Archives For Clint Archer

sound slidersOn 27 August 1883, the earth let out a noise louder than any it has made since. It was 10:02 AM on the island of Krakatoa. The erupting volcano was heard nearly 3,500 miles away in Mauritius. That’s like someone in New York hearing a noise coming from London, taking about four hours to cover that distance. A barometer in Batavia, 100 miles away, registered a spike in air pressure from which they calculated the sound at 188 decibels, an unimaginably loud noise, which ruptured the eardrums of sailors 40 miles away. The air pressure spike caused by the eruption was detected in weather stations of 50 cities, every 34 hours, for five days. This means that the sound waves circled the earth four times.

But there is something that generates an impact that reverberates through this world, the spiritual realm, and the Universe: a joyful church.

FROM PSALM 100: THREE WAYS EVERY CHURCH MUST WORSHIP

  1. God’s people are called to worship him… JOYFULLY

Ps 100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Every year my wife asks me what I want for my birthday. I’m a sucker for a good pair of athletic, foot-hugging socks. But for some reason socks seem beneath her standard of what a birthday gift should attain. So, inevitably, the day after my birthday I go out and buy myself the coveted accoutrement of good socks.

When God tells us what he desires us to offer him, we might be tempted to improve on the idea. Historically well-intentioned church leaders have concocted ideas of what God should have asked for in church worship services: flowing robes, stiff collars, pointy hats, golden staffs, elaborate rituals, holy water, Jedi-like gestures, tinkling bells, stations of the cross, confessional booths, etc., etc., etc.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. God tells us what he wants. He likes noise. Not just a cacophony of decibels for the sake of it, he wants our noise to be an expression of what is in our heart—a joyful noise, marinated in truth and generated by our spirits (John 4:24) directed toward worshipping him alone for who he is and what he’s done. And he likes it loud.

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February 1, 2016

Prepare to Die

by Clint Archer

inigo montoy name tagWe all need to take to heart the well-rehearsed injunction of the iconic swordsman, Iñigo Montoya, to the six-fingered man: “Prepare to die!” One way to apply this sage advice is to craft a nifty epitaph for your tombstone. This prevents eccentric relatives with a penchant for rhyming from composing one of these actual examples:

  • Shakespeare: ‘Blessed be he who leaves these stones and cursed be he who moves my bones.’ It is a travesty that the late Bard lies under any prose other than iambic pentameter.
  • In Silver City cemetery, Nevada: ‘Here lies Butch. We planted him raw. He was quick on the trigger but slow on the draw.’
  • 1880 Nantucket Massachusetts. ‘Under the sod and under the trees lies the body of Jonathan Pease. He is not here, there’s only the pod, Pease shelled out and went to God.’
  • Boothill Cemetery Tombstone Arizona, ‘Here lies Les Moore, 4 slugs from a 44. No less, no more.’

Another way to prepare to die is to ponder the wisdom of Psalm 49.

  1. THE UNIVERSAL NEED TO PREPARE TO DIE

According to the CIA World Factbook 28 of the 29 countries with life expectancies of 60 or less are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I live. Yikes. There are 40 countries boasting octogenarians as their average (Monaco tops the list at 90!). Life expectancy in the USA is 80 (or by reason of pills and procedures 85). But, sadly, there is no nation on earth known for its immortality. The death rate worldwide still holds steady at 100% (Elijah and Enoch notwithstanding).

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seals jumpingNavy SEALs and other elite military units are experts in a death-defying insertion maneuver known as HALO, or High Altitude Low Opening parachute deployment. From oxygen starved altitudes of 30,000 ft, where the temperature is -45C/ -50F, out of the range of surface to air missiles, the troops free fall at terminal velocity, and deploy their chutes just in time to land on earth alive.

The effect on an unsuspecting enemy is undeniable. One moment you are casually plotting the demise of democracy (or whatever villains do nowadays) and the next moment you are inundated with a disorientating shock-and-awe rapid-fire invasion.

It’s not only SEAL teams who are trained for this style of descent. We learned to do this in seminary.

Well, that’s how it felt to me. Our Apologetics and Evangelism professor had us do every kind of evangelistic technique known to man. I suppose the purpose was to equip us for whatever our future ministries needed, but to me the HALO-style campus evangelism was the hardest to do.

I could preach to a hostile crowd, or craft a written apologetic argument, or even approach an unbelieving friend with a face to face gospel discussion. But what terrified me was being dropped off at the local secular college campus armed with a Bible, a fistful of cheesy tracts, and a brown paper bag for my hyperventilation.

I was expected to accost total strangers with a gospel presentation they had neither invited nor expected. I can’t tell who was more uncomfortable, me or the single guy eating his lunch in peace until he made eye contact with me, which activated my jelly-legs to carry me over to sit next to him.

It was a rewarding exercise, which made me really admire Christians who are gifted at that kind of cold turkey evangelism. Countless souls have been won to Christ through such bold efforts. But there are also other ways to evangelize.

The Apostle Paul—not known to need much prodding toward evangelizing!—wrote to the Colossians, with a surprising prayer request…

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SpurgeonOn the 18th of January 1854, 162 years ago to the day, Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached his first sermon at New Park Street chapel. He was 19 years old. The church was nearly empty, about 40 members in attendance. After 38 years as their pastor, the number of new members who had joined the church was 14,460.

Spurgeon’s sermons were different from the longwinded, technical, theological lectures that were common in churches of the day. His sermons were humorous, filled with illustrations, and application. Soon he became known as the Prince of Preachers, the pastor of the largest church in the world, with one of the most successful Baptist ministries since, well, John the Baptist.

He started orphanages, dozens of outreach ministries, and a pastor’s training college with 900 students.

His success was obvious, but the reason for his success was not as obvious, except to those who knew him well.

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guitar soloI enjoy being challenged to think through why we do what we do in the church worship service. Recently I was asked why our band sometimes plays a brief interlude between songs during which the congregation is silent.

To take it further: isn’t the role of the band to facilitate the whole congregation’s singing? If so, then surely it is never appropriate for a singer to perform a solo, or a musician to play an instrumental piece with no lyrics. And if the band’s role is more pliable than simply providing the tune to which we all sing along, exactly how much leeway is permitted? Why is a vocal or violin solo allowed, but not a ballet dance or a juggling act?

Furnishing a philosophy of ministry that allows some discretion while excluding extremes may prove tricky.

There is no one-size-fits-all rule. If there was, it would be in the Bible! Here are three broad approaches to the church worship service: the too tight regulative principle, the too loose liberty-in-worship approach, and the elder-adjustable elastic tailored-for-each-church view.

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You’re probably already familiar with CrossFit, because one of the cardinal rules of the subculture is to talk incessantly about CrossFit. If you have been in earshot of a CrossFitter you are au fait with the jargon (“My Fran needs work, but I killed Cindy yesterday”), the discrimination against wheat and sugar (“Is that fajita Paleo?”), and the disdain for regular gyms (“Fitness isn’t about aesthetics, it’s about functionality, so why do they have mirrors everywhere?”)Rich Froning Tattoo

And then there’s the tattoos. Rich Froning, officially the fittest man on earth, popularized the Bible verse tattoo among Christian CrossFitters with his Galatians 6:14 reference in bold Celtic script down his side. Just once I’d like to see someone with 1 Timothy 4:8 inked on their squishy torso: “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

But if we concede that there are parallels between bodily and spiritual training, there are a couple of helpful principles we can learn from the CrossFit phenomenon.

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xmas blocks

I’m all for putting Christ back in Christmas. And there is no doubt that our secularized culture is working hard at surreptitiously ushering the Baby out, without losing the murky bathwater of gift-giving and commercial celebration. But I’d like to address the misinformed concern that the use of “Xmas” as a placeholder for “Christmas” is part of the conspiracy to excise Christ from his holiday.

First, Christmas is not a biblical holiday. There are no New Covenant feast days; besides communion there is no recurring remembrance that is mandated. The Catholics came up with the Christ Mass feast, and global retailers and consumers alike hopped on the bandwagon. So, if Jesus becomes as absent to the secular mindset from Christmastime as he is from Halloween, there is no loss to the New Covenant.

Second, and this is my main point, using “X” to replace “Christ” is not necessarily an indication of anything sinister. I have used Xmas and Christmas interchangeably with a clear conscience ever since learning about the history of its usage.

Some Christians shun the use of Xmas.

In an interview Franklin Graham opined on behalf of evangelicalism:

For us as Christians, this is one of the most holy of the holidays, the birth of our savior Jesus Christ. And for people to take Christ out of Christmas. They’re happy to say merry Xmas. Let’s just take Jesus out. And really, I think, a war against the name of Jesus Christ.”

 

This, I believe, is an understandable but unnecessary overreaction.

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“We don’t retreat, we advance,” he said smugly. It has become popular for some churches to promote their men’s retreat as a “men’s advance.” Cute to some, cheesy to others. And I’m all for using good diction to inspire confidence, or whatever. But I’m just as comfortable calling what our elders do three times a year a retreat, because I am well schooled in the art of war. No, not Sun Tzu’s classic worldview manual, but rather Mel Gibson’s expert tactics in Braveheart.

soldiers on breakThe difference between a surrender and a retreat is what happens afterwards. To cry uncle by waving the white flag of surrender is an admission of defeat. The result is capitulation and capture, with the concomitant humiliation that besets the conquered. A well-timed retreat, however, can be used to regroup, refresh, and refocus a beleaguered band of brothers. What follows this type of respite is a newly energized deployment into the fray of battle with higher odds of victory.

Every four months the elders of our church block off three days to retreat from the workaday flurry of life. One of those is spent out of town, just us; the other two are at a local venue so we are back with our families by sundown each night.

Here are four benefits we enjoy from this discipline.

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lady soldierNews from America fascinates me. Living in South Africa affords me a vantage point of detachment from local US news. But I nearly choked on my newsfeed last week when I heard President Barack Obama commend the Pentagon for opening all combat military positions to women. So now my two little girls, who are US citizens, will one day in all likelihood be required to register for the draft. (If you don’t think that’s the next station this equality train is heading for, you’re not following its trajectory closely enough; see this New York Times article on drafting women)

Objections to the announcement that we will soon have lady SEALs à la GI Jane have focused mostly on pragmatics and physiology. For example studies have irrefutably proven that unit cohesion will be diminished, and that male platoons have 69% more success in completing combat tasks than their co-ed counterparts, and that the 40% less upper body muscle mass of women will impede their ability to drag 200 lb wounded men from a burning tank, etc, etc, etc.

The problem with that reasoning is this: we all know that some women can physically outperform some men. Anyone who has visited a Crossfit box knows that. I know gals who can clean & jerk not only their own bodyweight, but mine too.

The real issue isn’t can a woman cope with combat, but should she have to? Women can and do competently step in if and when men neglect their duties. But do we really want to make this the norm rather than a sad necessary exception?

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compassIt’s not uncommon for me to hear of Christians claiming that God led them to this or that by means of a dream or vision or word from the Lord. When I probe what they mean by that, more often than not it’s just their way of saying they had an idea or imagined a scene.

Only occasionally has the person insisted that they literally had a supernatural experience of direct revelation like Paul going to heaven (2 Cor 12) or Peter’s trance (Acts 10). Dismissing those claims as spurious hogwash is fairly uncomplicated (see the cornucopia of articles on this blog by searching “Strange Fire” or “prophecy” or any other charismatic sounding term).

What deserves more leniency is the acknowledgement that the Spirit prompts us and guides us in our everyday lives. After all, those “who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14).

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