Nov 25

Grunge Christianity

cussGrunge is in – wholesomeness is out. Profanity is in – piety is out. Crude is in – genteel is out. And shock is in while politeness is out. At least that’s what we’re being told by those who claim to be in tune with contemporary culture.

Supposedly, in an effort to be more relevant to our profane culture, a growing number of people are reaching the conclusion that we must adapt if we wish to reach people with the gospel.

While I know of no one who would disagree that we need to be willing to adapt to reach people (after all, isn’t this what the apostle Paul did – 1 Corinthians 9:22)? But the adaptation some are promoting today is not at all what the apostle Paul had in mind.

Mark Driscoll, a nationally known “pastor” is so crude and vulgar in his sermons that he has been dubbed “the cussing pastor.” But someone might say, “Yeah, but it’s not surprising what you can find in the denominational world.”  But friends, this isn’t just a problem among “them,” it’s among “us.”  The National Conference for Youth Ministers, which targets youth ministers in the Lord’s church, will have Nadia Bolz-Weber as their Keynote speaker in January, 2016. Nadia is a former member of the church, an ordained pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and is known for her tattoos and for “swearing like a truck driver.” Her books and sermons are laced with four-letter words and vulgarity, for which she makes no apology.

So, is this the way to reach our culture? Must we immerse ourselves in profanity and vulgarity in order to resonate with our culture? Must our senses be shocked with crudeness and vulgarity in order to reach the lost? My answer is an emphatic “No!”

Could it be that some have embraced a “Jesus-less” Christianity? Could it be that some have forgotten that he is our model for life? Yes, Jesus was known to keep company with the sinners of his day, but when did he ever act crudely, or lace his speech with profanity or speak irreverently? Never! But was that a mistake? Could Jesus have needed some savvy church growth strategist to tell him his purity and holiness were “putting people off” and “making himself irrelevant?”

While some have given themselves over to crudeness and vulgarity;immersing themselves in television, movies, and music that share a common thread of blasphemy, the word of God still says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth…” (Ephesians 4:29).  “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).

Allow me to close with this advice:

  • Don’t use Christianity as an excuse to be profane and vulgar. If you want to be profane and vulgar, go ahead, but leave God out of it!
  • Reevaluate your priorities. Being “cool” and “relevant” in the eyes of the world isn’t nearly as important as being “holy” and “reverent” in the eyes of God.
  • Realize that profanity and vulgarity should be just as offensive by the Christ-follower in the pew as it is by the Christ-follower in the pulpit. If we wouldn’t stand for one, we shouldn’t stand for the other.
  • Don’t “Amen” the points in this article, then go home and watch things like “South Park,” “King of the Hill,” and other shows, movies, and music that take blasphemous pot shots at our Savior. How can we decry “Grunge Christianity” on one hand and laugh at it on the other?

Friends, Jesus needs us to live counter-culture lives today.  He needs us to be lights; a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14-16). He needs us to reflect his glory to those who are groping in darkness (Philippians 2:15). At the end of the day, we have to decide whether we will be a friend of the world, or a friend of God (James 4:4). “Grunge Christianity” is an oxymoron; if it’s “grunge,” it isn’t Christian.

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Nov 21

A Valuable Teacher

doctorA little more than ten years ago, I went through a rather difficult time.  I had noticed a small knot on my neck, went to the doctor, and was diagnosed with having a tumor in one of my salivary glands.  According to what the doctors told me, tumors in this particular salivary glad typically have a 50/50 chance of malignancy.  As if that weren’t enough, doctors also told me of three potential complications from the surgery I needed that would have an impact on my speech.  Suddenly I went from being a busy, healthy person to being forced to acknowledge my own mortality, and to imagine what life would be like without being able to preach.  It was disconcerting to say the least.
But during this time of trial, I can say that the adversity had a way of separating the dross from the gold in my life.  Suddenly I saw with greater clarity than possibly ever before, the real issues of life. Those issues had nothing to do with sports (including my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers), bills, possessions, or any other such matters.  The issues that became clear to me were my relationship with God, my family, and my friends.
During those few weeks, I had a lot of time to think; not about the daily routine, but about life in general.  I was humbled by my dispensability.  I became more aware of my inadequacies.  And I was dissatisfied with the impact for good that I had made in this world.
Eventually, I had surgery. The tumor was removed, and the pathology report concluded that the tumor was benign.  My fears were relieved, many prayers were answered, and I had a renewed vision of what is truly important in life.
Would I want to go through this experience again?  Absolutely not!  Did I learn anything from the whole experience?  Without question!  While suffering and anxiety are things we would rarely, if ever choose for ourselves, they are valuable teachers, nonetheless.
“It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71).
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Nov 17

Last Words

holt On Sunday, October 25, 2015, Darrell Holt, a preacher for the Figueroa Church of Christ in Los Angeles, preached his last sermon and spoke his last words.

As Darrell Holt neared the conclusion of his sermon, he stepped down out of the pulpit in front of the communion table and told the congregation that he needed to sit down. From the front pew, he managed to say the following, “If you’re not a Christian, say yes to him. You’ve heard the Word. Believe it. Repent of your sins, confess Christ, be baptized.”

Following this statement, he became unresponsive. Several members trained in medical emergencies attempted to resuscitate him, but to no avail. Darrell Holt was 59 years old, and his last words in this life told people what they must do to be saved.

We certainly want to pray for the Figueroa congregation and the friends and family of brother Holt. They have suffered a traumatic loss. But I have to think that their sadness is tempered by their trust in God’s faithfulness and his promises to those who love him. I can’t think of any better last words for a follower of Christ… “If you’re not a Christian, say yes to him. You’ve heard the Word. Believe it. Repent of your sins, confess Christ, be baptized.”

Friends, if your life suddenly came to an end right now, what would your last words have been?  Would they be words of profanity? Words of anger? Words of gossip? While few of us will have control over our last words in such a way that we can carefully plan them, we do have control to the extent that  our last words are not profane, but are words of kindness, love, grace, and Christ-honoring.

May our brother, Darrell Holt, remind us of the brevity and uncertainty of life. Let’s be so immersed in the work of our Lord that when it comes time for us to leave this world, we will be found doing a good work and speaking a good word for our Lord!

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Nov 02

And It Came To Pass…

old manAn older man once sat in on a class in a Bible College. That day the professor asked his students to share a verse that means a great deal to them. The students were eager to oblige. They offered many great verses, rich with theological implications. When the class finished, the professor asked the visiting man if he would like to share his favorite verse. He agreed and said, “My favorite verses in the Bible are the ones that begin with the phrase, ‘and it came to pass.'” A few snickers could be heard among the prideful students so the elderly man added an additional comment.

He said, “Young men, allow me to explain why I answered as I did. You see, when I was 32, our firstborn son was killed by a drunk driver. My wife and I were devastated. We didn’t know how we would go on, but we did. At the age of 45, our daughter came home on a break from college, sat her mother and me down, and proceeded to tell us why she no longer believed in God. She told us that God was merely an invention of man intended to be a crutch for the psychologically weak, and that she wanted no part of it. We found this to be more painful than the death of our son. At the age of 55, I lost my job. Due to my age at the time, I couldn’t find a job.  Everyone wanted to hire someone younger than me. Consequently we lost our home, and for six months we were forced to live in our car. Then at the age of 63, we discovered that my wife had cancer. For three years we fought that cancer as hard as we could, but my wife eventually died three years later.  So you see young men, the events that have taken place in my life have caused to appreciate and love the verses that begin with the words, “and it came to pass,” for they are a reminder to me that the horrible circumstances in which we sometimes find ourselves don’t “come to stay,” they “come to pass.”

After the man finished, you could have heard a pin drop.  The class was no longer snickering because they learned a valuable lesson. You’ll have many things “came to pass” in you life, but thank God they won’t “come to stay!”

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Oct 27

My Friend, Wendell Agee

IMAG0189I was saddened to learn that my good friend, co-worker, and brother in Christ, Wendell Agee departed from this life last night to be with his Lord. I met Wendell and his wife June when we moved to Knoxville a little over five years ago. During these past five years, Wendell and I have been on  mission trips together, worked in the jail ministry together, and been fellow-encouragers.

Wendell wasn’t a “full-time” preacher, but he was. I’ve only met a few men in my lifetime who were as dedicated to spreading the gospel as Wendell was. I’m out of state as I write this, so I don’t have access to our records, but without over estimating, during the past five years, Wendell probably taught and baptized 125-150 people.

I’d like to share a few memories of Wendell.

  • Those of you who knew Wendell know that he wasn’t very tall. I’m guessing, but maybe he was 5’3″ tall. On one night when we went to teach at the jail, Wendell went up to the counter to sign us in.  But I noticed the counter was “neck high” for him. He was trying to sign the registration book with just his head peaking over the counter. He looked like a little boy trying to get a drink at a water fountain that was just too high for him. So I went up to him and asked him if he wanted me to hold him up while he signed us in and we both got a good laugh out of that. I heard him retell this story many times to others.
  • Wendell and I went on three mission trips together, and on two of these trips, we were roommates. Wendell at 5’3″ and me at 6’6″ made perfect roommates.  We told people that we just pushed our beds together…end to end. It was the perfect arrangement. Wendell didn’t need all the length of his bed, and I needed more length than my bed provided. :-)  Actually, it was on these mission trips that I really got to know Wendell and appreciate him. Not only did Wendell, at the age of 80+, go on mission trips that required him to work all day long in temperatures that approached 100 degrees, sleep all week on the ground in a tent, go by himself to Cuba several times a year, but at the end of the day, when I was exhausted and ready to turn out the lights, he would still be sitting in bed, reading spiritual books for about another hour.
  • Wendell was very hard-of-hearing, and very soft-spoken, but that didn’t slow him down. Instead, he used that to his advantage when it came to personal evangelism. He would quietly try to engage a person, and because he was so soft-spoken, people would slow down, and get closer to him to hear what he was saying.  Then when they responded to him, he would cup his ear with his hand, slowing them down even more because they would have to repeat themselves, and by then he had them!
  • wendell2Wendell’s personality transcended barriers. Although he was 80+ years old, the young people loved Wendell. My daughter had to write a paper for school on someone she respected and considered a hero. She wrote about Wendell. It took me a while to forgive Wendell after that, but I can’t blame Anne Marie because I think I would have written about him too.

If you can imagine the great quake that occurs when a giant red wood tree falls to the forest floor, then you can understand the impact of Wendell’s death. Although Wendell stood only 5’3″ tall, his fall has caused a quake that has shaken us all.  To those who didn’t know Wendell Agee, he would have been “sized up” as a little man, but to those of us who knew him, he was a “spiritual giant!”

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