Aug 29th 2014

Victoria Osteen and Our Conservative Prosperity Gospel

Last night, Christian Twitter was alive with the ridiculous and sad clip of Victoria Osteen’s blatant prosperity gospel declaration. “We go to church, not for God, but for us.” I especially liked the enterprising blogger who affixed Bill Cosby’s “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” to the end of the clip. Well done.

But before we conservatives get too cocky in our outrage, we’d we wise to admit to our own version of the prosperity gospel, a kind of false message that creeps into our gospel proclamation.

None of us are offering people paradise like the Osteens, especially those of us who have travelled to third-world countries and have seen first-hand the crippling poverty experienced by people with faith much greater than our own. Nor would we dare to tell our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East that with just a bit more faith they might be able to outrun their ISIS persecutors. To do that would not just make us modern-day friends of Job, it would make us false prophets.

What we might be tempted to do, those of us with our airtight theology, is offer a subtler version of the prosperity message in the way we talk about sanctification in this life.

I grew up hearing that what the troubled and broken world really needs is Jesus. I still believe this, even more so now than I did as a child. But what I heard then and what I hear now about our need for Jesus is markedly different.

My ears heard then, “If only the drunkard would walk forward and trust Christ, he’d find relief for his addiction” or “If only the depressed or mentally ill (we didn’t use that word, actually) would know Jesus, they’d find happiness.”

But what I hear now from the gospel is different. I hear now: “Come to Jesus and he’ll begin the process of making who you whole, but the full work of restoration won’t happen until He consummates His kingdom.”

There’s a big difference between the two. One says that upon salvation, all of the Fall’s crush upon your soul will be unraveled. Everything will be made new—now. But is this true? We know this doesn’t happen, even from our own lives. Many years after salvation, we still struggle with sins that “so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1). As a pastor, I saw first-hand the pervasive effects of the Fall, how the curse so gnarled up human lives. Some of those knots will be unwound in this life. Most will have to wait until Heaven to see full restoration.

Is this not what Paul was saying when he talks in 2 Corinthians 4 about “treasure in earthen vessels” that is “crushed, perplexed, and persecuted.” The treasure is Jesus, but the vessel—body, mind, soul—is fragile and broken. Christ is doing an ongoing work in us, but it’s a work that is far from finished. Our “outer self is wasting away” but our “inner self is being renewed day by day.” Sanctification—not a one-time event that happens when we walk the aisle—is an ongoing work within. There is, Paul says, “an eternal weight of glory” that awaits us. Our full, final, and complete restoration.

At first glance, recognizing and accepting that we’ll not be perfected in this life might seem cause for despair. Having to get up every single day and “run, with patience, the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) might cause us to lose heart.

But instead it should move us to joy, because we look not at the “things that are seen” but the “things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In other words, we don’t despair at the continual struggle with sin, the pervasive physical and mental effects of the fall, or the problems that never seem to unwind in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Instead, we rejoice and look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1), who has already secured our full final restoration. This struggle will soon be over and Christ will finish his work in us.

Understanding sanctification guards us, then, against over-selling immediate, tangible gospel effects. Yes, genuine salvation does result in life change, but these fruits may often be small in this life, faint glimmers of the glory we’ll see in the New Jerusalem. Understanding sanctification also gives us a mechanism to help others who struggle with sin, with mental illness, with sickness and pain. Rather than offering hyperbolic promises of “victory” and “spiritual success” we might enter into in their pain and walk with them in their despair, pointing them to comfort in the eschatological hope of a full, final renewal that awaits them in glory. Understanding sanctification allows us to mend the broken without expecting people to be perfectly whole in this life.

Rejecting our subtle prosperity gospels moves us from people-fixing to burden-bearing.

We should still say to the seeking, the hurt, and the lost, “You need Jesus,” because they do. But let’s not give them the false Jesus of quick spiritual fixes, but the real Jesus who guides us through the storms and walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and leads us ultimately to Himself.

Aug 29th 2014

Two Things We Need: Comedy and Rest

I want to highlight two recent articles that are related to each other, I think. First, I wrote a column for Christianity.com about the need for comedy. I thought of this in light of the death of Robin Williams. Here’s an excerpt:

The Scriptures tell us that laughter is a kind of medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). The very fact that God made us as creatures who have the capacity for laughter, who instilled in us the very desire for joy should tell us that laughter matters and matters more than we might think it does. This is why, I think, the writer of Ecclesiastes, perhaps Solomon, reminded us that there is indeed a time to laugh.

Of course there are darker types of laughter or laughing at things God hates or laughing so as to mock and disrespect someone. Comedy at the expense of someone’s dignity isn’t really comedy at all. It’s a kind of rhetorical assault.

But I’m talking about genuine, hilarious, soul-refreshing laughter. This is good for us, good for our well-being. It helps us get through difficult days and it, often, humbles us enough to be vulnerable to let someone see us as human.

You can read the whole thing here:

Next, this week’s Friday Five Interview at Leadership Journal featured Brady Boyd, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Brady took over this church during tremendous turmoil. Now he’s out with a new book on the need for rest. Here’s an excerpt of that interview that I especially liked:

I think most people who are too busy realize this, but wonder if there is a way out of it, given the crushing demands of life. What do you say to them?

I certainly understand that most people have a tremendous amount of stress because of seemingly unending responsibilities. The truth is, though, we all have wasted space in our lives. At some point, we have to stop and evaluate what is really important and make hard choices to stop things that are simply not fruitful. Even the healthiest, holiest people have some rhythms that don’t serve them well.

Maybe you need to be needed and chronically sign up for more than what your soul’s capacity will allow. Maybe you consistently neglect to carve out time to spend with God each day, or you “come down” from a work week in a less-than-stellar way. Think about your own life-your own daily ebbs and flows. What rhythms aren’t serving you well? Which could stand to be adjusted or altogether removed? On a sheet of paper or in your journal, jot down the unhealthy rhythms that come to mind.

Next, beside each rhythm you’ve noted, record the toll each one is taking on your life. For example, if you don’t spend daily time reading the Scriptures or praying, you may feel your days lack purpose or that a pervasive spirit of anxiety hovers over you like a cloud. Or, if you tend to relax after a long work week by drinking too much or neglecting quality time with your family, you may feel disconnected from those you love most. If you struggle to count the cost for each unhealthy rhythm you jotted down, try asking the question, “What would be working better in my life if I could shift this rhythm from unhealthy to healthy?” The answer to that question just might reveal to you what it is you presently lack.

You can read the entire interview here

Aug 23rd 2014

On Losing a Close Friend

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I just found out that my close friend and mentor, Bill Swanger, went to be with the Lord this morning at around 6:00 am. It’s really hard to put into words how much I loved Bill and how much he helped me in my ministry and in growing as a husband and father.

I met Bill almost by chance. In 2007, I accepted a volunteer position as a youth pastor at Gages Lake Bible Church, a small church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The church was in a transition. It’s last -full-time pastor had retired a few years earlier and the last interim pastor left to go to the mission field. Bill was a retired pastor who was close friends with one of the key families at GLBC. This was a season of interim pastorates for him and so he agreed to serve.

I really didn’t have to get to know Bill. My instructions were to simply see what I could do with a floundering youth group, to help give a small church a ministry for some of its young people. But I had the idea that it might not be a bad idea to meet the interim senior pastor and see where we could work together. So I got his email and we agreed to meet at one of his favorite fast-food places: Burger King.

I was also in a period of transition myself, rethinking my ministry philosophy and theological positions. I was looking for mentors, leaders who could show me a better style of leadership than I had experienced. What I didn’t know was that my lunch date with this man I didn’t know would be used by God to dramatically shape my life and ministry.

I saw something in Bill that was refreshing. He was a pastor really took the idea of pastoring seriously, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He was gentle, kind, and wanting to teach young guys like me about ministry. I had always questioned my leadership abilities only because I was never the kind of frenetic, Type-A type guy I thought I had to be. Meeting Bill, whose personality was much like mine, gave me the confidence to know God could use me with the gifts He gave me.

Bill and I quickly became good friends. What’s more, he looked at me and told me that I could be a good pastor. He encouraged the church at Gages Lake to pursue me for the senior pastorate, even though I was young and unproven. He also coached me on pastoral ministry, sharing me things that I’d never heard or seen.

Early in my pastorate, there were several confrontations that he helped me to navigate. Actually, he saved me from myself more times than not. I can’t remember how many times he would say, over the phone, “You can’t say things that way.” or “Here’s how you need to handle this.” or “Here’s what I would say.” Any time I encountered something difficult in the ministry, I would call him up and ask him what to do. Any time I had a critical decision to make, Bill was my first counsel.

Bill navigated me through many crises, both in my family, professionally, and in other areas. When my character and leadership were attached once, it was Bill who stood up beside me and with me, who assured me that this was part of leadership and that God would get me through it. I distinctly remember one afternoon when I was completely and totally discouraged. My wife was out of town with the kids and I had just been unfairly attacked. I remember eating dinner with Bill and his wife, Donna on their porch and being loved and cared for by them.

He was unafraid to share from his own failures and successes, sharing rich detail about so much of his life and ministry. I relished our regular, early morning breakfasts. He told me his story of finding Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham and his calling into ministry, first enrolling at Moody Bible Institute in the 1950′s and meeting his wife Donna there. He shared insights from his pastorates. In the last part of his ministry career, Bill become somewhat of a specialist for hurting churches. He would come in and serve as an interim, healing divisions, preaching the Word, and setting them up for their next season in life. He was a master at this. He could diffuse tensions and bring peace where few could. And he tried his best to teach me to lead like this as well.

Bill was also so proud of me. Every time I got published somewhere. Every book, every media interview, every accomplishment–he cheered me on.

In early August, we heard about Bill’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer. I was shocked and stunned, really. Bill was in his early eighties, but was as healthy as someone half his age. You didn’t even think he was eighty years old. I wasn’t sure how much longer Bill had, but I knew I had to see him. I’m so thankful that I had a chance to visit him last week, to hear him whisper to me, from his hospital bed, “I love you. I’m so proud of you.”

Bill was a man of grit and grace, a kind soul, who loved Jesus, love the Word of God and was especially gifted at mentoring and teaching.

I will always miss this man, Bill Swanger. I know Heaven is richer, though, because of his presence.

More about Bill: 

A profile in Decision Magazine (published by Billy Graham Association)

My article about him for Leadership Journal

 

 

 

Aug 23rd 2014

What We Can Learn from the #icebucketchallenge

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly had your Facebook timeline inundated with friends, family, and celebrities doing the #icebucketchallenge. Everyone from people you don’t know to Mitt Romney (in a suit!), former President George W. Bush, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have dumped large buckets of water on their head to raise awareness and support to fight ALS. I recommend a short article by my ERLC colleagues Andrew Walker and Joe Carter to help you discern where to allocate funding for ALS research.

But I want to think through what helpful things we can learn about why this successful viral campaign worked.

1) It was easy to understand and easy to execute.  Very simple. Take a bucket of water and pour it over your head (or have someone pour it over your head), record it, post it, and tag someone else who has 24 hours to do the same thing. It’s easy to do, costs no money, and takes a few minutes to execute.

2) It humanized people. Think about it. Because of the cause behind the campaign, we saw famous people doing to themselves what we would not ordinarily see them do. There is a curiosity of seeing a politician in a suit drenched with water. #icebucketchallenge gave people an excuse to do a fun quirky thing and support a good cause.

3) It raised awareness in a non-traditional way. Regardless of what you think about this viral trend, you have to admit that more people know about ALS now than they did a few weeks ago. “What is ALS?” has been a conversation in offices, backyards, and church lobbies around the country. How many people opened up their smart phones and said to someone else, “Did you see ____ do the ice bucket challenge?” It proved you can advocate serious issues without taking yourself too seriously.

4) It leveraged new media well. This campaign leveraged new media tools everyone has: a smartphone with video and social media accounts. This type of campaign would have been difficult to execute ten years ago. But today, everyone knows how to capture video on their phones and everyone is online. Most of all, it was painfully easy to do, requiring little technical expertise (however, it did require some . . . bucket expertise. See this link for all the challenges gone wrong!)

5) It was original. So many social media campaigns that “try to go viral” don’t because they are copycats of other campaigns. No doubt there will be many who will try to ape the #icebucketchallenge and a) be less successful and b) annoy everyone with a lame copycat. Being first and being original and being creative always wins.

6) It asked for money without doing the standard “ask.” This campaign invited people to participate in the campaign and actually become fundraisers without even realizing it. Each time someone accepted the challenge and then nominated someone else, they were, in effect, asking them to support a cause financially. People are more willing to give of their time and resources when they feel empowered and invited rather than accepting a typical, top-down appeal for money.

Aug 22nd 2014

Why Pastors Should Pause

Pausing is one of the hardest things for me to do and it seemed even harder when I was a pastor. I think this was for two reasons: a) I loved the work of pastoring: studying, writing, counseling, leading, visioneering, etc b) I have a hard time pausing and reflecting. But I was always convicted by the model of Jesus, who took time to get away. So by not every pausing, I was basically saying I’m better than Jesus. That’s never a good position to be in. So we made sure, every year, to go on vacation and get away and unplug. Or at least do our best to unplug (My wife probably doesn’t think I unplugged as much as I should.). This year we went to the beach and basically did nothing for two weeks: reading, watching our kids swim, and eating. It was great.

This idea of rest is why I so enjoyed this interview I did with Chris Maxwell, the author of a great new series called, Pause. His latest installment is Pause for Pastors: Finding Still Waters in the Storm of Ministry. Here is a snippet from my interview with Chris for Leadership Journal: 

Ironically, it sometimes seems like those in ministry are the least likely to pause, with a busy workload caring for others. Why it is so important for leaders to find times of solitude?

There are so many times I have let what I do for God take the place of being with God.

When I first started serving as a lead pastor, I did not want to do that. I set aside time for personal spiritual formation. But, over the years, things changed. I needed to do more and accomplish more. People needed me – or, maybe I needed to be needed. We live in a driven, obsessed world even in church business. Fortunately, I learned the importance of returning to pause. The books in this series – Pause,Pause for Moms, and Pause for Pastors – come from my heart and the hearts of other writers who hope to remind ourselves and others about the now. As I wrote this book, along with stories from a variety of other pastors, we invited ministers to slow the pace and find the beauty of now.

You can read the rest of it here:

 

Aug 12th 2014

Should Christian Writers Try to Be Popular?

Recent controversies in the evangelical world have caused many people to rethink the idea of “platform-building” and “celebrity”, two buzzwords that are often misunderstood. I had the chance to discuss this with two friends of mine, Justin Taylor, popular blogger at Between Two Worlds, vice-president of book publishing at Crossway and Collin Hansen, editorial director at The Gospel Coalition. This was a fun and insightful conversation.

 

Aug 12th 2014

My Favorite Podcasts

I’ve got about a 20 minute (sometimes 30 during school season) commute to work. I like to redeem my commute by listening to podcasts. I generally subscribe to about ten or twelve of them so I have a wide range of options when I get in the car. My moods change and my needs change and my interests change, so I like to have some variety. Currently this are the podcasts on my iPhone:

Fresh Air (NPR). Yes, I’m a conservative who loves NPR. I love Fresh Air because there is such a variety of interesting content. Terri Gross interviews a wide range of guests, from historians to jazz musicians to athletes. I don’t listen to all of them and I don’t always agree, but I find that I learn much. For instance, there was a recent episode with a journalist who just returned from Iraq and Syria and gave a detailed account of ISIS. Another one returned from Nigeria and reported on Boko Haram.

Morning Joe Podcast. I’m a huge fan of Morning Joe, but I don’t always have time, in fact, I rarely have time to catch the show in the mornings. I find their podcasts, which condense all of the content, commercial free, into 40 minutes or so, is well worth my time. I get an update on the latest news with some incisive commentary. And no, I don’t watch the video while I’m driving, in case you were wondering!

The B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. I’m a huge sports fan and, for me, there is no better sports columnist/interviewer/fan than Bill Simmons, founder of the terrific site, Grantland. I don’t listen to all the podcasts, because sometimes he gets into niche pop culture stuff that I have no interest in. But during the NBA free agency period this summer, there was no better listening than this.

Canon and Culture Podcast. A little shout-out here to one of our new ERLC podcasts. This is based from our DC office and always has informative and good guests. The latest one about North Korea is really good. Check it out.

Family Life Today. This is always on my podcast. Like the others, I can’t catch everyone, but as a father of four children, I need this podcast. Bob Lepine and Dennis Rainey interview parenting and family experts and offer their own sage, Bible wisdom. Highly recommended.

Brook Hills Church. I love the preaching of David Platt. His rich, biblical exegesis and passion for Christ helps me grow as a Christian.

First Baptist Mount Juliet. My pastor, Andy Hale, is a terrific preacher. I podcast this for the weekends that I’m speaking or traveling so I don’t miss what God is teaching us as a body of believers.

City Church. This is my buddy, Dean Inserra, a terrific preacher in Tallahassee. Highly recommended.

Mere Fidelity. Matt Anderson, Derrick Rishmaway and others host a podcast on theological philosophical ideas. This is a new podcast that I really, really enjoy. Helps me understand some hard-to-understand concepts.

The Rich Eisen Podcast. Rich is a host on the NFL Network. This is for football junkies. During NFL season, this is a must-listen. Rich is engaging and witty and features great guests from the pop culture and sporting world.

Rainer on Leadership. My friend, Jonathan Howe hosts this with the CEO of Lifeway, Thom Rainer. This always has great insights on leadership and good interviews.

Aug 6th 2014

Job Opening at ERLC

Know someone interested in joining the ERLC team in Nashville? We are hiring a new Interactive Media Manager to join our communications team. This is creative role specializing in video and audio production, technical and logistical support for ERLC events, and social media engagement. This is a great opportunity to join a fun and dynamic environment, helping to shape the conversation on Christianity and culture.

Anyone that is interested can contact me directly at ddarling [at] erlc.com. A job description is available with more details about the position. The window to express interest in the role is limited so applicants should contact me soon.