“Why is it whenever there is a failure of government people’s freedom is blamed?”
I heard this quote in reference to the Florida school shooting. It turns out that not only was there a disturbed young man with a gun but there was also a break down in government agencies, that are supposed to protect us, that borders on gross incompetence. Both the FBI and the local sheriff’s office had received multiple warnings about this young man. Even the shooter himself had called the sheriff’s office a few months earlier and yet nothing was done, there was no follow up. On the day of the shooting, armed sheriff’s deputies stationed at the school did not enter the school when shots were fired. They claim that they were following procedure. Again, a failure of government that results in calls for law abiding citizens to give up their 2nd amendment rights. So what can we learn from this?
John Adams observed, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Of course the prevailing “morality and religion” of the time was Christianity. The men who founded this country and wrote the constitution were either believers in Jesus or they were heavily influenced by the Gospel. Francis Schaeffer concluded that only those who have found freedom in Christ could envision the free society we have had since the founding. As our society today continues to pull away from God and from the Gospel, our government is finding itself “wholly inadequate” to deal with the results. As people use their freedom to create a godless and ultimately lawless society, the only solution is for government to continually restrict the freedom of the people. We may react strongly to this idea, or even get angry, but this is actually the Biblical purpose of government (Romans 13:1-7). People who reject God’s law do not deserve to be free. Furthermore, if people are allowed to have both godless and unchecked freedom, society will implode. It’s no accident that the most atheistic societies of modern times were also the most oppressive.
The response for Christians is not to legislate Christianity and promote legalism. The response is for us to preach the Gospel and commit our lives to Jesus in such a way that everyone around us sees the freedom and grace that we have in Him.
This past weekend, during the NFL pro bowl, the University of Central Florida football team was recognized as college football national champions. Even though they did not participate in the playoff, their claim is based on an undefeated season and a win over Auburn in the Peach bowl. There are some that might agree, others that are amused, but most just dismiss their claim even though UCF, it seems, is completely serious about it. Admitting my bias as an Alabama fan, let’s examine how UCF became “national champions.” They played in what amounts to a junior varsity conference and then played in a meaningless bowl game against a three-loss team that obviously did not want to be there. To top it off their “championship” was recognized by an organization that has nothing to do with college football other than taking its best players every year. On the other hand, Alabama, while they stumbled during the year, fought and struggled against the top teams and completed a gutsy, overtime comeback against Georgia in the championship game. Alabama also dealt with an unprecedented number of injuries during the year, including losing almost their entire linebacker core. Even their ability to come back and stay focused after their loss to Auburn in the regular season was part of their championship mettle.
Too often Christians today want to be like UCF and claim the easy championship. They never suffer, they never sacrifice, they never take a stand, and they are only too happy to accept when the world confers upon them the title of “winner.” Thankfully, Jesus was not of that mind. In the wilderness after His baptism, Satan tempted Jesus with the kingdoms of the world, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus knew that the kingdoms of the world were His inheritance (Psalm 2) but He also knew the path that He must walk to receive them, and that path led to the cross. Satan was offering Jesus a short cut. He was saying, in effect, “You can have all the kingdoms of the world and you don’t have to die on the cross to get them!” But Jesus knew that the price for sin had to be paid. He knew that suffering had to come before glory and the cross had to come before the crown. Believers are to have the same attitude. Even though Jesus has defeated sin and death, we still live in a world that is corrupted by sin and hostile to the gospel. Seeking the easy road often means compromising with the world. That is why Jesus said, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me.” When take on the hard tasks, when we sacrifice, when we take a stand, when we suffer for the sake of Jesus then we share in His suffering. The more we share in His suffering, the more we will share in His glory. As Paul states in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Let us not seek the easy road offered by the world that ends in disappointment, but the road of sacrifice and suffering that leads us to follow Jesus and ends in glory.
What one generation tolerates, the next generation celebrates. This is a common saying and yet is proven true on an almost daily basis. For Christians this could be said a little differently: Half-hearted obedience to God in one generation leads to rebellion in the next generation.
As parents, what is our commitment level to God? How obedient are we and how do our children perceive our obedience? If we are not willing to commit to the simplest commands, such as, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together,” then how committed will our children be when they leave our home?
We are already seeing this play out in the church. Millennials are referred to by many as the lost generation because most Millennials, while claiming to be spiritual and open minded, show no interest in the church or in a commitment to Jesus Christ. Many reasons have been given for this including the church’s inability or unwillingness to change and speak to current culture. However, I wonder if much of the blame should be laid at the feet of Christian parents who never modeled a commitment to Christ for their children. Furthermore, we are seeing this half-hearted obedience play out again with Millennial parents who still consider themselves to be Christians and yet seem to live a life uninterrupted by their faith. Could this mean that the next generation, whatever it’s called, will be even more lost if not completely hostile to the church and the Gospel?
We seem to be going out of our way to teach our children that commitment to the church, a.k.a. the Body of Christ, is just not that important. Whether it’s youth sports, time at the lake, or simply wanting to sleep in on Sunday, our children are taught repeatedly that being a “Christian” doesn’t mean much, and it certainly doesn’t involve obedience or commitment.
What would we see in the lives of our children if we as parents committed to modeling Christ for our children and demonstrated to them the importance of being a viable part of the Body of Christ? But why stop there? What would we see in the lives of our children if we as parents committed to praying and reading God’s Word with our children every day? Many of the issues faced by young people today, including gender confusion, homosexuality, lack of direction, cynicism, suicidal thoughts, and the overall meaningless and futility of life, would fade away as they found their identity in Christ. But first, we as parents must confirm our identity in Christ.
“…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” Hebrews 12:1-2
Lights! Camera! Action!
That’s sometimes how I feel when the Christmas season officially kicks off. It seems as if each year society is breathlessly waiting for Thanksgiving to get over with so that lights can go up, shopping can commence, and Christmas songs can dominate the airwaves. With this also comes the annual debate of how much this season should actually be attributed to Jesus. There are those who insist that every religion should be included: Hanukkah, Ramadan, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, Festivus, etc. There are those who insist it should be completely secular. Of course, this begs the question, why are we doing all of this in the first place? In the middle are Christians who say, “Wait a minute, this is supposed to be about Jesus!”
Christians get frustrated and upset with corporate policies that ban “Merry Christmas,” or schools that remove references to Christmas on the calendar. We seem to think that society is obligated to recognize the birth of Jesus. But why would we expect a society that is at enmity with God, that mocks or ignores Jesus every other time of year, to suddenly embrace the birth of the Messiah? Let’s dig a little deeper. Why would society take the birth of Jesus seriously when Christians don’t seem to take His birth seriously? We get just as caught up in all of the secular and pagan aspects of Christmas as anybody else. Not only that, how much do we show our faith to the rest of the world any other time of year?
We as Christians should do two things this time of year. First, instead of just expecting or demanding our godless society to recognize Jesus, use this time of year as an opportunity to tell people about Jesus. Sure, many people have heard the birth story, but have they heard it from a believer according to the Bible shared in faith? Second, make it a point to truly honor Jesus in our homes, our church, and our lives. Don’t expect Jesus to share space with popular traditions and stories, many of which actually began as marketing campaigns. Let’s show the world that we take faith in Jesus seriously!
It is all around us. It is inescapable.
Just in the last few weeks we have seen three devastating hurricanes and now another mass shooting, the worst in US history. And yet, the topic dominating the news for much of the past two weeks has been NFL players kneeling during the anthem. Really? Who cares if a bunch of overpaid, glorified entertainers want to stand, kneel, or wait in the locker room. If you don’t like it then find something else to watch but why waste a moment thinking or worrying about it. I’m sure the people of Puerto Rico couldn’t care less about the NFL players kneeling. I’m sure the victims of the Las Vegas shooting are not going to give a second thought to anything that happens in the NFL in the coming weeks. Life has a way of brutally reshaping our priorities.
I believe the apostle Paul was a sports fan. More than once he used a sports analogy in his letters to illustrate his point, but Paul’s focus was always on the Gospel. Even in the midst of tragedy and hardship – stoning, shipwreck, arrest, false accusations, friends abandoning him, fellow believers suffering, imprisonment, and ultimately execution – Paul never lost sight of how God was using him to impact eternity with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul knew better than anyone that your well-constructed life can come crashing down at any moment. He knew better than anyone that your life, or the lives of your friends and family, can end in a moment. That is why he had an eternal perspective. That is why his highest priority was the Gospel. That is why, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain – for He says,
“At the acceptable time I listened to you, And on the day of salvation I helped you.”
Behold, now is “the acceptable time,” behold, now is “the day of salvation” – giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited, but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses, in beatings, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger, in purity, in knowledge, in patience, in kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in genuine love, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, by glory and dishonor, by evil report and good report; regarded as deceivers and yet true; as unknown yet well-known, as dying yet behold, we live; as punished yet not put to death, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing yet possessing all things.
(2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10)
Recently there has been renewed attention on race relations in our country and there has been violence committed on both sides. From the shooting of five Dallas police officers to a car driven into protestors at a white supremacist rally, there is no shortage of hate to go around. What are we to do about the evil that plagues our society? There is no doubt that white supremacy (or any racial supremacy) is an evil ideology. There is no doubt that gunning down five police officers in Dallas is evil. As a country, we fought a war to end slavery, passed civil rights legislation, and even elected a black man as president and yet race relations in this country seem to be as bad as ever. Why can’t we get past this? The reason is because the underlying cause of this racial divide, and all other problems, is sin.
Sin is rebellion against God and it is sin that causes hatred and violence and death. All the laws, movements, and conversations in the world cannot fix our sin problem. Jesus is the only one who can fix our sin problem. That is why the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and the message of the church is the Gospel – the good news of God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. The Gospel tells us that we are more sinful than we dare believe and yet we are more loved than we dare hope. In fact, we are so loved that Jesus died on the cross in our place to pay the price for our sin (Romans 5:8, John 3:16). Jesus then rose from the grave proving He has power over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:20-57). He then commanded His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). In other words, there is no person, race, or ethnicity that is excluded from the love of God in Jesus. We are all sinners, loved by God and in desperate need of His forgiveness that comes only through faith in Jesus. It is easy to say that racism and hatred have no place in our community (and I certainly agree with that) but it is only when we accept who we are as sinners and who Jesus is as Savior, when we show the love that has been so extravagantly shown to us, that we can begin to reconcile the broken relationships of our world.
We live in a society and culture today in which Christians no longer see church attendance or involvement as either necessary or even desirable. This begs the question: Why should Christians go to church? The last two months I wrote about the importance and necessity of corporate worship and about nurture and ministry among believers. The third reason we gather as a church is to reach out. This may seem counterintuitive at first but everyone wants to be part of something whether it’s a sports team, a social club, a political party, or anything where they feel accepted and included. The tighter knit the group, the more desirable inclusion in that group becomes. When members of a group have a casual attitude and questionable commitment toward their group then why would others be motivated to join that group? The more excited we are about gathering as a church the more others will want to be a part of it. Once again Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” This kind of love is very attractive to others but how can this love be evident if we don’t gather together?
When we gather as a church we also pool our resources, both financial and spiritual. The great task that is set before us is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and the first step in making disciples is sharing the Gospel with the lost. Like any task this is best accomplished through the work of many hands. Whether we are going or sending (those don’t have to be mutually exclusive), there is strength in numbers. Furthermore, every movement needs a base of operations, a place where people can go and get resupplied. The local church serves this purpose. The local church also serves as a support base for those who are “going and making disciples” whether it’s local, national, or international. Paul’s reliance on local churches as a support base is evident throughout the New Testament. He relied on local churches for financial, emotional, and spiritual support. However, that support would be unreliable at best coming from a church that was not committed to gathering together. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…Because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ…And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and the praise of God (Philippians 1:3-11)
Paul did not write this to any one individual, but to the entire church body. This is a picture of a church that is committed to Jesus Christ and to each other that God used for His glory.
We live in a society and culture today in which Christians no longer see church attendance or involvement as either necessary or even desirable. This begs the question: Why should Christians go to church? Last month I wrote about the importance and necessity of corporate worship. The second reason Christians should go to church is for nurturing. In the upper room Jesus told His disciples, “By this all men will know that You are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus was not talking about their love for people in general, but specifically about their love for the other disciples. How are we, as believers and disciples of Jesus Christ, suppose to show our love for each other if we never even get together? The importance of gathering together is also emphasized in the book of Hebrews:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
The writer of Hebrews is talking about nurturing and service, or in other words, ministry among believers. Nurturing, or ministry, can take many forms – fellowship, teaching, service, encouragement, accountability – and it is vital to the health of the body. Yet ministry is all about relationships, and how can we build relationships if we never spend time together? Or, to put it in Biblical terms, how can a body grow if its parts are not connected?
Think about the friendships you have in your life. Those relationships are usually built from shared experiences such as school, ball games, trips, or even military service. The same is true for the church, and what better experience to share than eternal life in Jesus. However, true relationships require not just shared experiences, but also time. Whether we realize it or not, Christians desperately need relationships with other Christians for encouragement and accountability. If we are to build those relationships we must be willing to put in the time. According to the writer of Hebrews, this will become even more important “as you see the day drawing near.” He is referring to the day of judgment that will accompany the return of Jesus. We know from the Bible that Christians will experience extreme persecution as that day draws near. In our society of wealth and leisure it may seem hard to imagine yet the tide is already beginning to turn against those who confess Jesus as Lord. It is time for us to leave the vain and trivial pursuits of the world that keep us distracted. It is time to build up and strengthen the Body of Christ.
When I was a kid the idea that Christians should go to church was a forgone conclusion. However, today many people ask the question: Why should a Christian have to go to church? The proliferation of music and study materials through books, CDs, mp3, videos, online content, social media, and even internet “churches” has rendered actual church attendance unnecessary in the minds of many people. Also, many people’s lives have become so busy and filled with extracurricular activities that church attendance is no longer a priority. Some point to what they call “push play discipleship.” In other words, instead of really teaching and discipling in the church we just play a video and then sit around and talk. Some point to years of emphasizing an individualistic and “personal” salvation experience. As one commentator said, “We tell people that salvation is strictly a personal experience and then we’re surprised when they take that seriously.” Some point to a constant focus on visitors at the expense of nurturing church members. Some even insist that meeting together as a large group in a designated building is not consistent with a Biblical church model. What ever the reason, we find ourselves in a culture where church attendance is no longer seen as necessary or even desirable by many Christians. So why should a Christian go to church?
First, we gather as a church to worship God and our Lord Jesus with one voice. “But wait,” some will say, “I can worship God in my own way on my own time and I don’t need some fancy light show with professional singers to worship God.” The truth is there is only one way to worship God and that is His way. I don’t think God is concerned with styles of music or how many singers are on stage, but the Bible teaches that God desires that His people come together and worship Him in unity with one voice. In the book of Exodus God commanded His people to build a temple where He would dwell among them. Did God have to have a designated building? Of course not. Could God have “dwelled” with each individual person in Israel? Of course He could, but that is not the way He chose to interact with His people because He wanted them to be unified. Today we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and I am certainly not suggesting that the local church building is a temple. However, this principle of God dwelling with His people corporately is presented in the book of Ephesians.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
This passage only makes sense from a corporate perspective. While the church building is not a temple, the church congregation is! Individual worship is wonderful but it should never take the place of corporate worship. This passage makes it clear that God dwells with His people when we physically gather together in the name of Jesus.
The past two days I attended the Empower conference conducted by the Southern Baptists of Texas. I heard several great speakers and took many notes. One speaker stood out. He was a young guy who spoke about millennials – their mindset, their world view, and their passions. At one point he observed that older generations tend to interact with millennials in three ways: coddler, criticizer, or coach. A coddler tires to protect them, won’t allow them to fail, and in so doing hamstrings their ability to grow, learn, and take responsibility for themselves. A coddler wants to award everyone a trophy even when it has not been earned. A criticizer just throws things at them from the sidelines without ever being in the game. A criticizer has no interest in getting know individuals, understanding their view world, sharing their passion, or recognizing their potential. A coach, on the other hand, teaches and leads but then allows them to fail so that they can grow and learn from their mistakes. A coach is in the game with them, sharing their passion and developing their potential, but at the same time insisting that they do the work.
We can see this with Jesus’ relationship with His disciples. Jesus certainly did not coddle His disciples. Not only did He refuse to spoon feed His disciples all the answers, He also sent them out on their own to do ministry and there were many times when He allowed the disciples to fall on their face. The disciple’s failure was even a fulfillment of prophecy as they abandoned Jesus on the night He was arrested. Jesus also did not criticize. Even though He corrected, reproved, and at times even rebuked His disciples, Jesus was always in the game with them and His correction was always for their growth. Jesus was the epitome of a coach. He was in the game, He taught, He demonstrated, He never led where He had not already gone Himself, and He supplied the game plan but expected the disciples to do the work. Above all Jesus loved His disciples and sought to bring out the best in them.
As we approach the younger generation, or any relationship in our lives, let’s not coddle or criticize the spiritual life out of them. Instead, let’s follow Jesus’ lead as we love and seek to bring out the best in those that God put in our lives.
Adam Davis, Senior Pastor FBC Archer City, TX