Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christian Kids in Public School: What are Parents to Do?

What is a Christian family to do if their children attend public school? The reality in this world is that some Christians do have children who attend public school. In light of that, what should these parents do? What do they do if they cannot homeschool or afford private school?

The following are 1o suggestions that have been wandering around inside my head for some time. Some of these will apply to only families with kids in public school, while others will apply to all families regardless of choice of education.

In no particular order:

1. Pray for your children. Trust God to care for their minds while they are in school.
2. Admit that your children are in a secular environment for many hours during the week. Facing this reality will enable you to figure out how to best counteract the secular environment.
3. Teach your children the bible on a daily basis.
4. Preach the gospel to your children over and over.
5. View education as discipleship. The reality is that someone is teaching your kids. What they teach will impact the worldview your children have.
6. Related to # 5, avoid making an artificial division in your mind between education at school and education at home.
7. Talk to your children about what they are being taught.
8. Get to know your kids' teacher(s). They may have some who are Christians.
9. Get to know your kids' friends. Invite them over to your house regardless of who they are.
10. Ask your church family for help. Ask the pastor(s), children's workers, and youth workers to address secular thought and ideas while working with the kids while the church gathers.

If your children attend public school, they will be bombarded with secular thought for much of the week. It is best to admit this, and then decide to battle against it. What is at stake is the worldview of your children. Your church family should be ready and willing to help with this. We must all be open about what is happening, and talk, talk, talk, and talk some more with the children about what they are being taught about the world, and what the bible has to say.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Pledge Allegiance to the Kingdom of God

Ever since the presidential election I have heard a great deal of talk by Christians who are fretting that our society is about to come to an end. They usually talk about what they think the new president and his administration will do to affect moral issues in our country.

The problem I see with this line of thinking is that we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are nowhere called upon to rely on secular government to be some sort of moral watchdog. The reality is that we live in a fallen world. It is absurd for us to hope that secularists in government will act in ways that line up with scripture.

When I read the bible, I see us called to be obedient to government as long as this does not violate God's word. However, nowhere do I see Christians told by God to rely on government for the bettering of society.

This problem is related to the idea that the United States is a "Christian country." Many American Christians, whether or not they realize it, act as if God has made promises to the USA like He did with Israel. When we fall into the trap of thinking this way, we will become greatly disturbed when our society shifts away from Christian values.

Please do not misunderstand. I desire that our society follow biblical standards. However, it is downright silly to expect lost people to act as if they are saved. It is also silly to expect government to enforce this.

Nowhere in the bible are we told to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Growing up in public school, I probably said the pledge 500 times before I ever gave it much of a thought. I still love my country. That said, my primary allegiance is not to the USA.

I pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God. It is to God and His rule over this world that I pledge myself completely. My Owner, Maker, and Redeemer is the One to whom I give myself.

It is through Christ's church that society can be transformed. It is through the message of the gospel that lives are changed and people's hearts are opened to a desire to live by biblical standards. It is through the message of Christ-crucified that we can make a difference in this country.

Let's stop depending on our government. Let's stop worrying about our government. It is not going to make this a Christian country.

Instead, let's pledge our full allegiance to the Kingdom of God. It is only through His message of the gospel that hearts can be changed and societies transformed.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Our Words Affect How We Think About the Church

The words we use and the way we use them show other people both how we think and what we think about. Words are very powerful, so much so that they affect the way we act. This is true in all aspects of life, including the church.

When you hear the word "church," what do you think about? Some folks immediately think about a building. Others immediately think of the group of Christians they gather with a few times per week. Others think about the universal church of all believers. Still others think of the church as being something that falls somewhere in between either two or all three of the above.

How we think of, talk about, and describe "church" will greatly affect how we live out our Christian lives. In other words, how we describe what the church is and does will impact what we do.

For example, if we primarily think of the church as a building, we will necessarily focus much of our attention on the building itself. We will probably care a great deal about how the building looks, how clean it is, and how it is used by strangers. Much of our time and effort will be aimed at the edifice itself.

If we primarily think of the church as a local group of believers, our focus will be on that group of believers. We will spend much time together, meeting regularly and taking care of one-another's needs. Much of our time and effort will be aimed at when we gather together. We will probably care quite a bit about denominational differences.

If we primarily think of the church as the universal church of all believers, our focus will be on all Christians, regardless of what local church they are a part of. We will spend much time with followers of Christ. They may not gather with us during the week, but we still have active fellowship with them. We will probably have less of an "us-and-them" attitude and care less about denominational differences.

I realize that I have not addressed the issue of how Christians should interact with those who do not know Christ (that would make for a post that is longer than any of us desire to read right now. Share Christ with them and love them).

The above 3 categories of church definitions are not as precise as I would like, but they serve a purpose. If we want to be as biblical about the church as we can be, we must lean toward the universal church model. This appears to be what we see described in scripture most frequently. Some would argue this point, saying that the local church is what we most often see. My response to that is that the local church should be a manifestation of the universal church. When we draw a dividing line between the local church and the universal church, we are creating a division that does not appear in scripture.

Of course we should gather with a local body of believers. However, let's avoid any kind of us-and-them mentality toward other followers of Jesus Christ. One way we can do this is by being careful how we think and speak about the church. When we ponder what the church of God is, it clearly is not a building. We should banish that thought from our minds.

God's church does take the form of many local congregations. However, these bodies ought not have strong dividing lines between themselves and others groups of believers. We are all part of the same group that will be living together for eternity in the New Jerusalem.

Let's all try to be careful how we think about church. Let's strive to be as biblical as possible. How we think and especially how we speak about the church will affect how we live out life in the church.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Spiritual Birth by the Will of God

The more I read the bible, the more I see God's sovereign hand in all things - including salvation.

This morning I began to read through the book of John. I was not looking for anything in particular when I ran across verses 12 and 13 of chapter one. These verses say:

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." NKJV

Verse 12 tells us that anyone who receives God by believing in His name has the right to become a child of God. What an amazing right this is! To become a child of God is the best adoption any of us could imagine.

Verse 13 makes it even more amazing. In verse 13 we are told that anyone who receives God has been spiritually born because it was the will of God for this to happen. Take note of the fact that John makes it explicit that this did not happen because of the will of man. It is because of God's will that anyone is born spiritually.

What is going on here? The ordering of what is happening is the key. First, God wills that a person be born spiritually (born again as discussed in John chapter 3). Second, a person who has been spiritually born receives God by believing in his name. Third, that person has the right to become a child of God.

It is clear based on this passage that God initiates salvation (being born spiritually) by His sovereign will. Again, John states that this is according to the will of God, not of man. When a person is born spiritually, he is then able to respond in faith (believing in God). When a person responds to God in faith, he is saved (becoming a child of God).

My experience is that many American Christians are uncomfortable with the idea that it is God who is sovereign over salvation and not man. I could understand this if God was not perfect, loving, gracious, and merciful to infinite degrees. However, since He is these things, why do so many people struggle with God's sovereignty?

My conclusion is that for some people, the issue is a lack of understanding both God's infinite holiness and our utter corruption and spiritual death. If we admit that humans are dead spiritually prior to salvation, then it must be that God alone is the one who can and does make them come alive spiritually.

We are saved by the will of God.

London: World Capital?

Baptist Press has posted an interesting article focusing on the multicultural situation in London, England. Based on the description, it does sound like London could be the world capital. It certainly makes for an interesting missions opportunity. Here are a few quotes:

"As a coverage by The Guardian newspaper confirmed in 2005, London has become 'a world in one city.' From Algerians in Finsbury Park to West Africans in Woolwich, the newspaper ranged through the alphabet, finding major and minor ethnic/language communities throughout the city: Bangladeshis, Chinese, Indians, Iranians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Pakistanis, Poles, Russians, Somalis, Sri Lankans, Turks, Vietnamese -- to name only a few groups."

"Altogether, more than 300 languages are spoken by the people of London, and the city has at least 50 non-indigenous communities with populations of 10,000 or more. Virtually every race, nation, culture and religion in the world can claim at least a handful of Londoners."

"Christians contend with one of the most secularized societies in Europe. While 58 percent of Londoners claimed to be 'Christian' in the 2001 census, here's a more realistic estimate: 80 percent have had no personal encounter with Jesus Christ, and only a small minority follow Him as Lord."

To read the article in full, click here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Voddie Baucham on the SBC and Calvinism

Voddie Baucham, one of my few living heroes within the SBC, has written an interesting blog post about his experience within the Southern Baptist Convention. Here's a hint: now that people know he is a Calvinist, he is no longer favored among the SBC's elite.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grace in Rain

I spent this past Friday and Saturday with my son Bobby and a lot of other Cub Scouts on a campout. Overall it was a good time of hiking, chopping wood, tying knots, learning first aid, etc. I will admit that the sleeping was not the best. I'm pretty sure that I slept well from about 1-3:30 AM. Caffeine kept me awake until one (my mistake), and hard ground gave me fits from 3:30 onward. By the time we left for home on Saturday evening I was ready for a hot shower and a soft bed.

I bring all this up because in the midst of it all I was again reminded of God's great grace even in the small things of life. After we ate lunch, Bobby and the other scouts departed for an hour of "map and compass." Right after they left the campsite (where lunch was served), I began to break down our tent. As I began this process, I was praying to God to keep the rain away. If you have ever taken down a tent, you know that this can be a time-consuming process. This is no small tent; it sleeps seven people.

It had rained for most of the previous night. Despite a nice morning, the clouds began to roll back in as we were eating lunch. As I fumbled with metal poles and ropes of various sizes, I continued to pray that God would keep the rain away until I managed to get the tent into our car. I really did not want to shove a wet, soggy, muddy tent into my trunk. Yuck.

After I had taken all our belongings to the car, had the poles and ropes folded, and the tent was lying flat on the ground, I began to fold it up. I'm not sure how the experts do this, but I simply fold it in half over and over. After each fold, I sort of flop on top of the whole thing, shoving the air out with my body weight. I'm sure it was not pretty to watch.

Somewhat miraculously, I managed to get the tent into a small enough shape to shove it into its bag. After I heaved it into my trunk, I walked over to another close campsite to talk with one of Bobby's scout leaders. We had talked for about two minutes when it began to sprinkle. A few minutes later it was pouring.

As close as I can calculate, in God's providence there were only about 5 minutes between when I finished packing up the tent and when it began pouring. Since luck doesn't exist, this must have been God's doing. God, in His grace, spared me from getting soaked and muddy.

This is not a big issue. This certainly does not deal with salvation. However, it is a small example of how God answers prayer about even small things. I thank Him for being willing to listen to the prayers of a semi-frustrated dad who simply didn't want to get wet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blessed to Speak English

My first language is English. Unfortunately, at least at a functional level, my only language is English. I wish I spoke more.

Despite speaking only one language, I realize that I am blessed. The reason for this is the vast amount of Christian literature that exists in the English language. I doubt that any other language even comes close to equaling what English has.

Just as an example, there are currently many different versions of the bible in English. Every year it seems that a new one appears. Just within this decade the ESV and HCSB have come upon the scene.

If you go to this site and click on the down arrow by the choice of language translation, you will see that while most languages have just one or two choices offered, English has twenty.

Compare this to the hundreds of people groups in the world who do not even have ONE translation of the scriptures in their heart language.

Beyond bible translations, the English language has thousands of good Christian books, magazines, Sunday School literature choices, music cds, etc. There are even multiple Christian publishing houses.

With all this Christian literature available, it seems like English-speaking countries around the world should be the most Christian, at least by percentage of the population. However, this is not the case. Amazingly, Christianity appears to be growing most rapidly in places like China and sub-Saharan Africa. Christians in those locations are usually very blessed to just have one copy of the bible per family or even local church.

To sum up, I'm thrilled that I speak English because of the amazing array of English bible translations, books, etc. However, it is clear that amount of literature does not translate directly to living for Christ.

So what do we do? Let's encourage bible translation into ALL of the world's languages so that everyone can read God's glorious word in his own heart language. Let's also preach and teach that we must live according to the word. Reading it is not enough.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

8 Things I've Learned

Chevis Oaks Baptist church called me to be its pastor in June of this year. Since that time I have learned a great deal (I hope) about pastoral ministry.

The following are 8 things I've learned while serving in this capacity. I'm sure these will not be new ideas to all who read this post; in fact, they are pretty basic. Additionally, most of these are not new to me. They have, rather, become things that I can now understand better through experience.

1. Pastoring is a great honor. I continue to be amazed that I am in this position. Clearly, God does not select pastors based upon any merit of their own.

2. Pastoring is a great joy. In Philippians 4:1, Paul refers to the Philippian church as his "joy and crown." I feel the same way about Chevis Oaks. The people here have welcomed me and my family with open arms.

3. Pastoring is a great burden. Although we are all individually responsible before God for our own spiritual state, I do feel a weight of responsibility within the church. Since the people listen to me preach and teach the bible each week, I am directly affecting their understanding of who God is and what He expects of them.

4. Pastoring can be a lonely position. Since sermon preparation requires quite a bit of time, this means quite a bit of time alone in study. While I greatly enjoy this, it also means a lot of time alone. While this is offset somewhat by visits to homes and hospitals, it still remains, at least some of the time, a lonely position.

5. Pastors get too much credit. When things are going well in the church, the pastor gets too much credit. When things are going poorly, the pastor gets too much blame. Since the church is a body, that means it is made up of many parts. The pastor is one of those parts, but he is not more important than the others. When things go well or poorly (however you define that), the body needs to look at all the parts.

6. Pastors will make mistakes. I've already made a few of these. The pastor is a normal, fallen individual who will do things incorrectly. The church family needs to accept this and be ready and willing to kindly rebuke the pastor when necessary. The pastor needs to be humble enough to accept this.

7. Pastors need the help and support of the body. I have been spoiled by the amount of positive words I have received so far at Chevis Oaks. I hope I have responded in kind. The New Testament makes it clear that all that is done within the church should be done for edification. This must include words that go to the pastor and come from the pastor.

8. Pastoring is too big for any individual. The New Testament is painfully clear that the biblical church model is to have a multiplicity of pastor/elder/overseers. A muliplicity allows for accountability, shared ideas, shared workload, and protection from pride. The tasks and responsibility are too great for any one man.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barna on the 2008 Election

Regarding politics, I am a conservative, independent voter who wishes Ron Paul had won the presidential election. However, I am still interested in who was victorious last week. I am always intrigued by what groups vote what way, and why they do so.

Pollster George Barna has published some interesting findings related to the 2008 presidential election. These include:

"Evangelicals chose their candidate on a different set of indicators than did other voters. When asked their primary reason for supporting the candidate they selected, 40% of evangelicals said it was because of the candidate’s position on moral issues. Only 9% of other voters listed that as their driving reason. Other significant reasons for evangelical voters included their candidate’s political experience (23%) and his character (15%)."

Non-Christians provided Sen. Obama with a lopsided 62% to 36% margin of preference over Sen. McCain. That 26-point gap surpassed the 20-point margin the group provided to John Kerry in 2004 and the 15-point margin awarded to Al Gore in 2000. This shift came primarily from those non-born again adults who have moderate social and political views."

Three-fourths of atheists and agnostics (76%) gave their vote to Sen. Obama, while only 23% backed Sen. McCain. That is a step up from the level of support Democrats have previously received from skeptics. In 2004, 64% of atheists and agnostics voted for Democratic challenger John Kerry."

About 5% of America’s adult population associates with faiths other than Christianity (e.g., Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). Within this group, about half (47%) were registered as Democrats, 30% were independent, and one-quarter (23%) were Republicans. The ballots of this group were most often cast for Barack Obama (62%) rather than John McCain (36%). The support provided to the Democratic candidate is identical to the backing this group provided to John Kerry four years ago (61%). "

"Assessing the voting outcomes by race and faith, the survey showed that there were no statistically significant differences between black born again voters and black non-born again voters. Similarly, there were no meaningful distinctions in candidate preference between Hispanic born agains and Hispanic non-born again voters. Overall, Sen. Obama claimed more than 90% of the African-American vote and three-quarters of the Hispanic vote. He won just 41% of the white vote. Among white voters, faith had a significant correlation with their candidate selection. White born again voters chose Sen. McCain by a 73% to 26% outcome. Whites who were not born again chose Sen. Obama by a 56% to 39% margin. White voters were also more affected by their understanding the candidates’ moral positions and political experience than were other voters. "

"Among voters who had a favorable view of Wicca, Sen. Obama was the favored candidate 64% to 35%. "

If you would like to read Barna's article in full, click here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Going Door-to-Door: An Interesting Article

God has placed our church in the midst of a community that is very needy at both a spiritual and material level. This offers us many opportunities as followers of Jesus Christ to reach out to those around us.

I have challenged our church family to give out a New Testament at each door in our community in 2009 (click here for inexpensive NTs). We hope this will show the people who reside near the church building that we care about them. We also hope this leads to more concrete opportunities for service. The ultimate goal is that God will be glorified through the salvation of many sinners.

Since we will be knocking on many doors in the community, this article by Ed Stetzer interested me. One of the main findings is that people tend to be significantly more open to an invitation to a church gathering than they are to a gospel witness. This makes sense since an invitation to attend is much less threatening to a person's worldview and belief system than is a discussion of Jesus Christ. Despite this, I certainly hope that we will have opportunities to share about Christ and the cross.

The article is worth the few minutes it will take to read.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Didn't Vote

I didn't vote.

For some people this is probably not a big deal. For others, it is almost blasphemy.

What once was considered simply a right in our country has now been transformed into some sort of "civic duty" or "responsibility." For example, at Baptist Press, I just read an article entitled, "Vote -- it's your right and responsibility."

I didn't vote because I couldn't think of anyone on either ticket that I wanted to vote for. While I certainly did not want Barack Obama to be elected president, I did not find John McCain particularly appealing either. Additionally, I'm tired of the "lesser of two evils" argument. I simply did not want to vote for either evil (if Ron Paul had still been running for president, I probably would have pulled the level for him.)

Regardless, I find it increasingly disturbing how many Christians in this country basically equate love for God with love of country. This is the view of some sort of "Christian America," as if we have inherited the promises of God that He originally intended (and still intends) for Israel.

The bible is clear that for Christians, our citizenship is in heaven. We are to be exiles, aliens, and strangers while on this earth. We are never to feel too comfortable. This world ought not ever feel too much like home. If we always feel as if we just don't quite fit in here, and that we are longing to be somewhere else, this is a good thing. We should be longing to be home - in heaven with God.

Voting ought to be viewed as a matter of Christian liberty and conscience as opposed to a Christian responsibility.

As exiles on this planet, let's not retreat from the culture, but rather engage the culture with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. While we do this, let's remember that our primary focus is to be the Kingdom of God (Jesus' favorite topic), not the Kingdom of the United States of America.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Fascinating Comment Stream

As some of you know, once per week I write a satirical piece for Team TomintheBox News Network (TBNN). My pen-name at TomintheBox is "Elder Eric." TBNN is strictly for fun.

Yesterday I posted a silly piece entitled, "Rector Daringly Introduces Jesus to Episcopal Church." The purpose of the piece was to poke fun at the turmoil with the Episcopal Church over the truth of the gospel message.

Every once in a while, TBNN pieces strike a cord or a nerve depending on who is reading. Well, this particular piece has generated a lot of discussion at Stand Firm, which is a site for discussion of Anglican issues. Stand Firm somehow found out about this TBNN piece, and ran a short story about it. What is fascinating is the comment stream. Many people who commented struggled to figure out whether or not the TBNN piece was satire or reality. This is because, unfortunately, many Episcopal churches apparently are not very welcoming to Jesus Christ.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading the comments, click here and scroll down until you reach the comments section. Enjoy!

Pilgrim's Progress - the movie

I'm not sure that any movie can do justice to John Bunyan's literary masterpiece, Pilgrim's Progress. However, a recent movie telling this story is worth watching. Our family enjoyed watching Pilgrim's Progress - Journey to Heaven. Because the film has a relatively low budget, the special effects are not Hollywood quality. Despite this, the movie is still well-made, well-acted, and faithful to Bunyan's wonderful allegory of the Christian life. Below is a short video that tells more about the film. I encourage you to watch it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Reformed in Soteriology, Not Ecclesiology

This sign applies to me in some ways but not in others. The reason for this is that I agree with the Reformers in soteriology. In other words, I agree with Luther, Calvin, etc. on the doctrine of salvation.

However, I do not agree with the Reformers mentioned above in ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). It is interesting how these men could be so biblical in their view of salvation, but so far off from the biblical model in their view of what the church is and does.

This is a good lesson to all of us (including me) that while we are correct in some of our beliefs, we are probably also incorrect on a few things.