The moral decline in America is leading to good things.
It is evident that the increase in permissiveness, the abandonment of sexual ethics and the celebration of sin is being championed by Sin, Satan and the World. The American church is in decline and Christianity is largely unacceptable in the West.
So why is this a good thing? What grace can come from the rapid moral decline we've seen recently?
I have to confess, I was thinking about all this in light of Romans 8:28 (We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.) during the largely uninteresting Iron Man 3. And I really think there are great goods.
What good can come from the marginalization of Christianity and the systematic infringement on religious liberty?
1. It forces Christians to actually consider our sexual ethics. What is the purpose of marriage? Of sex? Of romance? Of procreation? Why does God put such limitations on human sexuality? Are these limits morals repressive, or protective and freeing? How does God view divorce? Over the last sixty years the church has, in general, done a poor job of celebrating healthy sexuality and navigating people through sexual sin. The current climate helps us to consider all these issues.
2. It gets rid of wolves (masquerading as sheep). Individuals who come into the church with an agenda, looking for power, and trying to grab power will be greatly minimized. There is little cultural power to be had among a group of despised and marginalized individuals. Certainly, wolves will still run around in the churches . . . but there will be far less of them.
3. It forces the Church to focus on evangelism and discipleship. Let's face it, far too often the church and her members focus on things that don't really matter too much. We spend money on sound systems and furniture far in excess to what we expend on bringing the good news to those who need it.
4. It eliminates toxic churches. This one is really harsh. But there are some really awful churches out there teaching either false doctrine or false practices (or both)! As Christianity's influence declines, these churches will not be able to survive as their members and finances dry up.
5. It helps the Church rediscover grace. When sin is kept to a minimum because of Christianity's influence on the culture, it is far too easy for believers to lapse into legalism (and condemnation). Now that we are surrounded by so much open sin, believers are faced with a decision. We can summarily damn the vast majority of people we interact with, or we can be like Jesus and meet people wherever they're at . . . and love them like Jesus loves us.
6. It makes stronger believers. By and large believers are going to rise up to the challenge they face, rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit and become stronger followers of Jesus Christ.
What other good things might come from moral decline? How else does God work in the midst of darkness?
We need churches of all sizes to make disciples. Small, medium and large churches all have their own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve served in churches of all three sizes and now pastor at a small church.
In our “bigger is better” culture many people walk into a congregation of 20-100 and never return. If they were any good, after all, wouldn’t they be larger?
But what healthy small churches lack in numbers, they make up in many other ways. So, why join a small church?
1. Highly Relational: Small churches value relationships. Both introverts and extroverts can start building deep, meaningful relationships in small churches within a short amount of time.
2. Family: The small church sees itself as a family. While there are some uncomfortable squabbles in families, a healthy small church’s strength is in the mutual care and love they have for each other. An entire family or an individual can join a small church and find themselves fully embraced by the family of God.
3. Pastoral Access: If you have a burning theological question, something in the sermon struck you, or you just need to talk, a small church pastor is readily accessible. You won’t have to go through a long vetting process or wrestle for his time. If you need to talk, there’s usually time in the week to have a good conversation.
4. Ownership: In small churches every member has ownership in the church. While all churches belong to God, in a small church the sense that God has called each member to a mission to reach others with the gospel is hyper-immanent. There is no large staff to accomplish the great commission, just the members!
5. Discipleship: Because of the relational nature of a small church and the close proximity everyone has to each other, the church has no choice but to allow the older to train the younger and be a multi-generational church. With a little bit of structure, discipleship flourishes.
6. Service Opportunities: In small churches, every member really is needed! The disciple-making mission of the church can’t happen unless everyone is helping. Because of this, there are service opportunities for those who want to serve. Has God called you to music? There’s a need in a small church! Has God called you to teach? There’s a place for you to teach! In fact many of the pastors of some of the larger and more influential churches in America grew up in small churches where they had the opportunities to serve in areas that would be closed to them in a larger church.
7. Built for Multiplication: Small churches know how to operate with the bare-minimum. Because of this, as a small church grows larger, they have a tremendous opportunity to send a large portion of their congregation across town and start a new church to reach new people and make new disciples! America needs more healthy churches. And more churches, reaching more people is always a good thing!
Healthy, bible-based churches of all sizes are needed. Small churches are vital to the health of the Universal Church. So, if you’re looking for a church, consider joining a healthy small church!
Enoch, a man once in service of the false gods and their giant-progeny, travels with his family to the very edge of Eden to learn the secrets of becoming a giant-slayer. But Elohim has more planned for Enoch and his sons than becoming Nephilim bounty-hunters. Review:
The second book in the Chronicles of the Nephilim
series by Brian Godawa, Enoch Primordial
is actually a prequel to Noah Primeval
) (Untold Podcast story-episode here
). The world of this second novel feels much larger than the Noah
book. We’re introduced to a much larger number of biblical (and extra-biblical) characters, and travel to some very unique locations in this biblical fantasy.
However, I didn’t like Enoch
as much as its predecessor. There was quite a bit of exposition in the novel as a whole, but particularly in the opening chapters which made getting into the novel rather difficult. In addition to this, Enoch
has a large cast of main characters, but as they traveled together I didn’t feel that they were distinct from each other. The reader is certainly told how they are different, but I just didn’t feel they were particularly well fleshed-out. Add to this the grandfather (Enoch), father (Methuselah), and Son (Lamech) have similar back-story elements, and further haziness is cast over the characters. Other character motivations (one in particular) made no sense to me coming or going. And a court-room scene, while making some very good observations, seemed a little weird for the world of the story, and very drawn out.
So, does this mean I don’t like the book? Not at all! I just feel that there were too many messages, information and “interesting” tidbits inserted into the novel.
But I liked the story. There is genuine character growth, real heart-ache and some really cool triumphs in this fantasy novel! I appreciate Godawa’s general approach to the genre which gives us minimal descriptions and unleashes our imaginations to fill in the rest. This really engages the mind, and moves the story along! I also like Godawa’s integration of healthy biblical perspectives (often contrasted against unhealthy ones that many believers hold). I was also thrilled to have Nephilim characters in this novel, whereas they seemed like thoughtless brutes in Noah,
they are actual characters.
So, Enoch Primordial
wasn’t as strong as Noah Primeval
, but does that mean I’m giving up on the Chronicles of the Nephilim
series? No way! I love this series and I’m chomping at the bit to free up some time to get to Gilgamesh Immortal
in the next few weeks.
So, if the idea of biblical fantasy is at all appealing to you, go check out Noah Primeval
and definitely check out this book, Enoch Primordial
for a fun ride and an expanded world. Rating: 3.5/5 (I liked it)Find it here on Amazon.
Also, because I’m a pastor and theologian, I feel professionally obligated to make some sort of comment about the sizable Appendix in the book which gives some background information. Like most things there’s areas of agreement and disagreement. I really appreciated the main article “Retelling Biblical Stories and the Mythic Imagination in Enoch Primordial
”. Here Godawa provides a winsome argument for, essentially, retelling biblical stories in the fantasy genre in order to communicate the timeless truths of scripture to a contemporary audience.
The section on Satan, or “the satan/the accuser,” is unfortunately a hornet’s nest issue which simply cannot be effectively addressed within the space Godawa gave it. There are major issues of exegesis, Old Testament hermeneutics, New Testament hermeneutics, NT use of OT hermeneutics, progressive revelation, apocalyptic literature, linguistics, grammar, divine attributes, divine sovereignty, biblical typology
and prophetic literature to be dealt with in an issue like this. And, unfortunately, in this section Godawa raises more questions (or more doubts) than he provides answers. This, of course, isn’t always wrong. But this topic and the issues he brought up deserve a more robust exploration if they’re brought up. (My advice: only dive into this section if you’re willing to do extensive follow-up homework).
Summary: When super-powered eco-terrorist Tempest attacks an oil rig, the equally powered Hand of the Morningstar team fly in to save lives and put a stop to Tempest’s mayhem. As the world praises the team, the superheroes redirect the world’s attention to their mysterious and supernatural leader, the Morning Star, the person with a plan to save the world.
Review: I’m just going to spoil the review up front and say that I absolutely love this series! The series is an eight volume story that is highly character driven, filled with awesome super-powered fights, and a theological subtext that brought me to tears a number of times.
The book was originally written by Brett Burner and Mike Miller, with the art being drawn by Mike Miller as well. As the series progressed, Miller dropped off and newcomer Eric Ninaltowski took over the art and Ben Avery also joined the writing team. Usually a change in the creative team (although Burner stayed on the series throughout) is never a good sign, but all eight of the titles were written and drawn well.
The graphic novel series bogged down a little during volumes four and five, but that’s really my only complaint.
Hand of the Morningstar is a complex super-hero story. The heroes aren’t all heroes. Some of the bad guys use language and phrases like a church-going person might use . . . and that’s terrifying. We’re exposed to a wonderful love story, and exploration on truth and deception, redemption, damnation and the ultimate source of power. Fans of comics, superheroes, complex characters and action absolutely need to check out these books.
The books are appropriate for junior high levels and up. Take a peak at the trailer for the series:
Rating: 5/5 (I loved it)
The graphic novels were a part of the “Z Graphic Novels” line which was very poorly publicized and many readers had a very difficult time finding and buying all the books in the series. Because of this, I’ve listed all the titles, in order, here.
This was an important episode for us. Brian Godawa
graciously allowed the Untold Podcast to produce a portion of his book and present it as a stand alone story (which required some slight modifications). I actually heard an interview with Godawa a few months ago on the Spirit Blade Underground Podcast. I went to his website, paid for a video seminar on Christians and the genre of horror, then bought his book Noah Primeval. After reading the book I sent him an e-mail thanking him for writing it, and exchanged a few thoughts about the genre of horror
. A few days later, I decided to be bold and asked him if he had any short stories we could use on the show. He didn't.But he did offer up the possibility of producing a chapter or two from Noah. I declined, because I wanted the podcast to contain stand alone stories only. The wheels were turning, though, so I went through Noah again and found a section I thought could work and Godawa agreed. Now, I think the episode worked pretty well as a stand alone story (the main tension of Noah's belligerence and imprisonment is resolved), but
I don't think I want to regularly pull stories out of larger novels. It worked this time and I think it has helped increase the traffic to the podcast. And I was thrilled to have a larger name like Brian Godawa connected to the project! Listen to it here if you haven't already! And be sure to share it on twitter, blog about it, facebook it . . . spread the goodness!
: Jamie Burroughs, a suburban insurance salesman has been making a series of bad moral decisions. On the verge of cheating on his wife, he is assaulted by an angel-masked man and awakens inside a dark labyrinth. And while he may be the only human inside the maze . . . he’s not alone. Jamie must find a way to escape the maze – built around his vices – to not just save his life, but the lives of his wife and son as well. Review
: I almost want to categorize The Maze
as a spiritual allegory. But that would be over-simplifying Jason Brannon’s supernatural suspense novel. The backdrop of the story focuses on Jamie’s spiritual fight against his own sinful desires (the flesh), but there are also strong themes of family drama, interpersonal conflict and spiritual warfare that undergird the narrative.
Brannon has created a very unique world in the Maze
that infuses mythological Greek characters into the Christian worldview he presents. And it works well.
I had a few qualms with the book, however. First, the pacing of the book right after Jamie enters the maze began to get really slow. At one point I wondered if the rest of the book was going to consist of Jamie wandering from room to room, repenting of his sins, then moving to the next room. Fortunately, this is not the case, and the pace picks up as soon as he encounters the Minotaur face to face. Additionally, there were a few moments where Brannon deflated the tension of the story a little too quickly. And at times Jamie’s transgressions felt a bit too generic, rather than the harmful sins they actually were.
But The Maze
is a great supernatural thriller. Fans of speculative fiction and contemporary supernatural drama (infused with a touch of horror) will really enjoy the book. I would also recommend the novel to individuals who need to get a good picture of the effects of their harmful desires, and the constant battle it takes to overcome them.
On a last note, while the novel has a very satisfying ending and works well as a stand alone book, Brannon leaves open the possibilities for a sequel and I really hope to see one (especially if it focuses on one of the antagonists as the main character)! I’ll be one of the first in line to read it! Rating: 4/5 Stars (I really liked it) (Only $1.00 on Kindle!)
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Preaching Idea: "What you do with God determines what he does with you." 1 Samuel 2:12-4:1
Meme: "Fast and Party"
© 2013 Juli Woodgerd
Feel free to pin them, post them and share them as much as you want. Just don’t change, sell or adapt them.
I'm pretty sure I will never be playing heavy metal before or after a church service at the Orchard Church . . . or probably any church for that matter. This past weekend the sermon text was Psalm 20. It was a prayer before battle. It was a prayer for victory from the hand of Yahweh. It was a heavy-metal prayer. Now, I like nearly every genre of music you can think of: opera, classical, folk, alternative, bluegrass, jazz, electronic, techno, hip-hop, rock, pop, gospel, blues, and on and on and on. They each have their place. But this past week's sermon where King David prophesies that the people of God will "Rise and stand firm" in the name of Yahweh . . . that was just a heavy metal sort of song to me. So, in the interest of full disclosure, all last week I had the soundtrack of The Dark Knight Rises (get it?), music from the Christian heavy metal groups Becoming the Archetype and The Showdown
running through my stereo! (Pray for the church secretary.) This song in particular would not leave my thoughts:
(It of course relies heavily on metaphor! Get the album here.
) Some well-meaning folks would say that I should have played this song at some point around the sermon . . . because, after all, it moves and inspires me. But I wouldn't. No way. No how. There's nothing wrong with the song. There's nothing inherently wrong with heavy metal
. But I was called to pastor the church . . . not try and conform it to my tastes and preferences. I was called to disciple the church which means, in whatever context, I need to adapt my leadership to effectively lead the congregation to a deeper walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. And that has nothing to do with my own tastes. I'm not interested in having a church filled with sci-fi geeks, book lovers, Shakespeare reading, blog-obsessed, heavy metal listening people. I'm interested
in making disciples of Jesus Christ. So, whether anyone knew it or not*, this past Sunday's message was a heavy metal sermon. You can hear it (sans-screaming) here. *My wife knew. And you can pray for her too!
It seems to me that during tragedies Psalm 7
is a good text to pray through.
During these times of national and personal calamities we experience a plethora of emotions. We feel scared for our safety. We feel anger toward those who committed the evil. We feel vulnerable. We want justice. We want answers. We ask: “Why?”
Today, like so many other days, none of us have answers to satisfy our aching hearts. But we can pray. Please pray with me today this prayer adapted from Psalm 7. I think this psalm covers a wide range of our emotions today.
Lord, God we seek protection from you,
keep us safe from violent people.
Rescue us. Rescue Boston. Rescue our country.
Lord, this was evil and we’re scared.
But we’re also angry that this happened.
We know that evil acts also anger you
because you love justice.
Please let justice come swiftly,
and peace return to the injured,
the families of the dead,
the city of Boston,
and our country.
Be our shield and protection.
Everything you do is right.
Search me, search us
and transform us into upright people in Jesus Christ.
We turn away from our selfishness,
and turn our hearts, minds and souls to you.
Bring your justice quick.
Let those who seek to do evil,
be undone by their own schemes.
Thank you Lord.
Fill us with the hope that even though it doesn’t seem like it
every wrong will be made right.
Amen. Psalm 7
of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite.
Yahweh my God, I seek refuge in You;
save me from all my pursuers
and rescue me
or they will tear me like a lion,
ripping me apart with no one to rescue me.
Yahweh my God, if I have done this,
if there is injustice on my hands,
if I have done harm to one at peace
or have plundered my adversary
may an enemy pursue
and overtake me;
may he trample me to the ground
and leave my honor in the dust. Selah
Rise up, Lord, in Your anger;
lift Yourself up against the fury
of my adversaries;
awake for me;
You have ordained a judgment.
Let the assembly of peoples gather around You;
take Your seat on high over it.
The Lord judges the peoples;
vindicate me, Lord,
according to my righteousness
and my integrity.
Let the evil of the wicked come
to an end,
but establish the righteous.
The One who examines the thoughts
and emotions is a righteous God.
My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge
and a God who shows His wrath
If anyone does not repent,
God will sharpen His sword;
He has strung His bow
and made it ready.
He has prepared His deadly weapons;
He tips His arrows with fire.
See, the wicked one is pregnant with evil,
conceives trouble, and gives birth
He dug a pit and hollowed it out
but fell into the hole he had made.
His trouble comes back
on his own head,
and his violence falls on the top
of his head.
I will thank the Lord for His righteousness;
I will sing about the name of Yahweh
the Most High.
Undoubtedly, you've heard about the Atlanta, Georgia public school cheating scandal. As CNN Reports
In what has been described as one of the largest cheating scandals to hit the nation's public education system, 35 Atlanta Public Schools educators and administrators were indicted Friday on charges of racketeering and corruption.
[. . .]
About 180 teachers were initially implicated in the scandal.
[. . .]
For at least a period of four years, between 2005 and 2009, test answers were altered, fabricated and falsely certified, the indictment said.
Hall [the former superintendent] allegedly oversaw a system where threats and intimidation were used against teachers, it said.
"As a result, cheating became more and more prevalent," the indictment said.
By the time the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, as the standardized test is known, was administered in Atlanta Public Schools, "cheating was taking place in a majority of APS's 83 elementary and middle schools."
The cheating dated back all the way to 2001. And it became a normal task in the Atlanta Public Schools.
While the courts need to be allowed to make judgments in this case, I have one question: How could this have happened?
Didn't someone think this was wrong? Why didn't someone try and blow the whistle on this earlier?
I don't have an answer. I wasn't there and I'm not terribly interested in researching the topic. But one thing occurred to me while I was thinking through this news story. Do teachers have to take a professional ethics class as a part of their education and certification?
I asked my wife about this because she has been a licensed elementary teacher in New York, California and Michigan. And in her education, there was no ethics class for her major.
Now, I don't know if other colleges or states require an ethics class for primary or secondary teachers, but they should! Almost every other profession I can think of requires some sort of ethics class and/or training. Pastors, lawyers, doctors, many of the sciences, etc., all require professional ethics training as a part of their program.
Now, I'm not teacher-bashing here! I love teachers! My mother is a teacher at a public school and I married a public school teacher!
But it seems to me the teachers need to be given the tools of an ethics class, tailor-made for their profession, because right now the ethics of the Atlanta Public Schools consisted of doing whatever the superintendent wanted.
I'm wondering if any teachers reading this have had a professional ethics class or training. Do you have a different take on this story? (And you probably do have a better perspective than me!)