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Moralistic Therapeutic Deism or Christian?

So if the Christian church is “advertising” the gospel is it the best approach to push the “buying point” as saying a prayer of repentance and belief, and then follow that up with the “now you are in the family of God” proof-texting? Trust me, this is an honest question and not a leading question. And I don’t want to make it “hard” to believe in Christ. And as Mike said on Wednesday, I do not see any evidence in scripture that there is anything other than Christ’s death and resurrection which accomplishes salvation, which is attained by faith, and that there is not some separate step of “Lordship” that goes after salvation, etc. But I, along with scores of others, have led many in the process and have often ended with something like:

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10.27-29

or, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” –Romans 8.16

Not only have I led people in this, I have trained hundreds of teens and adults to share their faith in this way.

Then I read a very well done study and well written synopsis of the culture of Christianity in American teenagers by Christian Smith and Melina Lundquist Denton, titled . Through their study they write a strikingly precise summation of what I have observed in the general culture of teens and what I think can be applied to age groups much older and still be on target with reality:

“in the ecology of American adolescents’ lives, religion clearly operates in a social-structurally weak position, competing for time, energy, and attention and often losing against other, more dominant demands and commitments, particularly school, sports, television, and other electronic media.” (p161)
“…we suggest that the defacto dominant religion among contemporary U.S. teenagers is what we might well call ‘Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.’ The creed of this religion…sounds something like this:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about onesself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

How is the good news of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God ending up with a result like this!? I know there are various contributors, some of which I have already talked about in the faith-science dichotomy and truth approach. But a large contributor is our focus on a one-time decision prayer, life insurance policy type salvation experience. If you are a Christian today and someone asks you how you know or why you are a Christian, please don’t say “because when I was 5 (or 25) I prayed a prayer…” or if you do say something like that it is only the first half of the first sentence which then goes on to talk about how the living Spirit of God is at work in your life yesterday and TODAY. (Oh, and doubts are fine! I think that is one of the greatest things about faith, doubts can be and should be aired out and wrestled with)

I don’t find a story in the Bible where a person is given assurance of their salvation based on a prayer they prayed in the past. I find reminders of individuals belief of the belief of a community of people, but no assurance. In fact when these reminders of belief are given it is often followed up with the telling of how they are still being “faithful” or “fruitful” in their belief. Additionally, Paul urges us to live, “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2.6) It seems that the greater biblical support refers to a continual faith-living, believing, or fruitful life as assurance of our salvation.

So I don’t think it is wrong to encourage that one-time prayer of salvation, and the followup “family of God” / “Now you’re ‘in'” encouragement, I just think it is incomplete. But I want to be careful, because I don’t think the “completeness” of it is to then say, “now you need to obey the law…” which will tend to be a legalistic earn your salvation approach. I do think we need to follow that up with something like, “now, daily, allow this faith to be worked into every area of your being, to the very core of yourself. You will find new ways that your faith applies to your life and community. You will be continually transformed and you must allow the Spirit of God in you to change you and display God’s character through you.”

Finally, I leave you with an approach that we take with our children (which I learned in part through some great conversations with a great reformed theology friend and is really pretty basic to scripture teaching) As our children are growing up we have treated, talked with, taught them that they are part of a believing community, the Church. As they are growing up they can choose to believe (accept) or reject that. I recognize that a child doesn’t express much independent faith when they are young and therefore are heavily influenced by our belief (this is actually the beauty of family as God designed). As each one has expressed faith in Jesus Christ for salvation we celebrated! They were born again! (The kind of beginning that John commented about yesterday) But we then watch and continually look for opportunities to encourage them to affirm their faith and express belief in new ways. Two of ours have expressed enough independent faith for us to encourage them to be baptized. As the grow and in these reaffirmations they will mature in their faith and our prayer is they will grow beyond Mom and Dad’s faith holding them up to understand the even greater cloud of those who have gone before, test their doubts, strengthen their faith and bring others along with them. We certainly share with them about a future of eternity in God’s full presence, but we more often talk about what it means for them to have faith today and how that can change their character (at Tommy commented earlier this evening) and make a difference in the community in which God has put them.

Well, a much longer conclusion that I intended, and a little different ending point than I set out toward 10 days ago. I still would like to come back to the faith-science discussion as I have many more thoughts related to that; but it will wait for another day (probably not tomorrow 🙂 )

Mandy’s Monday – New Oceans

“The hour has arrived!”  I had a professor in college who always started his class with these words, “The hour has arrived”.  With them he declared the beginning of our class time.  I always found him intimidating.  Once when I was late I just decided to skip the class altogether rather than enter late and have him draw attention to my tardiness.  Today I would like to declare…”The hour has arrived!”

Today I find myself officially and formally in a new stage of life.  Yesterday, I said goodbye to being a Youth Pastor’s wife.  It is official…I am now a Pastor of Creative Ministries’ wife!  I can hear you already “What does the Pastor of Creative Ministries do?”  My response goes something like this…. “OK le’me explain…No, it’s too much! Le’me summ up!  …Humperdink is going to marry Buttercup in little less than half an hour….”  It is complicated, it is new, it is still forming, and it is messy at times.  The Lord has lead Brian to a new ministry at Calvary Church, and since it has always been our passion to be in ministry together the Lord is leading me to something new as well.

I am not going to pretend that this has not been hard, it has been.  I am not going to pretend that I am not scared, I am.  I am not going to pretend that I have all the answers or know what lays ahead, I don’t!  However, I know the one who does and I desire to serve Him in the way He desires for me to do so!  Brian will now be involved in crafting the over all program for the Sunday morning service at our church.  He will also lead teams that create our church web presence, on-screen presentations, videos, all things in print, and more…His passion is to communicate the word of God in many creative and moving forms that will inspire individuals and families of all ages to deepen their walks with the Lord.

Last night our family had Chinese food, something we always do at the end of the Winter Retreat weekend.  Isabelle had the following “fortune” in her cookie “You cannot discover new oceans unless you are willing to lose sight of the shore.”  How very fitting for the day we said goodbye to Student Ministries.  We have LOVED being involved in the lives of students for the last 18 years!  The Lord has had us serve Him in three different churches and blessed us with the opportunity to see many teenagers begin and deepen their walk with the Lord.  We have been honored that the Lord would choose to bless us with the gift of serving Him.  And now he asks us to head out to new oceans and in order to do so we much lose sight of the shore we have known for so long. As the Student Ministries shore slips into the distance I cast my eyes on the new horizon and declare “Where you lead me Lord, I will follow.  Where you lead me Lord, I will go.  Come and heal me Lord, I will follow.  Come and lead me Lord I will go…I will go!”(listen to the song)

If you find yourself standing in a boat that is leaving the comfort of a familiar shore headed out to new oceans, I pray you know the one to whom even the wind and the waves obey.  He is trustworthy, on that I stand sure!

Teenagers Never Cease to Amaze Me!

student led Sunday morningOne of our Student Ministry values is “Ministry Ownership”.  This is very important in my experience in ministry to combat the consumer mentality that plagues the culture and the church (especially younger generations).  Practically, what this means is making sure that we (staff and adult volunteers) are not doing all the ministry FOR the students, allowing them to get the idea that they show up at the church and are ministered TO.  So we have students involved in planning teams, weekly programming teams, service teams, worship teams, tech/video teams, greeting teams and more.  This to me is one of the big differences between what I call a “youth group” or a “student ministry”.  The focus is on the ministry that we do together.

A few weeks back we did a Sunday morning where we asked the students to do everything…I and others on the team gave guidance before the morning, but during it I sat in the back and was astounded by God working through teenagers.  I even asked myself, “why do I come each week, they can do this!”  I was challenged and greatly encouraged by this morning!  The worship team, Matt, Anni, & Elliot, and all the support crew truly honored God.

So take a few minutes, click on the play button at the bottom of this post (or click here to go to the podcast section of the blog) it is TOTALLY worth it.  (apologies, as we did not capture the first part of Matt’s message)

Mandy’s Monday – Mandy is NOT a fan of Twilight!

A few weeks back I decided to dive into the madness and read Twilight! I was drawn by the scores of teenage girls I know who love this book, one even referred to it as her “Bible” (she carries it with her everywhere). It is not only teens that love it, there are millions of adult ladies who are right in the middle of the craze as well. To my disbelief, Addie has fourth grade friends who have read it, and even Emma’s second grade friends pretend to be vampires (Twilight was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2005). I realize I am telling you nothing that you do not already know! So I thought “Maybe, I should read this so I can talk to the girls in my small group who have read it, a mere twenty some times!” I borrowed a copy from another Student Ministry leader at Calvary and started in.
I must say it is a page turner and I finished it with in a few days. I found myself trying to figure out how I could work my schedule and parenting so that I could read more. Reminds me of when I read Davinci Code while my kids ate cracker after cracker and I put off lunch till the chapter ended. Besides being a page turner there is not much that I liked about the book. I found it to be dangerous and therefore I am officially NOT a fan of Twilight! Let me explain.
My first problem with this story, and the huge following it has, is the deception Bella the main character is comfortable living in. This is a subtle flaw in her character but is there none the less, and I would go so far as to say it is promoted through the story. Bella tells half truths or twists things to protect her parents or keep them in the dark about her Vampire boyfriend. “Dad, I spent the day outside.” Not the truth “I went hiking with a vampire who was either kissing me or working hard to prevent himself from sucking all my blood and leaving me dead in the middle of the forest.” What is a little white lie or two, you might ask. And why should I make a big deal about it. I believe truth is drastically IMPORTANT! The Lord is truth himself and he asks the same of us. A lie or even a half lie are not acceptable, and therefore I did not enjoy reading Bella’s half truths that continued through out the end of the book. Strike One!
Secondly, I found if unwise and distasteful, (a pun when referring to a vampire novel) that Bella pulled away from all her friends as her friendship/romance developed with Edward. She became more and more withdrawn from other relationships in her life while Edward became her entire purpose. Dangerous in deed! Bella’s total abandonment for Edward leaves her willing to end her own life rather than go on without him. Strike two!
Finally, and I could go on with other reasons but three will do, the main theme throughout the book disturbs me the most. Bella reasons something like this- “I know he is a vampire, I know he thirsts for my blood, I know he could kill me at any moment, but it just does not matter! I love him!” “It just does not matter”, runs through the book constantly! And here is where I find the most dangerous aspect of this story. If you fall in love with someone who is not good for you, it just does not matter. If he has a drinking problem, it does not matter. If he is abusive, it does not matter. If he is not a Christian and you are, it just does not matter. If he continually treats you horribly, it just does not matter. I realized that Stephanie Meyer was most likely not trying to write a novel to promote women into relationships or marriage with abusive men, however I find the story doing just that. Strike three…you are out!
I would not recommend this book be read by anyone who is under 18! That is my opinion, you may not like it. Young girls are forming what they want in a life partner and what they think about dating. Deciding who to marry is the second most important decision in life. Twilight does not promote Godly wise patterns, instead it captures you with a love story and makes you think “it just does not matter”.
I decided not to read the next three books in the series, I have read enough and Bella can make it on her own with out me – game over!


horiz_home_ryan_dark_2.jpgWhen I typed that title I thought of the lenses that change tinting according to the sunlight exposure. I’m not really going to write about those lenses except to note that they are a reactionary transition as opposed to a proactive transition. They are built to react to the sunlight and offer protection and comfort to those who are wearing them.

So what does that have to do with anything?? Glad you asked!

This is a time of major transitions in and around our lives:

1. Spring is now in full gear around our town, and it is BEAUTIFUL!! I am so thankful for the season changes and the transition times as winter struggles with spring and the beauty that God has built into that time is shown.

df-logo-clear-bkgnd.gif2. Our ministry is moving into a new facility for youth and children. We have been blessed to be able to build a nicely equipped auditorium for student ministry with a cafe, kitchen, lobby, and office facility! What an exciting time this is! During this time we are also re-casting our vision to Drink Deep of Christ and Flow to Others from Campuses to Continents.

 height=3. Our church is in the process or transitioning Senior Pastor leadership. Johnny Miller made it known a few years ago that he is nearing the end in his current role. So we as a church are looking for the healthiest way to keep moving the ministry forward as we evaluate the current strengths and weaknesses and determine the profile of a potential new Senior Pastor. A very important time in the life of a local church body! Thanks for your prayers!

4. Yesterday Greg and Allison Despres made the public announcement that they are transitioning to a new season of life and ministry, moving to South Carolina.  Greg has been leading our student ministry team for almost 9 years and is the one who initiated the contact for Mandy and I to move up here (with just Addie at that time) over 8 years ago.  It has been a great season of our life to work alongside of them and grow deep in friendship.  We have experienced and learned so much together.  And being so far from family they are like our family, coming to the hospital with coffee and dunkin donuts when Isabelle had her first seisure, sharing holiday meals together, helping one another with house projects, borrowing things back and forth, caring for each other’s children when things come up, and COUNTLESS other things!  Our whole family has shed tears on this one (although I think Owen was crying because he hit is head!) and we have more tears to shed as we help them do what needs to be done to move a family.

So with every life transition, there is a bit of healthy reaction and healthy proactive movement.

With the coming of spring, you put away the heavy coats, clean up the wood pile on the porch and start working on the yard again…complete with planting a garden, because you know the fruits will come in the summer!  I can’t wait until I can take a bite of those juicy home-grown tomatoes!

With the moving into a new facility you order the things you need, recruit help to move, re-cast the vision, and look forward to continued fruit to come through expanded ministry opportunities.

With the process of looking for a new Senior pastor, you rejoice in all the fruit that God has given through the ministry and seek God for the direction of the future, realizing that HE is the one who causes growth and will raise up the person to continue the abundance of fruitful ministry in our community and around the world.

And with the transition of the Despres’ we, through the tears, rejoice in what God is doing to expand His Kingdom.  Realizing that He is growing a beautiful garden year after year.  We anxiously work and await the Spirit of God to bring a bumper-crop of fruit both in the Despres family in South Carolina and in the ministry of Calvary Church Student Ministry as we continue the vision, and continue building the ministry team for the future.  The unknown sometimes causes us to be fearful, but as we follow God, the one who knows all things, we can cast fear of circumstances aside and pursue Him with a greater passion, knowing that He gives and takes away, but He always provides.  We worship Him in this transition!

Thanks for your prayers as we all TOGETHER build the Kingdom of God, being the life of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit both locally and globally!!

Mandy’s Monday – Milk and Cookies! Part 1

I must start with saying that I am sorry the last Mandy’s Monday was back in January – how horrible is that!! Hopefully, you did not give up on me completely!

hungry_title.jpgYesterday I had the privilege of teaching in the Junior High Sunday School class and it was great fun! I have always enjoyed this age group. Calvary’s Student Ministries had been going through a super series (meaning that all three age groups (Jr. High, Sr High and College/young adults) were studying the same thing as well as the small groups). And the series was a look at how to study your Bible titled “Hungry”. The idea was that as Christians we need to learn how to study the Bible on our own in order to be able to “eat” and fill our own hunger. This is not to say that we do not need the church!! It is just to say you need to be involved in the filling of Scripture in your lives and not just relying on others to teach you. We used material from Howard Hendricks’ book How To Study Your Bible as inspiration and direction. Our approach was to motivate students to observe, interpret and apply the Bible to their lives.

So to what I got to teach- I was asked to teach on the final step in Bible Study which is application. I was pretty excited about this because it is just so important. We do not read the Bible or even study it for the purpose of knowledge, but for life change!!

cookies.jpgApplying the truths of the Bible is the milk and cookies in life! Just think about it for a minute. If I got out a recipe, measuring cups, flour, butter… and had it all out on the counter and then just stared at it I would not be enjoying the cookies! The same is true with Bible study – if I observe the passage and dig into all these tools to understand it better but I never apply it to my life I am missing out on the oooie gooie goodness! There is not much yummier to eat than warm cookies right out of the oven. And you dip them in some milk and it is a little bit of heaven right there in your kitchen. When you read the Word, contemplate it and then allow it to change your life in thought and action – well that is just a little bit of heaven right here on earth.

Psalm 34:8 reads “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the person who takes refuge in him!” There is the challenge and the reward – take refuge in Him, taste and then you will see that the Lord is good – better than milk and cookies!

I hope to have my lesson available later this week for those who would like to listen, however I will go ahead and warn you that the last fourth of the lesson is missing because my mic went out and therefore the recording stopped.

I will include 4 steps of application and 9 questions to ask along with the audio. So check back – I need to go make some cookies and think through how I can bring a little bit of heaven into my life tomorrow!

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