Velvet Soft

velvet softIt has been a long winter around here so far. My husband and I have been fighting colds on and off for about a month now. And so the other day I was out and about and found that I needed a tissue. I looked for the nearest box and found one with a label that said Velvet Soft. This makes one think of a luxuriously soft and plush fabric. My nose was expecting to feel something akin to velvet. What if felt was something that was more like sandpaper.

Oh, what a great example of false marketing! It happens everywhere. As if somehow a label on something will actually make it true. I see this especially happening with the label “Christian”. As if putting the word “Christian” on a book or a movie will mean that it is representing biblical Christianity. However, more and more, this label is bringing into the Church books, entertainment, and even sermons that are decidedly unbiblical in their approach to God and His Word.

Why is this?

To put it simply, I believe it is because the focus of Christianity has been removed from our perfect and holy God’s objective truth to sinful, fallible man’s subjective experiences. I like how David F. Wells puts this–

“…And many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.”

And this–

“And are we not consumed with what is changing in cultural and personal circumstance rather than with what is unchanging about life, the great universal truths about God, the world, and human nature? Have we not substituted the relative for the absolute, the Many for the One, diversity for unity, the human for the divine, our own private religious experience for truth that was once also public and universal in its scope?”

He wrote this in 1994. What this tells me is that this battle for truth has been going on for many more years than most of us realize. Of course, it has been going on forever. But, within the church, we have had an especially vicious attack and it would appear that Satan has won. Most people who call themselves Christians are far more concerned with their own personal happiness and supernatural experiences than they are with who God is. They are more concerned with being fulfilled and satisfied than they are in taking up their cross and denying themselves. They are more interested in dialoguing than in studying the Word of God.

Where does this leave us true Bible believers? How should we respond? I have a few observations and suggestions–

1. First, we must be aware that not all things labeled velvet soft are actually velvety soft. In other words, just because something has a label that looks appealing or true doesn’t mean it is. We must be willing to discern. If we aren’t, false doctrine will steal in and change what we believe so subtly that we may be completely unaware. We must be on guard at all times. We cannot rest.

2. We have to stop thinking with our hearts. Unlike the “velvet soft” tissue, which revealed its deceit the moment it touched my nose, false doctrine and apostasy will actually feel pretty good. If we use our hearts to judge something to be right or wrong, we will most likely come up with the wrong answer.

Of course, we are being told to listen to our hearts. It’s everywhere–from Disney to Hallmark movies to church. What makes you happy? What works for you? These have become the two litmus tests for truth. But this should never be a believer’s test for truth. We, of all people, should know better. We have the very Word of God and we should know that this is where we discern truth.

Interestingly enough, the other day I heard a Christian song from the 90s that I had loved and listened to often. I guess I never listened to the words because right there in the song was the line–

Until I stop thinking with my head
And start listening to my heart
And there I find my assurance

Wait! What?!? This goes completely against the Word of God (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:9). This was a song by a popular Christian artist, although I don’t believe the actual song was ever that popular. The whole song is actually a ballad of mysticism and I had never, ever caught it–until yesterday. This is what we have been feeding ourselves for years without even thinking about it. No wonder so many of us are listening to our hearts. We have been told to from all directions we turn. But this is not how or where we find truth.

3. When we find out that something labeled “velvet soft” isn’t velvety soft, we must turn away from it and encourage others to turn away from it, as well. It isn’t enough to turn away and then pretend like it never happened. If we truly love God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ we must advise others to turn away, as well. If we understand that a book (for example, The Shack or Jesus Calling) is doing great damage to the hearts and minds of fellow believers, it is our duty out of the love we feel for God and our fellow Christians to speak the truth.

But most of us don’t want to do this because it is downright difficult. In fact, we will often be called unloving and judgmental when we are doing the most loving thing possible. People will mock us and make jokes about us. They will talk about us behind our backs and decide they don’t like us. All this while we, with nothing to gain and everything to lose, are reaching out in love to them with the truth of God’s Word. Personal discernment is hard, but actually telling others about what you have learned can feel almost impossible in this current church culture.

(Of course, there are always those who are not loving when they share truth. Instead, they are prideful and arrogant. They have no social sense of when or when not to speak. This is unacceptable for discerning believers. We must be quite sure we are not one of these types! We can hold firmly to the truth without being unkind and annoying.)

If we are trying to lovingly tell someone the truth and it is not so lovingly received, we must remember to keep our focus on Christ. This is when it is critically important to remember that we must find our hope, peace,and joy in God alone. Of course, we want people to like us. We want them to think we are fun and cool. But it is not our calling to be liked by the world (In fact, Jesus tells us we won’t be liked by the world in John 15:18-19). We have one calling only: to know God and make Him known. This includes defending His Word amidst the mass apostasy going on in our churches.  I love how Jude puts this–

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God[b] and our Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, as we find ourselves surrounded by things labeled velvet soft that are actually daggers poised to destroy our faith in God and His Word, may we be wisely discerning. May we look to God’s Word for truth instead of our own wicked hearts. And may we bravely and honorably contend for and defend the faith that was delivered to us once for all in God’s Word.

 

The Secret to True Peace

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Some of you are old enough to remember the hippies of the sixties and their use of the word “peace”. It was kind of a buzz word of that era. I think this was probably in reaction to the Vietnam War. I was just a baby during that time so my personal memories are very limited.

I have been thinking a bit about this word peace for a few weeks now. Mostly because I have not really had it. These past few years have brought so many changes so fast–and there are more to come–that I have had a hard time settling into a normal. I have a hard time being at peace when things are not normal. I like routine. I didn’t realize how important routine was to me. But now that life is changing so much so quickly, I can see how I have relied on my circumstances remaining pretty status quo. Most of my change is just normal life change. It’s just–for me–it is all happening at once instead of gradually. My head feels like it is spinning.

I have handled all of this in a variety of ways–crying, denial, just pushing through, fighting back, being irritable with others–but through it all I have not felt peaceful.

And then the other day I heard a sermon by the husband of a dear friend of mine. He had lots of good things to say in that sermon, but the one thing that really resonated with me was the part about peace. You see, I think most of us believe peace is a calm and carefree life without trials. It means a world without war and disease. In fact, many people in the world are working feverishly to bring peace to the world.

But the Bible makes it clear that we will never experience peace in this world until Jesus returns. Even Jesus Himself assured us that He did not come to bring peace–

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34).

This means we shouldn’t expect earthly peace. And it is also clear in God’s Word that we should not expect peace in our circumstances since we read this in John–

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will[a] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

In fact, in James we read that we are to actually count it all joy when we have trials–

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

And in Romans we read–

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

So from these verses we can see that our peace is not dependent upon a carefree life or a world without war.

So how do we have peace? John 16:33 tells us that our peace will come from our relationship with Christ. Our peace will be inward because we are reconciled to God through Christ. It is not about external circumstances.

In Isaiah 26:3 we find instructions on how to be in perfect peace–

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

We must keep our mind stayed on God. We must be willing to put our trust in Him that He will work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

I don’t know about you but, personally, I can find this quite a challenge. Not only in my personal life but in all of the craziness going on in the world. We read of terrorist attacks and shooting sprees and we come face to face with our mortality. At any time in any place we could breathe our last. If we don’t keep our mind stayed in the right place, we will become anxious and nervous. If we don’t keep our mind on God and His glory and purposes, we will become frustrated and disillusioned when things don’t work out in our lives the way we thought they should.

This is no easy task, mind you. It is our natural human tendency to worry and fret and to long for peace in our external world. While we know from the scriptures that true external peace will not happen on this earth, we are promised internal peace through our saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is the kind of peace that truly matters.

Not only should we not expect external peace, but we learn from the Bible that God uses trials and tribulations to help us grow. We read in the Romans passage from above that trials produce perseverance and perseverance produces character and character produces hope. God is using our trials to make us more like Christ!

And so I have been challenged recently to be sure that anything in my life that I am unhappy about will be used by God to draw me to Him and to grow me as a believer. Instead of being a discontented and unhappy person, I want to learn perseverance and to be a light to those around me. And God is teaching me that the only way this can happen–the secret to true peace–is to keep my mind stayed on Him instead of on my circumstances.  He is teaching me that true peace come through my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and is not dependent on being free from trials and tribulations (or life changes happening all at once!)

I have let you see a little bit into my own personal struggles this morning. I don’t know if there is someone else out there who has these same struggles, but I thought I would share what the Lord has been teaching me. It is my hope that any who are struggling will be encouraged to look to the Lord for internal peace rather than grasping for illusive, impossible external peace. I hope that, together, we can grow more like Christ through all of life’s changes and trials.

 

 

Grateful or Greedy?

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Have you ever been around anyone who talks about Jesus like He is their own personal genie? Instead of a grateful heart, they have a greedy heart. Instead of wanting to serve Jesus, they want to get from Jesus. Instead of denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus (Matthew 16:24), they want sunshine and roses and happy times and, believing this is what they deserve, they fully expect Jesus to fulfill their every wish and desire.

I finished out last year with reading Luke. When I came to verse 8 in chapter 23, it caught my eye. This is what it says–

Now when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceedingly glad; for he had desired for a long time to see Him, because he had heard many things about Him, and he hoped to see some miracle done by Him.

As we read on, we can see that Herod had no interest in being saved from his sin, he was just glad to see Jesus because he had heard so much about him and he wanted to see a miracle done by him.

Oh, how often we can be like Herod!

So many of us only want to accept good gifts from Jesus. We come to Him selfishly, fully expecting Him to fix everything in our lives and to give us a happy, satisfying life here on earth. We want Him to fix our broken marriages, our rebellious children, and our dysfunctional families. We want Him to change someone or to give us financial stability or to whisper sweet nothings in our ear.

But this is not how the Bible describes Jesus. Jesus is our Savior from sin. When we are saved from sin and accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, nothing is ever the same again. Life becomes not about what we can get from Jesus but about what we can give to Jesus.

Instead of grasping for peace and joy and material wealth and supernatural answers to prayer, we should rest in God’s Sovereignty. Instead of using unbiblical methods and supernatural experiences to “know God” (I would argue that these do not lead us to knowledge of the only True God but are instead leading us to our deadliest enemy), we should read His word with a submissive heart that is ready to obey–no matter what the cost.

(Truly–I am astounded just how many believers are caught up in experiencing the supernatural. They want to hear Jesus speak to them or they want to feel God’s presence. But these teachings are not found in God’s Word but are, instead, based on principles of ancient Catholic mysticism. And, honestly, it is our human nature to be attracted to this type of thing because it makes us feel good and seems to be a much easier way to be “close to God” than what the Bible teaches.)

But there are few short cuts in this world and certainly none when it comes to knowing God. Knowing God means digging into His Word. Knowing God will mean denying ourselves. Knowing God will cost us.

This is not what most of us signed up for when we said a prayer one Sunday morning or at camp as a teenager. We came to Jesus because we expected Him to solve all of our problems and to make us happy and fulfilled. Like Herod, we were anxious to watch Him work miracles–hopefully in our own lives.

And yet this view of Jesus is so incomplete. Yes, He will help us. Yes, He will sometimes work in ways that astound us. But, mostly, following Jesus will be a hard and narrow path, full of rocks and twists and turns (Matthew 7:13-14). It means we will be hated by the world and even sometimes by those who call themselves Christians (John 15:19). It means we will give up our own personal dreams and purposes and happiness, in order to bring glory to our heavenly Father and to further His kingdom (Matthew 6:19-21). It means we submit to being pruned and shaped as the Father wills (John 15:1-2).

This is not a popular viewpoint, is it? And yet, this is what we read in scripture.

As we grow in Christ, let’s be sure to keep a biblical view on what this really means. Let’s be in the Word, reading it in context to understand who Jesus really is. And let’s turn our backs on the vain philosophies of men and the deceitful workings of false teachers that are in abundance around us, wooing us with promises of short cuts to God through mystical experiences. Instead of being greedy and only caring about what Jesus will give us, let’s have a grateful heart and be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Instead of being like Herod, let’s be like Paul–

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).

 

 

Resolutions and Goals

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This time of year abounds with New Year’s resolutions regarding weight loss, exercise, and better eating habits. Articles, commercials, and Pinterest pins about these things really rev up as the new year approaches because this is often when people determine they are going to change their habits. In fact, I know a young man who said he plans to skip the gym the first couple weeks of the year. Two weeks is about the amount of time it takes for all of those gym newbies to lose interest and settle back into their old way of life.

I’d love to tell you how you keep from losing interest but A) that isn’t what this post is about and B) I truly have no idea. If I figure it out I will let you know!

But as I thought about a new year and new beginnings, one thing occurred to me. How many of our resolutions or thoughts about beginning anew have to do with our spiritual health? Oh, I know lots of us don’t even make resolutions or set goals at all. But for those of us that do–how many are spiritual? How much effort do we give to growing us a believer? Or are we content to just be?

Physical health is good. We should desire to be the healthiest we can be because healthy people are able to serve God better. But Paul says this in I Timothy 4:8–

For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

This tells us that–while physical health is good–godliness is better!

So if this is the time of year you often spend some time thinking about where your life is going and setting some goals for yourself, I hope that you will consider setting a goal that has to do with getting into the Word of God. For this is the only way true and lasting growth will occur. Start the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or some other Bible reading plan. Commit to doing a book of the Bible study (using a solid, biblical study method). Or pick a passage to memorize.

Whatever you decide, I know that it will yield great dividends in your walk with God. Studying the Word takes work, but it is richly rewarding.

Remember–there is nothing wrong with goals to be healthy or more organized or to set a budget and stick to it. This can be a wonderful way to serve the Lord better, for sure! But sometimes we can get so caught up in the temporal things of this life that we neglect the eternal things. So, along with other goals you are setting, how about setting a goal that gets you in the Word of God for 2017?

 

 

Conditions for Profitable Bible Study

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One of the saddest things I see going on today by professing believers is how little they are actually studying the Bible. We instead fill our hearts and minds with books about the Bible or with short blog posts, videos, or soundbites of devotional thoughts. We do this and feel pretty good about ourselves, believing we have accomplished our “devotions” for the day.

This kind of thinking leads to biblical illiteracy, which we see in vast numbers today within the church. This is the year that I want to really point people back to the Word of God for life and strength. I hope to show that it is through the Bible that we know our heavenly Father and experience spiritual transformation. I want to encourage people to read and study the Word of God with a submissive spirit and a heart ready to obey.

I also want to encourage people to ask the question: “What does this mean?” Instead of the dangerous question: “What does this mean for me?” These two questions are in direct contrast to one another. The first leads to an objective and literal study of God’s Word, while the second leads to a subjective and mystical study. We will talk more about this as the year progresses, but this is a basic thought to keep in mind as you prepare to dig into the Word this coming year.

As I was talking to Pastor Dean about this recently, he highly recommended the book How to Study the Bible by R.A. Torrey. Thankfully, I had a copy of this laying around that had never been read and so I picked it up. It is worth buying for the first chapter alone and I highly recommend doing so. (I have linked the book title to Amazon for your convenience; I get no proceeds from this).

But I would like to share a skeletal version of Chapter One for you here, entitled Conditions for Profitable Bible Study. I think you will find this most helpful as you start any study of the scriptures–whether it be the Growing 4 Life 2017 Bible Reading Challenge or a different one that is completely unrelated to the challenge here at Growing 4 Life.

And so here we go–some thoughts on preparing yourself to study the Word of God. Torrey starts out by writing this:

The secret lies in meeting certain fundamental conditions before you begin to study the Word of God. If you meet these conditions, you will get more out of the Bible, while pursuing the poorest methods, than the one who does not meet them while he pursues the best methods. What you will need is far deeper than a new and better technique.

Here are the conditions–

  1. You must be born again. Little is to be gained from study of scripture if your spiritual eyes have not been opened.
  2. You must have a love for the Word of God and an appetite for spiritual food. Perhaps you are concerned about this one. Let me assure you that when you start to study in earnest, this will be developed. The more you study, the stronger your appetite will grow.
  3. You must have a willingness to work hard. Few things are gained without work and Bible Study is no exception. You will get out of it what you put into it.  Torry puts it this way: “The reason many people get so little out of their Bible reading is simply because they are not willing to think. Intellectual laziness lies at the bottom of a large percent of fruitless Bible reading.”
  4. You must have a will that is wholly surrendered to God. The old hymn “I Surrender All” takes on a whole new meaning when we actually think about living the words we sing. This is a tough one but it is key if we are to truly get anything out of our Bible Study. We must say–like Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42)–“not my will, but Thy will be done.”
  5. You must be willing to obey all commands in scripture as soon as you become aware of them. This is related to #4, but it is a bit different in that it requires action. There are many sins we commit each and every day that we may not even think about until we get in the Word and it shows us –like a mirror–the truth about our souls. James puts it like this– But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does (James 1:22-25). We will get the most out of our study by bringing a heart and mind that is willing to obey.
  6. The sixth condition is a childlike mind. What this really means is bringing to your study a humble and teachable heart. I just love how Torrey puts this: “How can we be babes if God is to reveal His truth to us, and we are to understand His Word? A child is not full of his own wisdom. He recognizes his own ignorance and is willing to be taught. He does not oppose his own notions and ideas to those of his teachers.” Oh, how very important this condition is! This alone may be why so many who claim to be in the Word show no apparent growth or transformation. Whenever we impose our ideas and thoughts on the Word, viewing the Bible through our own already preconceived worldview, we are hindering greatly the work of the Holy Spirit to give us insight into the Word. A teachable spirit cannot be over-emphasized enough in this study of the Word of God!
  7. The seventh condition Torrey gives is that we believe the Bible is the very Word of God! This involves four things– 1) We bring an unquestioning acceptance to all that we find within its pages, even if it seems unreasonable or impossible. 2) We have absolute reliance in all its promises in all their breadth and length. 3) We give prompt obedience to its every precept. 4) We study as if we are in God’s presence–as if hearing the living God speaking the words of scripture to us. This is because the Bible truly is His very words to us and we are always in God’s presence. Torrey puts it like this: “We can have God’s glorious companionship any moment we please by simply opening His Word and letting the living and ever-present God speak to us through it.”
  8. The last condition for profitable study is prayerfulness. Bend over each passage of scripture in prayer. Prayer for a clean and pure heart. Prayer for a submissive and obedient heart. Prayer for insight into what you are going to read in the Word. David puts it this way in Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may see, Wondrous things from Your law.

I hope that you have found this a helpful post to get you started in the greatest adventure anyone can undertake–a study of the very Word of God! Whether you have studied your Bible for years or this is your first attempt, I pray the greatest blessing on you as you begin a new year of studying the Bible. I know full well–if the above conditions are met–you will not come away unchanged from your time in the Word.

What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

A Response to “12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church”

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A young friend of mine sent me an article yesterday and asked me what I thought about it. She sensed its unbiblical tone and wanted confirmation. Since I have seen it on my Facebook wall since then, I am assuming that it must be making its rounds on the internet. I felt it deserves a response.

The article is by a millennial who is sick of church. To their credit, they recognize that there is a real problem with keeping their age group in the church. I couldn’t agree more. Where we do not agree is what to do about it.

First, let me state that I am not a millennial and haven’t been for quite some time. However, I am a parent to four of them, from the ages of 17-26. Three of them are out of our home and married. All three couples attend and serve at a local church regularly. I tell you this so you know this dissatisfaction is not inevitable. Some millennials still love church!

So back to this article. The beginning of the article states their dissatisfaction and then we move into what they believe to be the reasons that millennials have abandoned church. I’d like to respond to each one.

1. “Nobody’s Listening to Us.” My response to this is–of course they aren’t. When I was twenty-something no one listened to me, either. That’s because I didn’t know anything. Somewhere in my mid-twenties I started to grasp the fact that I didn’t know anything and started being teachable. I began to respect those who had gained wisdom from life experience and desired to learn from them. I find, nowadays, that this has turned on its head and no one is listening to those who are more mature in the Lord.

In fact, if anyone is not being listened to, it is generally those who are older, whose desires for a more traditional simple service with hymns and expositing God’s Word have been thrown out completely. And this was so millennials would come to church. But you claim we aren’t listening to you. Hmmm.

2. “We are sick of hearing about values and mission statements.” The author goes on to give their {very incomplete} definition of the Gospel. It is clear that the author does not consider the Word of God to be authoritative, as we most certainly must teach and preach about values–for it’s in the Bible. Which is why church exists–to preach the Word of God. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2; Romans 10:14)

3. “Helping the poor isn’t a priority.” Yep, that’s true. Because it isn’t supposed to be a priority. But I bet that church this author is talking about is doing a great job ministering to the sick and needy within its own congregation, which is exactly what the church is supposed to be doing. Social Justice–the buzz word that many connect to the church–is not from the Bible. It’s from communism. Read your Bible and you will find out that there is no mention of social justice anywhere. The church’s job is to feed the sheep spiritual food (Acts 2:42). Now, lest I be misunderstood, I am not against helping the poor. But we can see when we read the New Testament that this should never be the first priority of any solid, biblical church.

4. “We’re tired of you blaming the culture.” The author goes on to say that the church is blaming the culture for all that is bad in the church. I can see some validity to this. While I don’t think we blame the culture, I do think we talk about it too much sometimes. The world has changed so fast that those of us who didn’t grow up in this culture–well, our heads are spinning. We are quite dismayed and sometimes we may talk about that too much. Interestingly enough, the author’s solution to this is: Explicitly teach us how our lives should differ from the culture. But my question would be this– how do we do that without teaching you values from scripture?? (see #2)

5. “You ‘can’t sit with us’ effect” This has to do with how we treat those who walk into the church doors. While I agree that this can be a huge problem, I also understand that there are two sides of this story. Getting plugged in to a new church can be difficult and if we aren’t careful we can really put the burden on the people to make us feel like we belong. But–from my own personal experience–I have learned that I won’t feel like I belong until I roll my sleeves up and start working side by side with those serving there. So many people only show up for an hour on a Sunday morning and then wonder why they always feel on the outside. I know because I have been there.

6. “Distrust and Misallocation of Resources” I agree with this author that there should be transparency in a church budget. The church’s members should know the breakdown of everything and secrecy isn’t good.

But the author goes on to say this–“Why should thousands of our hard-earned dollars go toward a mortgage on a multi-million dollar building that isn’t being utilized to serve the community, or to pay for another celebratory bouncy castle when that same cash-money could provide food, clean water and shelter for someone in need?”

While I am certainly not in favor of unnecessary building projects, I believe that once again this author has a grave misunderstanding of ecclesiology (the study of the church) according to the Bible. The church’s purpose is not to take care of the poor. It is to grow believers.

I also find it interesting that there is zero mention of the Gospel by this author. They seemed to only be concerned with meeting temporal, material needs of the poor. And yet, we know that without Christ, any material need met is only helping for a moment.

7. “We want to be mentored not preached at” I am not sure when life became about what we want instead of what we need, but the Bible tells us clearly that preaching is to be part of a Christian’s life (I Timothy 4:13; I Corinthians 15:1). It is the godly pastor who will feed and encourage us in our walk. There is no precedence set for dialogue that I can see. What this author wants to see completely changes the definition of “church” and turns it into some kind of group conversation. Interestingly enough, I see this happening in churches all across America, where preaching has taken a back seat and dialogue and subjectivism is reigning supreme. If this is a prerequisite for a church for this author, I am sure they could find one in their neighborhood somewhere.

8. “We want to feel valued” I agree with this author that it is nice to receive a thank you. But sometimes you don’t get one. All church people of all ages feel under-valued sometimes. Life is very much about perspective and when we focus on whether or not we are valued, we will always come up short. Part of growing up (something we can learn from our elders) is doing what needs to be done just because it is the right thing to do and stop worrying about if anyone appreciates us or not.

9. “We want you to talk to us about controversial issues.” Now, from my own personal perspective, I would love to talk to anyone about these issues. Let’s talk about sex, homosexuality, entertainment. But can we do so without all of the relativism? Can we show you the answers from the Bible? Because–again–how do we have these important discussions without teaching values (#2)?? (Hebrews 4:12)

10. “The public perception” This author seems to think we need to change the public’s perception about church. But I heartily disagree because the church doesn’t exist for the community, it exists for believers. And the bottom line is that if we choose to have a biblical church in the way scripture commands, the world will find us distasteful (I Corinthians 1:23; John 15:18-19). We need to be more concerned about growing strong and courageous believers than we are about how the public perceives us.

11. “Stop talking about us (unless you are going to do something)” The fact is that many people are trying to do something about this, they just don’t like what is being done. They don’t want to be told that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. They don’t want to be taught there are absolute values. Their focus is on their experiences and their feelings rather than on the Word of God and what is absolute truth.

I would like to add here that our church has a wonderful group of millennials who are nothing like this author. They are plugged in and serve with joy. They are teachable and ask questions about how they can grow as a Christian. This article is not representative of all millennials by a long shot.

12. “You’re failing to adapt” The author uses three quotes for this point–all from secular sources. To me, this is very telling. This author–I have no idea if they are saved or not–is focusing only on worldly values. They used one Bible verse in the whole article. Is the church supposed to “adapt”? And, honestly, I am shocked that this is an accusation, because from my perspective the church most certainly is adapting. In fact, I would say the church has become mostly ineffective at sharing the true gospel because it has become so effective at adapting. But the true church should never adapt. Oh, we can use technology or change a few things here and there, but we never change our message. And we never change our mission.

So do we listen to what this author has to say? I would say, overall, the answer to that is a resounding NO. There is no biblical basis for any of it. And, yet, I see churches all across this country–perhaps across the world–scrambling to make these changes to appeal to this generation. Let’s stop. Just stop. And let’s get back to preaching the Word of God without apology. Let’s feed good, solid spiritual food to the parents and the grandparents of the next generation so we don’t repeat what just happened. And let’s stop thinking that we need to do something to draw people to church and start praying that God would do a mighty work in the hearts of this generation. For only God can change the heart.

 

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

The Sky is Turning Orange

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The other day a friend was telling me the account of a couple she knew who were staying in one of the vacation cabins in the Gatlinburg area this past week. If you are following the news at all, you will know that this was not a very good time to take a trip to Gatlinburg. Wildfires have ravaged the area and hundreds of homes and cabins have been destroyed. Most areas have been evacuated and we have seen some terrifying footage and heard some unbelievable accounts–including this one, which was relayed to me by my friend–

The couple noticed smoke in the air as they walked around town, but were assured that there was no need to worry. There are forest fires but they are far from here is what they were told. As they headed back to their cabin the sky grew darker and it started to get windy. They got nervous. The wife called the rental company asking if they should leave.

“No, no, the fires are nowhere near the cabins. No need to worry. This is not a big deal.”

They tried to relax. But they just couldn’t seem to. At one point, the electric went out. And then in the darkness they spotted an orange glow. They called the rental company again.

A condescending “no need to worry. The fires are nowhere near your cabin.”

Finally, they decided to pack up and head out, no matter what the rental company said. As they headed down the mountain road–their only way out–they came to an abrupt stop. There were trees across the road, making it impassable.

They headed back up the mountain to the cabin, where now the phone lines had stopped working, as well, and the situation was getting more and more serious by the moment. Thankfully, they had cell phone service and they called the rental company one last time to demand that someone come out to clear the road immediately.

And one last time, the impression was given that there was no hurry and this was not a big deal.

And that is when they made the decision to call 9-1-1! How wise they were! When asked where they were, they were surprised to hear the respondent ask them why they were still up on the mountain–that they were to evacuate immediately.

Thankfully, fire crews and police cleared the road and then escorted them and a few other cars in the same situation out through the fire. Fire burned on both sides of the road as they made their terrifying escape to safety.

Honestly, I am not sure I have this timeline all correct. As I was listening to her tell this story, I sat there aghast. I cannot imagine the horror of such a thing. I do know for sure that they called the rental company no less than three times. That I remember vividly. As I thought about the company’s careless disregard for their renters, I recognized a parallel that I just had to share here.

In many ways, I believe there are Christians who are asking their church leaders and their Bible Study leaders and godly people they trust: Is this false doctrine? Should we be worried about this methodology or this unbiblical teaching? And, in most instances, they are getting responses like the rental company gave to this lady.

Heresy is nowhere near us. Stop worrying. No big deal. And always with just a bit of condescension so that one feels like a fool for even mentioning it.

But the sky is starting to turn orange now. And we had better wake up. The sky is burning bright and smoke is filling the air, indicating that the great falling away is so close we can almost touch it (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3). Heresy has seeped its way into even the most sound, biblical churches because people who try to warn the leaders are often shut down or marginalized immediately and then, often, are made so unwelcome they are forced to look elsewhere for a place to worship.

Just as there were four types of people in the story above, so I believe there are four types of true believers in this current Christian culture–

1. There are the ones who are sitting in the cabins blissfully unaware, trusting the rental company that all is well. They are completely oblivious and naively believe whatever they hear. This is a very unhealthy and extremely dangerous state for any believer and leaves them open to much deception.

2. There are the ones who are in the cabin and are starting to get really nervous. They are the ones who feel like something is just not quite right in their churches and Bible Studies. They are the ones who read mainstream blog posts or books and they see that they don’t line up with scripture. Or perhaps they spot unbiblical practices happening in ministries, on college campuses, or on the mission field. But they just aren’t quite sure what to do about it.

3. There are the rescue workers, feverishly working to free the trapped and the deceived. These are the ones who understand that what is going on in the church is leading very quickly to a one-world religion. They see the paradigm and they are working to save as many people as they can. They are moving trees and taking people through the fire, but not only are they finding that most people want to stay in the fire, but that some are even blocking their way as they try to move the trees! It is frustrating, lonely work with little reward. They are ostracized, marginalized, and their reputations are often attacked. But they keep going because they love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and, even more importantly, it is what the Lord has called them to do.

4. And there is the rental company–the ones telling everyone else to just relax. To stop making such a big deal out of everything. Some of these are doing this very intentionally and some are truly ignorant to the danger. They really believe that everything is just as it should be.

So which kind of Christian are you today? As we watch Christianity being completely hijacked by mysticism, where do you stand?

The really fascinating fact is that Christianity today is absolutely nothing like it has been historically for two thousand years. It has changed in such a subtle but fundamental way that it is no longer biblical Christianity anymore. It has become a religion based on mysticism, personal experience, and relativism.

Why the change? And why now, at this point in history?

I hope to write more about this next year. But perhaps this will start you really seeing what is going on in the church today. Maybe you will start to see what is going on in your church. If you have been feeling like something is off, but you just don’t know where to begin, begin by picking up a book and getting yourself educated. Here are two good ones to get you started–

A Time of Departing by Ray Yungen

Faith Undone by Roger Oakland

 

Why Are You So Offended?

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The other day I was shopping for groceries right around lunchtime. Spotting the beautiful salad bar in the store, I decided to buy a salad for lunch. Choosing one of the containers that has three different sections, I filled it up and then carefully set it in my cart. There it lay, with salad ingredients in one half and some beautiful fruit in the corner. Perfectly separated.

I managed to get it to the check out counter without mixing the items all together and there I lifted it out of the cart, holding it in such a way that the salad would not get mixed with the fruit, and rested it behind the rest of my items on the conveyor belt.

But all that care ended up being in naught as I watched the store clerk lift up the salad and recklessly turn it to and fro looking for a bar to scan. Finally, she sighed and asked the clerk beside her how to check out a salad.

Upon receiving the necessary information, she checked out my now thoroughly mixed salad and put it in a bag.

Now, in my earlier life I may have grown a bit frustrated over this all. Yes, it’s just a salad but she had undone everything I had so carefully tried to avoid in just a few seconds. Literally. She had carelessly lifted it up and mixed it all together, with no thought given to how I might feel about that.

But here’s the thing– she had no idea whatsoever that she was frustrating me. None at all. Her only thought was that here was something she didn’t know how to check out and she knew she had to figure out how to check it out and she had to do that quickly.

So often we get so offended with people who have no idea they are even offending us. They are just living their life from their perspective without a care for anybody else’s and their agenda collides with ours. In this case, my agenda was to keep the container flat so that my food wouldn’t get all mixed together. The clerk’s agenda was to find a price for that salad. When these agendas clashed, I knew a moment of irritation.

So why in the world am I talking about something so unimportant? Because– let’s face it– a salad that gets all mixed together is about the most minuscule thing in life you can imagine.  I share this because I think there is a much deeper lesson to be learned.

Well, two lessons, actually.

First, we get offended about the wrong things. I mean who cares about a salad? Or the car that cut in front of us on the highway? Why do we care so much about the co-worker who got the credit we deserved or when our spouse shares something that they would like us to change? We care because we care so very much about ourselves.

In contrast, think about the last time you got offended when you heard God’s name taken in vain or heard someone take a Bible passage out of context or make some heretical statement. Did this offend you? Did it fill you with the same irritation that it would have if they had taken your words out of context or used your name as a swear word?

My guess is no. And this is a great test about who we love most, isn’t it? Just when I think I am making some headway, God will show me that I still love me most. It’s a discouraging, disheartening thought. Until I remember how far I’ve come. I am still struggling, but I love God now in a much deeper and fuller way than I even dreamed possible when I was a teenager. Filling my mind with His Word is how this came about. There is no shortcut full of special experiences and feelings (but that’s a really, really long bunny trail and a post for another day).

So are we getting offended about the right things? This is a question we must ask ourselves.

The second lesson to be learned from the salad incident is that, whether we are personally offended or offended for the sake of God and His Word, how we react says a lot about us. Do we grow angry and defensive? Do we speak unkind words or give someone the silent treatment? This says we love ourselves so much more than we love God.

But if we overlook small, inconsequential offenses we show a desire to be like Christ. If we address worthwhile offenses with love and kindness, using God’s Word as our guide, we show that our love for that person is far greater than our desire to “be right”. If we practice patience and joy when someone is frustrating us, we show that we have eternal perspective.

Now let’s think about this practically for a moment. What would these reactions show to a world overflowing with self-absorbed, easily-offended people? It would be a welcome and wonderful change for store and hotel clerks, for co-workers, and for churches, too. It may even give us an opportunity to talk about the Gospel. At the very least, it will be evidence of the light of Christ that is within us.

We are never going to change anybody else. But we can change ourselves. We can choose to overlook a slight offense. We can show love and grace when confrontation is necessary. And we can choose to challenge people on the stuff that really matters–the things that offend our loving, heavenly Father. And, in doing these things, we are shining witnesses for Jesus Christ and also help to make the world a gentler, kinder place.

It begins with us.