Christian Living

How to Know You’re Good

How to Know You’re Good

How good are you? That is a question we all wrestle with in different ways and at different times. But we almost all answer it with the same methodology: comparison. But if the age of social media has taught us anything, hasn’t it taught us how destructive comparison is? Hasn’t it shown us that comparison reveals the basest version of ourselves? Hasn’t social media taught us how fragile and finicky the rubric of comparison is?

How then can we know how good we really are? Maybe the answer lies in some time-tested standard outside of ourselves and outside of our neighbor? Maybe there is a standard outside ourselves to evaluate ourselves by.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Poll Finds "Dramatic and Sudden Shift" Toward a Pro-Life Position: Aaron Earls reports, " The latest Marist poll finds 47 percent of Americans identify as pro-life and 47 percent identify as pro-choice. Just one month ago, however, Americans were more likely to identify as pro-choice than pro-life by 17 percentage points—55 to 38 percent."

2.      How the Pro-Life Movement was Had: Andree Seu Peterson's pointed article begins, "They said who knows when life begins. So we said, OK, let’s talk about when life begins. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you,” we quoted from Jeremiah 1, verse 5. We’re not into religion, they replied. So we said fair enough, forget the Bible, let’s talk science, you like science, right? And if the science proves when life begins, then you’ll stop killing babies in the womb, agreed?"

3.      Seven Church Member Attitudes That Lead to the Death of Churches: We all want thriving churches. Thom Rainer has helpful thoughts in this podcast on ways that we as church members can help combat churches declining and dying.

4.      The Church Growth Gap: Aaron Earls reports, "Three in five (61%) pastors say their churches faced a decline in worship attendance or growth of 5 percent or less in the last three years. Almost half (46%) say their giving decreased or stayed the same from 2017 to 2018."

5.      How Men and Women Spend Their Days: Cool dynamic infograph from Flowing Data.

In Defense of Love Songs to God

In Defense of Love Songs to God

“God isn’t your boyfriend!” It doesn’t take much Googling to pick out an assortment of articles skewering intimate love songs inappropriately parading as worship. “He is the almighty God, not your lover,” the criticism goes. “Don’t trivialize our holy, incomprehensible God.”

Is it really appropriate to sing, “I could sing of your love forever” or reprise again and again, “your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me”? Or how about “Revelation Song” where we sing, “You are my everything and I will adore you”? And of course, the most obvious offender: please tell me we should nix the embarrassing “How He Loves Us,” where we belt out, “And I realize just how beautiful you are, and how great your affections are for me,” and then the cherry on the sundae, “And heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”

Let me stand up against the pitchforked crowd in defense of the modern worship love song. That isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of songs out there that are weak theologically or that our diet of worship should be comprised primarily of love songs to God, but I do believe there is a place for us to sing love songs to God.

You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus by JD Greear

You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus by JD Greear

If you’re a child of the 80s like myself, the phrase “your own personal Jesus” is heard channeled through the distinctive voice of Martin Gore of Depeche Mode whose massive 1989 hit democratizes the first century Jewish Messiah. Gore tells us to “reach out and touch faith” through whatever experience we can create that makes us feel as though someone hears our prayers and cares.

Martin Gore’s vision of a personalized Jesus is truer today, thirty years after his song hit the charts, than it has ever been. JD Greear wants to lovingly but firmly let us know that You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus in his thin volume by the same name. “Sometimes I hear people talk about ‘my God’ or ‘my Jesus’ as if he were their possession,” Greear reflects. But strangely absent of our personalized visions of Jesus are Jesus’ own claims of who he is. Unhappily for those who like to shape Jesus in their likeness, Jesus tells us that he is, in fact our Lord.

It makes sense that we think we can remake Jesus in our own image. Why shouldn’t we? Our social media feeds cater to our desires, my Amazon webpage is distinctive to me, your Netflix suggestions reflect your tastes. Why shouldn’t we be able to craft a Jesus who suits what we would like in a Savior? Greear reflects, “Those of us who have grown up in a consumeristic Western culture envision an Americanized Jesus who is one part genie, one part fan club, one part financial advisor, one part American patriot, and several parts therapist. Our ‘God’ makes us more narcissistic and materialistic, not less.” In Voltaire’s words, “God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Hormones, Surgery, Regret: I was a Transgender Woman for 8 Years--Time I Can't Get Back: Surprising story to read in USA Today by Walt Heyer: "I lived as “Laura” for eight years, but, as I now know, transitioning doesn’t fix the underlying ailments. Studies show that most people who want to live as the opposite sex have other psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety."

2.      13 Ways We Justify, Rationalize, or Ignore Negative Feedback: One of the best articles I've read this year. Peter Bregman of Harvard Business Review says, " It doesn’t feel good to be told you missed the mark. And, since feedback often uncovers our blind spots, it’s especially jarring because, in many cases, we thought we were doing a good job. So we don’t immediately or intuitively agree with the validity of it (we tend not to believe things we can’t see ourselves)."

3.      The Danger of Drama: When we stir up drama, Heidi St. John says, we are sinning: " If you need to address something that should be handled in private, then do it privately. If you’ve been hurt, don’t put it on the internet. Season your speech with grace."

4.      Don't Put Your Hope in Date Night: Interesting perspective by Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler, "In our modern, Western, first-world culture, our margin for romantic love is a blessing. Many of us have the freedom to select a spouse who matches our preferences and makes us feel weak in the knees—particularly in those first few months of dating. This is a joy and a privilege. As those ideas carry into marriage, we tend to continue emphasizing the importance of romantic feelings. But are cultivating these feelings through date nights essential in God-honoring marriages?"

5.      Beware of Broken Wolves: I resonate with Joe Carter's advice here about protecting oneself from a certain type of leader: "But there is a particularly nasty breed that often goes unnoticed, a type that we might call the “Broken Wolf.” These are the false teachers who use their own authenticity, pain, and brokenness to attract believers who are also suffering and broken—and then using their “brokenness” to lead the sheep to turn away from God’s Word and embrace sin. They blend into the flock because Christians are not—and should not be—suspicious of broken people. They appear “in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15)."

In Defense of Modern Worship

In Defense of Modern Worship

It was during a family dance party to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” that our patriarch commented about the vapid lyrics. “They just don’t make them like they used to,” he concluded. I teased back: “Sure, because ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Duke of Earl’ were so profound!

Musical preferences are profoundly etched into us. One generation’s trash is another generation’s treasure.

Modern worship has a bullseye on it. It’s a fairly regular occurrence that I read a blog or a reflection in a book decrying the insipid lyrics we sing in our churches or hear a complaint from a congregant about modern worship.

Last week I defended the treasure of hymns for the church. This is my defense of modern worship.

A few disclaimers:

1)      I am not claiming that all modern worship is good: there is a plenty that isn’t good;

2)      I am not making an argument that modern worship is any better than any other era of music;

3)      I am not making an argument that your church should primarily sing modern worship; there’s nothing wrong with a church that chooses songs that are several decades or several centuries old.

With that said, here are four reasons that we should enjoy modern worship:

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      How to Stop Hating Yourself: Emma Scrivener with ten suggestions on how to move out of self-hatred. She begins, "God hates your self hatred because He knows the truth about you; that He made you well. This truth is bigger than all the other ‘truths’ you’ve ever been told."

2.      Consolations for Your Burdens: Mike Emlet offers macro and micro consolations for the cares that weigh you down: "Life in a fallen world is hard, often excruciatingly painful. Christians don’t float above the mess of life, stoically relegating disappointments, trials, and tragedies to some back room of our lives. No, we sow in tears (Psalm 126:5). In the world we face tribulation... But where do we go when the inescapable cares of our lives are multiplying? We look for and embrace the consolations of God."

3.      Why Over-Quoting Your Leader Undermines Him or Her and Why We Do It: Wisdom from Eric Geiger: " The leader of the meeting name-dropped. You wonder why. Does the leader not feel confident to stand on his/her own credibility? Does the leader not agree with the conversation you did not even know about until now?"

4.      Tips for Communicating with Teens: Rachel Ehmke with sage advice: "Validate their feelings. It is often our tendency to try to solve problems for our kids, or downplay their disappointments. But saying something like “She wasn’t right for you anyway” after a romantic disappointment can feel dismissive."

5.      5 Myths About Abortion: Scott Klusendorf takes on four challenges to the pro-life movement, "Myth #4: Pro-life advocates must take on a broader 'whole life' agenda to legitimize their efforts. Why should anyone believe that because you oppose the intentional killing of an innocent human being, you must, therefore, take responsibility for all societal ills?"

In Defense of Hymns

In Defense of Hymns

It is probably because of my background that hymns never felt boring or old to me. I grew up in a megachurch where we sang the popular fare of choruses of the day. “Awesome God,” “As the Deer,” and “Shout to the Lord” were the songs of my childhood.

It was in college that I really experienced hymns for the first time and they felt so fresh and different from what I grew up with. I attended an historic Congregational church replete with eighteenth century pews, an organ, and a hymn board. It was there that I began to learn of the rich treasure trove of hymns the church had been blessed with by centuries of saints.

The church I attended in seminary and then went on to be a pastor at for eight years incorporated at least two hymns in every service, sung in the traditional style, with organ accompaniment. New Life, where I currently serve as a pastor, has a modern style of worship, but even so, we still have not set hymns aside. While we typically sing updated versions, we still sing hymns about twice a month.

In the coming weeks I will defend modern worship, but before I go there, I want to defend holding onto hymns. Whether or not you sing modern worship as well, I would encourage you to continue to sing hymns.

Why would we hold onto music that is so antiquated? We don’t still wear wigs and corsets, why would we sing music from a bygone era?

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Few Churched Teens are Devout as Young Adults: Aaron Earls has been unfolding this important LifeWay Research study recently. He shares, " Those who stopped attending church for at least a year are more likely to say they believe in God, but are uncertain about Christianity (17 to 8 percent); say they consider themselves spiritual, but not religious (13 to 5 percent); say they’re uncertain about their belief in God (7 to 3 percent); and say they don’t believe in God (6 to 1 percent)."

2.      4 Ways to Avoid the Church Dropout Danger Zone: Aaron Earls responds to the findings about young adults dropping out of church with some helpful advice: "Most parents don’t realize the impact their words and actions have on their teenagers. They wrongly assume their children aren’t listening and wouldn’t care. If parents make church a priority for the family, students will pick up on that. If parents treat church as if it is simply another activity to take or leave, students will pick up on that as well."

3.      Faithful with a Few: Jen Oshman with an important question for each of us, "How will you respond to the few? Every Christian must confront these questions because every Christian has a ministry, from the senior pastor to the children’s minister to the lay mentor who disciples young adults over coffee."

4.      The Importance of the Bible's Best Description of Salvation: Julie Canlis shares, " Paul says something far more often: He uses the phrase “in Christ” 165 timesThe Bible’s favorite way of describing our salvation is one we rarely use. For Paul, salvation was simple: It was being joined to Jesus Christ."

5.      5 Lessons Jordan Peterson Has Taught the Church: Esther O'Reilly has read Peterson deeply and has great insights on what the polarizing sociologist can teach us: "1. The Church must authentically meet men’s emotional needs… Peterson speaks with a voice that is at once authoritative and encouraging to men. He offers tough love that tells men they aren’t living up to their potential, without swinging to the other extreme and shaming them for it. He praises and exemplifies distinctively masculine virtues. And crucially, these virtues do not exclude emotion."

6. How PreachersNSneakers Exposes All Christians: Brady Shearer takes a look into the popular Instagram account that calls megachurch pastors out on their expensive shoe tastes. 

The Discipline of Today

The Discipline of Today

I love dreaming about and planning for tomorrow. Want to draw up a strategic plan? Count me in. Want to talk about which young NBA star will have the best career? Let’s go. Do you have predictions about the 2020 presidential election? Pull up a chair. Want to prognosticate about what the church is going to look like in 20 years? Sounds like a blast.

I’m wired for planning. Thoughtful forecasting can be powerful to the person who is willing to expend the energy preparing for their future. In fact, I wrote a series of blogs on how important it is to have a strategic plan for your spiritual life. But while planning has its place in the Christian life, it can also serve as a distraction or even fuel for sin.

The focus on tomorrow can feed discontentment, ingratitude, and laziness. If you’re like me, there is a danger that we can poorly steward the relationships and meetings that God has for us today if our eyes are too focused on the horizon. None of us like meeting with someone whose focus isn’t on us but past us: they tap their foot, look at the clock, and follow other (apparently more interesting people) with their eyes.