Pepperdine Bible Lectures 2015 Guests

I’m thrilled with the “guests” (translation: Christians who aren’t from our particular tribe) who will be presenting at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Here are a few of them—and why I wanted them to join us.

GENE APPEL is the senior pastor of the Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim. When we met in 1998, Gene was the minister for the Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. Out of his own personal brokenness, a dream was formed and Central became one of the fastest growing churches in America. From there, Gene moved to Willowcreek Community Church for several years before moving to Anaheim. He’ll be speaking at our leadership session on Tuesday afternoon.

NADIA BOLZ-WEBER grew up at the Eastside Church of Christ in Colorado Springs before becoming a student at Pepperdine. When I read her book Pastrix and after hearing her on NPR, I wanted to know more. So I asked if I could hang out a bit when I went to Denver. I joined a small group for morning prayers that she led, and then we went to a coffee house. This was not Starbucks in Abilene, however! As she says, people may think she’s “out there,” but in her world she’s considered a soccer mom. How true! Our quick visit turned into three hours. During this time I realized that she was the de facto pastor of most of the people in the coffee shop, whether they attend any church or not. She is a powerful communicator of the gospel, and I’m so thankful that she’ll be returning to Pepperdine to present on Thursday morning.

CHAP CLARK, one of the authors of Sticky Faith, is professor and chair of youth, family, and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He’ll be presenting as part of the Boone Center for the Family track. (What a great partnership I’ve enjoyed with Sharon Hargrave, the executive director of the center!)

DAVID KINNAMAN is the president and majority owner of the Barna Group, based just up the coast from us in Ventura. In his 19 years at Barna, he has supervised or directed interviews with more than 400,000 people. Many will be familiar with his books unChristian and You Lost Me.

MARK AND DEBBIE LAASER have blessed the Christian community as leaders on the subject of sexual addition. Their session on “Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World,” will also be in the Boone Center track.

SCOT MCKNIGHT has been a good friend ever since he spoke at one of our Zoe conferences in Lubbock. “We” (in Churches of Christ) have been blessed by his user-friendly New Testament scholarship. And he has felt a special affinity to our heritage. I’m hoping to baptize him before the week is over. Ok, not really. But I might at least give him some kind of honorary membership. (Actually, now that I think about it, who is in charge of giving those in our tribe? Randy Harris maybe?) He’s our lead scholar as we study through James. It was a great blessing last fall when he Skyped in with our keynote speakers to lead us through the book.

JASON RUSSELL is one of the cofounders of Invisible Children. While in Africa many years ago, he promised a boy named Jacob that he’d help end that decade-long war; and when he returned home he launched the now infamous film. He’ll be one of the guests in a session hosted by Mana Nutrition.

DAVE STONE is the senior pastor of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville. Dave, a popular speaker all over the country, will be joining Jeff Walling in a morning session at Firestone Fieldhouse.

Finally, I want to mention how glad I am that KENT BRANTLY is going to join us (though he’s certainly not a “guest” as defined above). I was his minister when he was a college student, and the spiritual passion that people all over the world now know about was there even then.

We’d love to have you join us in Malibu on May 5-8. Registration is here.

YouTube Preview Image

Developing Kingdom Leaders: Siburt Institute hosts a One Day Seminar in Dallas

Siburt-Mcneal1The Siburt Institute for Church Ministry is delighted to bring Dr. Reggie McNeal to CitySquare ACU in downtown Dallas. The event will be a half day seminar for church leaders April 9, 2015 from 10am – 2pm.

Reggie is a noted author; his books include A Work of Heart; Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, Missional Renaissance, Missional Communities, The Present Future and more. And his work as the Missional Leadership Specialist with Leadership Network takes him across the country to teach and consult with leaders.

Reggie is releasing a new book in May entitled Kingdom Come: Why We Must Quit Our Obsession Over Fixing the Church and What We Should Do InsteadHis seminar on April 9 will provide a engaging preview with opportunity to interact with him.  We expect Reggie’s time with us to be relevant, engaging, and immensely practical–especially as we think about the intersection of God’s kingdom and the practices of leadership.

Reggie writes,

“A movement of God is underway that looks to be the most transformative development since the Reformation.  It is the move from a church-centric to a Kingdom-centric ministry approach.  Church leaders making this journey are involved in nothing short of cultural change.  Shifting cultures requires that leaders pay attention to three strategic items that impact every aspect of ministry efforts.”

Throughout the day, Reggie will identify these three components and explore some of the ramifications for leaders who want to steer toward a Kingdom focus. I can’t imagine a better event to bring a ministry staff or an elder group to for a fast paced day of learning and development! To find out more and to register please go to http://www.acu.edu/siburt-institute/ . The cost is $40 per person (includes lunch).

Share the news with ministry leaders and friends. Spaced is limited so go ahead and register as early as possible.

–Carson E. Reed, Executive Director, Siburt Institute for Church Ministry

Pornified Church

Warning: The contents of this post are of an adult nature. Our goal in posting this is to raise awareness of a very dark side of humanity that may be closer to us than we think so that it can be addressed and combated more intentionally in our churches.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”—Jesus

“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:3-5 ESV).

It was not until the discovery that my father, a former preacher, was a pedophile that I realized how diseased the hearts of Christians are. He is currently serving a 30-60 year prison sentence, sentenced in 2012 after my mom and I reported him to police following an allegation of sexual abuse. I have since gone on a quest not many have undertaken—to enter the mind of a pedophile. Until we are willing to see the world from behind their eyes, we will never be able to understand how they so easily become perverted, rob the innocence and destroy the lives of our children, fool us, and so forth. And what I discovered was more shocking than I ever would have imagined—the church is full of closet sex perverts, pedophiles included. I can’t help myself, I’ve got to quote a line from my dad in his most recent letter to me: “But I know that I know in running through my mind in my past conversations and observations with preacher friends down through the years—show most any of them T&A and they turn into tongue-draggin’ hounds.”

I wish I could say that he is a delusional inmate who has no sense of reality, but my experience tells me that he is being conservative in his thoughts. Unless you experience the volume of pleas for help from churches experiencing carnage from sexual abuse, you will choose to believe that there is not an epidemic of perversion within the church. A good preacher friend of mine called me up and shared his discovery of a 6 year old boy who was raped in the church building during worship. My friend discovered it after seeing the boy limping down the church hall with a huge blood stain on the back of his pants. The perpetrator was acquitted and still attends church there, after the perp’s attorney threatened my friend and the church with a lawsuit. These stories are not rare. I hear stories just like this DAY AFTER DAY. It’s going on in the church, and it’s going on a lot. Pornography has taken over the church, and it has poisoned the hearts of Christians, old and young alike.

We cannot talk about healthy sexuality until we first address the disease and know how to treat it. This, in my opinion, is why the Bible talks about sexuality so much in terms of restrictions and harsh judgment. We have drunk the devil’s Kool-Aid of “exploration” and “sexual freedom,” and in doing so the church has become fully pornified.

In my field of work, I can assure you that there is no shortage of perverts in the church, even among church leaders. And it’s getting worse. We sanitize the Bible and describe sexual sin in soft terms that detach our emotions and free the sexual sinner of any real responsibility. We say that porn addicts and sexual abusers are “struggling,” have “issues of lust,” just “went down a wrong path,” etc. Contrast that with Jesus talking about gouging out eyes, cutting off hands, tying millstones around necks, and Paul’s haunting words, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things (sexual sins) the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6). Why?

It’s because God understands supply and demand better than we ever will, and he knows that our perverted fantasies increase supply while harming actual people. Strangely, maybe Jesus was serious when he said that any man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. I could fill dozens of pages with statistics showing that sex trafficking and child sexual abuse are the fastest growing industries on the planet. And, pornography is the common denominator every single time. In dad’s last letter (where I asked him what we can do to keep people like him from harming our children), he said: “Gotta think like perps to catch them or dissuade them. You sure aren’t gonna keep them out of churches, scouts, youth sports, schools, etc. They are your family, best friend, preacher, teacher, judge, attorney, etc. . . . I can name you 3 preachers in ­­­­___________ who are porn addicts. They’ll act out somewhere, sometime with someone guaranteed. I talked with a prison psychologist who told me that of the thousands of sex offenders who he’s counseled, he has yet to meet one who was not fully entrenched in pornography. Will every porn addict abuse someone? No, but rest assured perversion of God’s biblical intention of mutual sex, caring for, and compassion is driving the masses to act out in unhealthy ways. As I type this, there are Christian women reading this whose husbands are forcing them to act out fantasies in the bedroom that they see played out in porn. The most common of these are dressing as teenagers, anal sex, and submission while the husband ejaculates onto their bodies (see Pamela Paul’s book Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families). In the words of a friend of mine, “I cannot get aroused by my wife anymore unless I am watching a porn video while having sex with her.” How romantic.

The 7 most common genres of pornography in the US are, in order, Girl on Girl, Man on Man, Hentai (Japanese animated porn), MILF (women usually age 25-50, an acronym for “Mother I’d Like to $@#&”), Shemale Porn (transsexuals, watched almost exclusively by straight men), BBW (big, beautiful women), and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, masochism) http://graphs.net/most-popular-porn-genres.html Who are the biggest consumers of this filth? It turns out that a study monitoring paid subscriptions to porn (with the availability of free pornography, paid subscribers are deeper entrenched in porn and have moved beyond being “casual” users) “revealed that online subscriptions are ‘more prevalent in states where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles and sexuality.’” http://www.cnbc.com/id/31905302/page/1 Check out the lists for yourself. Turns out that folk in the Bible belt are studying more than their Bibles. Utah ranked the #1 state for paid porn subscriptions per capita. Not surprisingly, Utah, a state that has the lowest percentage of its population in prison, ranks as the #1 state with the highest percentage of its prison population as sex offenders. http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58406311-78/offenders-sex-prison-utah.html.csp?page=1

While some experts argue that tougher laws and longer sentences for sex offenders are what’s driving that population up, I disagree. It is extremely rare for sex offenders to get caught in the first place, no matter how tough the laws are. The vast majority (90+%) of sex offenders will never get caught. So how are so many getting caught in UT, unless there are a plethora of them within that state?

All of this to say, we’ve got an epidemic on our hands and we have got to get more serious and aggressive about it. Porn use and sex abuse are at epidemic levels within the church and statistics show that it is getting worse, not better. Are church leaders willing to preach about sex, oppression, and abuse? Are they willing to stand with victims? Are they willing to call each other to a higher standard of moral living and demand transparency? Are we adults willing to create a safe place for our kids and sniff out abusers who are hiding within our churches? Are we willing to preach hard against sexual sin for the oppressors while understanding that victims of child sex abuse may be caught up in promiscuity because of their abuse? Will we demonstrate through our own sexual lives that our spouses have worth and value and they are not reduced to perverted fantasies? It is a complex problem that cannot be remedied in this short article. But my prayer is that we boldly begin the dialogue and restore God’s original intent for compassion, care, and sexuality. We churches are sick and in need of radical healing. Lord, please heal us by means of painful operations. Cut the cancer of sexual perversion and oppression from your Body. Cut us to the core and make us whole again. Amen.

The Write-Off

write_off

Yes, I know this months theme for Wineskins is about Casting a Biblical Vision for Healthy Sexuality. Rebel that I am, I am not writing about sex… However, the following has something to say about a healthy spirituality and that does have an impact on every facet of life, including the sexuality God created…

It’s everybody’s favorite season, right?

Tax season. April 15th looms large. Some of us are excited because we are going to get a tax refund. Others of us are wondering what we are going to do to limit our tax liability.

Tax season finds many scrambling to find another write off. Limiting your tax liability without compromising your integrity shouldn’t be that difficult and yet many of us struggle. Deductions, losses, expenses… It can be very confusing and disheartening. At the end of the day, whether you get a refund or owe Uncle Sam, if you can get it all done legally and without compromising Christian values or principles, it is a win!

Write-offs.

I really wish we could limit the usage of that word to accountants, tax preparers, and (shudder) IRS agents.

Write-offs.

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Hester Prynne, is labeled for her infidelity and other indiscretions.

It has occurred to me that the good people of fictional 1642 Boston are not much different from me. And neither is Hester Prynne.

Write-offs.

Isn’t that what we do?

When someone with whom we have a relationship (however tenuous that may be) fails to meet our standards—whether it be doctrinally, theologically, behaviorally, or any other word that indicates how a person lives, acts, or believes—there is the temptation to write them off.

Maybe we don’t quite say it like that, but functionally and attitudinally there is no difference.

I confess.

There have been those folks of whom I have grown weary. There have been those who wouldn’t conform to my standards—who wouldn’t accept my understanding—who wouldn’t do the things I thought they should.

And to my shame and discredit, I wrote them off.

Unfortunately, I know how painful being written off can be, because at times, others have written me off. In fact, I have recently been labeled and written off for writing in Wineskins and speaking in certain places.

Sigh…
Yes, It’s what we do when we disagree or are challenged

Sadly, the most common and easiest way to do this is by assigning a label with a pejorative twist.

  • She’s a hopeless case (and if we are being charitable that day, we follow the comment with bless her heart).
  • He’s an idiot (and if we are being nice that day, we’ll just leave it at that).

And then there are the religious write-offs all said with a sneer and a sense of uber superiority.

  • He’s a liberal.
  • She’s conservative.
  • He’s ultra-conservative.
  • She is a progressive.
  • He is a digressive.
  • She’s a change-agent.

Oh my! We use these labels and more to write-off and erect barriers.

It’s even worse when we write-off whole churches/ congregations of people (as if everybody in any one place thinks exactly the same)!

Here’s the problem we face:

  • We don’t all look alike.
  • We don’t all think alike.
  • We don’t all understand alike.
  • We don’t all come from the same background.
  • We don’t all read the Bible through the same pair of glasses.
  • And, we don’t all find ourselves at the exact same mile marker of our journey…

This is not a plea to ignore doctrinal error.

This is not a preacher gone soft on sin asking for us to tolerate what God has clearly defined as wrong.

On the other hand, this is a prayer for the extension of grace.

This is a preacher begging for the church to be the church—to exercise the full fruit of the Spirit

  • To be kind, patient, and gentle.
  • To show goodness and love.
  • To seek peace.
  • To exercise self control.
  • To have faith in God (He’s got this too, right?)
  • To maintain a sense of joy in the uniqueness of others and the work God is doing in us all.

I am a work in progress. God is not done with me yet.

Amazingly enough, John 1:16a says, Indeed, we have all received grace after grace from His fullness…

I am so glad, because as it turns out, I need just that much grace and more!

Les Ferguson, Jr.

Madison/ Ridgeland, MS

Who Made ‘Abstinence’ a Four-Letter Word?

The culture of the world around us laughs at the concept; it is as outdated as poodle skirts and penny loafers — or the idea that someone can be (or even try to be) objective.

And the subculture of Christians who made it a four-letter word is at least partly to blame.

We made sexual abstinence a four-letter word, and that word is “Don’t.”

That’s all the world around us can hear when the word is spoken in the context of sex, because that’s the way we preached it.

A prohibition. A command. A requirement. A demand. An imposed sacrifice.

It wasn’t always that way.

Centuries ago, those who sought the heart of God and the grace of Christ saw abstinence as something completely different; something more; something blessed and blessing to those who committed to it. Church orders practicing vows of celibacy sprang up and called to those who yearned for that more-ness and closer-ness through consecration and dedication, as surely as the desert had called to those who sought it through isolation, meditation and poverty.

Maybe that life doesn’t resonate with us, but that’s no reason to discount it entirely — or reduce it to a four-letter imperative. There was more to the concept than that, and there still is.

When God warned Moses to have Israel’s people consecrate themselves by washing and three days of sexual abstinence, it was coupled with a warning that the mountain of meeting would be off-limits to them. They were called to purity — not just the single people; the married as well — as a recognition of the extraordinary holiness and significance of God’s presence among them. (Exodus 19)

In the forty days and nights which followed, a significant number of the laws God revealed to Moses would have to do with sexual purity, and by the process of elimination (of those one must not have sexual relations with, per Leviticus 20) they all boiled down to this: God’s intention, gift and desire was for a man and woman who loved each other exclusively — bound by a vow of commitment to each other — to seal that vow through sexual union.

No one else.

Nor was this simply a singular incident isolated to the Old Testament.

In a teaching on marriage and divorce, Jesus raises the stakes on the divine intention for marriage — and closes it by (possibly) recognizing those who choose another path as a “eunuch” for the sake of the kingdom. (Matthew 19:12) A eunuch, as one can see from frequent mentions in scripture, is someone not only deprived of sexual function but also taking the role of a servant.

And unquestionably, Paul’s advice to married people is generally to honor each other through sexual relations, and the only exception he makes is a temporary period of abstinence by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer. I tend to take that period of “fasting” as an expression of purity and devotion to God. Whether married or single, either way of life should be considered a “gift from God.” (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)

Abstinence, especially among those who are not married, can provide an unparalleled opportunity to serve God.

How?

Focus. Through the very reason Paul mentions later in the chapter: even without the same “present crisis” or shortness of time taking place today that was current then (7:25-31), the interests of the single can be singly on the Lord; the interests of the married are naturally divided between Lord and spouse (7:32-35).

We tend to see that as quaint but antiquated doctrine, and easily ignored. That was then; this is now; no one today could possibly think that abstinence could provide an unparalleled opportunity to serve God.

But the truth of it remains; the principle is as strong today as it was in the first century.

The culture around us sees it as unrealistic; a violation of personal rights; an expectation of God that is unreasonable and cannot be followed.

Really?

None of us has any self-control anymore?

No one is capable of using the power of brain over the power of genitalia?

No one can remain faithful to a spouse if they travel away from the home for a period of a few days?

No one has an unselfish desire to devote themselves wholly to serving the Lord over the transient pleasures of sexual congress?

And we believers, in our subculture, don’t see it all that differently. We won’t say it’s unrealistic (though we might think it); we just say its time has come and gone.

To our great loss.

I’m not calling for a renewal of monastic orders because I don’t believe Jesus was calling for them. I am, however, advocating a renewed way of looking at an opportunity we have neglected and sometimes denigrated — an opportunity for deep, personal spiritual formation through service to God and through a kind of kenosis we don’t like to talk about.

I’m not a martinet, nor a fool.

There are so many today who — by nature, their own choice or the choice of others (to use Jesus’ phrasing) — have had no opportunity to honor a beloved one with a pledge of fidelity sealed with sexual union. Many of them never will. That can be viewed one of two ways: a terrible, tragic oversight by an unfair God or an opportunity to serve in a unique way focused on liberation from the limitations of this life in an eternity graced by the presence of God.

There were people in the first century who served the Lord married; Peter, for one (he had a mother-in-law, remember?) … yet he spent a great deal of his time in Jerusalem, possibly at home with family as it should be, and only getting out for the occasional short mission trip to Antioch.

There were also people in the first century who served the Lord single, and people like Paul had the occasion to get their equivalent of passports stamped all over the Mediterranean while sharing the gospel, baptizing new believers and helping establish local church plants.

You may well think, “Keith, it’s easy for you to say these things — you’re a widower and pushing 60 like a hot rod accelerator.”

Granted. To a degree. I can say these things, but it is not easy.

Hey, I’m old … not dead.

I am almost two years away from having lost my dearest; I have not forgotten. Of course sex with the one you’ve committed to love for the rest of your life is fantastic. It’s incomparable. There is nothing else like it.

Yet as a single person again, I am beginning to see that there is also nothing else like an uncomplicated, undistracted opportunity to serve the Lord you love with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.

I am not there yet.

But I do recognize the potential described in scripture.

And it is so much more than the four-letter word “Don’t.”