Saturday, August 31, 2013

Preach On Booze, Adultery, and Dancing!

When it comes to declarations of right and wrong, each of us face two temptations. The first temptation is to be too soft on sin, and not take a stand for what’s right. The second temptation is to swing too far the other way, and to draw lines where God never draws lines.
-Stephen Altrogge
- See more at: Preach On Booze, Adultery, and Dancing!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Patterns of Self-Indulgence

How many of my readers have heard the song "Slow Fade" (Casting Crowns) before?  I know I've posted about the song before, but I feel the need to reiterate something God has been teaching me lately, and it's related to the message of that song.

I've noticed in my life a pattern of self-indulgence that often leads to me falling into sin in a big way.  It's in the little, subtle decisions I make that I make the descent towards these "bigger sins."

I'll give an example from my life.  Often times I get into the habit of pulling out my iPod Touch whenever I have nothing to do.  There's this feeling within me that I want to please myself by playing this game.  This mindset causes me to want to please myself in more and more areas, because I'm never satisfied...

Is playing with my iPod Touch a bad thing?  Or is doing anything because it's fun a bad thing?  No, not necessarily.  These things can be good, but when they take over my life, and steal my affections...they pull me away from God, and inevitably cause me to indulge in sinful practices.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. (Matthew 6:24, ESV)

God designed me to only be able to serve one thing at a time.  I have a choice...will I serve myself and my own desires, or will I serve the one and only God of the universe?

I need to keep a close watch on my life.  I need to pay close attention to what I'm serving.  Do I greatly desire my God and His Word, or do I desire to please myself?

This can be a hard thing to see...because the world, the flesh and the devil are subtle in their tricks.  We need to keep a watchful eye on our life, and seek to serve the God of the Universe rather than "lesser lights and fleeting shadows."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Let's Talk About Mental Illness

I follow a man by the name of Stephen Altrogge on Twitter. He is a songwriter, author, blogger and pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Indiana, PA. Yesterday he tweeted the link for an article he wrote about mental illness.

Many of you may have read a post of mine about this topic about 2 years ago. This is a topic that desperately needs to be addressed among Christians. I urge my followers to read Stephen's blog post by clicking here.

If you want to read the post I wrote two years ago, click here.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

5 Ways to Cultivate Your Faith in a Christian College

Whether you're a Christian College Student, or a faculty member at a Christian College...this is a great read!  Click here to read the article.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Words of caution for the recovering "Cultural Fundamentalist"...

I know Northland students know what "Cultural Fundamentalism" means, but I don't know if it's a well known description outside of Northland.  So...allow me to explain before I continue.

Cultural Fundamentalism is the conservative culture of Christianity that has come out of the Fundamentalist movement.  The Fundamentalist movement was caused the church to return to the Word of God as the compass for every part of their life.  Those who were a part of it were marked by a zeal for the Word of God and a commitment to follow it.  However, out of that movement there were created a lot of ideas that are not found in the Bible.  The idea that the KJV is the inspired word of God in the English language, movie theaters are bad, dancing is bad, any kind of music that had drums was bad, girls must wear long skirts down to their ankles and have long hair, Christians should only homeschool or Christian school their kids...etc.  I think you get the idea.

There were many people who followed these ideas to varying degrees.  Some held them more strictly than others.  For my family I often felt like we were swept along by these ideas at times (although we were never KJV only) and we didn't really know why.  So...over time we began to stretch these "rules" because we didn't have a good explanation as to why they were bad...but we kept our "rebellion" quiet, because we didn't want to be judged by people from the church.  While my upbringing might have been more "laxed"...I know many people who grew up in homes where these ideas created a tremendously oppressive home-life.  Many people I know fled Christianity completely when they got out of the house, because they figured if their upbringing was what Christianity was about, they didn't want it.

While my upbringing might have been more laxed, I still had a lot of these ideas etched into my life.  When I went to college I began to discover that there was more freedom in Christ than I realized there was.  Nowhere in the Bible did it say that movie theaters were bad...while modesty was important, it did not mean that we had to reject fashion...while there are some kinds of dancing that are bad, it's not all bad...etc.  I discovered that 1 Thess. 5:22 had been grossly misused (this is one of the only verses we were given to back up why we avoided all the things we did).  This verse says in the KJV, "avoid all appearance of evil"...a command that is nearly impossible to follow because there will always be people who think you're doing evil...this verse is more accurately translated in the ESV as "Abstain from every form of evil" (emphasis mine).

These discoveries made me feel free!  I began to know joy in Christ that I never knew.  I searched the scriptures to find out what it truly taught instead of believing all these things I had been taught.  Overtime, however, I began to realize that there some pitfalls that I fell into because of this discovery...and I've taken all of this post to build up to I would like to discuss these pitfalls and caution others who are in the same place as I am.

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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
(Galatians 5:13-15, ESV)

We must not, as this verse above presents, use our freedom for an opportunity for the flesh.  We can dangerously flirt with a rebellious attitude.  We might start indulging in things that are not wise to indulge in just for the sake of the fact that we can...because the Bible does not explicitly tells us to not do them.  We can flirt too closely with sinful things because it "feels good" to be close to them.  Just because the Bible doesn't say, "thou shalt not drink alcohol" doesn't mean it's wise for us to do so.  While the Bible doesn't say we shouldn't drink doesn't have much good to say about it...there are far more passages that say bad things about it than there are that say good things about it.  If one can drink it and not be tempted to drink to excess, by all means...but we need to be wise.  This idea can apply to lots of things.  We do have freedom, but we need to be careful.

Another caution I have is that we can allow our new found freedom to cause us to have a haughty attitude toward those who are still clinging to cultural fundamentalist ideas.  Many of us may have parents and pastors who hold to these ideas...we must show them the respect that God commands us to show them.  As this passage above calls us to do...we must love them.  When we look down on them, and treat them with disdain...we are in danger of biting and devouring one another, as the verse above also states.  If we try to forcibly get them to see things the way we see them, they're probably going to dig in their heels and fight back.  We must present our ideas with grace, and show them by our life that even if we have looser standards than them, we are just as committed to living for God's glory, if not more than before.  We need to pray for them and ask God to work in their lives.  God is going to be the one who affects the change in them...just as God was the one who affected the change in us.

Ultimately recovering cultural fundamentalists need to be humbly committed to following the Word of God and showing Christlike love to those around us.  Serving in our churches in a God honoring way...submitting to our authorities and loving our God more supremely than anything or anyone else.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Do we serve a boring God?

Pastors, if you are content to preach boring sermons you need to spend more time getting to know our infinitely interesting God.
-Stephen Altrogge

Maybe I'm the only one who feels this way, but do you ever feel like people think God is boring?  When you talk to them about God the drawl on with a monotone voice about how great God is.  You hear preachers preach in a way that could put the most hyper-active kid to sleep.  I know that I've even felt this way at times.  I grew up in a Christian home and went to church every time the doors were open...and I went through periods of boredom.  I had heard the story of David and Goliath so many times, and I was sick of hearing it.

One day God used a message to get a hold of my heart, and showed me that I could always learn something new about my God from the Word.

When we are confronted with the truth from the Word about our awesome God, how could we ever be bored with Him?  He formed the universe and everything in it with his words, except for man, which he lovingly created with His hands.  Colossians speaks of the fact that God holds things together even.

I find the way that I get the most excited about God and what He does is by letting my imagination picture something that I read.  For example...David and Goliath...I close my eyes and try to picture the scene...little tiny probably red-headed David standing up against a huge ugly giant...and God delivers Goliath into David's hand by causing him to kill him with a stone and a sling...the stories really about God, not about David's courage.

Or maybe letting my imagination go with the idea that God holds everything together...imagine everything in the universe...from the biggest star, to the smallest cell being held together...our body is made up of an innumerable number of cells, and God knows the number of them, and holds them all together. can we be bored with our God when we consider that? the Word and get to know our interesting God better...when we get a glimpse of what our God is like based on what we read of Him in the scriptures...we can't help but be excited about Him.

Known for Christlikeness...

In our Christian version of the American dream, our plan ends up disinfecting Christians from the world more than discipling Christians in the world...Disinfecting Christians from the world involves isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good.  In this strategy, success in the church is defined by how big a building you have to house all the Christians, and the goal is to gather as many people as possible for a couple of hours each week in that place where we are isolated and insulated from the realities of the world around us.  When someone asks, "Where is your church?" we point them to a building or give them an address, and everything centers around what happens at that location.  When we gather at the building we learn how to be good.  Being good is defined by what we avoid in the world.  We are holy because of what we don't participate in (and at this point we may be the only organization in the world defining success by what we don't do).
-David Platt, from his book "Radical" pages 104-105

This is an extremely sad, but true statement.  If you haven't read this book...I highly recommend it.

The issues these words bring up have been a huge issue in the church for far too long.  We live in our "Christian" boxes and stand as far away from the world as possible.  We listen to the right music...wear the right the right way...don't go to the movie theater...etc, and we look down our noses at those who do not do the same.  We communicate by our actions that if you want me to talk to you you need to fix up your life first.

Is this what Jesus taught and lived, though?

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee,standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off,would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

When we live in the way I spoke about above...are we not behaving like this Pharisee?  He defined himself as being right before God because of all the things he did and didn't do...but we should all be broken before God knowing that we are wicked sinners before our God...worthy of no pride in ourselves!

All throughout His ministry, Jesus did not spend time with the religious ones, but with the sinners.  He went to those that were rejected by the religious ones.  Don't think this means that I'm preaching an acceptance gospel.  People argue that because Jesus ate with sinners, that meant he was accepting of their sin...but that is not what Jesus taught...

They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
John 7:53-8:11 (ESV)

Jesus does not condone the sins of the woman, he tells her to go and sin no more.  He loved them and fellowshipped with them, but he did not tell them that their sin was okay.

Now...does this mean that I think Christians should go into the bar on Friday night to share the gospel with people?  No, I don't think so.  This is flirting too closely with dangerous temptations.  But it does mean that as we go throughout our day we should reach out in love to whomever we meet, no matter how "bad" they might look.

So...what should we believers be known for, if it's not to be known by what we don't do?
We should be known for Christlikeness!  A Christlikeness that comes from an intimate fellowship with our Lord...not through external changes.  It's a work that God does in our life, not a work we do for ourselves.  We read the Word and allow God to use it in our lives to make us more like Him.

We need to see ourselves rightly before God...sinful people saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul said of himself that he was the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)...we should view ourselves before God as being the chief of sinners as well.  When we view ourselves like could we ever look down our noses at the "sinners" around us?  The man who is hooked on drugs, we should not look down on...because, but for the grace of God, we could be right where they are.

So Christians...humble yourself before God...reach out in love to those around you...share Christ with people, and do it with zeal, because we serve an awesome God...

Friday, August 9, 2013

What or whom do you worship?

What or whom do you worship?  I would argue that what or whom you worship is evidenced in many ways.  What do you talk about all the time?  What do you think about when your not doing anything?  What is your all consuming desire?  Be honest with yourself...if we're the "professional Christian" who was raised hearing the jargon we know how to answer those questions with a "Christian" answer.  But really...if we're honest with would we answer?

I know that in my life it's a constant struggle..."lesser lights and fleeting shadows" steal my affections all the time.  A good gift given by God, turns into an idol.

We try to juggle God and the things that please us in this life...but, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other..."(Matthew 6:24, ESV)

I've tasted and seen that the Lord is good...and yet I forget...and run after what pleases me.

These idols are subtle too...they take many forms.  Even music...a wonderful gift from God, can either pull me closer to Him, or draw me away...I can worship the music instead of Him.  My iPod Touch has great apps that can help me increase in the knowledge of my God (Logos, ESV Study Bible, Accordance)...but it also holds great power to steal my affections, and draw me away to sin.

I can even look like I'm a dedicated Christian, trying to serve God...but if I'm doing it in my own strength and absorbing all the praise for myself...I'm not worshipping my God...I'm worshipping myself.  This one is hard too...because it feels so right...we like it because it feels like we're doing so well with our God...we look so good...and we do all the "right" things...but our affections are not for God.  This is what the Jews did in the Old Testament...they were going through the motions...doing all the right things...expecting God to bless them and protect them...but they were not worshipping Him...they were worshipping themselves...and God punishes them for it.  They even tried to worship idols along with God...just like we do...but God is a jealous God...who wants us to worship Him alone!

When I run after these idols, they never fact I often find myself hating them...but my flesh enjoys them so much...I can't me exists no power to overcome the temptation...I need Christ...

God is the all powerful Lord of the universe...He is YAHWEH...Jehova God!  He deserves all our praise and worship...

My prayer is that I could say with the Psalmist:

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
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 beingrejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:5-11, ESV)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Meditations from the Life of Elisha...

This Sunday, for my internship, I'm teaching the adult Sunday School at the church I'm working at.  I'm teaching on the life and ministry of Elisha.

I've always been more of a preacher than a this was a little bit hard for me to prepare for.  I asked Pastor Fellars how he would suggest that I go about preparing.  He told me to find what is emphasized in the life of Elisha.

After studying through all the things that happened with him, I concluded the most significant thing is that God was the one who gave him the power to do all he really, Elisha's life is about God's glory.  His life and practices displayed God to the nation of Israel.

One particular event stood out from his life that I would like to share...

Background Information before I post the passage below:  During a war between Israel and Syria, Elisha tells the king of Israel where the forces of Syria are camping.  The king of Syria finds out what Elisha did and sends army to the city where Elisha is staying, and they surround the city.

When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17, ESV)

I love the part where Elisha says, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  This is a cool statement on it's own...but what follows is where find out what Elisha means.

Elisha prays that the servants eyes would be opened to see, and God grants him his request.  The servants eyes are opened to see that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. It almost gives me goosebumps...this is our God. He commands the armies of fire to protect Elisha, and there they are...

I love to let my imagination run with this...I picture huge muscular angels in chariots pulled by horses....that's glorious already...but they're on fire!  Woah!  If only I was a good artist I would love to paint what I see in my imagination.

These paintings are the two best that I could find:

And I'm sure it was even more glorious than these images...

After this part of the account...we see God's mercy.  God could have crushed the Syrian forces with this amazing army...but instead he spares them all, by striking them blind...

We serve an awesome God!  Yahweh Jehovah God...we serve Him!  The same God that did this amazing thing.  Granted, He works in different ways today...but He's the same God.

Don't let the reality of the power of our amazing God become old to you...we will be in His presence for all eternity, if we have placed our trust in Him...and it will be glorious...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My journey with music...

I have loved music since as early as I can remember.  The church my family used to go to when we lived in PA used to put on most of Handel's Messiah ever year at Christmas.  Even at 8 years old, I loved to listen to the instrumentalists and the vocalists making beautiful music together.  Half of the time I had no comprehension of what the words were actually saying, I just knew I liked it.

My Dad has a Bachelor's in Music from Baptist Bible College in Springfield, he could play the piano and everyone in the family could sing, so we were always singing together.  We grew up listening to Patch the Pirate, Mac Lynch, Tim Kaufman, Rudy Atwood...etc.  Every church we went to was always very conservative in their music style.  CCM was completely off limits...

Somehow I got the idea in my head that if you listened to Contemporary Christian Music you were all about feelings and they were "wishy-washy" in their theology.  I say "somehow" because I don't know where I learned it...I've talked to my Dad in recent years, and I've discovered that this isn't at all what he believes...I would guess that I learned it in church.

As I grew up, I began to listen to a little bit of CCM here and there...I would go back and forth about whether I liked it or not.  The music seemed to have a really shallow message, and I didn't like that...but I really liked the excitement the singers seemed to have about their message.  At the end of the day I would always say that it was bad, and I wouldn't usually say it out loud, but I judged people who listened to it.  I was turning into a legalist of my own volition...

When I was in the Navy, I was introduced to Casting Crowns.  The two songs I really liked were Slow Fade and Praise You in the Storm.  I couldn't deny that they had a solid and good message to their songs.  They addressed issues they saw in the church and I knew they were right about their assessment of it.  The door was beginning to open...but I still only listened to very little CCM because I was still wanting to cling to the belief that overall it was bad.

After 4 years of service in the Navy, I got out and went on to college at Northland.  This is where my mind was opened even more...we were singing songs in chapel that were really good!  Afterwards I would look up the songs and discover that the songs were sung by artist that sang with a CCM style (the artists were mainly the Getty's and Sovereign Grace Music)...but their songs had strong rock solid biblical messages.  We were singing the songs in a more conservative style that I was comfortable with (that first year at Northland anyways), and it was opening the door in my life to reconsider my beliefs about music.

Then this past year at Northland saw an even bigger change.  Northland began to play music in more of a CCM style.  It was really hard at first...I could listen to that music in my personal time, but I was not used to it in public worship.  As time went on, though...I realized that the style in which it was sung caused me to think more about the words...the messages of the songs were speaking to my heart in a way that I had never known before.  I began to see what worship really is...the zealous kind of worship we see King David partaking in in the Old Testament (no I did not dance...I don't know if I'll ever get there)...

You see...I equated zealous worship with a charismatic fringe of the church...and we are supposed to stay as far away from that as, we should sing in a conservative, reserved manner...

I began to realize that people who listened to and worshipped with that king of music were solid believers in Jesus, who wanted to truly live for the glory of judgements were unfounded...and I felt terrible for my years of judging. do I handle this Biblically?  I've heard many arguments from people trying to give Biblical reasons for why CCM is wrong...but as of yet, I've been given no conclusive arguments against it.  If you have some, please send them my way!

So, what are my standards?  I think it's important for every Christian to set some standards for music.  The important thing is that we not use our standards as a measuring stick for the spiritual maturity of others...this is called legalism.
My Christian Music Standards:
  • My standards are that I like to listen to music that has solid Biblical and deep messages to them.  I want to be spiritually fed by the music I listen to.
  • The Instrumentation should support the message.  If I'm singing a song of praise to God...lifting Him up...I do not want to be singing in a minor key.  Contrariwise...I do not want to sing a song expressing my utter helplessness without God in a happy rejoicing type tune.  The music should rise and fall with the message of the words.
My Secular Music Standards:
  • The music should not tear down my God and speak things that are not true about my God.  
  • The music should speak things that are true according to the Word of God.

So what king of music do I like to listen to?
I like country music (Josh Turner especially), classical (Aaron Copland (I discovered I liked his music after going to the Milwaukee symphony last January) and Antonin Dvorak), random instrumental artists (Trace Bundy, the Piano Guys, Yiruma), some oldies (the Platters and Nat King Cole), and of course Christian (Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team, Galkin Evangelistic Team, Sovereign Grace Music, Casting Crowns, Ron Hamilton, Chris August, Aaron Shust, Chris Tomlin).

Well...I hope I didn't bore you with all that...I just wanted to share my journey with whomever was interested.  If you've read to this point, congrats!  You did it!  Thanks for your patience!

I just want to end this with one last thing...I know it seemed like I was done.  This is a very "hot button" topic in our churches today.  We must be very careful about how we handle this...always having in mind the unity of the body of Christ!  There are many people that love Jesus and want to advance His kingdom all along the spectrum.  We must show love and respect to those who have different beliefs than us on this.  Any attempt at forcing our beliefs on people is only going to create anger and disunity.  If the majority of our church would be more comfortable with a more conservative style, we should stick with a more conservative style...and vice-versa. I'm done...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Meditations on the displays of God's power in the Bible...

The other day I was reading through and meditating on Psalm 2 & 3. Ideas presented in those chapters got me thinking about the power of God and how He displays it.

My first thoughts about power got me thinking about some superhero shooting lasers from his eyes, or fire from his hands...with lots of flashiness and amazing feats. Then I thought...that's not really how God works, it?

I thought about the creation account in Genesis..."God said, 'let there be light' and there was light." God speaks and things's not flashy, it just happens. I'm sorry to say but to my imaginative human mind, this sounds boring. I want flashiness and grandeur...but that's not usually how God works. By his will things come and go...people live and people die...the grass grows and it fades away and dies...

I think of the ministry of Jesus...the Pharisees and Sadducees were constantly asking Jesus to give them a sign, but He would not give it. He healed the sick and opened the eyes of the blind...but it wasn't in flashy ways...he just spoke or touched them, and they were made whole.

Now, of course there are situations in the Bible where God displayed His power in awesome ways. I think of the parting of the Red Sea, and the 12 Plagues of Egypt...these were huge displays of power, but God did this for man...because He knew that it was needed so that people would see a glimpse of His power, and stand in awe...and even fear Him...

All throughout the Old Testament, God delivering the Israelites from the land of Egypt is cited as an event where God displayed His power and His love for the Children of Israel. I think specifically of the Canaanites...they greatly feared the God of Israel because of what they'd heard He had done for Israel.

One of my favorite stories where God's power is displayed is in 2 Kings 6:15-17. One of Elisha's servants comes to him and tells him that the city they're in is surrounded by the army of Syria. The servant is obviously afraid...Elisha responds by saying, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” This statement sounds extremely cool, but we're not completely sure what it means. After this, though...Elisha prays to God that he would open the eyes of the servant to see. God grants his request, and the passage says, "So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." Wow! God truly was watching out for and protecting Elisha...

So...don't despair.  We serve a God who is in control of everything...both when we can clearly see that He is, and even when we can't.

Keep your eyes on the one true God who holds the whole world in His hands...