The Pope.

And… here we go.

(ahem)

pope1Not that long ago, I raised a question in another post regarding the implications of the Pope being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” It’s a topic I’m interested in not only as a Protestant pastor, but also as a former Catholic. I once had a lot of baggage in transitioning out of the Catholic church, but now only seem to have a “carry-on” about it I can’t seem to get rid of.

Please forgive me for being honest about that.

Maybe it’s why I was personally saddened by a recent blog post a friend shared with me where Pope Francis denied the existence of hell, declared that “all religions are true,” and other provocative things. Saddened… and yet, I didn’t question it. It seemed to affirm some of my old-school Catholic baggage and fears about how people are just waiting to hear what they want to hear from a religious leader so they can check out of a real journey with God. Here’s a quote from that blog attributed to Pope Francis:

pope3In his latest revelations, Pope Francis said:

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

In a shocking speech that is reverberating across the world, Pope Francis declared that:

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I came across the news when in the midst of a busy day a friend and congregation member sent me a Facebook note and asked me for my opinion on it. Wanting to honor his interest, I quickly read the article and became broken over it. I feel the tension all the time even as a pastor to honor they trust others put in me, and while I don’t have the corner market on Truth I believe God does and we need to figure out what that means:

  • There is truth: It’s illogical to say “All religions are true.” It’s a lazy cultural concept that does more harm than good, mainly because we’re so concerned about making sure we don’t offend anyone that we fail to realize how offensive that ideal is. People should be offended – laws exist to offend people away from breaking them; homes are built with locks on them to offend potential criminals from invading where they do not belong; Truth exists so that lies do not become dominant.
  • There is a truth about God: Either He exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, our opinions of Him don’t define Him; rather, His revelation about Himself is what matters most, beyond opinion. No individual (including a Pope) can have the definitive word on this. If you believe God does not exist, you may gain some insight from Pascal’s Wager as a starting point.

Again… not once did I wonder if what the Pope said was actually something he said. He confirmed my worst fears about his potential role in Christendom, just as he would have likely confirmed some people’s best dreams for something he might say.

That’s really what I’m writing about.

francismask-255x144Twelve hours later, I realized that this was all a hoax. According to a Catholic media page as well as Snopes.com, the story was planted into internet circulation by the blogger of the Diversity Chronicle who claims (via a disclaimer) that his content is “largely satirical.”

“Twelve hours later.” Twelve hours. In that time, I’d shared it with my wife, formed conclusions about the Pope, replied by to my friend, entertained a Rob Bell reference, and tightened my resolve regarding what Christianity will look like in the immediate future based on the influence of one man. I had to go back and correct all of that.

I know I could have kept this a private matter, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

So I sincerely apologize, and I welcome your judgment – also, your prayers. As you prepare for that, I’d offer my motives:

  • My previously confessed Catholic baggage. I won’t go down that road with you here, but will happily talk with you one-on-one if it’s of interest.
  • The tension in Christendom of witnessing our heroes, frenemies and theological adversaries take a public nose dive that we’re left to sweep up the remnants of.
  • A passage in the back of the Bible (and always somehow in the back of my mind) that “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
  • An egotistical understanding that I am doing my best on a regular basis to be “theologically correct” in everything I do. Again… please note… an “egotistical understanding.” I so appreciate a Rich Mullins quote: “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing..”

worldbrokenThe world is changing… and apparently so is the local church. My wife grew up within the care structure of Christianity (whereas I came into it as a teenager). She once observed how it used to feel like when she was in a church gathering that it was a chance to feel camaraderie with like-minded people. Even if it wasn’t true, it “felt” like people were trying to hold the same Christian worldview. Now in any given church service you might be sitting next to someone who lives/votes/loves/hates completely different than you do – and we truly have to figure out how to forge relationships through tension.

I’d also point out one more thing – someone is waiting for you to say something that affirms their criticisms, baggage or beliefs about you.

Maybe this isn’t about the Pope as much as it’s about all of us. His sound-bytes have a louder echo, but so do yours and mine in our circles. Maybe this isn’t just about my motives for my reaction, but your motives for whatever your reaction might be to that… or even this.

Moving forward, you will have to decide more than which dogmas or religious rock stars you will be inappropriately loyal to or get inappropriately steamed over. You have to decide how you will be loyal to Jesus while giving space for loving others through your own biases.

Again, I welcome your judgment.

I likewise also welcome your confession…

but just so there’s no confusion, I welcome your confession as a Protestant pastor… with a Catholic carry-on that I can’t seem to get rid of.

A couple of weeks ago this tweet came across my phone:

93 years Ago today the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. Sadly the church still has a way to go on recognizing women leaders.

— Pete Wilson (@pwilson) 

What was interesting to me was the slew of comments that followed.  There were all sorts of ideas about whether or not women should be pastors, or follow “culture” or if this idea of women in church leadership was “Biblical.”   Pete’s responses were gracious and void of malice.  My favorite response was this one:

Nope. Not sure how you came to that conclusion from one tweet. Esteeming women and their God given purpose is a Biblical value.

The whole exchange really sat in the back of my brain.  It’s interesting that Pastor Wilson was not making a stand as to whether or not he felt women should take the pulpit or be in charge, he was saying that if God has put a call on your life, and you happen to be a woman you shouldn’t be looked over. (The idea that we draw conclusions from 140 characters is another post all together.)  I want to make it clear this post is not meant to be a theological debate.  I have heard very solid Biblically based arguments for all sides of where women should sit (or stand) in church leadership.  All I can give are some thoughts from a woman who has been in family ministry for 22 or so years.

Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has a purpose and a plan for our lives.  A plan for good and hope to prosper and not harm us.  That plan might include marriage.  Or not.  It might include children.  Or not.  It might include being called into “paid” ministry.  Or not.  It might mean that plan is to become an international missionary, or be the first person to swim from Cuba to America.  What I know is that whatever this plan is,  it does not go away.  It’s inclusive to all the seasons we go through.  Yet, somehow our culture often dictates for women in ministry it is supposed to “look” a particular way.  If it does not work out that way, something it “wrong.” Too often we are talking about our opinions and not the Bible at all.

I know that when I look at my daughters, Moms, women and girls growing up in my ministry, I want them to know how much Christ loves them.  When they grasp how high, wide and deep that love truly is my prayer is that the greatest cry of their heart would be to love and serve Him. Then I pray the Lord would help them understand that as we do everything for the Lord, as we serve, we lead. It will mean a variety of things wherever God places them. They may or may not be celebrated for it here on earth, and that has nothing to do with gender.  However, this journey with Jesus is the most important one we have.  For me he broke my heart for the least, the lost and the last.  I long to see families who are falling apart, put back together.  In this he has given me places where I lead.  I also agree with Pete’s original tweet, and I could tell you stories of ways I have been pushed down, stereotyped, and that people- who love Jesus- have been down right mean.  When I look at my girls,  the ones in my home, the ones in my youth group, my greatest desire is that they are willing to walk this life with Christ.  I trust He is big enough to lead them correctly and they will know when they seek him with their whole hearts.  Sometimes, I think we as people need to get out of His way.

I would love to hear from other women in ministry, what are your thoughts?




Pastor Rick Warren talks with John Piper about The Purpose Driven Life. Good stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.

JG

The shallow small group video. Brilliant.

JG



I’ve been thinking about the big question of “what does it mean to have a healthy youth ministry?” I recently finished reading a book by Kenda Creasy Dean entitledAlmost Christian: What The Faith Of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church“. In it Kenda describes the growing trend within the american teenage culture of being “spiritual” but not Christian. Teenagers today are focusing less on who God is and more on how connecting to a higher power makes them feel. Christian sociologists have used the phrase “Therapeutic Moral Deism” to define exactly how this paradigm plays out. I don’t have time to get into everything about Therapeutic Moral Deism, but you can learn more by reading this article by Christian Smith who wrote the book “Soul Searching”.

So how can we build a healthy youth ministry in the midst of our current teenage culture? What do we focus on as we build our youth programs? As I am sitting here in a cafe writing this, I’ve drawn two different strategies on some napkins concerning where we as youth workers can put our focus. The first is what I am calling a “God-Centered Youth Ministry”. Here’s the concept:

In a God-centered youth ministry all of our teaching/small groups/etc. focus in on “theology” which is the study of who God is. We focus on what the Bible says about God (what He is like, His characteristics, His plan, Salvation,etc.). From there we then move on to “anthropology” which is the study of human beings. Simply put, it means this:

1) FOCUS ON JESUS & WHO HE IS

2) IN LIGHT OF WHO JESUS IS…WHAT IS A TEENAGERS RESPONSE?

So what is the other option? What is the opposite of a God-Centered youth ministry? Below is my doodle concept of a “People-Centered Youth Ministry”:

With a “People-Centered Youth Ministry” the focus in not on Jesus, but on the students. This kind of youth ministry will focus on particular types of teenage behaviors and how those students attempt to navigate the ideas of spirituality. Simply put, a “People-Centered Youth Ministry” looks like this:

1) FOCUS ON THE STUDENTS AND HOW THEY FEEL

2) STUDENTS BECOME RELIGIOUS.

The problem with the second model of youth ministry is that religion will never save anybody. In our world today there are tons of religions and I hear students (and adults) say all the time time that “as long as your are sincere about your faith it doesn’t matter what you believe.” However, no matter how sincere you are, you can still be sincerely wrong. Check out this event from the book of Exodus:

“When Joshua heard the boisterous noise of the people shouting below them, he exclaimed to Moses, “It sounds like war in the camp!” But Moses replied, “No, it’s not a shout of victory nor the wailing of defeat. I hear the sound of a celebration.” (Exodus 32:17-18 NLT)

Moses has just come down from Mount Sinai where He received the Ten Commandments from God. Suddenly he and Joshua hear the sound of the entire people of Israel celebrating together. They here a united people shouting and singing and worshiping. However, just a few verses before we here what God has to say about their worship:

“The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” (Exodus 32:7-10 NLT)

Even though the people of Israel were being sincere, God told them that they were sincerely wrong! We have to be diligent in our effort to point the students in our ministry to Jesus and not to the world. We need to place our focus back on to the study of God and not on the study of ourselves. If we don’t, we can fall into the same trap that the Apostle Paul spoke of in the book of Romans:

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:21-23 NLT)

Which model above can be seen in your own youth ministry? Which aspects of your current programs would you have to change in order to bring Jesus back to the center?

Rob Ham works on the WILDSIDE Jr. High Team @ Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA and blogs at I (Heart) Youth Ministry.