Dear Former Church

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Dear former church,

Thank you for your letter.  It is good to hear from you during Holy Week - the most important week of the church calendar.  I fully appreciate knowing that you chose this week to notify me that the elders of your church have chosen to remove my family and me from your membership roll and dissolve your pastoral relationship. Nothing reflects the love of Christ more than a form email followed by a form letter.

Since you are so curious, I have chosen to respond here.  Perhaps you will find this since you know my blog name.  It's an equally reasonable form of communication.

You will be happy to know that your prayers have been answered and that I have found a new church family and am under their care and oversight.  I especially appreciate the double capitalization in this sentence:  "IF that's the cease, please let us know."  It shows your trust in other churches and in me.  I'm sure you really would "love to know how" I am doing.

As long as you're asking, I'm doing well, thanks.  I am almost fully healed from your informal dissolution of your pastoral relationship nearly two full years before my departure from your church two years ago.  God has met me in ways that He never met me at your church.  I am now, for the first time, starting to really understand the Gospel that since God truly loves me that I can find my identity in the work of His son, and I have the ability to forgive those who cause me pain when they should show me love.

Yours in Christ,

RB
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Whose side am I on?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

I realized lately that I spend a LOT of time talking about disagreements that I have with my fellow Christians.  I'm talking about people with labels like evangelical, fundamentalist, or conservative.  If I didn't know myself I would say that RB falls in line with the rest of the blogosphere (remember when we used to use that word???) as a liberal/agnostic/anti-Christian.  What's shocking is that this isn't true at all.  Despite our differences I hold traditional, orthodox Christian beliefs and hold very conservative beliefs and values.  So what, then, is going on?

I spent some time thinking about this and then thought about Christ.  No, I'm not comparing myself to Him other than to recognize how unlike Him I am.  But Christians throughout history have found it easy to latch on to the Pharisees as the bad guys without understanding their role in Judaism and their relationship to Christ.  It's easy to forget just how close Jesus was to the Pharisees and how similar they were.

What???  Blasphemy you might say.  But think about it.  What did many people call Jesus?  Did they call him Priest?  No - he wasn't a Levite or a Sadducee.  Did they call him a king?  Only his closest followers did.  But even some of the Pharisees called him "Rabbi."  And who introduced the rabbinic tradition?  The Pharisees.  The Pharisees introduced a meritocracy to Judaism and were a democratizing force.  Because of them anyone who learned enough could earn a place of honor by following God's laws and learning His word.  Because of them regular people, not just those who were born in a particular family or who happened to have prophetic encounter with God, could study God's word and become experts in it.  And because of them the son of a carpenter could be recognized and allowed to read and teach in the synagogue.

And yet the scriptures record violent disagreements between Jesus and the Pharisees.  Why?  Why don't they record disagreements between Jesus and the pagans of Rome and Athens?  Why doesn't Jesus spend more time talking about the differences between him and the Samaritans?  Jesus doesn't talk much about them because the differences are known and obvious.  It's assumed that Jesus is going to disagree with them.  After all, what's the point of telling a Roman that he should worship God properly if the Roman doesn't even believe in the same God?  Jesus was trying to restore God's people to their Heavenly Father.  In order to do that he granted the agreements so he could draw out the differences.


Wow.  So that's a lot.  Am I, RB, really convinced that I'm as important as Jesus and that I could possibly influence the conservative/evangelical branch of Christianity so that they follow Christ more in the manner that I see fit?  No, I know that I'm not that important.  But I hope that, perhaps, through my writing and living that a few evangelical types might recognize that there is more to Christianity than the small, little box of evangelical Christianity.  And I hope, too, that perhaps someone who has been turned off by the ugly version of Christianity that is practiced by my brethren does not necessarily reflect the real Jesus.  Spend some time getting to know Him.  Yes, He is demanding and will make you uncomfortable in a lot of ways, but He is more loving and accepting than any of his followers know how to show.
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Quick question

How would the world view Christians if we spent half as much time attacking our own pride as we did the sexual sins of others?

More importantly, how much better people would we Christians be if we focused our energies on our own pride and not on the sins of others?

C. S. Lewis is much more eloquent than I so I will point any readers to his words on pride.  One thing to note.  Lewis doesn't really bring it out as strongly here as some other teachers.  While pride is about comparison, it  isn't just about just feeling feeling superior to others.  The sin of pride can also rear its ugly head when we feel inferior to others.  The opposite of pride isn't thinking less about ourselves, it's thinking less of ourselves.  (Thank you Tim Keller.)

Nothing has impacted my life more than recognizing my pride and then dealing with in by the power of the Gospel.
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Humility on the Stage

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I've spent the last several months listening to sermons by Tim Keller.  He needs no introduction to those who know him.  For some people he is a modern day apostle and the darling of many evangelicals.  For others he's just another pastor.  I've found at least one person who ranks him as the number 1 heretic of today.  I happen to think he's brilliant.

Many of his sermons focus on pride and on the many ways it manifests itself.  We're all familiar with hubris, that is, arrogance.  This is the most familiar type of pride.  We all recognize it in others, and it's even easy to recognize in ourselves.

What I wasn't familiar with was another type of pride - self deprecation.  This self-abasing, low self-esteem form of pride is usually the opposite of what is intended when we use the word pride.  But what Keller helped me understand is that it is just as prideful as hubris.

So what, then, is biblical humility?  It's not thinking less of yourself, and it's certainly not thinking more of yourself.  No, biblical humility is thinking of yourself less.  It is thinking of other people, their needs, their desires, what's best for them, instead of what you want or need.  Wow.

I've known that I was a proud person, but I didn't know what to do with all of the areas where I felt painfully inept.  Now I realize that they are different faces of the same issue.  And so I have turned this over to God.  What that means and how to handle that is another topic which I assume is addressed in Keller's book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.  In short, allowing the Gospel to impact me on a daily basis allows me to recognize that I am neither any better or any worse than anyone else who has ever lived because we're all hopelessly sinful and that because of Christ's work I am perfectly accepted by God, just as much as Jesus, and there's nothing else I have to do.  The more that sinks in the more humble and confident I can be, and that frees me from pride in all forms.  And it's generally working.  I find myself thinking of me much less.  What a relief!

How do I know it's working?  I've found that a long time nemesis has left me - stagefright.  I've been on and off the stage in various forms for over 30 years.  In early years I tried acting; in later years I have spent more time playing music.  I'm usually fine during the show with only the occasional butterflies in my stomach, but afterwards I'm usually nearly sick wondering how it went and what people thought of my performance.  But now something's changed.  I've played music (bass and some backing vocals) three times lately - twice at church and once at our local pool.  None of these are big events, but they're still enough to make me nervous.  Well, they would have been in the past.  But now I have no nerves at all.  It's the weirdest thing.  I've been able to play, enjoy the experience and the crowd's response, without all the usual what-if's and stomach-turning nervousness.  I've been able to receive honest praise (and criticism) well and to allow people to thank me for my contribution without it going to my head or crushing me.

I spread the good news of the Gospel all the time.  But now I feel like I ought to bottle this up and share it to everyone who's ever been on stage.
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Who am I and why am I here?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

I've had the moniker of RecoveringBapist for a long time now - long enough that I've turned over almost all of my real-life acquaintances, many deep friends, and a couple of churches.  It's probably time for an introduction.

Many years ago when I was posting two or three times a day a friend shared my blog with one of his coworkers who asked, "what is a recovering Baptist?"  And that's part of the question I keep asking myself.  Am I someone who is recovering from having spent 20+ years in the Southern Baptist Church?  Yes.  Am I someone who is a Baptist who happens to be recovering from different things that have affected him in life?  Yes.  Are there other ways to interpret the moniker?  Probably.  It's purposely left open to intrepretation.

So here are the important things to know about my church experience:
  • I grew up in a very, very large and powerful Southern Baptist Church.
  • I left that church in 1995 over a wide number of issues including church governance, its focus on the end times, and its view on alcohol.
  • I spent 15 years as an active member in Presbyterian Churches in America (PCA).
  • I'm now a member of a church that is, for lack of a better description, an independent Reformed Baptist church.
My political views are fairly simple:
  • Less government is better.

People of all political and religious persuasions have a habit of creating and then attacking straw men that are supposed to represent the other side.  They rarely enter into true discussions with them about their beliefs and then address the differences.  I try not to do that here, and that is why I spend so much time addressing the conservative/evangelical Christian perspective.  That is the perspective that I know and can address reasonably well.

My hope is that I'll be able to start carving out more time to blog again.  I find myself with more and more thoughts on issues and no outlet for putting them down.  That's why I created this blog, so I may as well put it to use.  For my one or two readers out there, thank you for your time.
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Great quote

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from C. S. Lewis.
Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. Their very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be ‘cured’ against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we ‘ought to have known better’, is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.
This is especially relevant to the recent discussions around gay marriage.  One argument against allowing gays to have unions is essentially that is isn't good for them or for others.  Lewis, a favorite of Evangelicals like me from the last half-century, has already addressed similar issues.  Why do we forget his writings?
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On gay marriage

There's a lot to be said about gay marriage.  My message to the Evangelical voting block is fairly simple:  the power that you want to give the government to define and control relationships is the same power that allows California to dictate what types of types of counseling parents can seek for their children.

I'm not saying that these are the same thing morally, religiously, or in any other way related.  However, it's a question of the use of the power of government.  Evangelicals are rightfully upset that a state is attempting to tell them how they may and may not counsel, but they are eager to use the power of the state to dictate who can marry who.

There are churches that believe homosexuality is acceptable in God's eyes, and there  are churches that believe it is an abomination.  American churches on both sides of the debate should remind themselves and each other that one reason this country was founded was to keep government out of church affairs so that each person may worship and practice their faith as he or she sees fit.  Any time a large number of Christians disagree on a principle, then the default political position should be to allow churches to handle it through their own ecclesiastical governments and not through the government of the state.

Many Evangelicals then ask "what, then, is marriage?"  They make a slippery slope argument about who can be married with what and how many individuals are involved.

Until recently I forgot that none other than Evangelical darling C.S. Lewis has already addressed this question, albeit towards divorce and not homosexuality:
...how far [ought] Christians...try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws? A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
Hat tip to a commenter named Keegan for pointing this out in a recent comment at RELEVANT.

In today's words, there should be civil unions which are issued by the state for the purpose of taxes, legal issues, etc.  And the state governs when the unions are dissolved.  Separately there should be marriages which can only be issues by recognized members of clergy, and the issuing church would be responsible for handling divorce and remarriage.  Yes, this means that some churches would perform marriages for gay couples; offended Evangelicals can, and should, choose to worship elsewhere, just as they can choose to worship at a church that ultimately reports to the Pope or not.

And for the record, I would worship at a church that welcomes all people but would only marry one man to one woman for life.
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On this day

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I have this blog so I can write things that are too politically correct for me to have associated with my real name. So here it goes.

Ten years ago today a brilliant enemy of the United States completed its attack.  And truth be told, today I wish I could find a way to avoid all of the attempts to remember what happened.  It's not that I'm trying to hide from an ugly truth, nor is it that I don't recognize, honor, and appreciate those who gave their lives trying to save others.

Remembering the aftermath of 9/11 reminds me that the terrorists won.

The purpose of terrorism is to instill fear into an enemy in order to change their actions.  Since that fateful day we have gladly traded our freedoms for the appearance of security and have happily sacrificed thousands more sons and daughters on foreign soil.  We have toppled two governments that were marginally, if at all, associated with the real culprits and violated the sovereignty of other nations.

And for what?  So that on this day, ten years later, people can sell T-shirts and make advertiser-supported TV shows to "remember" what happened.  As if any of us could forget...
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How big is your Gospel?

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

I heard a local preacher who I generally like this morning on his regular advertisement-length mini-sermon.  He was talking about the parable of the prodigal son.  He said something like “this story talks about our present day relationship with God, but I think it is also a great image of what will come in the next life.”

What a shame.  Yes, the Gospel is about our eternity in Heaven, but it is so much more than that.  A lot of Christians get caught up in that future hope that they overlook the power of the Gospel in our lives as we live them today.  This is a message that Christians need to be constantly reminded of, and it is a more powerful evangelistic message for a post-modern age.
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