Going “Deeper” in Church; a Caution


From Trevix wax found here

I once met a youth pastor who was so frustrated with accusations of “shallowness” and demands for “more depth” that he told me, “Fine! If they want to go deeper, I’m going to go so deep it drives them nuts. I’ll drown them in depth!” Not exactly the best posture to take as a disciple-maker of the next generation.

I didn’t like the youth pastor’s attitude. But I did understand his frustration. Sometimes it’s hard to please the people clamoring for “deeper” teaching because everyone seems to have a different idea of what “deep” is.

Depth as “Just the Facts Ma’am”

One group thinks teaching is deep if they learn something they didn’t already know. The goal is to walk out of the classroom with more information than they had coming in.

I sympathize with the group that wants more facts. We have more resources available to us than ever before and yet people seem to know less and less about the Bible. When church members think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple, well, “Houston, we have a problem.”

But information is not the goal, and information alone is not depth. Take this approach to the extreme and we produce an elite class of biblical hobbyists who are almost Gnostic-like in their love for more knowledge. Knowing biblical facts is important, but surely we want to go deeper than the demons, who know more about Scripture than we do and are devils still.

Depth as “Insights for Daily Living”

Another group thinks “deep” means “insight for life.” Make a verse of Scripture apply directly to what I do tomorrow. “Deep” means “applied well,” and transformation (rather than information) is the goal.

I sympathize with anyone seeking “life transformation” in Bible study. Surely we don’t want people looking in the mirror of God’s Word and then walking away unaware of their reflection. Every teacher should hope for transformation.

But even if we hope to apply the Bible to everyday life, we don’t want to be self-absorbed readers skimming the Scriptures in search for practical tidbits as if we are reading a self-help book. If we go about Bible study this way, we never deal with the big picture of Scripture and therefore end up spiritualizing earth-shattering truths into coffee mug verses that give us warm fuzzies.

Depth as Gospel-Centrality

So what do we mean by “depth?” Not just new information or insightful application. We are longing for a depth that grounds us in the richness of the gospel.

Too many times, we assume that the gospel is just the basics of the Christian life, but intense, deep discipleship takes place when we get into the theological precision of interpreting biblical doctrines. Not so. The gospel is the story that gives richness and profundity to all our study of the Bible. John 3:16 is simple enough for a child to believe, and yet we can linger over these words for a lifetime and never exhaust all the truth contained here.

“Going deep” is more than winning a game of Bible Trivia. It’s more than finding a helpful insight for the upcoming week.

Going deep is:

  • immersing ourselves in the truth that Jesus Christ bled and died to save helpless sinners like you and me.
  • seeing the depth of our sin and the depth of God’s grace.
  • remembering that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves more acceptable to God.
  • returning to the costly grace that demands “my life, my soul, my all.”
  • viewing the whole Bible in light of the overarching story of grace that has the gospel announcement as its climax and the gospel community as its result.

It’s been said that the gospel is not the ABCs of salvation, but the A to Z of the Christian life. That’s good to remember. We never move beyond this good news. Depth occurs when we more deeply explore the truth of the gospel and its implications.

A Plea to Teachers

As a final note on depth, I plead with teachers. Whatever literature you may use, you are the factor that makes the difference. Gospel-fueled transformation takes place best when the teacher’s life is bubbling over with gospel enthusiasm.

Let’s ask ourselves:

  • Am I reading my Bible just to prepare my lesson? Or am I immersed in this gospel story daily?
  • Am I reading other literature and materials that deepen my own walk with Christ? Or am I content with throwing together the facts for an interesting presentation on Sunday morning?
  • Am I seeking to be a missionary in the community God has placed me? Or am I content with the little group I teach on the weekend?

Deeper teaching happens when we have deeper teachers. So fellow teachers, let’s soak ourselves in the truths of the gospel and the Word. Then, let’s invite others to the fountain of living water offered freely by our Master Teacher whose life and death changes everything.


The Lies of Lila Rose and Live Action

*This abortion intrument’s purpose was to hold the baby’s head with the spiked ends. Once the head was held, a long thin probe was
pushed deep into the skull. The instrument held the baby’s head, so once it was cut off, it would not float around in the uterus.

I abhor abortion. I consider it a grave evil and a terrifying loss. It is the outright murder of babies by their mothers with the help of men and women whose consciences are seared.  Because it is so monstrous I welcome any and all efforts to stop it, especially through the efforts of Lila Rose and the Live Action group. They have become infamous through the use of undercover operations where they go to planned parenthood clinics and pretend to be victims of statutory rape, pimps with underage prostitutes, and so forth. After they give a clever and convincing story, they catch clinic workers offering illegal advice and services. They record these interactions on video and post them on YouTube, the result which has been a fair amount of public outcry and a blow to these abortion clinics and organization.

I love this about them. I love the effort- that they’re doing something and that their efforts have seen tangible results and impact. Some states have opted to introduce or pass legislation to defund planned parenthood, in part based on these videos. That is a wonderful, phenomenal relief.

There’s only one thing though.

Lila Rose and her organization are lying to these people. As pleased and grateful as I am to see such a murderous industry exposed, it does not change the fact that they are using lies, deceit and falsehoods in the pursuit of exposing these people. They are pretending to be people they are not. They are telling the nurses and aid stories about themselves that are made up. They are communicating falsehoods about their backgrounds and the situations they’re in.  That is wrong.

It is sinning in order to expose another sin. Are they helping reduce the number of abortions? Probably. I sincerely hope and pray they are. But just like we don’t murder abortion doctors, and we don’t blow up abortion clinics, likewise we don’t lie in order to further our goals.

So a few questions; 1. Can Lila Rose and Live Action, from a Biblical perspective, justify their actions in light of their lying and deceit? Is there a Biblical case that can be made here? 2. Should they stop these undercover attacks for the very fact that they are lying in the process? 3. What should our attitude be towards Live Action be?

Books I’m Currently Reading

I have these books on my Kindle and I’m slowly working through them. I just finished up the Steve Jobs biography and found myself surprised at how much I dislike the man and how little respect I have for him. Great accomplishments in business aside, Issacson did paint an awful picture of Steve Jobs that seems to be well deserved. In any case, these are the next 5 on the  queue.

What is the Mission of the Church? Kevin De Young [2011]

Sermons on the Card. Hugh Latimer. [1485-1555]

The World-Tilting Gospel.  Dan Phillips [2011]

The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.  John Knox  [ 1514 – 1572]

The Imitation of Christ. Thomas A Kempis. [1380-1471]

Night at the Oscars? Harvest Festival? Thoughts on the Halloween Alternative

On Halloween night the MGA is hosting a Halloween alternative. It is advertised as

“Come dressed as your favorite celebrity & walk down the ‘Red Carpet’ to Hollywood! Prizes for best dressed celeb, best chili &/or pie at the Top Chef Chili & Pie Challenge. Bring 2 homemade pies, one for judging &/or one for eating! There will also be a candy land  and a slime making station, and surprise celebrities! Donations of nut free candy are welcome!”

I’ve been to several Halloween alternatives in my life, primary as a volunteer for the Churches that were putting them on but also as an attendee  I was never part of a Church that would do a Tract and Treat [ Christian children dressing up as Bible characters or saints, knocking on doors, and passing out tracts in exchange for candy] but I have attended “Hell Houses” that were put on by local Churches. While the former two are not as common, Halloween alternatives are.

Believing that Halloween as it’s celebrated by our culture is less than ideal, the Church has created an alternative where Children, so as not to feel left out or that they are missing something, can go to experience a similar celebration without the negative and dark elements. Its sort of like a sanitized Halloween, with all major components there and sharing all similarities. Fun time with others? Check. Getting free candy for minimal effort? Check. Elements of the harvest, such as pumpkins and scarecrows? Check. Other themed decorations? Check. Scary/Evil elements? Not so much at harvest festivals, but if they put on an evangelistic hell house, check! Kids in costumes? Check/ Adults in costume? Check. “Noticeable” teen or adult females wearing costumes highly noticed by teen and adult males? Oh the stories…….

Amorphously tied in to Autumn and Thanksgiving motifs, these events are usually  how we were to be thankful for the bounty God gave us. Parents would bring their kids dressed up as frogs, farm animals, pirates or Disney princesses and they would go to different stations manned by the youth group volunteers to collect treats, oftentimes of a homemade nature, but more often than not consisting of pure sugar and high fructose corn syrup. After the harvest festival was over, the teens would vacate and go home to get dressed up and hit the local neighbourhoods and businesses.  They rarely worse costumes, opting instead to go in their regular street clothes,  though there was the occasional sketchy nurse and bloodthirsty murderer.

Bringing it back to the MGA, I have to confess that I really don’t get the idea and purpose as coming dressed up as Hollywood actors and starlets. I understand the Halloween alternative, but I cannot think of a concept that is more foreign to me and strikes me to be as poorly conceived than having Christian boys and girls dress up as their favourite secular movie stars. Hollywood seems to be the epicentre of a worldview that is squarely at odds with a biblical one. The whole thing more often than not seems like a celebration of money, sex, power, drugs, violence, vanity and materialism. The lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life... In very real ways they have contributed to the sexualization of our culture and normalization of every kind of aberrant and perverse behaviour. Furthermore, there are very few actors and actresses  whose movies are wholesome and pure, and who would be Godly and righteous role models that we ought to look up to, much less dress up like.

I’m trying to think of who I would come dressed up as, and I can’t even think of a person. Who out there is worth emulating and dressing up as, and what does it say about us and our Christian identity that we want our kids to dress up as Hollywood stars? What does it say about our idolatry? I suppose its a given that some of our girls will come dressed up as Miley Cyrus and other young actresses who regularly exhibit in their private and public life what can only be described as “whoremonging skills.” Dressing up as  Hollywood movie stars attending the Oscars to celebrate movies which often showcase their sin and depravity, in the name of entertainment.

The only thing I can compare it to would be if Timothy or Titus instructed their congregation members that  instead of celebrating some pagan festival, that they should  have their kids and congregation members dress up  as gladiators. They could decorate the houses and catacombs with sand on the ground and weapons in little piles. They could be dressed up as the slaves, criminals and prisoners of war that found themselves entertaining the masses as they cut bone and shed blood in the Flavian amphitheaters. If the women think they would be left out, no worries- there were female gladiators too, and from all accounts they were just as fierce and like a lot of women celebrating Halloween wore just as little clothes.

Clearly I don’t get it, and I wonder if I’m part of some misguided minority. What do you all think? Do you like the idea of a Halloween alternative, and secondly- what do you think of the theme? Is it harmless fun to dress up as Hollywood movie stars, or does it betray some troubling reality? Discuss!

Lecture on Sexual Identity, Orientation, and Gender Dispensation. No Clobber Verses Allowed.

Justin Taylor posted this over at his blog. It is not a lecture about a biblical/theological/ exegetical defense against homosexuality, but rather assuming the position, answers questions from a pastoral/ psychological/socio-developmental/ counseling perspective. I have never come across anything as good and helpful as this. Highly recommended.

  • What causes homosexuality?
  • Can we be responsible for that which is not consciously chosen?
  • What is the difference between having same-same attraction, same-sex orientation, and being “gay” or “lesbian”?
  • How many people self-identify in these ways?
  • Do people with same-same attraction actually change?
  • How can they change?
  • What does the gospel have to do with this issue?
  • How can we promote change in the church for those who struggle?

Almost [saved] Poet Ezekial Azonwu

This is a phenomenal video by the people over at P4CM. Poert Ezekial Azonwu is simply electric and the gospel-centeredness is majestic. I would strongly recommend that everyone watches the whole thing through. And yes- I would give anything to be there. The next Poets lounge is going down October 29, 2011. See http://p4cm.com for more details. Highly Recommended!

The Evolution Of This Blog; Sermon Reviews, Being Shut Out, And Serving the Church

I started this blog back in August of 2009 with different intentions. I had originally envisioned it as a place that could serve as a hub for local churches in the area  to post their sermons online, share local news and events, advertise guest speakers that they were having, give praise reports of baptisms, and update with the joys and tears of their missionary work.  That was the purpose of this website at its earliest conception. The more I thought of it however, I realized that I did not have the time and energy to dedicate to such a large endeavor. It would be a fairly massive undertaking, especially in order to do it well and I was not up for it.

I then decided to switch gears and make the focus of the blog sermon reviews. I had been listening to 20-60 sermons a week leading up to this, for quite a few years, and while at this point I was unable to listen to that same quantity, I was still listening to 10-15 a week.  Some were treasured podcasts and the rest were local Fort McMurray Churches.  I found myself alternately edified by some and angered at others. Believing myself to be adequately equipped with a decent knowledge of the scripture,s  I thought it would be a good idea to review and evaluate sermons. My reviewing philosophy was born and has been posted since day one.

“What I do when I review a sermon is I mainly look to see that the law is being used lawfully, that the gospel is preached as it should, that the bible verses aren’t being taken out of context, and that historical Judeo-Christian orthodoxy and biblical theology is being preached”….. “As such, I try to respond as gently as I can. I know far too well how easy it is to just sit back and take pot shots at a Pastor for sermon that he may have spent hours or even days on, and that doing so really doesn’t help anyone. As such, when I comment on a sermon, it’s never my intent to tear down or to be dismissive of anything or anyone, but rather to simply see that these preachers are rightly dividing the word of truth, and to build them up and encourage them when I can, and to correct them in truth and love as a brother in Christ when I feel they require correction”

When I started off, I envisioned that this could be a place where I could have robust dialogue with the pastors who preached these sermons, the elders who supported the church, and the people who attended these churches. Whether it was a word of praise or a critique of how they used scripture, the intention was always to build them up and help them become stronger. Ironing sharpening iron, whetting the word of God until it could pierce bone, sinew and marrow-straight to a man’s heart. It was all about the Bible- that’s all I ever wanted to talk about. At this point someone might say “But who asked you to do that? Nobody asked you to play judge and jury.” It’s true. Nobody asked me. But I felt this was a worthwhile ministry in which I was gifted in. I am a good teacher and I have a good understanding of the Bible and what it says. I know how to read it and how it should be read. I know what is prescriptive and what is descriptive- the ebb and flow of it, the arc and worldview, how to exegete it and how to apply proper hermeneutics to it. I figured that because I didn’t critique the pastor personally or take shots at his personality or his homiletical style,  I hoped we could relegate this to the arena of ideas and theology proper, and that they would be ok with that. I went ahead with it.

Things did not go as planned. There was almost no interaction, though I would send the pastors emails and inform them of what I was writing. Sometimes I would write them in advance and ask them to comment before I posted something because I wanted the clearest possible understanding of what they were preaching. I might say something like “In your sermon you used this verse to prove your point, and said so forth and so forth. But in doing so you did not quote the verse right, and in fact fused two verses together, neither of which works.” One or two ventured a comment. One wrote me an email saying “Thank you very much. You are absolutely right. I was speaking extemporaneously and completely messed those up and gave the wrong impression. Thank you for your work.” That was a rarity. Most just ignored me. Every once in a while I would receive a comment about a sermon review I did and the same charges were always laid;  that I was being mean, graceless, nitpicky, overly zealous and unloving.

I tried to interact with these people, ask them for specifics and ask them about the issues I raised, but no one wanted any meaningful interaction or dialogue. This was strange to me because its not like the reviews were all negative. I rarely if ever brought up minor quibbles or nitpicks. I’m not bringing up minor issues or doctrinal distinctives that I disagree  with, but issues of substance. In fact, the overwhelming majority of  thoughts that I had involved how they used the Bible. More often than not I would give 5 or 6 ways that felt edified and built up, told them how blessed I was because of the things I learned, and then inquired about a few things which I had questions about. Again, silence.. One low point was when one of the local Churches invited a word-faith heretic to preach and teach On Sunday morning. The man absolutely butchered the Bible. I have listened to close to 8000-9000 sermons in my life, and this was easily one of the worst. I reviewed the sermon and sent it to the leadership of the Church several times. They never responded. I waited to see if they issued a public rebuke and repudiation of the man and his sermon, I never heard one. I contacted a friend who attended the Church and asked them if they heard anything- they never did. As far as I know, that Church still stands behind this man and his message.

I think that is what has surprised me about a lot of these pastors. I love these guys and I admire and respect them all so much, even the ones that we don’t see eye to eye, and yet despite my affections, good will, and straight up love for this men,  many of them treat me like a pariah. What I had intended to be a blessing they see as a curse. They don’t respond to my emails, even when I am asking something neutral and innocuous. My intentions are treated as suspicious, even though I have never tried to be that. I don’t know if  its fear, embarrassment, immaturity, or something else that prevents them from interacting with what I actually said. Maybe they believe that there is no such thing as a godly critic- that any criticism is personal and is an attack against them and their church. I honestly don’t know.  But I can send out email after email after email, to multiple pastors in the same church, and the result is silence.

I’m not some anonymous blogger who fires potshots from his mom’s basement- I’m a friendly guy who lives and works in town and would like very much to sit down and talk anyone who wants to talk. I’m always up for that. I have my contact information available and I’ll talk with people face to face anytime. I understand that these men are busy- they are shepherds of a flock, after all, and as I don’t even go to their Churches they have to prioritize. They don’t owe me an answer. I’m not so special that I deserve an answer, necessarily, or that my objections demand a response. I can also understand that what I say can be wearing. Though often I’ll say “Great sermon, Loved these 10 points. Excellent!”other times I’ll take exception and dedicate quite  a a bit of time showing why they used the Bible in an improper way. That’s not fun for either of us, and I don’t relish the prospect of that. In many ways I approach it with grief, sorrow,anger and frustration that it has to happen at all. But happen it does- or did.

Anyways, as a result, I’ve slowly started moving the focus of my website away from sermon reviews to more general theology. I still listen to every sermon that is released by every Church in this city, but only comment when they are exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Most of the time they good sermons with some questionable things thrown it, but it takes great energy to review one.  I spend 6-8 hours on each one, easily, listening to them multiple times, transcribing large sections, pulling up bible verses, looking for sources, reading commentaries, doing my own in-depth exegesis, tracking down this and that, and then writing it all out. Its time consuming, and as no one cares to interact with what I say, it has become less and less important to me. Though I should mention that there have been some Pastors who have been nothing but kind and gracious to me, and also not the ones you would probably expect.  You would be surprised at some of the emails I have received. Some have been incredibly rude, gruff, and downright mean. Others have been generous with their time and have shown me great kindness in ways that makes me admire them all the more.

But the blog is evolving.  I try to give as much original content as I can, and I know my efforts have been imperfect. My passion has always been the Gospel and making sure the Bible is being used correctly. I don’t see that changing. I try to keep things interesting and fun-  biblical and provocative, and talk about a host of subjects that interest me and which I think would interest my readers. I have a few extremely provocative blog posts planned before now and November, and a few which will do some exegetical teaching. Going forward, it will be a bit more broad, but I will always be referring back to my niche, which is blogging about events that are relevant to Fort McMurray and the Churches in the area. I have been blessed to have some wonderful readers who have supported me and have interacted with me, which I truly appreciate. This blog has pushed me and has helped grow me, offering its joys and hardships, but I am a better man for and a better believer for it.

Thank you so much again, and thank you all for the way that you’ve contributed to this.