A Tale of Two Types of Church Music

I’ve been leading the music ministry of my church for a few years now. Music has never been a primary pursuit of mine, but there was a need our young church plant had for a music leader and I was the only one who knew how to pound out a few chords on the guitar while attempting to carry a tune. So, I volunteered.

It’s been a stretching experience. I’ve grown a bit in skill, been blessed with an extraordinarily committed and gifted team, and learned a good deal from Scripture about what singing in church is and how it should look.

During this time, there are two lessons that have made an impression on me. First, the music from church to church can be very diverse in terms of musical style (coral, folk, gospel, rock, blues, etc.), instrumentation (organ, piano, acoustic guitar, trumpets, violins, etc.), how many vocalists or instrumentalists (anywhere from one to a hundred), or song choices (contemporary songs, ancient hymns, new hymns, etc). I enjoy this diversity and praise God that Christ is praised in so many different ways.

Second, though there is great diversity in how music in practiced in churches, there seems to be two very ideas for what music on Sundays should be accomplishing: to perform for the congregation or to lead the congregation to participate. Whether they’re aware of it or not, each local church seems to have made a decision about which of these aims they pursue. Their decided aim, either to execute a performance or to lead unto participation, more than anything else, determines what their music ministry will become and how they’ll behave.

Performance Vs. Participation

Let’s describe the two aims of performance music and participatory music. A performance music ministry aims to create an experience or cause emotion in their listeners. If people have a noteworthy experience or feel a unique emotion, then the music work is a success. A participatory music ministry seeks to help the congregation sing the truth of God’s Word to God and one another. With this aim, success is seen when the whole congregation sings the truth of God’s Word loudly to one another and ultimately to the Lord.

There are significant & important differences between performance singing & participatory singing (also known as congregational singing). Here are a few.

Performance music is what we enjoy and expect at concerts. Participation music is the specific kind of activity God invites to participate in at church (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).

Performance music is very difficult to sing without instruments. Participation music is very easy to sing without instruments. I’ve thought often about this measurement from Jonathan Leeman,

“Here is a general (not absolute) principle: the more a song depends on the musical accompaniment and cannot be sung by a couple of children in the car on the way home, the more performance-oriented and less congregational it probably is.”

Performance music first focuses on the voice(s) on stage. Participation music first focuses on the voices of those in chairs.

Performance music creates a culture where success is measured by how well the band plays. Participation music creates a culture where success is measured by how well the congregation sings. The first seeks to perform. The second seeks to facilitate.

You are (as a member of the congregation) allowed sing with the performance music. You’re expected to sing with the participation music. I often say participation music is like singing “Happy Birthday,” everyone joins in no matter how good or bad your voice is. The point is participating with one another, not performing for one another.

Performance music tends toward individuals fulfilling their preferences. Participation music tends toward the individual joining their community.

There is much more here we could point out, but this gets us a good start to at least have the knowledge to know such different aims exist and be able to identify them.

Why Even Talk About This?

You may ask, if you’ve made it this far, why even talk about this? To avoid unnecessary length, I’ll give one reason: what churches do affects who churches become. Therefore, a church will be deeply affected not only by their preaching, praying, and fellowship each Sunday, but by their singing too. Music forms individual people and churches in significant ways. How we sing is no small matter to be left to preference or taste alone.

How a church sings will have a dramatic effect on that church’s unity, theological knowledge, spiritual health, emotional health, and much more. In an age of extraordinary musical technology, intensely held traditions, & all sorts of pop-Christian music, it’s good for Christians to not just ask, “What have I experienced church music to be?” but “What should church music be?”

I grant, I haven’t said anything about the positive or negative affects of each type of music. Even more, I assume in this piece that participatory music is what the Scriptures call us to. I’ll likely share thoughts on those topics later. For now, I just want to identify the two types of aims that exist in church music ministries today. I will leave to you to think upon which one the Bible seems to be pointing us toward.

For more on congregational singing, check out this free online journal or this book.

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A Forgotten Reason Why Church Hurts

A lot of people get hurt in churches. It shouldn’t, however, if surprise us because of what the church is: a united body made of up very diverse members. Folks in church are truly and spiritually connected with one another. The Apostle Paul this well:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

As church members, we are genuinely united to other believers like members of a body are united together under the leadership of the head.

An Often Forgotten Reason for Church Hurt

So, why does church hurt? Since we’re spiritually and relationally connected with those in our churches, we’re affected by both their pleasures and pains. The Apostle Paul makes this connection when he says:

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 1 Corinthians 12:26

The members of our body are not immune to the hardships or unhealth of other members. And so it is with the church body as well.

Jerry Bridges applies this reality well.

Can you imagine the ear making the following comment to the eye? “Say, did you hear about the serious trouble the foot is having? My, my, isn’t it too bad? That foot surely ought to get his act together.” No, no, our bodies don’t behave that way at all! Instead the entire body cries out, “My foot hurts! I feel awful!”

Why does the whole body hurt when only one part is injured? It is because all the parts of the body make up one indivisible whole. And when one part hurts, no matter what the reason, the restorative powers of the entire body are brought to bear on that hurting member. Rather than attacking that suffering part or ignoring the problem, the rest of the body demonstrates concern for the part that hurts. This is the way the body of Christ should function…

Only as we become acutely aware of the truth that we are in fellowship with every other believer — like it or not — will we seek to work out the implications of that fellowship in loving concern and care for each other.

(Taken from True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia [Kindle Locations 672-673])

Being members of a church offers us both the gift of enjoying one another’s good times and enduring one another’s bad times. Even more, we’re blessed by one another’s virtues and often burdens with one another’s vices. Church life, then, is replete with both joy and sorrow as we walk with one another side by side.

Maybe a word it fitting here. If you’ve found church difficult at times, instead of being disheartened, you may have reason for encouragement: you’re close enough with your church family to be affected by them. As for others, is it possible you find little joy or hardship from your church family not because there isn’t any to be found, but because your not close enough to feel it?

Realizing what the church is will equip us to know how to make sense of our experience and instruct us on how to walk through the more difficult times. Only by realizing we are one through Jesus will we begin to act like as one in Jesus.

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Is Online Church the Same as Normal Church?

Over on Twitter, Jonathan Leeman gives four questions for those who think virtually gathered church is the same as the physically gathered church.

Question from a pastor friend:

“What would you say to someone who says that assembling as a church does not necessitate PHYSICAL proximity because we can assemble on a VIRTUAL platform without bodily being in the same room?”

I’d offer four sets of questions in reply:

1) As a matter of ontology: is a virtual gathering THE EXACT SAME THING as physical gathering? That is, would you say virtual sexual intimacy with your spouse is the exact same thing as physical? Or that virtually visiting Paris is the same as being there? Or that virtually embracing your ailing mother in her hospital bed is the same as physically doing so?

2) As a matter of anthropology: Why did God give us bodies and what significance do they have? Or, as with the gnostics, should we say that we don’t have bodies, or at least that they’re inconsequential?

3) As a matter of biblical obedience: if one will concede that physical and virtual gathering are not the exact same thing, are you prepared to stand before Jesus on the last day and say you fully obeyed his command to gather (Heb. 10:25)?

4) As a pastoral matter: again, if you concede virtual and physical are not the exact same, is virtual not a cheaper substitute? If it is, why are you working so hard to offer Christians and non-Christians the cheaper substitute? Is it conducive to long-term health and witness?

I believe we can apply these same four sets of questions to the more common practice of live-streaming church services.

Worth considering.

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The Main Issue of Abortion (& Some Bad Pro-Choice Arguments)

I never thought I would see it, but Roe has been destroyed and for that I praise God!

This provides a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on what the issue of abortion is really about and answer some poor, but popular, pro-choice arguments.

What Is the Abortion Debate About?

Scott Klusendorf, one of the most articulate proponents of the pro-life position, summarizes it this way:

The abortion debate is about one question: What is the unborn?

Men and women have an equal right to weigh in on that question. Religious and non-religious people do as well. A tolerant society will welcome a free exchange of ideas and judge arguments according to their merits, not the gender or religion of those advancing them.

The pro-life argument can be summed up this way.

Premise #1: It is wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.

Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.

Therefore,

Conclusion: Abortion is morally wrong.

Pro-life advocates defend their essential argument with science and philosophy. They argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo.

They argue from philosophy that there is no relevant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.

So, the main issue that decides the morality of abortion is found in answering this one question: What is the unborn? If a non-human, then pro-choice position has a moral case. If the unborn is a human being, then the pro-choice position is nothing more than justifying the killing of an entire sector of humanity.

Answering a Few Popular Pro-Choice Claims

Here are a few responses to some of the most common claims I hear from pro-choice advocates.

Banning Abortions Won’t Reduce Abortions, Just Safe Abortions

First, abortion is never safe for the unborn because it always ends in their death by dismemberment, suction, or poisoning. Second, it ignores the status of the unborn person. If some humans will die attempting to kill other humans, should the state make it safe and legal for them to do so? No, it is wrong to legalize killing in order to make it safer for those participating in it. Third, evidence suggests that banning abortions does indeed reduce them. Fourth, the statistics of women dying from from illegal abortions prior to Roe were admittedly inflated because the majority of them (90%) were done by doctors. Fifth, legal abortions are unsafe.

Human Life Beginning at Conception Is Only a Religious View

Human life beginning at conception is undeniably a Christian belief from Scripture (other religions believe it too), but it believed by secular folks from science. Scott Klusendorf explains:

There’s really no debate right now in the scientific community about when human life begins… The science of embryology says, and you can find this in embryology textbooks worldwide: from the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living, and whole human being. By distinct, I mean that you were separate from your mother. You had a separate DNA. You likely had a separate blood type. And at least half the time, you’ve got a separate gender. You’re living, because dead things don’t grow. And you’re a whole human being meaning the kind of thing you are is not in question, even though you have yet to mature.

Pro-Life Folks Want to Control Women’s Bodies

No, Pro-Life advocates want to protect babies’ lives. The baby’s body is not the mother’s body. Randy Alcorn gives four reasons why:

(1) A body part is defined by the common genetic code it shares with the rest of its body; the unborn’s genetic code differs from his mother’s.

(2) The child may die and the mother live, or the mother may die and the child live, proving they are two separate individuals.

(3) The unborn child takes an active role in his own development, controlling the course of the pregnancy and the time of birth.

(4) Being inside something is not the same as being part of something. Human beings should not be discriminated against because of their place of residence.

Or, as Klusendorf points out, “If (the unborn is a part of a woman’s body), that means the pregnant mother has four arms, four eyes, four legs, and other things that make it really interesting.”

If You’re a Man, You Don’t Get to Argue About Abortion

This is a logical fallacy called “The Genetic Fallacy,” which, bases an argument solely on someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than its current meaning or context. In this case, the “Pro-Choice Genetic Fallacy” says that a any pro-life argument coming from a man is to be dismissed, not because of its own logic, truthfulness, or force, but because a man is giving it. The gender of a person has nothing to do with the truthfulness of their argument.

Klusendorf humorously responds this claim: “If no man can speak on abortion, we need to reverse Roe v. Wade because it was decided by nine men. But that aside, arguments don’t have gender. People do. The pro-life arguments that are advanced by men are identical to the pro-life arguments advanced by women. You have to argue your case. You have to refute an argument.”

Christians Aren’t Pro-Life, Only Pro-Birth

Pastor Josh Howerton responds well:

Christians are sometimes accused of being pro-birth more than pro-life. They pretend to be passionate about the lives of the unborn as a political weapon, the argument goes, but they don’t really care about children once they’re born. But the data tells a different story.

In addition to establishing almost every Pregnancy Resource Center you’ve ever seen to care for vulnerable women, as well as countless child-sponsorship programs, the adoption rate among practicing Christians more than doubles that of the average U.S. household. Christian groups have a proven track record of providing safe alternatives to abortion.

Sometimes Abortion Is Needed to Save the Mother’s Life

Live Action helpfully points out, “Abortion is never medically necessary to save a woman’s life. The Dublin Declaration, which has more than one thousand signatures from obstetricians, neonatologists, pediatricians, midwives, and other medical professionals, states the following:

As experienced practitioners and researchers in obstetrics and gynaecology, we affirm that direct abortion – the purposeful destruction of the unborn child – is not medically necessary to save the life of a woman.

We uphold that there is a fundamental difference between abortion, and necessary medical treatments that are carried out to save the life of the mother, even if such treatment results in the loss of life of her unborn child.

We confirm that the prohibition of abortion does not affect, in any way, the availability of optimal care to pregnant women.

This is reinforced by the testimony of former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino who describes a typical “life of the mother” case:

I was faculty at the hospital for nine years, and I saw hundreds of cases of really severe pregnancy complications — cancers, heart disease, intractable diabetes out of control, toxemia of pregnancy out of control. And I saved — in those nine years — I saved hundreds of women from life-threatening pregnancies. And I did that by delivering them — by ending their pregnancy by delivery, either induction of labor or caesarean section. Delivering the baby. And I always tell people: in all those years, the number of babies that I had to — that I was obligated to deliberately kill in the process — was zero. None.

Is There Grace for Those Who’ve Aborted?

If you’ve participated in an abortion and you’re reading this, you may ask, “Is there any hope for me?” Yes, beloved, there is an infinite amount of grace ready for you in Jesus.

I love the way Melissa Kruger put it:

Many women who have had abortions and men who have encouraged abortions find it difficult to walk in the freedom Christ has secured. If this is you, then you may hear the father of lies speak words of condemnation, fear, and doubt as fiery arrows to assault your faith. You may feel tempted to self-incarcerate, declaring yourself unworthy of ministry, service, and joy because of a past abortion.

Yet the good news is truly good news. Jesus can bring complete healing to the heart broken by abortion. If you long to walk in newness of life, he invites you, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). By seeking Jesus, the community of the church, and ministry to others, you can come out of the shadows into his marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9).

Like Jesus said, “He will never cast away those who come to him” (John 6:37). If you come, he only has grace for you.

Helpful Websites

There are a lot more pro-choice claims. If you would like to see them, along with informed and thoughtful responses to them, check the following websites:

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Why Do Christians Do Stuff?

There are a fair amount of folks who call themselves Christians and they do a fair amount of goodly things in the world. But, when you get down to gears, why do Christians do stuff? What’s their ultimate aim? Their final goal?

What is Christianity all about, anyway?

Colin Marshall & Tony Payne illustrate the Bible’s answer:

“What do you think is really going on when your unbelieving friend Fred becomes a disciple of Jesus, and joins a church?

According to the world, what is happening is that for a range of personal and situational reasons, Fred is turning to religion and spirituality to fill certain needs in his life – for meaning, for belonging, for comfort, for certainty, to be the best possible version of himself, and more. The world may see this as a positive development for Fred or not, but however they evaluate it, it will be in terms of the various ways in which ‘faith’ helps people improve their lives.

According to some Christians, what is going on is not much different from the world’s description, with the exception that the God Fred is turning to really is there, and really will help Fred improve his life. That is, the key outcome of Fred becoming a Christian is a better life for Fred – more meaningful, more upright and loving, more rounded and spiritual, possibly even more successful in helping Fred to become the Fred that he was always meant to be.

According to many other Christians, this focus on Christianity improving our lives now is a bit tawdry and unspiritual. They would say what is really happening is that God is giving Fred something much better and more valuable than any life improvement he might imagine, and that is a new personal relationship with God through Jesus – a relationship that gives him salvation and peace with God now, and entry into heaven when he dies.

Now that last description is getting closer, and is in fact perfectly true. But it needs to go further. When we zoom even further out and look at what is happening to Fred with the benefit of what we have just seen in the Bible, we can say that what is going on is not just about Fred, or in fact even primarily about him. What is happening…is that God is continuing to move all of history – in this case the little fragment of human history that is Fred – toward its final goal. With the conversion of Fred, God is laying one more brick in an eternal spiritual temple founded no Christ, and glorifying to Christ. Jesus is building his church, his congregation, his assembly, his great gathering of redeemed humanity that will one day throng around him in a new heavens and earth – and he is doing it one Fred at a time.

This is why we want to make more disciples of Jesus Christ: because God’s goal for the whole world and the whole of humanity history is to glorify his beloved Son in the midst of the people he has rescued and transformed.

This must be our first and foundational conviction, because it frames and determines everything else. It reminds us that making disciples is not primarily a human activity with goals that we set. Whatever happens in Christian ministry and in church, and whatever happens in our neighborhood and families and workplaces, is part of what God is doing to move all things inexorably toward their goal and end – which is Jesus Christ.”

If you’d like to see where this is taught in the Bible, Revelation 5 will do the trick. It helpfully describes what all the created universe will be busy doing once God wraps up his plan. In other words, it cuts to straight to the final scene of God’s movie:

“And they sang a new song, saying,

‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,

‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’

13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’

14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Revelation 5:9-14

Christianity is not ultimately about improving your life, finding your purpose, or living happily. It’s not about love, people, Christians, or even this world. Christianity is about Jesus Christ being recognized, cherished, adored, and soul-satisfyingly treasured by redeemed people to the glory of God.

Although for many a sinner-rebel (like a formerly was) this final scene comes as a plot twist to our own life of self-worship, it really does make sense. How could the whole created realm be about anything else but the One who brought it into being? How could God create us for any other purpose than He? What greater gift could the infinitely beautiful and good God give us, but Himself?

Created by Him. Sustained through Him. Designed for Him.

This is what Christianity is all about.

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To Whom Do We Sing On Sunday?

When Christians gather for corporate worship, we sing. The style of music, the use of instruments, the skill of the congregation may all differ, but the presence of singing in Christian worship is a constant. The Church Jesus rescued by His blood is a saved people and, therefore, a singing people.

As with all things, so it is with singing, increased familiarity leads to decreased attention. So, though we Christians do a lot of singing, we don’t always do a lot of thinking about our singing.

In an effort to remedy that, allow me to ask and answer the question, “To whom do Christians sing when they gather for worship?”

I’ll offer you three audiences.

We Sing to Ourselves

Christians have leaky memories and we’re in need of constant fill-ups of God’s Word through our pastors, our brothers and sisters, our Scripture reading, and our singing. Singing is a means of reminding ourselves of what is true.

The Psalms, the very songs of Scripture, are filled with examples of godly people singing the truth to themselves to remind and exhort themselves to live according not to their circumstances, people, or feelings, but according to God’s Word. One example, when the Psalmist found himself despairing in his suffering and persecution he sung these exact words to himself three different times, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5). He knew how he felt. He knew what was happening around him. But, most importantly, he knew that God’s Word was truer than his feelings and God’s promise was surer than his circumstances. In a time of great trouble, he ascended the pulpit of his own heart and sung truth down into his soul.

Every Sunday, we must follow his lead and sing God’s truth into our bones.

We Sing to Our Brothers & Sisters

Now, at any time, we can sing the truth of God’s Word to our own heart, but only when we are gathered with the church can we sing it into the ears and hearts of our brothers and sisters. And this, singing to our church family, is another essential recipient of our song. Notice Paul’s instructions to church in Ephesus: “(Address) one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). Not only were they to make melody to the Lord, but their singing was to also “address one another.” Their songs were not only for Christ, but also his bride. Paul offers the Colossian church the same counsel: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Colossians 3:16

This means the pastor is not the only one preaching on Sunday, but the whole church is. One difference is the congregation’s sermon has a soundtrack. The pastor speaks the truth and the congregation sings it. He preaches from the pulpit and the congregation from the pew.

When you gather with the church, make sure you understand that God wants you to sing his Word into the ears and hearts of those around you. He wants to bless them through your singing. I’m sure you experienced the power of hearing ordinary, godly Christians singing the extraordinary gospel into your ears. God wants that gift for all his children. Not only do you need you to sing to you, but they – your brothers and sisters – need you to sing to them.

We must sing God’s truth into the church’s soul.

We Sing to God

Singing often reveals what we treasure most. Throughout the ages, young men have sung to their sweethearts. Soldiers and citizens proudly sing anthems to their country. Mothers tenderly and smilingly whisper lullabies to their newborns. We sing to the things we value, cherish, and love the most.

So it is with those saved by the Lord. “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 96:1-2). So it is, even more, with those bought by the blood of the Lamb.

“And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

Singing is an inevitable result of being overjoyed. When our souls and senses are so filled with the glory, delight, and goodness of something, song and music seem to become the only language adequate for expression. When Christians eyes are open to see the goodness of God, the trustworthiness of his word, and the beauty of his glory, they burst out in song to the one whose responsible for it all.

Even then, we find our own song inadequate and cannot help to invite everyone else to join us:

All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing
Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Who Do Our Kids Think They Are?

This article was originally published at Homefront Magazine.

Within the past six years, the Lord has gifted my wife and me with three beautiful daughters. Amidst the numerous joys of these birthing years, giving them their names was particularly special: Daisy Jane, Penny Lane, and Lottie Jo.

As my wife and I named them, I was struck with a sobering thought: this is only the beginning. As parents, the finished work of giving our children their names only leads to the never-ending work of helping them understand their identities.

Deciding what they’d be called is the first parental act. Raising them to know who they are lies at the heart of parenting itself.

This truth is crucial for all parents to understand because if we are not telling our children who they are, someone else will.

Identity the World Offers

Like a kid with play dough, the world works to mold us into its own image (Romans 12:2), and one of the ways it does that is by offering us (and our children) false identities to adopt. Though their expressions may differ, the major identities our kids are offered by the world fall into the following categories.

“You Are Your Gifts.”

Some of our students are constantly being told that who they are is measured by how smart, artistic, or athletic they are. Their GPA determines their significance, their skill defines their worth, and their stats decide their value.

“You Are Your Feelings.”

Other students are being tempted to believe they are nothing more than what they feel. They’re told to find their identity within themselves and are thus led into a life of instability, tumult, and chaos as their adolescent feelings change more frequently than the tides.

“You Are Your Looks.”

Billboards, TV shows, movies, and magazines constantly preach the soul-crushing message: “You are only as valuable as the beauty of your fashion, form, or face.”

“You Are What Others Think.”

Within school and friend circles, our kids are often trained to think their peers get to decide who they are.

Make no mistake, the world loves to preach; it just doesn’t do it behind pulpits or only on Sundays. Every day the world preaches to our children from television screens, websites, songs, and peer groups, and it’s always telling them, “This is who you are.”

So, what do we do? We must labor to help our kids find their identity in the only One who has the right to give it.

Identity in Christ That God Offers

Thankfully, God is not silent but has spoken clearly to us in the Scriptures about who we are in Christ.

Though there are innumerable passages about the believer’s identity, I find myself constantly coming back to Colossians 1:22 for a simple but profound reminder of who I am because of what Jesus has done. Paul writes:

But now [God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

You can read this passage to your children and tell them, “Because you trust that Jesus has died for you, no matter what you feel or what happens, this is who you are …”

“In Christ, You Are Reconciled.”

You are not a stranger or an enemy to God but His dearly loved child (1 John 3:1). Through Jesus, your relationship with God has been healed.

“In Christ, You Are Holy.”

God has declared that through trusting Jesus you are no longer identified by your sin but by His own holiness. Even if you don’t feel it, you are set apart from the fallen world and are God’s very own treasure.

“In Christ, You Are Without Blemish.”

Jesus’ blood is God’s soap, and through faith in Him you are perfectly clean in His eyes. Through Jesus the dirtiness of sin has been washed away and you are “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).

“In Christ, You Are Free from Accusation.”

Although your own heart may at times condemn you for your sins, God doesn’t. Jesus has paid for all your sins on the cross, and now you’re free from them all! No one can accuse those whom God has forgiven.

With Colossians 1:22 and other Scriptures (e.g., Romans 5:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 3:1), fight to help your children understand who they are in Christ. May it never be said that the world is more diligent in preaching lies to our children than we are at joyfully proclaiming to them God’s truth.

Parents, remember that naming our children is only the beginning of raising them to understand who they really are.

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Seven Signs of a Proud Heart

Jonathan Edwards once wrote:

Spiritual pride takes many forms and shapes, one under another, and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion: when you pull off one, there is another underneath.  Therefore, we have need to have the greatest watch imaginable over our hearts with respect to this matter and to cry most earnestly to the great Searcher of hearts for His help.  He that trusts his own heart is a fool. Jonathan Edwards (Undiscerned Spiritual Pride)

Therefore, you often can’t see pride. It’s hidden. It’s sneaky. It always has a self-defending-spin to explain itself away. But, all roots hidden underground are revealed by the fruit they bear above ground.

7 Fruits of Pride

Here are seven fruits that may indicate a proud heart.

A Critical Heart: No One Measures Up. You find faults in other people like my kids find candy. Pride is enamored with our good and others’ bad. Even when we’re listening to sermons, we’re making a mental list of all the other people who need to hear this. When we’re god, no one measures up to our glory and we’ll be quick to point that out.

A People-Pleasing Heart: Concerned About Your Reputation. People-pleasers seems humble because they seem others-focused. However, serving people for their good is different than serving them for your glory. Pride makes us bend over backwards to maintain our good reputation in others’ eyes. We’ll never say no because we don’t want our glory diminished! We dwell on the sins that people might see, but ignore the ones God does see.

A Defensive Heart: All Criticism Is Attack. Many people may proclaim they’re weak, needy sinners, but will strongly protest if anyone else agrees! We have a little defensive attorney in our hearts named Pride. All challenges, criticisms, or corrections launch him into vigorous work to deflate the accusations and defend our honor. We don’t listen, only litigate.

An Attention-Seeking Heart: You Want Glory. Pride yearns to be praised, loved, revered, and respected. It works hard for good PR and enthusiastic praise. It may be attention from material praise (the house, the car, the clothes) or relational praise (being the man, the husband, the Christian) or spiritual praise (being the strong, the knowledgeable, or the humble Christian!).

An Unforgiving Heart: Sin Against You Is Unforgivable. When we take ourselves seriously, we takes sins against us very seriously. The more highly you view yourself, the more unforgiving you will be. Pride doesn’t say, “They hurt me” but it says, “They hurt me!”

A Partial Heart: Only VIPs Get Your Attention. Pride jumps at the chance to relate to the honorable even if the connection is thin, but it recoils from ever being connected to the unimpressive, unattractive, or unknown.

An Unteachable Heart: You Already Know What You Need. Pride loves to teach, but hates to be taught. It makes us jump at the chance to share our wisdom, opinions, knowledge, or counsel, but gets annoyed when anyone tries to so bless us. Pride loves talking, but hates listening.

These are sickening fruits that lead to an even deadlier root. May God give us eyes to see and the humility to confess our pride so we may, “keep (our) hearts with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” Proverbs 4:23.


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3 Ways You May Be Hurting Your Kid

In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt pinpoint the “Great Untruths” our kids are being taught, often unintentionally, that are hurting them in pervasive and significant ways.

You can find (these Untruths) on college campuses, in high schools, and in many homes. These untruths are rarely taught explicitly; rather, they are conveyed to different people by the rules, practices, and norms that are imposed on them, often with the best of intentions.

Here are the three Great Untruths:

The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.

The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.

The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

The reason they call these “the Great Untruths” instead of merely incorrect statements is because they all transgress three cardinal criteria that ought to be supported by all critically thinking people.

They contradict ancient wisdom; that is, ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures.

They contradict modern psychological research on well-being.

They harm the individuals and communities that embrace them.

In Lukainoff and Haidt’s estimation, these three untruths have been embraced by many of our students today. With more that fifteen years of youth ministry and teaching experience within both high school and college institutions, I cannot help but agree. From my vantage point, these Untruths are are real and are creating and fueling the ongoing and ever-increasing problems (cancel culture, creation of challenge-less “safe places” on college campuses, violent hostility toward ideological opponents, etc.) we’re seeing today.

Thankfully, Lukainoff and Haidt aren’t content to be mere doomsday heralds. They offer very practical ways we can work to reorient – to reteach – our students and bring them out from the swamp they’ve been led into. I appreciate the simplicity and profundity of their solutions to these child-destroying Untruths. I think they provide, at very least, a good framework to use as we analyze our own parenting, discipling, and teaching of students.

They write:

We are not saying that the problems facing students … are minor or “all in their heads.” We are saying that what people choose to do in their heads will determine how those real problems affect them. Our argument is ultimately pragmatic, not moralistic: Whatever your identity, background, or political ideology, you will be happier, healthier, stronger, and more likely to succeed in pursuing your own goals if you do the opposite of (these Great untruths). That means (1) seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything “feels unsafe”), (2) freeing yourself from cognitive distortions (rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and (3) taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people within a simplistic us-versus-them morality).

To summarize their solutions with a wonderful proverb they quote in the beginning of their book, we, parents, teachers, and pastors, “must prepare our children for the road, not the road for our children.”

That alone, I think, is sufficient to get us thinking a bit more deeply about the unintentional messages we are teaching our children by our policies, programs, conversations, and decisions. There is more to say, but not less. As is usual, sometimes the most damaging things we can leave for the next generation are not the things we teach with our mouths, but the things we assume in our actions. Instead of preparing our students for the hardships life will unapologetically throw their way, we, by our coddling, could possibly making them weaker and unable to face them in a healthy and life-giving way.

To get a distillation of their thesis, you can read their inaugural article here or get the fully treatment by buying their book.

Or, if you want to hear one of the authors, speak a bit on the topic, here is a ten minute interview worth checking out.

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12 Questions to Detect Pride

Humility is something Christians often praise, but often fail to possess in our daily thoughts, feelings, or actions. It’s something we love in other people. Like a beautiful gem in the earth, it’s rare and regularly disregarded by passersby as nothing more than a rock.

Pride, on the other hand, is like a weed. It grows easily without any effort. It grows everywhere without any planting. It even, from time to time, blooms with little flowers that make it seem OK or even beautiful to the untrained eye. But, it only takes and never gives. Humility is rare, modest, and often missed. Pride is abundant, ostentatious, and regularly tended.

Therefore, for those following Jesus, the One who is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:28), it’s quite important to not only learn the difference between pride and humility, but also how to detect the first and cultivate the second. Christians must become skilled gardeners who know how to pull the weeds of pride and care for the flower of humility.

The first skill to be learned toward this end is knowing how to detect pride’s deadly roots. In no particular order, here are twelve questions to help you find pride in your own heart.

1) Do You Rank Yourself With Others?

Is there a leader-board in your mind concerning the love, service, intelligence, or giftedness of yourself and those in your life? Pride seeks first place in that list, constantly checks its own rankings, and regularly makes updates. Humility doesn’t even know there is a list. If it did have a list, humility would genuinely believe itself at the list’s bottom because it’s so aware of God’s glory, others’ good, and how little they bring to the table!

2) How Do You Treat Those “Beneath” You?

Pride demands honor, respect, deference, service, and more from those it deems, “beneath us”; that is, those under us in age, intelligence, wealth, status, abilities, job, or maturity. Even more, pride pays attention to these “inferiors” with little mind, care, patience, or love. Humility, on the other hand, lowers itself under those around, regardless of their “rank,” to love them, serve them, and lift them up in honor. So, how do you treat the barista at the coffee shop, the jr. higher, the waiter, the guys cleaning your car, the janitor, or the delivery guy? Pride barely recognizes those under us, humility exalts them.

3) How Often Do You Insert Yourself Into Conversation Or Activities; Or Want To?

Is your resume or trophy shelf ever ready to share? Do you find yourself as the answer to everyone else’s problems? Pride chases the spotlight and thinks of its own wisdom as the solution. Humility holds the spotlight for Jesus and has him as the only answer for the world’s problems. Humility isn’t the guy with all the answers, but it knows The Guy with all the answers. What do you bring to conversations or people’s problems? What is your boast? Are you like Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:30) or John the Baptist (John 3:30)?

4) Who Do You Pull Near & Who Do You Push Away?

Do you align yourself with people of great esteem and reject or deny your relationships with the unimpressive? Are you proud of your connections with the popular, no matter how strenuous your tie? Are you embarrassed by friendship with the unremarkable? Do you grasp for those high on the ladder of Man’s praise and kick the heads of those who are a few rungs lower than you? Pride wants to share in the glory of the “glorious,” humility is happy to climb down the ladder and be called friends of the average.

5) What Happens Within You When You’re Disrespected?

We so quickly say of ourselves, “I am a sinner!” but will fight anyone else who says that about us. We love humility, but hate anyone who humbles us. Our mouths confess humility, but our anger reveals our pride. Now, your right, we don’t want to encourage insult or disrespect and should oppose it when given unjustly or untruthfully. But humility will keep our hearts from outrage when disrespect comes our way because it knows, “In truth, I am worse than they think!”

6) What Happens to Your Heart in Suffering?

Do you rail against God, “How dare you treat me like this! Don’t you know who I am and what I’ve done for you?” Do you despise God if he ever lowers your station or your status? If so, in times of peace you never actually had humility, just an external politeness toward God as long as he didn’t touch your throne, your robe, your crown, or your kingdom. That’s a truce, not humility. In suffering, humility says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Or, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15). Pride demands honor and blessing. Humility just clings to God and trusts his heart in both the green grass and the dark valley (Psalm 23:1-4). Pride demands God. Humility just depends on Him.

7) What Do You Seek?

Pride seeks a Throne. Humility seeks a wash bucket (John 13:3-5). Pride commands, “Wash my feet!” Humility asks, “Whose feet may I wash?” Pride climbs. Humility kneels. This gets a little tricky in the church where honor is given to those who serve well. However, we can still ask, “Am I seeking a specific kind of service or am I happy to serve wherever there is need?” Are we seeking service that will have many look to us, evaluate us, honor us, and praise us? Or are we happy to serve the body in whatever way it needs most at the time? Are we upset when certain roles are not offered (teaching, group leader, music ministry, etc.)? Or, are we upset when certain roles are offered (youth ministry discipler, prayer ministry, kids ministry, set-up or tear down crew, etc.)? Is our service done to be seen or to love? Even in our service, what are we seeking?

8) Am I Grateful?

Pride is entitled and sees all as its due. Humility is grateful for all God’s graces – spiritual and physical – and sees nothing as deserved. Pride sees everything as wages. Humility sees everything as gift. Do you wish to kill pride and cultivate humility? Open your eyes, count your blessings, and shout from the depths of your heart, “Thanks be to God for all his grace toward me!” Gratefulness is terrible soil for pride and miracle-grow for humility. For those convinced they deserve hell, every good thing, great or small, is an reason for eternally grateful and happy hearts.

9) How Do You Feel About the Success of Others?

When the promotion is given to someone else? When the other guy is made team captain? When the other father’s child makes honor roll or wins State? When revival happens in the church down the street? What happens within you when others around you succeed in what you’re doing? Pride despises the success of others and makes us miserable whenever it happens. Humility rejoices enthusiastically when good comes to or from others.

10) What’s Your Source of Strength or Motivation?

Do you act like a fountain or do you embrace your role as a drain? Jesus says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Do you disagree? At least in your actions if not with your mouth? Are you living in the flesh or in the Spirit? Do you heartily believe God’s promises, follow his command, and eat His daily bread as your nourishment? Or do you have a different food to sustain you? Do you go to the Word, the Supper, the church, and prayer to sustain you? Are these your sources of strength and motivation or do you see them as speed bumps to your ladder climb success? Do you, in your daily routine, throw off God’s graces and replace them with your own or do you, with holy-greediness, take and eat all that God serves you?

11) How Do You Treat Your Leaders?

How do you see and treat the pastors God has gifted to your church (Ephesians 4:11)? Paul’s words will help set the stage for our self-examination here:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

To make this as practical as possible, a simple question: do you practice these things toward your church’s leaders? Do you recognize and reverently honor your pastors’ God-given role in your life and your church (1 Thess. 5:12)? Do you truly value and esteem them highly in your minds and with your mouths (1 Thess. 5:13a)? Do you support their ministry and actively work to bring peace into your church (1 Thess. 5:13b). If you find yourself ungrateful for your leaders, speaking ill of them in action or attitude, or contributing to ungodly division within your church family, then pride is your pilot. Humility loves to esteem, support, and stand in unity with those who love the Lord and desire to do His work; especially those entrusted the task of leading the church. Pride or humility is revealed in how you relate to those God has called you to humbly support and submit to (1 Peter 5:5-7; Hebrews 13:17).

12) How Do You Relate to the Local Church?

If you find yourself outside of or unconnected to a local church family, then you are in even more danger since you likely feel sufficient within yourself to follow the Lord. Keeping yourself outside the flock of God is nothing less than relying on your own wisdom, strength, and godliness to walk the narrow path. Even more, it is rejecting God’s gracious instruction to live under the care of His pastors and in the care of his people (Eph. 4:11; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Cor. 12:12-31); 1 Peter 5:5-7). It’s relying on our own strength within us and rejecting God’s Word to us. Churchless Christianity is a flower-weed that blooms well in the heart-soil of self-trust and self-sufficiency. Humility sees its need for God’s grace given through God’s people.

I know there are more questions we could be asking, but I am sure these will offer a good start.

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