Question of the Week: How Far Is Too Far With Worship Ministry?

There are usually two ends of the spectrum when it comes to worship ministry.

On the one hand, there are those who see the modern influences of technology, modern music, multi-media, and other production elements as extremely negative. I’m not just talking about the King James only, Retirement Community only churches of America. There are people of all ages and backgrounds, in churches all over who fear the modern shift in worship ministry. They go out of their way to avoid the modern eases.

On the other hand, there are those who embrace every aspect of the modern. They have multi-media presentations on the highest quality projectors money can buy. Their bands are made of all studio musicians and the light shows rival broadway.

As a worship pastor, sifting through what’s right and wrong with regard to method is important. I think anyone attending church, especially with any role of leadership needs to ultimately wrestle with this issue. What is the balance? Should we refrain from any modern influence for fear of going too far? Just because we can do something with regard to production and technology, should we?

How far is too far with worship ministry? In a recent article in Relevant, they asked ten worship leaders questions along these lines. Be sure and check it out as you work through this and weigh in below with your thoughts. Has worship ministry gone too far with technology and where is the balance?

Question of the Week: How Has Your Past Affected Your Present?

I recently began reading through one of my dad’s books, Grace Based Parenting. In the first chapter it talks about the role someone’s past has on his present. In the context of the book, it is referring to parenting. If someone has a positive experience from her parent’s methods, she is likely to follow suit. If negative, she will likely overcompensate in the opposite way.

Cody Kimmel as a kid

One example of me growing up to be something I was as a kid

I’ve heard this before, and this isn’t something only true for parenting. It had just been a while since I had thought about it. My past affects me more than I realize. Even while reading my dad’s book, I was struck how similar my writing style is to his. I’m not only learning my parenting techniques and spiritual values, but even things like my writing voice.

In a bigger way, the way we experienced God as a kid, whether in church or out of church, with a supportive family or a hostile one, has effected the way we experience Him now. I grew up in a strong Bible church without much presence of charismatic giftings or worship style. As an adult, my faith is now very Bible-driven and I have a difficult time with charismatic expressions in worship. I’m not even talking about things like tongues or prophecy, but stuff as basic as lifting up hands in worship.

My question for you this week is how has your past with God affected your present with Him?

How are you different because of your childhood?

There are a lot of things in the Christian life that we may elevate because of our own past, not necessarily because it should be elevated. Take some time this week to reflect on this and if you would like, share it here.

Will Osama Eventually Be In Heaven? The False Dichotomy of Religious Expectations

Sunday Night, the greatest villain in the Western mind was announced dead. Ever since the tragic attack on September 11, 2001, Osama Bin Laden has grown to be the face of evil to an entire generation and as the news quickly filtered through Social Media sites, news station, and then finally declared by President Obama, the mantra “Justice Has Been Done” echoed through the night and has continued ever since.

Bin Laden not only orchestrated the killing of thousands in the attack on the twin towers, but has led a subversive radical regime which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives since its inception. The label “evil” is appropriate for him. Throughout history, when evil people finally got their just desserts (Hitler committing suicide, Bundy getting executed, Hussein being executed), the world rejoices over the justice that has been done. Regardless of the progress of human history, there is something inherent that enjoys seeing evil punished. Civilization is reassured that despite the overwhelming evil that goes unpunished, sometimes evil is conquered. Justice is done.

Prior to the events of Sunday night, the topic of heaven and hell dominated theological conversation and debate. With the release of Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins, the question of how a loving God can sentence people like Gandhi to eternal hell just because he didn’t believe in Jesus has come into the forefront. While many in the Evangelical community have written Bell off as a Universalist, the overwhelming popularity of the book indicates that Bell’s concerns with the traditional understanding of hell are shared by many in America, especially amongst the younger generation.

Although I personally disagree with Bell, I do however understand the angst and difficulty of reconciling a loving God with hell. What I found lacking in the conversation prior to Sunday night is the other side of the argument, a side that has been made explicit in America’s reaction to Bin Laden’s death. If we refuse to accept that Gandhi will spend eternity in hell for rejecting Jesus, and that he, through God’s love, will eventually be brought into heaven, then the same must be true for Bin Laden. It seems almost cool to ask how a loving God can send people to hell. But is it equally cool to ask how a just God can let evil go unpunished? Will Osama eventually be in heaven without any repentance or contrition? Can a just God truly ignore the overwhelming evil of this man?

There is a false dichotomy in the religious expectations of Americans. On the one hand, we want to believe that God’s love will just turn a blind eye towards our sin and allow us into his presence. On the other hand, we see the death of Bin Laden and the hell awaiting him as justice and we revel in seeing it. We want a love that ignores evil while at the same time wanting a justice that punishes it. In a recent article in the New York Times by Ross Douthat, this same problem is discussed. He takes the example of the fictional Tony Soprano and asks if we really believe a guy like that, his archetype, could ever be accepted into heaven by a just and loving God.

A few weeks ago, I asked the question of whether or not hell exists. Hell may not be popular to a Western World that has been overwhelmingly anesthetized to the true effects of an evil world, but for those who have seen first hand violent oppression, genocides, terrorism, and holocaust, its hard to imagine a spiritual realm without hell. If God is just, there must be a real punishment for evil. Justice must be done. As Psalm 11:5-6 says, “The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. 6Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. 7For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.”

As we process the news of Sunday night, I hope we can take a deeper look at our religious expectations. It might be easy to shrug off hell as an outdated dogma used by the church for control. But if we do that, what will we do with evil men like Bin Laden? Furthermore, what about all the evil in the world? Can God’s love be applied like a band-aid to the massacred flesh of a world infused with evil, or does Jesus’ death mean more than that? Is more action required from God for justice to be done?

Question of the Week: Does Hell Exist?

This Sunday in church, we are going to be taking a look at Matthew 25:31-46. In this passage Jesus is telling his disciples about the final judgment, the day that Jesus will separate those who are saved from those who are not, just like a shepherd separates sheep from goats. In this passage, the topic of heaven and hell is brought up. According to what Jesus says, there will come a day when some people are brought into eternal heaven and some are brought into eternal punishment.

This topic of heaven and hell has been pushed into the forefront of theological conversations within the last few months. Much of this is due to a recent book published by Rob Bell, called Love Wins. I have not gotten a chance to read this book so I will refrain from commenting on the controversy it contains. If you haven’t gotten a chance to watch the video, you can view it here, and you can view some of the blog controversy here, here, and here.

Some people are calling Bell a Universalist and a heretic, while others are commending him for finally standing up and confronting a doctrine that most non-Christians and even many Christians have a problem with. How can a loving God send people to hell? Is Hell a real place and if so what is it like? Is someone like Gandi in Hell? Although these questions might seem to spit in the face of Christian orthodoxy, they are nevertheless difficult questions and ones that deserve answers.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I don’t know if it’s just because of the Rob Bell book or because of this weeks sermon, but I’ve felt particularly burdened about the topic of heaven and hell lately.

So what do you think? Does Hell exist?

A 3-Pronged, 2-Tiered Foundation for Effective Evangelism

Last week I asked the question what does it take to preach the gospel. There is a simple answer to this. Tell people that despite their sin and the consequence of sin (hell), Jesus took that consequence upon himself on the cross and conquered death for all time through his resurrection. By faith in his promise, extended by his grace, we can be justified in spite of our sins and enter into the eternal rest of God’s presence. If we preach this truth, centered around Christ, then the gospel is preached.

God uses these words of truth in spite of ourselves to give the miracle of life. Evangelism happens only when the Spirit moves somebody to faith and we are not necessary for it to happen. I want to make sure I’m clear on this. This is the simple answer.

Now for a more complicated answer.

As I have wrestled with this question this week, I realized that there are really two questions inherent in the first. The first is what is the minimum participation required by us to be able to say that we are participating in evangelism? This is answered above. The second is what is the best we can do to participate in evangelism? To answer this requires something a bit more complicated. I’m calling it the 3-pronged, 2-tiered foundation for effective evangelism.

3 Prongs of Effective Evangelism: Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, and Orthopathy

Orthodoxy – Before everybody freaks out that I’ve gone over the top with people like the emergent church or even worse, the infidel Rob Bell, I want to make explicitly clear that saying the right thing about the gospel is of the utmost importance. If we are a church that follows God’s call to justice and live that out in a social context, and if we show ourselves sincerely feeling passion towards Jesus, but do not preach a gospel true to the scriptures, then we are not effectively participating in evangelism. The gospel is exclusive, grace-driven, Christ-centered, and to preach anything less is not the gospel. For a biblical clarification of the gospel, confer 1 Cor 15:1-11, Rom 3:21-26, and the Bible.

Generally, Evangelicals are good at this one. In fact, the close adherence to orthodoxy in the face of a shifting culture is one of the key attributes of the evangelical community. This is a good thing. Saying the right things when it comes to the gospel is important. The problem is not that the Evangelical church, especially the more conservative branches, preach and hold fervently to orthodoxy. The problem is that we often times do so at the expense of the following two prongs: orthopraxy and orthopathy.

*I borrowed the wording of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy from a lecture delivered by my professor, Dr. Barry Jones. I am not sure where he got the wording.

Orthopraxy – By definition, this means right practice. Acting in a way that follows the ethics laid out in Scripture. In some ways, evangelicals are really good at this. There is inhibitory orthopraxy and there is exhibitory orthopraxy. Evangelicals, for the most part, are really good at inhibitory orthopraxy. (I know I’m making generalizations, but this is a blog post, not a thesis. If you want detailed footnotes, read another medium.)

Inhibitory orthopraxy is morality achieved by inhibiting oneself from immoral acts. An easy example would be sex and alcohol. Two big moral causes championed by evangelicals are sexual purity and alcohol prohibition. It is good for the church to have moral integrity in areas of sex, substances, and speech, so this element of orthopraxy should be encouraged and continued.

The area Evangelicals get in trouble is exhibitory orthopraxy. We can be really good at keeping ourselves from evil but fall significantly short in investing ourselves in the positive aspects of God’s righteousness, specifically with regards to justice. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The call for believers to seek justice for those around us, especially for sojourners, widows, and orphans, is an integral theme permeating the whole of Scripture. One of the main hurdles for non-believers as they look at the Evangelical church is the hypocrisy between what we say about the gospel and the way we enact the gospel in a social context.

The church has a tendency to yell at the beggar on the street, “Jesus loves you,” but then pass by him on the other side of the road. What I mean is that we can pay lip service to the cause of justice for the poor and hurting, but act in ways that communicate the opposite. We would rather build bigger and better churches than feed hungry families and invest strategically in alleviating the poor in our neighborhood. We vote to cut funding to education and social programs while voting to spend more on building walls keeping the poor and needy out of our country. We condemn abortion but don’t support the funding of necessary programs, care and support for pregnant teenagers facing the issue. We consume and waste natural resources and condemn those who seek to protect it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many evangelicals who do seek justice, but it is sadly the exception, not the rule. The crisis of the absence of exhibitory orthopraxy is one of, if not, the most significant hypocrisies hurting effective evangelism. For examples of great exceptions to what’s above, check out Undocumented.tv, Compassion, and Kiva.

Orthopathy – Marriage has taught me a lot about the importance of orthopathy. I can say and do things that communicate love to my wife. I can tell her I love her mulitple times a day, I can come home and do the dishes, fold the clothes, and rub her feet. But if I do these things with a grumbling attitude or do it without sincere passion, love will not be communicated. Orthopathy means feeling the right way about God. As a student and someone who lends himself to academics, I’m immediately suspicious of this. Is it really just as important to not only know what the bible says but also to feel what the bible says?

If you’re married, you should immediately know the answer to that. The truth of the gospel is incredulous if it is not expressed from our passions. We can say everything right about the gospel, but if there is no evidence of a deep love for our Savior or for the world He is saving, our presentation immediately becomes less believable.

To effectively participate in evangelism, to put our best foot forward, we need all three prongs: orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy.

2 Tiers of Effective Evangelism: Individual and Community

The above three prongs need to be fully realized in two spheres or, better, tiers. I prefer calling them tiers because I believe that one has a priority over another, and its not what we would naturally think. The two tiers are individual and community.

Individual – For me to effectively participate in evangelism, it is important to develop all three prongs in my own individual life. I need to say the right things, I need to do the right things, and I need to feel the right things. As the gospel affects our individual lives, we need to surrender not only our minds, but our activities and passions as well. As we do this, Jesus will develop in us an orthodox, orthopraxic, and orthopathic life. As a Christian, I want to preach the gospel effectively. In order to do this, I need to take the time to develop the three prongs of evangelism in my own life, or better allow the Holy Spirit to develop them in me, so that I can best participate in the miracle of Christ’s redemption. (I know my hardcore Calvinist friends might be getting nervous by my wording, so please read it carefully and note what I’m not saying carefully.)

Community – Not only do the three prongs of evangelism need to be lived out in my individual life, they need to be manifest in the communal body of believers that make up both the lower case and upper case Church. I made the above diagram to highlight what I think is more foundational. The tier of community is not only bigger because the scope of community is bigger than the individual, but because it is the more foundational and thus the more influential of the two tiers. This is not the typical way it is thought. In our over-individualistic culture, the thought communal sanctification is more important than personal holiness seems strange, but I believe it is the way Scripture prioritizes them. For a more detailed excursus on this, read my essay, “The Priority of Corporate Sanctification in Romans.”

It is not enough for us as individuals to have a three-pronged foundation for evangelism. We as a church need to be known by our orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy if we want to be in a position to participate effectively in the evangelism of the hurting and lost.

Lord Jesus, please move in us and change our mind, hands, and heart towards your mind, hands, and heart and create a platform of integrity in your loved church. We praise you, oh gracious God!

An Important Side Note!!!!! If you think you can make better graphics than me (which any third grader with a computer could do), then I challenge you to do so. This is a challenge to my artistic, graphic design, video making, picture taking friends. I dare you to make content to go along with these blog posts. If you submit them and I think they work, I will not only feature your incredible work in the blog, but I will give you as much props, linkage, and shout outs as I can. You have been challenged!

Question of the Week: What Does it Take to Preach the Gospel?

So this question might seem like a no-brainer. As long as we can agree on the basic tenants of the gospel (Which is not as easy as it sounds!), then it seems that preaching the gospel would be the act of public declaring those basic tenants. And maybe it is that simple.

But before we settle on the obvious, here are two questions?

1. Is it still preaching the gospel if it is done from a position of corruption?

On the one hand, the gospel message is true and powerful regardless of who is saying it. As Paul in Phil 1:18 says, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed!” Some people may be speaking it from a stance of corruption, but at least the gospel is being preached. On the other hand, there is no doubt damage is done to a message if the messenger lacks credibility. If we are preaching a gospel that saves sinners from sin but we are still neck deep in sinful slavery, is that really preaching the gospel? If we are preaching a gospel that extends justice to the poor and exploited yet are supporting and enabling laws that exploit poor people, is that really preaching the gospel? If we preach the gospel with words but undermine it with our lives, is it really preaching the gospel?

2. Does preaching the gospel only involve words?

Preaching obviously is done with words, but I’ve been married long enough to know that vocalized words are not the only means of effective communication. I can tell Lauren I love her, but if I say it monotonously and without passion, or if I say it while I am betraying her, she doesn’t get that message. So is preaching the gospel any different? Does effectively communicating the gospel only take words?

This is what I mean by this question. In order to preach the gospel, do we only need to say the right words, or does it take more? What role does social justice have? What about corporate and personal integrity? Does it take a previous relationship, one that can continue into discipleship, for it to be true gospel preaching?

This is something I’ve been wrestling through, and I would love to know what you guys think.

Disobedience for Justice’ Sake

“You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:19–20 ESV)

Last week I asked the question when is it okay for a Christian to not obey the authority structures in place around us. I asked this because, as we discussed the evangelical response to immigration, this more fundamental issue came up. Christianity has a history of civil disobedience. However, there are important passages, specifically Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, that tell believers in no uncertain terms that we are to submit to the authorities that preside over us.

I appreciate the input that I’ve received from people this week either through the blog or through conversations on this issue. For me, the biblical theme that I think frames my response to this question is the theme of God’s justice.

The Meta-narrative of Justice:

As you read through the Bible, the issue of God’s justice comes up over and over again. Multiple times in the Pentateuch, God commands his people to treat not only one another with justice, but also the outsiders among them. God even goes so far as to say he hates those who do not treat the poor, the sojourners, the widows, and the orphans with justice and fairness. In the Psalms, God’s justice and righteousness is a constant coupling as describing the character of God. If I had to name an overarching theme of the prophets, specifically Isaiah, Amos, and Micah, it would be the the ruining of worship by the injustice of God’s people. A constant theme of Jesus’ parables is the injustice of the Jews in light of their religious ritual zeal, which was highlighted by my post yesterday.

Although it is not the only mega theme in Scripture, the justice of God and the desire for his people to be just is one of them. Tim Keller, in a recent sermon on justice, defines justice as the pouring out of ourselves and our resources into the needs of those around us in order to bring creation back to a state of harmony and wholeness. He says that it is this radical view of justice that permeates the pages of Scripture and that we as Christians are called to live by. You can listen to the sermon here.

How the meta-narrative of justice informs Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:

Understanding the greater theme of God’s justice and the creation of a people of justice, not defined by rule following, but defined by radical generosity towards those who are lacking, is integral for understanding the backdrop of passages like Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. Romans 12 is a chapter where Paul is pleading with us to treat each other with justice. The beginning of 1 Peter 2 talks about God establishing a royal priesthood in his people in order to manifest his character to the world around us.

When both Paul and Peter address the issue of submission to authority, they do so in the context of God’s people being a people of justice. In light of God’s people being a people of justice and blessing to the nations, Paul and Peter in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are imploring believers to not go out and break the just laws of God that are being enforced by government institutions and ruin the witness the church has on the world. The issue in question is integrity, not blind patriotism. What Paul and Peter are saying is that God has a passion for justice in society and that there are authority structures put in place in civilization in order to enforce and carry out the justice of God.

Once an authority structure moves from enforcing the justice of God to subverting for the sake of power, it ceases to be a legitimate institute of authority, and thus demands no loyalty by Christians.

One thing I love about our country is that we are in a unique position to where we don’t need to revolt or rebel in order to correct excesses and abuses in our government. We live in a country where civil disobedience is a protected part of our political process. Because of this, we don’t need to allow our patriotism to blind us to injustice.

To sum up, we as Christians are called to submit to authorities, but once those authorities cease to uphold and enforce true justice, the authority structure is precluded and no longer worthy of our submission.

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24 ESV)