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Posts Tagged ‘sermons’

Going through the gospel of John as a congregation at our new church continues to contradict our former church.  Weekly, my husband and I will have at least one (if not many) sideways knowing glances with one eyebrow up.  First there was the reference to what the entire book is written for.  “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God…”  John wasn’t written to have us interpret each and every detail with mystery.  No mystery, straight forward “you must be born again.”  Each week we hear the events as John records them, and how the people reacted to Jesus, and what Jesus said and did.  No new meanings applied, just the plain facts based on scripture.  We might move to a later part of John or to another gospel to show the importance of this or that scripture or the cultural significance of this or that  part of John…or we might move to the Old Testament when appropriate to bring up long standing traditions of men being broken or scripture being fulfilled, or to show why something was done this way in the days when Jesus walked the earth.   It’s refreshing to just read along with the pastor, and to not get “red flags” every so often causing a completely different reason for the sideways glances and eyebrows.  It’s nice to actually hear all about Jesus and not about the pastor’s kids and wife in a story to make whatever point.  It’ s nice not to hear canned stories and jokes that I can find immediately online in some other pastor’s sermons.  It”s nice to hear about the gospel  and not the plans of the church to build this or that.  No slick videos promoting the different ministries in the church or calls to give to the new building campaign, no calls to serve the emerging generation and to pass the baton.  No limited focus on families with babies or on youth.  So far, it appears the pastor and this new church are focused on Christ, Christian living as revealed in the gospels.  Quotes are almost always from the bible, and if they are from someone else they are always cited well.  I really cannot recall a quote from someone except John this past few months, but I’m not saying there hasnt’ been one…maybe quoting Piper or MacArthur?  I don’t have to go home and read up on strange authors or search out who the new speaker at our pulpit is (who came from out of town).  It’s just been our pastors at the pulpit.  There’s not a lot of  repetition of themes, no pounding us with the same terms and redefining them over and over again (like missional, transformation, etc).  There’s rarely a “new conference” or “retreat.”  Yes, they do have a men’s retreat coming up, but it’s not been overblown.  No promises that you’ll come back a completely new and improved husband and father.  It’s just a weekend away with speakers, the bible, and prayer.  And the sermons, they are longer.  Here’s church…pray, then song time with scripture reading.  Next sermon (again started with prayer and including scripture).  Prayer again then offering with instrumental music.  I think another song. Announcements.  Prayer…and that’s it.

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For the short term, it seems the former church has changed a bit. They did spend an awful long time in Nehemiah. Now they’re working on themes of people in the passion story (using scriptures as they did before with a sermon series in a theme for about 6 weeks). However, the missional pastor is the one who has made a slight change. His sermons were previously padded with quotes from Donald Miller, Michael Frost, Warren, possibly Ortberg and others contemplative/emergent/seeker friendly. Listening to a recent sermon on the church web page made me smile. He made sure he quoted C.S. Lewis right away, and then went on to quote Piper. It was a great Piper quote too. It placed the purpose of the church not on missions, but on worship of God. No weird statements of “Christ coursing through your veins” or talking about the “Wholly Other.” It’s an improvement. How come it seems to me they are trying to reassure those left behind that they aren’t into the emergent authors? Real change would be a phone call saying “thank you” for us pointing out the problems. It would take a lot of humility for that one!

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I was floored when I came upon this article/blog today…
http://galatiansc4v16.wordpress.com/2009/02/13/sermon-copying-when-the-world-has-more-integrity-than-the-church/#comment-17431

My husband and I were just discussing this after I listened to a pod cast by my former pastor. He had taken a story from somewhere and didn’t attribute it to the author. I was able to look the story up because it was so unusual, it involved a nail, and a dead dog, and a homeowner. I was able to trace the story online easily and found that the former pastor had used it word for word. When we first started trying to figure out what was going on in our former church, I spent time putting phrases from sermons into google, and I would come up with a book or another sermon. Because the lead pastor stepped down into a missional position, he no longer preaches the bulk of the sermons. His sermons always contained footnotes in online notes, but not always mentioned while he was speaking. This is how we discovered all the emergent/Warren/Hybels and other references. He actually cited who he quoted, and even if he paraphrased. The current pastor does not cite his stories nor books. He even recently preached a series on Nehemiah, and I was able to find online a book by Swindoll with the same theme as well as Saddleback materials with the same themes. I’m not sure he used them for his sermons, but it appears likely he may have. I do know that all it takes is simple searches to find who influences the pastors, they preach from these men’s works. I also found it disturbing when we began our church search to hear pastors using phrases and stories easily found in books or online. One such example is the Sunday we realized we couldn’t attend a church five minutes from our home. A speaker came and was happily sharing how well he knew Max Lucado and that the pastor of the church we were visiting because they attended the same college. He then spent his sermon talking all about “boat potatoes.” I knew I had heard this before, so I came home and opened up a book a friend had given to me to read, an Ortberg book. There is was, “boat potatoes” with the entire theme the pastor had made into a sermon (which by the way, I detested as a theme and feel it was a misuse of scripture). This man was traveling, getting paid for speaking on a circuit, and was using a canned sermon right out of Ortberg’s book. Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating. Putting two and two together is not hard when they make it so obvious. Peddling the word is what is happening, sadly, most believe it’s God’s word, but actually it’s men’s words being peddled or God’s word distorted. The illusion that these pastors are going to the Father and seeking his guidance for sermons is shattered when we learn how canned all these stories and sermons are. It’s not a Divine providence that you might hear the same message from one church to another. It may just be that all these pastors are cutting corners and using someone else’s materials to craft a sermon. They seem to be part of one big machine. This machine masks itself as the Body. Sad, very sad.

One other thought, the pastor has stopped quoting or citing in his online work. This means that an author has to be found by his quotes and not by the citation. It makes it a great deal harder to find who is influencing the sermons. We had come to the church with some examples of using emergent/emerging authors in sermons as proof the church was being influenced by this teaching. This was denied by our former pastor, and angrily so. Forced into plagiarism by Berean behavior perhaps?

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Moving on in this electronic world is hard.  It’s hard not to listen online, hard not to see people people online either.  We have chosen to leave our former church, but so far the issue hasn’t left us.  When I was overheard, this prompted a call to the pastor and a call to us (I assume it was me as I can think of where I would have been and who I was with…when I was speaking openly in public).  His statement is that the church has denounced emergent and is not headed in an emergent direction.  He says we base our information on a few sermons by a different pastor.  He also says they let go of one youth pastor, but though “we talked about Nooma videos he showed” (which we never did talk about and we weren’t aware) he wanted us to be discreet about that and thought we discussed that discreetness…uhmmmm.  We never had that conversation and thank you for proving our point.  Noomas in the youth is another sign of clear emergent leanings.  Oh, and the pastor says they let several staff members go because of financial reasons, not for the Noomas.  So they may have confronted emergent verbally, but do they see it in their staff?  Pastor claims “emergent” is dying.  Well, the terms may have changed, but the shift of churches is not dying. 

To his credit, his sermons do use scripture very much.  I don’t think Rick Warren is the same as Doug Pagitt.  I do not think Dallas Willard is the same as McLaren.  I do believe they are on a similar path, to change church and to focus on emergent youth OR on self and disciplines from Catholic mystics.  This may not be emergent.  I see other authors label it something else, contemplative something or other…maybe it’s contemplative spiritual disciplines.  To be clear, the church we attended hasn’t come out with contemplative prayer.  It has come out with spiritual formation.  This term alone links back to monks in caves hundreds of years ago.  These monks chanted and used breathing techniques as well as repetition to “meditate.”  Requirements of silence, fasting, and the like for a supposed deeper relationship with God are part of this spiritual discipline thing, as well as spiritual formation.  If the church has a spiritual formation pastor, and plans on lectio divina (as spoken by the pastor’s own mouth) and wants to follow the plans of Dallas Willard, and impliments “moments of silence” often, calls people to fast (not wrong to fast by the way, but it’s part of a larger picture here) then they are part of a movement that is not Biblical.  Focusing on this for spiritual transformation, methods and means not practiced by the disciples themselves.  I would say choosing to be disciplined is not a bad thing.  Saying you need it for deeper relationship with Christ is not accurate.  Discipline can make our Christian lives easier, can make memorization easier, and can help us to start our day in prayer.  Altering breathing, sitting in silence with no activity, these things are strange and unbibical in the context of trying to get closer to God.  Making an effort to give a sacrifice to God in our day is not wrong, as long as we realize our sacrifices are not worthy but God is gracious and merciful and can be pleased by us if we are humble and contrite (which cannot be manufactured).  Service is also a part of the spiritual formation movement.  Service in Christian life in itself is good.  However, service as a way to “get closer to God” is not.  I believe what is wrong with spiritual formation is it’s all flipped.  Service for others flows FROM the compassion we gain in Christ.  We are first made new creatures.  We have to recognize we still have a sin nature.  At any rate, our pastors from our former church were heavy into the spiritual formation books, mostly Dallas Willard. 

The one pastor who was most obvious in his sermons doesn’t make the head pastor bat an eye.  He sees no scary connections when Frost, Miller, and others are quoted.  He doesn’t even ruffle when he’s told about the “christ conciousness” or “christ coursing through my veins” or “you are little christs.”  He even defended the “little christ” comment.  He mentioned lectio divina, he defended Dallas Willard and suggested we read his books.  He defended the teaching by Steve Smith when he visited the church…the teaching that Lazarus had grave clothes and our grave clothes are life’s trials and burdens.  This teaching was strange, and bothered me a great deal and the pastor mentioned lectio divina after these stating, “it’s been around since the reformation.”  

Another pastor we spoke to said if our former church has denounced emergent doctrine and that was our complaint, we couldn’t leave then.  Well, we may not have brought out we don’t agree with following Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. plan and we may have only mentioned Dallas Willard, but our issue is with these things too.  We also feel, and it’s hard to define exactly, but that the lead pastor is manipulative and really makes me personally nervous.  Anyone who knew we were having a meeting with the man said, “good luck.”  He is intimidating.  This alone is a red flag of warning.  In general, people give the impression they don’t really feel safe with him or may feel he’s overbearing.  Don’t know if I can pin it down.  I know I personally have been friendly to him, he’s been friendly back.  He just seems much like a man trying to proove something.  I have met men like him, if I were in single land (before marriage) I would have known two things.  This man would never choose someone like me to date, and I would never choose him.  I feel like he’d be a guy who I would fight with.  I feel like I’d be expected to act a certain way in the home.  He’s not necessarily someone who oppresses women, don’t get me wrong.  I just get that feeling when around some men, that I wouldn’t mix with him.  Usually these guys are driven and goal oriented, intelligent.  However, they seem to be demanding and perfectionistic.  It’s not authority, it’s something else.  Now this is just speculation on my part…please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying he’s a bad man or anything, just most people don’t say he’s sweet. 

Oh, see, I’ve titled this “moving on” and I cannot move on.  That is my problem.  I have got to find a way to get this out of me, let it go.  How do you let go when you think a church is being led in the wrong direction?

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I know it’s wise to hold my tongue….and I am learning this ever more.

We were contacted by a former pastor.  Someone overheard one of us (or both) sharing with someone else about the church issues and what we believe about our former church.  He is unhappy, and I can understand his position.  I believe he is going to think we’re spreading rumors.  We mostly talk with former members, once they realize we too have left, the flood gates open on both sides.  It has happened that we have done this in a place where there might be connections.  So now it’s possible we are just shooting our cause in the foot.  I think we need to find a healthy church and pastor for counsel.  I feel I am willing to apologize for talking inappropriately.  I do feel we have shared when asked, and have been transparent with people.  However, it’s possible that may have slipped into the rumor area (I shouldn’t say we as my husband isn’t as bad about this as I am).  We have said to people who have asked and still attend that they need to research, and we share much less.  For example, we might say we left because of the direction the church is going and things we heard in the sermons.  We don’t feel all sermons rightly handle the word of God.  We encourage people to pay attention.  When someone has already left says, “you know, when we heard a sermon in the early weeks of attending we realized it was a mystical type sermon and that put us on guard right away,”  a floodgate can open up. 

The pastor mentioned people and things in his conversation that we were not even aware of, meaning that he’s had other people complaining.  We have mentioned only what we had contact with.  He mentioned one person in particular who was in a teaching position and our supposed conversations about that person, and we certainly don’t recall ever mentioning that person to him.  If we did mention that person, it was in passing and not that we had a problem with this teacher. 

On another note, we’re aware that some staff was let go at our former church.  The only thing we’ve been told is it was financial.  We’re not sure that’s true, and we wouldn’t say anothing about it as we have no clue.

So now we need to back up and look at our own behavior.  It can be an excuse for the church to ignore their own issues.

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Sermons online

I’ve noticed a few things.  First, the one major sermon where the pastor said the strangest things…is still not up on the church web page.  Last weeks sermon is also not up.  Usually, by midweek, the sermon is up with notes.   I really do like to read the notes just to see the progression of where they are headed.  It is a good education for me.  It will help me if a future church begins to head in the same direction.  One woman, who has decided to stay on, had been in Paggitt’s church before it changed.  She began to notice the changes one Sunday while they were singing.  It was nothing anyone did at that time, but she felt God really spoke to her and said, “hey, pay attention, look around.”  She began to do so and was disturbed when she figured it all out.  She said our old church was in the beginning stages of this.  Her hope is that by staying, she can help educate people as to the problems.  I hope it works out for her, as well as others we know who are aware and have chosen to stay.  I am now not a part of that church, and have sent off my final letter.  The only impact I can have now is on any person who wants to know why we left.  I don’t know why I still want to know what’s going on except that I do hope the church turns things around, and of course to prepare for the future in case I have problems like this again.

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