Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Apr
16
2014

No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.

But alas, this complaint about Christian content costing money is one I’ve heard in a variety of forms most of my adult life. It goes something like this:

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But we must understand that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment. Paul said to Timothy that “the worker” is worthy of his wages. Christians shouldn’t succumb to greed and materialism. This is a sin and can be a soul-sucking snare (1 Timothy 6:9). But money is offered in Scripture as a reward for hard work. Work was instituted by God at Creation, before the Fall. And the rewards of hard work are woven into the mandate to subdue the earth. To diminish reward is to cheapen, in my view, the value of hard work and to soften the God-glorifying act of creating.

Secondly, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry work. We have this idea that because someone is in “full-time” ministry that they should give their time and effort away for free. But Paul told the Galatians that those “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In other words, those who benefit from the teaching ministry of others should support those who teach. How this works out in real life often differs. Some work full time and get their sole paycheck from a Christian organization. Others are “tent-makers” who, like Paul for a season, offer their ministry work in a part-time or free basis. Still, there are many who have some combination of an agreement. But, the principle still stands: there is nothing wrong with someone getting paid for their Christian content (music, books, preaching, etc). In fact, there is everything right.

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey Scripture. Scripture says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul scolded lazy men who refused to provide for their families (2 Corinthians 3:10). Sometimes in our desire to demand free Christian content or when we grow upset at Christian organizations for charging for content or services, we forget that the men and women working in those organizations would like to feed their families, have health insurance, and own homes just as we do. Many serve and work at drastically reduced rates. They consider their vocation a calling, a mission, a chance to serve the body of Christ. But, that doesn’t mean the should work for free. Imagine if you were asked to do your job for free–if you had no paycheck to take home to support your wife and children? Imagine if someone demanded you do your job for free? You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t do that. And neither should we expect editors, writers, web guys, recording artists, pastors etc give us the best and most edifying Christian content without cost.

Of course there are many caveats to this. There are legitimate and illegitimate ways to make money in the Christian world. There are, sadly, pastors who fleece their flocks and live lavish lifestyles off the backs of poor widows. There are some who claim that financial prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. This wicked and destructive teaching is anti-gospel. And there are times when Christian organizations make decisions based on revenue streams rather than what is enriching for the body of Christ. That is wrong.

But let’s trust that these are a few examples out of the many faithful believers who serve the body well and deserve to be paid fairly for their labors. Let’s not simply rush to the conspiratorial idea that “That publisher/organization/church/pastor is just out to make money.” You actually don’t know that. It could be they are serving with an earnest desire to bring the good news of the gospel to those who need to hear it.

Apr
04
2014

Is Orthodoxy Causing Young Evangelicals to Flee the Faith?

Today I’ve got a post up at the CNN Belief Blog, debunking the narrative that holding fast to the truth is causing evangelicals to leave the Church:

Yes, it is true that Christians should be known more for what they are for than what they are against.

But if you move past the rhetoric, you’ll find that it is often not aggrieved ex-evangelicals who are founding and leading charitable organizations, but the stubbornly orthodox. Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need – but they make up a large percentage.All over the world, you will find faithful followers of Christ adopting orphaned children, rescuing girls from trafficking, feeding the poor, digging wells and volunteering in disaster relief.

My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, operates one of the world’s largest relief operations while holding fast to its theological commitments. And some of the world’s most effective ministries to the poor and marginalized were started by and continue to operate according to evangelical Christian beliefs. They live in the tension of the New Testament, which calls believers to both faithfulness and charity.In fact, the most effective agents of hope in this world likely don’t have Twitter accounts, have never blogged and might never have even uttered the words, “social justice.”

And yet silently, quietly, patiently they serve the least of these, not because they first jettisoned their quaint notions of orthodoxy, but because they held them tighter.

Read the whole thing here:

Mar
28
2014

Faith at Work: More than Evangelism

A recovery of the doctrine of vocation is one of the most encouraging things I see in the evangelical church. In the last few years, there have been some really good books written on the intersection of faith and work. Work Matters by Tom Nelson and Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller are two notable ones. Recently, pastor Greg Gilbert and businessman Sebastian Traeger coauthored a book, The Gospel at Work that promises to further equip the church to think holistically about the workplace.

I had a chance to interview Greg Gilbert for today’s edition of The Friday Five for Leadership Journal. Here is one of the questions I asked:

I’m guessing the typical Christian, when hearing “the gospel at work” thinks of evangelism. But you are aiming for a more holistic vision of the workplace, right?

That’s right. This is not really a book about workplace evangelism (though we do talk about that). We’re actually aiming to try to help Christians think about how their faith in Jesus changes the way they think about and act in their jobs.Most Christians fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs.

Most Christians, we think, tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs. In other words, they either find themselves trying to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning from their jobs, or they lose sight of God’s purposes for them in their work. Neither of those, though, is the right way to think about work. Work shouldn’t be the center of our lives, but it also isn’t merely a necessary evil. Whatever you do, the fact is that you work for the King. It’s God who has deployed you to that particular job (or lack of a job!) at this particular time, and he has purposes for us in our work. In fact, our jobs are actually high profile arenas in which he wants to bring glory to himself and make us more like Jesus. If we remember that, it changes everything about how we approach our work.

You can read more here: 

Mar
24
2014

Pray for Hobby Lobby

Tomorrow is a consequential day in the history of religious liberty. The United States Supreme Court is taking up a case involving two Christian-owned businesses: Hobby Lobby Stores and Conastoga Woods. Hobby Lobby, of course, is the most prominent of these two companies. The conflict is this: can the government compel a business to endorse things against conscience? Hobby Lobby is being compelled by the government to pay for abortion-causing drugs that violate the deeply held beliefs of its owners.

The the center of this argument is a long-cherished virtue: that the government should not trample on the conscience. We should support Christian businesses, not only because they often help fund Christian mission, but also because they are living out the gospel in the marketplace. So I’m hoping you’ll the ERLC and other followers of Christ to pray specifically for Hobby Lobby tomorrow. If you do, use the hashtag: #prayforhobbylobby. Here’s a sample prayer guide you might use;

 

  1. God wants people to be free to seek him and to serve him (Acts 17:24-28). Pray for a favorable outcome. The cherished principle of religious freedom should receive the strongest constitutional protection it deserves.
  2. God is Lord of the conscience, not government (Acts 5:29). Pray that the justices of the Supreme Court will understand the importance of the separation of the state from the church.
  3. God can give understanding to make sound decisions (Prov. 2:6-8). Pray for those who disagree with us, that God would help them understand and respect the consciences of people of faith.
  4. God can turn the hearts and minds of the justices to do his will (Prov. 21:1). Pray for the Supreme Court justices, that they would be receptive to the arguments being made passionately before them.
  5. God can guide the mind and speech (Exod. 4:11-12). Pray for lead attorney, Paul Clement, who will be arguing on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Ask God to give him clarity and wisdom, for his arguments to be persuasive, and for God to give him favor before the justices.  

Here are some more excellent resources:

 

Mar
18
2014

Preaching and Baseball

In an article for Leadership Journal, I compare ministry to baseball. Pastors have a tendency to “swing for the fences” with every sermon, but we’re better off working hard on the little things of preaching in order to give our people a lifetime of good spiritual food:

Ministry is very much like baseball in this way. There will be the home run hitters—exceptionally gifted preachers. But most who lead God’s people will be the grinders. The Belhorns, Glanvilles, and Bakos who show up every week and feed God’s people truth in faithful, but unspectacular fashion.

This is not an excuse for mediocrity. It’s not a rant against celebrity. Every generation has genuinely gifted servants with ministries beyond their congregations. We should rejoice at their large kingdom impact. “There many not be many noble,” Paul says. But there are some and we thank God for their giftedness.

Still, I wonder if the rest, called to grind it out and preach weekly attempt to be superstars. I wonder if we try too hard, swinging for the fences with every new sermon. When I pastored, I had to fight this weekly.

You might call this the Revival Syndrome or the Camp Meeting Syndrome. Most of us who serve in ministry have experienced one or more of these emotional, life-changing moments, where a single message altered the course of our lives. But if we were to be honest, those sermons might have been catalysts, but it was the patient daily practices of Bible reading, church attendance, prayer, and spiritual mentoring that helped the seed of spirituality blossom.

As a pastor, you want every Sunday to be this meaningful for the people in your congregation. Yet, there is something wrong if we expect every message, every worship service to be like that revival or camp meeting.

Read the whole thing here:

Feb
27
2014

Christians on Computers Talking Cakes

You probably don’t want to read one more article on the religious liberty, cake-baking, gay marriage controversy. But let me diverge from the important legal and spiritual implications of this discussion and talk about the actual discussion itself. How should the discussion among Christians be driven around the public water cooler of social media? Here are a few thoughts I have in the wake of this pitched battle:

  • We should always assume the very best about those with whom we disagree and we should argue against their best arguments, not caricatured straw men.
  • We should remember that there are actual people behind the avatars. And we should remember that we are people, not avatars. As followers of Jesus we are accountable for what we do and say.
  • We should not assume the headline, but understand and know the facts behind the headline. Tweeting in reaction to a headline may be fashionable, but it’s not worthy of a Christian whose goal is to pursue truth (Philippines 4:8)
  • As much as we can, we should not talk at people, but with people.
  • We should remember that if someone disagrees with us, they are not necessarily being mean to us, they are simply disagreeing with us. The surest way to shut down a productive discussion is to score cheap political points by hi-lighting how unreasonable our debate partner is. A reasoned argument against your position is not an attack. Know the difference.
  • Christians should, as much as they can, support fellow Christians. Paul reminded us to do good to those who are of “the household of faith.” Twisting the arguments, fanning the flames of public shame, and advancing the popular narrative of Christians as bigoted, uncaring, ideologues doesn’t exactly build unity in the body of Christ. If anything discouraged me in this entire discussion it’s the willingness of Christians to throw other Christians under the bus for fifteen seconds of cultural affirmation. Sad.
  • It’s helpful not to throw a rhetorical bomb out there and then say, “What?, What?” denying an obvious intention to stir things up (Proverbs 26:18-19)
  • It’s also not helpful to come in late to an important discussion with the pious, “I wish Christians would all stop arguing and get in a circle and sing Kumbaya.” Not every argument is worth having, yes. And sometimes Christians fight unworthy fights, yes. But not every discussion is unhealthy. Until we are fully sanctified in Heaven, we’ll not stop having discussions and disagreements.
  • We should discern between worthy arguments with reasonable opponents and folks who only want a prolonged Twitter battle. Or as a friend tells me all the time: Don’t feed the trolls. It’s also helpful to actually not be a troll. Twitter discipline is a hard thing to maintain and all of us have had moments where we have failed.
  • We should be joyful warriors. There are slippery slopes, troubling signs in our culture, and an increasing marginalizing of orthodox Christian beliefs. Still, Christ is coming. He is building His Church. He is triumphant. And He will renew all things. So onward with joy.
Feb
13
2014

A word to husbands on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that sneaks up on you. Well, at least it sneaks up on me. The winter is rich with holidays for the Darling Family: Angela and I were married the week before Thanksgiving, two of our four children have December birthdays, and my birthday is in late January. It gets busy and  . . . expensive.

And I’m guessing I’m like most men. We do the Valentine’s thing sort of reluctantly. It’s a bit of an eye-rolling holiday. We feel we’re getting hosed by Hallmark. Think about it: Mother’s Day, Sweetest Day, Valentine’s Day, Anniversary. I’ve even heard some (very unwise) husbands (who apparently have a regular cot in their garages) say they ignore it and just “love their wife the entire year.”

My advice is to . . . not do that. Don’t do that at all. For one thing, your wife doesn’t want to be nor does she deserve to be the only wife on the block, in her small group, and in the office who sheepishly tells her friends that her husband “doesn’t do this holiday.” Man up, buy a card and some flowers or chocolate or whatever she likes and do it. Secondly, we should use this cultural moment as a divinely appointed opportunity to show our wives some love. After all, we are supposed to, as Paul instructs, love our wives as Christ loves His Church (Ephesians 5:22-23). You don’t very well do that by leaving the Mrs in the cold on Valentine’s Day. We need these prompts, even if created by Hallmark, to be reminded to show our wives just how we feel about them, to renew our commitment to loving them as we love no other human being on the earth. Yes, it is true that love is more than show displays of flowers and chocolate and candy and balloons and teddy bears. But loves is not less than that either. Verbal expressions of love, tangible gifts are important to communicate what we say we feel in our hearts. So we need to do this. We need to make our wives feel every bit the treasure they are. I admittedly struggle with this, to show Angela just how much I love, cherish, and respect her. Valentine’s Day is like a cultural slap upside the head to do what I should be doing more often.

So guys, let’s get it together. I’ll see you in the Hallmark aisle at Walgreen’s tonight.

Feb
01
2014

Beware of Backdoor Legalism

Last week, during an apparent display of debauchery at the Grammy’s (I don’t usually watch award shows. It’s just not my thing. Other folks feel that way about NFL football, which I love). This caused award-winning singer, Natalie Grant to walk out. She was, from all accounts, not self-righteous or judgmental about it, but just posted a simple explanation about it on her Facebook page.

Of course, this action provoked conversation online, on Twitter and in blogs. Perhaps the most prominent reaction is Laura Turner, who clearly disagreed, writing in her blog for Religion News: “But reading about her decision to leave early and then publicize that decision sounded to me just like the self-righteousness of those people who couldn’t hear a swear word without their faith being threatened.” Now I respect Turner’s instincts here and I have those same ones myself. Christians have, at times, developed an isolationist bent, a sort of fundamentalism that rejects any thoughtful engagement with the world. This inward inpulse has often put us on the same side as the Pharisees who couldn’t entertain a Savior who hung out with the very people he came to save: the sinners, the needy, the sick.

But there’s something in Turner’s blogs and in the comments of other evangelicals that gives me pause. I wonder if we’ve traded a grace-sucking isolationism for a worldly sophistication that has almost no filter for good and bad. I wonder, at what point, would evangelicals who mocked Natalie Grant, at what point would they have walked out? Is there any kind of display that would offend their sensibilities, that would cause them to feel in their heart that they could not sit and watch another minute? We might say no. We might say, “well, Jesus endured the depravity of sinners to win them.” And we’d be right about Jesus, up until the point that he called out sinners for, you know, their sin. I imagine if a Christian told an adulterous woman to “go and sin no more” the progressive blogs would consider Jesus a tightly wound fundamentalist who didn’t understand grace. But this is what Jesus did. And notice Jesus’ interaction with Zacheus, the cheating tax collector who was despised by society for his sin. Yes, Jesus resisted the hyper-spirituality of the religious leaders, yes Jesus was willing to be called a glutton and drunkard for his interaction with sinners. But here’s the difference, I think, in what Jesus did and what some evangelicals want to claim Jesus did and use for cover. Zacheus came away from Jesus repentant. He gave away all that he had stolen. In other words, there was no ambiguity, after his time with Jesus, about the depths of his sin. Jesus dinner with the tax collecting cheat wasn’t just hanging out and ignoring injustice. It was a confrontation between light and darkness. Grace only enters the soul that needs it. And so if there is no recognition of sin, there is no need for a Savior.

So getting back to the Grammys, we can disagree on what kind of displays merit walking out on. We can disagree on what kind of displays we will endure for the sake of gospel witness. But let’s not tag Natalie Grant with a kind of unenlightened Christianity that makes those who might not have walked out a bit more hip and enlightened. Let’s apply the spirit of 1 Corinthians 8 and not flaunt our liberated hubris in the face of a deeply convicted sister in the Lord. Let’s remember that Phariseeism isn’t constrained to one side of our internecine debates about culture. There is a high-minded pride in some precincts of evangelicalism that is as vicious as anything the fundamentalists bring. Legalists are the last to know they are the ones in the wrong.

And in fact, what Natalie did may have been courageous for a number of reasons. For one thing, you can protest and withdraw from certain activities without being judgmental. I’m guessing even the most enlightened, permissive hipster evangelical would have a line over which he or she would not cross. You wouldn’t have to dig too far to find a display that would provoke them to walk out in protest. It’s just that they hold their line to be more sacrosanct than Natalie Grant’s line. Second, you can protest a display of debauchery out of love for neighbor and society. To truly love your neighbor is to want the best possible environment for their flourishing. It could be that it saddens Natalie Grant to see beauty and art reduced to sexual deviancy. Maybe by walking out, she’s fighting for the community she loves to embrace a more healthy, wholesome moral center. Third, there is something to keeping oneself, “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Even as we carry the gospel into the darkest places, where evil lurks, we must also have certain places we just cannot go for the sake of moral purity. For instance, I remember the story of an evangelist who intentionally put tracts in between the pages of pornographic magazines. His selling point was that this was how people reading those would find Jesus. But the threat of viewing the images in those magazines and shipwrecking his faith was more serious than his call to evangelize the lost and fulfill the Great Commission. In fact, you might say that his insisting on putting tracts in pornographic magazines belies a lack of faith, as if the rules have to be broken in order to obey Jesus. Better to trust the sovereign God of the universe to reach those people than to compromise your morality.

The bottom line: Legalism is a threat and Christians should avoid it’s ugly tendencies. But there is a backdoor Pharaseeism that’s just as pervasive, only it hides behind a veil of cheap grace. Let’s beware this too.