Will Our Kids Love Jesus and Follow Him? (Part One)

Rejecting Christianity

Your elementary child comes home from school asking if God really created the universe. Your teenager tells you that God seems mean to limit marriage to a man and woman. Your college student says that she no longer believes in Christianity in light of the various world religions.

In today’s world, holding to the Christian faith is more challenging than ever. Undoubtedly, our faith will not be reinforced by other cultural forces as it might have been in the past. Consider the fact that nearly every cultural institution has capitulated to the sexual revolution, even the Boy Scouts.[1] In fact, much of the culture not only doesn’t support traditional Christian beliefs but instead is openly hostile to biblical faith.

If our children remain steadfast in the faith, it is vital that dads and moms take faith training of their children seriously. Without a firm commitment to teach and model a vibrant love for Christ and to teach a biblical worldview to our children, it is very unlikely that they will hold to the Christian faith as they mature. Consider this biblical admonition:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”      – Deuteronomy 6:4-9

A crucial tool in passing on the faith to our children is family worship. In family worship, parents and children gather together daily or several days a week to read the Word, pray, and sing. This time might be at breakfast, around the dinner table, or even a few minutes before bed.

Next week, I’ll post some practical tips for leading family worship.

[1] Richard Gonzalez, “Boy Scouts Will Admit Transgender Boys,” NPR, January 31, 2017, accessed March 15, 2017, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/01/31/512541372/boy-scouts-will-admit-transgender-boys.

The Shack: Truth and Deception

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Ten years ago the widely popular novel, The Shack, was published. In this story, author William Young addresses some of the most pressing and difficult questions of life. How can God be good in the face of human suffering? Does God care about injustice? The novel provided insights that were compelling to many, selling over twenty million copies (1). 

Unsurprisingly, this famous story has been made into a movie by the same title, being released on March 3. While the book offers a powerful testimony of God’s love, it does so at a high cost regarding biblical faithfulness. The late, Chuck Colson, briefly summarizes the story and warns his readers:

The story is about a man named Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. One day he finds a note in his mailbox-apparently from God. God wants Mack to meet Him at “the shack,” the place where his daughter was killed.

When he arrives, the shack and the winter scene around it transform, Narnia-like, into a mystical mountain paradise, perhaps meant to be heaven itself. Now dwelling in the shack are three mysterious figures-the African-American woman, a Middle Eastern workman, and an Asian girl-who reveal themselves as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the book is basically a discussion between Mack and the three persons of the Trinity. While the discussion is mostly on the deep topics of creation, the fall, freedom, and forgiveness, too often the author slips in silly lines that, frankly, seem ridiculous in the mouth of the Godhead. Jesus, looking at Papa, says, “Isn’t she great?” At one point, Papa warns Mack that eating too many of the greens in front of him will “give him the trots.” And when Jesus spills batter on the floor and on Papa, Jesus then washes Her-or is it His?-feet. Papa coos, “Oh, that feels sooooo good.” Ugh.

Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim’s Progress, allegories contain deep truths. That is my problem. It is the author’s low view of Scripture. For example, Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who “beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses.” The author reflects derisively in another spot that “nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that ‘guilt’ edges.”

The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting (2). 

Powerful and compelling stories often have deep impact on our lives and our thinking. For this reason, we are careful that our beliefs about who God is and what is right and good are shaped by the regular study of the Word of God. Further, we are mindful of the danger of being molded by media consumption. In the case of The Shack, we must be especially vigilant as truth is mixed so beautifully with deception. 

In Ephesians 4:14-15, Paul urges believers to mature in the faith “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” 

Here are links to more thorough critiques and reflections:

(1) About, The Shack Facebook page, accessed 2017.02.27, https://www.facebook.com/pg/
theshackmovie/about/.

(2) Chuck Colson, “Stay out of The Shack,” Christian Headlines.com, May 8, 2008, http://www.christianheadlines.com/columnists/breakpoint/stay-out-of-the-shack-11575218.html, accessed 2017/02/27.

Worship Wars and the Word

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Music in the church is almost always a hot topic. In many churches, tampering with the music is something like trying to deactivate a land mine. You can get into a whole heap of trouble in a hurry!

As we continue our search for an associate pastor at FBC to lead in worship, we took some time on Sunday morning to consider what the Word has to say about worship. My hope in thinking together about worship is that we will remain unified around the Word during this time of transition. We focused on insights from 1 Corinthians 14 with supporting Scriptures as well. Here are the main ideas from this message:

Christian worship is ultimately about glorifying God (1 Cor. 14:25, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephesians 3:10, 1 Corinthians 10:31). Since worship is about God’s glory, we recognize that God is the audience of our worship. For this reason, we place emphasis on congregational singing, not performance. Further, we lay aside our own agendas; for we seek God’s glory, not our own.

Christian worship is meant to grow and strengthen believers (1 Cor. 14:2, 3, 4, 5, 12, 17, 19, 26, 31). Worship should be guided by and saturated with God’s Word. Songs should be rich in Christian theology and instruction. Also, the elements included in the worship service should have biblical warrant or support. Further, all who lead in worship should be believers as unbelievers cannot yet worship God. In addition, all who lead in worship should strive to live a life that is pleasing to God since example and character are critical elements of discipleship.

Christian worship proclaims Jesus and the gospel (1 Cor. 14:22, 24-25). Every sermon should include a clear presentation of the gospel. Likewise, every service should include songs that are saturated with the rich truths of the gospel. Also, a desire to reach people encourages us to consider our mission field as we select musical styles with the ultimate understanding that glorifying God and strengthening believers are central in Christian worship.

Christian worship should demonstrate concern for the good of others (1 Cor. 14:1 6; 1 Cor. 11:18, 33-34). Musical style and song selection should be guided by a concern of loving each other. In our context, we strive to include both contemporary songs and hymns in a blended style. We must be committed to the Word’s instructions about worship but flexible about personal preferences.

Christian worship should present God’s truth in a manner that is understandable (1 Cor 14:2, 5, 6, 19, 23). Preaching should be text-driven, clearly communicating the truths of Scripture. Songs should present Christian truth with clarity, not ambiguity. Instrumentation should support, not overwhelm congregational singing as the words of songs should be able to be heard and understood.

Christian worship should be orderly (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). Worship should not be haphazard but emphasize awe of God. Preachers and worship leaders should not hinder worship by a poorly executed ministry, unnecessary displays of skill, or any other practice that might inhibit worship or distract from the substance (1).

Christian worship requires a right heart before God (1 Cor. 14:20, 36; 11:27-38; Matt 5:23-24; John 4:23-24). Christ-exalting corporate worship requires individuals to maintain a  lifestyle of worship throughout the week with daily prayer and Bible study. We should pray for God to prepare our hearts for worship.

When God’s people savor Him and exalt Him, He is glorified, and we are strengthened spiritually. Moreover, those who are not believers have an opportunity to turn to Christ as they observe God’s people treasure and adore Jesus. Undoubtedly, when the Word guides our worship, the wars will be over. Our focus will move from personal preference to that which is greater, glorifying God and furthering the mission! Let’s do this!

 

(1) John Piper, “What Unites Us in Worship at Bethlehem?” Desiring God (October 1, 2003), accessed January 23, 2017.

 

The Rich Rewards of Reading the Word: A Plan for 2017

Man is reading a big book

With 2017 right around the corner, consider setting aside a daily time to meet with God in prayer and Bible reading. Here are some keys to consistency in this critical discipline.

Pick a time and place. Take a look at your schedule and pick a time and location that will enable you to be most consistent. Maybe you can get up a few minutes earlier or take some time during a lunch break or if you are a night owl, spend some time with God just before bed. The key is to set aside a particular time and place to meet with God.

Pick a plan. Don’t just open your Bible and read here or there each day. Instead, have a plan to read through the New Testament this year or through the whole Bible. Here are some possibilities to help you systematically read the Bible.

Don’t give up. If you miss a day, then get back on track the next day. Don’t say to yourself, “I’ll never spend time with God consistently. I’m giving up.” Don’t let the craziness of life keep you from knowing Jesus closely.

When you spend time in God’s Word and prayer with a desire to really know Him, He changes you. Usually, these changes aren’t overnight, but as time passes, make no mistake, God will shape you. There is no greater joy than knowing Jesus more and being changed by Him! As Psalm 1 says…

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.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

During this new year, read the Word and reap the rich reward of a closer relationship with Jesus.

A Devastating Celebration of Death: Planned Parenthood Turns 100

White crosses - anti abortion protest

On Sunday, October 16, Planned Parenthood celebrated its centennial anniversary. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading abortion provider, performing over 320,000 abortions in 2014.[1] Planned Parenthood claims “to provide comprehensive reproductive and complementary health care services.”[2] In reality, the intentional killing of so many little ones can hardly be called “health care.”

Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, nearly 60 million abortions have been legally performed in the United States.[3] Stop. Think about that number, nearly 60 million lives. From a biblical perspective, every one of those numbers represents a person, a person with a soul who has been created in God’s very image.

The 2016 Democratic Party platform wholeheartedly supports abortion. In fact, the party has added language that calls for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents direct federal funding of abortion in most cases.[4] In other words, the Democratic Party seeks to force American taxpayers to fund abortion directly. In an interview, CBS’s John Dickerson asked Secretary Clinton if she supported “a federal limit on abortion at any stage of pregnancy.”[5] Secretary Clinton answered that she did not favor the federal limitation of abortion at any stage of pregnancy. She replied, “… this gets back to whether you respect a woman’s right to choose or not.”[6] Obviously, this means that Secretary Clinton supports killing a baby all the way to moments before the baby’s birth.

As Planned Parenthood celebrates 100 years of operation and millions of deaths, as believers we should grieve. Is our country not unlike the peoples surrounding the nation of Israel in the Old Testament who sacrificed babies in pagan worship? We may be much more sophisticated in our killing, but our country can hardly be called less barbaric. Proverbs 14:34 reminds us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Let’s pray for our country. Pray for repentance and change. Pray for revival in our churches and a great awakening in our nation. Millions of more lives are at stake.

In closing, the words of one pastor echo loudly, “Oh the irony of Planned Parenthood celebrating a birthday…”[7]

[1] David Crary, “Planned Parenthood Celebrates Centennial as Its Foes Bristle,” Associated Press, October 15, 2016, accessed October 18, 2016, http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2016/Planned-Parenthood-s-100th-anniversary-celebrations-this-weekend-come-with-a-sense-of-relief/id-3d213c2cf9f7408e84064d5aa6dd400a.

[2] “Mission,” Planned Parenthood, accessed October 18, 2016, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/mission.

[3] Steven Ertelt, “58,586,256 Abortions in America Since Roe v. Wade in 1973,” LifeNews.com, January 14, 2016, accessed October 18, 2016, http://www.lifenews.com/2016/01/14/58586256-abortions-in-america-since-roe-v-wade-in-1973/.

[4] Bradford Richardson, “Democrats’ Platform at Convention Backs Abortion Funds,” The Washington Times, July 11, 2016, accessed October 18, 2016, http://go.shr.lc/2dLJtLN.

 [5] “Face the Nation Transcripts September 20: Clinton and Paul,” CBS News, September 20, 2015, accessed October 18, 2016, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/face-the-nation-transcripts-september-20-clinton-and-paul/.

 [6] “Face the Nation Transcripts September 20,” CBS News, September 20, 2015.

[7] J. R. Vassar, Twitter post, October 17, 2016 (6:46 a.m.), accessed October 18, 2016, https://twitter.com/jrvassar.

Busyness, Apathy, and Indifference: A Call to Actually Care

Woman holding her face in her hands

On Sunday, we began a new series called Rebuild, a study through the book of Nehemiah. In the opening verses of the first chapter of Nehemiah, we saw the heart of a man who cared deeply for others. His example is challenging for us.

Nehemiah had a prominent position in the Persian government. He had a life of luxury and privilege. In fact, he was miles and miles away from Jerusalem and the Jewish exiles who had returned to Judah. But Nehemiah was interested in what was going on with his people, the Jews in Jerusalem. When a group from Judah came to visit, Nehemiah asked how the Jews were doing. He cared.

When he heard the report that the city was in shambles and the people were in trouble, Nehemiah wept. He prayed. He fasted. He was devastated over the condition of the Jews and Jerusalem. He had a broken heart.

In today’s fast-paced world, we’re tempted to ignore the needs of others. After all, we’re planning our activities, trips, and hobbies. We’ve got this to do and that to do. We just don’t have time to care. Not only that, we face a constant barrage of bad news from all over the world. Often, we grow apathetic and numb to the needs of others. Is this the way we are meant to live as believers?

Nehemiah’s concern for others speaks to twenty-first-century Christians in a powerful way. We are called to be a people who care. When people are hurting, it should matter to us, especially when fellow brothers and sisters in the family of God are struggling (Galatians 6:10). Of course, none of us can fix the problems of the entire world, but we can certainly help people within our circle of relationships and within our faith family.

If we’re going to care and get involved when others are facing difficulty, we will likely have to give some things up. We’ll probably have to lay aside some of the things that we enjoy or that take a lot of our time. Once again, Nehemiah’s example challenges us. He was willing to leave the comfort and luxury of a Persian palace for a difficult and dangerous mission. What about you? Will your life be about building your kingdom or about a driving concern for the good of others?

Let’s ask God to break our hearts over the pain in the lives of people. Let’s ask Him to help us care, to help us focus not on the furtherance of our own kingdom but of the Kingdom that endures.

Me or We? The Challenge of Looking Beyond Ourselves

I love me phrase handwritten on blackboard

Water. We have no trouble explaining or describing water. We buy it, drink it, swim in it, and the list goes on. What about a fish? How would a fish explain water? It seems evident that fish take water for granted. For water defines a fish’s very existence like air in our environment. Why am I writing about fish and water? Because, as water is taken for granted by fish, we often take the values of our culture for granted. It just happens.

In fact, social psychologists who study sales and marketing strategies differentiate between cultures classified as individualistic or collectivist. Marketing strategies for an individualistic culture like America focus on benefits to the individual while collectivist cultures emphasize the collective good or the good of the whole community.

Clearly, America is driven by an individualistic mindset. In everything, we are so often concerned for ourselves. What impact does this have on me? What benefit do I get? It is strange in our culture to ask the kinds of questions that a collectivist culture might ask. How does this impact others? What effect will my decision have on the community or the group as a whole? These are the very questions that Christians are called to ask; just consider the example of the early church as seen in the book of Acts.

Like a fish doesn’t recognize water or think much about it, we simply don’t realize how much our culture influences our perspectives. While we live in this individualistic culture, as believers we must allow God’s Word to change our thinking and attitudes. Instead of thinking primarily of ourselves, we must think of others. We must be concerned for the good of the church family.

What about you? Will your attitudes be shaped by our culture or by God’s Word? Will you give your time and energy to contribute to the good of the whole or will you be dominated by this individualistic “what’s in it for me” mindset? May we be a community of believers who sacrifices for the good of others, the whole church, and ultimately for the glory of God!

Revenge: A Closer Look

REVENGE

In a recent misunderstanding, suppose a friend insults you and makes an accusation against you that clearly isn’t true. In fact, a moment later he posts a sly remark on Facebook that is undeniably targeted at you. How do you respond? Certainly, your sinful nature urges you to lash out and let him know how you feel, to retaliate. As a believer, what is God’s call in this situation?

As we continue our study through the Sermon on the Mount, we saw what Jesus had to say about retaliation (Matthew 5:38-41). Jesus teaches that believers should not retaliate when wronged but should demonstrate love and self-sacrifice. How about you? How do you respond when someone wrongs you? Do you react in kind, trying to ensure that person gets what you feel is deserved? Or do you lay down your own rights for the sake of the gospel and seek that person’s good

Of course, these verses do not reject civil authority (Romans 13:1-4). If a person breaks into your car, it is not wrong to report that to the police. In fact, reporting the crime may be more loving than not reporting it since being held accountable for sin brings opportunity for repentance and change.

As believers, we must remember that our journey is marked by the way of the cross. Our Savior modeled a life of self-sacrifice, not cruel retaliation, in the face of ongoing attack. We must live this same kind of sacrificial life, even when wronged. When we are mistreated, we leave vengeance in God’s hands (Romans 12:17-19).

Of course, we aren’t able to live this kind of self-sacrificial life in our own strength. We are helped as we meditate on the gospel, remembering what Christ has done for us in the midst of our sin and rebellion, and as we seek to walk in the power of the Spirit (1 Peter 2:21-25, Ephesians 5:18). Let’s pray for each other and help each other live out this kind of Christlike self-sacrifice even when wronged.

Guard Your Heart: Purity in a Sex-Crazed World

 

Late night internet addiction or working late

As we continue our journey through the Sermon on the Mount as a faith family, Jesus’ teaching about sexual purity ought to echo in our minds.We have a tendency to think of purity in terms of external actions, but Jesus will have none of that. Purity is not merely about our behavior but about what is going on within our own heart. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28 make this clear, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

In a culture like our own that celebrates sexuality as ultimate, we must be incredibly careful to guard our hearts. In reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:27-30, three areas deserve attention.

First, we must be careful about our looking. When we see something that would draw our hearts away from purity, we must look away fast! Whether in person or online, second looks compromise the purity of our hearts. In the face of temptation, we must run! Think Joseph, not David (Gen 39:7-12, 2 Samuel 11:1-4).

Second, we must be careful about our thinking. Jesus’ words remind us that lustful thinking itself is adulterous. In other words, even if the external action of adultery does not occur, if the heart is filled with lust, we are guilty of adulterous intent. We must be careful in what we think about (Phil 4:8).

Third, we must be careful about our responding to sexual sin and temptation. Jesus says that gouging out a right eye or a cutting off a right hand is preferred to sexual impurity. What He means is that we must respond to sin and temptation radically. We can’t play games with our sinful hearts. We must take whatever action is necessary to flee temptation and pursue purity.

We must recognize that knowing Jesus and being close to Him is better than any sinful counterfeit. We must remind ourselves that in God’s presence, “there is fulness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

What are some practical ways to guard our hearts?

  1. Develop a plan for purity (Job 31:1; When are you most tempted by sin? How can you make changes to lessen or eliminate temptation in those times? Are there places that you need to avoid to maintain a pure heart?, etc).
  2. Confess sexual sin to a mature believer of the same sex (James 5:16).
  3. Do whatever it takes to flee sexual temptation (1 Thess 4:3-4; Change to a flip phone, get rid of the internet, quit going to the gym or the pool, etc).
  4. If you are a believer, recognize that your body is God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19-20).
  5. Help other believers maintain purity (1 Thess 4:8; avoid edgy or questionable joking, immodesty, etc).
  6. If you’re married, maintain intimacy with your spouse (Prov 5:18-19, 1 Cor 7:3-5, Hebr 13:4).
  7. If you are a parent, be diligent in protecting your child’s heart by setting a good example in this area and by using internet filters, parental controls, etc (Prov 5, Eph 6:4).

Click here for information about tools to protect yourself and your family online.

Prayer and the Gospel: Hope in the Midst of America’s Brokenness

Veteran Funeral

Our hearts break as our nation struggles through this difficult time. We hurt for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the police officers who were killed, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarippa. Let’s pray for these families and these communities in their grief.

Unmistakably, our nation faces a difficult time with mounting racial tension and hostility. For believers, it is a time to pray. We need to pray for God to break our own hearts over our sin. We should pray for God to break our hearts over our apathy and spiritual half-heartedness. We should pray for God to move in churches and bring revival. We need to pray that God will move in this nation, bringing a great awakening. We need to pray for our law enforcement and government leaders (1 Tim 2:1-2). Pray for their integrity, wisdom, and protection.

In reality, the true and lasting solution to racial tension and division is the gospel. During the first century, the enmity between Jews and Gentiles was substantial. Yet, through Christ even this division could be overcome. Consider Paul’s words concerning Jesus and reconciliation, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). In Christ, even the Jews and Gentiles could be made one! If we want to see an America that is united, then we need to share the gospel.

Further, as believers we must model a love for others within our faith family. Jesus told His disciples that the world would recognize them by their love for each other (John 13:35). Unbelievers should be able to look at our church family and see the reality of the life-transforming power of the gospel. Our church family should be a place where we love and care for each other without regard for the color of our skin, socio-economic factors, or any human construct.

In these difficult days, let’s be a people of prayer. Let’s be a people who share the only true and lasting hope for racism and for all sin. Will you pray? Will you tell others about Jesus?