Thursday, August 28, 2008

Private Confession and Christian Liberty

Sometimes people hide behind "Christian Liberty" so much that they make it vitually impossible to get a straight answer about simple matters of practice. I wrote this in '06 to express my frustration that you can't get a Lutheran to give you any helpful answers or advice on what to do regarding Private Confession, but it fits most matters practice:

Q: When should I get my oil changed?

A: It's a matter of "car liberty". Change it when it needs it.

Q: Yeah, but when is that usually?

A: Well, it's hard to say. Every car and every driver is a little different.

Q: I know that. Can you give me a ball park?

A: I hesitate to give you a number because I don't want you to feel like you have to do it the moment the odometer rolls over to that point. It isn't an exact science or anything.

Q: I understand. Can I have some guidance?

A: Just read your owners manual and do what you think will benefit your car the most.

Q: Yeah, but the owners manual doesn't clearly cover everything in the detail that I need.

A: That is when you take responsibility as a car owner and do what needs to be done to maintain your car.

Q: And what is that?

A: Car maintainance.

Q: So should I change the oil every time I fill up with gas?

A: No, that would be expensive and unnecessary.

Q: Okay... But I shouldn't go on forever and ignore it either.

A: No, that would lead to problems later. Although there have been people who have never changed their oil and seem to get along fine.

Q: When do you change your oil?

A: Well, you shouldn't base your car practices off of someone else.

Q: Why not? Your car doesn't break down. I don't want my car to break down either. I want my car to be as successful as your car.

A: Yeah, but doing what I do doesn't mean your car will run right.

Q: Duh... but don't you think I need some kind of example to follow as a suggestion?

A: Just as a suggestion? I don't want you to make the mistake of being a legalistic car owner...

Q: Just as a suggestion... please... help me out here.

A: You know, different drivers maintain their cars differently. I won't judge a car owner for changing oil less often or more often than I do. I can't really pin it down to a specific brand of oil or time between changes because it is really kind of subjective.... It's car liberty.


A: ...................about 3,000 miles or every 4 months.

Q: 3,000 miles. Thank yo-

A: ...But don't quote me on that.

My T-Shirt Idea

There is a T-Shirt that I want to make. The front would say:


... and the back would say:



Preparing for Death - Part 5 "A Holy Martyr Writes About His Coming Execution"

Read this passage and weep at how far we have degraded from the early church! As modern Christians try to copy the early church in her practice and legacy, hear very personal words from one of our early patriarchs. We who are Christian elitists complain when our congregation's climate control does not work properly on Sunday and we presume to even hint that we practice as they practiced?

Modern Christians institute "home church" and "small groups" and all other sorts of novel concepts under the false justification that they are following the ways of the early church. There is a difference between pretending to be like the early church in superficial things and learning from the apostolic example. To quote the passage presented below: "Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world."

We need to rethink what we call persecution. We need to rethink what we consider to be difficult times and suffering. Our view of discipline is a mere shadow. It has the shape of following Christ, but none of the form or depth that distinguishes the real object from the darkened, two-dimensional copy that is cast to the ground by the light.

Modern church dilutes the message of Christ for mere public approval while scores of disciples of the early church eagerly waited to die for their own faith as their witness to the truth of the Gospel. Our view of showing the world a true "witness" is a pathetic farce. When we think "witness" we think of mailers, t-shirts, and telling co-workers that we will pray for them. We should rename our current synodical outreach movement Spark! or Flicker! compared to with the steadfast, blood-written testimony of our church fathers as they pointed to Christ with their last breaths. They were ablaze. We're just blowing smoke.

This kind of "extreme" talk from the early fathers is so alien to our current brand of religion that it makes modern Christians very uncomfortable:

"You never grudged anyone. You taught others. So I want you to substantiate the lessons that you bid them heed. Just pray that I may have strength of soul and body so that I may not only talk [about martyrdom], but really want it. It is not that I want to merely be called a Christian, but actually to be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name. Then, too, I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more. Nothing you can see has real value. Our God Jesus Christ, indeed, has revealed himself more clearly by returning to the Father. The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, no in its being convincing to it."

"I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God--if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts--that is how I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus when I have fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God's sacrifice. I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles: I am a convict. They were at liberty: I am still a slave. But if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ; and united to him, I shall rise to freedom."

"Even now as a prisoner, I am learning to forgo my own wishes. All the way from Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and sea, night and day, chained as I am to ten leopards (I mean to a detachment of soldiers), who only get worse the better you treat them. But by their injustices I am becoming a better disciple, "though not for that reason am I acquitted." What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it. Forgive me--I know what is good for me. Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil--only let me get to Jesus Christ! Not the wide bounds of earth nor the kingdoms of this world will avail me anything. "I would rather die" and get to Jesus Christ, than reign over the ends of the earth. That is whom I am looking for--the One who died for us. That is whom I want--the One who rose for us. I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life--do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God's; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine. Let me imitate the Passion of my God. If anyone has Him in him, let him appreciate what I am longing for, and sympathize with me, realizing what I am going through."

"The prince of this world wants to kidnap me and pervert my godly purpose. None of you, then, who will be there, must abet him. Rather be on my side--that is, on God's. Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world. Harbor no envy. If, when I arrive, I make a different plea, pay no attention to me. Rather heed what I am now writing to you. For though alive, it is with a passion for death that I am writing to you. My Desire has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water in me, which speaks and says inside me, "Come to the Father." I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God's bread, which is the flesh of Christ, who came from David's line; and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed!"

"I do not want to live anymore on a human plane. And so it shall be, if you want it to. Want it to, so that you will be wanted!"

St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, from his Letter to the Romans, [ca 110 A.D.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Medical Crisis Solved!

Rising medical costs and long doctor wait times have been done away with through a new program inspired by the customer service advances found in the modern American church.

Program 1: Lay-surgeons. Are there not enough trained, licenced doctors in your area? No problem, we have tons of staff who have attended a 90 day neurosurgery course waiting to slice into your skull. After all, anyone can do brain surgery. All of that schooling and learning is pretty much unnecessary when you figure that lots of former auto mechanics and toaster repair men have pretty steady hands and seem to be really good with a scalpel.

Program 2: Small Group medical evaluations. Are you tired of waiting at the doctor's office forever? No problem. We have groups of totally untrained people who happen to have been in doctor's offices before for several years now. When you are sick, just go to your small group and let them guess what is wrong with you and tell you how they feel they should fix it. We have even given these guys medical text books so that each person can read the text book, do a crossword related to your illness, and tell you what they feel the medical board is trying to say to you. When they decide that they are in over their head, they can call the real doctor who is supervising them along with a dozen other small medical groups.

Program 3: Self diagnosis. Do you hate your doctor and all of his staff? No problem. Are you on the losing end of your doctor's triage? Does he just not have the time or inclination to treat you? Become a self-treater! Just stay at home with Web-MD and treat yourself. If things get really bad, talk to your next door neighbor about it and have him assist you if you have to remove an appendix.

You think this is quackery? You think that only trained medical professionals should be making life or death decisions for you and your children? You think that not all vocations are things that can just be done by anybody?

Question: Isn't your spiritual health much more important than your physical health?

Call a Spade a Spade

Have you noticed that the first thing that a controversial movement does is redefine terms?

"Pro-Abortion" people are not "Pro-Abortion". They are "Pro-Choice".
"Socialists" are not "Socialists". They are "Progressives".
"Partisans" are not "Partisans". They are "Statesmen".
"Pro-War" people are not "Pro-War". They are "Pro-Defense".
"Anti-War" people are not "Anti-War". They are "Peace Activists".

Purpose-Driven, Community Churches are not different. They create all kinds of jargon, buzz-words, and double-speak to minimize controversy. It is all linguistic damage control. When you read what someone writes, read what words they choose because words carry power.

"Worldly" churches are not "Worldly". They are "Relevant".
"Novel" churches are not "Novel". They are "Contemporary".
"Legalistic" churches are not "Legalistic". They are "Purpose-Driven".
"Unionistic" churches are not "Unionistic". They are "Inclusive" or "Non-denominational".
"Shallow" churches are not "Shallow". They are "Accessible".
"Tepid" churches are not "Tepid". They are "Missional".
"Antinomianist" churches are not "Antinomainist". They are "Loving", "Free", and "Grace-filled".

Listen carefully. Pay attention. Watch with discernment. Call a spade a spade.

Preparing for Death - Part 4.5 "New Age is a Cheap Copy"

Being present minded and living a life of constant vigilance are principles that belong to the Christ's church, not pegan new agers and purveyors of narcissistic psychobabble. These world views that sound similar to what I am speaking about are shallow copies, perversions, and indulgent deceptions that seek to distract us from the truth.

Where Christ tells us to live in the moment and die to Him, the world tells us to live in the moment and live for ourselves. Where Christ tells us to consistently look to His coming, the world tells us to consistently look inside ourselves. Where Christ tells us to spend each moment in repentance to God and in service to others, the world tells us to spend each moment as a slave to our ambitions and our appetites. Where Christ tells you that you carry a future of eternal peace in Him, the World tells you to plan and organize our own future before it passes you by.

The Devil is the father of lies and the best lies contain a little truth. Even Satan's first deception in the garden carried the words about what God had said. ...but a half truth is not the whole truth because of the lie. A perversion is not the original because of the perversion. A heterodox belief is not genuine because of the error. A false teaching is not a true teaching because of what is false.

The narcissism; the worldly concern; the selfishness that comes with the obsessions over the past, present, and future of this wretched life; these things are the great, demonic lie. This is the idol that we construct for ourselves while playing lip-service to our "Christianity".

Hear the truth. Listen to the words of Jesus. Christ exhorts us to live a life of vigilant, cross-bearing proximity. We are to be sober, alert, and constantly ready for the Master to return. We live each moment like it is our last: in faith and at the feet of King Jesus, Our Savior.

Luke 12:4-59 (ESV):


Have No Fear

"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Acknowledge Christ Before Men

"And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say."

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Do Not Be Anxious

And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

You Must Be Ready

"Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Peter said, "Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?" And the Lord said, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

Not Peace, but Division

"I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Interpreting the Time

He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, 'A shower is coming.' And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat,' and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Settle with Your Accuser

"And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Preparing for Death - Part 4 "Proximity Over Chronology"

People are obsessed with time. Even we Christians often look at their lives chronologically. We measure our lives by past milestones and base our decisions on future expectations. In many cases, this chronological view of our life is useful. We think back to our baptism. We recall important spiritual events in our life that help strengthen our faith. We use God's gifts to plan for the future. We take care of our families and ensure that we will be prepared for hardship. This is all well and good.

But sometimes we make too much of time. We turn it and our planning into idols. We become fascinated by our legacy, our heritage, our progress, and our future goals. We become so consumed by the past and the future that we lose track of the present. We live on autopilot as we continue to look behind us and ahead of us with ever-increasing anxiety. This even effects how we live out our faith. When we look at the key events in our Christian life, we often see them as the things that make us Christian--the boxes that we have checked off--rather than the points in time when we have had direct contact with the Word through the Means of Grace. It is not the date when these events occurred that is important. It is the fact that they occurred. It is not a matter of the chronology of the Christian life, but of the Christian's proximity to Christ that caries true value.

The vast majority of modern works on the Christian life are all about chronology. They push the idea of making progress as a Christian. They are looking for chronological improvement and see everything in view of the big picture. They have grand visions for you with long-term plans and promise impressive results. They go on at great length about planning for the future and coping with the past. They are all about charts and graphs. They thrive on mnemonic devices and bullet points. We have become consumed by it. We take this kind of "practical Christianity" and adopt it into our world view at the expense of everything else. We worry endlessly about being a better Christian. We buy books to make us a more joyful giver. We look at our life as a path that should be made up of constant improvement. We waste all of our time and effort wishing we could be better.

This is a macro perspective that is ill-equipped to effect significant change in our lives. It fails because it deals only in time and not proximity. It makes plans, promotes ethics, and develops strategies, but it fails to do the one thing that changes people. It fails to connect people with Christ in the present. It places hope in future improvement and future good works rather than hope in the divine promises that exist in the here and now. It wants to witness, but it never equips the Christian to witness effectively. It wants to control temptation, but its philosophy never comes to mind when temptation comes. It wants to seek after God, but it is inconsistent and undisciplined in its approach to this goal. It throws out alot of pretty words and idealistic concepts, but it fails to address the heart of the matter: when it comes down to crunch time, we forget about what we read. We plan and we fail. We resolve to do better and we learn everything about that we should be doing, but we do not take the steps to improve. This is a world-view that is filled with missed opportunities, 20/20 hindsight, and procrastination.

That is why we must never lose sight of our present proximity to the cross. That is what our emphasis should be. It is the constant proximity to the cross that is essential to the Christian. Our confidence rests in Jesus and not the sum total of our experiences. Our reference point is not our works, our tenure as a Christian, or who our earthly teacher is. Our reference point is the cross: the person and work of Jesus Christ.

It is when we acknowledge our identity as children of God in the moment that we truly live according to God's will. It is when we cast aside our human plans, man-made dreams, and our reliance on our pet programs that we become totally dependant on Christ. It is when we disarm ourselves of man-made defenses and put on the Armor of God that we become holy and effective. It is in the moment where we turn our backs on what the world has to offer and embrace Christ that we live by faith.

The Christian life is not just about graphing our ethical progress. It is not a list of dos and don'ts that are listed and checked off. It is not just about reaching our full potential in certain areas of spiritual and ethical conduct. We should be concerned about living a life that constantly seeks to remain close to Jesus in body, soul, and mind. Each day is a series of moments lived by faith that lays hold of God's promises and gifts. It is helpful see life in terms of proximity rather than chronology. Time comes and goes, but Christ is constant. It is true that you were and are a sheep and you could be a better sheep, but your primary concern at any given moment should be how close you are to the Good Shepherd at the present time.

Your life is not really measured in hours, days, and years. It is measured by it's proximity to Christ. Because of this, One doesn't say, "I don't need to go to this weekday service because I went last Sunday." One asks, "In this moment, what can I do to be in the presence of Jesus?" One does not say, "I am tired of letting this guy off the hook when he keeps doing me wrong." One says, "In this moment, how can I forgive as Christ forgives?" One does not wonder, "What will I wear? What will I be doing next year?" One asks, "In this moment, am I joyfully putting on Christ? In this moment, am I living my life according to God's Word? Am I living a life of repentance?"

The Christian must always keep his heart and mind fixed on Jesus. Without a constant concern about this proximity, the sinful flesh causes him to forget about his faith for long periods of time. The flesh rules the Christian's body Monday through Saturday by preoccupying his mind with worldly distractions and diversions. The flesh will even turn the Christian's past success against him and uses it as an excuse to permit sin to flourish for a little while with the understanding that he can always repent in the future after his appetites have been attended to.

But the sober-minded Christian says, "Right now, I want to be close to Jesus" over and over again throughout the day; moment to moment. He makes every thought and decision in view of his faith in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is always in his mind and on his lips. The sober-minded Christian takes every thought captive and purposefully engages every temptation with stubborn resolve. The sober-minded Christian never lowers his guard. He never puts down his sword and shield. He resists conformity to the world. The wise Christian knows that the battle against temptation always exists in the present. The opportunity to do good is in the present. As Christians, we strive to remain eternally vigilant by living our lives one moment at a time... and always in close proximity to Christ.

And so we constantly drown the old Adam in each moment. We constantly pray because moment after moment we offer up our petitions and thanks to God. We constantly read and hear God's Holy Word because moment after moment we meditate on the Scriptures. We constantly consider and long to participate in the sacraments. We constantly engage in morning and evening devotions. We constantly forgive and serve our neighbors. We constantly live in peace, joy, hope, charity, and love. We constantly cast off the pleasures of this world and look to the eternal life that is to come. We constantly resist and fight against temptation. We constantly repent. We are constantly thinking in terms of our proximity to Our Lord Jesus Christ. We constantly return to Christ for forgiveness and grace.

We make the most of the moment that we have. The past is beyond our reach and the future may never come. We live each moment in the presence of Jesus. We consciously take each moment one at a time and act by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As a result, we become more resilient. We become more spontaneous and adaptable. We become bold and perceptive. We become lovers of truth. We live for Christ in the moment without regard for the world's consequences. Our sin becomes more visible to us and we become more vigilant so that we can stand against it.

We stop just marking time and we start really paying attention to the detail of our life. We stop paying lip service to the term "disciple" and we start living for Christ with true discipline.

Suddenly, all of those good works that we wish that we were doing seem to happen more and more frequently. The things that a dozen New Year's resolutions could not accomplish become second nature. The life that we live suddenly becomes one of purpose because we consciously apply our faith to each moment rather than just talking about living by faith. We are living in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. The power of the Holy Spirit is poured out and we receive the peace and wisdom that a thousand Christian self-help books could not grant us.

And when death approaches, we do not need to worry about the things that have been left undone. We do not worry about the endless list of failures or regrets. We do not need to long for the things that remain unknown, the achievements left unearned, and the pleasures left unexperienced. We do not evaluate life based on the transitory moments that pass away in the wind. We are not here to mark time. These chronological concerns are tiny when compared with the question of proximity. The moment of death is the same as any other. It is nothing less than another opportunity to live by faith. At that point of death, just as right now and two minutes from now, the Christian draws strength from the Holy Spirit and says, "In this moment, I want to be close to Jesus."

Steadfast Middle Earth Quote of the Day

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost,
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

-Riddle of Strider

We Must Remain Steadfast!

I have joined the Brothers of John the Steadfast.

Are you a steadfast Lutheran yet? Visit the Steadfast Lutheran site here.

Illustration by Pastor Blazek.

Hey Look! The Emperor has no clothes!

Todd Wilken hits it out of the park with this paper.

HT: Steadfast Lutherans

Friday, August 15, 2008

Adiaphora, The Formula of Concord, and Treat Level Orange

We all agree that adiaphora can be safely practiced or ignored without sin. We also all agree that some adiaphora should be strongly encouraged because they are useful in promoting the faith.

We also agree with the Formula of Concord and the teachings of St. Paul that when it teaches that, in times of persecution and in case of confession, some matters that are adiaphora are no longer indifferent when they are used in such a way to attack or obscure the Gospel.

It is this teaching that is being used to assert that, in our current political and theological climate as American Lutherans, many things that are adiaphora in theory are not currently adiaphora in reality. In many cases, I agree with these assertions.

...but here is my question: Realistically speaking, when will those who make these assertions (myself included) conclude that the threats which make these matters no longer adiaphora have abated?

I submit to you the Homeland Security/TSA Airport Threat Level. The colors range from Green up through the Yellows Oranges and Reds of the color spectrum. There was a time (before the invention of these colors) when airports operated at Green. Now, the threat level seems to be Orange by default. When does anyone expect it ever to be Green again? More importantly, should it ever get to the situation where it is Green again, will people admit it and lower the security level?

It is easy to surrender freedoms. It is hard to have the custodians of those freedoms give them back to the people when the crisis is no longer a significant threat. Lets say that we manage to significantly limit matters that we all say are adiaphora so that we can defend the confessions and the Gospel.

How, when, and under what conditions do we get them back? Who will make that decision? Are you willing to surrender a matter of adiaphora over in defense of confessional unity if you know that you will probably never get it back? After the crisis is no longer an issue, will everyone remember why the adiaphora was surrendered in the first place?

...some things to consider when one considers limiting the freedom of the Gospel.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My Suffering as an Enthusiast Ended Through the Sign of the Prophet Jonah

I did all of that seeker stuff. I grew up in the Rick Warren movement. I was a Charismatic. I was a Southern Baptist. I spent years being mentored by former Pentecostals and seeking the ever elusive Holy Spirit Baptism. My father was a Promise Keeper. I’ve read the Purpose Driven Life. I was a praise and worship musician for the better part of a decade starting at the age of thirteen. We played 2-4 services a week and we went on tour to perform at other churches. As a young boy, I helped the liberal elements revamp our congregation with modern worship forms and enthusiast theology. When we joined the church, it had an organ and a few score in membership. When I left, we sat 300+ every Sunday, had a drum kit on the stage, and we hosted Christian punk rock band tours whenever they came to town.

I was also a songwriter. I wrote and performed my compositions before my church whenever the format permitted. The music of the enthusiast is an important window into what makes them tick. It is important to look at what they are singing and connect with them on a deep level.

Why? Because most enthusiasts are secretly hurting inside. Their hope is in the Law and they battle discouragement and disappointment daily. Imagine a life where Christ is most present in the worship that you create and that your connection to God is primarily evidenced by your feelings. Imagine serving a God who comes abundantly in some cases and trickles down in others. Imagine a Holy Spirit who only moves when we do the right things to invoke Him. Imagine a life devoid of the solid foundation that ancient Christianity was built on. Try to live a Christian life that only pays lip service to faith while seeking ever more elaborate ways to reassure itself through signs and miracles.

I submit a song that I wrote as an enthusiast. I performed this song for my congregation. It made people raise their hands, pray, and worship God. After the debut of this song, people came up to me and praised me for my insight and honesty. They thought I really had figured stuff out and that I had written a song that really spoke to the truth of living the life of a Christian. I know people who still love this song. How? It is hopeless! Looking back, my heart grieves to know that this song speaks for many of my brothers and sisters.

Fire by Night
By Mike Baker (when he was living in error as an enthusiast)

How long must I live in this harshest desert?
How long must I thirst as I wander though the heat?
I had a better time as a slave in Egypt,
I don’t know if You’ll provide for me now today.

But You, O God, know my inner questions
The answers You leave are there for me to see
The signs that You’re givin’ me
Lead me through the desert
Through Fire by Night and Cloud by Day

How high must I climb to feel you in abundance?
How far can I fall and still feel your grace?
How long can I live without your gentle healing?
Must there be less of me so I can hear your voice?

‘Cause You, O God, don’t talk the way you used to
The answers You leave are ones I do not see
The signs You are giving me are not out in the open
Like Fire by Night and Cloud by Day.

Maybe just once if you wrote a message in the stars
If I listened for a change… I would know Your heart.

But You, O God, are talking in a whisper
The answers You give are there for those who see
The signs You are giving me are there if I would listen
To the still small voice inside of me

If I listen for a change… can I know Your heart?

I weep for people who feel as I did when I wrote this song. I am horrified that people believe as I once did: that “Jesus being in my heart” means that I should rely solely on some inner voice or subjective experience to lead me in the faith.

This song leads you to false hope. When I wrote it, I was blind. I was searching for God, but I was so spiritually and theologically starved that He seemed elusive, hidden, and distant. I couldn’t know God’s heart because I was listening to the wrong things. Consequently, I felt that God the Father had largely abandoned His people… especially me.

The Enthusiast always wonders why things changed between the Bible and now. Why did God make things so easy for His people in the Old Testament and so hard for us today. Why did God speak verbally to Elijah but not to the church today? Why did God guide His people through visible miracles in the past and not in the present? Why did God speak in a loud voice before and not now? Why did God sit and eat with Abraham then, but not with the church today? They do not understand this mystery and they envy that kind of intimate relationship with God. They search for this relationship in worship and controversial signs, but never find it. They become so desperate that they start to see miracles, angels, and demons everywhere. They will believe anything that looks like a miracle. They will doubt anything that does not feel right. The world becomes bewildering and chaotic.

They are looking in the wrong place. God is not subjective and internal. He is objective and external. He does not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He does not treat you any differently than Israel. In fact, He treats you exactly the same because you are Israel. Paul tells us that Christians are children of Abraham by adoption. If you are looking for a personal relationship with God, look in the same places where the people of the Old Testament looked: In those places where God promises to be.

In the Old Testament, you see many signs and objects that contain the very presence of God. God cleansed the earth with a flood and delivered Noah in an ordinary boat. The rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant with Noah. Circumcision is a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. God speaks to Moses in a burning bush. God turns a staff into a snake. God saves the people from death through ordinary blood on an ordinary door. God resides on the Mercy Seat in the Holy of Holies. God feeds His people with mana. God saves His people from snakes through a snake on a pole. God wins a battle through the act of Moses outstretching his arms. God saved Rahab through a red chord in her window. God shows Gideon the way through a fleece. The secret of Samuel’s strength was his hair. Naaman’s leprosy was cleansed by bathing in the river Jordan. The list goes on and on and on.

Why do we not have these things today? Why doesn’t God come to the church and shout in a loud booming voice and end all of the debates and doubt? If we are wrong, why doesn't God prove His will through an unequivocal sign?

The Pharisees were enthusiasts, too. They wondered the same thing.

Matthew 12:38-41 [ESV]: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, "Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you." But he answered them, "An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

Here's your sign! The sign of the prophet Jonah is your miracle, brothers and sisters. The church is guided by this one miracle. Man wants many miracles and asks for a great deal to prove God’s existence, but the salvation of mankind is given to all by just one sign: the sign of the prophet Jonah.

Christ’s death and resurrection is your objective proof of your salvation. If you doubt that God loves you, look to Christ. If you fear what will happen in the future, look to your greatest of signs: Christ. If you do not know what you are supposed to be doing or where you are supposed to go, look to the visible sign as the Israelites in the desert looked to the Fire and Cloud. Look to Christ’s death and resurrection. Gather strength through faith in this awesome miracle; this perfect and complete work.

So perfect is Christ's death and resurrection that all other signs point to, prefigure, and emulate this one. God providing the lamb instead of Abraham's son points to Christ. God saving His people through blood to ward off death points to Christ. God preserving His people through the Passover meal points to Christ. God curing people with a snake lifted up on a pole points to Christ. God laying Jonah in the depths for three days and then raising Him out of the depths points to Christ.

It is all about Christ. There is your proof! That’s it. That’s all you need. There is no other sign because no further symbol of God’s providence or love could add anything to Christ’s saving work. To know Christ is to know the Father. You know that God is just because of Christ. You know that God is holy because of Christ. You know that God is merciful because of Christ. You know that God loves you because of Christ. You know that God will eternally save you because of Christ.

Christ said about himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."

At that point, Philip had an enthusiast moment and said, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." How many songs are written by Christians today that ask Philip's question over and over again? We cry out, "Show us the Father! Show us His glory!" We sing, "Rain down Your presence on us! Fill this place with Your glory!" We ask, "Show us Your face O God! Reveal Yourself to us in this place!"

How did Christ reply to Philip? He said, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works."

How can we ask for the Father as if we do not already see Him in the Son? There is not a mote of heavenly glory that was kept from Christ. The Father did not withhold an ounce of mercy, power, glory, might, honor, magesity, grace, wisdom, knowledge, omnicience, or love, but He gave it to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. You want to see the Father? Don't look in your worship. Don't look in your heart. Don't seek after it as though it was some elusive treasure. Look to the free gift of Christ.

Christ did all the work and He is all of proof of God's love that you will ever need. Remember? “IT IS FINISHED!” The sign of the prophet Jonah.

Why look anywhere else for hope or guidance? Why turn to someone as unreliable as yourself for proof of God's favor when Christ is the end of all doubt and rejection? Why flock to places that promise nothing more than miracles, emotional experiences, and wonderous signs? Why settle for something so cheap and temporary?

Christ is the door through which you obtain the holy relationship that Adam lost in the garden. Christ’s blood washes you clean and establishes that intimate relationship with the Father. If you want an intimate relationship that never waivers, look to Christ. You want real hope and security? Place your faith in Christ.

Does that mean that God is done serving His people through means? Of course not. God is working today as He was working before: He hides in ordinary, tangible things. He adopts you into His eternal family through ordinary water by the power of Baptism. He strengthens you in the faith through ordinary wine and ordinary bread in Christ’s Most Holy Supper. He forgives you through words of absolution that are spoken by ordinary men. He guides you through an ordinary book: Holy Scripture. What gives these mundane things such power and significance? The same thing that gave power and significance to the burning bush and the Holy of Holies: the real presence of God.

These means of grace deliver what was promised by the sign of the prophet Jonah. John tells us in his gospel that the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Later in that same book Christ says, "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." All of this is Christ presented before your eyes, spoken into your ears, and placed upon your lips.

Read what God has said. He does not lie and He does not construct elaborate tricks to confuse you or leave you in doubt.

Matthew 26:26-29 [ESV]: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom."

1 Corinthians 10:15-17 [ESV]: I [Paul] speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

1 Peter 3:18-22 [ESV]: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”

John 20:21-23 [ESV]: Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."

God uses tangible means to accomplish extraordinary miracles. Those means exist today and they are there for you to touch and hold. They are not there as some additional ceremonial rite or mnemonic device. God does not institute these things as observances that depend on you to reflect upon their symbolism and thus grow closer to Him by way of your mental capacity and personal wisdom. Why would God make coming to Him so difficult?

There is no abandonment. You ask for proof and God gives you Christ. Not only that, Christ is given to you in such a way that you can actually point to tangable objects and say, "Christ is right there. I don't know how it works, but I know that this miracle allows me to participate in Christ's death and resurrection. I don't need to doubt or fear because God keeps His promises regardless of what emotional state I am in."

These things exist to bless you and preserve you in the faith. Learn to embrace them as such. You already know that you cannot always count on that small voice inside of you. Sometimes it is wrong. Sometimes it leads you into sin. Sometimes it only tells you what you want to hear. You know that many times that voice is surely not coming from God. You know that sometimes you feel like your prayers don't go anywhere. You know that you need something solid to ease your doubts and comfort you.

Dead, old religion’s answer to this suffering is empty and false. Dead, old religion makes you do all the work and come up with the answers on your own. Dead, old religion tells you to pray, fast, and do this list of works until your heart tells you that you are going the right way. Dead, old religion tells you to suffer through the tough times alone. Dead, old religion makes you look to human teachers or within yourself for guidance. Dead, old religion hides behind alot of show, glitter, and flash. Dead, old religion distracts you and points your attention to itself instead of Jesus.

Living, real faith – that intimate relationship that you are seeking – is deeper and much more mystical than that. There is a real church that still has miracles and still follows God through the ways that He has established by Christ's specific, spoken promises. There is a real church that has no need for the petty miracles and signs that the Pharisees wanted. There is a real church that does not wickedly ask God to reveal His glory and power for the sake of a wondrous experience.

There is a real church that gathers together and does nothing but participate in the sign of the prophet Jonah: Christ’s death and resurrection. There is a real church who heeds God's Word and repents daily. There is a real church that is constantly transformed, refreshed, and vivified through repentance and faith in Christ Jesus.

It’s not about you. It's not about what you tell yourself is true. The proof is not found in what you do or don't experience when you feel God’s presence or when you don’t feel the presence. Even Pagans and Atheists are confirmed in their false beliefs through that fickle method. You don’t think that practitioners of other religions feel their god’s presence? You don’t think that their worship confirms their beliefs? What makes you different from them? How can you be sure that you are thinking, feeling, and believing correctly? The cold truth is that you can't know God by your feelings any more than you can know a person through how you feel about them. It is time to stop guessing about God. Start knowing God.

It is all about Christ. That is the difference. It is not about what you do or why. It is about what has been done for you. The firm foundation of Christ is objective and incarnate. Christ's death and resurrection is an objective fact that you can cling to. You know God loves you because of Christ.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Steadfast Middle Earth Quote of the Day

"He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except insofar as they serve him for the moment."


J.R.R. Tolkein's The Two Towers [Book III, Chapter IV]

Bread Crumbs?

Get out your tinfoil mind-defense hat and go to "A Little Leaven" and look at this article and the imbedded video:

Now go click on the "this church" link in the article and you will find the church that put on this sermon series. If the link doesn't work, here is their website:

The iLife sermon series was put on in 2007 by "Crosspoint Community Church" in Decatur, AL. Here is a statement that I read earlier this year from their website (my emphasis added):

Crosspoint is an independent, bible-based inter-denominational Christian church. Were made up of people with various religious backgrounds at different stages of their spiritual Journey. Some people at Crosspoint have been Christians for many years, others are just beginning to find what it means to have a real realtionship with God. Others are seeking to find out who God really is. This means regardless of your background, you will feel welcome and have opportunity to get involved at Crosspoint.

Crosspoint is a member of the Willow Creek association of Churches. We associate with and recieve training and support from other churches around the country. These affiliations provide not only training and resources, but also accountability for the church and its leaders. This also gives us freedom to build a church for our generation that meets the spiritual needs we have, in a context that is both meaningful and biblical without the constraint of denominational politics.

[Remember their Willow Creek association and their distain for the "constraint of denominational politics". We'll come back to that.]

When I found this stuff, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (LCMS) had the following picture on their website (

The following text was included with the iLife image:

Upcoming Message Series

Many families are running on empty. They feel hurried, and scattered, and have little hope that life can be any different. How about your family? Would you like to bring your family back together and back to life?

It’s easier than you think…Jesus said, “The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you.” (Mark 4:11) It’s time to discover what we’ve already been given.How to Bring Your Family Back to Life

May 11 How to Bless a Mamma's Heart

May 18 How to Help a Child Grow Up with Jesus

May 25 Spiritual Warfare: 101

June 1 How to Bless a Teenager

June 8 From Generation to Generation: A Legacy of Life

June 15 Dad: Leader of Spiritual Adventures

June 22 How to Release Life into Your Family


Do you see the iLife logo from A Little Leaven that I got from an LCMS congregation's website that I visited while at a district church growth conference? Read the titles of the sermon series and tell me if you think this is similar to the "Crosspoint Community Church" series that was put on in Decatur last year.

"Crosspoint Community Church" sounded familiar. There is a "Crosspoint Community Church" in Katy, Texas. They are LCMS, too. Here is their website (Note: if you enter the address manually in the address bar, make sure to type in ".org" and not ".cc" or you might go back to the other Crosspoint Community website in Decatur):

Both "Gloria Dei" and "Crosspoint Community Church" (the LCMS one) were at that Texas District M2C conference earlier this year which was nothing less than a big inter-denominational, Rick Warren love fest. The key presenter at that LCMS church plant meeting was Phil Stevenson who is the "General Director of Evangelism & Church Growth" of the Wesleyan Church.

I also remember seeing and talking to Mark Schaefer and Patrick Miller at the M2C conference in 2008. They are from Water's Edge. If memory serves, they helped out at the M2C conference. I only mention them because they are on the list for the youth gathering we have all been talking about.

While you are at the youth gathering site, you might see another familiar church from the M2C website you just looked at. According to M2C, one of the presenters at the 2007 conference was St Paul/The Summit, Ft Worth. I was not at that one, but I am pretty sure it was the same sort of stuff that I saw this year in Tapatio. If I remember correctly, The Summit was also at M2C in 2008. Not to be outdone by Water's Edge, the Summit sent a speaker to this youth gathering, too.

That brings us to Kari Jobe. She is from Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. Gateway is a non-denominational church that denies Real Presence, but Kari managed to get on the list of speakers at the LCMS youth gathering. You can find the head pastor of Gateway Church, Robert Morris, giving a glowing testimonial on this church growth website that cuts through all the buzz words and calls church growth what it is: "churchmarketing101". It isn't about spreading the Gospel. It is about marketing... and not even marketing Jesus. It is marketing YOUR church.

Kyrie Eleison! Jesus come quickly and overturn these tables in your temple!

While on "churchmarketing101", does another name on that tesimonial list jump out at you? It's none other than "Next Gen Pastor" Darren Whitehead of the mega-church Willow Creek. And we come full circle because Cross Point, Decatur (where I first saw the "iLife" logo) is a Willow Creek association member.

The book being marketed on is used by Rick Warren to push his theology and is included in Relevant Magazine's "Relevant Leader's Pastor's Tool Kit". And if you look at where author Richard L. Reising is based... surprise: Dallas, Texas.

I feel like a kook just assembling these observations together in the same place. Why does all this fit together so cleanly? What am I supposed to think of this?

Someone please come on here and explain to me how I am totally misreading all of these coincidences. I really really really want to believe that I am way off base and my line of reasoning is faulty. I left the Purpose Driven movement for a good reason. It draws people into a building, burdens them with works righteousness, and then spiritually starves them to death.

Please tell me that this is not going on in my district. Please tell me how this is baseless and I am acting off of guilt by association.

Is this layman tilting at windmills?

Preparing for Death - Part 3 "We Are All Dying"

We deceive ourselves sadly if we think of death only as taking place with the last breath of life here; on the contrary, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, we are dying. Step by step the future of life approaches us, and at the same time, step by step death advances towards us. And every moment added to this life is at the same time a moment subtracted from it. Death really never comes suddenly, but we always approach it gradually, step by step. This life of our is a path upon which we journey; every day we complete a part of it; life and death seem to be far distant from each other, when in fact they are as near as possible to each other. Life is always gliding along as if on a swift wing, while death is ever hovering near to strike us down. Like voyagers on the ocean, who are coming nearer and nearer to port, although as they are being borne along swiftly by the vessel, they often feel it not or think not of it, so on the voyage of life, whatever we do, whether we eat, or drink, or sleep, we are always coming nearer and nearer to death. Many have passed through life seeking only the means and the supplies to support it.

No one can cheerfully meet death unless he has for a long time been looking forward to it with calm composure. Die daily to thyself whilst thou art living, so that when thou diest thou mayest live with God. Before thou diest, let thy sins die in thee; in thy life let the old Adam die in thee, so in thy death Christ shall live in thee; in thy life let thine outward man perish day by day, so in thy death the inward man shall be renewed in thee. Death simply transfers us from time to eternity as we are, for "where the tree falleth, there it shall be" (Ecc 6:3). How anxiously then ought we to consider the hour of death! Time is quickly passing, and the infinite reaches of eternal ages stretch out before us; in time then prepare thyself for eternity!

-Johann Gerhard, "The Daily Consideration of Death"

Sacred Meditations, pg 248-249

“Terrible Customer Service”

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“Terrible Customer Service”
A Purpose Driven, Missional Play by Mike Baker

Narrator: “We come upon Stan, a middle-aged father of three, who is driving around in his pastel blue minivan in search of some place to eat. After driving around for quite some time, Stan settles on the Coral Ridge Restaurant. He decides not to hassle with the long line in the drive thru so he finds a decent spot in the massive parking lot and drags his family through the front door. There he is met by the smiling host, Chet, who is wearing a “Real Men come to Coral Ridge” T-shirt with tie-dye print.”

Chet: “Good morning, sir, isn’t it a great day to eat at Coral Ridge?”

Stan: “Yeah, sure. Can we get seats for four? I am starving.”

Chet: “We hear that a lot around here. You have come to the right place. This place is so popular that we had to expand our play area and put in a new parking lot.”

Stan: “….good for you. Are there seats available?”

Chet: “There is always seating available. Right this way, sir. So… is this your first time here at Coral Ridge?”

Stan: “Yes. I have heard a lot about it and wanted to see what the buzz was about.”

Chet: “Fantastic. We are really blessed and encouraged when we hear about the impact that we are having on the community. Did you get our promotional mailer?”

Stan: “Um… I think I saw something about it a few months back while I was looking for that water bill…”

Chet: “Fantastic. Here is your table, sir. Just so you know we are very family oriented here at Coral Ridge. There is a huge play area with sock puppets and clowns for your little kids. We also set up a child-friendly dining area so that the adults can enjoy their meal without being disturbed. The kids tend to have more fun that way, too.”

Stan: “Uh… thanks, but I want to eat with my kids. They can go play while I am waiting, but I am going to have them sit with me during the meal. We eat as a family.”

Chet: “Huh… interesting… I guess that would be okay. Go have fun kids!”

Stan: “Okay, let’s get down to business. I am starving.”

Chet: “Wow, it really sounds like it. I hate it when I am hungry. It really is a struggle sometimes. I guess that’s why we’re all here, right? Hehe. Say! Would you like some coffee to start out?”

Stan: “You know what, that sounds really good. I have been really run down lately. I could use a pick me up before I eat.”

Chet: “Exactly. Being a single dad must be tough. Divorce is never easy.”

Stan: “…actually, I am a widower.”

Chet: “I am sorry to hear that. It must be so hard for you to raise three girls on your own.” [Chet takes a moment to hug Stan in an uncomfortable embrace.] “You know, Coral Ridge can really help you out. We have day care every day so that you can take some time off and relax.”

Stan: “Really? I thought you guys were a restaurant. You run a day care?”

Chet: “Yes, sir! We got certified a month ago. We also have a home economics class, a swim team, a softball team, a yoga class, a quilting group, a fraternity, a youth group, a tween group, an interim tweeny youth group, S.T.A.R.S., H.E.A.R.T.S., M.O.O.N.S., F.O.U.R.L.E.A.F.C.L.O.V.E.R.S., an Alpha class, Beta class, Theta class, M class, semi-annual coffee drinking contests, three musical bands, and seven book clubs. Feel free to join the one that best suits your need. If you need a group that we haven’t thought of, please let us know and we’ll get it started right away. Coral Ridge is here to really serve the community.”

Stan: “I am really speechless. You guys go all out. When do you find time to cook?”

Chet: “Oh we knew it was going to be tough from the start, but we have an amazing staff and everyone works really hard in their particular area of interest. It really is a miracle that we are able to do all of this on such a tight budget. We have taken this humble little restaurant and made it into so much more than it used to be. It is effective, relevant, and really serves the people of this community. Here’s your coffee, sir.”

Stan: “Nice! This coffee cup is huge!”

Chet: “That’s what everybody says! We really pride ourselves on our coffee. No restaurant in town brews coffee like we do.”

Ted: [Walking up frustrated and confused] “Hey, Chet, I’ve been sitting here for a really long time and I haven’t seen my plate yet. I am on, like my eighth cup of coffee, but I really need something more substantial. Can you get someone over there to help me?”

Chet: “Sure! No problem. We are always here to help you guys. I’ll tell you what, enjoy the music from the live jazz band for a few more minutes and I will be with you personally right after I am done talking to Stan. I’ll tell you what. I think you are ready for the real stuff. It is obvious that you are ready for the house blend espresso roast. That stuff is really potent and will fix all your problems. Hey, Ted, have you met Stan?”

Ted: “No… my name is Ted. How are you doing?”

Stan: “Good. This is quite a place they’ve got going on here.”

Chet: “I’ll say, I come in here twice a week.”

Stan: “Really? You’d think they would treat a steady customer better than making you wait so much to get some chow.”

Ted: “It is no big deal. The purpose of a restaurant is to attract new customers. I understand that. A long time ago Chet’s family opened this restaurant to attract customers and feed them. I can’t blame Chet for putting so much effort into meeting the needs of people who may have never walked into Coral Ridge before. Coral Ridge is all about outreach. You can’t feed people if they don’t visit your restaurant.”

Stan: “I guess that makes sense. I’m no restaurant expert.”

Ted: “Plus, we have the best coffee in town and the live bands are amazing. I really feel at home here and the clowns in the kid area take good care of my kids. I don’t even have to look after them or teach them anymore. Coral Ridge does it all for me and they have certified people who are way more qualified than I could ever be. I am just a CPA. What do I know about all this stuff? It looks like my espresso is ready. I’ll see you guys later tonight for the Hearts Ablaze Smoothie Fellowship and Happy Hour.”

Chet: “Bye, Ted! It was really good talking to you.”

Stan: “Bye, Ted... I hope they let you eat soon. Hey, Chet, what is good here?”

Chet: “The coffee.”

Stan: “No seriously. Coral Ridge sounds like a seafood place. Do you guys have good seafood?”

Chet: “We tend to not really push the seafood. We have found that many of our new customers are turned off by the fish smell. We also have quite a few people who are from landlocked areas. They are not really into that whole fisherman thing. It is not what they know… you know? Plus, a lot of seafood restaurants have been in business for decades and they don’t understand how many people are allergic to shellfish! Isn’t that tragic? A restaurant that can’t feed everyone what they want is not doing what they should be doing.”

Stan: “Well then why the ocean-related name?”

Chet: “Oh… this area is a coastal community. After we conducted an extensive survey of the local neighborhoods, we found that Coral Ridge was the most marketable name for our restaurant. It really speaks to our intent to be a part of the community. We are all about serving the community.”

Stan: “Whatever… how about pasta. Do you have any good pasta?”

Chet: “Nope. Today’s people do not want to be weighed down by high carb foods. Pasta is not relevant to the modern customer. Nobody wants to be fat. It lowers their self worth.”

Stan: “Mexican Food?”

Chet: “…Too ethnically exclusive.”

Stan: “Wings and Pizza?”

Chet: “…Too masculine. Women 35-50 tend to shy away from that kind of food.”

Stan: “Fried Chicken?”

Chet: “...Too southern.”

Stan: "Sandwiches?"

Chet: "...Too traditional."

Stan: “Steak?”

Chet: [Gasps in shock] “What would the vegans say!?! Vegans are customers, too, Stan. Next you’ll be recommending that I make this place a steakhouse! Where are the vegans going to eat, Stan, huh? What about the poor vegans?”

Stan: “You know what? Just give me a menu.”

Chet: “Oh we don’t believe in menus. We find that menus are restrictive. Who wants a restaurant where they tell you the things that you have to order? Menus are so academic, inaccessible, and impersonal. People go into those places and order the same thing over and over again. It is almost like they don't even really pay attention to what they are ordering. They just read off the menu and eat what is given to them. We much prefer a personal relationship approach to the dining experience. Don’t you think that some menu restricts the broader vision of your food selection to have a menu in front of your face?

Stan: “No, the menu helps me know what you serve and what I should order… wait… you are slamming menus but your answers to my questions a few minutes ago just restricted by choices to saltine crackers and this wonderful coffee. What is the difference between a written menu and you just telling me what I should eat for dinner verbally? At least the menu forces you to be consistent.”

Chet: “Well… um… I’ll have to talk to the legal department about that one. Be right back.”

Stan: “No! If you go away, I may never see you again. Just bring me some food from the back… anything. And bring my kids something simple that I can convince them to eat. It doesn’t matter, just give me some food. I am starving at this point.”

Chet: “Well, you’ve been here for over fifteen minutes. You should be past that whole hunger thing by now. You admitted that you were hungry when you came in. You followed me to your seat. You drank the coffee. We really need you to become a self-feeder at this point. Here… put on this shirt and go wait some tables with me. The Coral Ridge family has to stick together and we’ve got some really needy customers tonight and I can’t help them without you. Besides, you are coming here pretty late in the evening. You’ve got some catching up to do if you are going to meet your service goal by closing time.”

Stan: “Listen to me, Chet, I am hungry. You are running a restaurant. Where’s the food? I have my own job down at the factory. I don’t have time to wait tables during the few minutes that I have to eat. My work is hard and I need food to keep me going. After you give me what I need, I still I have to help the kids with their homework, get them ready for bed, and crash so that I can get enough sleep to get up at 4am for the first shift.”

Chet: “We are all really busy, Ted. I understand your struggles. The thing is that each member of the family of Coral Ridge really should pull their own weight. Don’t you realize that there are people coming through that door all the time who were as needy as you were 15 minutes ago? It is not fair that 10% of the people sitting in this restaurant are doing 90% of the work. Here. Fill out this talent survey. It will help you determine if you should work as a barista or if you would be better suited for working over in the play area. You like kids after all. Maybe you are being called to be our next balloon clown. The last guy quit for some odd reason.”

Stan: “I’m not here for a job. I have a job.”

Chet: “…but working at Coral Ridge is so much more fulfilling than at that stinky factory. I understand that you have to make a living, but look at how happy everyone is here. Besides, these people need our help. There is nothing more important than running a quality restaurant. People need to be a part of a restaurant that loves them for who they are.”

Stan: “What they need is food… and I am still hungry.”

Chet: “If you are so hungry, you should have brought a boxed lunch or something. Oh! You should join one of our small home nutrition groups. They are run by customers just like you and you sit in a relaxed atmosphere and learn about food.”

Stan: "Me hungry... You restaurant... Stan need food from restaurant."

Chet: "Now you are just being confrontational."

Stan: "Finally... you are actually listening to me."

Chet: "What you need to understand, Stan, is that there is a difference between a healthy restaurant and a fit restaurant. Healthy restaurants are harmonious and are doing what they are supposed to, but it is possible to be healthy and not fit. Fit is something totally different. Fit is extending beyond healthy and having the ability to really change the restaurant business for the better."

Stan: "............what?!?"

Chet: "You seem confused. I get that."

Stan: “No you don't get me at all. I am hungry. You aren't feeding me. That's because this is not really a restaurant. All you guys serve is coffee and play music. You may call yourselves a restaurant, and you talk a lot about being a good restaurant, but real restaurants serve food to hungry people. Having good coffee and entertainment is okay I guess, but I could go to Starbucks if that is what I was looking for. I didn’t come here for all of this junk. I came here to eat. The coffee and entertainment is all well in good so long as there is still food being served. That is clearly not happening. I think you guys have gotten a little distracted by all of the entertainment and advertising. You have forgotten why your family opened this restaurant in the first place: to feed people. I bet some people come in and don't even realize that they are supposed to get some kind of food here. What good is attracting people if you have no food to serve? Since you seem determined to help me do everything but get what my stomach demands, I am going to take my family elsewhere. We need to eat. Kids! We’re leaving!”

Chet: “Don’t go! You just got here!”

Stan: “Good bye, Chet. Good luck with your ‘restaurant’ and thanks for the coffee.” [Stan walks out with his kids.]

Ted: “Did Stan just leave?”

Chet: “Yeah… he decided that he wanted to go somewhere else. It is sad. Thank God that he admitted that he was hungry when he came in. If he hadn't done that, he might have starved to death. At least he felt lead to come down and sit at a table... even if it was only for a few minutes. We'll call him in a couple weeks and invite him back.”

Ted: “Yeah… the whole Stan thing is pretty discouraging. You know, we have a lot of people who leave like that.”

Chet: “Don’t worry. The program consultant predicted that we were going to lose a statistical number of visitors in the first couple of months of this new business plan. Most people who come in are just not going to stick around and be regular customers. We should level off to a steady number of about 800 customers here in the next couple weeks. This is normal.”

Ted: “Stan seemed pretty passionate… we could have really used him here at Coral Ridge. He seemed to know a lot about nutrition. He would have been perfect as a nutrition leader.”

Chet: “Yeah, but he couldn’t get past the whole “food” thing. He just couldn’t realize that people have so many more needs than just sitting there stuffing their faces. People aren’t going to go elsewhere for coffee and entertainment. If we don’t do these things who will?”

Ted: "They could go to a coffee shop. I hear lots of restaurant customers visit coffee shops from time to time."

Chet: "Yeah, but coffee shops aren't restaurants, Ted. People need to come to restaurants."

Ted: "I... don't really see the difference anymore."

Chet: "Don't be so negative, Ted. Everyone gets discouraged at times. Running a restaurant is not easy."

Ted: “Stan has a point about the food. I’ve lost, like, 40 pounds since I got here and I get woozy when I stand up too quick.”

Chet: “I’ll pray for you Ted. I’ve been there before, too. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you go back inside and get yourself some more coffee. If you still feel bad, I may be able to go scrounge up a power bar or even one of those diet shakes.”

Ted: “Yeah. That always makes me feel better for a few minutes. Thanks, Chet.”

Chet: “Anytime, brother, anytime.”


Narrator: “Starving and more than a little angry, Stan drags his family into the little diner across the street. It is dirty, poorly lit and is filled with old people. On the surface, the diner is not as flashy as Coral Ridge, but that doesn’t matter. Stan can smell the food. He steps inside and is met by a grumpy-looking old man and his wife.

Olaf: “Howdy, folks. You hungry?”

Stan: “Starving.”

Olaf: “Heheain’t we all? Hans, cook this boy up a special with extra gravy and I need three specials for his kids. Give them extra gravy, too. Oh, and lots of vegetables. Call me judgmental, but the oldest child is looking a little peekish.

Stan: “What’s the special?”

Olaf: “It’s what everyone is eating today. It is just what you need. You’ll love it. The special changes on a regular schedule, but it is still the same food week after week. None of that trans-fat, high fructose garbage that passes for food these days. Just food the way my grandpa taught me how to cook. Here is our menu. It’s all there in black and white. After we get this first course in your belly, you can pick what else you want to try. Most people skip the desert, but that is really the best part. Try it on my recommendation.”

Bill: “Hey Olaf, when are we going to expand this place and do more than just your grandpa’s cooking?”

Olaf: “We aren’t, Bill, so quit asking. I am here to cook. That is what I am here for. I already let you come in and do karaoke on Tuesday nights for the people who are into that kinda thing, but that is not what we should be all about. If you want to go dancing or make balloon animals then go home and do that on your own time. Right now, you are working here to feed hungry people. You’ve had your lunch break so get back on the line and help Hans get those specials out. If you are tired of running the fryer, then put this sandwich board on and go stand outside. Tell the people on the street that there is food in here. If they are hungry, they'll come in and we'll feed them.”

Bill: “That may have worked before, but hungry people don't just walk into restaurants anymore. We need to do more. Look, I am just trying to get more people in the door. Most of your old customers have died off, started eating out Italian every night, or gone to that Greek restaurant down the street. What is a diner without new customers? Maybe we should invite those guys from Coral Ridge over here to teach us a thing or two about running a restaurant.”

Stan: “NO! I just came from there and they don’t feed people! That place is bogus! Take it from someone who has just come from that place. It isn't a really restaurant at all.”

Bill: “Really? I thought their coffee was fantastic. Why are you being so harsh?”

Hans: “And what’s wrong with our coffee, Bill? I work hard on our coffee.”

Bill: “Look, Hans, I’m not trying to criticize your coffee. I am just saying…”

Hans: “I miss the good ole days when Olaf’s father used to serve the meals with metal forks and metal knives. Back then we only served German dishes and it was fantastic. Ever since you started working here, we’ve been selling out. Kareoke, non-German food, plastic forks, it just makes me sick. It is almost like we aren’t a restaurant anymore.”

Olaf: [Lays down the specials for his new customers] “Quit your bickering, you two. I am so tired of this argument. This restaurant has been around for a long time and we’ve had tougher times than this before, remember? Bill, we are not going to stop serving food and we are going to stay away from anything that distracts us from our job as a restaurant. Get over it. Hans, don’t loose sight of the fact that serving food is the really important thing. We should not overcompensate and make it all about how food is served. If Bill wants plastic forks and it doesn’t really affect the taste then we can talk about what the best decision is. Remember that it is all about the food.”

Stan’s Little Girl: “Dad? When are we going back to Coral Ridge? That place is fun.”

Stan: “It is fun, but we didn’t go there to have a good time. We went there to eat. Did you see any food there?”

Stan’s Little Girl: “…no. They didn’t seem to care very much about food. It was all about all the other stuff. It was fun, though.”

Stan: “Hungry people need food. We have plenty of time and money to go have fun elsewhere, but we still need to eat. Chet has forgotten about that. You may not like this place as much right now, but at least you are getting what your body needs. Eating can be fun, but it is the eating that is really important. Fun without food is not eating. A restaurant without food is just a building full of hungry people. It is easy to get destracted when you are not starving, but your body can't go long without nourishment. If we stayed in Coral Ridge, we'd never get any food. Now, finish all those vegetables.”

Olaf: “I didn’t get your name, friend.”

Stan: “I am Stan. These are my kids. This place could use some work, but the food is still really good. It is food as it should be served. I am here for the food.”

Olaf: “Good to meet you, Stan. We are doing our best. There is always room for improvement, I guess.”

Stan: “Well, you are doing better than Chet across the street.”

Olaf: “Chet is my business partner. We are family. Our two diners used to look the same. A few years ago he listened to some slick businessman and revamped our second location. He took our family name off the sign and added a bunch of extra buildings. Most of my customers go over there now. They haven’t figured out that there is no food at “Coral Ridge”. I hear that Chet is thinking about expanding again to open a casino and his cooking show is supposed to start broadcasting next month.”

Stan: “But that isn’t really feeding people.”

Olaf: “I know. I keep trying to tell him that, but he won’t listen. He does not see the difference between just talking about food and actually feeding people.”

Hans: “Coral Ridge has ruined this place! I am so sick that we are even associated with them. We should just cut ties with Coral Ridge and let them go off and do their own thing.”

Olaf: “No. We are family. We have to keep reaching out to Chet. Maybe he’ll get a clue and go back to running a restaurant instead of just marketing his restaurant. It seems obvious that the business beauru is not going to help us out by making Chet change his business practices. It is up to us. If we don't teach Coral Ridge that a restaurant is all about food no one will.”

Hans: “Chet and his customers wouldn’t know food if it hit them in the face. Those guys are a lost cause.”

Olaf: [Pointing out the window] “Maybe not…”

Ted: [attempting to sneak into the diner]“Hey… are you guys still open? I gotta get something to eat or I’m going to pass out again.”

Olaf: “Come on in, Ted. It’s been a long time." [Olaf hands Ted a basket of dinner rolls which Ted quickly starts to eat.] "There's plenty more where that came from. ...How's Chet?”

Narrator: "The moral of the story is: If you truly love a starving man, you will put your own passions aside and feed him." [Or... never trust a skinny cook.]

Monday, August 4, 2008

Myth Alert! The Non-Denominational Church

If someone tells you that they belong to a non-denominational church, make sure to laugh at them good and loud.

Non-denominational churches do not exist. They cannot exist. There is real, fundamental disagreement in the church. You are either on one side of a given issue or another. The next time you find a non-denominational church, look at their statements of belief. If you read far enough you will reach an "ah-ha!" moment.

"Ah-ha!" This non-denominational church lied to me. They are covertly anabaptist. "Ah-ha!" This non-denominational church lied to me. They are covertly arminian/calvinist/methodist/emergent/etc, etc.

Alternatively, you find a place where no specific beliefs are stated. Everything is fair game. In this case, they are certainly non-denominational... but one could argue that a group without any truth is no longer the church.

Let's take this "non-denominational" church as an example.

Here is Article 7 - Baptism & the Lord's Supper:

"The Word of God enjoins... blah blah blah... pretty rhetoric... blah... baptism, is the outward sign of what God has already done in the individual's life... blah blah blah... Anabaptist jibberish... blah... Trinitarian Formula... Lord's Supper is a commemoration of the death of the Lord and is done in rememberance of Him... blah blah... Both institutions are restricted to those who are believers."

Now let's look at the SBC Faith & Message and see if it matches:

"Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is an act of obedience symbolizing the believer's faith in a crucified, buried, and risen Saviour, the believer's death to sin, the burial of the old life, and the resurrection to walk in newness of life in Christ Jesus. It is a testimony to his faith in the final resurrection of the dead. Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord's Supper."

"The Lord's Supper is a symbolic act of obedience whereby members of the church, through partaking of the bread and the fruit of the vine, memorialize the death of the Redeemer and anticipate His second coming."

Ah-ah! I think we have found a winner. So much for non-denominational.

So this is what we have learned:

When a church is "non-denominational", this may be what they are saying:

1. "We are distancing ourselves from the historic view of our former denomination."

2. "We think that changing our name will better fit in with our community-based missional program."

3. "We are moving to generic American religionism."

4. "We don't want you to know our beliefs up front."

5. "We don't want to be judged on the basis of our profession."

6. "We care about our deeds (works) rather than our creeds (faith)."

7. "We are really X denomination, but we can't get that denomination to sign off on some of our beliefs and practices."