Thursday, December 3, 2015

Adopting the wording of the world

A man walks into a crowded restaurant and selects two patrons sitting quietly at a table.  He calmly walks up to them, removes a gun from his jacket and shoots them both.  The next day news reporters fill the headlines with details of the account.  Imagine if one report sounded like this:

“At approximately 8pm last night, an alleged gun carrying citizen removed two restaurant patrons from their seated positions as they enjoyed dinner.  The man, acting of his own free will, chose these individuals based on personal preference and with no desire to cause harm to the other guests in the establishment.  The two selected patrons are sadly no longer in attendance at the restaurant and unfortunately will not visit in the near future.  The owner is saddened by the absence of his customers.  The citizen will be charged with cessation of physical functioning of others.”

Of course such a story would result in the immediate dismissal of the reporter and a quick retraction by the new outlet.  The words “shooter”, “murdered”, “killed”, or anything of the sort were purposefully excluded lending a sort of neutrality to the details of the event.  The man murdered  two individuals in a place where attendants should feel safe from such acts of violence.

Words have meaning and direct words are meant to portray a direct meaning.  But some fellow Christians believe certain words which define particular acts should not be used.  Such is the position of Karen Swallow Prior, a Professor of English at Liberty University and Religious Fellow with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. 

In her article “Loving our Pro-Choice Neighbors in Word andDeed” she states “…referring to abortion providers as ‘abortion ghouls’, clinic volunteers and words a ‘deathscorts’ or ‘bloodworkers’ and women who obtain abortions as ‘murderers’ is worse than inflammatory: it is unchristlike”.  She quotes Proverbs 18:21 and 12:18 to support the carefully selection of words as her basis.

Our speech is to be carefully guarded but she misses the importance of calling sin and those who commit it by the correct terms.  One wonders if she may have a Bible translation that excludes the following passages: 

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” –Matthew 3:7 (spoken by John the Baptist)

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” –Matthew 12:33 (spoken by Jesus Christ)

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” –Matthew 23:33 (spoken by Jesus Christ)

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.” –John 8:44a (spoken by Jesus Christ)

among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” –Ephesians 2:3 (spoken by the Apostle Paul)

What of the word “murderer” that Karen Prior says we should refrain from when defining abortion? 

“But if he struck him down with an iron object, so that he died, he is a murderer. The murderer shall be put to death.” –Numbers 35:16

Direct words have an intentional impact because they are labeling the actions or character of the person who is being addressed.  Karen Prior has allowed her understanding to be altered by the worldly definition of “hate”.  To call someone who knowingly, willingly takes the life of another human a murderer is not hateful…it is correctly labeling them based on their action.

Likewise, to call abortion murder and those who perform such murders is not hateful. 

Words such as “deathscorts” and “aborutaries” (a term she did not use) are modern slang to identify what self-titled clinics and volunteers are actually engaged in.  By using titles such as these they are being deceitful by hiding the reality of what occurs within the clinic walls.

Intentionally inflammatory rhetoric is not in question here.  Such language should be addressed.  But “calling a spade a spade” is just an attempt to correctly identify, define, and label what has been sugar—coated and guarded by the unregenerate world for so long.  For any professing Christian to say otherwise is for them to cater to their rhetoric of the world and lack true love for their neighbor by calling out sin and declaring salvation in the Savior.

Until the whole world hears,

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Two kinds of ministry fruit

It was another sad day at the Choices abortion clinic Saturday morning.  Many fathers and mothers came to have their children aborted at the hands of legally paid assassins.  My oldest daughter joined me as well as my Pastor (it was his first time involved in abortion clinic ministry).  Today, we were given a glimpse of the fruit of regular ministry.

We often look for one type of fruit in ministry, what we would call positive outward fruit.  But sometimes, fruit is used to show us the effective nature of faithful ministry.  Such was the case today with two evidences.

The first is seen in the picture to the right...the increased height of the fence bordering the clinics' parking spaces.  The cement wall behind the fence is what we normally stand on to engage clinic workers and parents who come to murder their children.  It is owned by the Inidian restaurant in front of the clinic.  They have graciously allowed us to stand here and even offered drinks during the hot summer Saturdays.  This spot has proven one of the better locations to reach the parents. I have been able to hand out more tracts and engage more people from this spot.  This new addition makes it impossible to do so now.

While we could create a platform to elevate us above this, we were also informed that we no longer have permission from the owners of the restaurant to stand there.  Choices has posted appreciation in the past to the restaurant for catering events so I believe the owners have simply caved to pressure from the clinic and are trying to remain "neutral".  Simply put...I believe Choices bullied them into this decision.

The reason this was erected was because we have harmed the business of the clinic, women and men have turned away from murdering their children, and countless have heard the Gospel proclaimed from this vantage point.

The second fruit was the increasingly hateful response of the security guard, Marcus, who works outside the clinic each Wednesday and Saturday.  He is normally cordial and somewhat indifferent but today he was rather angry.  He readily admitted a particular sin to another brother who was ministering with us.  Marcus also stated that he was tired of being called a coward and that in the past he would've "snapped a man's neck for that (comment)".

A woman who brought her sister to the clinic came over to talk to me.  As you will see in this video, Marcus became rather agitated when the woman would not give her name immediately:

As we thought on this later, I believe this is evidence of the impact the preaching of the Gospel and the exposure of abortion is having on Marcus.  Week after week he hears sin identified, the reality of abortion exposed, and Christ proclaimed.  The fact that this has an impact on him is hope that his heart may not yet be hardened.

Please pray for Marquesia and her sister.  While they left shortly after this video ended, they came back only 15 minutes later.  Marquesia said she was still tryting to convince her sister not to go through with the abortion but they were still inside the clinic when we left.

Please continue to pray for Marcus' salvation, for this clinic to be shut down, and for all its workers to come to Christ.

For His glory,
Adam (and family)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

One word...

While ministering alongside several brothers and sisters at the Choices abortuary in Memphis, TN Saturday I was again able to engage in a conversation with their security guard.

I had spoken to Marcus and shared the Gospel with him several times before.  He knows me and I have come to learn a lot about him.  One particular exchange between myself and Marcus seemed to stand out more than any other time.

As a young mother stepped out of the car and headed into the clinic one could not help but notice the evidence of her pregnancy by her small bump.  This was the first time I had seen someone enter the clinic who looked that far along in their pregnancy.  I felt a knot in the my throat like I had never felt before.  At that size she could evidently feel the baby kicking and moving.  Saturdays are one of the two days they set aside for abortions.  Knowing this and the fact that she was dropped off by someone driving the car rather than driving it herself, I am almost completely certain she came for the purposed of murdering her child.

My voice was joined by several others in crying out to her, but in less than 10 seconds she had entered the building and the door behind her closed.  Something stirred in me and I asked Marcus "Did you see that young woman?  Did you see how evident it was that she was pregnant?"  Marcus turned his head away. 

"What do they call that?  That bump she had...what do we call that Marcus?", I repeatedly asked desiring for him to answer.  "Why can't you say it?  Just fill in the blank:  It's called a _____ bump." 

The only reply he could muster was "Why do you ask me a question you already know the answer to?"

"So why can you just say it?", I replied.  For 5 minutes I begged him to answer the question and for 5 minutes he refused to do so. 

Make no mistake, while some are uneducated regarding the reality of the human life that exists from the moment of conception, most are not.  They know full well that when a mother and her unborn child enter a clinic for an abortion only one of them leaves alive.  They know that small bump is because of the precious life growing inside her.  They know and they don't care.  In the depravity of their own hearts they know and they willfully choose to hate the life of another and love themselves more.

For Marcus, he just couldn't say one word...BABY.  It’s the same word every abortion clinic and every pro-choice advocate hates to be confronted with.  But it is the one word which describes the creation God is weaving inside of the womb as they shake their fist at Christ and pay assassins to murder their child. 

Until He returns or calls me home,

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A review of "Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church"

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is quoted as saying "It is appalling that the most segregated hour of
Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."  Regardless of how much you agree with other theological positions of Dr. King, one could hardly disagree with this quote.

While not intentional, as I would presume all Christians would affirm, most of the churches I have served in have been almost entirely comprised on not just one particular ethnicity but usually on particular economic class.  In fact, I remember a Pastor telling me that it was impossible to reach out to every people group both ethnically and economically.  He instead insisted on focusing on one or possibly two for the sake of church growth.  But this just never sat well with me and left me squirming more than a 5 year old during Sunday worship after a breakfast of sugar-laiden Pop Tarts (Parents, you know what I'm talking about).

Recently I began looking for resources that might help to answer the challenge Dr. King brought to light in the quote mentioned.  After a brief search on Amazon, not the best resource for theological solidarity, I found a few books on the topic of multi-ethnic ministry.  I chose two that seemed on the surface to be just what I was looking for.  "Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church" by Mark Deymaz was the first book and the follow-up "Leading a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church" was written as a companion to build off the principles of the first.  After reading the first book though, I am unsure whether it would be worth my time to read its younger sibling.

Red flags....from the starting line
I take note of people who endorse or otherwise recommend books, articles, or other literary items.  While not definitely assured that their endorsement will ensure a theologically sound treatise, one usually can count on their recommendations as a green light for biblical alignment.  On the first page of this book six endorsements can be found...five of which were completely new to me.  But I am aware that some endorsements may come from little known brothers and sisters in Christ.  My endorsements of books such as "The Playbook" is clearly a practical example of this since nobody (and I mean nobody) reads my endorsements and thinks "Hey, Adam Gray reviewed and endorsed this book.  That settles it for me!"

(As a side note, The Playbook is a great read.  If you are planting a church it is a must for your library.  If you are pastoring an already established church I believe it will answer some of the nagging questions you have had for a while now.  I advised Dr. McCleod to put together a study guide and am hoping he produces one in the near future.)

As I stated, I don't know five of the six men who praised Deymaz's book but the sixth one sounded familiar.  Does the name Doug Pagitt ring a bell?  If you were privy to the emergent movement then it definitely should. I will not dedicate much more to this point except to say that if he endorses a book then your discernment meter should be turned up extra high.  

(For more information on Pagitt check out the Pyromaniacs blog.)

With this in mind I read through the book anyway, realizing that even someone like Pagitt could endorse a good book once in a while (insert blind squirrel and nut analogy here).

Don't be seeker sensitive but be sensitive to seekers?
I am no fan of the seeker-sensitive movement.  Having read some of these books for college classes (as critiques) that promote such approaches I have had my fill of the notion that the local church is "me-centered" or even "they-centered" rather than Christ-centered.  The author seems to take a stand against identifiers such as "seeker-sensitive" (11) but actually uses the term (115) and its teachings throughout the book as ways to reach the local community.  Rather than the local church being a place for the redeemed he believes we are to "demonstrate that the church is not about us but is about others" (98).

If a church is built on the construct of attracting non-Christians it is built on a foundation of pragmatism which, as all sand does, shifts with time.

Testimonies, testimonies everywhere but not a drop of repentance
The book is divided into three sections.  At the end of each chapter in the first two sections are testimonies of some associated with Pastor Deymaz's church, Mosaic Church in Little Rock, AR.  Six of these are meant to be salvation testimonies while the other five detail how Mosaic impacted lives for the better.  Highlighted in each are the benefits of ethnic diversity within a local church.  Missing from every single one of the supposed salvations testimonies were three things:  1) Recognition of one's sin against God, 2) Conviction of sin, 3) Repentance and directed faith in Christ's finished work on the cross.  

"One evening during the church service and soon after I had prayed that prayer, a bright light appeared to me...In my heart I recognized the light to be Jesus.  That night, during Mosaic's first communion service, I became a follower of Christ." (12)

"My image of God was that he is a distant God, a punishing God, someone whose faith you had to earn...Over the next few months, God kept bringing so many wonderful people into my life, people who truly and deeply loved the Lord...So finally on December 18, 2001, at two o'clock in the morning, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior." (26)

"So without further delay, they bowed their heads to pray...asked Jesus into his heart...Mark introduced him to the rest of our staff as a new brother in Christ." (54)

"I chose Christ, accepting him and his sacrifice for me." (80)

"It was right then that we received Jesus as our Lord and Savior." (107)

"...he shared that he had recently committed his life to Christ." (118)

While the fourth testimony had a hint of at least the cross, each of them lacked in what the Bible describes as true repentance of sin.  In fact, none of them mentioned sin at all.  The closest was the sixth testimony of an addict but it centered on his addiction without defining it as sin against God.  

Could the people who gave these testimonies actually be Christians?  It is definitely possible.  Sometimes we have a hard time articulating such a dramatic event as our conversion but as a Pastor I would be hesitant on including them in a book.

Reading from Scripture or into it?
Often, a particular viewpoint can cause us to incorrectly read into a passage something that it was never intended to convey.  The author does this on several occasions seemingly in an attempt to justify his position for multi-ethnic churches.  However, this was unnecessary since he already had ample biblical evidence to do so.

Revelation 2:4 is a well known verse where Christ admonishes the church in Ephesus for forsaking their "first love".  The context of the passage and the primacy of where the affections of the Christian should reside has required that the first love identified in that passage is the love we are to have for God (Mark 12:29-31).  However, Deymaz insists that the first love is not one of "priority but one of prior love".  

To prove this point he directs the reader to Ephesians 1:15 where Paul commends the believers for their "love for the saints".  He therefore proposes that the love they later lost was love for other believers.  One would need to perform a series of interpretive leaps to reach such a conclusion and only if one ignored the remainder of Scripture.  If Christ were speaking of prior love than the priority of love then it would be the only passage where such an interpretation could be obtained.  With the exegetical interpretation and historical commentaries against such a position I could only assume that such a position was reached due to inference and presupposition.

Deymaz also takes a stab at Christ's encounter with the rich young ruler detailed in each of the synoptic Gospels.  His understanding is that the rich young ruler simply could not see past his physical life, therefore believing Jesus' insistence to give away all he had was foolish.  But he doesn't mention the ruler's insistence on his ability to keep all the commandments which evidently identified his issue as one of pride and a refusal to acknowledge his violation of God's law.  This is why Jesus' identification of the riches of this man was a light shining on his idolatry and therefore his inability to keep the Law.  Deymaz's interpretation of this passage occurs in the chapter titled "Embrace Dependance" where he rightly reminds believers to rely on one another and God's provisions.  But the use of this passage to remind the believer of this takes it out of its context rather than using clearer passages that teach such (Acts 2:44; Galatians 6:2).

Diversity?  Yes...but how? 
Deymaz rightly calls us to examine whether our churches are reflective of the community in which it resides or has become complacent in reaching out only to those they are most comfortable with.  This type of unintentional bias in ministry is wrought with all sorts of problems.  But few, if any, would admit to doing this.  Why?  Because we are usually unaware of the comfort bubble we have created for ourselves.  We didn't intend to create it but it is nonetheless there.

In chapter 6 under the sub-title "A Deliberate Choice" page 7, Deymaz says:

"...we should not expect to integrate our leadership teams through random prayer or wishful thinking.  Diverse individuals of godly character, theological agreement, and shared vision do not just arrive on waves of whim.  Rather, they must be intentionally sought."

"...while quotas should in no way dictate the diversity of your staff, potential hires must be considered in light of both the current and future composition of your team."

"...saying yes to someone of a particular ethnicity or other valued descriptive (one who is Deaf or Blind, for example), you may have to say no to someone else like him or her later on, in order to maintain the general balance of the team."

The last section I quoted could be practically summarized like this:  "If you have a leadership team comprised of one White man, one Asian man, and one Black man and you have a pool of candidates that are all equally qualified, you should choose one of the ethnicity or 'valued description' that is not already represented."

I searched and searched and didn't find that particular qualification regarding either Elders or Deacons.  How would those conversations with the candidates that were nominated proceed?

"Sorry Will, but we already have a white guy on the team.  Sorry Terry, but we already have your ethnicity represented.  Marcus, we could use you on another ministry where your people group has an opening."

Sorry for being so candid, but I think when you actually put the teaching into practical application it just sounds ridiculous and bias.  If that were not enough, it would seem the modern manifestation of this at Mosaic Church is to add women to the leadership and toss the title of "Pastor" their way.  (One might attempt to argue that "Pastor" is not the same as "Elder" but that could only be done by ignoring a large sum of the New Testament.)

As always, much more could be said but I believe my attempt to highlight the major concerns will provide a starting point for determining the biblical validity of this book.  While there were certainly some solid points, most were overshadowed by the shakier ones.  Scripture clearly teaches the integrated nature of the local body of believers (Galatians 3:27-29).  It is a place where culturally constructed boundaries are broken down and unity in Christ crosses borders, biases, and stereotypes.  Only two "races" exist:  those who are under Adam and those who are in Christ (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22).

What is the solution to the problem Dr. King proposed?  It might be simpler than we realize.

You see, we surround ourselves not just with other Christians but other Christians with whom we are often most comfortable.  In a social media-driven world that allows you to "block, unfriend, unfollow, and hide" those you don't agree with, we fail to realize that this is just a more convenient extension of how we live our lives as believers in the real world.  We associate with those of whom we have the most in common and keep at arm's length those with whom we have less in common.  We of course seek out doctrinally sound churches that have specific leanings in line with our own but take a look around next Sunday.  Maybe we do hold to similar doctrines but does that mean we must all come from the same economic, social, or cultural group?  If our local churches do not reflect the community in which they reside, is it possible that we are missing something?

Could it also be that we just assume, as the book does point out, that some would not be as comfortable in our church as they might elsewhere?   If we do so it is because we presume (one might even say "stereotype") others based on their ethnicity, social status, or economic placement.  But this mentality is not limited to one people group.  As I have seen, it is evident across the spectrum of people groups and denominations.

Care must be taken at this point to not swing to far to one side that the other.  Social, economic, and ethnic differences can suddenly become primary factors in who we reach and elect to positions.  While I know the author would say this was not intended, I could not help but believe that some parts said otherwise.

We must be cautious to not limit who we reach out to just as much as why we are reaching them.  If our primary intent is to diversify the church then we will still end up forsaking some people groups for others.  The only difference though will be that we will ignore people groups already represented in our churches for the sake of reaching those who are not.  Rather, if our desire to disciple others to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel is driven by our love for God and love for our neighbors, despite their socio-economic or culturally defining factors, then we will be led not by external appearance to love them but by the same grace that has saved us.

We must be sensitive to cultural differences and foster a measure of understanding to bridge cultural gaps, but that is part of the nature of the country in which we live.  We are a compilation of differing traditions, backgrounds, cultures, economic standings, etc.  So too, our churches should be reflective of the same but not by forced diversification.  If we are obedient to the commands of Scripture to reach the lost and lay aside assumptions I believe God will add to His Kingdom through the local church as He designs not as we plan.

In terms of biblical validity, I believe that "Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church" was left lacking support from Scripture.  While it sets itself up to answer many questions regarding this issue I was left with nothing more than another pragmatic positioning supported by testimonies that are far too common in modern evangelicalism and often prove to be evidence of seed that never fell on good soil (Luke 8:8).

Thanks for stopping by!

Until the whole world hears,