I was recently under the weather (like many others) and in frequent use of cough drops. I noticed the particular brand that I was using offered "a pep talk in every drop." The cough drop wrappers have inspirational phrases printed on them to, I guess, lift your spirits.
Phrases actually found on these wrappers include (but are not limited to): "Keep your chin up," "Conquer today," "Elicit a few 'wows,' and "Don't give up on yourself."
I've always struggled with the idea of pep talks that aren't grounded in any sort of truth. Blame it on the cynic in me or my lack of emotion, but if there's no reasoning behind "keep your chin up," I have a really hard time being convinced to keep my chin up.
I've heard motivational speakers tell crowds of high school students that the only thing keeping them from having a great day is the decision to just "be awesome." That's such a cotton candy approach. It might get you out the door, but sooner or later reality of a broken, fallen world will set in. A pep talk might lift your spirits when you realize someone at the last donut. But if your mind is overcome by the real tragedies and disasters that affect this world, let alone the discouragement we can muster in our own minds, positive thinking won't cut it.
Sadly, most people outside of Christianity never hear about victory that is grounded in the eternal hope of Christ. It's also important to recognize that many Christians don't either. A lot of Christians are settling for motivational speaking rather than the transforming truth of God's word. It's concerning that some sermon points could double as cough drop wrapper pep talks. The ideas that "all that you need is found in yourself" or that fulfillment is found in "eliciting wows" are contrary to the gospel message of Jesus.
We can't handle everything that comes our way on our own. We don't have everything we need within ourselves to conquer the world or even the day. These deficiencies and weaknesses highlight our need for a Savior. We may want to believe that we can do anything if we just believe in ourselves, but we are saved by faith in Christ, not faith in ourselves.
Self-sufficiency is a really dangerous mindset to adopt. Self-sufficient people don't know their need for a savior, so they won't surrender to a savior. They also won't point others to the Savior. That's the ugly flipside of "cough drop Christianity."
I'm not condoning self-loathing, either. Please don't get me wrong. I believe we should all walk in confidence, freedom and victory. And I believe we all have worth. I just believe that confidence, freedom, victory, and worth are all found in Christ.
I often find that the music of modern hymn writers, Keith and Kristyn Getty really ministers to me. Their song, "My Worth Is Not In What I Own" really reiterates the truer, better pep talk that comes in claiming and celebrating the gospel of Christ and the worth that we find in Him alone. May it minister to you, as well, and serve as a reminder of the antidote to Cough Drop Christianity that we have in the gospel of Christ!
Our church has been reading through "Make Mature Multiply: Becoming Fully-Formed Disciples of Jesus," edited by Brandon Smith. In chapter 6 Logan Gentry notes that Jesus' evangelism strategy was to point people to "the better story."
Gentry points out Christ's "you have heard it said, but I say" statements as a means to contrast the world's perspective with the better way of the gospel.
This resonated with me and something I've been working through when it comes to parenting. I've been wanting to develop a way to shepherd our son's heart and not just his behavior. I definitely want a well-behaved kid, mind you, but I also don't want moralism to be an obstacle or distraction to his realizing a need for the gospel.
We have one son, now, and he's only 10 months old, so we still have a LITTLE time to work on this. Recently though, I was challenging myself to point him to a better way rather than just a "because I said so" approach. I want my son to know that I have his best interest in mind when I correct him. I want him to recognize that his heart is not whole apart from Jesus.
So I've tried recently, instead of just saying "no" or "stop" to adding "you don't need that" or "that will hurt you" as a further explanation of why I'm disciplining him. It's a small step in a huge journey, but I can only hope that I can point him to the better way found only in the gospel of Christ.
David Crowder's latest album Neon Steeple just released but the single "I Am" has been out for a while now. Here are the lyrics to the chorus without any capitalization or punctuation:
i am holding on to you
i am holding on to you
in the middle of the storm
i am holding on
How would YOU interpret that? When I first heard this song, I wondered, "Does he mean that he is holding on to God or does he mean that I Am is holding on to 'you' so be encouraged? (Or is he being creative and meaning both or switching back and forth?)"
It's a great song. You can hear it here: http://youtu.be/mw4ES27w3oU
Music is really powerful. It moves people in ways that nothing else can. That's why I think it's really important to clear up any vagueness that can occur with worship songs. If you're singing to and/or about God, you're presenting some kind of doctrine, whether you know it or not.
With Crowder's song, neither version I offered presents a false doctrine. But I think the stronger image and message is that I Am is holding on to me in the storms. This interpretation puts the focus on God, rather than my efforts or desperation.
That's why I was thankful that Crowder provided this:
If you didn't watch it, he explains how amazingly reassuring it is that I Am, Creator God is holding on to us. Unfortunately, not all artists provide explanations for their songs. And even if they did, how many people would find those explanations rather than just assigning whatever meaning they want to the work?
Not too long ago John Mark McMillan released "Future/Past." Here's the chorus:
you are my first
you are my last
you are my future and my past
I know I'm guilty of over-thinking things but when I hear that chorus, I think, "What does that mean?" It sounds great and the video is nothing short of epic, but is it ok to apply any meaning that doesn't contradict scripture? Or, worse yet, any meaning that is relative to the hearer? Or should it be more specific, especially since it's a worship song? I looked, not very hard admittedly, but could not find McMillan's explanation of the song.
And I'm not intending to attack McMillan. He just has a song that fits the bill here. I have been blessed by his music and we sing it in our College and Young Singles ministry often. But when "Future/Past" came out, a handful of leaders from our church, including some worship pastors, offered different meanings to the lyrics. (All of them were doctrinally sound!) This was a fun and interesting poll but also concerning. If leaders in the church are not exactly sure what the song means, how do we expect those new or unfamiliar to the faith to interpret it?
I understand that scripture can be (and is) misinterpreted often, too, but if we can take measures to clear up confusion, shouldn't we? Or should we leave room for "what ifs" for the sake of art?
I remember a friend years ago taking issue with people singing, "Who may ascend TO the hill of the Lord?"
"Anyone can ascend TO the hill of the Lord," he argued. "The question is who may actually ascend the hill!" The memory makes me chuckle. He was definitely more ardent, but I share his conviction for truth!
People connect with music very deeply. We sing and are moved but are often moved by the artistry and emotion of the song rather than the truth of the lyrics. So, I personally believe it's important to guard doctrine when "teaching" through song, and I'm thankful for the worship leaders in my life who value this principle, as well.
May we strive to worship in spirit AND truth!
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17 ESV)
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7 ESV)
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8 ESV)
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)
49 years ago today the Astrodome opened as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" hosting an exhibition game between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. Today it is a mostly empty shell, hosting only fading memories. It's dwarfed by the newer, bigger, better and shinier Reliant Stadium. Oh, how the mighty has fallen.
I might not have taken much notice of today's Astrodome anniversary if I hadn't already listened to the Johnny Cash interview I posted earlier. In that interview Cash is asked if he sees himself as an icon, the "John Wayne of rock and roll." Cash thinks the question is ridiculous. He says when he looks in the mirror he sees pimples on his nose, a swollen and hurting jaw, and thinning hair.
As much as the interviewer wants Johnny to revel in the glory days of his youth, Cash keeps responding with humility and self-deprecation. I think Cash understood that new things get old, strong things grow weak, and shiny things dim as time passes on. He used to be one of the biggest and brightest stars, but it was all temporary.
Fleeting, just like the novel Astrodome of the 60s (Indoor baseball?! No way!). Temporary things have a way of disappointing over time because they, by definition, don't last. But that's what we always get caught up in, because this world is temporary.
"For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18b ESV)
And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)
We are a culture consumed with the temporary. We don't consider eternity, let alone 40 years from now. But what might change if we did? Less spontaneous tattoos, probably, heh. But hopefully and way more importantly, people living now for a kingdom and a King that will stand forever. May we be a people who boast only in the cross of Christ!
I have the honor of teaching part of our church membership class and, during yesterday's, something occurred to me. I usually begin my section by introducing myself and telling the class that I joined the church back in 1991 when my family moved to Houston and that it's been really cool to see all the highs and lows and God's constant sustenance and provision here.
As I was "reviewing" that spiel in my head before taking the stage, our pastor was asking some of our LONG term (and one founding) members of our church how long they had been here. (Our church was planted in 1973.) It struck me in light of those 30+ year members, that some of the people in yesterday's class were JUST beginning their potential 20, 30, 40 years of membership!
It was such a cool moment to think that, in 1991, I was a knuckleheaded 7th grader running around with hardly any clues about anything and NO clue that 20 years later I'd be on staff, married and starting a family here. I wasn't thinking that, in my 30s, I'd be worshiping alongside other second and third generation members of our church that were knuckleheads like me in the 90s.
I encouraged yesterday's class that they might be sitting across the table or across the room from lifelong friends that they haven't even met yet but that God was leading to join our church just like them.
It's so cool to think about! God has given us a spiritual family in the Church! Becoming a church member, then, means SO much more than just agreeing with a statement of faith. Praying that our church continues to be a healthy expression of the body of Christ!
Last weekend Jer and I were able to go see the Gettys in concert (I highly recommend them if you're not familiar with them), and it was so much fun to get away together and worship with other believers. The Gettys are modern hymn writers, and their lyrics are so rich and full of Truth. One of their songs has really stuck with me since then, so I thought I'd share
I'm praying these lyrics over this season of my life:
"Turn my striving into works of grace. Breath of God, show Christ in all I do."
Apparently RoboCop (1987) is a Christ story.
"It is about a guy that gets crucified after 50 minutes, then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes and then is like the super-cop of the world, but is also a Jesus figure as he walks over water at the end." - Paul Verhoeven
Guess I missed a little something behind, "Dead or alive, you're coming with me."
As our pastor preaches through Galatians on Sunday mornings, our CYS class is studying Romans. It's been awesome to dig into their parallels as Paul argues for the truth of the Gospel against the lies of the world.
Something that stood out to me in the context of today's "cause culture" (a term I probably just made up that isn't echoed by any real research), is the concept of identity. If you have a Facebook account, you'll know what I mean. If you don't have a Facebook account, congratulations.
When I say "cause culture" I'm referring to the constant soapboxery (another made up term) that pervades my News Feed. Politics, religion, anti-religion, anti-politics, give them more, they have too much, my sports team, your sports team, I'm offended, they're offended, someone MIGHT be offended, how could they, you should, etc. etc. Or maybe I'm the only one with Facebook friends who promote "awareness" through social media.
I understand that people are going to tout what they believe in, as they should. But has anyone ever been convinced of an opposing view via a Facebook post or linked article? Most of what I see is vehement alliance or opposition with a sprinkling of "live and let live."
So where do Romans and Galatians come in? Glad you asked (even if you didn't).
In Galatians 2:20, Paul writes that he has been crucified with Christ and that it is no longer he (Paul) who lives, but Christ who lives in him.
In Romans 6, Paul writes that believers have been baptized into Christ, are united with Him in His death and will be united with Him in resurrection. The idea of union with Christ is like the botanical process of grafting two branches together. There's a oneness that takes us from unity to union. Our pastor and a good friend here at church made that distinction recently. Unity often carries the definition of solidarity. It's simply a sympathy formed by shared ideas or emotions. I can mentally agree with someone and have "unity" with them.
Union on the other hand carries the weight of oneness. It's a seamless combining that takes two things and makes them one thing. That's how our identities are as believers. We are to be identified by our life in Christ. It's no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.
When people adamantly defend their various causes as the prime issue in life, THAT issue is usually tied to where they find their identity. For people who don't claim to be Christ-followers, this is more understandable. These folks haven't claimed that they've surrendered their everything to Christ. They aren't, rightfully, identified by Christ because they are not in Christ.
For believers, we need to assess our motivations.
"But wait, what if my cause is really noble and prescribed by scripture?" Awesome! Just champion that cause with the character of Christ. If anger, incredulity, and defensiveness characterize our heroism it's probably not Christ's attitude leading the way. If we're just concerned about winning the argument, keeping our guns, and 'Murica and angry at people who watch CNN, we might need to slow our roll and check ourselves before we wreck ourselves (props to Ice Cube).
Does God want us to defend the defenseless, speak for the voiceless, feed the hungry, liberate the oppressed? Yes, I believe He does.
Does He want us to let our flesh take over in order to convince or "correct" those who disagree with us? No, I don't believe He does.
"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person." Colossians 4:6
Not all identity thieves are causes. Sometimes what competes with our identifying with Christ are the roles we play in life. If my prime identity is as a father I will begin to worship my child, because that is what sustains by identity. If my prime identity is as a pastor I will begin to worship success and feedback from people, because they are what sustain my identity.
As Christians, when thinking about how to identify our identity thieves, it's similar to pinpointing our idols. Take a look at where your time is devoted. Assess what makes you defensive (angry even). Consider what you "couldn't live without."
We vigorously defend what we think sustains us because we don't want it taken away.
The beauty of identifying with Christ is that He doesn't need defending. He is our defense. I'm not saying, "stay mum on the causes of Christ and Christianity." I'm saying that indignation is not fruit of the Spirit. I'm saying that if our lives are hidden in Christ, it's His character that accompanies His message. He doesn't need us to stick up for His causes. He invites us to be walking, talking manifestations of His powerful, life-changing Gospel!
Our College and Young Singles' ministry (CYS) is going through a series called "God With Us" to parallel our church's Advent series. We're looking at a few of the major components of the Incarnation, and it's been really exciting to dig into these lessons.
It might be a little unconventional to emphasize suffering, temptation and penal substitution when most folks are feeling merry and bright at the thought of cuddly baby Jesus... but those are what the Incarnation points us toward! I think it's important that we consider why Christ had to become fully man. It makes cuddly baby Jesus that much more exciting!
Our first lesson focused on the Atonement. Christ had to become fully man in order to atone for sinful men (Hebrews 2:16). The punishment for the sins of man had to be endured by a man... so Christ took on flesh. Not only did Jesus take our place in receiving punishment, but He also stands in our place as righteous. This righteousness was earned as a man (Matthew 3:15 and Matthew 5:17). It's a righteousness we couldn't earn... so Christ took on flesh. He lived, as a man, in complete obedience to God's will. And all who trust in Christ by faith receive His righteousness, justifying us before God the Father!
The second lesson had us looking at Jesus' sympathy for mankind. Christ had to take on flesh so that He could gain experiential knowledge of human suffering and temptation. Crazy to insinuate that Christ lacked knowledge of something, given He's omniscient but Hebrews 2:18 tells us that Jesus' experiences in human suffering and temptation allow Him to sympathize with us. Consider how great His suffering was, knowing it truly was undeserved. Imagine how great the temptations were that He faced, considering that He never gave in. Wayne Grudem joins other theologians in suggesting that, "only he who successfully resists a temptation to the end most fully feels the force of that temptation." We think we know the magnitude of temptation, but try to grasp how immense it could be, if it were always resisted! To minister to mankind with sympathy, Christ took on flesh.
The next installment of our series will look ahead to our resurrection bodies! Christ took on flesh so that He could redeem humans. That means that everything that goes into being human will be redeemed! Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection. He maintains a glorified, physical body and His people will be resurrected to glorified, physical bodies (1 Corinthians 15)! For man to ultimately be what God intended, Christ had to take on flesh and redeem it. Amazing stuff!
None of these things could have happened if Christ had not humbled Himself unto humanness. We celebrate baby Jesus because of the eternal and otherwise impossible implications His arrival led to! God didn't have to send Jesus. But He wanted to save and redeem us.
That's why our final "lesson" will be a day of praise to God for His loving plan to show us mercy and grace!
1 John 4:10 "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
God with us! Merry Christmas!
These past couple months the Lord has put it on my heart to begin intentionally praying over Deacon and the man he will become. Prayers for his heart, his passions, his future and his character. Though I know my prayers for him will change in some ways as he grows and I begin to know his heart, my desire is to always be interceding for him, throughout his life.
Below are some of the prayers and scriptures that I will be praying over him over the next few weeks, months and years:
1. That God would call him out of his sin and that he would respond in faith.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. - John 1:12-13
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. - John 10:27-28
2. That his life would be a picture of God's goodness, faithfulness and grace.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. - Philippians 1:27-28
3. That he would be a man of integrity, and that he would pursue purity, humility and righteousness.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. - 2 Timothy 2:22
4. That he would love people well.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. - 1 John 4:7
Let all that you do be done in love. - 1 Corinthians 16:14
5. That he would bravely follow after the Lord.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. - Deut. 31-6
6. That he would be a Christ-like servant.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. - Philippians 2:3-4
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. - Galatians 5:13
7. That he would be passionate about God's Word.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psalm 1:1-2
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
8. That his life would be marked by joy, not merely comfort or happiness.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. - Romans 15:13
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. - Psalm 16:8-9
9. That he would marry a godly woman and lead his family in righteousness and love.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her - Ephesians 5:25
Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? - 1 Timothy 3:2-5
10. That he would be used by God for His kingdom purposes.
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. - Romans 6:13
As our church has considered Christian community over the past several months, certain things have really resonated with me. As we strive to really be the Church and truly experience Christian community, diversity cannot be ignored. I think there are a few factors that have fueled this soapbox in my life.
My background plays some part, I’m convinced. I spent nearly the first 10 years of my life in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. I was born in San Benito, and then lived in Brownsville and McAllen before moving to Albuquerque, NM (and finally Houston). If you’re not familiar with the Valley, trust me when I say there is a pervasive Latino culture. Whereas larger cities have pockets of other cultures like “Chinatown” or “Little Italy,” most of the Valley is “Little Mexico.” So, I grew up celebrating Charro Days and next door to a boy whose name I thought was Meho and whose grandparents I called Abuela and Abuelo. (Later I realized they were calling him “mijo” which is a term of endearment meaning “my son” and abuela and abuelo mean grandma and grandpa!) Anyway, I’ve always been pretty comfortable around Hispanic cultures/people and probably a little more sensitive to cultural diversity, in general, because of my roots.
Another factor that has increased my cultural awareness is participation in international missions. Cultural diversity will definitely cross your mind when you go from being in the majority to being in the minority with regard to skin color, language or customs! If you’re a believer, you need to engage the world with the Gospel! Houston is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America. Embrace it!
More recently, I’ve even noticed some lack of diversity within our existing church crowd. I don’t mean that our church crowd isn’t reaching people different than us. That’s the point I was trying to make in my previous paragraphs! The point I’m making now is that we’ve built up walls even between our mostly white, middle-class selves. I think I’ve been more aware of it recently because I’ve worked closely with or entered into several different church demographics over the last few years.
For my first 10 years or so on staff at HNW, I worked with junior high and high school students. That was my world. My community and fellowship was with students and student workers (mostly apart from their families). Then I transitioned to the College and Young Singles (CYS) ministry. Since I started working with CYS, I have gotten married and, in the next 3 months, will have a son! The changes in scenery, community and Life Groups have been distinct!
The predominant thinking in modern church culture is to provide a Christian community for every little stage of life. And while there is definitely something to be said for affinity and the power of the shared experience, it’s still important that we pursue diversity demographically as we pursue diversity racially and culturally.
It really irks me when Christian college students don’t want to be in fellowship with Christian twenty-somethings… or when married twenty-somethings don’t want to be in fellowship with married thirty-somethings… or when married folks without kids don’t want to be in fellowship with married folks with kids... or when marrieds and singles don’t want to be in fellowship with each other… or young folks don’t want to be in fellowship with senior adults, etc. etc.
This is not the heart of the Gospel. The heart of the Gospel is what Paul writes about in Galatians 3:28 when he says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It’s the power of Christ to break down walls and unite the different into one, in Him. Shame on us for rebuilding walls that Christ has demolished and for creating walls that never should have existed to begin with!
Because, in case you don’t realize, Heaven will not be segregated into our convenient, customizable demographics and English is not the official language. One of the sweetest blessings I've ever experienced is worshiping with Christians in other nations. It’s a great reminder of how diverse the new heavens and new earth will be! We celebrated this truth in Kenya with a favorite praise song that the children sing, boasting, “We are many, but we are one!”
If you believe the plea in the Lord’s Prayer that says “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” you should appreciate diversity now, because we can’t practice for eternity in uniformity.
As with many recurring hot topics, young people
fleeing from being driven from leaving churches has caught some momentum in recent weeks with points and counterpoints flying back and forth across the blogosphere.
Millennials are leaving churches and it's a problem. But is the trend of young people leaving or not staying in church a new problem? And whose problem is it? Are churches lacking authenticity and the exaltation of Jesus? Or are the young people too fickle or not even believers to begin with? Maybe it's a mix of all of the above.
There have been insightful words spoken from all sides of the argument. Some saying young people just want to be heard and aren't looking for pretense. Some saying churches should seek to be uncool. I'm prone to contrarianism, so I find myself thinking, "Yes, but..." with a lot of what I've read.
For starters, many young people find churches inhospitable, if not hateful toward those with differing beliefs and lifestyles. While I agree that a LOT of Christians (myself included) have mistreated people who disagree with them (and have throughout time), I still get a sense that many are looking for Christians/churches to accept opposing beliefs under the banner of tolerance and respect. I think that's wrong (and a false dichotomy that doesn't allow for moral disagreement and human respect to coexist.)
It's been suggested that focusing on what we're for rather than what we're against might cause people to stick around. From a pastoral perspective, I think you have to proclaim both.
If a life in Christ looks a certain way, it also does NOT look a certain way (Galatians 5:16-26). This WILL cause people to leave churches. Jesus Himself had this happen (John 6:22-66). He could have just preached what they all agreed on, but that wasn't His full counsel. So, if editing what churches teach/preach is the key to keeping people in churches, count me out. Hopefully that isn't the sentiment being suggested.
There are things that Christians believe, because the Bible says them, that will always make certain people feel unwelcome in a sense. There is no getting around that. What we need to do, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is be kind to everyone while still being able to correct with gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Kindness and correction are not mutually exclusive. It's when Christians fail to season truth with grace that the tone repels rather than the message. God forbid it be the messenger that is being rejected.
Loving our/God's enemies seems to be the snag. Are we desiring and pursuing the good of others? Because that's love. Coddling is not love. Neither is assuming the role of wrath-dispenser.
As far as keeping things cool, uncool, whathaveyou... we need simply to strive for authenticity. This is scary, because authenticity requires transparency. And we all know transparencies and overheads are NOT cool. Oh, sorry, wrong transparency...
Being transparent means being vulnerable and that is counter to most church cultures. As far as being "cool?" Just be who you are. I've worshiped with really genuine, authentic congregations that had multi-thousand dollar projection systems and wireless in-ear monitors for the musicians, etc. AND I've worshiped with really genuine, authentic congregations that gathered in a small room without electricity. If it's Spirit-driven and Christ-centered, it's all good. As soon as it becomes, "our fog machine is bigger than your fog machine," we've derailed. One of the biggest realizations I've experienced in ministry (in America's 4th largest city) is that you cannot get caught up in the coolness competition. Some church will always be cooler than yours. And the culture of the world will ALWAYS be cooler than all of you.
Culture is not to be competed with or retreated from. It is to be redeemed. And by that I don't mean we need to high-jack the icons of the unbelieving world and Jesus-fy them (Abreadcrumb and Fish, anyone?). That is not culture war. Culture war is preaching against the attitudes and idols of this world so that hearts are transformed and culture is as a result. Pointing people away from idol worship hinges on pointing people toward Christ worship.
So, those are my jumbled, first-glance thoughts on the
new age-old dust up. I'm sure it won't be a problem for anyone else now or for ages to come! Heh
Earlier today I teased our Les Mis-loving student intern about missing our pastor's "performance" of a line or two from said musical while she is out of town on a mission trip. "Serving means sacrificing," I told her in jest.
While the context was humorous, I really believe that true service will require sacrifice. Maybe not always, but if service leads us to put others first, there will come a time (or many) when not putting ourselves first will cost us something. As a believer in Jesus Christ, this principle is inherent to the Christian life. However, as imperfect people undergoing sanctification, it is a lesson to be learned seemingly ad nauseaum.
I've been thinking about service and sacrifice a lot, recently. You may have heard that my wife and I are expecting a baby boy in December! We have decided on the first name, Deacon. For starters, we like the sound of it, and it's a little uncommon. We also like the meaning. Deacon comes from a Greek word meaning "servant." While we pray that our son will come to saving faith in Christ and devote his life to Him, we know that he may not. And if that's the case, we'd still like for his name to be a reminder to him and every one else that his mom and dad believed every person was put on earth to serve the Lord and serve others. (And, yes, we know how silly it will sound if he becomes an actual deacon or pastor... "Pastor Deacon or deacon Deacon!")
Expecting a baby boy also has me thinking about sacrifice. Our church is currently studying faith in the life of Abraham. We know full well what's coming in Genesis 22, when Abraham is asked to prepare an altar and sacrifice his son. I can't even comprehend it and I haven't even met my son, yet.
I don't believe I will be called to raise a knife to my son, but I know God has called me to devote everything to Him. This includes my children. I've always been moved by Hannah and her devoting of Samuel to ministry in the temple (1 Samuel 1) and have hoped that I would have that kind of attitude if I ever were blessed with children. Well, now I have one on the way, and I'm praying that the Lord will find us faithful in parenting. I know the temptation to worship my child(ren) will be strong. I've seen it (and judged it) in others. Now I'll be walking in those parenting shoes, feeling the shame of my own hypocrisy, I'm sure.
I know one needn't be a parent to experience sacrifice (see Jesus, Paul, etc.), but I also know there are levels of sacrifice that will be thrust upon me that I have not even imagined! It's a little daunting to say the least. So, I pray that I won't lose sight of WHY I'm sacrificing. I pray that my self-denial wouldn't give way to bitterness or resentment, but to a better idea of Who Christ is. I pray that the whole process will drive me into more of a moment-by-moment trusting in Christ. And I pray that God would be glorified by Deacon Wilson's life as it becomes a testimony of His great gospel.
I don't get it. I just don't get it. I haven't investigated all the ins and outs of abortion policy but as I understand it, the most recent legislation that was blocked sought to, among other things, ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Texas.
I believe abortion at any stage is the taking of a life. Is that not what an abortion is? There is a life that needs to be ended for an abortion to be deemed successful, yes? It's not simply a removal... it's a cessation of life. That's why Kermit Gosnell ensured "fetal demise" (killed live-born babies) in his clinic. Because the mothers chose abortion and he wanted to complete the procedure that was chosen.
Regardless, to focus (more so) on the recent legislation, how could anyone ever disregard the life of a 20 week or older fetus? It blows my mind and sickens my heart. I recently went to an ultrasound reading with my pregnant wife. Here is an image from the visit:
This image was taken at 13 weeks... 13 WEEKS.
My baby has a face, a nose, arms and legs. Baby Wilson is a person. Baby Wilson is alive. How could anyone, let alone the president of the United States, celebrate the blocking of legislation that would protect a life well after this stage of pregnancy?
I cannot wrap my mind around this thinking. Fighting for the "right" to choose? What is the choice, exactly? Can it be denied that the choice is to end a life?
Is that the logic in the argument? That women should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies? Surely abortion proponents realize that the fetus is a BODY inside of a pregnant lady's body. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills and missing the point.
Pregnant ladies can't even ride roller coasters. Whose body is being protected by that policy? Where are the protests on that attack on choice?
We're worshiping ourselves. It's a scary day when each person is their own authority.
That's the self-exalting attitude that roused protesters to disrupt lawmakers in Austin. It's the same self-exalting attitude that celebrates the freedom to end the life of the unborn. And our nation is reveling in and rabidly fighting for it.
And I just don't get it.
For God So Loved the World
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world,that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The Word Became Flesh
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The Birth of Jesus Christ
Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own peopledid not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'") 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, the has made him known.
John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.
In the familiar story detailed in Daniel 3, something jumped out to me that I never focused on before: the emphasis, as noted through repetition, on man's efforts in creating idols. You've probably heard of Nebuchadnezzar's 90' tall golden statue and how Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego) refused to bow down to it, resulting in their being thrown into the fiery furnace.
SPOILER ALERT: God rescues them from the furnace without even a hint of smoke on them.
Usually the focus of the story is on that aspect, and rightly so. It's an amazing event with, most likely, the preincarnate Christ setting these young men free and establishing the Lord's sovereignty over creation. But as I studied the passage recently, I couldn't help but notice the amount of times that the phrase "the king had set up" (or something very similar) was used in describing the 90' statue of gold. (It's at least 10 times in the first 15 verses.)
Nebuchadnezzar's power and arrogance convinced him that he was invincible. His efforts had accomplished all that a man could accomplish, so to receive worship unto himself, he created a huge golden idol. He made it and set it up and then told everyone to come worship it. It reminds me a little of this:
The text of Daniel 3 clearly shows us that Nebuchadnezzar's idol originated from himself and that his narcissism rejected any idea that there could be anyone greater. That's why he asks the Israelite young men, "what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?" He didn't believe there was one. He had made an idol, he had caused everyone else to worship it, he fired up the furnace and he was the only one who had the authority (or so he thought) to kill these dissenters or spare them.
This is what our idolatry does in our own lives. When we set up for ourselves, as Nebuchadnezzar did, the idols that make us feel comfortable or pleased, we begin to think we're the ones in control. After all, we set it up!
If you're looking for a way to identify idols in your heart that you may not realize you've set up, consider your reaction to losing things you hold dear. Often, when we're reminded that we're not in control or don't have final say, we get upset. The things we REALLY want to control or have final say over usually have become idols in our lives. Even in the context of the Christian life, it's easy to set things up for ourselves in a way we like. Then we continue down the path we've designed while attributing our walk to obedience to Christ, hoping that He won't actually call us to veer from what we've set up.
Let us turn our hearts to the one who set it ALL up!
Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD:
“Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good.”
There is none like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms
there is none like you.
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood!
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation.
(Jeremiah 10:1-10 ESV)
We are a people who need fellowship with others. God has designed humans to be this way. It's not easy for all personality types to engage in fellowship with others, but that doesn't mean we don't all need it.
Consider the creation account in Genesis. God created Adam and was in fellowship with him. Before the Fall all of creation was as it should have been and yet God deemed it "not good" for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). You would think that man in fellowship with God only before the Fall would be perfect, but God didn't see it that way. God created man to be in fellowship with others. I realize that Eve was created to partner with Adam in ways that only husbands and wives are to partner (and "Hallelujah!" for those ways!), but I still believe there is a more general need for human interaction in all of us that is a part of how we've been wired.
The Trinity exists in perfect fellowship, independent of man, with three persons in one being and, man has been made in God's image (Genesis 1:26). I believe the image of God in man reflects and longs for the things that God experiences perfectly whether the person is saved or not. So, the need for fellowship is not reserved for the Church. It is a basic human requirement.
The rewards of community and the effects of isolation are manifested in good and bad ways throughout all levels of society and stages of life: parents put kids in time out, teens often seek belonging and community through gangs, prisoners are isolated to solitary confinement, people join clubs to discuss books and movies and wine, etc.
The Church, however, has to approach this need for community from a biblical perspective. If believers are to be devoted to the purposes of God since He has set us aside as His holy people (1 Peter 2:9), we need to understand community through His eyes.
As Christians, we do not have the right to avoid people in order to appease our preferences. We have been called to God's purposes. We are different parts of the body of Christ fit together by Him and submitted to His headship for His glory (Ephesians 4:11-16)
May we, as believers, better reflect God's nature in the ways we love our neighbors. May we engage our brothers and sisters in Christ in fellowship and unity to the glory of God. May we point people to Christ as we interact with each other and submit to the freedom He brings in overcoming our differences.
I'm so thankful for the community God has blessed me with and am hopeful that you will seek out and find it in your life, as well. It's not always easy or comfortable to be part of the Church, but it is our purpose and calling!
Whenever this scene between Louis Gossett, Jr. and Richard Gere from An Officer and a Gentleman is referenced, it reminds me of Peter and Jesus' conversation in John 6. Mayo (Gere) is desperate for meaning in life and has found it in one thing, the Navy. His superior officer challenges him to quit, to give up, to admit he can't take any more and to walk away, but he can't bear the thought of being disconnected from what he's discovered. He's clinging to the one place he can thrive and grow.
In John 6 Jesus has many followers quit after hearing a difficult truth and He asks the twelve disciples if they want to quit, also. Peter realizes the only place they can find true life is in Christ. I believe that Peter has come to realize his spiritual poverty and responds to Jesus with an attitude of, "I got nowhere else to go!"
John6:67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is the gospel realization that every believer must walk in. When all this world has to offer is considered, an illuminated heart should realize that life is found in Jesus alone. We have nowhere else to go. We are dependent on "the Holy One of God" to sustain us, not just to bless us. Cling to that truth, and cling to Jesus!
In Paul E. Miller’s A Praying Life, he writes about the childlike faith with which we approach God. He notes that a child is not intimidated by a loving parent even though the adult is much bigger and stronger, because the relationship influences the perspective. God is the bigger, stronger heavenly Father to those who trust Him by faith. It is because of His love and protection, however, that we are able to run into His arms without being scared or intimidated. It was this perspective that allowed David to write the twenty-third Psalm. The LORD is our shepherd! Do you see the paradox? “LORD” is the proper covenant name for God that points to His supremacy and transcendence. It’s a name that reminds His people how “other” God is. How far above and all-powerful He is. And yet, David says that this far off, mighty God is our shepherd. A shepherd works among his sheep to protect and guide and care for them. That’s how God’s relationship is with His people. He is intimately active in our lives! David understood this and trusted God with the faith of a child. This faith allowed him, “even though [he] walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” to not fear. It’s this faith that keeps us focused on the Shepherd, not the shadow.
Trust God today! Be comforted and know that He is with His children!
In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, God gives His people a message about their sin and disobedience in worship. He says in chapter 1, verse 7 that the people are "presenting defiled food upon [His] altar." He then suggests in verses 8 and 9 that they would not cut corners like this with their respected human leaders.
The sin that had crept its way into the hearts of the people is manifesting itself through laziness. Their affections were not kindled for God, so their expressions of love for Him were lacking. This is different than the blatant sin of outwardly worshiping a false god or denouncing the faith. What was happening with the Israelites in Malachi was complacency as they nestled into the comfort and convenience of easy "worship." God had given His people instructions on how to worship Him and what was to be brought before Him, but those who lacked love for God began to bring lesser offerings.
The people were going through the motions of worship but not bringing their best. The priests were condoning this laziness and only propagating the idea that easy, lazy motions were enough to please God while the affections of the heart remained cold towards Him.
The Lord has much to say to the people about their sin in Malachi. He condemns their disobedience and laziness and convicts the priests, too, because they were to be protectors of truth and anchors of proper instruction for the people and their acts of worship.
We can learn a very valuable lesson from this opening chapter of Malachi. Our expressions of "worship" might come in different forms than they did in Malachi's day, but we still struggle with the same sins of laziness and convenience. It is crucial that we be vigilant in examining our acts of worship.
How easy is it for us sing the songs, clap our hands, and nod "yes" to what the preacher says while our hearts remain far from God? How easy is it to simply show up at church events as if our presence alone pleases Him?
Where do we cut corners and stop bringing our best before Him out of love and respect? When we prioritize our weeks, what gets cut first due to busy-ness? Is it time with God?
At the end of the day, we need to be aware of what we start giving when we stop caring. This should be a sign to us that our hearts are not in the right place. We need to understand that our minimum efforts are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father. However, we also need to know that the other end of the spectrum is thinking that offering our best will please God even if our hearts are not in it. We see this in 1 Samuel 15:22
"Samuel said, 'Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
As in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
And to heed than the fat of rams.'
So, while God deserves and desires our best, what He desires most of all is the devotion of our hearts. We shouldn't assume that if we just ramp up our giving and put more effort into our worship that we're making up for a heart that has turned away from God.
What we give to Him should be a proper reflection of our heart. In Malachi, we see where the hearts of the people are by looking at their defective sacrifices. May the overflow of our hearts produce acts and gifts that honor our great God!