casually pass by the small moments and things. Most of your life is filled with things liked I mentioned. Gratitude causes joy, and this leads to a full life, even when we don't think possible or even desirable.

April 2016 A.D.