Which Kind of Church Kid Are You?

I grew up in the home of a pastor. I spent my youth rolling down the aisle in fisher price cars and stuffing my face with communion bread after the service. I know church kids, because I am the stereotypical church kid. I was at every church function whether I wanted to be or not. Church kids are an interesting breed and in my experience there tend to be two different types of church kid: Pharisees or Tax Collectors.

The Pharisee Church Kid

There often is not much in between. When you grow up in the Church before the regenerating work of God, these two seemingly opposites develop. On the one hand, you hear the demands of the Law, demands like “do not commit adultery”, “do not lie”, or “do not steal”. The young little self-righteous Pharisee will hear these words and begin to immediately be puffed up in pride. “I can do this” so we think, and in our self-righteousness we become blind to our sin and thus follow the letter of the law and miss its spirit.

The pharisee lives there live comparatively. They are not interested in genuine righteousness, just comparative righteousness. He lives his life constantly evaluating everyone else. He will go to school and grow up amongst his peers denouncing them in self-righteous judgement. “I’m better than that guy”, so he thinks. The church kids who are probed to Phariseeism become moral little monsters, puffed up with a judgmental self-righteousness. How do I know so much about these little moral monsters? Because I am a recovering Pharisee.

The Tax Collector Church Kid

On the flip side, many church kids become the tax collector. Unlike the pharisee church kids, they become so fed up with rule following that they just give up Christianity completely. They realize they cannot get more gold stars than the Pharisee kids and that they struggle to live for God and constantly find themselves in sin. Some how along the way, either by their own hardness of heart or the incredible failure of their church, they completely miss the Gospel. The Tax collector kids realize early how unable they are to keep God’s law. They realizes that they are unable to obey and rather than becoming sorrowful over sin, they check out and abandon Christianity. These are the church kids who end up doing keg stands in college. They become so frustrated with their works based religious upbringing that rather than resisting their sin, they embrace it.

We Cannot Do It

Yet, the Gospel has much to say to both of these two types of people. In this sermon Jesus rebukes both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus’ strongest rebuke is to the pharisees. It is often those who have the thick headed metal skull of Phariseeism that need a vicious blow to the head to get their attention. The hardest people to share the Gospel to are those who think they already believe it. So it is with the Pharisees.

Jesus regularly exposes the religion of the Pharisees as a complete sham, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, the Pharisees may be sparkling clean on the outside, but inwardly they have the grotesque stench of a decaying corpse. Jesus shows that the Pharisees have greatly missed the intention of the Law of God and shows them that they actually have not been keeping it at all. They have loved their neighbor, but hated their enemy. They have not committed adultery, but they indulge lustful thoughts. They take oaths, but manipulate the system so they can get away with deceit. This is the great frustration Jesus has with these Pharisees, they are hypocrites!

Now it easy for us to take a sledge hammer and beat the snot out of the Pharisees as if they are those people and not us. Yet more often than not when we are talking about Phariseeism we are talking about ourselves. Many of us are moral little monsters who place our hope in our religious performance. We pride ourselves on our moralistic skill and desire the praise of others to boost our spiritual ego.

Jesus teaches us this, there is no spiritual somebodies in the kingdom of God, there are only spiritual nobodies. Blessed are the poor in Spirit! Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual inability, for there’s is the kingdom of heaven! This is Jesus’ whole point, that the tax collectors are closer to entering into the kingdom than the Pharisees, because the tax collectors at least know they cannot do it on their own.

Church Kids in Need of Jesus

Yet both of these church kids, the Pharisees and the tax collectors are lost and in need of a savior. Both groups have completely misunderstood and distorted Christianity. The Pharisees create a religion of moralism while the tax collectors a religion of hedonism. The Gospel of Jesus Christ both rejects moralism and hedonism. Salvation cannot be earned through good works. We only enter heavens gates through the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that we receive by grace through faith. At the same time Christ calls us as children of God to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel .

If you grew up in the church, I don’t know which kind of kid you were. Maybe you were the self-righteous pharisee or maybe you were the hedonistic tax collector. Regardless of your rebellious inclination, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all people, even church kids. If you are like me, along the way my pharisaical heart began to realize that I was not nearly as righteous as I thought I was. God began to show me how much of a sinner I truly am and that I needed a great savior. God was gracious enough to show me my short comings and to lead me to Calvary where my sins were paid. It is only through the gracious work of God that this little moral monster became an adopted son of God.

Why Join a Church?

Many people are asking this question: Why bother joining a church? What is the big deal about church? Isn’t the church just a dying institution irrelevant to the world today? Although many people question the importance of church and the importance of being a member of the church, the Bible tells us that the Church is the people of God on mission to transform the world through the Gospel (1 Pt 2:9). The church is the vehicle for displaying God’s glory to the ends of the earth. Therefore the church is hugely important in God’s plan for redeeming the world through his son Jesus Christ. Jesus tells us that the church will endure and survive as the uniquely blessed people of God and that the “gates of hell will not prevail against it”. (Mat 16:18)

The Foundation of the Church

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”” (1 Peter 2:4–6, ESV)

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28, ESV)

The Church was founded and established by Jesus Christ. Yet, we see that from the beginning of the Old Testament God had a grand plan to spread his glory through a corporate people. The first fruits of this cosmic plan was through Israel. As we move into the New Testament we see that God plans to create a new kingdom and a new humanity from people of every ethnicity and nation. The way that God created these new citizens of the heavenly kingdom was through the death of His son Jesus Christ. The cornerstone and foundation for the church is and always will be Jesus Christ.

Jesus the Cornerstone

The Bible makes it clear why Jesus came. Jesus who was fully man and fully God came for the purpose of redeeming humanity. Jesus lived a life of complete perfection, without sin and without disobedience. Where you and I fail every day, Jesus succeeded. As a result, Jesus could be the only sacrifice who could pay the price for our sin. Every human being has fallen short and has rebelled against the Almighty God (Rom 3:23). We are hopelessly lost in our sin, yet God was gracious in sending Jesus to us. Jesus, out of love for us, went to the cross and was nailed to that tree for you and me. On the cross Jesus purchased our salvation and our freedom from the bondage of sin. On the cross Jesus purchased our entry way into this new community and new humanity. In Jesus we have been given citizenship into the kingdom of God. All we must do to receive this incredible gift from God is simply call out to Him in faith. We turn from our sins and put our trust in Jesus Christ. This is the entry point into the church and it is the only way to belong to the people of God.

The church is established by Jesus. His death is the founding stone upon which the church is built.. You see the church can often be made up of a variety of people of different ethnicities, education levels, social backgrounds, and many other things. Yet the One who brings these diverse people together is Jesus Christ. Often times there are a variety of areas on which people build community. People might build community on a special interest like a hobby or a special cause, but the church is a people united by Jesus Christ. The founding stone, Jesus, brings us all together and forms us into a new people called the Church.

Local vs Universal

The church can be seen in two light: There is the Church universal, made up of all believers in Jesus Christ at all times and the church local, which is made up of specific believers at a specific place. All true Christians belong to the Church (universal) but not every Christian belongs to the church (local). This is important to remember that being a member of a church does not grant you entrance into God’s kingdom, only Jesus does that. Yet, the church is made up of people who have received salvation through Jesus.

The Purpose of the Church

The ultimate purpose of the church is to display God’s glory. This happens as the church worships God, disciples and trains other believers to maturity, and proclaims the Gospel through evangelism and missions. The purpose of the Church is to worship, disciple, and evangelize.

Ministry to God: Worship

As a people formed and created for the glory of God, worship is the essential duty of the church. Scripture reminds us of the importance of corporate worship in the life of the church. Colossians 3:16 Paul tells us to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thanksgiving in your hearts to God”. We are also told “to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

It is vital for those who belong to the church to worship the Lord. This is why churches  meet every week. The purpose of this time is for one reason to worship the Lord. We want to praise and honor the Redeemer of our souls and give our lives to him in worship. The worship services are centered around the Gospel message as revealed in the Bible. As a result, preaching is heavily emphasized because as God’s people we need to hear from God’s word. In addition we sing together, singing about our God. Our worship also includes the giving of our finances showing God that He is first.

Ministry to Believers: Discipleship

The Church also has the task of training and building up other believers to Christian maturity. The church should seek to make every man and woman mature in Christ Jesus (Col 1:28). The way believers are built up and made mature in Christ is through the teaching of God’s word to the corporate body of Christ.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

The Scriptures are essential if we seek to grow in our relationship with Christ. As a result, the local church should focus heavily on the teaching of the Scriptures. Churches offer a variety of Sunday School classes and Bible studies to help train our members in the Scriptures so they may be complete and equipped for every good work. In addition it is also vital that believers learn to minister to one another in community. Discipleship happens best, not in a class room, but through relationships. As a result, we seek to help our members build relationships with one another so that they can grow deeper together in their relationship with Jesus.

Ministry to the World: Evangelism

The church also has the great purpose of proclaiming the good news of Jesus to the world. This is our greatest task given to us by Jesus. We are called to go and tell others about Jesus Christ. The task of the church is to make sure others hear about how they can have salvation in Jesus.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)

The Bible makes it clear that every Christian has the responsibility of making sure this good news is heard across the world. In order for people to be saved through faith, they first must hear about what Jesus has done.  Evangelism is not just the task for missionaries or pastors but for every believer.

The Mission of the Church

The mission of the church is found in Matthew 28:18–20. The resurrected Lord, before he ascended into heaven, gave this charge to the church:

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV)

God’s Glory Displayed in the Church

As the Church faithfully proclaims and lives out the Gospel, God’s glory will spread to the ends of the earth. As people come to know Christ and join God in his mission to redeem the world, God will cover the earth with his worshipers. This will happen as we work together in a local church as the people of God working in unity of our cornerstone, Jesus Christ. We are a sinful people redeemed and forgiven by Jesus. Jesus is the hope of the world and the church is God’s ordained means of taking that hope to the ends of the earth.

So Why Join a Church?

So why would you want to join a church? Well, part of the reason is because it is biblically commanded.  To not join a local body of believers is to be disobedient to God’s command.  Hebrews 10:24-25 states we are commanded not to forsake the assembling together. So joining a local church as a member is something commanded by God, but it is much sweeter than just a rule to follow.

So why would you join a church? You desire to join a church Because God has given you salvation by His grace through Jesus, and you want to share that good news with others. You want to join yourself to the people of God to whom Jesus has bound you. You want to lock arms with other believers to worship the Lord, to grow in maturity together, and to work together to tell the world about our savior. As the church achieves its mission, we have the promise that Christ will be with us and that nothing will stop us. Businesses will go bankrupt and nations will collapse, but the church, the redeemed people of God, will survive for eternity as God’s glory is displayed through us.

So why join a church? The better question is, why would you not?

Pray for Forest Hills Baptist Church

This past Sunday the people of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Wilson, NC called me to be their Senior Pastor. I was overjoyed, honored, and humbled by all that God has done in the life of our church. Over the past three years as I have served FHBC, the Lord continued to deepen my love for this sweet church.  The character of Christ is so evident in them as they love and serve one another and our community. As I look back over my life, I see how God has prepared me for this moment since I was little.  In some ways God has been preparing me for this calling my entire life. I am humbled that God could use a wretched sinner like me to preach the Gospel and shepherd his people.  Yet, God often uses the unexpected. He uses the nobodies to accomplish his purpose in order that God might receive all his glory. As I begin this first week of being the "official" Senior Pastor at Forest Hills Baptist Church, I will continue to ask for your prayers.  Here are some ways you can pray for me and for Forest Hills Baptist Church:

1. Pray that I stay close to Jesus.

2. Pray that I continue to grow in grace and maturity.

3. Pray for the Lord to strengthen me when I'm week.

4. Pray for my wife Kaitlyn and my son Jude as they endure the strange hours and demands of pastoral ministry.

5. Pray for the spiritual growth of the people of Forest Hills.

6. Pray for numerical growth as we seek to make disciples of the lost in our community.

7. Pray for the preaching of the word and that the Spirit would move in power.

8. Pray that God would be made glorious through my ministry and the people of Forest Hills.

I cannot wait to see what God will do in the coming years.  May he bring revival, renewal, and reformation to our church as we seek to take seriously the Great Commission and to make disciples of all nations.

7 Principles for Corporate Worship

Worship in the church has been a topic hotly debated over the past few decades. There has been fight after fight concerning the so called Worship Wars that debate over the style of music.  In addition there is a regular debate about the Regulative Principle. Yes, Scripture should guide our worship practices, but what about the things Scripture does not speak on like projectors for lyrics, fog machines, and even microphones? With all the variance that accompanies church worship, it is vital for churches to define scriptural principles that help them in planning their Worship time together. One of the reasons churches argue so much over worship is because the theological principles driving their worship are never clarified or communicated. As I continue to think through this issue, here are some Scriptural principles that guide me as I think about worship in the church.

1. Worship Should Center on The Word of God

The preached word of God should be the center point of our worship. In most churches, preaching takes up the dominant amount of time in our worship services. The church has a message to be proclaimed and a message that needs to be heard. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must be taught weekly from the Bible. The best method of preaching is Expository Preaching, a method in which the content of the sermon should match up to the content of the Scripture studied. Topical preaching has its occasional place, but the steady diet for corporate worship should be the robust expository teaching of the word of God.

Many think that worship stops after the singing, but no, worship is just beginning. As the preacher stands before the people and heralds Gospel truth and as the people engage with God's word, they must rejoice over the truth along with the preacher. Christians are people who have had their lives transformed by a truth: the good news of Jesus. Therefore our worship must not only be an emotional experience, but a time grounded in the solid foundation of the truth revealed in God's word. However worship centered on the word of God is more than preaching but should be a part of everything we do in worship.  Whether it is influencing the content of our songs, having corporate scripture reading, or even in our prayers, scripture should be pervasive in our worship time together.

2. Worship Should Be Participatory

It is easy for worship to become a spectator sport. A huge crowd gathers into the room to come and watch the show.  We often think of church like coming to a football game where you cheer or criticize the team that is playing, but never participate in the game by stepping on the field. As you sit in your chair, you watch the people on the stage worship but you are just there to spectate. A lot of times churches design their worship services to encourage spectator, consumer Christians by including so many "showy" elements that foster a culture of sitting on the side lines.

This might make me a little bit odd, but this is one reason why I'm not a big fan of special music in churches. I grew up in churches that made this a weekly practice and I've even done a few special musics myself in my day. The special music is when every one sits down, gets comfortable and watches a soloist, a choir, or a musician perform. More often than not, the special music rather than encouraging participation facilitates a distant watching.

Worship should be participatory, seeking to get the people engaged in worship. Participatory elements include corporate singing, corporate scripture reading, the Lord's Supper, prayer, or even sermon notes to help people engage with the sermon message. Worship services should be structured to encourage the worshipers participation in worship rather than encouraging them to be spectators while the "professionals" worship up on stage.

3. Worship Should Be Evangelistic

A key component of worship must be evangelism. There has been vicious debate over what worship should be for, believers or non believers. Well I suggest that the issue is a false dilemma. Worship should seek to both reach the non believer and edify the believers. Every worship service should have a clear, explicit presentation of the Gospel message. Any lost person who happens to visit your worship should be able to walk away knowing how he or she can be saved.

This means that often you have to watch the Christianese that can alienate non-believers. Things must be explained, including the worship order so they can understand what is going on in the service. The non believers should be publicly welcomed and thanked for coming and even addressed specifically in the sermon message. This includes making your church welcoming and hospitable to outsiders, helping them to feel at home when they first come to your church.

4. Worship Should Edify Believers

A key component to worship should be discipleship. The majority of those who come to worship tend to already be believers. They come every week to be encouraged in their walk with Christ and to be fed the word of God for their spiritual growth. Worship should seek to empower and equip believers to live for Christ boldly and confidently. They should leave both challenged and stirred to turn from their sin and live for Christ.

This often comes from the sermon component that seeks to not only evangelize to the lost but also encourage the saints. It is hard to do both simultaneously and some sermons will be catered to one purpose over the other, but we must always try to equip the saints for the work of ministry. This comes through the teaching of the Scriptures (2 Tim 3:16-17). Christians might leave challenged and convicted, but they should always leave in the hope of the grace of God that covers their failures and empowers them to live on mission.

5. Worship Should Be Contextual

Worship should be contextual. Worship will look different in different cultures or in different places. To deny that culture does not influence your worship services is to be a liar. The fact that our worship is in a specific language already contextualizes our service which by default reaches out to a specific culture and alienating others. All of our worship has some cultural expressions that are mingled into our time together. This is not always a bad thing, but it is something we must realize happens.

As a result different parts of our country and even different types of people will connect better with different worship styles than others. It is easy to elevate our personal preferences to THE way people must worship, but we must realize that our preferences are just that – preferences. They are not absolute guidelines to be imposed at all churches in all ways.

The question is how far is to far when it comes to contextualizing our worship? Can worship become showy and worldly? Can you over-contextualize in which you actually sacrifice the message of the Gospel? Yes, all those things are very real dangers. There are lines that can be crossed, often dealing with music, which leads us to the next point.

6. Music Should Have Solid Theological Content

The songs we choose for worship should have robust, rich doctrinal content. One of the great and true criticism of the Contemporary Christian Movement is that the lyrics could be very well about their boyfriend or girlfriend rather than Jesus. They often repeat vain ambiguous phrases over and over that could be about anything.  So often these lyrics emphasize emotionalism but not doctrinal truth. When Christians get together to sing, they should sing about the Gospel. Even the early Christian hymns we have in the Bible like Philippians 2 or Colossians 1 have highly rich doctrinal content.

Thankfully many are moving back to singing songs that have doctrinal depth such as many of the modern hymns such as "In Christ Alone". These are powerful songs, done in a modern or contextual way that engages people in worship while still instructing people in truth. The singing portion of worship can also be a time of great teaching. The people of God should sing the Gospel together, which means we need to make sure we are singing about what Jesus has done and not how much we love of our boyfriend or girlfriend.

7. Worship Should Bring God Glory

The focus of our worship should be about God. We are there to bring him glory, honor, and praise. It is so easy to turn our worship times into moments about us. "What can I get out of it?" is a question many ask when they think about worship. Yet, worship is not about us, but about God. As we read in Scripture about those moments of extravagant worship, it is clear to see who the focus is on.

"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come" (Rev 4:8)

Their attention is totally focused on God and his glory. We come to worship together not to have our ears tickled or to be entertained, but we come to engage in worship with the triune God of the universe. We are there to worship the Father for his wonderful redemptive plan he put in place before the foundations of the earth. We are there to worship the son, for his servitude and humility by taking up the cross and dying in our place. We are there to worship the spirit, which opens our eyes to the truth of the Gospel and empowers us to live for the one true God. This is the worship we must strive for, rigorously God-center and bringing our gracious King glory.

What do you think about these seven principles? Are there any you disagree with or any I left out? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!

How to Share the Gospel with Cultural Christians

We just examined how there are many false gospels that people believe in the Bible Belt. Most of these false gospels have developed because of a cultural Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to societal norms that regulate a community. Those in the Bible Belt and most of evangelicalism have been surrounded by a cultural Christianity disconnected from the Christian faith as presented in the Bible. As a result it common to speak with those who call themselves Christians but who believe do not believe historic orthodox Christianity. Although they might put "Christian" down on the census, many of these cultural Christians have not been converted and saved by Jesus Christ. This cultural, superficial Christianity appears to be fading away with the rise of those who claim no religious affiliation. Ed Stezer has written extensively on the rise of the nones. However, pastoring in the Bible Belt has proved to have interesting challenges. The greatest challenge of pastors and ministry leaders in the Bible Belt is this: How do we evangelize to those who already think they are Christian?

This is a very difficult challenge, unique to places like the Bible Belt.  In many parts of our country or the world there is just an outright rejection of the Christian faith. In some ways it is easier to present the Gospel to these people, because they often have little to no understanding of the Christian faith. Evangelizing in the Bible Belt can be an extra challenge because, in addition to presenting the true Gospel, we often have to show these cultural christians that they have gravely misunderstood Christianity. So the following are some strategies to help us better evangelize these cultural christians.

The Christian Faith is Not...

1. The Christian Faith is Not the Republican Party

Since the rise of the moral majority, Evangelical Christians have connected themselves heavly to the republican party. It is no secret that the Bible Belt states tend to vote Republican. There has been good reasons for this close partnership with the republican party, primarily due to important moral issues such as abortion or the Biblical definition of marriage. However the Christian faith is not the republican party. The Christian faith is not a political ideology. Yes, the Christian faith does impact how we think about politics, but no political party is the church. In fact, political parties will often fail in representing our convictions and beliefs, including the republican party.

Unfortunately many have assumed that since they vote republican and live in the Bible Belt, that is what Christianity is all about. In their mind to be a Christian is to be a good ol' church boy who hates democrats and has an anti-Obama sticker on their truck. The Christian Faith is not a political agenda, ideology, or party.

2. The Christian Faith is Not Be Good, Try Harder

Many think of Christianity as a list of rules to follow. Moralism is rampant, and many think that being a Christian means we must pay penance for our sins. Many cultural Christians are more like Hindus than Christians, as they believe in karma and that their good most outweigh their bad. As we evangelize to cultural christians we need to highlight their inability to earn God's favor or save themselves. We need to highlight the hopeless estate of every human being and that no matter how many times you may come to church or walk old ladies across the street, you cannot save yourself. We need the righteousness of God, not our filthy rags and rubbish. Thanks be to God, that he gives us the righteousness of Jesus!

3. The Christian Faith is Not a Southern Thing

Many think that to be southern is to be christian. Cultural christians assume that since they grew up in the Bible Belt they assume they are default Christian. Yet, the Christian faith is not just for southern people but for all people from every tribe, language, tongue, and nation. The Gospel is the true truth about the world for all people at all times. The Christian faith is much bigger than some cultural identity for our region. Jesus is the only way of salvation for all people everywhere. Jesus isn't just the way of salvation for southerners, but for the whole world. As a result, we have to get out of our southern bubble of isolation and participate in the Great Commission, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

4. The Christian Faith is Not Just Your Parents Faith

The church I serve in is a church with a history. We are getting close to our 100th birthday. As I've spoken with many of our older members who have been members of our church their entire lives, I've spoken to them about their children. Many of their children have grown up in the church only to have nothing to do with it once they enter adulthood. In the Bible Belt there a many people who are de-churched, meaning they kind of consider themselves Christians but only because their parents brought them to church as a kid. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must emphasize that to be a Christian does not mean you live off of your parents faith. We must call these cultural christians to personally place their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and call them to commit to Jesus and his church.

The Christian Faith is...

1. The Christian Faith is for the Outcasts and the Nobodies

Although the south has made great strides the past few decades, repenting from the great racism of the past, it is still a recurring problem. Many cultural christians have a disdain for those of a different ethnicity, income level, or social economic status. They think that those who live on food stamps or dwell in rough neighborhoods do not deserve the Gospel or to ever set foot in our churches.

But Christ died for the nobodies and the outcasts. Jesus spent his time with the rejects of society–the drunkards, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. Many cultural christians are but self-righteous pharisees who think they are above other people because they are religious. We must emphasize to cultural christians that Jesus came to save all people–from the destitute and immoral, to the prideful and self-righteous. We ALL need God's grace and we must attack the racism and elitism that runs through so much of cultural christianity.

2. The Christian Faith is all about Jesus

As the church has become more institutional, cultural christians have gotten confused over what the Christian faith is all about. Is it about upward basketball games, boy scout groups, and elaborate Christmas dramas to entertain us? Is the church a social club to hang out with like-minded people  or to seclude ourselves from our sinful community? Is the Christian faith about providing family safe activities to protect us from the harshness of the world? Many have gotten so confused over the purpose of the church and the Christian faith.

We must remind people daily and often that Christianity is all about Jesus. It is not about institutions, programs, or morality. We must emphasize time and again the beauty of the Gospel. We must remind people time and time again of Jesus' perfect life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection. The Christian faith is centered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must regularly emphasize and remind people of this fact.

3. The Christian Faith Transforms Your Entire Life

The Christian faith is not separate from the rest of your life. Many cultural christians have their spiritual life, work life, family life, and recreational life divided into neat let segments that never interact. We must remind cultural Christians that when we claim Jesus is our Lord, he is just that, our Lord. He is Lord over our finances, Lord over our time, Lord over our families, and Lord over our work. Christianity is holistic encompassing the totality of who we are. Jesus didn't come to save just an area of our life, but our entire lives.

Sharing the Gospel with cultural christians has unique challenges. Often it takes time and patient, recurring conversation to let the Spirit tear down their gravely misunderstood cultural christianity in order to help them see the wonderful, life changing grace of God.

Have you experienced difficulties evangelizing to cultural christians? Share your experiences and thoughts with the rest of us in the comments!

6 False Gospels in the Bible Belt

I've spent my whole life growing up in the Bible Belt. I grew up in the home of a pastor and listening to sermons from countless teachers and Christians. The Bible Belt gets its name because there tends to be a lot of conservative Christian people and you can find churches on every street corner. Although the Bible Belt seems to be disappearing slowly, there are remnants of a culture that assumes everyone is a Christian and that expects everyone should be going to church. Although I am thankful for a culture in which I had such ready access to the true Gospel, over the years I have been exposed to a number of pseudo-gospels trying to pretend to be the real deal. These false gospels are often unknowingly proclaimed by pastors and churches in the bible belt. Some of the most dangerous lies we believe are not elaborate teachings of heresy but a subtle twisting of the truth. The false gospels run deep in the Bible Belt and makes pastoring in this area of our country quite difficult.

1. "My Baptism Saves Me"

Many people are confused about their salvation. There are many who think of salvation as some sort of ritualistic tradition where you walk down an aisle, sign a card, and get baptized. Many in the Bible Belt have done this often at a very young age before they really understood what they were doing. As a result there are many people who call themselves Christians who could care less about Jesus. They find assurance in their baptism or their church membership. They feel security in their salvation because they are on the rolls of a church they haven't attended in decades.

Many of these people cling to "Once Saved, Always Saved" which is a twisted distortion of the perseverance of the saints. The perseverance of the saints is not "Once Saved, Always Saved", but "Once Saved, Always Persevering". If you became a Christian at 8 years old and then spend your entire life disconnected from God and the church and think you have salvation, chances are you are fooling yourself. Those who are truly in Christ will persevere in following Christ until he calls us home. All of this is by God's grace and an indicator of a truly converted heart.

2. "I go to church and I'm a good person"

Moralism is the rampant poison in Bible Belt culture. If you listen carefully you can hear it taught from many pulpits across the south. It is the great distorting of the Gospel in which all God wants from you is to be a good boy or girl.  God then becomes the great Santa Clause in the sky where heaven becomes beautifully wrapped presents and hell becomes a stocking of coal.  So many have twisted the Gospel into a moral check list to complete. You hear the lie of moralism at funerals, bible studies, and even in sermons. Moralism teaches "Be Good and Work Harder". The Gospel says "You're not Good and you need the atoning work of Christ".

The true Gospel is not one in which we work to earn God's favor, but a Gospel in which we receive God's favor through Jesus Christ. Salvation is all by grace. Yes, God wants us to live lives of holiness, but our morality does not save us. We are saved only through the blood of Christ.

3. "God wants me to be happy, healthy, and wealthy"

The prosperity gospel runs wild and free in the Bible Belt, and unfortunately remains unchallenged. The lie of the prosperity gospel can be found in our Christian Book stores, Facebook statuses, and again from pulpits throughout the Bible Belt. More often it is a Christianized package of American consumerism. Rather than loving the giver of all gifts we idolize the gifts God gives us. We expect God to give us our best life now filled with a great salary, great car, and perfect health.

Yes, God does give us great gifts, but the problem with the prosperity Gospel is that it imposes that God MUST give us those things. The path of true discipleship is often not one of roses and ease. It is often difficult to follow Jesus and it may mean we suffer in this life as our savior did. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. God does not exist to give us all creature comforts, but he calls us to lay down our lives for his glory.

4. "God is my Therapist"

Pop Psychology has crept into the church. We often think that God just wants me to feel good about myself. He is there to affirm my feelings and my life style. Those who believe this false gospel often highly value emotional experiences that make them feel better about themselves. Often times there is an over emphasis on God's love and a de-emphasis on his justice and wrath towards our sin. The idea of the sinfulness of humanity is largely avoided in the Bible belt and instead we hear about a God of acceptance and affirmation.

Yes, God is our healer. Yes, he is our refuge and strength and help in trouble. Yes he is our great counselor. Yet, God is also serious about our sin. This is why he sent Jesus to die, to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus' death was a death of substitution. He died in our place. God is not interested in increasing our self-esteem but transforming us into new creations. God is making us new and conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. We are sinners in need of new hearts. We must be born again. We must change, and the power of change does not come through self-actualization but through spiritual regeneration. This means that we must turn from our sin and live lives transformed by God's radical grace empowered and initiated by the Spirit of God.

5. "God Doesn't Care About My Heart"

The Bible Belt is often cloaked in a veil of legalism. Many think that God simply cares about their external actions. Many think to be a Christian is to be but a moral, good person. If I put on the church mask and make everyone believe I've got it all together, that is all God cares about. So they put on their nice suits and their fake Christian smile and act out this role of a faithful Christian. Yes, God does care that we do the right thing, but he also cares about our motives. This is what Jesus was getting at in the Sermon on the Mount.  God does not want us to commit adultery, but Jesus says that even the lust of the heart is just as sinful as the act of adultery. God also cares about our motivations behind our actions. Yet, many in the bible belt are religious shells, externally doing the right thing without their hearts transformed and renewed by grace.

6. "God Doesn't Expect Me to Serve Him"

Many think that God has called them to a simple, cozy, easy life. Many do not believe that God has called them to serve or sacrifice at any cost to themselves or their life style. Giving of our money or giving up our time or moving to an uncomfortable location for the Gospel all seems ridiculous. We often think that God is here to serve us, not us to serve him. So we come into our churches as Christian consumers ready to take from others but never to serve our church, our community, or our world. Every Christian has been given the mandate of the Great Commission. Every Christian has been given the calling of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. God has not called us to a leisurely self-serving Christianity, but a costly self-denying faith that risks anything and everything for the greater joy of knowing and savoring Jesus.

A Recovery of the True Gospel

Have you identified any of these six false gospels that get thrown around the Bible Belt and across much of evangelical Christianity? More than anything in the Bible Belt and across the world we need a revival and a renewal of the true Gospel:

A Gospel that proclaims a great holy God.

A Gospel that proclaims the wretchedness of our estate in our sin.

A Gospel that proclaims the great love of God in sending a savior.

A Gospel that accentuates the cross as the ultimate display of God's love and wrath as Jesus dies in our place.

A Gospel that calls all people to turn from sin and have faith in jesus.

A Gospel that expects followers of Christ to actually follow him.

Be sure to check out the sequel to this post: How to Share the Gospel with Cultural Christians

Thanksgiving for Cross-Generational Community

This past Sunday the young adult class at Forest Hills Baptist Church hosted a huge thanksgiving lunch. It was a huge spread with some amazing food at the house of a young hospitable couple. This lunch made a lasting impression on me, not because of the food, but because of the amazing, beautiful picture of the body of Christ. Although the event was hosted by young adults there was a wonderful diversity within that house. There were college students, young professionals, young married, a baby crawling around, children playing with toys, some empty nesters, and two senior adults. It was a ecclectic group of people who were all having the greatest time eating, talking, and encouraging one another in the Lord. As I looked across the house and saw all the amazing cross-generational conversations, I thought to myself "This is the body of Christ!" What could have brought this diverse group of people together under one roof other than Jesus? One of the great holes in our modern method of doing church is hindering these cross generational relationships to develop. We age segregate everyone into such small categories that there is often very little if any interaction between age groups.

There is great wisdom that can be gained from across the generational gulf. Yet often in most churches there is generational tension between these groups rather than encouraging community. Discipleship happens within community and when we cross the generational gulf. When older men disciple younger men and older women disciple younger women (Titus 2), the church is built up as the beautiful body of Christ.

As I enjoyed that wonderful meal with good friends, for a moment I saw the glorious beauty of the body of Christ. I got just a small visible glimpse of the unity we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This unifying Gospel can cross even the widest generational gulf and bring the most unexpected people together.

Diversity in the Unity of the Local Church

The wonderful truth of the church is that there is unity in diversity. If you look around your church on a Sunday morning you might wonder how this diverse group of people came together. Everyone is so different! From their skin color to their personalities to their gifts to the social class to their tax bracket, the body of Christ is diverse. Yet despite all these differences there is unity in the diversity. This ecclectic group of people are one in and through Jesus Christ. What do all these people have in common? That they have been forgiven and redeemed through Jesus. Yet despite the clear diversity we see on Sunday morning, so often we want people to fit into a certain Christian mold. We have this idea of what a good Christian in our church looks like, and we overemphsize certain gifts more than others. A teacher is shown more prestige than the humble servant taking out the garbage after a church funciton. Yet, in our unity the church is diverse. We can't expect everyone to be a clone. Steve Taylor, one of the early pioneers of the Christian music scene, had a song called "I want to be a Clone". It was a funny tounge-n-cheeck type song that highlighted this problem. He sings:

They told me that I'd fall away Unless I followed what they say Who needs the Bible anyway, I want to be a clone Their language, it was new to me But Christianese got through to me Now, I can speak it fluently, I want to be a clone

This is exactly what we do to the diverse group of people in our churches. We want them to fit the traditional idea of what a christian looks like in our culture, complete with a icthus on your car and a chessy Christian t-shirt that says "Abreadcrumb and Fish".

As the New Testament talks about the church, it emphisizes its unity but also its diversity. In Romans 12:1-8 Paul emphasizes both the unity and diversity in the church.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:3–8, ESV)

You see all though we are one body, there are many parts. Each Christian has been gifted differently and are equipped to serve the body differently. Some are gifted for leadership, some are not. Some are gifted in teaching, some are not. Some are more prone to mercy, some struggle. Some are more prone to serving, some struggle. You see, every Christian is unique and different, called my God to serve the body in a unique way. In the unity we have in Jesus, there is a great diversity in the way we serve on another and work together in unity as a church to advance the Gospel.

The Antidote to the Me-Centered Church

This Blog Post is an excerpt from my sermon on Philippians 2:1-11, "The Gospel, Humility, and Unity". You can listen to the sermon audio here. Humility is a bizarre concept for modern people. It is a difficult idea to wrap our minds around. Modern people have been indoctrinated with enlightenment idea of progress striving to be better than one another, but most significantly is the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest. Many people see rising to power and promoting self as the chief purpose of life. To be great is to be powerful, respected, feared, and wealthy. So for many of us greatness and humility are two traits that do not go together. Indeed humility is against our very nature. We are prideful beings constantly seeking our own fame. We often beg for compliments and perk up when someone gives us a word of praise. We like to be in the spotlight and we like to be the center of attention. We like for people to serve us, so we created a whole service industry of waiters, customer service representatives, and hospitality to pamper us and to meet our every want. Our sinful instincts are not naturally drawn to humble service but prideful entitlement!

Yet for the Christian, one born of God is to be characterized by radical humility. Christians are to be made servants, not consumers. The Christian lays down his own wants and desires for the sake of others. Since he has been given everything in Christ it is his joy to give himself to others. The Christian is to do nothing from selfish ambition. He is to do nothing to advance his own reputation. He is not to seek his own glory or fame. The Christian is to abstain from conceit. He should not think of himself more highly than he ought. He is to realize that he is not the center of the universe. Rather than thinking much about himself he is to think much about others. What about you? Do you think of yourself more highly than you ought? Do you desire your own fame and glory? This is not the way of the Christian.

Rather than self-exaltation Paul encourages the church toward other-exaltation. We must see the significance of our brothers and sisters and must value them above ourselves. We are to look out for them, care for them, and serve them. We are to look not only to our own interests but also the interest of others. The humble servant is to look for ways to serve and to meet the needs of those around him. Rather than being absorbed in narcissistic individualism we are to be marked by generous radicalism.

The Struggle of Humility

But lets be honest. Isn't it so difficult to be a humble servant? I struggle with laying down my wants for the sake of my brothers and sisters. So often I want to look out for myself and my own needs! I want to look after my own interests, and if I have time maybe I'll look after yours. My heart fights to find others as more significant than myself. The spirit rages in my heart convicting me of my pride. Humility is difficult and as pastor and writer CJ Mahaney said in his little book on humility, "I am a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God". I want to be humble, but I need God's grace to help me in my sin and to help me realize who I am before Him. He is the creator I am the creature. I am the sinner and He is the savior. I am the rebel, He is the peace maker. He is the judge and I am the felon. Humility is not some sort of melodramatic self-loathing. Humility means understanding who you are in relation to God and others.

The Disdain of the Me-Centered Church

If a church is to be unified, on mission to advance the cause of Christ, there must be humble service among its members. This humility must define the culture of the church. The body of Christ is not to be made of entitled egoist, but self-denying servants.

Yet how far many churches are from this picture! We've turned our churches into consumer businesses where you come to church to be served rather than to serve. We've traded in the great commission for attractive products the church can offer you. The Great Commission has become the Great Suggestion. So churches come up with the latest and greatest way of catering to your needs with multi-million dollar buildings, a large menu of programs for your choosing, and worship services with watered down lyrics, flashing lights, a funny speaker, but very little Jesus. Perhaps the reason the mission of God is not being accomplished today is because our churches have been training a generation of believers that the church is here to serve them, not them to serve the church!

So a me-centered Christianity has cropped up where we demand from the church to do it my way or I'll hit the highway. I want my style of music, I want this sort of ministry, I want this length of a worship service, I want this sort of pastor, I want this sort of children's ministry. So in a never ending aim to appeal consumers churches run the rat race of conforming the church to what me-centered Christians want it to be, rather than letting God define what the church should, how we conduct our worship services, or what sort of ministry philosophy we will have. We take God's word and throw it into the metaphorical drawer and do church the way we want to do it.

So what is the solution to the plight the church of america has gotten itself in? How do we guard against our own hearts form this me-centered Christianity? How do we get our churches to look more like Philippians 2? Well it starts with a profound knowledge and deep conviction of the truthfulness of the Gospel. Humble service is a result of Gospel transformation. The antidote to the me-centered church is the self-sacrificing Christ! How do we learn to serve? How do we learn humility? How do we stay unified on the mission God has given us? Well it comes by looking to Christ!

The Example of Jesus

Paul turns our attention to Jesus, highlighting him as the example, the epitome of humility. Jesus though God did not cling to his divine prestige. If anyone had the right to be served by others it was Jesus! He is God! All of creation was created by his word! He sustains the universe by the word of his power. Yet, he was willing to take on the form of a servant. He was willing to step down from the glory of heaven, to become a human being and be born to a teenage girl in a stable. Rather than coming as a King, Jesus came as a servant. He came as one who would give up his life. Jesus was obedient even to the point of death. He humbled himself to the point of death, but not just any death, a death on a cross! The most horrific, violent, bloody, and painful inventions of torture humanity has ever come up with. He goes to the cross of his own volition and dies in the place of sinful man. As Jesus says, "The son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many". Jesus served us in our greatest need and in our greatest weakness. We are sinners who stand condemn before God. There is no one righteous, no not one! We stand before God and we are unrighteous, unworthy. We deserve hell and punishment. Yet the servant Jesus sees our need, humbles himself by taking on humanity and the Father sends Jesus on a rescue mission. God crucifies himself at the hand of his created image bearers so our sins could be paid for. God endured the wrath you deserved by taking it on himself. At the cross Jesus in humility laid down his life for us. The great God of the universe humbled himself and became a servant of man.

Here is the power of the Gospel in our lives! When we understand the astonishment of God's grace to us, when we stand amazed at God's service to us, our response is genuine humility. As we look to Calvary we see a gift we do not deserve. When we see the wonder of God's grace to us we become aware of our smallness. The reality of our tiny existence is made real, and we are amazed that God would take me and save me and restore me. When that truth sinks in and you feel the weight of God's love towards you in Christ, you are left standing with eyes gazing, falling on your knees in humility!

Do you desire humility? Do you desire to be a servant to others? Look to Christ our example! He is the suffering servant who demonstrates humility for us. Soak in this truth and as you do humility will be your response. For those who have genuinely put their faith in Jesus and have trusted in this good news humility is the only response. As we are humbled by the Gospel we will in turn be a servant to others. Why? Because Christ was first a servant to us. So look to your savior you who are proud at heart! Look to his nail pierced hands and feet you who seek to be served! For if the God of all the earth has stooped down to serve you, shouldn't you the dust of the earth serve your neighbor?

Young Christian Don't Forget the Old Churches: A Call to Revitalize

I wrote earlier this week about the need of passing the baton of the Gospel to the next generation. As we all know, this is easier said than done. Young Evangelicals today are a diverse bunch. I am amazed what God is doing through my own generation. These younger Christians seem to have a great value for theology, the Bible, community, discipleship, social justice, and mission. This is incredibly encouraging as we watch this younger generation of Christian millenials arrive on the scene of the local church. However there is one big problem, they are not going to the churches that need them. I've noticed that younger evangelicals tend to prefer churches that are already doing those thigns they are passionate about. They want churches where there deep community, discipleship, and mission. As a result the churches that are healthy and do these thigns well tend to keep growing and growing. To keep up with the growth in these churches and to spread the Gospel, there has been a renewed emphasis on church planting. This is a wonderful thing and should continue to be done. Young evangelicals flock to these growing churches and to these new church plants.

I've seen this around my seminary. A seminary is a concentration of  thousands of young and passionate evangelicals. Yet at my seminary there are about four or five "seminary churches" they all tend to go too. Imagine the influence and reach these younger evangelicals could have if they spread out into hundreds of churches rather than cloistering together in a few? The great problem is that there are thousands of churches that are forgotten. Churches that are unhealthy and need revitalization. Yet for many it is soil to difficult to plow and nobody sees any potential for a ripe harvest.

In some ways many have wrote off older established churches that are platued or declining. Many think we should not even bother attempting to revitalize these churches, we should just let them die. Out with the old and in with the new. As a result these platued or declining churches are left desolate.  They are wanting to reach the younger generation but they don't have any young people to show them how.  These older churches need the health and vitality that comes from passing the baton to the next generation.

I have spent most of my life in platued or dying churches. As I have conversations with many of the members there, I see that they really do have a heart to reach young people. The problem is they just don't know how.

If you are a younger evangelical looking for a church, let me challenge you. Don't forget the unhealthy churches. They need you. Sure it might not match your preferences and it will be far more difficult than you can imagine, but they need you.  The Lord needs you to go into these churches. Go to the hard places. Go to the difficult churches. Go to the unhealthy churches. These platued local churches could be a powerful force for the advancement of the Gospel. The potential is brimming and the resources are vast, yet so many younger Christians just write these churches off as irrelevant.

If this next generation of Christians ignore these platued and declining churches within twenty to thirthy years there will be empty, closed up churches scattered all across the country.

So do not forget these churches. Pray for them. Serve them. Love them. And yes, even join them. It might be far more difficult than joining the cool trendy church plant that all your friends are going to, but Jesus doesn't always call us to where it is most comfortable.