This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Vote on November 6th






I’ve said it before and I continue to believe it: for the Christian living in North America, voting is not only a right and a privilege, but also a God-given responsibility. God has sovereignly placed you in a unique position of authority. You decide who our leaders will be. You have the ability to affect who will lead you, your family, your children and your brothers and sisters in Christ. When you fail to exercise your right to vote, you are still morally culpable for the leaders who are voted in.

Therefore, I encourage you to vote next Tuesday, November 6. To assist you in that endeavor, here are a few tools to help you make an informed decision. 

First, here is a site that allows you to see what your ballot will look like:
https://www.pollvault.com/. It doesn’t have all the candidates on the ballot, but most of the contested races.

Second, voting guides can be helpful. The Illinois Family Institute’s voting guide can be found here: http://illinoisfamily.org/110files/uploads/2012/01/IFI_General-VG-2012_district-18.pdf (if Aaron Schock is your congressman, you are in Congressional District 18).



Finally, viewing endorsements of other groups can help you find out more about candidates. If it is important to you to find pro-life candidates, The Illinois Right to Life candidate information can be found here: http://www.illinoisrighttolife.org/CandidateInformation.htm. If you like to read about candidates understanding of local issues, the Peoria-Journal Star’s endorsements can also be helpful: http://www.pjstar.com/opinions/endorsements (these endorsements are provided for your research and should not be read as my own personal endorsement for any candidate).

May God bless you as you seek to glorify Him in the voting booth this next week!

By His Grace,


Pastor Daniel

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Emotionally-Manipulative Worship and Idolatry


“Is Megachurch Worship Addictive?” asks an article published in last month’s Christianity Today. The article was a response to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington. The study can be found here: 'God is like aDrug...': Explaining Interaction Ritual Chains in American Megachurches.

The researchers first note the way that megachurches have fundamentally altered the religious landscape of the North American church:

The total number of megachurches in the United States alone has increased from 350 in 1990, to over 600 in 2000, and there are now over 1,200,with no indication of slowing down (Hartford Institute for Religion Research). Although the median congregation size of the typical American church is 75, more than 50 percent of all churchgoers attend the largest ten percent of churches in America (Thumma and Travis 2007). While not a particularly new style of worship. . . this large, charismatic, stylistically avant garde, yet typically theologically and politically conservative church format has all but taken over the religious market in many parts of the United States (Miller 1997; Sargeant 2000; Ellingson 2008; Wellman 2008).

Megachurches have not only become potent players in American culture and politics. . . but also in their local religious markets, where they affect growth rates of nearby congregations (Eisland 1997;Wolleschleger and Porter 2011). In light of past research theorizing and documenting the negative effect of increasing congregational size on organizational vitality and various forms of member commitment (Pintoand Crow 1982; Finke 1994; Stark and Finke 2000; Dougherty 2004; Finke, Bahr, and Scheitle2006), the widespread success of megachurches requires further investigation. Moreover, considering the impact megachurches are having on American culture, politics, and local religious markets, it is important to understand why they have such a large appeal. Ellingson's(2010) review of the megachurch literature identifies two major limitations of previous research.

The authors argue megachurches offer high levels of emotional energy (EE) and ritual solidarity. “Megachurch worship services are intentionally orchestrated, complete with elements from pop-cultural sources, which are both entertaining and sensually stimulating. Participants come 'hungry' for EE and leave energized.”

This emotional high is not accidental. The elements of the service are designed to create an emotional impact: “The worship services, through their use of lighting, large screens at the front of the church, and images of others' religious experiences, help create a mutual focus of attention and a shared mood among the attendees, resulting in EE that remains with them even after the service ends.

The manipulation of emotions at the expense of intellectual engagement is not confined to the singing. After interviewing attendees of a megachurch service, the authors concluded: “Rather than complicated theological explanations or critical analysis of a biblical text, the interview responses suggest that the sermons are understood through the emotions.”

Before I make some observations, let me offer some caveats:

(1)   I don’t share the presuppositions of these researchers. I'm certainly not endorsing all of their research. They approach the megachurch phenomenon from a secular viewpoint. Their bias is anti-supernatural, a bias which I don’t share.

(2)   The manipulation of emotions is not a phenomenon exclusive to the megachurch movement. I’ve sat in the pew of a tiny country church and noticed subtle-and not-so-subtle—attempts at emotional manipulation.

(3)   Not all megachurches engage in this type of methodology. It is not an essential attribute of a megachurch that it engage in the type of activity described by these researchers.

(4)   Emotions are God-given and can be used by Him to elicit true, deep, abiding worship. In fact, if there is no emotion to our worship, something is wrong.

(5) I'm certainly not against "contemporary" (or "traditional") worship. 

With that said, here is what I find troubling: I want people to worship God and many churches subscribe to a methodology that undermines true, biblical worship.

I want people to worship God, not a soundtrack.

I want people to worship God, not a light show.

I want people to worship God, not pictures of nature.

When people respond on an emotional level with their highest affections to something that is not God, that’s not biblical worship.

Here’s a test: If your ability to experience "true" worship is dependent upon something stylistic—the lighting, the mood, the number of people, the style of music—you’re practicing idolatry. So, while I'm not against contemporary worship, I'm cautioning against a belief that only contemporary worship is "real" worship or even a belief that you need that style of music to truly "connect" with God. That's idolatry.

As we worship, we must be very careful about how we engage the text of Scripture and the way we encourage people to sing. At Bethany Community, we avoid pictures of nature or imagery on the slides during our time of worship that might distract people from the truths about God to which they should be responding—or, worse still, might cause them to engage in idolatry while in our church!

May our worship be emotional. May it lead to broken hearts and true repentance. But may it also be always and ever focused on God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

From the lips of children?

I really love my boys.  I marvel at the grace of God which permits me to have such wise sons.  They each have a way of talking about issues which challenge my faith and encourage my walk with Jesus Christ.

Today, my two older sons emailed me.  I thought that what they remarked upon was so important that I should put it up on the blog.  Here is what my son Joel shared:

This is a great quote from the most recent Nobel laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Shinya Yamanaka, taken from a 2007 interview with the New York Times shortly after his seminal Cell paper came out showing you could reprogram human fibroblasts (skin cells) to embryonic-like stem cells by expressing just four transcription factors (master regulator proteins that control gene expression).  Dr. Yamanaka was an assistant professor of pharmacology doing research involving embryonic stem cells when he made the social call to the clinic about eight years ago. At the friend’s invitation, he looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic. The glimpse changed his scientific career. “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters,” said Dr. Yamanaka, 45, a father of two and now a professor at the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University. “I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”

Wow.  "There must be another way."  That drive in us humans to figure out "another way" is what my son Mark picked up on in his response:


It's always fascinating to me the way people can come up with ways to figure things out when they are determined. When people look at a problem and say "There HAS to be a way to do this!" they are remarkably good at creating one. Examples include the "Unsolvable Math Problem" (http://www.snopes.com/college/homework/unsolvable.asp) solved by George Bernard Dantzig because he didn't know it was supposed to be unsolvable and the many "impossible" problems solved by mission control in the course of the Apollo 13 mission (The "mailbox" rig is my favorite: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_13). 


It makes me think that part of our being made in the image of God includes our determined creativity. This is not to say that the determination is always a good thing though. Any of the people who dedicated themselves to understanding the Voynich Manuscript have probably wasted their lives completely. On the other hand, people probably said the same thing about hieroglyphics before the Rosetta Stone (and just like that the banner ads for language learning fire up!).



All that determined creativity makes me think of Genesis 11. Determined creativity (in the image of God) plus total depravity is dangerous indeed:


The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.


Makes you wonder if the internet could ever lead to something like Babel happening again.


Fascinating stuff--thought provoking, God honoring, demonstrating an integration between faith and life.  Yes, indeed, I love my boys. . . except that they are no longer boys--they are now men.

Grateful that 1 Corinthians 14:20 is being fulfilled in my sons,

Scott Boerckel

Monday, October 8, 2012

Freedom in the Pulpit

On Sunday, October 7, hundreds of pastors intentionally violated IRS regulations and publically endorsed candidates for political office from their pulpits. They were participating in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday,” an event designed to give clergy a forum to protest what many see as an infringement on religious freedom.

As those who were at our service on October 7 already know, I did not participate.
Others have offered interesting perspectives on whether or not such an event was appropriate (for example, see here). Let me offer just a thought or two (or four).

I believe I legally could have participated if I had thought it right.

From a legal standpoint, I think the pastors are in the right. Their argument is that the IRS stipulation violates freedom of speech and religion. It’s interesting to note that even though the organization has been doing this and participants have been sending videos of their messages to the IRS since 2008, they have yet to be charged with any crime.
I think the manner of protest is misguided.

The biblical injunctions to be in submission to our government are ones we must take seriously. To purposefully flaunt IRS regulations, just for the sake of proving you can, seems intentionally antagonistic to me.
I’m more comfortable pointing out the flaws in a candidate than praising his opponent.

The recent Democratic Convention featured an embrace of the pro-choice position that I found chilling. Gone was the fa├žade that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Instead there was a full-throttled defense of abortion-on-demand. As Margaret Carlson noted: "“I hate to bring up abortion during the Democrats’ festivities, which are going so swimmingly, but I have a question. Why has the party removed the sentence ‘Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare’ from its platform? It was in the 2004 document but not in 2008’s or this year’s. Can’t Democrats just throw a crumb to the many millions who are pro-choice but not pro-abortion?”

I have no problem encouraging people to not vote for Democrats who embrace a platform that is openly hostile to life.

Where I get uncomfortable is encouraging people to vote for the opposition. Just as one example, I'm cynical enough to know that some within the Republican party will give lip service to the pro-life agenda while having no intention of advancing the cause of life.

My task is to proclaim Christ not man.

Last Sunday, I noted that my task as a pastor is to proclaim Christ as revealed in His word. Even in a country where I have the right to endorse a candidate, to do so seems like it would be unwise to promote one in most circumstances.

For to do so would deflect attention away from Christ. As important as an election is, it's not as important as Christ. My limited time in the pulpit should be used judiciously to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and prepare people to worship Him forever.

Those are some of my thoughts… what are yours as we near the end of this election season?
By His Grace,
 
Daniel

Monday, October 1, 2012

Charlie "Rowdy" Yates


As I mentioned last week, a family friend, Charlie “Rowdy” Yates, passed away on Saturday, September 22. I met Mr. Yates when I was 15 or 16 and was struck by the way he interacted with high school students. He was a fun guy to hang around and had, I suppose, a certain goofiness to his personality, but it wasn't frivolity. There was a deepness in his quirky sense of humor. I can remember him (on several ocassions) suddenly quoting John Wayne to me, and I wasn't sure if I should be laughing or taking notes.
In the days since his passing, I’ve read several great articles about his life. I had the chance to watch some of his memorial service online. Thinking about him and his family, three things struck me. First, I wish I had known him better. I knew so little about the life of someone my family went to church with for many years. I felt a sense of regret for not asking him more things about himself.

Second, I was struck by how consistent of a person he was. The stories about Mr. Yates as a high school kid seemed eerily similar to the Mr. Yates I knew in his fifties. Even his jokes hadn’t changed over several decades.
Finally, I was blessed by the way in which Mr. Yates finished the race. In the final minutes of his life, his true character was displayed. The man who talked about the sovereignty of God and the value of His Word was revealed to be a man who truly believed the things he had always proclaimed. His faith was revealed to be genuine and abiding.

At the end of his life, he continued to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and communicate His Word to others. Here’s a great article that describes his passing: http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2012/09/23/family-mourns-airplane-crash-victim/
The final moments of his life remind me of 2 Timothy 4:6-8:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Matt Stutzman, who knew Mr. Yates as a Sunday School teacher and flight instructor wrote the following about the things Mr. Yates taught him:
He was my Sunday School teacher, one of the people I met my first day at Countryside. He taught me “the handshake,” and the 5 Lies of the culture: 1) Life is Random (It’s not, God is absolutely Sovereign), 2) Truth is Relative (it’s not, God has revealed absolute Truth in His inerrant Word), 3) Man is Basically Good (we’re not, just try to stop sinning if you believe that), 4) You are the Only One Who Can Change Yourself (you can’t, only a supernatural heart transplant can do that), and 5) The Purpose in Life is to Seek Self-Satisfaction (no, the purpose of our life and all of Creation is to glorify our Creator, and we do that by becoming a reflection of Jesus Christ).
The circumstances of my demise—and your own—are at this moment unknown. My prayer is that I will be able to cross the finish line with the same joy as Charlie “Rowdy” Yates.

By His Grace,

Daniel