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There was this blank spot on an otherwise meticulously detailed program. 1:30PM session… TBA.

To be announced? What?

It was August of 2000. We were in South Barrington, IL. Willow Creek Church. 4,500 church and ministry leaders from around the world shoulder to shoulder in a sprawling auditorium for the annual Leadership Summit. End of the last session before lunch, and we still had no idea what was coming up.

And then came the announcement.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we need you to exit the auditorium immediately following this session. Please do not stay and chat. We know you have tons of ideas to process with your teams, but we’ll need you to have those conversations over lunch. For reasons that will soon become apparent, we have been unable to publicly announce our 1:30 session interview. We have been told that the Secret Service will need a full 90 minutes to sweep this auditorium and secure it for our next session’s guest… President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.”

There was an audible gasp. On the one hand, it is stirring to be at an event with the leader of the free world.  On the other hand, for those of you who know your history, you might remember that in the year 2000 President Clinton was not exactly regarded as a model of Godly leadership by the evangelical community.  President Clinton may not have actually been the devil, but they were at least drinking buddies, in the eyes of many.

But I don’t want this post to get tangled or hijacked by a discussion about the wisdom or morality of bringing Bill Clinton in to talk about leadership to thousands of church leaders.  This isn’t a political discussion.  Nor is it a discussion about the dangers of mega-churches or the personal theological failings of Bill Hybels.  It’s a leadership discussion… about babies and bathwater.

Several months ago, in a Seminary class on Theology, on of my classmates began to decry the sad state of affairs in the modern church, and how deplorable it is that church leaders today are willing to listen to “outside voices” to learn leadership principles, rather than looking to the Bible for direction and guidance.

“Wait a minute…” I said.  “What?”

“We’re supposed to be transformed into the image of God, not conform to the patterns of this world.  What in God’s name are we doing looking to BUSINESS models and so-called ‘leadership experts’ to learn how to run our churches?  The Bible gives us everything we need to know.”

Flash back to Willow Creek, circa August, 2000.  Just after lunch.  The crowd has been readmitted under the watchful eye of the Secret Service.  There is a nervous buzz in the air.  Bill Hybels comes to the microphone, and I’ll never forget his first words to us.  “You think YOU lead a big deal…”

If ever there is someone who knows something about the demands of being a leader, surely the President of the United States is that person.  Politics aside, to say that being President requires a high degree of leadership is like calling the sun hot, water wet, or “Three Amigos” hilarious.  Willow Creek over the years has consistently brought high level leaders to the Leadership Summit, to speak and teach about leadership principles to a crown made up of mostly pastors, church staff, and ministry leadership teams.  Many of these speakers and presenters are vibrant Christians, sharing powerful real-life examples of Biblical leadership methods in action.  But Willow unapologetically invites non-believers, as well.  Because they belive in the Baby regardless of the Bathwater.  And some of my most memorable God-encounters, Holy-Spirit promptings, and ministry-changing leadership discoveries have come through the ministry of the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

What is this “Baby” of which I speak?  Basically it boils down to this…

Truth is truth.

I know… God’s Word is truth, and evangelicals believe it is our sole authoritative standard in all matters pertaining to faith and life.  Yes we ought to be forsaking the sin of the world and allow Christ to shape us and guide our ministry direction through His Word and by His Spirit.  All good.  All necessary.

But when my Muslim neighbor, gay coworker, Catholic mail carrier, goth pizza delivery guy, angry right-wing radio talk-show host, heathen President of the United States, [fill-in-the-blank] has something TRUE to say, the bearer of the truth does not change the truth he or she bears.  Truth stands on its own, and all truth is God’s truth.

Therefore, if we can gain wisdom from the CEO of Southwest Airlines, or the leader of International Justice Mission, or the rock star Bono… why not?  Yes we must be discerning.  Yes we need yield to a higher authority and disregard whatever they bring to the table that does not square with scripture.

Babies and bathwater.  I say let’s be open to conversations with all KINDS of people – and humble enough to learn from them. 

I know… some of you, like my fellow Sem student, might see this as dangerous – or foolish.  A slippery slope.  “Conforming to the pattern of this world.”  I hear that.  I get it.  I’m not talking about SUPPLANTING Biblical truth with any man-made business plan to run the church.  No way.  But I AM saying, how about BOTH/AND?  Why not be open to learn from smart people who might have something true – something wise – to teach the church?  Or are we so proud that we think we have found every good idea that’s ever been had about leadership?

Eternal souls are at stake.  More humility.  More conversation.  Let’s hold onto those babies, regardless of the bathwater.

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“of babies and bathwater (part two) :: lead your church like a heathen” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

High noon.Lunch time.  We’re eyeball to eyeball.  I size him up, and time slows to a stop.  I hear a clock ticking.  Somewhere, high overhead, the distant screech of a bird of prey.  I steel myself for the coming volley.  Only one of us is walking out of here victorious. And it ain’t gonna be him.

‘Cause he’s seven years old.  And that would be embarrassing.  Right?

“Dad, can I have some crackers?  Dad can we play Wii?  Dad can I go sledding?  Dad, can I have a brownie?  Dad can I light the couch on fire?  Dad…?  Dad??”

(…to be continued…)

Moms and Dads out there, I need you to do me a solid.  Take a moment and look down.  Like, just below your waist.  Quick question… are you wearing pants? Let that be a lesson to you.

Too many kids are wearing the pants.  I’m going crazy.  I was in a convenience store yesterday afternoon, and I observed a pants-less mom, looking defeated, haggling with her two pants-wearing kids.

“What?  We only get FOUR?  C’mon mom, pleeeeease?? I really want it!  No fair!  C’MON!  I want the sucker, too!  C’mon Mom.  It’s just five.  WHAT?!  We only get FOUR?! What??

That’s right.  A prolonged battle – in public – about whether mom would finally cave under the weight of her embarrassment and acquiesce to a FIFTH candy bar for each of her kids.

In my mind, I picked up each lad and drop kicked their ungrateful butts out of those pants and back into the minivan of shame where they belonged.  Then, I returned the pants their mom, who should have been wearing them all along, with a tip of my hat.  In my mind. It went down just like that.

In reality (where I would get arrested for kicking a stranger’s kid in the rear end) I could only stand by and watch it happen… the sad, slow, but sure relinquishing of the pants.  They got their fifth piece of candy from the rack alright.  But they got something more.  They got the pants.  And here’s the thing…

No kid – deep down inside – really wants the pants. They don’t want the responsibility of being the one in charge.  No parent in their right mind would let a child under the age of ten get behind the wheel of the family suburban and pull out into traffic, right?  It might look like fun for the kid, at first.  But on a deeper level, it would be terrifying.

Just like the pants.  Most kids think they want ’em. But on a deeper level, if they know they are the ones wearing the pants… it’s terrifying.  Scientific studies have proven that children exhibit much more freedom to run and play in a fenced-in safe area than they do in a wide open space.  Fences = safety.

One of the most important pieces of parenting advice I’ve ever heard came from family and parenting expert Dr. James Dobson.  He said that in any conflict situation with a child who is wrestling for authority – testing your parenting mettle – trying to steal the pants – he said one thing is absolutely necessary.  You must win. Parents worry too much about trying to pacify and avoid conflict.  But in the very act of negotiating you are affirming the child’s “equal footing” with you, the adult, the authority figure.  Kids don’t need to be pacified in this situation.  They need to learn who wears the pants.

Now, I’ll insert a brief disclaimer here.  Does this mean we should never listen to our kids’ point of view, or never explain our reasoning (when appropriate) for a parenting decision?  Not at all.  And this process gets more nuanced as children become young men and women.  (Click here for my last post.)  But it does mean that at no time should we hand our pants over to our children, or try to share out pants with little ones who need to learn that obedience and respect come before their momentary whims or manipulation tactics.

Back to my pre-lunch showdown scenario.  Just about to eat.  My seven-year-old fires a volley of requests for snacks, activities, and shenanigans that would disrupt the lunch plan we are about to execute.  Calmly, I reach down and check.  Yep.  Pants securely in place. Parenthood authority intact.  Without even batting an eye, I return fire…

“No.”

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Here’s my theory:  At some point on the parenting path with each child, you must give up control to gain influence.  Let’s discuss…

My oldest son has that look on his face again.  Wide eyes.  Forced blank stare.  Trying not to convey anything.  Underneath he’s angry, but he’s trying to look unruffled.  Unchallenging.  He’s trying to avoid hearing his parents say, “Don’t look at me that way.”

But Seth is tenderhearted, so the forced nonchalance doesn’t suit his face.  There’s still that anger around the edges, in his posture and his hands.  And there’s hurt in his glazed eyes.

We’ve been here before, but not often.  Seth is a deeply good kid, and I’m so very proud of who he is becoming.  I can’t even type this without tears coming up, just under the surface.  I’m so proud and grateful he’s mine.

But he’s a normal kid with an independant streak a mile deep, and we, his parents, are actual people with attitudes and character struggles, too, so we’re bound to butt heads once in awhile.  In those times, I’m shifting my parental strategery.  I’ve begun to have these conversations differently…

From “The Silence of Adam” by Dr. Larry Crabb:

“Manly men release others from their control and encourage them with their influence…  Manly men nudge their family and friends to the same crossroads where they, as men, have found that trust [in God] or unbelief must be chosen.  Unmanly men require their friends and family to meet their demands.”

Do we require obedience from our kids, then?  Yes, we do.  And we don’t always have the time to answer the “why?” questions, so we require our kids to verbally agree with an “OK, Mom” or an “OK, Dad” after a directive is given.  This has been a VERY helpful piece of our parenting tool kit.  This assures that our boy is making eye contact and acknowledging that the directive has been heard.  Further, it reinforces the understanding that obedience is the expected norm.

But when kids grow, they gain complexity as they become more independant.  We still expect obedience, and we will not allow disrespect even when our boys disagree with our decisions.  But there is no question that parenting Seth requires a different kind of nuance.  And this is where being a manly dad means leading more by example and clear expectations , and less by demand.

So I’m trying to park my pride in my parenting.  I’m trying to be clear with expectations, and I still give PLENTY of directives.  But when I see that blank/hurt/angry/stubborn/conflicted/growing/complex/young/old/forced calm/frustrated face, I’m shifting my parenting gears.  I’m doing more nudging, and letting him choose.

Instead of, “Go apologize to your mom,” I’m encouraging Seth to choose the honorable way. “When you settle down and think it through, I think you should consider talking to Mom.  I think you owe her an apology.  And real apologies don’t come with any ‘but’ connected.  You think about your part of this, and you decide what to do.”

Seth will be a teenager in a month.  He has a living faith in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit feeds his conscience with a steady data stream.  He’s becoming a young man, and he’s not blindly falling into moral traps at this point… he is choosing.

My job, as I see it, is to help him become the man who will choose what is right because his character won’t allow him to do otherwise.  And that means prayer, trusting in God to shape him, and letting go of control in favor of influence.

Seth, and all of our boys, are miraculously wonderful kids.  Lord, help me not mess this up.

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“being a manly dad :: control vs. influence” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Lately I’ve been pondering the nature of several “babies and bathwater” scenarios with regards to Christian faith and leadership.  I think this is a natural outgrowth of my commingled passions for sound doctrine and unity in the Church.  Walking this line requires nuance, careful thought, prayer, grace, and honesty.

Knee-jerk reactionism and mud-flinging are perhaps more gratifying to our carnal side.  But the “immediate gratification” option is rarely the BEST option.

In any case, today I want to begin a series of posts that deal with nuanced topics in the Church.  Maybe this will be my first and last post in the series.  🙂  Time will tell.

The Emerging Church

Sure.  Maybe this is cheating.  I’m literally posting an assignment from my Basic Principles of Theology class with Dr. Fran Monseth at the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary, where I am currently enrolled full time. 

The bottom line is that I want to provide thought-provoking, biblically sound, and helpful information to those who are interested.  I think many people who read my blog regularly have questions about the Emerging Church – both what it is, exactly, and why we should care.  Therefore, I’ve provided a link for you to be able to download my brief examination of the Emerging Church, it’s philosophy and theological trajectory, and a biblical response (PDF).  Because this is a complicated and nuanced issue, there is really no short form way to cover the topic as a blog post.  The context of my studies here are conservative and apologetically Lutheran, so you can use that filter to understand my vantage point as we talk about the influence of the “emerging” or “emergent” church conversation.

I don’t claim this to be anything spectacular.  It’s just a paper.  But it may be helpful.  So, for those who are curious, here you go…

Click here to download  >>  THE EMERGING CHURCH _ jskogerboe

Discussion is welcomed and encouraged in the comments below.  I hope this brings some clarity and prompts you to know what you believe, and why that matters.  Thanks for reading.

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“of babies and bathwater (part one) :: the emerging church” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This right here is fun.  And tech-savvy.  And musically righteous.

Here’s the thing…  iPads and iPhones (a nod to modern culture) and funny hats (entertainment) and secular music (a nod to modern culture) and a sense of humor (entertainment) are a comfortable part of the Sunday Morning experience at North Point Community Church.  By their methodology, it’s easy to see they are intentionally creating an entertaining venue…  and it’s fun

So…  the question of the day…  Is that bad?

Attractive to “seekers,” or according to Northpoint, “a church for the unchurched.”  And I really need to press the point here…  Is that bad?

What caught my attention as I viewed this funkalicious Christmas tech-fest on You Tube was the “like-dislike” count at the bottom of the viewing window.  Sure, over 3,000 have given their virtual thumbs-up.  But I was more interested in the 100+ who voiced their red-thumbed “dislike.”

Triple digits worth of “dislike.”  For musical awesome sauce via gadgetry.  How can this be??  And yet, I get it.  Because church is about reverence.  And worship.  And worship is about giving of ourselves in grateful devotion to God.  Church services are not for our entertainment – and the mixing of penitent adoration of the Almighty with “funny hats” is not only inappropriate… it’s vulgar.  Maybe even blasphemous.   Further still, we do a deeply dangerous disservice to “seekers” when we lure them into church for more of what the world has to offer, don’t we?  More production and slick camera angles and lighting and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”  We’re missing our golden opportunity to share the deeply counter-cultural message of Jesus, humiliated on our behalf, and come to earth as an infant.  A breathtaking descent from glory… and we give lost sinners “Feliz Navidad” auto-tuned for a laugh?

That is bad.  Right?

Although comments have been disabled for this video, I have friends whom I’m sure would be quick to punch that little red down-turned thumb of disapproval.  Maybe you did.  If your reverence for the Lord just can’t stomach this kind of “fun” and “church” in the same space, I totally understand.  I think there is valid reason for concern.  Northpoint’s methodology says something about their theology… 

I just ask this of my red-thumb pushing friends…  Consider that what you THINK this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church may not actually be what this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church.

Assumption #1:  Northpoint doesn’t value reverence – they treat God and the Sabbath with casual indifference rather than pious humility and devotion.

Assumption #2:  Northpoint believes they need to pander to culture, rather than creating a counter-culture, in order to connect with the unchurched.

Assumption #3:  Northpoint displays a fundamental misunderstanding of worship when they mix “entertainment” into the church service.

I’m here to challenge all of those assumptions.

On the first point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint DOES, in fact, know how to lead their congregation into times of deep, reverent worship?  Is it possible that they have a VERY clear understanding of worship, and that it is a sacrificial offering of ourselves to the Lord?  Is it possible that Northpoint sets aside times for communication with God that are intensely personal and reverent, while having the freedom to laugh together and have fun in community at other times?  I can answer that… yes they do.

I have seen, heard, and participated in worship with the Northpoint community.  Their reverence for God runs deep.  He is exalted as sovereign over all.  Remember that this video was only 7 minutes long.  What did they do with the other 76 minutes they were together that morning?  I bet the truth of the Word was shared.  I bet there was a time for people to think, and listen to God, and respond.  I bet reverent worship happened in that space.  Maybe a better question… considering that we are called to worship as an ongoing state of being, is there really anything wrong with taking 7 minutes out of the 110,880 minutes we have each week to have a little fun?

In response to the second point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint does not “pander to culture” because they don’t believe that the Gospel is “enough” to win the spiritually skeptical, but instead they “become all things to all men” (like Paul on Mars Hill in Athens) and speak the language of the culture (like Jesus did, using present day analogies to communicate timeless truth through parables) in order to START the conversation… to get the unchurched neighbor in the door… in order that they might hear the life-saving message of the Gospel?  I can answer that… yes they do.

In but not of.  IN but not of.  IN THE WORLD, but not of it.  “I do not pray that you take them out of the world…” Jesus asked His Father on our behalf (John 17), “but that you would keep them safe from the evil one.”  Again, how will our neighbors come to faith if they never hear the truth?  And if an iBand video on YouTube brings some curious visitors in the door… in the door of a church… where the Gospel is preached…  Is that bad?

In response to the third point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint is not sinfully engaged in irreverent license here, but instead is joyfully reflecting the freedom we have in Jesus?

Um…  I actually can’t answer that one.  Not for sure.  But I give them the benefit of the doubt.  Here’s why:

And this one is actually a really big deal.  I’m a deep believer in allowing FUN in church.  We are commanded over and over again to rejoice in the Lord, and that the JOY of the Lord is our strength.  Further, we are set free for freedom’s sake in Jesus Christ.  FREEDOM and JOY.  I’d submit that a theology that does not allow fun within the walls of the church is not somehow more pious.  It’s just less fun. 

Because I have seen the clear preaching of Law and Gospel from Northpoint, and because many many many many souls have been saved through this ministry, I trust that this yuletide iBand is simply in keeping with their clearly stated calling as a church… to be a church for the unchurched.  I trust that they know full well the difference between entertainment and worship.  I trust that they have learned that flash and production values might pique an unbeliever’s interest, but only Jesus can save a soul.  Bottom line…  I trust that God is at work there.

I’m deeply concerned that we understand our place before a Holy God.  That we know what it means to fear Him as the Sovereign King.  But I think Northpoint understands that, too.  I think they just enjoy being alive.  Maybe where you fall on the thumbs-up/thumbs-down scale with this technogeek carol fest in church has less to do with your theology and more to do with your assumptions.  Or maybe it says a whole bunch about mine.

What do you think?

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Thankfully, the majority of the five boys under my roof still think, at least to some degree, that girls have cooties.  I’m all for it.

The day will soon be upon me when their vision will be transformed.  Girls will no longer be mystifying, unexplainable… weirdos.  They will soon become equally mystifying and unexplainable… yet irresistibly appealing.  Such is the way of the world, I suppose.

Achhh!  The world! Culture and the flesh… partnering up again to infect the innocent.  My boys’ upcoming hormonal hurricane is just another stroke in the case against this world and all of its carnality and rottenness.  Wouldn’t it just be EASIER if my boys thought girls had cooties… right up until they say “I Do”?

There is a growing movement in the Christian community… a sub-culture within the sub-culture. It is family focused, protectionist, and isolationist.  And it tends to view the world around us as if it has cooties.  Only these cooties have real spiritual power, and once they take root in a believer, they spread like a cancer.  Sucking the spiritual life out of a person with small temptations that lead to moderate indiscretions and overlooked compromises, which easily turn into large scale sin problems, which will eventually grow into full blown apostasy.  Beware the power of this cultural leaven, which is sure to tarnish the whole loaf.  Beware the corruption of culture. The world has cooties, and these bad boys are Ebola to the soul.

So, for protection of the family, Christians don a HAZMAT suit of their own construction, finding support in the Bible for keeping the culture at arm’s length.

What does this cultural HAZMAT suit look like? Kids are home schooled.  Kids are often not allowed to attend a church Sunday School or Youth Group because of the influence of the unregenerate hooligans who attend.  Besides, the spiritual instruction of the children is a PARENT’S responsibility, anyway…  not to be left in the hands of another believer who may or may not share the same scriptural convictions.  In fact, many families are actually deciding against participation in an organized congregation with traditional pastoral leadership, opting instead for home church, led by dad… or maybe shared leadership with a few other like-minded families.  TV, movies, music, etc. are closely monitored for signs of cultural cootie-ness.  And life centers on and revolves around the godly home – the family. Children are “trained up in the way they should go,” and a healthy concern for cultural contamination is modeled and reinforced.

Here’s an honest moment for you… that sounds AWESOME.  We actually DO home-school our kids (for a number of reasons), and I LOVE my family.  So I would love to hunker down with them and make my boys and my bride our primary platform for Christian fellowship.  I hate the effect of sin on our culture, and it breaks my heart to see my boys’ innocence lost as we have to help them understand murder, lust, greed, perversion…  My kids light my world – and so does Amy.  If I could pull it off somehow, I recognize the draw of the HAZMAT suit. I wish… often… that I could more adequately shield my family from the cooties of the world.

Can you understand, from a Christian point of view, why this isolationism has appeal and is gaining steam?  Doesn’t it make sense in this perverse culture not to “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2) and to “go out from their midst and be separate from them?”  (2 Corinthians 6:17)

In other words… to be OUT OF the world, and NOT OF it.

BUT...  (and this is a BIG “but…”)

Honest question:  is the culture our enemy?

Should we circle the wagons and don the HAZMAT suit and protect our kids from a case of the cancerous culture cooties at the cost of cultural engagement?

I can’t answer that question for you.  I have good friends who have gone the isolationist way.  I know families – good families – who love the Lord and are doing their best to honor him by reflecting a DIFFERENT way of life – a separate and distinct, transformed life with their family.  BUT…

I have some significant concern as I see this trend growing – gaining strength – a movement away from not only culture, but even from organized church fellowship in many cases.  I see intentional disengagement from the world we live in, with all of its hurt and need.  And lost people.  Dying people.  Damned people.

With humility, I submit we take our cue from Jesus Himself on this issue.  He did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17) – and his harshest words were not for the culture around him.  Christ came as a transformer of culture.  He came as a Redeemer – literally to “buy back” from the tyranny of slavery the souls of dying men and women in His culture and in ours.  Jesus didn’t endorse or participate in a separatist lifestyle.  Instead he used positive illustrations from culture as parables.  He participated in His culture, engaging it, and shining a light into its dark corners.  In His last hour of freedom before being captured and taken to his death, Jesus prayed in John 17 for ALL believers… both then and now.  And what was that prayer?

“Not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Like I said before, it is not my place to choose for you how to live out your faith.  But I submit this for consideration… CULTURE is not our enemy. Sin is.  Satan is.  I see culture as a theater in which God’s glory can be displayed – to both the redeemed and the resistant.  Instead of being OUT OF and NOT OF the world, maybe we are called to be IN, but NOT OF…  Maybe in order to be salt and light, we need to rub shoulders with the needy people in dark places.  If not us, who will go? Culture is a minefield.  It is dangerous, without question.

I submit that we need to embrace the danger inherent in engaging our culture, for the sake of the Gospel.  And instead of relying on the safety of a subculture to protect us or our children, let’s echo and trust Jesus’ prayer on our behalf.  No more HAZMAT suit.  No more cooties.  Our family will be a redemptive force in the lives of those we rub shoulders with on purpose.


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“the world’s got cooties! get it off! get it off!” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Glenn Beck drives people nuts.

Love him or hate him, most likely you’ve got an opinion.  He doesn’t produce fence-sitters.  That fence is POINTY, baby.  You’re going to fall on one side or the other pretty quickly if you spend any time listening to his show or watching him on the telivizzle.

And believe it or not, the rest of this post will have nothing to do with politics.  So you can exhale.

At the end of August I posted “glenn beck: the new voice of evangelical christianity” as a follow-up to his non-political/spiritual revival pro-America rally on the national mall on August 28, 2010.  My main point was to say that I’m growing increasingly uncomfortable with Glenn’s religious rhetoric, because he’s a Mormon, and therefore means something very different when he claims to be “listening to the voice of God” or leading us to “do the will of God.”  We believe in and follow different Gods, me and Mr. Beck.  Therefore, I urged my fellow evangelicals to listen if you must, but exercise discernment… it’s dangerous ground.

The post generated some good discussion at the time, but I just received a new comment today, and it was a good challenge.

The gist was this:I’m confused.  You seem to often call for unity between churches.  Mormons believe Jesus is the Son of God, too, right?  How come we shouldn’t listen to Glenn Beck, then?  Should we not listen just because he’s a Mormon?”

Fair question.  Here was my response:

I understand your confusion. Let me clarify a few things…

First, Im not saying no one should listen to Glenn Beck simply because he is a Mormon. I love to listen to Dennis Prager, for example, and he’s Jewish. There is wisdom to be found in all kinds of people, and truth is truth… meaning, if I say the sky looks blue, and The Pope says the sky looks blue, and Christopher Hitchens says the sky looks blue… we are all saying something true. Our philosophy or religious affiliation doesn’t make it any LESS true when Chris the atheist says it. Right? So, Glenn Beck’s Mormonism, per se, doesn’t necessarily disqualify him from my listening list.

What I am uncomfortable with – and that’s putting it mildly – is Glenn Beck’s increasingly bold “spiritual leader” talk.  He throws around phrases that indicate he believes he is doing the “will of the Lord,” and that he speaks for God and is encouraging people to do His will.  He SAYS the name Jesus, but his belief is very different than mine.  My caution is to listen critically, and be very careful not to confuse his Mormon “word from the Lord” with the authority of the ACTUAL Word of God, given to us in the Bible.

Now, to briefly clarify the difference between my calls to the church for unity around the core doctrines of the Christian faith, and my stiff-arming of Mormonism, it is important for you to understand that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a cult. It is NOT in any way a branch of the Christian church, like Baptists or Lutherans or Methodists. Nope. Mormons are often wonderful people, productive citizens, kind to their neighbors, and raising good kids in strong families. I’m not saying they are “bad” people – any more than you and I are sinful people – in the way that EVERY soul on the planet is born corrupted by sin. But they tend to be “good people” all the same. Even so, Mormonism is a false religion that diverges from Christianity in several KEY ways.

Christian core doctrine has remained grounded in the Word of God and been basically unchanging for 2000+ years. Cults change their core doctrine often – when it becomes necessary to do so. There have been about 4,000 changes to the Book of Mormon since it was first published in 1830, and some BIG ones to boot. They have changed their stance on Polygamy, for one. And they now support the religious equality of African Americans, which required a huge change in their doctrinal positions.

Mormonism is poly-theistic (many gods) and Christianity is monotheistic (ONE God). They believe God the Father was once a man who *progressed* to God-hood. We believe God is the unchanging “I AM.” They believe the Trinity is actually three separate gods… we believe in the three-in-ONE. They also believe that we, as humans, can progress to God-hood status. This is the FIRST LIE from the Garden of Eden, when the serpent told Eve, “You can be like God…” All of the sin of the world followed that lie and it’s line of reasoning. It is the CORE poison of the human soul.

Mormons believe Jesus is the child of God the Father and a heavenly Mother, and that he was born incomplete and had to *progress* to God-hood status in the spiritual realm. They deny the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of the virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ unchanging nature as God and His condescension and virgin birth are foundation truths Christianity is built upon. While Mormons DO believe that Jesus is God’s only Son, their understanding of what that means and the very nature of God and Jesus as our Savior is a mess – and dangerous, theologically.

Mormon’s see Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden as a noble act, enabling man to become mortal – a key step forward in the process of attaining deity status. They believe that Jesus atonement basically grants everyone salvation and immortality, whether we believe in Him or not. There are many, many other important differences, as well.

This stuff is important. Mormons market themselves as another Christian option. But it is not at all Christian. We have no reason, of course, to treat Mormons with disrespect, OR to disregard everything they say simply because of the religion. However, I WILL disregard anything they say with “the authority of the Lord” behind it. Glenn Beck’s Jesus is NOT my Jesus. Therefore, when He speaks about the “will of God,” I know he’s not listening to the same voice of God that I am. Therefore… I turn him off.

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“mormons are christians, too, right? :: glenn beck might be right… and wrong” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Yesterday morning, my Greek class felt insurmountable.  Status update:

Then, as a timely clarion call to summon my inner manliness, a good friend challenged me with what was to be my favorite Facebook comment of the day:

I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me.  The day may come when the courage of Lutheran Seminarians fails; when we forsake our Catechisms and break all bonds of fellowship; but it is not this day…  An hour of Baptists and shattered shields, when the AFLC comes crashing down…  but it is not this day!   This day we study Greek!  By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand!  Seminarians of the west!

In other words, “Man-up Sally.” Sure, there may have been a wee bit of plagiarism involved, but with a tip of the cap to middle earth, it worked.  My inner manhood was roused, and tomorrow’s Greek Quiz is GOING DOWN.  When men get stirred to action, they are a force.  So today, men of the church, I appeal to your core. The church needs you to lead…

Let the record show that I shoot animals.

To up the ante (and by “ante” I mean “sheer manliness”) I wish I could jump them from the trees and do the deed myself with a knife to the jugular… but on a squirrel that spot is hard to find.  Also, they’re fast.  And jumpy.

But big game is even better.  And demolition derbys.  Steak – medium rare, thank you very much.  Vikings football.  Difficulty.  Adrenaline.  Risk.  Danger.  Driving with no map, whether I know where I’m going or not… Man stuff.

I sound my barbaric YAWP over the rooftops of the world! (to quote Walt Whittman)  That’s how I roll.

So I’ve been increasingly bothered by our Seminary discussion in Pastoral Theology about the current view of “church” (and church leaders) that is held by most of America… and most of the world.  Ladies and gentlemen, apparently the local church often has about as much appeal to the modern man as a Pampered Chef party.

The Church, in the view of the world, has suffered a serious bout of wussification over the last few decades.  And unfortunately, the view of pastors, on the whole, goes hand in hand with that. They’re seen as soft… overly emotional, non-athletic, and basically not effective in other business areas, so… ministry, I guess.  They can’t kick me out of ministry, right?  So… yeah.

WHAT IS WRONG?! Whatever happened to “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”?  That’s the mission of the Church!  On the offensive. Gates don’t advance.  Gates can only stand their ground and resist the oncoming assault.  The CHURCH is supposed to advance…  and forcefully, for that matter.  Check out Matthew 11:12…

“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”

You know, come to think of it, maybe it’s time to update this verse…  “From the days of John the Baptist until, oh… 12 or 13 years ago, maybe… the Kingdom of God was forcefully advancing…”

No.  I’m not ready to concede ground here, watching our culture dismiss the Church as irrelevant, or at best, inept.  It’s time for the Church to be a place where men lead. Where forceful men advance the Kingdom in the power of the Word of God and the unstoppable force of the Holy Spirit.  Have we forgotten that the Commander of Angels is our advocate – and He lives in us to infuse us with supernatural power, courage, and the force of His life-changing Truth?  Where are the men of God – rising up to lead their families in the Truth of God, with conviction and prayer-fueled determination?  Where are the men of God – rising up to lead their churches by example – raising the next generation of young men to advance the Gospel with an iron resolve, a humble dependence on the Lord, and the courage of their convictions?  Where are the men of God hungry to simply lead a Bible study?  Instead, when the call goes out to get the job done, the women-folk step up and fill the slots our men aren’t interested in.  And it has led to a feminized Church.

*Whoa, wait a minute...* Isn’t this just the kind of gender stereotyping that made the church of the 50’s and 60’s a hotbed of patriarchal chauvinism?  Some of you probably think I’m pushing this man thing too hard.

Here’s the deal… I think women can be great leaders, too, and should be.  This isn’t a post about gender roles in church – it’s about our mission.  Many women have deeply significant ministry to do in the local church.  God has wired and gifted many of them to be leaders, teachers, shepherds, mentors…   I’m married to one.  Don’t think that by calling out the men I am in any way diminishing the value of women in the church. Actually, I’m making my way to a point here that I believe will resonate with y’all, too.  And it is this…

People don’t sacrifice their lives for a safe bet.  People give their lives for a passion-producing, life-changing, high-stakes mission.

That’s the Gospel.  Life and death.  Life-changing.  A high-stakes rescue mission in hostile territory.  And yeah… I think that has special appeal to those of us on the bearded, flannel-wearing, non-direction-asking side of the gender coin.  But really, whatever your particular chromosomal mix, who among us wants to lay our life on the line for sappy sing-alongs, some life-improvement bullet points, practical child-rearing advice, and coffee at a mid-week small group session?

Woot.  Can I get a woot?  Anyone?

I think WAY too many churches have settled for comfortable, safe, easy.  And as I’m neck deep in Seminary training, I feel like a racehorse at the gate right now.  The amazing DEPTH of the Word of God is overwhelming, and the consistent thread throughout the Old and New Testaments is this: we are all broken and scarred people, but God has provided a remedy in Jesus… I can’t wait to preach it.  People are dying for lack of this truth.  And to think of a local church on fire for the advancement of the Kingdom…  it will require forceful men to lay hold of it.

Pastors, Worship Leaders, men and women of the Church:  people right next to you are dying.  Literally dying. We have the only remedy.  I will lay down my life to tell people that Jesus gave his life for them, and he has a life-changing mission for them to live out.  But I will not call them into a safe, wussified life-improvement club.  Sure, our church family will stand together in deep authentic community, and we’ll learn how to be better parents, and how to live healthier lives… that’s all good.

But our core mission is disciple making. And it’s life-and-death serious.  C’mon men.  Step up.  And Pastors, let’s call our congregations into a mission that’s worth giving their lives for.  Let’s forcefully advance…


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“rise up, oh men of god, and put down that froo froo latte :: resisting the wussification of the church” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Mark Driscoll knows the Emergent Church… or Village… or Emerging…  um, Conversation? …better than almost anyone.  He was there at the start.  Watched it unfold and grow from the inside.  And he left it as it left Christianity to pursue new ideas – a higher evolution of thinking about spirituality and how Jesus might have a role therein.

As I’ve been preparing to write a Seminary paper about the short history and current theology of the Emerging Church, I listened again to Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  If you’ve got an hour and a half, it is an OUTSTANDING picture from the inside of the start of the Emerging Church movement and its theological dangers.  I’ve posted it here if you’re interested.

As I listened and learned and thought about the implications for ministry today, Mark focused his attention on an issue that has me by the throat right now…  CONTEXTUALIZATION.  This post is a summary of his thoughts, blended with my own, in the hopes that we would be passionate preachers of the truth RIGHT NOW in this culture – neither bowing our doctrine to the whims of culture, nor stiff-arming culture as if to protect ourselves from it.

In the world… but not of it.  But still in it.  Right?  And not of it.

Basically this:  the local church exists (according to the Great Commission in Matt. 28 and the Greatest Commandments in Matt. 22) to make disciples of Jesus Christ who love God and love people.  We (believers) have been born into this time and this place.  In this cultural context.  For THESE people.  Therefore, we must find a way to take the timeless truth of the Gospel (and the hard truth that we are all depraved sinners who need rescue and resuscitation) and CONTEXTUALIZE it for the culture we have been placed in by God in His perfect wisdom.  We’re here, right now, on purpose.

I see much energy being spent  by by church people in the pursuit of conflict rather than converts.  I see the liberal left wing of the Christian community, as personified by the open theism and narrative “trajectory” theology of the Emerging Church conversation, and the fundamentalist far right wing characterized by zealous dogma and self-righteous condemnation of cultural contamination in the church, as two hostile camps, each with their sights focused on the other.

In the middle ground are contextual cultural missionaries (like me), trying to find ways to communicate in today’s culture the timeless truth that we all need Jesus, and that his gospel message of hope is for us. Right now.  These pastors, teachers, evangelists, writers, and church folk with a burning heart for God and a passion for the lost souls that surround us are getting shot in the crossfire, and the Church (capital “C”) is suffering for it.

We must be people of the middle ground.  As Jesus prayed for us in John 17, not that we would be removed from the world, but that we would be protected from the evil one and united with other believers as we take the gospel to the time and place we have been sent to serve.  Contextualization of the Word of God.

This stands in contrast to the left and right wings engaged in a theological cage match…

In the far left corner we have those emerging theologians who believe that theology, and God Himself, is evolving with culture.  They are the syncretists, blending Christianity with paganism.  They hold a low view of scripture, and they are asking the same basic question that the serpent asked Eve in the garden…  “Did God really say…?”  They have two hands.  In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE.  In the far left corner, BOTH hands are open.  Doctrine and practice are both open to change.

In the far right corner we have the cultural separatists and doctrinal purists who are more concerned with being contaminated by the culture than they are in changing it.  They are the sectarians, who see New Testament references to the “world” as synonymous with “culture.”  Ergo, “cultural relevance” = “worldliness.”  They hold a high view of scripture, but practice “sanctification by separation” from sinners and their interests.  They have two hands.  In one they hold DOCTRINE and in the other they hold church PRACTICE.  In the far right corner, BOTH hands are closed.  Neither doctrine nor practice are open to change.

I’m with Mark Driscoll on this one.  I don’t want to be a syncretist.  I don’t want to be a sectarian.  I want to be a SUBVERSIVE, infiltrating culture and speaking their language, with every intention of infusing that culture with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ.  We hold a high view of scripture, and we embrace the culture to the degree that we can identify WITH it and not be identified BY it.  While there are certainly elements of culture that are worldly, there are things we can receive, things we must reject, and things we can REDEEM in culture through the power of the Word of God.

We, the people of the middle ground, have two hands.   In one we hold DOCTRINE and in the other we hold church PRACTICE.  The cultural contextualizers (like me) hold doctrine tightly, like a treasure, with a CLOSED hand…  but our other hand, the one gripping our church practices and the way we’ve always done things, that hand must always be OPEN.

We present timeless truth using timely methods.  We seek to be Biblically faithful and culturally fruitful.  We CONTEND for the faith (Jude vs. 3 — “Defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to His holy people…”) against creeping liberal theology, and at the same time we CONTEXTUALIZE our message for the culture we live in (per 1 Corinthians 9, verse 19  —  I have become all things to all people in order that some may be saved.”)

That’s where I plant my flag.  Next to Pastor Mark’s.  And I stand with the greatest subversive, cultural contextualizer of all time, Jesus Christ, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself in human likeness and humbled himself to save us from our sin.

If you have the time and want to consider all of this more carefully, please scroll up and listen to Pastor Mark Driscoll’s address to the 2007 Convergent Conference, hosted by the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary…

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“emergent vs. fundamentalist smackdown :: where christians and culture collide” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I’ve been hurting and praying for the family of Tyler Clementi.  His death is deeply tragic.  And I believe that bullying is a big deal.  We ought to treat each other in civil society with respect, and we need to raise our children to treat other people with respect.  Even those we disagree with.  Especially those we disagree with.

This post will take a little time to develop, so I want to be clear about my purposes for writing it up front.

FIRST:  If you’re a student somewhere being bullied because you are gay, and you are considering checking out – just to escape the pain of it – please don’t.  You are loved.  I know that to my very core.  God didn’t screw up when he made you.  He wants to fill your life with purpose.  There are hundreds of voices on YouTube and everywhere right now sending you the message that “IT GETS BETTER.”  And if you can make it through this tough season of life, where you’re surrounded by jerks, you’ll soon come out the other side and enter a new phase of life – free from that kind of intense bullying that cuts you down.  So my first message to you is this:  HANG IN THERE, because you’re deeply valuable.  And I’m a Christian guy who believes that being gay is not God’s plan for you – I’ve written about this stuff before.  But listen, you are more than your sexual nature, and you matter to us and to God, no matter what your sexual orientation.  I hope you’re willing to keep reading this, and keep thinking.

SECOND:  Gene Robinson is an enemy of God.  He is one of the voices proclaiming the “it gets better message,” and I have posted his video below.  While I believe he means well, and many gay young people have been encouraged by his message, he is misrepresenting God, and God’s Church.  I do not hate Gene Robinson, and I do not oppose his message because he is gay.  Rather, I oppose his message because he is wrong.  More on that below…

You’ve maybe never read this blog before, so I want to help you put what I’m about to write into context.  Everybody has a foundational set of beliefs building the framework of their life story, even those of us who never think it through or put it into words.  Here are a few of mine:

With regards to Faith and Life:

(1)  I believe that God is sovereign, and His Word (the Bible) is perfect and authoritative on all issues pertaining to faith and life.

(2)  I believe that every single person on earth (myself included) has been born with a sinful nature, and is therefore condemned to an eternity apart from God.  We can’t fix it through anything we do. Period.

(3)  Jesus Christ died on a cross to save us from that sin.  He is the only road to forgiveness and a restored relationship with God.  Yes, that message is exclusive.  Jesus alone is our only hope.  That’s basic Christian doctrine.

(4)  God is a God of love and justice.  His standards are not flexible, because He is holy, and that means He is pure and “other than us.”  Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard.  But He also loves us with a fierce, protective, all-consuming, life-changing love that is not bound by the limits of even the deepest love of man.  Our human minds cannot contain or explain Him in this regard. 

With regards to homosexuality:

(1)  I believe that God’s Word makes it clear that homosexual activity is sin.  I know many believe they can explain away the several passages in scripture that make this clear.  But those arguments do not stand up to sound standards of Biblical interpretation.  Therefore, I reject the argument that “God didn’t really say that.”  He did say that.  People have the free will to choose to live set against His Word.  But it is simply not true that the Bible is in any way unclear on this matter.

(2)  I’m not sure what my Christian brothers and sisters would say to me in this one, but here goes…  I believe that the evidence of nature, personal witness, and common sense makes it clear that some people are born with a homosexual proclivity.  I am making a clear distinction here between homosexual nature and homosexual behavior.  The clear testimony of many homosexuals, including some of my friends, is that their very earliest memories of a sexual nature involved same-sex attraction.

So, now what…?

The two statements above create tension.  On the one hand, God is saying that acting on one’s homosexual feelings is sin, and a violation of His relationship with us – enough of a violation (actually, EVERY sin is enough) to separate us from God forever.  No heaven.  No hope.  Just regret, guilt, pain, fear and darkness.  On the other hand, some people seem to grow up with an attraction to people of their own gender.  How can this be?  How can God allow this?  It isn’t fair.  It is too much to ask…

I have a lot of empathy for those with a homosexual predisposition.  Some fight it.  Others embrace it.  Still others live in the middle ground somewhere.  At some point, to come to a degree of mental peace about this issue, a person with a homosexual nature has to examine what they believe about the morality of homosexual behavior.  If you’re gay, and have looked at the Bible and agree that it seems clear that homosexuality (expressed through lifestyle) is wrong, you must be either full of conflict, or you have chosen to reject the Bible as a valid authority in today’s culture.  If, on the other hand, you simply discount the Bible, being a homosexual today is much easier.

But easy does not equal right.  It’s often the hard road that is the best one.  And doing the right thing comes at a cost.  That’s true in every area of life, and it really matters.  It’s easier to cheat on tests and papers in school.  It’s easier to follow the crowd into all kinds of bad moral choices than it is to humbly go the right direction.  It’s easier for any man, gay or straight, to chase his sinful sexual nature into multiple relationships, but committing to one for life through marriage is so much better – and it is the only moral choice, with the authority of the Bible making that clear.

Unfortunately, the evangelical Christian community has often handled our relationships with gay people clumsily – or with venom.  A mean-spirited approach to people with a homosexual predisposition destroys our ability to share the life-giving message of Jesus.  We have not, in general, loved gay people very well as a community, because (to some degree) we don’t know how.  But we do know that the Bible says “don’t do it,” so we point our fingers and feel justified in doing so.  It is possible, Church, to be clear on moral lines, and still love people well.  In his way, Gene Robinson is trying to tell gay young people that we (evangelical Christians) have failed to show love, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t loving.  In as far as that goes, I agree with Gene.

HOWEVER, Gene Robinson is not just a random dude on the street.  Gene Robinson is a Bishop – a “representative” of God and God’s people.  He is influential, and many outside the church see him as a representative of those of us who identify ourselves as a part of Jesus’ family.  For this reason, when he speaks on behalf of God, and boldly proclaims lies as the truth, he becomes an enemy of the truth.  He is working against God.  And he is working against you, too.

Here is Bishop Gene Robinson’s “It Gets Better” message:

Gene Robinson, I’m sure, wants to help and encourage you if you are gay and are facing hostility, bullying, or just differing points of view.  I respect people’s freedom to live as they please in this country, and I am grateful for free speech.  But that door swings both ways.  Gene is free to proclaim things about God and about His people that are not true, and I am free to publicly oppose that message as not just a little bit off base, but actually demonic heresy.  Gene Robinson is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He may be a nice man, but I will take a stand today against his message.

When he says that your Baptist parents’ message  that God does not accept a homosexual lifestyle is “flat out not true,” he is wrong.  God won’t stop loving you, but his moral standards do not endorse homosexuality.  That is a hard truth, but being hard doesn’t make it wrong.

Mr Robinson goes on to say that God wants you to “be the way you are,” and that God made you that way… that He doesn’t want you to change.  The hard truth is, sin in the world has corrupted men – every one – so that we want things that we should not desire, and we long for things that go against God’s will for us.  In fact, all of us have sinned and have a broken relationship with God.  That’s why Jesus came and died for us.  So that if we trust Him, he cleanses us from our sin and buys us back from the kindgom of darkness.

Gene Robinson is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ by TITLE, but he is serving the wrong team.  If he were truly serving Jesus, he would tell the truth – that Jesus Christ died to save everyone because we all desperately NEED him to save us from our depravity.  Every sinner.  Gay and straight.  And Gene would tell you that God’s laws aren’t rewritten when they are hard to understand or seem too hard for us to live by.  God’s justice (His law) and His love (Jesus’ rescue) never change, even when the culture does.

So, if you are gay, and wondering what to do with it all, I want to tell you the truth in love.  Most Christians don’t hate you.  They (and I) may do a lousy job of loving you, but don’t write off Jesus for the failures of his kids.  We are all broken people.  We may not understand your struggles and desires, because straight people just haven’t been there.  But God does set a clear standard.  Homosexual behavior is sin.  And many, many, many people born with a homosexual inclination or nature have learned to fight that fight for love of God and the truth.  The message of the gay community right now is “It Gets Better,” and they are right.  This culture is making more and more efforts to affirm the gay lifestyle as a normal, healthy choice.  If you choose not to wrestle with the moral implications of a gay lifestyle, it will only get easier for you the older you get.  But there is grave danger in that choice.  Your life on earth is only a blink.  And then you face eternity. 

You need Jesus, because it is too hard for you without Him.  So do I, because in my way, resisting sin and earning heaven by living the perfect lifestyle is too hard for me, too.  Only in Jesus do we have any hope.  If you want to talk with me more about this, use my contact info and shoot me an email or call me up.  God does love you like crazy, and there is great hope in that truth.  But that isn’t to say we can do anything we want, and God will simply endorse it as a “no big deal” decision.  Love and justice.  Moral boundaries BECAUSE He wants the best for us.

Gene Robinson gets it ALMOST right when he says, “God wants you to live in the light of His love, and that light will take away all of this darkness…”

Unfortunately Gene is implying that we Christians, speaking the truth about God’s clear Biblical guidelines, we are the darkness.  He would seek to put a dividing wall between God’s love and “religious people.”  Gene is wrong.  SIN is the darkness.  He is on the wrong team.  One day Gene will answer to God for his life.  So will I.  So will you.  And on that day, the light WILL take away all darkness – all sin, of every kind will be eradicated.  Between that day and this one, we all need Jesus.  Thankfully,God DOES love us beyond our wildest imagining.  He loves us enough to show us the hard truth in His Word, and to send Jesus to do the impossible on our behalf.

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“it will get better, but that’s not the point :: a response to gene robinson, with my gay friends and the church listening in” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.