RSS

How Winning American Idol is Like Christianity

There are two kinds of people in churches. On the outside, it’s very hard, almost impossible, to tell the difference between the two. On the inside, however, the first person believes that going to church makes him a Christian. The second goes to church because he already is a Christian. Therefore, one lives life out of fear; the other, out of joy…

Rankin Wilbourne illustrates this in his excellent book, Union With Christ:

“American Idol was one of the most popular television shows of all time, and for the contestant, one of the most nerve jangling. A single missed note could cost you the competition, but winning could change the course of your life. At the end of each season, when the competition was over and the winner had been crowned, she took up the microphone and sang one more time. But she was no longer singing to win; she was singing because she had won. It was no longer a contest. She had nothing more to prove or earn. Instead, the chosen and honored performer could sing with all her heart, delighting in her gifts for the benefit of others. That’s the freedom from anxiety the gospel gives. You have already been chosen and crowned in Christ, so now you can do what you do with all your energy, delighting in whatever gifts God has given you for the benefit of serving others.”

 

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 20, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Can You Be a Christian Apart From the Church?

It’s that time of year again when students take off for the first time from home and head to the university. It’s also that time in a person’s life when he or she can “slip away” from the local church.

With no mom or dad to shake them to wake them on a Sunday morning, and with no apparent bolt of lightning hitting their dorm room, new college students hit snooze after a late Saturday night, entering the world of the unchurched.

It’s not only 18-year-olds. Many people today in North American culture are leaving the church while continuing to call themselves Christians. The reasons driving this are many, but chief among them is the individualism of our culture exacerbated by the idea that being part of a local church is unnecessary. More than that, many “church refugees” would say they are tired of what they see as the politics and the brokenness of the institution itself. As one person put it: “I guess the church just churched the church out of me.” *

These folks say they still follow Christ; they just do it without the church.

But is it possible to follow Christ without the church? Church refugees would say the question is a no-brainer – of course you can. But the Bible they usually claim to follow would not support their thinking. It is certainly possible to have salvation, to be a true Christian and live apart from the church. We are saved by grace through faith, not by going to church. It’s just impossible to be an obedient Christian, that is truly following Christ…without the church. And because of that, it’s a path of great spiritual danger, and like any continued unrepentant disobedience, a possible sign that there was never salvation present in the first place. (1 John 3:6, 7)

Who is Watching Over Your Soul?

There are numerous scriptural reasons indicating that being a part of a church is part of Christian obedience, but one stood out to me recently – as the writer to the Hebrews closes his letter, he commands his readers to…

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

Apparently, it’s not enough for the “church refugee” to say, “I read my Bible and pray and have Christian friends who encourage me in the Lord.” The author of Hebrews assumed that all Christians would have spiritual leaders who would care for their souls.

Admittedly, this is not a beloved verse in our independent, individualistic culture, but it certainly makes the point. The emphasis falls on our eternal souls. As broken as the local church can be, the truth is that we are not safe outside of it. Therefore, here’s the question to ask your friend or the new university student who indicates they believe the Scriptures…but has left the church: “Who are the leaders you submit to?” And if that feels too domineering, which it probably will, ask with a heart of love, “Who is watching over your soul?”

“No One Has Ever Watched Over My Soul Before!”

They might respond that they never felt anyone was watching over them when they were a part of the local church. I get that; it’s something most of us pastors and elders know we need to do better at. I certainly feel it. But that said, it’s incumbent on church members to do three things: 1) Let their needs be known (contrary to popular belief, the hospital doesn’t call the church if a member breaks his leg), 2) Find a place of service, and 3) Get involved in a small group. These three things enable people to be known and loved. If you’ve tried all three of these, and you still don’t feel connected or cared for, my encouragement would be to find a Gospel-proclaiming body of believers where you are known and loved.

The writer of Hebrews would have scratched his head at “followers of Christ” who had no earthly leaders to follow and therefore no one to watch over them. Moreover, neither he nor any of the other apostles had a category for Christians who were not actively part of a local body of believers.

*Church Refugees by Josh Packard, PhD., and Ashleigh Hope

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Why Believing in God’s Grace Leads to Obedience

If God is so gracious and forgiving, why don’t we just sin all we want?

Paul spoke to this idea in Romans:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? Romans 6:1 (ESV)

Makes sense, right? The more I sin, the more grace I will enjoy. To paraphrase the old thought: “I love to sin. God loves to forgive. It’s a perfect partnership.”

But then…Paul’s writes to Titus:

For the grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. Titus 2:11-12 (ESV)

Why would the grace of God train us to obey? The answer has to do with His goodness toward us…and his instructions for living. If God is good and kind and gracious toward us, then wouldn’t we want to do what he says? After all, the reason you and I sin is because we feel that the sin will bring us more joy/happiness/fulfillment than the obedience.

But when I, having been utterly convinced of His love and grace, realize that he has provided me with guidance on how to live, I WANT TO OBEY HIS WORD. It’s not that I obey to keep his love – because I am in Christ, I can’t lose it. Instead, I seek to obey him because He has proven his goodness and grace.

Of Speeding and Guilt…

This changes everything. Consider Bob and the slightly innocuous example of the speed limit. Bob is recently convicted of God’s commands to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13, 14). Now, when he goes too fast occasionally (it’s impossible to be perfect in obeying the speed limit ALL the time, right?) he feels vague guilt and has a sense that though he is a Christian, God is going to “get him” with a car accident or a blow out. So he obeys…with little or no joy. Whenever he does go the speed limit, he can’t help but feel the Heavenly Cop is spoiling his potential fun.

But what if Bob obeyed the speed limit not out of fear of divine retribution, but out of an understanding that a good God has given him this command out of his love…and therefore means to bless him in his obedience. If he goes slightly over the limit here and there, he needn’t be awash in guilt; God’s love for him is perfect, and Christ has paid the penalty for all his misdeeds, miniscule and otherwise. But now he sets the cruise control at 65 reasoning that God wants what is best for him, and someway, somehow therefore, 65 mph trumps 72.

How to Grow in Obedience

So, how do we change through grace? Consider the lessons of the Garden of Eden from Genesis 3…

  1. Believe that God has provided you with solid and unerring guidance in his Word. If you doubt the truth of His Word, why would you obey? Satan’s first lie, therefore, to Adam and Eve was designed to make them doubt God’s word (“Did God actually say…?” verse 1) Only those who believe the Bible is true know that they have solid guidance in living. So it is wise to consider the area you struggle to obey, and find a verse to meditate on (even memorize) that articulates God’s will for your life.
  2. Believe that God is good! Satan’s second lie was to make Adam and Eve doubt God’s goodness. (“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” verse 5) In other words, “God doesn’t have your best in mind. It would be better for you to eat the forbidden fruit.” Satan’s lie regarding God’s goodness is a main reason people fail to obey the Lord. So, when struggling to obey, before you grit your teeth, meditate on his love for you first, thus remembering that his plan for living (not yours) will be best. And be patient, walking in holiness by meditating on God’s love is a lifetime process, not a quick fix solution.

As Paul wrote in Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (ESV). So the Scriptures say that repentance and faith go hand in hand in salvation. You see, when the Spirit of God enables someone to see God’s love and goodness at the cross, he also enables them to see God’s love and goodness in His commands.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Three Habits All Christians Need…

This weekend we start a new series at Edgewood called, Summer with the Early Church, a study through the Acts of the Apostles.

The series corresponds with a book I recently started by David Mathis called Habits of Grace. As the Executive Editor at desiringGod.org, Mathis advocates three habits which correspond with what I would consider a KEY verse in the book of Acts. It comes near the beginning of the book, after Peter has preached his Pentecost sermon and the church has begun with 3,000 new lives in Christ…

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42 (ESV)

Do you see the three habits? In his book Holiness, J.C. Ryle calls them the indispensable “means of grace”…

“The ‘means of grace’ are such as Bible reading, private prayer, and regularly worshiping God in Church, wherein one hears the Word taught and participates in the Lord’s Supper. I lay it down as a simple matter of fact that no one who is careless about such things must ever expect to make much progress in sanctification. I can find no record of any eminent saint who ever neglected them.”

How are you doing in the top three? The key word here is devoted. Are you…

…devoted to Bible reading? The early church was committed to hearing from God, and they did so through the Apostles’ teaching. Of course, these brothers and sisters didn’t yet have Bibles the way we do. But they did have the Apostles, and so they showed up daily (Acts 2:46) at the temple where they could hear God through their teaching and thus grow in godliness.

…devoted to Prayer? The early church was dependent. They knew what we so easily forget – that we need God. So Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We need him daily…for our daily needs. So we must seek Him daily in prayer.

I’m reminded of the story of a family who stopped to help a man stranded on the side of the road. He was frantic, apparently because he had an extremely important meeting to attend. But he was out of gas. So they drove him to a local station where he could get a few gallons. When they dropped him back at his car, he hurriedly put three gallons in the tank and barely said a word of thanks before he sped off. Imagine their surprise when they saw the same man stranded a short while later. Being in such a hurry, he had never stopped to fully fill his tank. Out of gas…again. This time the family sped by.

And so many Christians live just as foolishly, believing that there is so much to do that they do not stop to seek God in prayer. The broken and empty feeling they live with daily is being prayerlessly stranded on the side of the road of life.

…devoted to Fellowship? Today it’s a matter of simple observation that many professing Christians are seeking to do without regular church attendance (and I imagine that with few exceptions, the vast majority of those who skip regular worship are definitely not in the Word and Prayer). Not so the early church: these new saints were devoted to attending temple together and practicing regular communion. They practiced the “one-anothers” of Scripture the only way possible…by being with one another.

When the whole church lived out these three habits, among other things, “awe came upon every soul”, and “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:43, 47)

What would happen if we all did the same?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

The Answer to Your Worries

By Guest Blogger Annie Knowlton

My daughter Annie Grace has been musing about something that concerns us all…

Future – It’s one of the scariest words I know. It holds so many emotions – fear, joy, sadness, death, love – to name a few. So much is possible in the future. You might get married, graduate college, get that job promotion, ace that test, have your first kiss, or maybe look into the eyes of your child for the first time. Those are all amazing things I hope everyone gets a chance to experience. However, the future is quite mysterious. It’s full of the unknown. That’s the scary part. In fact, I think it’s the most unknown thing in the world.

In the great unknown we call “future”, you might fail that test, make the biggest regret of your life, become depressed, get a terminal disease, lose your job, file for divorce, or possibly the worst of all – lose a loved one. These are things all humans think about. But one thing all of these have in common is that they are all worries which we ponder, talk about, sometimes even (half) joke about. All of these thoughts that we have paralyze us from living. Soon they become all we think about and before long are minds are full of “what ifs”.

“What ifs” are terrible. “What if I never get married? What if my house burns down? What if I never get a job I love? What if I never find ‘the one’?” All of these thoughts come back to the future and its never-ending mystery of possibilities.

And yet, God has a solution: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” –Philippians 4:6

So, if today you’re paralyzed with worry and fear of the future…don’t be. There’s a solution for every problem, and this one’s prayer. And it doesn’t matter how small or how big the problem is because God wants you to pray to Him in “every situation”. So there’s no need to worry – if you’re a believer, God is your unconditionally loving father, and He’s got your back.

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on January 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Good News vs. Good Advice

Merry Christmas everyone! If you’ve not seen the brief video we produced for Christmas Day, go to www.edgewoodcommunity.org and check it out first.

Afterwards, read this excerpt below from Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity, and the chapter, How We Turn Good News into Good Advice. Praise God for the Good News that a Savior is born!

Raising a six-year-old and nearly five-year-old triplets requires all the advice my wife and I can get. James Dobson’s books have been helpful, but we have also benefited tremendously from the wisdom of non-Christians, especially my barber and his wife, whose family has been a huge assistance in all sorts of ways. Just as people are not likely to get the best entertainment at church, they may not get the same quality of daily advice from their pastor that they might get from Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura. You just don’t need the Bible in order to know that your children need regular sleep patterns, the secret to a good marriage is “talk, talk, talk,” divorce is normally devastating for children, and if you don’t rule your credit cards they’ll rule you. Of course the Bible gives us a lot more wisdom than this, but there are plenty of non-Christian families who actually do a better job at doing the right thing than some Christian families.

It is no wonder that the average person today assumes that all religions basically say the same thing and that singling one out as the only truth is arrogant. After all, who doesn’t believe in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? The moral law that we find in the Bible (especially the Ten Commandments) is quite similar to the codes of other religions and can be found in civilizations that predate the giving of the law at Mount Sinai. Some of its wisdom flows from that special covenantal relationship between God and Israel, but much of it (especially Proverbs) is simply a clear articulation of the way God wired everyone in creation.

If religion is basically ethics-getting people to do the right thing-then why get uptight over the different historical forms, doctrines, rituals, and practices that distinguish one version of morality from another? Let a thousand flowers bloom as long as people are being helped, right?

Reduce Christianity to good advice and it blends in perfectly with the culture of life coaching. It might seem relevant, but it is actually lost in the marketplace of moralistic therapies. When we pitch Christianity as the best method of personal improvement, complete with testimonies about how much better we are ever since we “surrendered all,” non-Christians can legitimately demand of us, “What right do you have to say that yours is the only source of happiness, meaning, exciting experiences, and moral betterment?” Jesus is clearly not the only effective way to a better life or to being a better me. One can lose weight, stop smoking, improve one’s marriage, and become a nicer person without Jesus.

What distinguishes Christianity at its heart is not its moral code but its story-a story of a Creator who, although rejected by those he created in his image, stooped to reconcile them to himself through his Son. This is not a story about the individual’s heavenward progress but the recital of historical events of God’s incarnation, atonement, resurrection, ascension, and return and the exploration of their rich significance. At its heart, this story is a gospel: the Good News that God has reconciled us to himself in Christ…

The real power and wisdom is not found in principles for our victorious living but in the announcement of God’s victory in Christ…J. Gresham Machen’s cry, directed at Protestant liberalism, can as easily be addressed to evangelicals today: “What I need first of all is not exhortation, but a gospel, not directions for saving myself but knowledge of how God has saved me. Have you any good news? That is the question that I ask of you. I know your exhortations will not help me. But if anything has been done to save me, will you not tell me the facts?”…

The greatest threat to Christ-centered witness even in churches that formally affirm sound teaching is what British evangelical David Gibson calls “the assumed gospel.” The idea is that the gospel is necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the rest of the Christian life is all the fine print: conditional forgiveness. It often comes in the form of, “Well, of course, but. . . .” After a month of Sundays with exhortation apart from Good News, one might ask, “But what about the part about God persevering in spite of human sin and overcoming it for us at the cross?” “Well, of course! But everybody here already believes that. Now we just need to get on with living it out.” We got in by grace but now we need to stay in (or at least become first-class, sold-out, victorious, fully surrendered Christians) by following various steps, lists, and practices. There was this brief and shining moment of grace, but now the rest of the Christian life is about our experience, feelings, commitment, and obedience. We always gravitate back toward ourselves: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.”

We wander back toward self-confidence just as easily as into more obvious sins. It is no wonder that many Christians find themselves in the spiritual equivalent of midlife crisis, losing their first love, even wondering perhaps deep down whether it is all just a game. Tragically, my generation will likely fare no better than the previous one on the hypocrisy test. We too will fall far short of that mandate to love God and our neighbor. What we need, therefore, is a gospel that is sufficient to save even unfaithful Christians. We can never take the gospel for granted. It is always the surprising announcement that fills our sails with faith for an active life of good works…

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Daughter Went Off to College…and Mom Lost Her Faith

The sad story of Solomon’s fall is familiar to Bible readers. The writer of 1 Kings recaps…

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. 1 Kings 11:1-2 (ESV)

The King started so well, in such close communion with the Living God…and then…this. In fact, Solomon falls so far in Scripture that it’s almost hard to believe, but we aren’t left wondering why it happened. His wives turned his heart after other gods. But how did that happen? Yes, he loved these women, but why did loving them cause Solomon to love their gods? In other words, why does loving someone who doesn’t love God…or, for instance, who thinks wrongly about God (idolatry) cause the first lover to fall away? I was musing about this after reading the passage recently, and for whatever reason, my mind turned to kids who lose their faith at college, and their parents…who follow them.

I imagine this happens more than is reported – a child goes off to University and gets schooled in secularism, or maybe just modern day “Christianity” with its rejection of the church and Scripture and its embrace of cultural morals and mores…and Mom and/or Dad begin to rethink their own faith as a result. But what brings this about?

The Psychology of Solomon and Those Who Follow Him

I think it’s simple: when we love someone, we want to stay close to them by having things in common. Therefore, we want to root for the same teams, enjoy the same food, vote for the same President…and yes, worship the same God. This is undoubtedly what happened with Solomon – he loved these women, and not only the physical aspects of their relationship, I’m sure, but also the joy of their companionship (at least some of them, that is – there were too many to be close to them all).

And likewise, we parents love our kids greatly…sometimes, even too much. The child comes home denying the faith, or perhaps simply saying the church that the family has attended for all these years is outmoded and she wants no part of it. And Mom and Dad also start moving away. This is where child-rearing becomes idol-worship, where that relationship with the child brings such security that parent will push away Christ (and His bride, the church) to hold on to the child. Sadly, the only way to truly hold on to the child is to lovingly challenge her with truth.

But when such challenge does not take place, often a falling away on the part of the parent is the sign of what was really a spurious faith to begin with. Whatever the case, the lesson is clear – in this great big world of ours, be careful who you love…and in the case of family, be careful how you love.

For no relationship will ever be worth forsaking Christ…His Word…His gospel…or His church.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26 (ESV)

 
7 Comments

Posted by on October 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: