Tag Archives: Christian life

What is the Best Part of Going to Church?

There have been times in my life when I would have known exactly how to answer this question, but due to some troubling issues in my church, I have been faced with the necessity of deeper thinking on the subject. However, as with most problems, there is a real value in being compelled to think deeply instead of giving a flip answer on a deep subject.

During a visit with family this summer, I saw a headline in the local paper that asked the same question as the title of this post. I was somewhat unnerved by the answers the reporter chose to share. The article originated in the Kansas City Star, but I saw the reprint in Cedar Rapids in The Gazette on August 6, 2016. Two quick answers were featured in the article, and the two pastors who answered were allowed the opportunity to flesh out their answers as the body of the article.

The short answer by Pastor Bob Hill of the Community Christian Church was, “Participants can delight in living in a caring community.” The short answer by Pastor Duke Tufty of Unity Temple on the Plaza was, “Church is an ideal place to keep happy, upright and balanced.” What do you think of these answers?

This post is my response to the question, and I think these answers miss the whole point of going to church. I should make sure that readers know that the phrase, “going to church,” has at least two discrete meanings: 1 – to attend the primary weekly worship service, and 2 – to participate in the life of a church. My immediate reaction to the title was to think of my answer based on the first meaning, but when I read the answers of the two pastors, I felt that they were responding to the second meaning. I don’t feel that they gave a good answer for either meaning.

If the question referred to the first meaning, then the question was about the “best part” of being in a worship service. Some worship services may celebrate a caring community, and some may be about personal happiness and mental health, but in my experience, that is not the focus of a worship service. A worship service is about our human obligation to love God, to praise him and to give thanks for his presence and power in our lives. Our worship obligation is a response to the fact that Christ has set us free from enslavement to Satan, cleansed us from the spiritual harm done by Satan in our lives, and called us to service to him and to every person we meet. Worship is in part our gratefulness for what God has done, but in very large part, worship is a celebration of who God is. It isn’t about making us feel good; it is more about making us into good people.

If the question referred to the second meaning, the answers may have some elements of truth, but something important was missing from both answers: our salvation through Christ and our grateful service to Christ. In regard to our overall participation in the life of a church, the best part is the way the life of the church constantly draws us closer to Christ and helps us to become more like Christ. If any part of church life fails to do those two things, it is irrelevant to the work of the church. Christ must be central to everything the church does. We don’t have therapy to offer to people; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have entertainment to offer; we can only offer Christ. We don’t have a good social life to offer. We don’t have mental challenges to offer. We can only offer Christ. If our church is doing something that is not about Christ, it is worthless.

A few years ago I visited an unfamiliar church. The people were very pleasant and friendly. In the bulletin were announcements of activities that looked like a caring community. There was an Al Anon meeting scheduled for one evening, and I assume that meeting might help people achieve balance in their lives. However, the sermon for the day was a commentary on a recent women’s rights convention, and there was not one mention of Christ or the Bible. The gathering would have qualified on every point as a meeting of women’s rights advocates, not a service to worship Christ.

I have never again visited the church that preached women’s rights, even though it would be much easier to attend than the church where I am now a member. I never will. I do not believe advocacy for women’s rights is “the best part” or even a legitimate part of going to church. Followers of Christ legitimately advocate for various human rights as part of the mission to be salt and light in the world, but the sermon in a worship service must never fail to be Christ-focused. The worship service itself must draw people nearer to Christ, rather than stir up a fever for one or more social or political agendas.

The rights of women and other basic human rights are important issues, and it is certainly legitimate for Christians to want the human world to treat women with the respect due them as God’s creation. To teach what Jesus modeled in his life as evidence of the value he placed on men and women is a proper sermon element, but no element of the sermon should transcend or blot out the presence of Christ.

The best part of going to church, whether you mean attending worship or serving in the life of the church, is the way the church, Christ’s own body, constantly points us to Christ, never permitting any issue or concept or agenda to transcend our call to deny self and follow him.

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A Book for our Times

 

LivingBackward_Front_Cover_300

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to interview Angelique Cooper McGlotten whose recently released book Living Backward: The Gift of Hindsight in Building A Truly Significant Life inspires me to persevere and stand strong in the cultural winds of the twenty-first century. After you get to know Angelique, I am sure you will want to read this book.

  1. Please share with my readers what it means to “live backward.” How did you arrive at the insight that inspired your book by the same name?

We all know that GPS works backward to get us from where we are to where we want to be. To live backward is to apply this reverse principle to our lives: imagine the kind of life you want to build and then work backward, wisely redeeming the time in order to create that life.

Two realities are intrinsic to the idea of living backward. First, time is fleeting. Second, this earthly existence is our one and only opportunity to make our mark on eternity, a truth we all too easily overlook. The concept of living backward is meant to counter the mind-set that we have time on our hands, which leads to a subtle but grave pitfall: it predisposes us to put off leading purposeful lives precisely because we assume we have time on our side.

Living Backward challenges us to reorient our minds and view time as elapsing. With each passing year we haven’t just gained more time—we’ve also lost more of the precious, irretrievable time that we have been allotted to create significance in our lives. I came up with the title Living Backward because I wanted to capture the idea that what will matter in eternity is what should matter to us now. By leveraging the gift of future-oriented hindsight, we’ll be able to look back on the sum total of our earthly lives and realize that our reasons to rejoice are far greater than our regrets.

  1. Your first chapter title is “In Pursuit of What Matters Most.” If people learn what that might be, will it be of any help to them personally when they face a culture that utterly scorns Christians? Will knowing what matters most help them explain themselves to a secular culture?

Great question, Katherine. Absolutely! When we understand and pursue what matters most, we come to view life through a different lens. This lens or eternal perspective shapes our entire outlook on life, including the way we engage the dark and corrupt culture all around us.

According to my Christian worldview, God is the beginning and the end. Because He is sovereignly in control of all things, we can trust that nothing enters our lives outside of His will. In addition, we also know that all things we experience—including trials and difficulties—are working together both for our good and God’s glory (see Romans 8:28). This knowledge enables us to stand firm when we are scorned for our faith.

We also trust Jesus’s own words, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Moreover, this eternal perspective changes what we seek after and how we live. For example, it shapes our values, ideals, goals, plans, use of time and money, etc. We do not settle for the brass of this world when we know that a life lived in pursuit of God’s glory means that in losing our lives we will save them and in the end get the gold (see Matthew 16:24-27)!  Hence, knowing what matters most enables us to not only explain our worldview—why we believe what we believe—but most importantly, to walk out those beliefs in the midst of a secular culture. It enables us to live as true ambassadors of God’s kingdom–to be the living epistles or walking advertisements that God has called us to be (See Ephesians 5:1; 2 Corinthians 3:2).

  1. Contemporary culture utterly rejects the concept of a personal, authoritative God. When Christians face moral choices, the culture will look askance at their sense that they should talk with God about the decision. How does the concept of “living backward” shape the way they view their options?

Essentially, to live backward is to live our fleeting lives for the glory of God, our Creator and Sustainer. It is to live according to the precepts, instructions, and commands found in the Bible—God’s user manual for the people He created for His good pleasure. Therefore, everything we do and every choice we make should be shaped by and predicated upon Scripture (God’s revealed will for our lives), not what we or others think is right. Any option we pursue must be God-sanctioned.

  1. In one chapter you talk about “pursuing our God-given dreams and aspirations.” Secularists say, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” What is the real difference between those two concepts?

Secularists tell us to rely on human wisdom and reasoning to determine what is best for our lives. This includes the dreams and goals that we pursue. If we apply ourselves, do the right things, and work hard enough (and long enough), then we can self-actualize and become anything that we desire. On the contrary, Scripture teaches us to seek God’s pre-ordained plans for our lives, plans He has prepared for us even before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 2:10). When we are surrendered to God’s will and seek His unique purpose for our lives, the dreams and goals we pursue are God-breathed or initiated. We will succeed in these plans because they have already been blessed by God (see Philippians 4:13).

  1. In one chapter, you write extensively about the importance of Bible study. Secular thinkers, and even secular Christians, say that the Bible is just one of many sacred books that document ways to connect with the sacred. Why are you so adamant about the Bible? Don’t you respect the other sacred books? What would you recommend to someone who said she had really found herself after she read the Tao te Ching?

I would ask her if there is anything in her life that she knows for sure to be true. For example, I’d ask her if she believes that stealing is wrong. Assuming she says, “Yes,” I’d then ask if she’s ever experienced anything that she knows without a doubt to be real. For example, touching an actual flower.

Assuming that she again answers in the affirmative, I’d proceed to ask her the following hypothetical situation: if you saw a child on a street who couldn’t see or hear a truck that was coming toward him, would you warn the child to get out of the way? Probably, she’ll say yes. I’d then go on to explain, for example, that while Taoism embraces nature and appreciates its beauty, the natural world did not create itself. God created it and He created you.

And just like all appliances come with instructions from the manufacturer, our manufacturer has given us a user manual—the Bible. It is there that we discover the meaning of life, not in any other manual. Although there are many sources that provide good information and can even help us know how to live, they can never equate to or take precedence over the Bible. I’d then tell her that outside a relationship with God, life is meaningless. He created all humans in His image because He desires an intimate relationship with each of us. If we choose to reject rather than accept His love, after death we’ll end up in a place of unimaginable suffering and torment, eternally separated from His presence. That place, called Hell, is like the truck I mentioned in the example above. I know it exists even though you can’t see it (don’t know of it or perhaps deny its existence). I desperately want to warn you before it’s too late.

  1. When Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because she wanted to be obedient to God, some people accused her of trying to “push her beliefs on others.” Would you say that Kim Davis is “living backward?” Why? Or why not?

I would say that Kim Davis is living backward. As I mentioned above, living backward is to live in such a way that our thoughts, choices, actions, and decisions bring glory and honor to God. If a man-made rule is opposed to God’s desires, then we must obey God rather than man (see Acts 5:29).

  1. Secular thinkers contend that the only way to know if something is right is to determine if it makes you, the individual, feel good. Therefore, they say, what’s right for you may not be what’s right for me. If you are going to “live backward”, how will you decide what is right?

Similar to the above response, you will decide what is right by living your life according to the precepts of Scripture. Followers of Christ are not called to live by the standards of this fallen world. To the contrary, the Bible commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Yet the things of this world continually beckon to us, constantly enticing us to live for ourselves and to find our pleasure in temporal allurements. Much like we have to continually adjust a misaligned grocery cart to keep it from taking us in a different direction, we must purposefully choose to go countercurrent to the patterns of this world in order to not be conformed by it (see Romans 12:2). Unlike the secular world, our choices and decisions must always be rooted in God’s Word.

  1. One of your chapters is titled, “Life is but a Vapor.” Secularists say that this life is all there is, and that is why we must make the most of it. On what basis do you deal with the transient nature of life?

Picture the steam coming from a kettle of boiling water. It rises into the air, but in a matter of seconds you no longer see it: this is the sheer brevity of our lives. I take this truth to heart. I’ve also heard eternity described as a line extending forever with no end; relative to eternity our lives are but a teeny, tiny dot on that line. Yet we focus on and live for the dot, forgetting that it’s the endless line that really matters. So I engage life, being ever cognizant that not only is life brief, but it’s also fragile and uncertain. The next breath is not promised to any of us. In a sense, our “real” life begins when this one ends. I want to redeem the time wisely so that what I do here endures beyond my earthly years.

  1. How do you explain yourself when secular thinkers challenge you on this point? I’ve heard it said, “Life is a dress rehearsal.” If this means that this life is preparation for what comes after, then there’s much wisdom in this maxim. However, it would be false and very misleading if we interpreted this saying to mean that we get a second chance to do an actual (or another) performance here on earth. According to the Bible, we get only one shot at this temporal life. That’s it—this life is our one and only opportunity to impinge on all eternity. There’s absolutely no second chance after we take our final breath. There’s no purgatory, no reincarnation, or anything else of the sort. If this were not true—if we were allowed another chance to “do it again” in “another performance”—then there’s no incentive for us to maximize our time and live according to God’s Word in the here and now. Living backward would be meaningless. Because of its finality, it might be even better to think of this life as both the dress rehearsal and the actual performance all wrapped up into one. Each of us is on center stage with a specific part to play, and our “performance” is incredibly brief—far briefer than we tend to think.

Although Living Backward posits that we must live ever mindful of the end of our temporal lives, I, nevertheless, emphasize that this does not preclude us from wholeheartedly embracing the journey. In fact, the very idea of living backward encompasses both the process and the result.

  1. One last question: the world is a big mess right now. Why would a Christian benefit from reading your book?

The world is indeed in a mess. But more importantly, there’s coming a day when the things of this world will be no more. Many of us are basing our limited earthly time on the Fleeting Success (FS) factor—living for or amassing things, titles, and wealth—rather than the Eternal Value (EV) factor—living as though how I’ve lived in this life will absolutely determine everything about my eternity. The truth is, there’s a world of difference between a successful life and a significant life. We must all take to heart that in eternity only what God deems significant will matter. Unequivocally, any significance that we find in the brass of what the world considers important will not matter to God.

In light of these certainties, we cannot compromise on the truths in God’s Word if we expect our aggregate choices during our brief life to be counted significant in God’s forever kingdom, or to meet His criteria for a life that has truly counted for His glory. Instead, we must take God at His Word and cultivate the mindset that what will matter to Him then is what should matter to us now. If we desire true significance—wherein our earthly achievements last beyond this world—we must live with a backward orientation of time as we seek to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. Besides laying a solid foundation, cultivating the five principles in Living Backward provide the brick and mortar for us to build and uphold the edifice of a truly significant life—one that ultimately counts in God’s estimation. Deep down, you desire nothing less.

Living Backward: The Gift of Hindsight in Building A Truly Significant Life is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, and Hastings. To watch the book trailer, learn more about the author, read a free sample chapter, as well as get a free e-book, visit www.livingbackward.com. Angelique would also love to connect with you here.

 

A Hymn for Meditation

A Closer Walk

I am weak but thou art strong.
Jesus keep me from all wrong.
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to thee.

Just a closer walk with thee,
Grant it, jesus, is my plea.
Daily walking close to thee
Let it be, dear lord, let it be.

When my feeble life is o’er
Time for me shall be no more.
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To thy kingdom’s shore, to thy shore.

When life’s sun sinks in the west,
Lord, may I have done my best.
May I find sweet peace and rest
In that happy home of the blessed.

Just a closer walk with thee.
Grant it, jesus, is my plea.
Daily walking close to thee,
Let it be, dear lord, let it be.

Author unknown

Read more at http://www.songlyrics.com/all/just-a-closer-walk-with-thee-lyrics/#X0p6HvzrqqhEOisT.99

  • What do you mean when you sing the phrase, “walk close to thee?”
  • What is required if you want to be closer to Jesus? Who needs to change?
  • What is feeble about your life? What can be done to strengthen it?
  • hymnal Why do you want to be closer to Jesus? What do you intend to do in order to move closer to him?

A Homophobe is not Obeying Christ

A recent chapel speaker at Wheaton College said, “Homosexuality is a sin, but so is homophobia.” How true. Homophobia by definition is an irrational fear, hatred or contempt toward homosexuality. Christians who have such fear, hatred or contempt are not living by the teachings of Christ, and their brethren in the faith would do well to counsel with them and pray for them to be healed of such an attitude. To say this, however, does not mean that Christians consider homosexuality to be normal human behavior. It does not mean that Christians have suddenly reinterpreted the Bible. The Bible still says that homosexuality is sin, just as a lot of other behaviors, such as lying, murder and incest are all sins. Above all other things, the Bible says that humans are born with a sinful nature and need to be forgiven and cleansed of sin. Homosexuals, liars, adulterers and abortionists are all guilty of sin and need to be cleansed and forgiven. To say that is neither irrational fear nor contemptuous hatred of homosexuals. It is the truth taught by the Bible, and it applies to every human being.

To equate rejection of homosexuality with homophobia is incorrect. To equate homophobia and the Christian teaching that homosexuality is sin is a mistake. Many people who reject the contention that homosexuality is normal, innate and immutable, do so without feeling antipathy toward people who consider themselves to be homosexual. People who name homosexuality as a sin do not necessarily also feel contempt or hatred for people who claim to be homosexual. Many people who recognize that homosexuality is sin have beloved relatives who are guilty of this sin. They don’t hate their relatives. They don’t refuse to associate with their relatives. They sit down to dinner with their relatives and pray to God for forgiveness and cleansing for all.

People who consider homosexuality to be abnormal and sinful behavior do, however, strongly resist political and social activist efforts to deny them their rights to moral values growing out of Christian convictions. A Christian who calls divorce a sin does not hate divorced people. A Christian who calls murder a sin does not hate murderers. To identify sin and reject it personally is not equivalent to hatred of people enslaved by that sin. Jesus never told us to hate people who commit sin, because that would mean hating everyone. Jesus told us to love people who commit sin.

Jesus did, however, teach that we must not participate in sin. He told his disciples to shun sinful behavior. When Jesus faced down the Pharisees who wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery, he did so while retaining his teaching that adultery is sin. After the Pharisees left, he told the woman, “Sin no more.” He didn’t condone her behavior, even though he stood up for her when self-righteous Pharisees wanted Jesus to participate in their self-worship. If the person brought to his attention had been a homosexual caught in the act, there is no reason to believe that he would have done anything different. In your mind’s eye, just imagine that it was a lesbian, not an adulterous wife, caught in the act with another woman. Almost certainly the Pharisees would have brought both of them forward for judgment and stoning. You can see in your mind’s eye how they would have been silenced when Jesus said, “If you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw a stone.” Then watch in your head as he turns to the two lesbians and says, “Go, and sin no more.” He did not tell the adulterous woman that she needed to do some sort of penance or suffer more to be worthy of his love and forgiveness. He would not have done so for lesbians or gay men, either. Jesus called a forgiven woman to amendment of life, and that is what he would have asked of homosexuals if they were caught in the act.

Christians learn from the Bible that homosexuality is sin, just like theft and murder. In the Bible, Christians learn that sin can be forgiven, because Christ died to take on himself the evil of human sin. They also learn in the Bible that after a person has been forgiven of sin, amendment of life is necessary. Jesus told a story about a demon who was cast out of the person he had possessed. The person was forgiven, but the person did nothing to amend his life or grow in faith. He simply vegetated in his forgiveness. Eventually, the demon wandered back to see what had become of his former slave, and he discovered that the man was just as empty as he had ever been. The demon moved right back in and invited other demons to join him. This story explains why people need to amend their lives after they are forgiven of any sin.

Think about it. What does forgiveness do for a person? It wipes out the misery and the poison that drove sinful behavior in the first place. It does not, however, change the person’s life. A person can be forgiven by the choice of someone else, but a person’s life is only changed when he chooses to change it.

It is this need to make a change, to turn life in a new direction, that sets political and social activists for the LGBT agenda at severe odds with Christian teaching. They reject not only the need for change, but also the possibility of change. They focus on perceived failures of reparative therapy for homosexuals as evidence that homosexuality is innate and immutable. However, amendment of life in the form of converting to a heterosexual orientation might not be possible for a variety of reasons that do not invalidate the need for amendment of life.

The heterosexual person whose sin is adultery may not be able to convert from a person who is attracted to many different people besides a spouse, but that person may be able to convert to a person who does not submit to every attraction. Whether that person can ever fully and finally reject attraction to anyone but the spouse is not the issue, but the need to amend life and stop acting on every attraction is crucial. Christians discover in the Bible that the Holy Spirit, promised to every believer, can work in the life of an individual in many different ways, and one prominent way is to be the power in amendment of life.

The LGBT activists in the linked realms of society and politics reject the possibility, let alone the need, for amendment of homosexual behavior. The underlying reason is not about biology or even psychology. They reject amendment of life, because it is so hard to do that they allege that people ought not to be required to do it. Some do not reject God’s existence, but all reject his right to tell them that they are sinners. If God cannot call them sinners, then there is no need for amendment of life. Homosexuals who claim the name of Christ reject any need to confess to sin in their words, their deeds, or their lifestyle, as regards homosexuality, and having denied that homosexuality is sin, they certainly feel no need to change their lives in any way.

The activists take an additional position that stresses the fabric of a free society. They believe that they are free to advocate their viewpoint, but they reject the right of Christians to advocate their viewpoint. The activists further mount a solid and unyielding assault on political leaders to make laws that embody the LGBT agenda. It isn’t enough that they want it to be illegal to say that homosexuality is a sin; they want it to be illegal to fail to speak in lavish praise of homosexuality.

To this end, they invented the word homophobe. The exact date of the first usage of this word is somewhat in dispute, but there is general agreement that it emerged in the late fifties or early sixties. This word is used to disparage the character of anyone who disagrees with the LGBT agenda. Christians can rightly say that they are not homophobes, because their attitude is neither “irrational” nor “extreme.” The teaching of the Bible that homosexuality is a sin does not make homosexuality any worse than any other sin, and Christians know that everyone is sinful. That is a rational conclusion from the teachings of the Bible.

What’s more, Christian attitudes are not extreme. To be extreme would require aggressive behavior to suppress or destroy other people. Christians do not have that kind of attitude toward homosexuals. They don’t fear homosexuals the way they fear cancer, nor do they find homosexuals disgusting by definition. They simply reject the sin of homosexuality and teach that every sinner, even a homosexual, must repent of sin and amend his or her life. Such a position is neither irrational nor extreme. It is completely within the definition of “free exercise” of religion to permit Christians to live by their values and homosexuals to live by their values.

There are people in the world who become irrational and extreme when anyone disagrees with them. A large number of such people have become social and political activists for the LGBT agenda. That is a shame. A lot of rational, faith-centered Christians would like to talk with them about how we all might live in the USA as free citizens in a nation of laws, not men.

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollFor he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.   Philippians 1:29

  • What is special about the “privilege” of believing in Christ? What is do you receive as part of the privilege of believing in Christ that nonbelievers do not receive simply by living in the beautiful created order of things?
  • Do you agree that it is a privilege to suffer for Christ? Why?
  • In what way do you suffer for Christ? What do you think you might be required to suffer for Christ in the future?
  • A few verses before this one, Paul said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Clearly, in the verse above, he is saying something similar about our lives as well. What does he mean when he says, “to live is Christ?”