Apr 18th 2014

Preparing Our Hearts for Easter

How should Christians prepare their hearts this Easter? I asked this of Andreas Kostenberger, research professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and author of the new book, The Final Days of Jesus coauthored with Justin Taylor. It’s a terrific resource, harmonizing the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, death, and resurrection.

What advice would you give Christians in preparing their hearts this Holy Week?

Take Easter week as an opportunity to reflect on the essence of your faith, on what the gospel is all about. Make sure you understand the key elements of the biblical story of Jesus’ final days on earth so you can pass it on to others, especially to the next generation.

That’s why I’m particularly excited to use The Final Days of Jesus as a tool with my own children as we read through what happened each day of Easter week – Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc., and discuss the significance of all the events culminating in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. We watch the videos posted on the Crossway website, we read the relevant Scripture passages and the associated commentary, and we spend time talking about what Jesus did for us and thanking him for it in prayer. Let’s not succumb to busyness or be so anti-liturgical that we react against traditional ways of Easter observance and miss out on the opportunity to reconnect with the heart of our faith—Jesus crucified, buried, and risen (1 Cor 11:3–4).

Read my entire interview here:

Apr 16th 2014

No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free

A few years ago, when I was a pastor, I had a hard time explaining to a rather cranky member why we, as a church, had to pay for a license to use Christian music in our worship services. “They should give it away freely. Why do I have to pay for it? I thought this was ministry. Why they are out to make money?” What made this man’s beef all the more interesting is that I had just concluded, a day earlier, a long conversation with him about what he considered unfair pay at his work. The irony was lost on him, but not me.

But alas, this complaint about Christian content costing money is one I’ve heard in a variety of forms most of my adult life. It goes something like this:

Christian publishers should not be so eager to make money. Why not give their books away free?

Christian musicians should not charge to sing at a Church. Why not sing for the Lord?

Christian conferences should offer all their content online, right away, for free, right now.

Well-known speakers shouldn’t charge so much to speak at someone’s church. They should just come to be a blessing.

So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

I understand the desire to get resources into the hands of those who can’t afford them. The impulse to break down financial barriers so  people can hear the gospel and so God’s people can grow is good. I’m thankful for all of the free content, readily available online and elsewhere. But there point we must understand is that good content always has a cost.

For free stuff, somebody, somewhere was kind enough to fund the spread of the good news. Praise God for this kind of generosity. May He raise up more Christian philanthropists in this generation.

But I want to tackle this idea that there should never be charge for Christian content–books, sermons, study guides, music, teaching textbooks. This is not a right argument on many levels.

First, the Bible says that hard work should be rewarded with adequate payment. Paul said to Timothy that “the worker” is worthy of his wages. Christians shouldn’t succumb to greed and materialism. This is a sin and can be a soul-sucking snare (1 Timothy 6:9). But money is offered in Scripture as a reward for hard work. Work was instituted by God at Creation, before the Fall. And the rewards of hard work are woven into the mandate to subdue the earth. To diminish reward is to cheapen, in my view, the value of hard work and to soften the God-glorifying act of creating.

Secondly, Christians should be rewarded for their ministry work. We have this idea that because someone is in “full-time” ministry that they should give their time and effort away for free. But Paul told the Galatians that those “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Galatians 6:6). In other words, those who benefit from the teaching ministry of others should support those who teach. How this works out in real life often differs. Some work full time and get their sole paycheck from a Christian organization. Others are “tent-makers” who, like Paul for a season, offer their ministry work in a part-time or free basis. Still, there are many who have some combination of an agreement. But, the principle still stands: there is nothing wrong with someone getting paid for their Christian content (music, books, preaching, etc). In fact, there is everything right.

Third, by depriving Christians of payment for their work, at times, we could be causing them to disobey Scripture. Scripture says that a man who doesn’t provide for his family is “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Paul scolded lazy men who refused to provide for their families (2 Corinthians 3:10). Sometimes in our desire to demand free Christian content or when we grow upset at Christian organizations for charging for content or services, we forget that the men and women working in those organizations would like to feed their families, have health insurance, and own homes just as we do. Many serve and work at drastically reduced rates. They consider their vocation a calling, a mission, a chance to serve the body of Christ. But, that doesn’t mean the should work for free. Imagine if you were asked to do your job for free–if you had no paycheck to take home to support your wife and children? Imagine if someone demanded you do your job for free? You wouldn’t do that. You couldn’t do that. And neither should we expect editors, writers, web guys, recording artists, pastors etc give us the best and most edifying Christian content without cost.

Of course there are many caveats to this. There are legitimate and illegitimate ways to make money in the Christian world. There are, sadly, pastors who fleece their flocks and live lavish lifestyles off the backs of poor widows. There are some who claim that financial prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing. This wicked and destructive teaching is anti-gospel. And there are times when Christian organizations make decisions based on revenue streams rather than what is enriching for the body of Christ. That is wrong.

But let’s trust that these are a few examples out of the many faithful believers who serve the body well and deserve to be paid fairly for their labors. Let’s not simply rush to the conspiratorial idea that “That publisher/organization/church/pastor is just out to make money.” You actually don’t know that. It could be they are serving with an earnest desire to bring the good news of the gospel to those who need to hear it.

Apr 4th 2014

Is Orthodoxy Causing Young Evangelicals to Flee the Faith?

Today I’ve got a post up at the CNN Belief Blog, debunking the narrative that holding fast to the truth is causing evangelicals to leave the Church:

Yes, it is true that Christians should be known more for what they are for than what they are against.

But if you move past the rhetoric, you’ll find that it is often not aggrieved ex-evangelicals who are founding and leading charitable organizations, but the stubbornly orthodox. Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need – but they make up a large percentage.All over the world, you will find faithful followers of Christ adopting orphaned children, rescuing girls from trafficking, feeding the poor, digging wells and volunteering in disaster relief.

My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, operates one of the world’s largest relief operations while holding fast to its theological commitments. And some of the world’s most effective ministries to the poor and marginalized were started by and continue to operate according to evangelical Christian beliefs. They live in the tension of the New Testament, which calls believers to both faithfulness and charity.In fact, the most effective agents of hope in this world likely don’t have Twitter accounts, have never blogged and might never have even uttered the words, “social justice.”

And yet silently, quietly, patiently they serve the least of these, not because they first jettisoned their quaint notions of orthodoxy, but because they held them tighter.

Read the whole thing here:

Apr 1st 2014

Three Things to Consider Before You Hit “Send”

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Today communication has never been easier. Most of the time this is good, allowing us to communicate good news quicker, to socialize with family and friends, and, in emergencies, get in touch with people faster. It also allows us to publish our thoughts at lightening speed. Most of the time, this is good. But not always. The ease of pressing “send” has not always brought out the best in people–even God’s people.

I’ve often said that James 1:19 has never been more relevant and never more ignored: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” Slow to speak sounds like an old-fashioned relic from another era. How quaint, we moderns say, to actually be “slow to speak.” Why, that blog post, that tweet, that Facebook rant must be posted. And it must be posted now or I’ll lose clicks.

Following Christ means following him even in the way we engage online. I’ll admit that if this verse from James hits anyone, it hits me first. As disciples of Jesus, we can and should do better. So here are three things we might try to consider before we hit “send” on that tweet, status update or blog:

1. Did I get my facts right? 

If I’m writing about a news story or reacting to growing controversy, did I get all the facts or is my response a knee-jerk reaction? What’s more, am I believing the worst about someone with whom I disagree? Am I leveraging incomplete and sensational bad news to advance my argument? Or have I slowed down enough to read the best of the other side, process their arguments and respond with charitable disagreement? Of all things, we should be about the truth; not just the objective, orthodox body of Christian truth passed down from generation to generation. We should also be about the truth in every situation, even the truth about those with whom we most vociferously disagree.

One of the things you learn in seminary, at least from the best scholars, is to present the other side’s argument so well, so accurately, that he could recognize it. We ought to do that with our online discussions. But this takes a bit of work, it might mean not writing that blog post and not reacting so quickly to breaking news. Thankfully, Christians have the freedom to not be controlled by their passions, but by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:22-23).

A neglected part of the truth is resisting caricatures and stereotypes. It is so easy to simply tag an entire group or tribe, with whom we disagree, as the problem or the enemy. In reality, there are diverse views in every denomination, association and network. I always cringe when I see lazy generalizations of networks to which I belong, because I know how wrong they often are. I’m guessing that same reaction happens when I carelessly do this to others.

2. Did I obey this oft-neglected verse? 

Galatians 6:10 says Christians should “do good, especially to those of the household of faith.” This means we should give other believers the benefit of the doubt. It’s so much easier to do the opposite. Today there is so much self-loathing among Christians online, a rush for us to beat up the Church or, rather, “those Christians.” There isn’t a sense of loyalty anymore to at least give our brothers and sisters in the Lord the benefit of the doubt, to say, “That brother or sister was purchased by the same blood of Jesus that secured my redemption. I at least owe them respect, dignity and the benefit of the doubt.”

Jesus said we were to be known by our love for each other (John 13:35). We have a strange way of showing love. Now, to be clear, this doesn’t mean there is no room for substantive, even sharp disagreement. Jesus isn’t speaking to his disciples about a kind of fuzzy, touchy-feely love that’s all unicorns and no weight. Paul, at times, showed love by sharply rebuking those in error (1 Cor. 4:21).

And yet, when writing to Christians about the Church, we should do as Paul did: always with a heart of love. And I’m not just talking about loving the people with whom we agree, who are in our tribe, but we should love Christ’s church. Some of the rants, blogs and tweets I read from Christians reflect such a near-hatred for the body, the bride, for whom Christ shed his blood. We forget that Jesus loves the Church (Eph. 5:25). Even though the Church disappoints, sins and fails, Jesus still loves the Church. When writing, posting and speaking, everything we say about Christians, to Christians, should at least reflect this reality. Sometimes we must defend the truth against error, sometimes we must stand against brothers and sisters for the sake of the gospel, sometimes we have to do and say things that are unpopular. Even so, in all of that, we should do it with tears, with reluctance and with a kind of heartbroken love for the Church.

3. Did we envision the real person we are criticizing? 

There are a lot of things we say behind a keyboard that we’d never say to someone in person. That’s because there is something about speaking to a flesh and blood person, measuring the reaction in their eyes and face, and weighing its effect on the heart. But keyboards and touch-screens reduce our communication by a dimension. You can’t convey tone in a blog post, tweet or a Facebook rant. This is why, even in an age of email, text and phone, some things are best said in person.

So when we go off on a rant against a particular group of people with whom we disagree, we should first envision an actual person. Perhaps it’s a friend, a relative or a coworker. If they read what we just wrote, how would it make them feel? Would they at least know, despite our disagreements, that we love and care for them? Would they think we were fair to them? Would they feel we took gratuitous shots?

Digital communication is a helpful tool, in many ways. But it can also remove the personal touch, the layer of one-to-one relationships of community. We’d do well to remember, as Tim Challies says, that “pixels are people.” That person with whom we disagree is not an avatar,  an entity or a static head-shot. He or she is a person created in the image of God and deserves respect.

Mar 28th 2014

Faith at Work: More than Evangelism

A recovery of the doctrine of vocation is one of the most encouraging things I see in the evangelical church. In the last few years, there have been some really good books written on the intersection of faith and work. Work Matters by Tom Nelson and Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller are two notable ones. Recently, pastor Greg Gilbert and businessman Sebastian Traeger coauthored a book, The Gospel at Work that promises to further equip the church to think holistically about the workplace.

I had a chance to interview Greg Gilbert for today’s edition of The Friday Five for Leadership Journal. Here is one of the questions I asked:

I’m guessing the typical Christian, when hearing “the gospel at work” thinks of evangelism. But you are aiming for a more holistic vision of the workplace, right?

That’s right. This is not really a book about workplace evangelism (though we do talk about that). We’re actually aiming to try to help Christians think about how their faith in Jesus changes the way they think about and act in their jobs.Most Christians fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs.

Most Christians, we think, tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs. In other words, they either find themselves trying to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning from their jobs, or they lose sight of God’s purposes for them in their work. Neither of those, though, is the right way to think about work. Work shouldn’t be the center of our lives, but it also isn’t merely a necessary evil. Whatever you do, the fact is that you work for the King. It’s God who has deployed you to that particular job (or lack of a job!) at this particular time, and he has purposes for us in our work. In fact, our jobs are actually high profile arenas in which he wants to bring glory to himself and make us more like Jesus. If we remember that, it changes everything about how we approach our work.

You can read more here: 

Mar 26th 2014

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Mar 24th 2014

Pray for Hobby Lobby

Tomorrow is a consequential day in the history of religious liberty. The United States Supreme Court is taking up a case involving two Christian-owned businesses: Hobby Lobby Stores and Conastoga Woods. Hobby Lobby, of course, is the most prominent of these two companies. The conflict is this: can the government compel a business to endorse things against conscience? Hobby Lobby is being compelled by the government to pay for abortion-causing drugs that violate the deeply held beliefs of its owners.

The the center of this argument is a long-cherished virtue: that the government should not trample on the conscience. We should support Christian businesses, not only because they often help fund Christian mission, but also because they are living out the gospel in the marketplace. So I’m hoping you’ll the ERLC and other followers of Christ to pray specifically for Hobby Lobby tomorrow. If you do, use the hashtag: #prayforhobbylobby. Here’s a sample prayer guide you might use;

 

  1. God wants people to be free to seek him and to serve him (Acts 17:24-28). Pray for a favorable outcome. The cherished principle of religious freedom should receive the strongest constitutional protection it deserves.
  2. God is Lord of the conscience, not government (Acts 5:29). Pray that the justices of the Supreme Court will understand the importance of the separation of the state from the church.
  3. God can give understanding to make sound decisions (Prov. 2:6-8). Pray for those who disagree with us, that God would help them understand and respect the consciences of people of faith.
  4. God can turn the hearts and minds of the justices to do his will (Prov. 21:1). Pray for the Supreme Court justices, that they would be receptive to the arguments being made passionately before them.
  5. God can guide the mind and speech (Exod. 4:11-12). Pray for lead attorney, Paul Clement, who will be arguing on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Ask God to give him clarity and wisdom, for his arguments to be persuasive, and for God to give him favor before the justices.  

Here are some more excellent resources:

 

Mar 22nd 2014

How to Pastor Single Adults

Lisa Anderson is the editor of Boundless, one of the finest resources for young adults in the evangelical world. She’s also host of the Boundless Podcast, where she interviews leading thinkers on issues of singleness, sexuality, marriage, and culture. I had the chance to interview Lisa this week for Leadership Journal. I asked her questions on singleness, sexuality, and ministry. This is one of the questions:

Some pastors and church leaders face a tension between encouraging marriage and yet not diminishing the gift–and even calling–of singleness. How would you advise them?Pastors need to invite singles into the life and leadership of the church, treating them not as “kids” but as functioning adults with vital spiritual, emotional, and physical assets for the congregation.

There’s a delicate balance between encouraging single young adults in their current life stage and experience while still elevating marriage and acknowledging that marriage is in most people’s future. Over 90 percent of single young adults want to get married, but pastors understandably don’t want to make singles feel like second-class citizens, so instead they say very little about marriage to singles. An awkward silence ensues, leaving singles feeling unheard and misunderstood. Pastors need to invite singles into the life and leadership of the church, treating them not as “kids” but as functioning adults with vital spiritual, emotional, and physical assets for the congregation. They then would do well to hear singles out. For women, this means hearing their hearts’ cry for marriage; for men, it may mean challenging them to consider marriage sooner rather than later. Either way, real relationships, accountability and a significant amount of grace is needed to open the conversation and remind everyone involved that singleness is a gift for a few, but a season for most. Let’s move people with biblical intention in the direction they need to go.

Read more here: