Let The Process Begin…

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Starting last month, I began the process of credentialing with the Evangelical Free Church of America, North Central District.

In short, after three years year of round table discussions, a biographical/doctrinal paper on the EFCA’s statement of faith, lots of reading, a licensing interview, an ordination interview, and some paperwork, I will have be ordained with EFCA. Why do this?

Well, for a few reasons. First, as a full-time minister I still need to be sharpened. Just because I read the bible daily doesn’t mean I always understand it perfectly. Pursuing credentialing will sharpen me biblically and theologically. Second, this is a great way to affirm my call to ministry, and moreover a great way to have a church body affirm my call to ministry. Finally, there’s something about me that loves to learn, and what better way to learn than this?

ImagePlease pray for me through this three-year (yes, three-year) process. And more than me, pray for my wife who will undoubtedly need grace upon grace to help me through this.

As I stated above, part of the credentialing process is writing a biographical doctrinal paper lining up with the EFCA’s statement of faith. I thought it could be a great discussion starter if I posted my paper’s here on this blog. There are 10 articles in the statement of faith, plus one article on current issues. So for the next 11 months you should see the current article and my beliefs concerning it.

Again, pray for me, my wife, our future baby, and our church.

Jesus Makes An Example Through His Grace.

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This morning I meditated and studied 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and was admonished for my previous thinking on a certain matter.

My Senior Pastor and I have been having an ongoing discussion about God and His judgment toward sinners. Specifically, we have been discussing how often we desire for God to give us mercy so quickly, but then ask for swift judgment on those who sin against us.

Paul in his first letter to Timothy I feel addresses this issue when he says:

[15] The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. [16] But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
(1 Timothy 1:15-16 ESV)

In the previous context Paul explains his radical insolence toward Christ and Christianity in general (cf. Acts 7:54-60). From there Paul explains how because of his former ignorance, Christ extended mercy to him.

Now, when I think of someone being adamantly opposed to God (say, Bill Maher) I often get this feeling in my stomach that God should send swift (and rightful) judgment. But according to this passage in 1 Timothy, it seems as if God delights in making an example of sinners not by His wrath, but through His grace.

If history were rewritten, and the Apostle Paul was never converted to Christianity but rather struck dead (which, God did too from time to time; Leviticus 10:1-2, Acts12:21-23) we would all look back and think: “Yeah, saw that one coming.”

But for God to take someone like Paul who personally oversaw the murders of countless followers of Christ and make an example of him through the extension of grace beckons the response: “I didn’t see that one coming.”

So when I think about guys like Bill Maher, and specifically how I often desire that God would bring judgment on them, it seems more fitting according to 1 Timothy 1:12-17 to pray that God would make an example of them through His mercy, not His wrath. I mean, I know I would rather God make an example of me through grace, not judgment. Wouldn’t you?

Disappearing Daughters: The Great Double Standard.

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Last Friday night, my wife Kelsey and I watched ABC’s report on mass, yet unheard of, genocide taking place in India. You can read the full report here.

Or you can watch it here:

I highly recommend that you either read or watch the story before continuing to read this post, but in case that you don’t here is a brief synopsis:

Essentially, each year millions of baby girls in India are either aborted or thrown in the trash because of the simple fact that they’re girls. In India, the family of a woman to be married is expected to pay a dowry to the groom’s family (although there are laws against this). Because a large amount of the population cannot afford this large financial “burden,” they seek to “dispose” of their daughter to release them of paying the dowry. Therefore, India is experiencing a rising gap between their male and female population. Indian couples often abort, kill, or throw away their baby girl in order to “try again” in hopes of having a boy. For this reason, ultrasounds in order to determine the sex of the unborn child is “illegal” in India, and so are abortions based on the child’s sex. However, as the report tells, many doctors and clinics around India ignore these laws altogether because of the large amount money involved in the “medical procedures” (up to $30,000 in some cases).

As we were watching this story, our hearts broke and mourned over the casual neglect and disregard of life taking place in India. Moreover, the reporter covering the story definitely did so in a biased fashion by painting the horrific picture of this crime (and rightly so).

But as we continued to watch, our minds seemed to lead to the same place at the same time: Why is this story only being covered in India? And, is it really that eye opening?  What I mean is this: everybody watching this story would agree that this is wrong. In other words, something has gone terribly awry in India’s culture and nobody would deny that. But what is the difference in the United States?

If an Indian couple chooses to abort a child simply because it is a girl, it is a crime and seen as a social evil.

If an American couple chooses to abort a child because it is an inconvenience to them, it is seen as their choice and a constitutional right.  (Oh, and don’t leave your “What if a woman is raped?” or “What if the child is going to be disabled?” comment–I won’t read them and your wasting your time and brains in the land of “what if.” Take your logical fallacies elsewhere.)

This is the great double standard. I do pray that India would seek repentance of this sin, but I also pray that this great evil would somehow in the Sovereign Grace of God be used to awaken the United States in her sinful, ignorant slumber concerning this issue.

End abortion. End the genocide.

Get Off Of Your Phone.

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Our culture has an obsession with media. As a Youth Director I see it first hand. At any given time around 20 teenagers you can guarantee that at least two of them are texting, updating a facebook status, or looking at some sort of screen. Now before you quit reading this post thinking it to be just another anti-media rant, just hear me out.

I love media. I love being able to be in contact with people quickly. I love being able to hear of a story and then getting all of the details a couple clicks later. However, media and connectedness should never trump life in front of our eyes.

Last night, Kelsey and I went bowling. (Don’t ask me what the score was, I am too embarrassed!) As we continued to bowl a young family came to the lane next to us. There was a mom and dad, both in their younger 30’s, with two girls between the ages of 7-10.

As Kelsey and I continued to bowl we started to take notice of the said family. The two little girls screamed and giggled as they knocked over pins and got gutter balls, but at the same time the parents of the girls neglected to be as excited.

I glanced over to find mom and dad buried in their smartphones checking who-knows-what. The only time mom got off of her phone was to bowl herself–dad didn’t bowl at all.

The worst part of it all was when the older girl gently and slowly rolled the ball down the lane and actually got a strike, she screamed and ran back to her parents, and you guessed it: they didn’t even see it.

Now, it is really easy for me to be judgmental in a situation like this and to jump to hasty conclusions. But I have to question those parents: Was what ever you were checking on your phone worth it? Was it worth more than witnessing your daughter get a strike probably for the first time?

I have little doubt that the same couple probably lays in bed next to one another doing the same thing–and they probably wonder: I wonder why we are never intimate anymore? Or, Our marriage feels so distant…

And I will bet that 10 years from now, one of those daughters (if not both) will refuse to communicate with her parents, to which they will think: We did everything right? Didn’t we? 

Again, it is really easy to judge. But what I am trying to say is this: You can’t multi-task when it comes to media. Period.

I don’t care if you’re a woman and you think you can, the reality is: If you’re trying to have a conversation with me and with 10,000 others on your phone at the same time, I am no going to feel as important as your phone.

So, if you have a smartphone, do those closest (and I don’t mean facebook or twitter followers) around you a favor: turn it off. Before you know it, your friend/daughter/son/husband/wife/(Insert close relationship here_____) will be off to college/wanting a divorce/estranged/moving away/dead/(insert dramatic change here____).

Like I said, media is great, but face-to-face relationship is far greater.

Growing Up Christian: The Danger of False Assurance

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This chapter hit my heart like a sledge hammer, and mostly because this is an area of my Christian walk that I struggle with: assurance of salvation.

Assurance, in other words, is a positive declaration intended to give confidence. So, assurance of salvation is a declaration meant to push us confidently toward God. One of the dangers of growing up in and being surrounded by “Christian this” and “Christian that” is that we can begin to assume that we are Christian based upon our surroundings.

Think about it like this: Does standing in a wheat field make you wheat? Then why does doing or living or surrounding yourself with everything Christian make you a Christian? (Growing up Christian, pg. 33)

There is a difference of “doing the things of the Christian life” (that is, reading your bible, praying, going to church, singing the worship songs, etc.) because you know that you should do them, and “doing the things of the Christian life” because you honestly desire to seek, know, love, and cherish Jesus Christ.

To be honest, I would much rather work with someone who outwardly declared his hatred for God then someone who falsely believes that they are saved.

Growing up in a Christian setting is a wonderful blessing, but it also carries its dangers. This topic might be the highest on the danger list. I know this to be true because there is not a week that goes by that I don’t feel this weight upon my own heart. I too was raised in a Christian setting and I too sometimes believe my assurance comes from my background and not from my heartfelt proclamation and claim of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For those of you who read this, I pray that verses like John 3:16  and Romans 10:9 would not become lame or boring. I pray that you and I included would be challenged to ask ourselves these questions:

  • Am I really a Christian? Or am I just going through the motions? 
  • Do I really have a genuine heart-felt desire for Jesus? 
  • Are the “good works” in my life done to check off a “list,” or do I do them as an overflow of my relationship with Jesus? 
Like I said, there is no greater danger than believing you are a Christian when in fact you are not. Verses like Matthew 7:21-23 cause me to lose sleep often. So please, take ownership of your relationship with Christ and have just that: a relationship. Be honest with your doubts, feelings, and moments of unclarity. I too struggle with assurance! I often look at what I preach and what I do and think: there is no way I am one of God’s children!
It is in those times that I have to come to the Cross of Christ and His Word and humbly ask for His grace again and again. It’s okay to pray things like this: Father, I don’t feel like a Christian. Teach me through your Word what it means to love and follow Jesus. 
I would rather we pray things like that than ask for vain and empty blessings. Our joy is at stake, and more than that our eternity. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but labor for Christ who will satisfy your deepest longings and meet every need you have.

Growing Up Christian…

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I picked up this book, Growing Up Christian, a few months ago at a youth leader’s conference and since then it has sat dusty on my “books to read” shelf.

Finally, I have picked it up and by the end of the first chapter I am pleased and excited for what the book contains.

The author, Karl Graustein, writes from the prospective of growing up in a Christian home with Christian parents and Ch

ristian friends. I identify with Karl, because my life too was filled with everything Christian. The author describes both the blessings and dangers for those of us who are raised within the arms of Christianity.

As my eyes read over the words an idea came to me: Why not blog about every chapter for my students in youth group?

 

So that is what I am going to do. Seeing as how most every student at my church has “grown up Christian” I am praying that these blog posts will push them toward growth and a deeper love for Jesus Christ.

So whether you’re a student in my youth group, or someone who is “too old” for youth group, I pray that this series of posts will help you take hold of a deeper faith and a more concrete assurance of God’s love for you offered in Jesus Christ.

I hope to post weekly, and each post will contain the main points of the given chapter, as well as a series of questions and thoughts. But most of all, I pray that we would all take hold of our faith, and heed the warning of J.C. Ryle who said, “you cannot enter the Kingdom of God on the credit of your parent’s religion. You must eat the bread of life yourself…”

Close Handed vs. Open Handed Issues.

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Whenever you spend a lot of time around Christians, especially those who belong to different generations than yourself, it is easy to come into frequent conflict.

Let’s be honest, a 68 year-old woman is going to dress differently than an 18 year-old woman in church. A 55 year-old man will speak differently than a 15 year-old boy. A 72 year old-woman will prefer much different worship music than that of a 22 year-old man.

Now, these examples are not exhaustive, nor are necessarily always the case. However, the point is this: people are different. In other words, different ages, sexes, generations, backgrounds, and ethnicities all express themselves differently, especially within the confines of a church family. Different Christians eat or abstain from certain food and drink, and different Christians have varying lifestyles. For example, to some believers, alcohol is the “Devil’s water,” to others, red wine simply tastes good with red meats. To some Christians, pianos and organs are the instruments used for worship; to others, guitars and drums do the job. The list could go on forever. The Apostle Paul addressed issues like this in his letter to the Romans: “Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats” (Romans 14:20)

Paul continues and makes the case to the church in Rome that “it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (14:21). Now, is a Christian who consumes alcohol more mature in their faith than the one who chooses to abstain? According to Paul, no. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5b). For some, alcohol is seen as a good gift from God and is therefore treated as such making it an act of worship. For others, alcohol is seen as the source of abuse, and a constant reminder of loneliness. Is either person more right than the other? Not at all.

You see, the importance of this issue (and others like it) does not lie in the action itself, but rather in the heart motive behind the action (see Matthew 15:1-20). If you enjoy worshipping with a hymnal in hand, that’s okay. If you prefer singing more contemporary songs with lyrics on a power-point slide, that’s okay too. However, problems occur when your attitude toward those who have different convictions than you become judgmental. To the “homeschooler,” it’s fine if you decide to educate your children from home, but that doesn’t mean all parents should. To the “public-schooler,” it’s okay that your children are educated through school systems, but that’s not the standard for all parents. The crux of the matter is that you do not push your preference upon other people because they may not carry the same convictions as you. What is more important, is that each member of the body of Christ does “not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide[s] never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13).

These kinds of issues are what you may call “open-handed” issues. In other words, different people with different lifestyles may choose to stand on a different side of the fence on any given issue. However, open-handed issues should not be the litmus test for Christian holiness. In other words, you hold these issues with an open hand knowing that other people may disagree with you. However, if they do disagree, that does not mean that they are any less of a “good Christian” than you are. Essentially, don’t make open-handed issues “close-handed” issues, or issues that the Bible explicitly dictates as God-honoring or not God-honoring.

There are so many open-handed issues in the Church today that unfortunately become close-handed issues at the expense of church unity, and ultimately, people. Alcohol, worship style, music preference, NIV vs. KJV, homeschool or public school, city or rural, suit and tie or jeans and a t-shirt. What’s comical is that the Bible does not explicitly support one side or the other of any of these above issues. Granted, biblical principles and certain exceptions apply to all; but last time I checked, neither Paul nor Abraham are recorded in the bible arguing on the means of education, or what instruments to use in the tabernacle or synagogue that day. Rather, we are told that “whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The all to common error of Christians today is making issues out of issues that are, well, simply not issues. In other words, we spend so much time bickering over preference at the expense of people. Now, there are issues that the Church should hold with a firm fist. Namely, did Jesus really live? Did Jesus really die for sinners? Did God really create the whole universe? Issues like these are ones that can divide because believing that God did not create the world, and that Jesus didn’t die to pay God’s wrath for sin leads to false teaching.

All of this to say: brothers and sisters, let us hold Scripture firmly in one hand, and our preferences loosely in the other. Prefer hymns? Great, sing them to the glory of God. Prefer public schooling? Fantastic, do it to the glory of God. Like wearing polos and sandals to church? Good for you, do it to the glory of God. Believe that Jesus was only a good man? Sorry, but the Scripture teaches differently. Like I said, do not make open-handed issues the standard by which all Christians should live. I pray that we continue to love one another through pursuing correct doctrine, while simultaneously not “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9).