Four Examples of Improper Values as Christians

One reason why I believe that American Christianity is struggling to remain true to the historic Christian faith is because we have devoured the mentality of the “American Dream.” Prosperity, indulgence, and individualism are steadily consuming us, making American Christianity a consumer driven “market” rather than a distinctly different and eternally relevant message of hope and salvation.values

While much could be said, and has been said by others, about this, I offer four examples of how the value system of American Christianity has tainted and damaged the historic Christian faith. I say these things, not merely as an indictment of “others” but also pointing the finger at myself. My value system must be adjusted just as much as any other person’s.

We value the emotional over the rational.

Humanity is inherently a complex being, made in the image of God. We have a material and immaterial part of our existence. Our spiritual “hearts” are basically comprised of our minds, our wills, and our emotions. Each of these things are gifts from God. Our minds are designed to think rationally, and to think God’s thoughts after Him. Our wills are designed to choose that which is honoring to the Lord. And our emotions are designed to support both the mind and the will. These emotions are perhaps better thought of as our affections, what we choose to love and not love.

What seems to have taken place over the course of time is that American Christianity has shifted away from primarily a cognitive, mind-based and rational emphasis and has become more of an emotionally-charged system. We emphasize our feelings, the exciting, and the warm-fuzzy feeling about God and Jesus Christ. We long for great experiences in our Christianity because that is what gets us excited. So church gatherings or conferences are, in some places, being called “worship experiences” rather than corporate worship gatherings. “Worship experiences” sounds so much more exciting than “Corporate worship” and tends to draw larger crowds of people.

Christianity should not emphasize the emotional over the rational. Our minds, wills, and emotions are meant to function in proper alignment, like a train. Jesus said in John 13:17, “If ye KNOW these things, HAPPY are ye if ye DO them” (emphasis obviously mine). This presents to us a train of ideas. Our minds come first – we must know certain things. Our wills follow our minds – we must do what we know we are to do. Proper emotions/affections are to follow naturally behind our minds and wills – we will be “happy.”

When we bypass the mind in order to indulge the emotions, we put the emotions at the front of the train; thus producing people who are emotional train wrecks. However, when we allow our minds to lead the train, and therefore feed our minds with biblical doctrine, our wills and emotions will more naturally fall in line.

Many Christians here in America value the emotional over the rational, and therefore live irrational Christian lives, are emotional “wrecks” and seek out the next thrilling Christian experience, much like a drug addict looking for his next “fix” in order to get him by. However, God honors and values our minds.

Strong minds deeply rooted in the rational truth of Scripture form strong Christian lives. Shallow minds that seek to be buttressed by emotionalism will find that their Christianity will be dull, weak, and lacking the kind of robust growth that God desires of all His children.

We value personal freedom over self-denial.

Americans love freedom. I love our freedom as a country which allows me to serve and worship God without fear of governmental intrusion. I am thankful to roam around the country freely and for so many other freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.

Yet we can – and have to some degree – allowed this mentality of freedom to invade our spiritual lives in an unhealthy way. We want the freedom to indulge in whatever behavior we desire. We want the freedom to say or do whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want, and all without consequences.

In our pursuit of personal freedom, we believe that no one has a right to challenge our thinking or our behavior. We believe that all such challenges are “judgmental,” “legalistic,” or “holier-than-thou.” Self-denial is not even in our vocabulary. Why would we want to deny ourselves something that is going to make us happy or feel good?

Personal freedom is never at the expense of biblical truth. It is never a substitute for holiness. And it must never be used as a billy club against those who challenge the legitimacy of what we are doing.

Jesus emphasized self-denial. He said in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Those are not words that we would think would recruit the masses to Christianity, yet that is what Christianity is all about.

We do not have, as Christians, a freedom to indulge our fleshly desires. As Christians, we must value what God values, which is self-denial under the leadership and authority of the Holy Spirit of God.

We value the immediate over the long term.

Everyone loves immediate results. People enjoy instant coffee, instant oatmeal, microwave popcorn, and instant pudding. We like the quick and easy fixes to problems. We enjoy the immediate results of something that we do. This is one reason why I like to paint. I can go into a room that has ugly or distressed looking walls, and in the matter of a couple hours enjoy the results of a freshly painted room. Immediate results.

However, when we put this in the realm of Christianity, we run into dangers. Christianity is not an “instant religion.” We do not often see immediate results from our preaching, from our ministry of the word, or from our evangelistic efforts. And yet ministries are often judged and critiqued by these kinds of criteria. How many “results” have been produced in a short period of time.

We also value immediate changes in our lives and get frustrated that we continue to struggle with our flesh. In this frustration we often quit, believing that there is no sense in even trying. We want instant spirituality, instant Christ-likeness, and instant sinlessness.

Rarely does something of value happen immediately. Things take time. It takes time to read through your Bible. It takes time to understand certain points of doctrine. It takes time to read a piece of good Christian literature. It takes time to build relationships with people and see them come to Jesus Christ. It takes time to build a healthy church for the glory of God. It takes time to grow our character to be in conformity to Jesus Christ. It takes time and effort to do anything of significance.

Personally, I struggle with this as a pastor. There is a pressure put on pastors, either internally in their own hearts, or externally by their people, to “produce results” in a short time. Very rarely do I get to visibly see the results of my preaching/teaching ministry. It is a long, and often difficult process. But God has been working in me to value the long term rather than the immediate in this way

We value the material over the spiritual.

I am not a dualist, believing that the material is evil and the spiritual is good. However, the spiritual has more value than the material. This earth is a God-given gift that we can enjoy. We are given the creation mandate to dominate the earth and rule over it, using it for the benefit of mankind while taking care of it as God’s creation.

But American Christianity has taken the material/temporal and placed it on a higher level than the spiritual/eternal. One simple evidence of this is how much time is spent each day feeding our minds with the Scripture, or scriptural truth in one way, shape or form vs. how much we indulge our flesh with the things of the world. For instance, I love sports and my sports teams (Seattle Seahawks and Washington Huskies especially ), but if I allow my love for them to interfere with my spiritual convictions, pursuits and responsibilities, I have sinned.

The value system of our American Christianity becomes skewed when we allow the things of this world (not all of which are evil) to interfere with and even overrule our spiritual pursuits. When God and corporate worship are viewed as non-essentials because something else more important is happening, then our values are wrong. When family gatherings take precedent over corporate worship, there is something off-kilter about our values and beliefs. When our time of private devotion to God is put on hold for days on end because of our busy schedules, something is wrong. The things that are of this earth are temporal; the things that are of God are eternal. American Christianity must get back to valuing the spiritual over the material and temporal.

To conclude, Christians must consider what God values and adopt God’s value system. Being a disciple of Christ is more than wearing the label of “Christian” and singing Christian music. Being a disciple of Christ means that we follow His teaching, adopt His values, and live our lives in accordance to those values. We must be discerning when it comes to interacting with the world, so as not to imbibe their faulty value system.

If American Christianity is truly going to glorify God, then we must reflect the excellencies and perfections of God in the 21st century in such a way that values what God values, and disdains what God disdains. What is important to God must be important to us.

Christians Should be Readers

Many Christians will begin this new year with some kind of Bible reading schedule. For our church, we promote this as well, and many take up the challenge to read through their Bibles in a year’s time. It is a good exercise and a great way to get to know your Bible better.

In addition to reading your Bible, I would also encourage you to add some other good Christian reading material to your daily “to do” lists. Reading good Christian books enhances your spiritual alertness and can help you grow in yobody_readingur understanding of various theological truths. While reading the Bible is mandatory and expected of every Christian, reading good Christian material is something that every believer should view as necessary as well. I would urge you then, as a Christian, to cultivate the habit of reading.

To this end, I have put together what I have called a 20/20 Book Reading Plan. The plan seeks to help Christians read through five Christian books each year in order to read twenty by the end of 2020. If you would like to peruse or use this reading plan, you may look at it here.

Christians are readers. Reading should not only be expected of your pastor. Everyone who sits in a pew should also cultivate a heart for reading. It is more profitable than watching TV, playing video games, or zoning out in front of a portable device. I am not saying that those things are sinful, but just less profitable than reading good Christian material.

So I urge you to be Christians who read this year. While it may require a bit of a financial investment, it can yield great spiritual dividends. While it will require some time, it will be time that is redeemed for eternal purposes. Teach your children to read, or read as a family. But take the lead in your home to be a reader of good Christian books this year, all for the glory of God, and for the spiritual encouragement of your own soul.

A Prayer for the New Year

God, you are infinitely and eternally holy. Because of this, it is only through Jesus Christ that I humbly approach you in prayer.

You are majestically holy, transcending all creation in your eternaprayerforthenewyearal otherness. You are distinct from your creation and remain sovereign over it all. You are also morally holy, ever set apart from all things sinful, evil, and wicked. In you there is no darkness at all, for you are altogether light.

For 2017, I pray that you would make me more aware of and thankful for your transcendent holiness, and help me to understand the blessedness of the Creator-creature distinction. I also pray that you would help me to grow in my moral holiness, even as you are holy. May every aspect and nuance of my life and lifestyle be submitted to your holiness, and be more conformed to the image of your Holy and righteous Son, Jesus Christ.

I submit myself in humility before you, as I sit on the brink of a new year. May this next year be one of more spiritual growth than the years before, and may your holiness guide me throughout its days.

I pray this in keeping with the will and character of Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God. Amen.

The Crisis of Christmas

Every few years, Christmas presents Christians with a crisis. Culturally, Christmas is typically celebrated in the morning with festive gift opening, and often with extended family. However, the crisis comes when the cultural celebration of Christmas “conflicts” with the normal and biblical cycle of Lord’s Day worship. In other words, what are families to do when Christmas falls on a Sunday? What are churches to do when Christmas falls on a Sunday?christmas-1

For orthodox Christianity, you wouldn’t think this would present much of a problem. The Lord’s Day is, after all, the Lord’s Day, regardless of what other holiday it might be. It is the Lord Jesus Christ whom we honor. He, the newborn babe placed in the feeding trough, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas Day, was born to die for the sins of men. He died on a Roman cross, bore the sin of mankind on his own body, and absorbed the wrath of God against sin through his substitutionary death. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ make his birth meaningful. Without the death and resurrection of Christ, the nativity would merely be a meaningless sentimental portrait.

There are two days of the calendar in 2016 that churches should try to not altogether cancel their worship services. Easter always falls on Sunday, since we know that the resurrection of Jesus took place on the first day of the week, which we call Sunday, and which the apostle John called The Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10). But this year, Christmas also falls on a Sunday, and there is no good reason why any church that believes the gospel should altogether cancel their worship services on this day.

Corporate worship should not be viewed by families as expendable and easily discarded in light of something viewed as “more important.” Nor should corporate worship be sacrificed by churches in deference to the cultural celebrations of Christmas. Also, attending corporate worship should not be viewed as a mere formality before families get to “the good stuff” of celebrating Christmas as a family. Corporate worship with God’s people IS the good stuff. Family traditions are nice and good, but are not to be elevated above the things of God.

I encourage everyone whose church is having a worship service on Christmas day to “not forsake the gathering of yourselves together, as the manner of some is,” but to gather with your church families for corporate worship, celebrating together the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In so doing, you will honor God, you will encourage one another, and help to preserve the Christian faith in such a way that honors the Christ of Christmas more than the cultural festivities and traditions of Christmas.

I encourage everyone whose church is not holding services on Christmas day to find a good Bible-believing church that is, and to attend. Our main worship service is at 10:45am and any are welcome to attend (Heritage Baptist Church, http://www.hbcdover.com).

O Come, Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Training our Children for Ministry

Having lived in New England for over 16 years now, I have had the opportunity to visit many churches in the region. I am thankful for many godly men who faithfully proclaim God’s Word to their flocks week after week, and we pray regularly for the many churches who are still searching for pastors. The vast majority of churches in New England are smaller works, but God has raised up these lighthouses in the midst of an increasingly dark and liberal culture. music_header
One thing that I have observed in New England is the lack of musicians in the churches. Sure, there are exceptions, but many churches in New England do not have any or many capable and/or confident musicians to serve in the music ministry. There might be a lone pastor’s wife who took a few years of piano lessons, but who struggles weekly to play through the three or four rehearsed hymns each week. There might be the person in the youth group who is taking piano lessons and is the only one who is able to play anything on the piano. While God can and does use people like this to minister and be a blessing to these churches, New England needs more.
I offer two ways to help with this situation. First, I encourage college students who are musicians to consider helping out smaller works around the country. Get away from your comfort zone of either your college town, or your home town. When I was in school, our President used to regularly implore its graduates to spend at least three years in a small local church someplace that needs help. You train as musicians to minister for the glory of God and for the edification of His church. I urge you to view your musical talents and abilities through that lens and get out and serve someplace. Don’t go into a church ministry believing you have all the musical answers to life, or looking to upheave a church’s music ministry. Submit yourself to a pastor’s authority and teaching and do all you can to uphold his arms and build up the ministry of that church.
The second way to help is for us as parents to raise our children with a ministry mindset. While there are many ways our youth can reach out and serve the Lord, learning a musical instrument is something that they can take with them through the rest of their earthly lives. If you have children who are taking instrumental lessons (especially piano) train them while they are young that they are doing this ultimately for the Lord’s glory rather than for their own personal pleasure or benefit. While we want our children to enjoy what they do, they need to see that their greatest enjoyment in music will come through seeing the bigger picture of serving the Lord in a local church. Our two children each play piano; my son also plays the organ and my daughter also plays the harp. They see the reality of churches in New England without many, if any capable and/or confident pianists. As parents, we need to train our children for future ministry in local churches.
Just this past week, I learned of another church in New England whose pianist is moving out of state, leaving that church without anyone to play. I have known other churches in New England who have gone months or years without any pianist to help lead congregational singing. I know of others who have one player who may not be as confident or capable playing. They are praying for more to come.
May God help Christian parents who have musical children to train them up to serve the Lord with their musical talents. There will be times when the child does not “like” playing, or would rather do something else, but urge them to continue and to take more delight in God’s greater purpose than in fulfilling their own desires. Train them to think of something bigger than themselves. Train them to think of how they can use their talents for the Lord in their church currently, but also in the future when they grow up, leave the home, and find another church in which to serve.
Those of us with children must disciple them towards this end.
Train your children for ministry!

Doubting the Love of God

Yesterday, I wrote about how believers should never question the fact that God loves them. The love of God is seen in a number of biblical texts and poetically described for us in many hymns. God’s unending, unceasing love for His children is truly a comforting thought.

Yet there are times in the life of a believer that we doubt God’s love, in spite of what we know the Bible says. The doubts are rarely raised in times that we consider to be “good.” Our doubts usually arise when circumstances in life are not what we like. In those times, we may be able to affirm that God loves, but believe that His doubtactions toward us are not loving. In so doing, we doubt the love of God.

I offer two primary reasons for this doubting of God’s love for your consideration (you could probably think of others as well).

Reason #1 We diminish God’s love in our minds. In Ephesians 3:17-19 Paul prays that believers would grow in their knowledge of the love of God, which surpasses knowledge. Believers ought to pursue God faithfully, daily, zealously, and consistently. This means that we do not just learn facts about God, nor do we just know what to say when someone asks us a question about God. It means that because of our study of God’s Word, infused by God’s Spirit, we actually know God, and His love for us, elevating it more and more.

I have known my wife for over 21 years now. We have been married for 18 1/2 glorious years, but we knew each other before that for about three years. When I stood at the altar in our wedding, I knew a lot about her, and I could answer other people’s questions about her. I knew her to an extent, but it was not until we were married that I really knew her. Many people may treat their relationship with the Lord like a dating relationship. It is fun to go out and do stuff together, but there is not the full commitment level that comes with marriage. You may know a lot about God, but you have not fully committed yourselves to know God intimately, deeply, nor zealously.

The longer I am married, the more I understand my wife’s love for me because of how she expresses it either verbally or through her actions. Similarly, the more I study God’s Word, the more I understand and comprehend God’s love for me. He expresses His love for me through statements of affirmation, through His actions, and ultimately through His Son Jesus Christ, and the atoning work on the cross.

We can diminish God’s love for us because we do understand God’s love as we ought to. We must dive headlong into God’s Word, and let the Word fill us with knowledge of God’s love, knowing that we will never plumb its depths. Every inch deeper we get, the more amazed we are by it. God truly loves us with an amazing love.

Reason #2 We elevate our own love in our minds. By this I mean that we elevate our own thoughts of love, which are not in conformity to God’s love in the Bible. We have expectations of what we think love should look like. We have ideas of what we would do, or want done to us, in order to show love. Our thoughts of love, however, are more often shaped by ungodly cultural expressions or philosophies than they are by God’s Word. Because of this, when we are in a difficult time of life, we expect God to function and act in ways that we think He should if He were truly loving. And when God does not fulfill those faulty expectations, we doubt His love for us.

This is a major problem in the minds and hearts of many believers today. We elevate our own thoughts and expect God to conform Himself to those. However, nowhere in the Scriptures do God’s thoughts need to be conformed to man’s. Indeed, it is the exact opposite. It is man’s mind that must be renewed by the Spirit of God through the Word of God to be conformed to Son of God.

Let’s go back to the marriage analogy to illustrate this point. Every married person enters marriage with certain expectations and ideas. More often than not, many of those expectations and ideas are faulty, for a variety of reasons. Our thinking in marriage must change. But in order for marriages to be successful, it is not that one spouse must conform to the thinking of the other spouse, it is that both spouses must think in conformity to Jesus Christ.

In our Christianity, as well as in our marriages, life is not always a bed of roses. There are challenges, and difficulties that must be met with a biblical and theological mindset. When those challenges come you will either elevate your own thoughts, or submit yourself to God’s Word. If you elevate your own thoughts, you will doubt God’s love for you in the middle of a trial and find no comfort. If you submit yourself to God’s Word, you will cling tightly to the unchanging truth of God and His love for you, finding rest for your soul.

Elevating our own thoughts of what we think love ought to be like leads to a life of despair, and great difficulty, and may even reveal a lack of genuine salvation. Submitting ourselves to God’s Word and allowing His Spirit to change even how we think will lead us to face even life’s greatest difficulties with a peace and joy and contentment that passes all understanding. The one path leads to destruction; the other leads to life.

Christians should always question their thoughts apart from God, but we should never doubt God’s love for us.

God’s Love

The apostle Paul prays that the Ephesian church would grow in their understanding of God’s love for them in Ephesians 3:17-19. This, of course, is a prayer to pray for us as Christians, too. This love is knowable, though it ultimately surpasses human knowledge. No matter how deep we plunge into it, there is no bottom to it. No matter how far we see its reach, it never ends.

gods-love

The apostle Paul knew of God’s love, as did all the other apostles. They saw love incarnate in Jesus Christ. They heard his love for them. They observed it. To them, there was no mistaking the fact that God loved not only them, but the entire world.

God so loved the world – John 3:16

God demonstrated his love for us while we were still sinners – Romans 5:8

The true picture of love is not human love, but God’s love for us demonstrated through the sacrificial, bloody, and atoning death of Jesus Christ – 1 John 4:10

Great hymns also communicate this truth.

Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our Ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heav’n’s eternal days.

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love. – William Rees

 

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

Refrain:
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—

The saints’ and angels’ song.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky. – Frederick Lehman

O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!                           Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me.                                                  Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love;                                            Leading onward, leading homeward, to Thy glorious rest above.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Love of every love the best;                                                 ‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest.                                                         O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heav’n of heav’ns to me;                                             And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee. – Samuel Trevor Francis

May no Christian ever doubt the love of God, no matter what the circumstance or situation in which we find ourselves; no matter who attacks us; no matter what God in His providence allows. God’s love is sure, eternally fixed, and never changing! May our hearts rest today in the love of God!