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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5 Ways God Doesn’t Act Like We Think He Should

I have been slowly reading through Exodus for my devotions and it’s been delicious. One of the particular ways it is helping me is by exposing many of our time-honored assumptions as painfully false.

Here are five I’ve picked up on so far.

God Doesn’t Share Our Concept of Time

God promised Abraham his people would inherit the Promised Land (Gen 15:13). That didn’t happen until six to eight hundred years later. Their temporary stay Egypt lasted around four-hundred years (Gen 15:14; Acts 7:6). Once the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and cried out to God, one would expect him to act right away, but he took eighty more years to finally send Moses. God doesn’t work along our timeline, but his own. In our waiting, we must always remember he’s never idle, he’s never late, and he doesn’t work from our iCals.

God Doesn’t Usually Explain What He’s Presently Doing

Living through the Exodus was a different experience than reading about the Exodus. As readers, we see what’s happening behind the scenes and we know the end. That completely changes the way we interact with the event. We read and marvel at God’s fatherly care, providential work, and gracious deliverance throughout the story because its right there in the text. We see what’s on stage and what’s happening behind the curtain. However, for those living the Exodus, they never got an explanation. Most of God’s saving work in Exodus – what he was doing during the four-hundred years of waiting in slavery, the eight-decades of Israel crying our in slavery, the two two forty day trips Moses took up Mount Sinai – was done with absolutely no explanation from God about what he was doing. No updates. No newsletters. No postcards or texts. Complete radio silence.

Sometimes we believe God will always make his present work plain to us, that he’ll explain or make clear what he’s currently up to, but that is just not his style. Instead, as Alec Motyer says:

“God offers no explanations, but grants people sufficient insight into his ways, his character, his intentions and his changeless faithfulness so that, however dark the day, they can live by faith and be sustained by hope.”

I don’t think God is in the habit for explaining himself because we aren’t qualified to judge his plans rightly in the moment and because explaining himself to us will only train us to trust the answer, not the One who has the answer. God has proven the trustworthiness of his word and work for millennia. Sheep don’t need explanations, only trust that their shepherd is on duty.

God Doesn’t Need Us to Be Strong Or Well-Resourced

What I find really amazing about God using Moses was not only that he used Moses, but also when he used Moses. For the first forty-years of his life Moses, as a son of Pharaoh’s court, had the prestige, the platform, the power, and the position to deliver the Israelites. From a human perspective, he had everything needed to free Israel. He was a man with loads of street cred. However, Moses’ initial attempts to help the Israelites failed miserably (2:12-14) and ended with him taking care of some sheep in the desert. However, after forty years in obscurity where Moses lost all his earthly platform, position, power, and prestige as a son in Pharaoh’s court, God used him. Psalm 20:7-8 offers the lesson well:

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”

Maybe, God doesn’t need our skills, platforms, resources, or handy tools to do his work. Is it possible that trusting obedience to God’s Word is enough to accomplish God’s work because, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25). God loves using weak fools so we’re finally convinced his name alone is Strength and Wisdom.

God Doesn’t Demand a Impressive Resume

Moses told God he was not a good speaker, but instead he was, “slow of speech and of tongue” (Ex 4:10). In other words, he didn’t have a YouTube channel. He wasn’t an influencer. He wasn’t getting invited to churches or conferences for speaking gigs. Apart from his own self-description, he was also a murderer and stuff (Ex 2:12). Even more, though the first forty years of his life were no doubt impressive – filled with good connections, schooling, and references – all that was completely null after his forty years of shepherding in the desert. Being morally questionable, lacking experience as a leader, and being destitute of any recommendations other than his foreigner father-in-law, if any of us had the job of hiring Israel’s deliverer, Moses’ resume wouldn’t likely make the final round. However, God doesn’t need or – even better – demand an impressive resume. He needs only those who will trust his word and put their hand to the work he calls them to. Where God calls, God empowers.

God Doesn’t Work in the Ways We Expect Him.

When Pharaoh used his royal power to enslave the nation of Israel, commanded the Israelites to kill their babies, and, when they disobeyed his order, he told the entire nation to join in the work of baby-killing, it seemed like the Israelites would be doomed unless God did some flood-the-world kind of action. However, God didn’t flood the world. He didn’t send down fire. Yes, it’s true, about eighty years later God raised up Moses and did some wicked-cool salvation stuff. But, that’s not how he initially worked to protect and preserve his people. Do you remember how God counteracted the evil work of most powerful man of the most powerful nation of its day? He sent in the ladies. In the first two chapters of Exodus, God used faithful Israelite mid-wives (the leaders of which seem to be Shiphrah and Puah; Ex 1:15) to save the Israelite babies. He used Moses’ mother’s brave disobedience to Pharaoh’s decree to preserve Moses. He sent the tender-hearted daughter of Pharaoh to find, rescue, and adopt little floating Moses. To top it off, he positioned Miriam as Pharaoh’s daughters servant and emboldened her to suggest the new-found baby could be wet-nursed by a Hebrew gal she knew (i.e.Moses’ mom!). As Pharaoh commanded that each Israelite boy be murdered, God used women to reduce the murders and, even more miraculously, to have the one future delivered not only spared, but raised within Pharaoh’s own home. God used women to raise up Pharaoh’s greatest enemy within his own home. God is always working out his plan, but rarely in the way we expect.

Children don’t understand the ways and workings of their parents. How foolish would it be for a child who, when confused by their parents ways, concluded, “Because you are not working in the way I understand or expect you to, you are in the wrong.” How much more foolish would it be for us to say such a thing to our Infinite and Holy God?

Don’t demand God fit your assumptions, but seek for God to change them. As the Prince of Preachers said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”

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Three Counsels for the Hard Path

I recently had the opportunity to give the following address at the 8th grade graduation ceremony for the Independent Learning Academy in Orange County.

I want to thank the Independent Learning Academy leadership, parents, and students for the privilege and honor of offering a few words at such an important occasion as this.

Graduation: A Time For Unsolicited Advice

Graduates, this is one of your first experiences of what we’ll call, “A Big Kid” graduation. Though your kindergarten or 6th grade graduation were meaningful and important, they were also very different. You most likely have noticed the differences that come along with a more mature graduation celebration. You may have received better gifts or your having bigger parties. Mom and dad might be dressed a little fancier. Maybe later, your big celebration dinner won’t be at McDonald’s, but something way swankier like Sizzler or more exotic like Taco Bell. Welcome to a new kind of graduation.

There is one specific feature of these “Big Kid” graduations I would like to point out. You may have noticed it already: people love to give advice you never asked for. In your previous graduations, you probably weren’t given much sagely advice (you were still working on not wetting the bed). Now you’re a young adult, you’ll start getting all sorts of un-asked for advice. Sometimes the advice will be good and you’ll remember it forever like, “Don’t leave for tomorrow what can be done today.” Sometimes the advice will be very practical like, “Work hard, and play hard and never confuse the two.”Some of the advice will be surprising and a little weird and you’ll remember it forever like the advice I one time received from a weird family member: “Never make a Samoan angry” (which, I have obeyed to this day!). Whether you find it helpful or weird or confusing, the advice will likely come from a place of love so you can always appreciate the love it came from.

The Need For Good Advice: The Path to Life is Hard

It’s worth asking, “Why do people give advice so easily?” For some of you, it may be because they think, “This poor kid needs all the help they can get.” Others may offer advice because they’ve been genuinely helped by it and they want you to experience the same. I think one reason is this: life is hard to live well and we’ll need help. The really good life that God offers you in Jesus, doesn’t come by going with the flow but by walking a difficult path.

Jesus said it this way:

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13–14

Knowing he wouldn’t be with them forever (they’d have a graduation of their own, of sorts), Jesus tells his disciples they’ll be offered two paths to follow and only one can be chosen. The first path Jesus speaks about is the easy path. It’s has 16, very wide lanes and straight roads. Every lane has a fast pass. There are no potholes. And at night it is well-lit. It’s a comfortable and easy road and it is very popular. This is the path of the world in rejection of God. The other path Jesus describes as narrow, difficult, and very unpopular. It’s hard to get on. It’s hard to stay on. But, it is very easy to get off. This is the path of following Jesus.

What path you choose is determined by this: are you focused on the journey or the destination? You live in a world that will tell you to focus on the path and the ease and comfort it will bring. Jesus, instead, calls you to focus on the destination and the eternal life it will bring. As you consider these two paths, consider this truth: the journey is temporary, but the destination is final.

So, why all this un-asked for advice? At least for your Christian, friends and family, it’s because know the world’s path easy and attractive, but deadly. They know the path of Jesus – the path to life, wisdom, and joy – is difficult but life-giving. They know, for you to choose the hard path of life, you’ll need all the help, encouragement, and wisdom you can get.

3 Counsels for the Hard Path

So, allow me to join the chorus of advice-givers and offer three pieces of wisdom to help you take the hard path to life.

1) Trust God’s Word

Proverbs 3:5 gives us this counsel with perfect clarity, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” I understand this is not earth-shattering. This is kindergarten Christianity. But, I find that the most important truths are like the tip of your nose—they’re hardest because they’re right in front of you. So, before dismissing it, let’s dissect it for a moment.

What is trusting God? It’s happily acknowledging him as the leader of all we think, feel, and do. It is scooting over to the passenger seat of your soul and telling God, “You drive.”

Why should we trust God? If you have the smallest knowledge of Him, it’s obvious.

God is all-wise. He doesn’t lack knowledge so he’d never give us uninformed advice. He knows the best goals we should seek and the best ways of obtaining them!

God is all-truthful! He will never deceive us or offer white lies or half-truths. He doesn’t deal in fake news. Everything He says is true and can be completely trusted.

God is all-powerful! Nothing in all the world can overthrow his plans or keep him from fulfilling his promises. His good plan for the world will come to pass.

You may ask, “But, there are a lot of wise and powerful people in the world and they use those qualities to hurt people rather than help them!” And you’d be right. But, there is one more attribute of God that erases that fear.

God is love. God is not only wise, truthful, and powerful; He’s truly loving. Numbers 14:18 says, “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” “But,” you may say, “Actions speak louder than words!” And you would be right! God proves his love in action! John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Romans 5:8 shows, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s wisdom, truthfulness, and power means He should be feared as King and Judge, but His love, proven through the cross, means He can be trusted as Father.

God’s wisdom means He’ll never be mistaken. His truthfulness means He’ll never lie to you. His power means His plans and promises will always be fulfilled. His love means that everything He says and does is for your joy in Christ both here and for eternity. God’s wisdom, truthfulness, and power means He should be feared as King and Judge, but His love, proven through the cross, means He can be trusted as Father. Who else is more qualified for your ultimate trust?

Jesus Is My Co-Pilot?

Have you ever seen the bumper-sticker that says, “Jesus Is My Copilot”? I understand the idea, but it is terribly misleading. Usually co-pilots are second in command for a reason, they’re not as qualified as the real pilot. Saying Jesus is my co-pilot is like a high school quarterback saying Tom Brady is my back-up or a Jr. High baseball player saying Mike Trout is my ball-boy. Said simply, Jesus is far too qualified to be your Co-Pilot.

If you want joy in your life, then adopt the prayer of the great theologian and country singer, Carrie Underwood, and from your heart pray, “Jesus take the wheel! Take it from my hands!” Or, to use the words of Scripture, if you want joy, then “trust the Lord with all your heart” (Prov. 3:5). He will never fail you.

This leads to my second counsel…

2) Trust God’s People

The most significant accomplishments in life can only be done with the help of others. Consider a few examples. Wars are won not by one soldier, but an army. Mount Everestis hiked not by one hiker, but a team. Even accomplishments of individuals aren’t usually done alone. Authors usually have a list of people they thank for helping them write a book. Athletes of individual sports usually have a long list of coaches, friends, mentors, or trainers who were essential to their success. The most difficult accomplishments are not the work of one gifted individual, but the product of a community. Difficult and important accomplishments should never be done alone.

This is also true for those following Jesus on the hard road. Following Jesus is not like golf, but football. It cannot be done alone. Even more, God doesn’t want you to do it alone. Consider what God says about our need for help from others.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14

In abundance of counselors there is victory. Proverbs 24:6

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Proverbs 19:20

God says the same thing about you that he said about Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone.”

Saved Into a Family

The need for others is even more obvious when we look at what God does for us through Jesus. Galatians 4:4-5 shows us two things God sought to accomplish through the cross of Jesus:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

God sent Jesus to redeem us from sin – to eradicate our sin by Jesus being punished for us. But there was a second goal of the cross: “so we might receive adoption as sons!” Through the cross, God has not only saved us out of our sin, but He has saved us into His family – the church. Every Christian is not only forgiven unto freedom, but they’re adopted into a family!

The Blessings of a Church Family

Practically, here is what I want you to understand: God wants you to follow Jesus on the hard road to life with the help of the church! The church is one big hiking party. What does this look like?

  • God wants you to not only read and study His Word on your own, but be helped by the teaching and preaching of your church’s pastors and leaders.
  • God wants you to learn not only from what you hear people say, but by the example godly people around you give.
  • God wants you to have a church family who will pick you up when you fall, support you when you are weak, encourage you when you are discouraged, and spur you on you when you begin to slow down. 
  • God does not want you to rely on your own experience, but to live off the wisdom of other so you can avoid the pitfalls they fell into and enjoy the blessings they’ve come to know.

God doesn’t want you to do this alone and this is incredibly joyful news!

God Sends His Army

Imagine you were a soldier caught behind enemy lines. How crushing would it be to hear back from base, “You have to find your own way back.” How better would it be to hear, “We’re sending our best solider to rescue you and help you get back home!” But, imagine how incredible it would be to hear, “Hold on, the army is on its way.” This is what God gives you in His church. Not figure it out on your own, not one helper, but an army marching under the banner of his love, dedicated to helping you get home.

Trust the godly people of your family and church.

3) Do No Trust Yourself

We mentioned the first part of Proverbs 3:5, but now I want to read the second half. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” In other words, trust God and don’t trust yourself.

Now, this may sound odd to some of you because, like me, you’ve seen a lot of Disney movies with the opposite message of “Believe in yourself!” or “Follow your heart!” But, as a big Elsa fan, I think Jesus may be the one to go with here for at least two reasons.

First, I think your future self will agree. Think of it this way. As you look back upon your 6th grade self, you most likely are not impressed. Now that you have 2 more years of experience and Jr. High completed, you look at your 6th grade self and think, “I didn’t know anything.” In the same way, think about yourself 4 years from now. When you graduate high school and look back onto this day you will most likely think, “I didn’t know anything! I was a fool!” You see, we often think our present-self is smart, wise, and experienced, but as we grow older and look back, we’re always less impressed. More time and more growth helps us see what we couldn’t in the moment. So, as confident as you may be of yourself now, remember, you’re probably missing something. You may not want to trust that you have everything figured when your future-self will likely disagree.

The second reason I think this is good advice is this: our perceptions aren’t always trustworthy. People studying to be airplane pilots are trained to not trust their intuition or their feelings. At times, planes can fly through fog so dense for so long that pilots lose their sense of up and down. In these times, they can be completely convinced that up is down and down is up and if they followed their feelings and pulled “up” they’d drive the plane straight into the ground. So, instead, pilots are trained that their perceptions and their feelings won’t always tell them the truth. Instead, they’re trained to trust the instruments on the dashboard instead of their feelings.

One of the reasons the easy path is so easy because it requires you only to trust in yourself. There is nothing easier than to be the driver and navigator of our own life. However, self-trust is also the reason that the easy path leads to destruction. We are not good, wise, or trustworthy like God and, therefore, we can never find for ourselves the life only God can give. Therefore, the hard path demands we give up trust in ourselves and cast it completely over to God. The hard path demands tattoo the words of Jesus on our eyeballs, “Not my will be done, but your will.” That’s hard, but it’s the only way to life.

So (1) trust God, (2) trust godly people, (3) don’t trust yourself.

Jesus’ Upside Down Counsel

One last reason these counsels are difficult is because we live in a world that completely reverses the list. The world’s directions for the easy path are: (1) Trust self, (2) trust others who affirm you, (3) don’t trust God. This is why there are two paths and you have to choose one or the other: they’re going in completely opposite directions. Those who put King Self on the throne of their life will always take the easy path to destruction. Those who put King Jesus on the throne of their life walk the hard path to life. There is no third way.

A question for you today is: which road will I take? Will your eyes be on the path or the destination? Will you be a person mainly looking for an easy road or a life-giving destination? Your answer to that question will not only determine the rest of your life here, but forever more.

Commanded For Our Joy

I recognize that so much talk of the “hard path” can make following Jesus seems like an overall dreary affair. Yes, it has a happy ending, but that’s the only place happiness is. But that’s not true. Jesus explains the intent behind his commands in John 15:10-11:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These (commands) I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

His commands are not to steal our joy, but to give us His joy!

I remember one time I had a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese’s. As I was playing an arcade game, my mom came up to me with something in her hand that looked like a hair ball I’d find under my bed, except that it was bright blue. She gave me one simple command, “Eat this.” I was stunned. “Eat that? You want me to eat blue hair? You’re kidding. You’re crazy. You’re cruel!” After a solid struggle, my mom ruthlessly overpowered me and shoved the blue hair into my mouth. Right as I was about to cry out for another sane adult to rescue me, it hit me: flavors and sweetness I had never known before. It was like a grenade of joy and rainbows exploded in my mouth. I had never tasted anything like it before. This was the first time I ever had cotton candy.

The purpose of my mom’s command was not take away my joy, but to give me joy. In the same way, Jesus gives you these counsels, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). He isn’t out to empty your joy but make it full. Even when his path seems hard, you can know it only leads to joy.

Students, hear me clearly: today is a day of joy and celebration. Drink it deeply. But with this celebration, I leave you with these three charges: trust God, trust godly people, and do not trust yourself. If you do, you will avoid the easy path of the world that leads to destruction and stay on the hard path to the abundant, joy-filled life God has created and saved you to have.

Be thankful for the good advice and the wise people who give it.

Laugh at the weird advice and love the weird people who give it.

But cling to the life-giving advice with all you have and follow the Savior that gives it.

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The Ordinary & Magnificent Church

Pastor Dustin Benge:

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church in eastern Kentucky. Four generations of my family had attended the church, and my great-great-grandparents were buried nearby. My grandpa drove the church bus, and my mom played the piano.

I remember the Christian and American flags flanking the stage as we sang patriotic songs every year during VBS. The pastor preached from the KJV, visited the sick, and called unbelievers to repentance. We sang from the Heavenly Highway Hymnbook. I heard the gospel, was saved and called to preach in this church.

When I began theological education, I quickly became puffed up with pride thinking I knew much more than everyone in this little southern church who were not as “intellectual and I was.” Many years later, I came to realize that these faithful farmers, miners, teachers, truck drivers, veterans, and homemakers genuinely loved the Lord, the gospel of Christ, their neighbors, and desired to obey the Bible faithfully.

Could they have been more theologically precise, perhaps? Could the sermons have been more hermeneutically correct, maybe? Could there have been more training for leaders, probably? But I came to realize that I had more to learn from these men and women than I had to teach them. They weren’t perfect, but now that I look back, I was in heaven on earth. This was the church.

We may have degrees and experience, but we must never dismiss those who faithfully serve the Lord. Their names are known only in heaven and within the communities they’ve served. Let’s pray for these warriors of Christ, for they’ll enter glory far ahead many of us.

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Don’t Exchange Fake News for Faker News

Julie Masson offers a needed warning and some sound counsel for those rightly wary of being duped by fake news :

We are currently dealing with some people in our lives who wholeheartedly distrust any “mainstream media.” But they believe the random dude on YouTube who “knows what’s really going on.” As Christians, I hope that we can be discerning as we consume and engage with any media.

And we should also remember a few things.

1. Your typical journalist/reporter has a boss that they are accountable to just like you are accountable to your boss. They will have bias for sure but that does not mean they are simply saying lies. They can’t or they’d be fired.

2. Your typical news outlet will have several people who review content before it is published or put on the air. Again, this doesn’t mean bias doesn’t exist. But several people are doing their jobs to make sure their info is credible.

3. As Hannah Anderson said so well, our ability to go directly to a source is much easier these days. So any news outlet worth their salt knows that people are able to “fact check” what they say.

Again, this doesn’t mean there isn’t bias. But we can’t believe everyone is lying. Rather we should watch/read multiple sources. Chris Martin said it well when he said:

“I have noticed that truth can often be found where the Right and Left outlets’ stories are the same. For example, if a Right outlet and a Left outlet both report that Event X occurred, that it occurred in City Y and that approximately Z number of people were impacted, all of that is likely true. When Right and Left then explain the implications of Event X, whether Event X was right or wrong, & perhaps who may be to blame for Event X, this is where bias may exist and the stories may differ. This isn’t always the case, but I have often found it to be so.”

If as Christians we only trust the sources we find in the obscure corners of the web on websites with donate buttons and videos that say “please share this” so the person can build a following, then we are actually trusting more in ourselves.

We should be in the word daily and we should be discerning as we engage with any media but if “discernment” means that we only trust the person who says what we want to be true, I think that means we are putting our trust in ourselves and not the God who will help us discern.

Confirmation bias is a heck of a drug that’ll enslave your mouse and your mind. Be soberly skeptical, discerning, and don’t fight fake news with fake news.

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