According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Month: December, 2014

Why Standing in Worship is Important

In the Spring, I graduated from Western Kentucky University. WKU’s fight song begins like this:

Stand up and cheer. Stand up and cheer for dear old Western.

Can we agree that if we have to stand up to cheer on something as small as WKU (or any sports team for that matter), we should probably stand in our worship.

Now, let me be clear. This shouldn’t sound like legalism. I’m not saying you aren’t “giving God your best” if you don’t stand up. I’m not saying God is mad if you don’t stand up during worship. And I fully recognize that some people can’t stand because they are old, disabled, or the like.

But what I am saying is that it might show the state of our hearts if we stand up and scream the whole time we are at a football game, but sit down while singing songs of praise to God in church.

Often, our worship at church looks more like the bored, sophisticated people at the opera than the excited people cheering on their sports team.

I hate it when people are up on the stage at church singing worship songs and the congregation is told to sit down, yet join in singing. Let’s be honest. Most of the congregation doesn’t. They just watch.

There is a more engaged atmosphere with worship when we are standing. It’s more awkward to lift your hands in worship if you are sitting down. You physically can’t get as into the music when you are sitting. Sure, you can meditate on the lyrics, but that only takes you so far. This is why the Psalms constantly tell people to praise God with loud shouts of joy. Praise is more than simply meditating on a truth. It is rejoicing and getting excited about it.

Maybe you say, “Well, why don’t you just stand and sing while everyone else is sitting down?” Here’s why. If I wanted to sing worship songs by myself, I’d stay home on Sunday morning and turn on my Spotify worship playlist. I go to church to worship God with a group of people. There is a different dynamic that way. Church is not simply a place for you to come and have a personal spiritual experience all to yourself. It is a place for the whole body to experience Christ together.

So let’s stand and sing. Let’s rejoice. Let’s stop looking bored out of our minds while we sing praises. He is much more exciting, more glorious, greater, and infinitely more worthy than your favorite sports team.

Stand up and cheer. Stand up and cheer for the Lord God Almighty.

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5 Reasons Christians Should Reconsider Telling Kids About Santa

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I saw a video going around Facebook the other day of Drew Carey speaking at a dinner. He mentioned that he reads the Bible a lot and laughed at how so much of our “Christian” holidays have nothing to do with Christianity. He included examples like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. He then joked by saying, “Why is the Christian religion the only one in the world that needs a mascot to sell their stuff? You don’t see Jewish people out celebrating with the Passover Kangaroo. There’s no Ramadan Rooster.”

Isn’t that true? The truth is, Santa Claus was taken from a fourth century Christian named Nicholas. He was a Bishop in the church who was known for his extravagant generosity. He took Jesus’s command literally of selling everything you have and giving to the needy (even though he was wealthy man). He was persecuted for his faith, imprisoned, and even exiled once.

We have taken the story of a loving man who helped the poor because he loved Jesus and turned him into the poster boy of Christmas commercialism.

Let me preface this by saying I am not against celebrating Christmas. Many say that Christmas is a pagan holiday that we’ve turned into a Christian holiday and that may be true, but I think it’s okay to take a day to celebrate Jesus becoming flesh. You might say that we should do that every day and I would say, yes. However, the Jews had a specific day of the year when they would celebrate God delivering them from Egypt (Passover). But they absolutely still believed all year that God was their deliverer.

I want to put forth an encouragement to future parents who are Christians. Make the decision now to not tell your children the story of Santa Claus that the culture puts forth. You know, the chubby bearded man in a red coat that comes down your chimney with gifts. Here are some reasons why.

1. It’s Lying

To convince your children for years that Santa Claus is real is a prolonged lie. Maybe you say, “But it’s a white lie. It makes Christmas fun.” Is Christmas “fun” really worth it? Because some day you are going to have to tell them the truth…or worse. Someone at school is going to break it to them and they are going to come home in tears and angry at you for lying to them. It doesn’t matter how fun the lie is. If you are not being honest with your children, it is a lie.

2. It’s Bad Parenting

There is a new trend among people to put an “elf on the shelf.” This little guy is a plastic elf that parents put on the shelf of their living room and he is supposed to be Santa’s spy on that child to make sure he/she is being nice and not naughty. Call me old fashioned, but I think parents should be the ones responsible for teaching their children what is right and in love for them, teach them that doing right is what is best for them. That responsibility shouldn’t be delegated to a plastic doofus on the shelf.

3. It Leads to Materialism

Do you know something that I hate about myself? After I open my gifts on Christmas, my inner excitement about Christmas is gone. Even right now, my flesh is not as much looking forward to the actual Christmas day as much as it is opening my gifts. I don’t want to be like that, but our culture has engrained it into me. Christmas is made about gifts.

So, kids (and adults) all expect to get the best of the best for Christmas. Then people are stressed out about having to spend a ton of money for gifts because if they don’t, it will be an awkward Christmas party.

Maybe you object and say that giving gifts is based on the Christmas story because the wise men brought Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Really? The wise men brought 3 gifts to the King of the Universe and so you think you, a sinner, should receive 12+ gifts (that are probably as valuable as those brought to Jesus)?

My question is, if we had never made such a big deal about Santa Claus, would there be as big of a deal on gifts at Christmas? Or would it be a time of people treating each other in a fashion of peace on earth and good will to men? You know, like the final scenes of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is running around the streets in joy, helping people out?

4. It is Works Righteousness

Let’s get this straight. Jesus came into the world and died because we are unable to fully please God with our good deeds. We are too tainted by sin. So Jesus had to come and be the obedient son who provided a pleasing life to God and now, we get to obey God out of joy, not mandate. This is one of the great implications of the Gospel.

So we teach the opposite of the Gospel when we teach Santa Claus. We teach, “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you are awake. He knows if you been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.” We teach kids that if they are good, Santa will bring them gifts; if they are bad, he will bring them coal. It’s no wonder they grow up thinking that God looks at them with disgust if their Christian walk isn’t 100 percent perfect.

5. Jesus is Enough for Christmas

Christians are big on saying, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” They aren’t very big on going beyond that. They aren’t very big on actually making their Christmas celebration about Jesus. If Jesus is really the reason for the season, why is there more of an emphasis on Santa than Jesus?

We don’t need Santa at Christmas time. We have Jesus. He is more than exciting enough for Christmas. If making Christmas about Jesus takes the fun out of it for you, I am not sure you know him well enough.

Why do children need to have a fairytale about a man who will bring them the gift of toys when they can have the Son of God coming to give them the greatest gift of all: eternal life.

I love the way John Piper put it: “How can we ever think of giving our children a bowl of bland, sugarless porridge when they are offered the greatest meal in the world?”

Santa does not hold a candle to Jesus. Jesus is infinitely greater and infinitely more exciting than Santa will ever even think of being. Jesus doesn’t just see you when you are sleeping and know when you are awake. He knows everything about you and he is always watching you. He is always with you. You can pray to him and have him by your side all the time. He can be the one who guides you through everything you do in life. Santa comes once a year. Jesus is present all year and forever.

If you are a Christian and you plan to have kids one day, make the decision now to not tell your kids about Santa in the way that our culture does. Share with them the faith that Nicholas had in Jesus and why Jesus is better. He is so much better! So, this Christmas, and Christmases beyond, come let us adore Him.

My prayer is that Santa Claus will stand in front of the beauty and awesomeness of Jesus and say, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Reflections on my First Semester of Seminary

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The last four months have been a wild time. I began my first semester of seminary in August. It was a huge transition and it is weird how different things are now than four months ago.

In undergraduate, I was very involved at the Baptist Campus Ministry. Most of who I am as a Christian today came from my time there. The closest friends I have ever had in my life were there. So, when I graduated in May, I didn’t realize how different my life would be once all that was gone. My roommate in seminary was at the BCM as well, but aside from that, that chapter of my life closed completely.

So for the first few weeks at seminary, I felt like I was in the worst place I had ever been. In fact, I considered dropping out twice within the first month. The first time was for financial reasons. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the tuition. The second was a reason that I will get to below.

Early on, my roommate and I didn’t really know how to get to know people at seminary. We had been part of the BCM community with more friends than we could count, but now, we were in a different world with no one we knew. I remember a couple weeks in, us just sitting out at a picnic table and deciding to take a trip to our college town because we were bored out of our minds. We sort of knew the guy across the hall from us, but aside from that, we didn’t really know anyone.

Then our dorm hosted a night out on the patio where our dorm and the girls dorm roasted marshmallows and had pizza. Following the event, some of the girls from the other dorm and some of us guys had a game night and at that game night, I met the majority of the people who are now my closest friends at seminary.

So friendships began. And we all began to hang out with each other a lot. We had movie nights together, we ate together, and we studied together.

Then came Fall Break. Fall Break was the climax of the problems I’ve had this semester. I went home. While I was there, I skyped with various friends from undergraduate and I began to dwell on again how much I missed that. I also began thinking a lot more about a thought that I have had of planting a church in my hometown and pastoring it after seminary.

So, the first night I was back, I called my roommate and told him that I was having serious considerations of dropping out and doing a shorter degree somewhere else so that I could get to ministry quicker. For the whole weekend of fall break, I prayed about this and God ended up smacking me in the face with the reality that was actually behind all of this: I needed to let go of my life in undergraduate and move on.

When you are in one community (undergraduate) and you have to completely leave that community and become part of another (seminary), it is almost like losing a loved one. You have a grieving process you have to go through. For me, that took months.

Internally, I began preparing myself for that. My roommate and I visited our college town for homecoming a couple weeks later. While my roommate went to the football game on campus, I had to deal with that externally. I took a walk around my undergraduate campus which ended at a spot on campus that I often prayed at while I was there: A fountain at the top of the hill

I let go of my time at undergraduate school and accepted the fact that it was over and I was to be elsewhere now.

After that, I never had another one of my moments where I considered dropping out. In fact, now I am happy being there. I was ready to embrace it after that point.

There are a couple things that are hard with seminary life though.

First, there is a lot of arrogance in the culture of the students. Because they are there drinking from a fire hose of Biblical information, their head gets inflated. Arrogance is always something that I battle and I pray that I have grown as I have walked with Jesus for the past 7 years. But it was discouraging sometimes hearing people constantly talking about how big God is and how small we are in an arrogant way. If you are arrogant about a theology of humility (or any theology for that matter), you don’t really believe the theology.

Second, because I don’t know the city that well yet, most of my time was spent on campus. I didn’t know ways to do ministry in the city, so a good majority of my time was spent around other Christians. But Jesus wants us to pour out of ourselves in service to him to the lost. And even discipling Christians is hard to do when it is seminary students. We often look down on monks locking themselves in monasteries for their whole lives, but I feel like a lot of seminary students, including myself this last semester, have been living that life.

These previous two reasons are what caused me to consider dropping out the second time (as mentioned earlier). However, the entire idea to drop out was based in having not let go of the past yet.

For the first month at seminary, I wanted nothing more than to leave. Now, after the first semester is over, I have arrived home and I want to go back. I feel kinda bummed that I am gone for the next seven weeks. So over the course of 4 months, I have done a 180 on how I feel about being there. Of course, I want to spend time at home with my family, but I am part of that community now and I am separated from it for a long time.

The Day My College Reported an Earthquake

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A couple years ago, I was in one of my classes during college and every student in the class got a text message that said, “Emergency! There has been an earthquake on campus.” The text told us to get out of the building quickly.

I’ve felt an earthquake before. When I was in high school, the ground shook at about 3:00 in the morning while I was asleep and it woke me up. The ground shook for about 15 seconds and it stopped. So I know what one feels like.

I sat there thinking, “There was no earthquake.” But my professor dismissed class and we left the room. Several people were leaving there in panic because they were worried the building would collapse on them. But I wasn’t worried at all, because I assumed no earthquake had occurred.

When we neared the door, we received another text. This one said, “Drill only.” So, of course, I said, “I told you so!”

Many people feared the text message because they perceived it to be true, whereas I didn’t worry about it, because I perceived it to be false.

How you perceive something will determine how you respond to it. This applies to Jesus as well.

If you view Jesus lightly, you will respond to him lightly. If you only view him as a teacher, storybook character, or activist, that’s how you will associate your response to him. You will try to obey his ethical teaching (ignoring the majority of his teaching which is not about morals). You will go see movies about him. You will use him as support for your social cause.

But if you view him the way the Bible fully paints him, your response will be much different. The Bible paints Jesus as something much greater than all of that. The Bible paints him as Lord of all. Lord of the universe. Lord of life. Lord of you. When you understand this, you will respond in one of two ways.

Either you will pathetically try to still be Lord of your own life and fail miserably.

Or you will surrender your entire life to him and follow him until the day you die.

Christian Role Models Aren’t Enough

Get ready. There is a new Christian superhero on the horizon. She came in second place in Dancing with the Stars. She has a new line of prom dresses coming out soon. Her name is Sadie Robertson.

It something weird that us Christians do. I see it a lot as a seminary student. We are far too easily pleased with seeking role models. Whether it is Sadie Robertson, the others from Duck Dynasty, Kirk Cameron, John Piper, David Platt, or any other, we look at humans and measure ourselves by that standard.

Let me first say that it is not bad to read books by people like Piper or Platt. They can actually be very edifying and can teach you a lot. The problem comes when these guys make us more excited than the message they preach.

As a seminary student, I see this a lot. Some guys take certain classes just because they have a weird man-crush on the professor. Some dress in certain ways that match that of a professor on campus. Some quote certain people as much as they do the Bible. So what ends up happening is that Christians are trying to be like other Christians instead of like Jesus.

I did this myself a couple years ago. I liked John Piper, his books, and his teaching so much that you could see it in sermons that I wrote. I once preached a sermon on the book of Philippians titled “Serving and Suffering yet Always Rejoicing.” I preached what Piper preaches and even quoted him a couple times. It was a train wreck.

It’s not enough when we try to imitate other Christians. Why? They fail. We raise celebrity Christians up to a higher level, even though they are of equal standing before God. We study every detail of their lives. Then, when they screw up, it goes viral. Remember Mel Gibson getting in trouble a little bit after shooting The Passion of the Christ? People looked at that and called him a hypocrite.

Maybe you say, “but what about Paul? He told the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1) Yes, but the Corinthians knew him. In fact, Paul planted the church at Corinth. He wasn’t a Christian celebrity to them; he was the founder of their church.

I’m going to guess that you probably don’t know Sadie Robertson, John Piper, or Kirk Cameron. You don’t see their life and know how they live out their faith day-to-day. I’m sure they do it faithfully, but you only see the face that is broadcast. You don’t see their failures and how they treat their family and friends. You can’t really imitate them then, can you. You can only take a sermon about being satisfied in Jesus so far in daily application. I’m sure John Piper lives that out in his life, but you don’t know what that looks like.

In truth, there is only one person that you should model your life after: Jesus. We have to model our lives after him. He is the one who never fails. We can clearly see how he lived his life from the Gospels and the rest of Scripture. So we have to be in the Word and see who he is and seek to follow him. No one else is enough.

Paul would say the same thing today that he said to the Corinthian church.

“Some say, ‘I follow Piper’ and others ‘I follow Robertson’ and others ‘I follow Platt’ and others ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Piper crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Robertson?”