Can You Be a Christian and Deny the Resurrection?

There is a rising skepticism of all things supernatural. The idea of the resurrection of Jesus has become nothing more than a fairy tale in the minds of most westerners. Many think the idea of Jesus rising from the grave is a ludicrous idea held by ancient, ignorant people. The anti-supernatural bias and presupposition that has infiltrated all aspects of western thought has even been brought into the church itself. Astonishingly enough, there are many today who are claiming to hold to some sort of Christianity while denying the resurrection itself.

Is holding to a a historical, literal resurrection of Jesus as a supernatural event necessary in order to be a Christian? The answer is simply and unwavering, yes. To deny the resurrection of Jesus Christ is to reject Christianity. You may claim to practice Christianity while denying the resurrection, but call it whatever you like – it is not Christianity.

There are certain areas of Christian doctrine that is non-negotiable. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of those essential beliefs that make Christianity what it is. To deny the resurrection turns Christianity into a religion of our own making.

1. To Deny the Resurrection is to Deny Jesus’ Deity

One of the most essential tenants of Christianity is that Jesus is the son of God. He is both fully God and fully man. To say that Jesus did not rise from the dead is to say that he remained in the grave and his corpse decomposed and rotted away. God is eternal and if Jesus is the eternal God of the universe than must resurrect.

One of the essential truths of orthodox, apostolic Christianity is that Jesus is God in the flesh. Therefore to claim that Jesus never resurrected is to claim that Jesus is not God. This turns Jesus into a martyred good teacher rather than the living God and resurrected King he really is.

2. To Deny the Resurrection is to Call Jesus a Liar

In the Gospel Jesus continually predicted his own death. There are several clear examples, but one comes from the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 9:31 Jesus says “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” Jesus made explicit claims about his own life, death, and coming resurrection.

Therefore if anyone is going to deny that Jesus did not rise from the grave bodily is to call Jesus himself a liar. This would not even make Jesus a good moral teacher but simply a con-man whose ministry is nothing but charade of deception. To deny the resurrection is to turn Jesus into a crooked, forked tongue liar.

3. To Deny the Resurrection is to Deny Christ’s Substitionary Death

One of the most dangerous results of denying the resurrection is that we lose salvation itself. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Jesus resurrection is the approval that his death did pay the penalty for our sins. It is the confirmation that Jesus’ death on the cross was a substitutionary death. He died in the place of sinners. The sacrifice of Jesus paid in full all our sins and our redemption is secure.

When the resurrection is denied the very concept of salvation is lost. Without the resurrection Jesus’ life is nothing but a tragedy. Yet the greatest tragedy of no resurrection is that we remain condemned under the wrath and judgement of God because of our sins.

4. To Deny the Resurrection is to Deny Any Hope

Any hope we have in present suffering, sorrow, or death comes only from the assuredness of the resurrection. Life can be filled with heartbreak in this fallen world. The only hope we have not only in this life, but in the life to come is that we know our redeemer lives. As Paul again writes in 1 Corinthians 15:19, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”.

If we deny the resurrection we have no hope. Death will swallow us up and we will perish. We have no hope that king Jesus will return and vindicate his people. If the resurrection is not true all we have left is the ashes of God’s broken promises.

The Resurrection is Essential

The Resurrection is essential to Christianity. In fact, to lose it is to lose every truth claim the church proclaims and believes. If Jesus was not raised than he is not God, he is a liar, his death was pointless, and we have no hope. If you deny Jesus’ bodily resurrection, though you may call it Christianity, it is anything but. If you deny the supernatural, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ you are not a Christian. You are still in your sins and you will one day find yourself before God condemned for your lack of belief.

Though a supernatural resurrection of Jesus may be difficult for the modern western mind, to reject it is to reject Jesus. The truth is that Jesus is alive as the ruling and reigning king of the universe. He is the resurrected Lord and “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed”. (John 20:28)

Sneaky Syncretism

One of the greatest threats to Christianity is syncretism. Syncretism is a fancy word but it is an important one to know. Here is a definition for Syncretism:

The attempt to assimilate differing or opposite doctrines and practices, especially between philosophical and religious systems, resulting in a new system altogether in which the fundamental structure and tenets of each have been changed. Syncretism of the gospel occurs when its essential character is confused with elements from the culture. In syncretism the gospel is lost as the church simply confirms what is already present in the culture. (PDTT, 111)

We are all prone to syncretism. It comes naturally to us to add to the Gospel and completely distort Christianity. Our propensity to take biblical, authentic Christianity and distort it into a religion of our own making should frighten us into a continual state of self-evaluation. If the true Gospel is not viciously guarded and defended the drift into syncretism will happen faster than we thought possible.

Sneaky Syncretism

Syncretism is sneaky. It creeps in often unaware as we begin to import the idols of culture into our faith and churches. They often enter unnoticed but like any disease begins to fester and grow into deadly unhealthiness. Syncretism was not only a problem for the early church (Col 2) but also for the nation of Israel. Over the course of their history we see their tendency to reject their monotheism to polytheism. They deny the exclusivity of Yahweh and begin to worship Baal or any other pagan god. Israel's desire to be like other nations even included importing their false gods to worship. As a result of they syncretism which grew into just plain idolatry, The Lord brought judgement and exile upon the nation.

A blind eye to syncretism can be deadly. We would be fools to think that there are not some ways we are importing the idolatrous ideas of culture into Christianity. In the west this is a particular problem that goes unnoticed, yet we must attack syncretism and guard the precious Gospel with our lives. Here are a few common areas where syncretism is common in American Christianity.

1. The god of Comfort

The god of comfort and leisure has greatly consumed the minds of Christians. We tend to have an love for an easy and comfortable life. Ideas like persecution, hardship, or cross-cultural evangelism just seems to uncomfortable. God wants us to be at leisure right?

2. The god of Materialism

Materialism is a poison that has greatly influenced the church. We love things and we love stuff even though it will all end up in the dump one day. Even in our church we tend to have a love for huge buildings, fancy technology, and attractive decor. God wants us to be rich right?

3. The god of Free-Sex

Over the last few decades the sexual revolution has impacted the churches understanding of sin and sexuality. The biblical truth that sex is a good gift from God reserved between a man and his wife in the covenant of marriage is largely ignored. We tend to tolerate sexual sin among Christians making excuses for our additions to pornography, homosexuality, or sex outside of marriage. We import the cultures understanding of sexuality into Christianity. God is love right?

4. The god of Tolerance

Our cultures understanding of tolerance comes from a position of pluralism. A true understanding of tolerance is allowing other people to have differing view points. Christians should be tolerant in this sense. But to be tolerant in our cultures eyes is to not only allow differing view points but to celebrate them. In honor of the god of pluralism many Christians operate in a If-its-right-for-you mindset. The god of tolerance tells us it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe. God tells us to believe, right?

The Very Real Danger of Syncretism

As you can see it is so very easy for us to begin importing the idols of culture into biblical Christianity. I just mentioned a few, but the danger is real. We must defend what the Bible says is the true Gospel and we must constantly evaluate our own hearts and actions as individuals and as a church to make sure we are not importing idols into our Christianity. The threat of syncretism is real and we must be on guard from our wandering hearts who continually seek to great a religion of our own making.

Are there any idols that I missed? Be sure to share with us in the comments.

You are Not Good Enough for God

"I'm not good enough". Have you ever said that to yourself? Has this ever crossed your mind? Chances are, unless your blind or dishonest, you've thought this on more than one occasion. Often times it comes up in unexpected ways.

  • "I disappoint God so often, I'm not good enough to have salvation."
  • "I struggle with this same sin over and over. I'm not good enough. There is no way God could love me."
  • "I can't serve in ministry at church. I'm not good enough."
  • "God couldn't use me to bring someone to know Christ, I'm not good enough."

Pop psychology and all the self help books (including many "christian" ones) would tell you to stop the negative thinking and start with the positive thinking. They would encourage you to think about how special you are or how unique you are like a dainty little snow flake.

You Are Not Good Enough

Let me break the hard news to you. You are not good enough. What you think about yourself is 100% true. Did I just hurt your feelings? Please stick with me to the end. You and I are wicked sinners who disobey and reject God. The Bible tells us that each and every one of us are slaves to our sin. Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 "None is righteous, no, not one." We do not measure up. God's standard is perfection. No matter how much good we do we will never measure up to God's standard. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Every single one of us do not measure up. We are not good enough.

Now if that was the whole story, this just might be the most depressing blog post you've ever read. Satan often speaks bold and direct lies to us, but he is much craftier than that. Often what he does is he takes a truth and twists it just as he did in the Garden of Eden. Often when we are plagued with doubts of "I'm not good enough" we are told a twisted version of the truth. Yes, You are not good enough, but that is not the end of the story.

But Jesus Is

Where we fail constantly to be obedient to the Lord, Jesus was fully obedient to God. He lived his life in total and complete submission to his Father. Jesus was completely blameless and perfect. He is the very righteousness of God.

So when we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, we confess our unworthiness. We confess that we are sinners who are not good enough. This is why we need Jesus. At the cross Jesus took on the punishment for your sins. He absorbed the wrath you were due and gave you his righteousness.  You have gotten a grade of "0" at life, Jesus gives you his perfect "100." We who were the wicked are now righteous through Jesus Christ.

So as you live your life for Jesus Christ and face the nagging, recurring voice telling you "You're not good enough". Agree, and then state the other half of the truth:

"Yes, I am not good enough, but Jesus is. 'I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal 2:20)"

You see the truth is that you are not good enough for God. But the good news is that God has made us a way to be righteous through Jesus Christ. How great is God that he would send a savior to us to make us his righteousness? What amazing love! How wonderful in Jesus that he would give us his righteousness in exchange for our filthy rags? Yet this is the wonderful mystery and life changing truth of the Gospel.

So every time you think "I'm not good enough" just remember Jesus is.

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

2 Tips on Preaching from the Old Testament

This past Sunday I just finished the preaching through the book of Haggai. When the Lord first laid this little book on my heart, I was uncomfortable preaching through it. For one, I didn't know much about this little book. In addition, figuring out how to preach this book would be a great challenge. Questions immediatly began to come up. How do you preach OT prophecy as Christian Scripture? How to I make this relevant and not just sound like a historian? How can I preach the Gospel from Haggai each week and still remain faithful to the text? These are the sort of questions I had to wrestle with and over the past month I've learned a few tips to add to my homoletical tool kit through this series. If you are a pastor or teacher I pray this tips might be as helpful to you as you preach through books in the Old Testament.

1. Understand the Original Audience

When it comes to teaching the Old Testament, you have to really do the hard work and research of understanding the historical setting. This means getting some good commentaries and studying the history of Israel. A big area of focus is understanding the time line. As I was studying Haggai, I learned how huge the timeline was for understanding the book. Haggai is very specific about the time of each of his four messages. Understanding the Jewish Calendar and understanding the emotions of the post-exilic community greatly aided in understanding Haggai's message. So if your going to take on preaching the Old Testament, make sure you do your homework.

2. Develop a Robust Biblical Theology

Having a Good biblical theology will greatly help connect the passage your studying to the rest of the Bible. Knowing that the Bible tells one story and one message is key. Seeing the parts of the Bible and being able to find their place in the whole meta-narrative of scripture is an indespensible skill for any bible reader, but especially for a preacher of the word.  Know the plot line of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.  There are a few huge themes that run throughout the whole Bible. These themes serve as easy "on ramps" to get to Christ, the Gospel, and the promises of God for 21st century people. Here are a few examples:

  • Covenant Promises
  • Temple
  • God's Soverignty
  • Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7)
  • Messiah

As we study the Old Testament, finding thematic on ramps greatly aids the preacher to seeing how all the Scriptures point to Christ.(Luke 24) I'll give you an example from Haggai. In Haggai the theme of temple is huge as Haggai challenges the people to rebuild the temple. As we get to Haggai 2:9 we find a startling prophecy and promise, "The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former". How to we handle such a startling promise as this? Through a robust Biblical theology we can see that the temple is fulfilled in Jesus Christ when God comes to tabernacle among us in the flesh (John 1). In the New Teatment the church is described as the temple of God. (Ephesians 2) However at the second coming we see the New Jerusalem is described as being one giant temple in which God's people will dwell in one giant Holy of Holies in the presence of God. You see jumping onto the thematic on ramp of temple puts you on the high way to Christ and even to the eschatological fulfilment of the temple in the New Jerusalem.

I struggled for the longest time in how to handle the Old Testament between faithfully studying it in its own context and also interpreting it as Christian Scripture. On the one hand I don't want to sound like a Jewish Rabbi but I do not want to dishonor the text. It is a tension I continue to wrestle with, but a good Biblical theology greatly aleviates the tension. Seeing the Scriptures as God's progressive revelation and as a unity empowers the pastor to teach from any portion of the Scriptures with confidence and Gospel intentionality. In some ways preaching from the Old Testament can be more difficult, but it is incredibly rewarding. Don't devoid your people of the blessings and treasures that can be found in the Old Testament. All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable, even obscure two-chapter minor prophet books.

Are there any tips you have for preaching from the Old Testament? Share them with us in the comments?

Passing the Baton: Preserving the Gospel from Generation to Generation

There is nothing quite like a good old fashion relay race. The concept is simple. One person runs a certain length as well as they can, then they pass the baton to the next runner on their team who takes it a little bit further. Then that person will hand it off to the next person. You get the picture. In Paul's letter to his protégée Timothy he describes this passing of the baton as he writes awaiting his execution. Paul knew his time was coming up and his section of the relay race was coming to an end. He had run his race well. He had carefully guarded the deposit of the Gospel. Now it was time for him to pass the responsibility of guarding the Gospel to the next generation. It was now Timothy's turn to guard and protect the truth of the Gospel. He charges Timothy:

"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14)

Over the past 2000 years, the Gospel taught by the apostles has been passed from one generation to the next. As a younger pastor I feel the weight, the excitement, and the responsibility of carrying the baton of the Gospel. As the millennial generation (of whom I belong) begin to take leadership in our culture and in churches there is a changing of the guard that is beginning to take place. So as the next generations of Christians begin to bear the weight of responsibility, there are a few things we must remember.

1. Protect the Gospel from Distortion

The Gospel message of salvation by faith alone through grace alone will be attacked in every generation. This will be especially true of the next few decades as Christianity continues to be marginalized. The Christians of tomorrow will face the same challenges of Christians of yesterday. We will be tempted to distort, twist, or water down the Gospel to make it more culturally palatable to 21st century people. As the baton is passed to this new generation, the truthfulness of the Gospel must be preserved. We must continue to unapologetically defend the exclusivity of the Gospel and point people to Jesus alone for salvation. In a culture hostile to Christianity we will be tempted to take the easy way out and change all that might be controversial. We must resist that temptation and remain faithful to Jesus and His word.

2. Proclaim the Word of God

This next generation of Christians must continue to stand firm on the truthfulness of God's word. However we must not only hold to key doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, we also must keep God's Word central in everything we do. We must stand firm on its truthfulness and proclaim it to others. As we evangelize and we disciple, we must do so with God's Word. We must proclaim truth to all, even though they may not want to listen. At the very end of 2 Timothy, Paul gives him one final charge in how to guard the deposit entrusted to him. He writes:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Those words remain just as true to us today as they did to Timothy in his day. The next generation must proclaim God's word.

3. Pass the Gospel to the Next Generation

The Gospel can be lost within one generation. If one generation refuses to disciple the next generation the Gospel would be lost. This is why we each generation is given the baton of the Gospel and they are to pass it to the next generation. As a young man, it is hard for me to imagine a time where I am 50 or 60 years old. However as any 60-year-old would tell you, old age comes quicker than you realize. Our life is a vapor. We are here for one second and gone the next. As a result, we must continue to pass the generation on to the next generation. We must teach them, instruct them, and show them how to faithfully follow Jesus.

From Generation to Generation

Every generation of Christians must Protect the Gospel, Proclaim the Gospel, and Pass the Gospel on to the next generation. This cycle has continued for the past 2000 years and it will continue until Jesus returns at his second coming. Receiving the baton and then passing it on to others is a huge responsibility. However we have this hope as Paul did that "I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Timothy 1:12). As we have the weight of responsibility we have this promise, that God will protect his truth. The Gospel will be preserved no matter what the obstacles or no matter how hostile the culture. The Church will survive across generations. Then on that day when Jesus returns, we will all stand in the assembly of saints spanning generation to generation and the relay race will be finished and we will celebrate with all of God's people that the race has been finished and Christ has won.

The Discipline of Reading and Christian Growth

IMG_0047 Who has time to read? It seems like more than ever our plates seem to be running over with things to do. Not only do we think of ourselves as quite busy, but we have constant distractions in our lives. Our smartphones do not help as we are constantly responding to emails, facebook, and even playing a game of angry birds. Who has time to read anymore?

One of the disciplines in my life that has fueled the most spiritual growth in my life is the discipline of reading. First and foremost, this starts with the Bible. It is vital for a Christian to read and study God's word and to be molded and shaped by its wisdom. However, reading other great Christian non-fiction books have made a huge impact in my life.

1. Reading Teaches Me to Think

This is one of the greatest benefits to my own personal reading. It forces me to stretch my mind and think through difficult issues. A great author is not only someone with a great thesis, but one walk me through his reasons for holding it. As a result, reading well argued books teaches me how to think through my own arguments.

2. Reading Exposes Me to New Ideas

There are some ideas and concepts my mind would never automatically think about. Reading books on a variety of subjects forces me to be a life long learner as I am exposed to new ideas.  As a pastor, I don't want my reading to stop after my formal education is over.  We tend to get mentally lazy after we are finished with school, and reading solid books stretches us and keeps us learning long after we get that diploma.

3. Reading Allows Me to Be Mentored by Great Authors

Each and every one of us have a desire to learn from someone else who is much older and wiser than us. You can glean a lot form someones personal experiences and the lessons they have learned. Reading books by great pastors, theologians, and authors gives me an opertunity to be mentored by some of the greatest. As I read Preaching Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I am given the opertunity to be mentored by arguably the greatest preacher in the 20th century. Books allow us to be trained by some of the best, so therefore, books are incredible gifts to us.

4. Reading Gives Me Discernment to Truth

Truth can be found in any situation and in any book. After having developed a Christian worldview, I am now able to read any newspaper article, any business book, and any novel through a Christian worldview. I am able to discern truth in the most unexpected places, and I am able to reject those ideas that are not truth. The discipline of reading has allowed me to critically engage with other worldviews and keeps me from falling captive and becoming influenced false philosophys and modern cultural trends.

Make Reading a Priority

I hope in your own life you make it a priority to spend time reading godly books that teach us and build us up in our faith. The great thing is that there is a plethora of books both new and old that a ripe for us to begin sinking our teeth into. We have time for reading but unfortunatly it is just not a priority for most of us. Finding time to read is not as hard as we may think, all it takes is to turn off some distractions and making TV a priority. It might mean waking up earlier to spend 30 minutes reading. It might mean reading during your lunch break rather than goofing off on facebook. It might mean turning off the TV in the evening and opening up a good book. We have time to read, we just need to make it.

If you are a Christian who wants to learn more about why reading is so important there is a great book that I just finished called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. It is a quick and easy read, but it will help you understand why it is so important to read and how to get the most out of your reading. Very practical and rooted in biblical truth, I commend this book to you. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a feel of the book:

Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we can even lose all sense of time. Although it’s difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God. (p. 37)

God’s command is protective. A culture that must express its gods in visual images cannot know God accurately. And a culture that cannot know God accurately cannot communicate God’s substance truthfully. For the Christian, media forms carry ethical consequences. (p. 42)

as a word-centered people we must learn to prize language in a visually-dominated world. If our hearts prioritize images over language, our hunger for books will erode. (p. 47)

So the point of this chapter is simple: the difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning. (pp. 49-50)

Truly, many Christians today measure their reading success with nothing more than a purely utilitarian gauge, either by how many book pages they can burn through, or by the amount of information they expose themselves to in the process. Too often we fail to read simply for pleasure. (p. 103)

When we set out to read important books, we can expect opposition from our hearts. Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist. (p. 131)

For many of us, reading is more a lack of of desire than of a lack of free time. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” The same is true of reading. Favorable conditions for reading books never come. There are always interruptions and other things to do. We can all find excuses for why we cannot read: we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we’re too burned out from the day, we’re too _ (you fill in the blank). But we all find time to do what we “want” to do. The problem is not that we don’t have time to read, but that we don’t have the desire to read. So learn to love reading—because it’s easier to find time to do what you love to do. (p. 132)

True learning and true wisdom are the fruit of long-term diligent study and meditation, benefits that we cannot get from books unless we are willing to slow our minds, mute distractions, and carefully think about what we are reading. (p. 143)

Multi-Ethnic Congregations: A Present Need and a Future Reality

Our world is changing. It is not any secret that ethnic diversity is accelerating in American culture. What has been a traditionally white dominated culture is simply changing before our very eyes. The unfortunate thing is that many times churches are the most segregated gatherings of people in the country. Established churches have a tendency to be mono-ethnic, meaning that they reach one sort of ethnicity. White people go to church with white people. Black people go to church with black people. Asian people go to church with asian people. You get the point. This is incredibly unfortunate and fails to reflect the reality of heaven in which there will be people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping King Jesus (Read Revelation 5). If established churches are going to survive and thrive the next few decades, we must begin to get a vision for mult-ethnic congregations.

The Church is Not Dying

Many Christians seem to be the prophetic voice of doom. "The Church is dying in America!", well,  so they exclaim. However, this is proving not to be the case. Soong-Chan Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity argues that christianity in America isn't dying it is just changing. He writes incitefully:

“As many lament the decline of Christianity in the United States in the early stages of the twenty-first century, very few have recognized that American Christianity may actually be growing, but in unexpected and surprising ways. The American church needs to prepare for the next stage of her history—we are looking at a nonwhite majority, multiethnic Christianity in the immediate future. Unfortunately, despite these drastic demographic changes, American evangelicalism remains enamored with an ecclesiology and a value system that reflect a dated and increasingly irrelevant cultural captivity and are disconnected from both a global and local reality” (p. 12)

We are looking at a next stage of evangelicalism and it isn't just a white or black movement. It is multi-racial. Rah argues that evangelicalism is actually growing rapidly in America, not among whites, but among first and second generation immigrants from Asia, Africa, and South America. The reason we have been missing this trend is because all of our studies and research are done through an Anglo-Centric lense. Rah continues to write:

“The public face of America is no longer a white male. Meanwhile, the trend of a nonwhite majority America will hit the churches faster than it will hit the general population. This tend is due in large part to the sustaining of American Christianity by newly arrived immigrants who bring their Christian faith with them…. Contrary to popular opinion, the church is not dying in America; it is alive and well, but it is alive and well among the immigrant and ethnic minority communities and not among the majority white churches in the United States” (p. 14).

Embracing Racial Diversity in our Churches

We must begin to reach out and engage people of other cultures and nationalities in our churches. This will by no means be an instintaneous transition. It will be slow and gradual, but we must be commited to reaching all people from every sort of ethnic background. The nations are no longer overseas. The world has gotten smaller and the nations are right outside our door.

In my own church, a southern baptist church, I've been so excited recently because our church is beginning to look more like the throne room of heaven. We still have a long way to go, but by God's grace we have seen multiple cultural backgrounds.

  • We have a thriving hispanic ministry meeting at our church and worshiping with us on Sunday morning.
  • We have many deaf members along with a deaf pastor on staff to reach this people group in Wilson.
  • Our church has become less "white" by having black Americans join and visit our church.
  • We have begun to see Asian people begin to join and visit, including this past Sunday where we had four japanese students visit our congregation.

These are very exciting things that are happening in our church, and for a SBC church which is known for being predominatly a white denominatio, this is amazing to see. It is my conviction that our churches should look like our local Walmart, which has become a population sample of the etnic melting pot of our cities. May we learn to see that the Gospel is for all people from all backgrounds and may we create strategies to reach all the people in our cities, even people with different skin color.

A Case for Early Marriage: Why It's a Good Idea to Get Married Young

People don't get married anymore. If they do, then it is much later in life. In fact the age of marriage is continually going up in our culture to where it is pushing thirty. Not only has this been the trend in the culture, but I have seen this trend begin to take place in the church as well. It is my personal belief and conviction that this can be harmful to human flourishing and a great hinderance for godly families within the church. Early marriage has become taboo in our culture. Getting married at a young age of 20 or 21 will get you some strange comments from others, including other Christians (Trust me, I've experienced them). However, I think we need a revival of early marriage among Christians. I think there are several reasons younger Christians need to begin adopting this counter cultural practice by marrying early.

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1. Marriage is a Great Gift

The way many people talk about marriage, it seems like they were talking about a death sentence. As I was engaged to my beautiful wife Kaitlyn at twenty years old, here was some of the comments I received.

  • Enjoy life now because everything will be different (said in a depressive tone)
  • Already? But you're so young, you have so much life to live!
  • Get ready for that bail and chain

It is astonishing that Christians treat marriage as if it's the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you. Getting married is right underneath getting terminally diagnosed with cancer for some people. Young people are told to go "sow their wild oats" and live hedonistically before they settle down and get married. We must recapture the biblical definition of marriage as an incredible gift. Marriage is not a curse, but a wonderful privilege given by God. Marriage is not something to avoid, but something to be sought after by young people. Unfortunately the negative comments about marriage deter young people away from this precious gift. However these negative comments reveal nothing but the troubles of their own marriages.

2. Marriage Encourages People to Grow Up

It is not a strange sighting today to see 25 or 26-year-old men living at home with mom and dad, drinking red bull, and playing X-Box all day. The recently created teenager/adolescent culture seems to be a growing age group. Adolescence is no longer just during the teen years but continues into the 20s and early 30s. My own generation is a generation characterized by a lack of initiative failing to take responsibility for their own lives.

Marriage is God's gracious gift of forcing a man and a woman to grow up, particularly men. When a man gets married he becomes responsible for providing for his family, making sure the bills are paid, and protecting his wife. He must not only take responsibility for himself but for his wife and future children. Marriage pushes young men out of the nest to spread their wings and fly under the windy pressures of life. This is a good thing, but unfortunately rather than pushing these guys towards manhood we allow them to continue in a lengthy boyhood. This is a shame and Christian men need to grow up into their divine calling of marriage and family.

3. Marriage Protects From Sexual Immorality

We live in an overly sexualized culture. From nude scenes in Hollywood movies, risqué television shows, and erotic novels, young people are being bombarded with one message: Sex. There is an incredible amount of pressure on Christian young people to bend their knee to our cultures unbiblical view of loveless, carnal sex without consequences.

However, if Christians place the expectation on young believers to wait till their late twenties and early thirties for marriage, we are placing on them a weight that will cripple them. Young Christians seeking to be obedient to abstain from sexual relations outside of marriage will collapse under the weight of their optimal sex drive and the influence of an obseessivly sexualized culture.

It is unreasonable, foolish, and harmful to place this weight on young people. Sex is a good gift given to us by God, meant for our enjoyment in the way God has designed. Rather than encouraging young people to delay marriage and a sexual relationship with their spouse, we should encourage them to marry. This way they can enjoy God's gift of sex in a way that protects them from sexual immorality and glorifies and honors God.

Don't Make Early Marriage Taboo

Christian parents, grandparents, and teachers should encourage younger Christians to consider marrying early. Marriage is an incredible gift given by God to our sanctification and our enjoyment. Yes, early marriage is not necessarily an easy road. You may be poor, have to work twice as hard to make it through college, and be thought of as weird by a anti-marriage culture. However, if two Christians love each other, and most importantly love the Lord Jesus Christ, early marriage should not be a thing that is tabooed, but encouraged and celebrated.