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About 2/3 of my listening time is regularly dedicated to music from my college days. This is not unusual, of course, and I’m lucky that I didn’t go to college in the seventies or eighties, but rather the mid-90s when music was flippin awesome. MxPx got one of the five slots, as did a Napster mix CD I made in about ’98 (“Just how far down do you wanna go? We could talk it out over a cup of joe...”) and one of my favorite albums of all time: Value Pac’s self-titled debut.
Surprisingly, the lyrics of the high school punk rock band called Value Pac are far more orthodox and biblical than most of what you find in Christian music. In fact, all of the five Solas are present in force on this album. One of my favorite songs (which you can listen to here) is called One Way Out, and is one of the best pictures of the state of mankind and need for a Savior. It does not mention the cross, but other songs on the album do very specifically. All in all, it’s pretty solid for a song written by teenagers and comprised of power chords. And yet, the unrelenting doctrinal effect of evangelical youth group culture and pull-up-your-bootstraps American soteriology still gets the last word.
Verse 1Yeah, I know. Not the best prose. But theologically, pretty good stuff for a high school or college age kid to listen to. The total depravity of man is conveyed to some extend. The human condition is trapped in sin, pictured as walls that we ourselves have built. The only door (I’m inferring a bit here) is locked from the inside by me, but I am apparently unable/unwilling to unlock it as the only option considered is breaking my way out, which I am unable to do. The only possible means of escape is me seeing the light. So far, so good by my score card.
All alone in this world you don’t want it
Not anymore, oh no
The cares of this world can choke you out
Ya got no direction; you can’t find your way out
Trapped in the maze that you call life
Not gonna make it until you see the light so bright
These walls, you built them up yourself
Locked from the inside; can you break your way out?
Which way is up? Which way is down?
Walking in circles you can’t find your way around
ChorusOkay, some of you might not like the language “He’ll help you out” and would prefer “He’ll pull you out” or something more monergistic sounding, but when you consider that we’ve already established the hopelessly trapped nature of man, I think the statement is in keeping with Jesus’ own references to/pictures of helping trapped animals out of pits, etc. And if you give that a slide, we’ve got a solid chorus here.
But Jesus will find you and He’ll never let you go
Jesus will find you
He won’t leave you standing all alone
He’s gonna find you and He’ll never let you down
Jesus will find you
He’ll help you out; whatcha gonna do?
I just returned from a week as camp pastor for 7th and 8th graders and I (as always) tried to drill into their heads that they didn’t find Jesus—if they’re saved, Jesus found them. And they aren’t holding their salvation in their hands—if they were, they’d drop it every time. Instead, they’re safe in Jesus’ hands! Amen and amen!
Verse 2 and BridgeHere we have a call to repentance (literally, “Turn around and walk the other way” is a great definition of שׁוּב). Much like the prodigal son “came to himself” and returned to his father, we must “have enough” of what the world offers to fill the hole, have it for the last time, and—drawn by the Holy Spirit to the cross—repent and believe. Again I say, amen!
The ways of this world have let you down
You wanna make it, but you don’t know how
Losing this game someone called life
You’ve had enough you’ve had it for the last
So watch your back as you walk astray
Turn around and walk the other way
You only want to live for you
Someday I hope you get a clue
But that’s not the end of the tune. After one more go through the chorus of “Jesus will find you,” there’s one more line, a little tag as the last power chord fades away:
But it’s up to YOU!Ex-squeeze me? Uh-baking powder? Did you not just spend an entire punk rawk song telling me just how not in my hands this whole thing is? I’ve got this vision in my head of the lead singer with awesomely dyed, spikey hair, penning this song at a skate park, reading it over and having a weird conflicting feeling. He’s presented the Gospel as the Bible does, but it doesn’t jibe with what he’s been taught most of his life: namely, the largely Pelagian notion that God casts one vote for our soul and the devil casts one, and we get the deciding vote. As if that democratic process were the kind of election St. Paul refers to repeatedly.
If only he’d just held that idea up against Scripture before tacking it on the end of his song about how sinful men and women are not only unable, but unwilling to turn to God until their eyes are opened, the cell of their sinful heart is torn down, they are raised from spiritual death to life . . . Yes, we must repent and believe. But thank God it’s not “up to me.”
Soli Deo Gloria,
2. In Jesus’ parables and his letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation,the comforts of life often serve as idols that keep people from receiving the Gospel and bearing fruit.
3. Jesus frequently referred to the Holy Spirit as “the Comforter.” Of course being “comfortable” and being “comforted” are two very different animals, but if discomfort were our ultimate goal as Christians, wouldn’t Jesus have sent the “uncomforter?” [Lest I be charged with equivocation here, both the “comforts of home”-type comforts and the sort of “comforting” done for a hurting friend have to do with removing anxiety, and that's what I’m mainly concerned with here.]
4. Throughout his epistles, Paul frequently reminds his churches that Christians are given different gifts and called to minister in different settings and capacities according to those gifts. Not everyone is a preacher, not everyone a teacher, not everyone a painter. If the idea of getting in front of the church and speaking scares you to death, that doesn’t mean God wants you to “get out of your comfort zone” and give the sermon next week. Quite the opposite.
5. Following Jesus is never the path of least resistance or the path of most comfort. It is the narrow way, not the broad. It is chipping a foundation out of stone rather than throwing a house together on the sandy beach, but in the end that is where our comfort comes from.
Some comforts are always a good thing and there are some comforts that a Christian ought to be able to enjoy: the cross of Jesus Christ, the comfort of reading and hearing his Word and partaking of his holy meal, the comfort of gathering together with the saints. As we continue to study the Book of Revelation (both in my sermons and on my other blog), it will become more and more clear that, while being a Christian in a hostile world involves many great discomforts (from the mild awkwardness of bringing up Jesus in a culture where that’s just not done to the tribulation of outright persecution for professing faith in Him), there is a comfort for the church in gathering together faithfully to worship our Lord and holding up the Light, as his lampstand, for a lost world to see.
Here’s an excerpt from another post at my second blog, Out of Sardis. This will likely be the last post from over there that I link over here, so please consider liking/ subscribing/ following/ whatever that blog as well. I've disabled comments on this post to encourage comments over there.
To view the whole post, click the graphic below:
I will be the first to admit that my default assumption is this: Jesus would do things the way I think they should be done—the way I do them. And I know I'm not alone here. This is a universal problem; since the Garden, we've had a propensity for remaking our God in our own image. And it's a problem that persists today, even in the Church. We all tend to read our preferences, our values, our politics,and our culture into Jesus and let them determine who He is, rather than vice versa.
But we don’t have to. We have Scripture. And not only does God’s Word contain a record of the teachings of Jesus on earth (in the Gospels) and the inspired apostolic interpretations of those teachings, it also contains the oft-overlooked Revelation of Jesus Christ and its seven letters from Jesus to seven churches (from whence this blog derives its name). We need not guess or grasp.
Want to know Jesus’ position on sexual ethics for a church that finds itself in a pluralistic, over-tolerant, “sexually liberated” culture? It’s tempting to read our own views into Jesus’ heart and lips (i.e. “I just can’t imagine Jesus saying…”), but to do so is naive at best and idolatrous at worst. How much better to read the letters written by Jesus to churches in almost the same setting (Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira), in which Jesus addresses these issues directly?
Likewise, when it comes to philosophies of ministry, particularly the hot-button issues of Church Growth and Church Health, it’s easy for all of us to assume that Jesus wants to use whatever ideas, strategies, traditions, or gimmicks we prefer in order to grow our churches. I know I’m guilty of this. And if we’re clever, we can even frame certain narratives from the Gospels such that Jesus seems to be on board with this or that trend, book, or buzzword.
These days, I most often see this done (and have been frequently tempted to carry it out myself) with regard to the uber-popular notion that you can tell where God is moving (and how powerfully he’s moving) by how many people gather together, how much of a buzz a church generates in the media, and how large and impressive the facility is .. .
Jesus actually vomits in Revelation 3.
We've all been reminded of that more than once—that the literal rendering of Rev 3:16 is, “Because you are luke warm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to vomit you out of my mouth.” I suppose it’s a good enough rendering, although preachers sometimes imply an intimate familiarity with this particular Greek word, despite this being its only use in the New Testament.
But either way, none of us wants to make Jesus puke; that much is obvious. And what triggers this awful response in our Lord? Why, our lukewarmness. Therefore: don’t be luke warm. Be excited, be active, wrap yourself in a flurry of religious activity, anything to avoid even the appearance of luke warmness.
The context of this dire warning, of course, is the letter from Jesus to the church in Laodicea—the last of seven letters in Revelation 2-3 to seven different churches in Asia minor. These letters generally follow a standard format and include, among other things, praise for the church, a rebuke of the church, a warning or threat, and an exhortation. That’s the general outline followed by all seven letters. Except that there are two churches with nothing negative said about them—no rebuke, no threat, no warning. Nothing but encouragement, approval, and exhortation.
And then, of course, there’s Laodecia, which has nothing positive said about it, further reinforcing just how bad it is to be luke warm. In fact, if there’s any church we don’t want to emulate, it’s Laodecia. And so we don’t. Church growth and congregation health gurus regularly remind us—and we remind each other—of Revelation 3:16 and how we need to avoid becoming another luke warm church in danger of being vomited out.
Instead, we try as hard as we can to be just like the church in Sardis. And every day there are new methods and books explaining how to be more Sardisian in our approach and new success stories of churches who have grown as a result.
There’s just one problem: Sardis is not one of the two churches for which Jesus had no rebuke and no threat. In fact, it was one of the two churches for which Jesus had no commendation, no praise—nothing good to say at all. Only the harshest of reproofs and most fearful of warnings. In the name of avoiding one deadly hole, we’ve been going deeper and deeper into another. Luther famously wrote of the Babylonian Captivity of the Church. Today, we might instead speak of a Sardisian Captivity of the Church.
This topic is so near to me that I've begun a second blog all about how the church’s conventional wisdom has shifted with—and bowed to—the world and its culture, how the books, the experts, the buzzwords, and the movements all assume what the church assumed in Sardis, namely that the way to gauge where God is at work is to use the world’s understanding of life, marketing, and mob psychology.
This new blog will not a discernment blog dedicated to calling people/churches out, naming names, and anathematizing masses of sell-outs and heretics. There are more than enough blogs out there doing that. Instead, it will be dedicated to shining light on the unrelenting trend we see in Western Christianity, a trend of the Church trying to look like Sardis, instead of Smyrna or Philadelphia.
How will we go about this task? Here’s how I see it (although it may shift mid-course): I will begin with a series of mini-studies on the letter of Jesus to the church in Sardis, drawing application to our churches today, then move on to survey some of the other letters in Revelation 2-3. When that is done, I will begin to add other contributors as we begin to apply these concepts more specifically (if you would like to contribute, let me know). The goal of this new blog (http://outofsardis.blogspot.com) is not just to raise the alarm about this disastrous trend in churches big and small, but also to provide insight and promote discussion about how we can head back out of Sardis.
I’m not an expert on the subject, but together we will hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach Bartels
Another of these drafts was simply a copy of a blog comment that referenced me. It was from the blog Epochalypsis: The Age of Unveiling. I vaguely remember seeing a Facebook ad featuring their glowing chi-rho logo and clicking over to check it out. What I found was a post that referred to the doctrine of substitutionary atonement as “twisted crap.” I commented on the post, challenging some of the writer’s presuppositions, and got this response:
The Twisted Crap: (that Pastor Bartels apparently teaches his flock) God wanted us all dead for being such terrible sinners and Jesus saved us from his wrath. Also known as "substitutionary atonement" (i.e. Jesus was substituted in our place), this is one of the most vile, unfortunate and common understandings of what Jesus and his death on the cross means for mankind. It basically takes the biblical concept of a compassionate, loving, parent-like unconditional figure of God and warps and distorts God into some kind of blood-thirsty, revenge oriented God of wrath. While this understanding of God may not be true or helpful to growing as a loving compassionate believer, it sure is helpful to make believers compliant and put butts in your church pews. Much of the Empire of Christianity owes it's growth and success to this very lie. How do I know this is crap?
Think about the concept of substitutionary atonement this way: Imagine you were standing on the side of the road watching a mother and a daughter walking toward you hand-in-hand. Suddenly, a car loses control, and careens off the road onto the sidewalk right in the path of the mother and her daughter. With but a moment to act, the mother scoops up her daughter and throws her clear of the out-of-control car and then is killed instantly as the car slams into her. You run over to the scene of the accident to see if you can help. Paramedics, police and other bystanders are rushing around. Some are attending to the little girl, some are checking the mother's vitals, some are just in shock, crying at the horrible scene and the incredible sacrifice they'd just witnessed. Suddenly, out of nowhere, this wild-eyed woman walks up next to you, grabs your arm and says, "God wanted that little girl dead. The car was His wrath, and the little girl's mommy took her place."
I bet anyone of us would look that woman in the eyes and tell her she was nuts. Crazy nuts. And yet that's what millions of Christians the world over hear and believe every Sunday. The term "sacrifice" is not meant like the virgin on the altar, or the lamb at passover. It's not some kind of offering to appease. "Sacrifice" is meant like when we say a soldier "sacrificed himself" by jumping on a mine to save his platoon. Or the mother in the story above. It's an act of compassion and love. Not an act of appeasement. And that, my friends, is what Pastor Bartels finds offensive that I call "a morbid, negative and creepy doctrine" on the blog."
Not sure what I had been planning to do with that little gem. I’m guessing that the reason it just sat there a draft is because, like The God Who Wasn’t There, after a basic critical perusal, there’s little left standing to even tip over. But it might be a useful exercise to see just how many 1. false presuppositions, 2. logical fallacies / unwarranted leaps, and 3. blatant misunderstandings of orthodox soteriology we can find here. Not because it’s fun to tear someone else’s beliefs down (although the author of the above comment clearly thinks it is), but because, despite the fading away of many doctrinal-trends-formerly-known-as-emergent, the fashionable denial of substitutionary atonement is still on the rise among self-professed followers of Jesus.
And when we encounter proponents of such thought, it’s important that we listen carefully, that we search the Scriptures to analyze, validate, or debunk their teachings, and that we don’t let them get away with pulling a record number of “fast ones.”
Soli Deo Gloria,
As of yesterday, though, the most recent entry was from January 14. But then today, I dropped the Big One.
As we say at Gut Check Headquarters / Pastor Zach’s Basement (while adjusting our wigs and looking deeply into our own souls in the mirror), It’s on now!
The aforementioned Big One:
If you want to know how it all ends . . .
Dear reader-slash-footsoldier in the Gut Check Army,
Yes, it seems that we let this project go by the wayside, as if this serialized end-times thriller is now as irrelevant as The Late Great Planet Earth. But things are not always as they seem.
True, we did have a bit of a lag there—so much so that we're having to re-work the clever “whoops, the Mayan calendar really runs out in 2011” sub-plot—but we’ve also been working on this project behind the scenes. There are now four more chapters, each building this story to a ludicrously dispen-sensational climax.
Where are these chapters, and why aren't they posted, you ask? Because we’ll be wrapping this story up as a committee in the next few weeks (somewhere in a smoke-filled back room or spark-and-steam-filled alley) and offering the whole deal as an e-book for, oh let's say, three bucks.
Stay tuned at www.gutcheckpress.com.
Honestly, this thing is a hilarious collaboration and it’s getting funnier as it gets more absurd. I’ll let you know when it’s all shrink-wrapped and ready for delivery to your Kindle or Nook.
It occurred to me that, since my blogging career has involved more “comebacks” than John Travolta’s acting career, I needed to do something drastic to prove to the world that I’m really back on the blogging horse in earnest. So here it is: I actually updated my horribly ’90s-looking blog template with something (hopefully a little bit) less outdated looking.
Let’s all just take a moment to bask in the heat of the smile now spreading the mandibles of the Calvinist Gadfly.
My fellow preachers,
I need some advice here.
When such a holiday comes along, I simply continue preaching through whatever book I was working through. More often than not, I’m shocked by the clear providence involved, as the “special day” in question (particularly days that touch on biblical themes, like Veterans Day, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc.) fits together with the text hand-in-glove—totally unplanned, of course. Sometimes, I can even throw a bone to the holiday via a sermon illustration that serves the text.
But with Mother’s Day . . . well, let’s just look at my record . . .
- My 1st Mother's Day at Judson: Preaching through Sermon on the Mount, I landed on, “If you look at a woman to lust after her, you've already committed adultery in your heart.”
- My 2nd Mother's Day at Judson: Preaching through Joshua, it happened to be about Rahab, the harlot.
- My 3rd Mother's Day at Judson: Preaching through Luke, the text was the woman of bad reputation (prolly a prostitute) who anointed Jesus' feet. (Some finding this less cute, and perhaps beginning to wonder if it’s by design . . . )
- My 4th Mother's Day at Judson: I had just finished 63 weeks of preaching through Luke the week before and took it as a providential sign to preach a one-off expository sermon from a Mother's-Day friendly text. Okay, fine; it was a topical sermon. (Does Act of Contrition). I actually heard more negative feedback for this move than positive.
- My 5th Mother's Day at Judson: Preaching through John's epistles, it seemed that the curse was lifted, as I was able to expound on love and truth.
- My 6th Mother's Day at Judson: Didn't want to mess with it, so I took the week off and called in a real professional (Mikey Gohn) to deal with preaching on Mother’s Day.
- My 7th Mother's Day at Judson (this coming Sunday): Preaching through Revelation, and have arrived at this text . . .
Revelation 2:20-23 “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead.” [Emphasis mine, natch]
Seriously? On Mother’s Day! Come on!!
Part of me thinks it’s a test or something. Either, way (if I put it off a week or not), it'll be a great intro. But what to preach? And how to address it?
I realize that many pastors do not choose their own text each week, or do not preach through books in an expository fashion, but let’s do a little inter-denominational-clergy-colleagues-take-part-in-a-Baptistic-style-vote a la bad ecclesiatical reality show action on this one. I’m thinking maybe going with whatever one of the major lectionaries has scheduled this week . . . ?
What say you?
“They’re like Romeo and Juliet.”
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Everything you've never wanted to know about Pastor Zach (and had no desire to ask...)
- Zachary Bartels
- An award-winning preacher and Bible teacher, Zachary Bartels has been serving as pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan, for nearly ten years. He earned his BA in world religions from Cornerstone University and his Masters of Divinity from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He enjoys film, fine cigars, stimulating conversation, gourmet coffee, reading, writing, and cycling. His debut novel, Playing Saint, has been called an “intrigue-filled thriller” (Library Journal) and “a page-turner from the very beginning . . . gripping and realistic” (RT Book Reviews) and has been nominated for an Inspy Award and a Carol Award. His follow-up, The Last Con (HarperCollins Christian Fiction) has also met with overwhelmingly positive reivews. Zachary also hosts the Gut Check Podcast each week with prolific author Ted Kluck. He lives in the capital city of a mitten-shaped Midwestern state with his wife Erin and their son.
Click here to buy the emergent satire Kinda Christianity, written by Ted Kluck and myself.
Click here to buy the new satire Younger, Restlesser, Reformeder by Ted Kluck and Zach Bartels.
Click here to buy my novel, 42 Months Dry.
Click here to snag our end-times thriller satire, written by committee (only $2.99).
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