Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gentle Reformation

Dear Blog Readers,

Recently I joined with others to form a new blog we are calling "Gentle Reformation." Rather than keep posting the same material
to both sites, I will now be blogging exclusively there. Please go there to see my most recent posts (Plasticity and Vignetting), and read the excellent thoughts of my fellow friends and bloggers.

If you want to tell others about it, just remember to tell them to go to Gentle To keep up with the latest posting or to send a post to a friend via e-mail or Facebook, you can simply go to the bottom of an article where you will find a simple push of the appropriate button will do the trick.

Thank you for your interest!

Barry York

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Pastoral Letter to Ted Williams

Dear Ted,

Though you do not know me, I hope you do not mind me addressing you by name. Besides, I feel like I do know you as I join the millions of others in congratulating you on your recent good fortune. In a matter of days your rocket ride from begging on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, to being an internet and TV sensation has captivated us. It has made us glad to hear some good news amidst all the bad. What has happened to you is incredible. You do have an amazing voice! It is good that you recognize it as a gift from God.

I know you already have many people trying to give you advice, and the likelihood of you reading this letter is small. Yet hearing agents, psychologists, and TV personalities all giving you counsel, I thought perhaps you could use a word from a pastor. Having ministered to a number of homeless men with our church through the years, there are some lessons we have learned along the way that I thought could be helpful to you. And, if I might be so bold, there are some concerns as I observe you that cause me to venture to speak to you. Warning people about dangers is just part of my job.

So here are three important next steps to consider, Ted. I am keeping this short and simple for the sake of focus.

1) Enjoy the attention but do not become addicted to it. You obviously are having a great time, appearing on NBC's Today Show, becoming the spokesman for Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (my kids' favorite - they had it for lunch today!), and being reunited with your 90 year-old mother. That's great, and you seem genuinely thankful. Enjoy this season of good fortune.

Yet please be careful, Ted. Fame can be every bit as addictive and destructive as crack cocaine. After all, according to what you are saying, was it not the media success you had before you were on the streets that led you into drugs in the first place? Around here we warn some of the homeless men we minister to about the "newsletter curse." You see, the local mission often puts the picture and story of a man that has responded to their program on the front page of their newsletter. Sadly, far too often the men who have gotten this attention have just in a few short months returned to their former lifestyle. So we now warn any man who gets on the newsletter to beware! Jesus warned about the seed falling on shallow soil, quickly springing up, then withering when the sun - representing the adversity that inevitably follows the attention - shone upon it. With your background, Ted, I think you need to move quickly to the next step to avoid becoming addicted to all this hoopla.

2) Withdraw and take more time to mourn the sins that have ruined your soul and your family. Ted, now that you have enjoyed the moment and even secured some work (more about that in the final step), you need to withdraw, spend some time in isolation, and think about what you have done and where you are going. James 4:8-10 says:

"Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you."

I am not trying to be a killjoy. Neither do I expect you to be perfect with your tongue - it's a beast we all struggle to tame. But in listening to some of the things you are saying, I fear. I keep hearing you make the same mistakes men who fail here make. Want some examples? Far too often you use God's name in vain ways. Should not the phrase "O my God!" be reserved for crying out for mercy from the Almighty (see Psalm 13:3) rather than for meeting Matt Lauer? When you are with your aged mother, should you not just quietly hug and weep on her neck for what you have done to her rather than still trying to prove yourself to her? Several times you have touted how many children and grandchildren you have by your ex-wives, but I did not see you weeping over the lost years you were not there for them. I know some will think me judgmental by saying these things. But, again, I have seen too many men losing their lives and souls with similar responses.

Now I know I have not observed what you do off-camera. But that's my point. That's where you need to go - off-camera. Too many men treat their sins superficially, being fooled that a bit of good fortune and lots of positive attention somehow erases the sin. Then, because they have not truly been set free, they go back to their old ways or exchange one ruinous addiction for another. Ted, you need to go alone before God where you can be sincere. You need to mourn what your sins have done to you, your family, and especially God. Then, Ted, if you don't mind me saying so, you need to become a beggar again. But this time, beg as your life depends on it for His mercy, like James encourages above or as the psalmist said, "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me" (Psalm 57:1). You see, the only way to escape your addictions to crack or fame, which is just sin's way of perverting our hearts to worship things instead of God, is to become utterly addicted - dependent, obsessed - with Jesus. If you write or contact me, I'd love to tell you more about how to do that.

3) Finally, beware of quick money; instead, do honest work and take care of your family. You have already indicated lucrative offers have come pouring in. You have quickly risen to star status, and it would be easy to accept many of these proposals to have all the earthly things you have lacked over the years. But Proverbs 23:4-5 says, "Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens." Beware of those who want to indulge you and make themselves feel and look good by treating you like a king. "The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil," and lesser forms than what you are facing have ensnared homeless men's souls here. Please don't let that happen to your own.

Instead, when you are alone before God, ask Him how He wants you now to serve Christ. I have to believe that He would lead you to quiet, steady work that will enable you to begin providing in some ways for your children, grandchildren, and mother. If possible, it should be work that also allows you time to be with them, as you have been absent for far too many years. I would think returning to Columbus to tell your family and friends on the street the great things God has done for you would factor into your plans (see Mark 5:1-20). Serving faithfully the missions where you stayed and were provided for would be another indication of the genuineness of your changes.

Again, congratulations. I'd love to talk with you about these things, Ted, or help you find a pastor in Columbus who could. I pray that the Lord will preserve you for His glory.


Pastor Barry York

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Depressing Research

10% of Americans (27 million people) are on antidepressants, a number that doubled in the decade from 1996-2005. Before I comment further, please take the following quiz, answering the statements TRUE or FALSE:

1) Those who took Flintstone Vitamins as a child are more likely to get a divorce than those who did not.
2) Foot size is directly correlated to knowledge, i.e., the bigger the foot you have, the smarter you are.
3) Those who ate oatmeal growing up are more likely to develop cancer this year than those who grew up on Frosted Flakes.

If you are like me, at first glance you say "False, because vitamins, foot size, and Frosted Flakes have nothing to do with divorce, knowledge, or cancer avoidance." Yet the fact of the matter is they are all "True" - in a certain sense. How?

1) Since Flintstone Vitamins were first marketed in 1960, anyone taking them as a child would be 50 years or younger. Since that age group is more likely to divorce than older people - you get the idea.
2) This one's easy. Adults generally have bigger feet, and also more knowledge, than babies and children. So if the population for this study was all ages, then this statement holds.
3) This is similar to the first one. Frosted Flakes did not come out until 1952, meaning if you ate them as a child you are under 60. People who are over 60, and probably ate oatmeal growing up, are also more likely to get cancer than younger people than under 60.

This little quiz would be funny if it were not being used to demonstrate a matter of urgent and eternal importance. It was drawn from a book called America Fooled: The Truth about Antidepressants. This quiz, a bit longer than the three statements I gave you, is used in the book to illustrate how correlation studies can be used to create faulty conclusions. The book then demonstrates how pharmaceutical companies are funding research on antidepressant and anti-psychotic medication that, at its heart, has all the integrity of the above quiz. Dr. Scott, who authored the book, is not alone in warning us about the dangers of these drugs - at least thirty other books are documenting similar concerns.

What is urgent and eternal about this? I have seen these medications destroy the mind and increasingly the body of my own mother. Two blocks from my study at the church I weekly see the people - their numb, mask-like faces revealing their empty hearts - going into the psychiatric clinic to sit in a waiting room, like the crowds by the Pool of Siloam hoping to be cured by the angel stirring the water. Indeed, I've observed godless doctors acting like angels and even gods, proclaiming they will cure or have cured people with their treatments when souls remain trapped in sin. I hear young men and women in times of counseling, the life issue causing their discouragement as easy to spot as the nose on their face, tell me how effortless it was for them to get a prescription for an antidepressant. Far too many of our fellow countrymen are being fooled, putting their faith in a pill rather than a Person to bring the comfort they need to what ails their minds and souls.

As we are encouraged to pray from Psalm 42 in Prayers on the Psalms:

"Heavenly Father, who at all times exercisest thy poor flock with diverse afflictions, assist us and deliver us from the troubles that are falling on us, that the wicked and proud contemners may have no cause to think in vain we depend on thee, but that they may be compelled to understand that thou art the strength and fortress of all them that love and honour thee in thy son, Jesus Christ. Amen."

May our faith, seeing both affliction and deliverance coming from our Father's hand, and resting on the sure word of God, cause others to be compelled to see our strength is in nothing else except Christ.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dogged Praying

The Lord knows that my faith weakens often in offering a particular ongoing prayer request. So recently He sent me help to get on my knees and beg anew. Perhaps it may help you.

It came from reading Sean Michael Lucas' biography on Robert Dabney. From a sermon Dabney preached in February 1849 on prevalent prayer, he had a section for parents whose children were "grievously vexed with sensual and devilish lusts." Note how Dabney strings together encounters of the desperate with the Savior to give this urging in praying:

Go to him. Say, have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David. Does he answer you not a word? "Cry after him." Does he seem to neglect you? Fall at his feet and worship him and cry, "Lord help me." Does he tell you, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs?" Does he say you are unworthy? "Truth, Lord." You have set this child so bad an example that you have no right to expect anything but its ruin? "Truth, Lord." Your prayers are unworthy in motive and kind? "Truth, Lord." Admit all, and tell that such is the glory of the Savior's righteousness, the vilest are so suitable objects of the mercy it purchases as any. "I am a dog, but it was just for dogs, that the crumbs of pardoning mercy are made." Therefore, I ask as a dog.

Yes, I do.

Friday, October 15, 2010


Reading a book called Breath, which tells the incredible tale of Martha Mason. Martha, a fellow Tarheel, spent over sixty years in an iron lung. She had an incredible spirit, seen in such things as her graduating from Wake Forest or managing her own mother's health when senility struck Martha's lifelong caregiver. She went through all this without losing her sense of humor. Commenting on the game show The Price is Right, Martha said the announcer had to have been a former Southern Baptist preacher. Why? His constant "C'mon down!" refrains must have been learned in giving altar calls.


Speaking of books, after a long time of writing and persevering, my friend and fellow congregant Austin Brown has recently published a book called Walking with the Mailman. As I wrote a review on Amazon, I won't say too much here. But I would encourage you to click the picture to read the review and, while you are at it, purchase the book. It's a fun and funny read. And just to demonstrate the unity of the body, I also should note that both the picture on the cover and the dog's leg were contributed by members of the church (of course, I mean by this that the dog is owned by a member, not a member itself).


At a retreat last week where we reflected on the state of theological education in light of cultural changes, I was interested to hear that 60% of churchgoing Americans attend 10% of the churches. In other words, the majority are going to very large churches. The same trend that is seeing large chain retailers push "mom & pop" local stores out of business is putting pressure on small congregations. So what's a little church to do? Avoid the "little man" syndrome of trying to be like the big guys - you know, trying to compete with their programs, or buying a bigger building, or imitating the famous pulpiteer. Instead, concentrate on what any church should always be doing. Praying, preaching, and providing to the poor in spirit. Though the world's eyes may not be, the Lord's eyes are upon such as these. If He sees even the little sparrow fall from the sky, He certainly sees His little flocks of sheep faithfully gathering before Him.


As election season approaches, beware. I read recently that a politician is a person who's got what it takes to take what you got.


Regarding those rescued Chilean miners, this event is such a gospel illustration that even the news commentators cannot help but see it. Repeatedly they use words such as "back from the dead," "resurrection," and "miraculous deliverance from hell" to describe it. If only they can now see their own need for the same.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hiding Ourselves

Is it not easier to hide who we are than who we are not?
  • To disguise our selfishness is but the work of a moment, whereas the lack of a generous spirit is too big a void to conceal.
  • To covet a neighbor's position can be mostly contained within, but a failure to rejoice spontaneously in a friend's success creates a loud silence.
  • To talk big about prayer and pray big in public can, like a rug over swept-up dirt, mostly hide the fact that we do not pray quietly in private, but it is not a very good cover up for a long distance relationship with God.
Is this not the way of the Pharisee Jesus exposed so devastatingly? Honoring with lips may hide arrogance for a time, but having a heart devoid of God is the dead's giveaway. Tithing mint and dill and cummin may seem like a proper display of righteousness, but a failure to exercise justice, mercy and faith for the poor screams out that you are not compassionate. Cleaning the outside of the cup (shining up our reputation, our interests, our promotions) looks pretty good at the right angle, but life has a way of tipping the cup and showing that the inside (our heart, our soul, our mind) is caked over with self-indulgence and evil desires. Have you not experienced times when you thought you were doing well because you were avoiding the "nots" of the Ten Commandments, only to realize you forgot they are fulfilled with the "doings" of love? Call that getting in touch with your "inner" Pharisee.

Our lifetime of practice makes us great actors on stage at hiding what we are. The unexpected intrusion of uninvited company into our dressing rooms reveals what we are not.

Thankfully the Lord not only exposes but offers. That offering is what the psalmist found after he stopped trying in a wrong-headed way to cover or hide his sin. "You are my hiding place," he said to the Lord in Psalm 32. O the paradox that is the gospel! When we lose self, He saves. When we say we are blind, we see. What we are not, Jesus is. When we stop hiding with fig leaves, He hides us with blood.

We are most hidden when we are exposed for what we are not.

Friday, September 10, 2010

On Qu'ran Burnings

Because of what the Bible teaches, I do not think the pastor in Florida, who appears to be vacillating on whether to burn Qu'rans or not, should do so. Why?

Well, it is not because I believe that the Qu'ran is a holy book. To be as direct as possible, in its denunciations of Christ as the Son of God and crucified Redeemer; its upholding of a polygamous charlatan as the prophet of God; and its teaching that men are justified by works (i.e. keeping the Five Pillars of Islam), I believe the Qu'ran is a book that contains Satanic lies and is leading millions to the eternal doom of the burning flames of hell. Yet I still do not think he should burn them or Christians should participate in this type of demonstration. Again, why?

First, it is not consistent with the Scriptures on book burning. The Biblical proof-text Pastor Jones might offer for holding book burnings would come from Acts 19:19, where we are told this about the people of Ephesus who had responded to the gospel:
"And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver."
Note that this book burning was done by people who had been under the influence of witchcraft and then, when converted to Christianity, burned their own books as a demonstration of their repentance. Paul did not burn copies, but preached the gospel by the power of the Spirit in such a way that they voluntarily offered this sacrifice to the Lord. The proper application of this passage would be to pray and live in such a way that Muslim communities and nations would be so powerfully converted to the freedom of Christ they would voluntarily throw off this yoke of blindness they are under and recognize it for the deception it is.

Second, it does not follow the example of Moses, Gideon or Elijah. There are "showdown times" when God calls His people to expose the false gods of the day. The Lord used Moses to expose the falsity of the Egyptian deities through the plagues. Gideon tore down his father's idols. Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel to call their god to light the altar with fire from heaven, then showed God's power to consume not only the sacrifice but the altar itself. The missionary Boniface in the eighth century did something similar, as he chopped down the oak of Thor and made a chapel out of it for the numerous converts from the Germanic tribes. Perhaps Pastor Jones thinks he is standing in the line of these men. However, I do not think so for one important reason.

Each of these men had given their lives in service to minister to the people they were seeking to deliver. How has Mr. Jones actually ministered to the Muslims? How has the pastor of the "Dove World Outreach Center" actually reached out with dove-like love to Islamic people? Rather than a "showdown time," this has more the appearance of "showtime." I find myself agreeing with the president on this one, who referred to it as a "stunt."

Thirdly and finally, it does not have the aroma of Christ in it. To the same church at Ephesus who did the book burning, Paul said, "Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, and offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma" (Ephesians 5:2). This planned event does not have Christ's love. I know those who have given years of their lives in humble sacrifice to minister to Muslims who, I am sure, would say this act will do nothing but offend and raise barriers. Muslims will see this as an act of Christian hatred, not love. As it is stirring up frenzy and hostility worldwide, it also does not have His wisdom. Jesus carefully avoided inciting crowds in His ministry, knowing that crowd frenzy does not spread the kingdom of God. And as the media circus proves, it does not have the sobriety of Christ needed in true gospel ministry. Whenever Jesus was speaking to an individual or multitudes, the seriousness of what was at stake always was preserved. Though He spoke directly against it, He did not burn the Talmud that was misleading the Jews. He knew He was dealing with the souls of people destined for an eternal existence, so He went after their hearts.

As it looks like all of us will be having to engage the Muslim world more and more, why not learn how to do so? For starters, read how one Muslim in Hamas was converted by the fundamental difference he saw between Islam and Christianity - the love of Jesus for His enemies - in the book Son of Hamas. Then order a copy of my friend's book, Pastor Aaron Goerner's Is the Qu'ran the Word of God?, as he as an American has made the effort to engage hundreds of Muslims worldwide in serious, confrontational, but loving dialogue to show them the truth.