Monday, April 30, 2007

Politically Correct Mexican Food

As I walked down the isles recently at a grocery store I noticed an unusual sight. The isle that contained food items such as taco shells, salsa mix, and jalepeno peppers was labeled Hispanic. Usually I would expect a sign describing this section as Mexican. Is that right? Doesn’t the word Mexican label food that is primarily found in Mexico? Isn’t Hispanic a more generalized description of people from countries such as Mexico, Spain, Brazil, etc.? Growing up in Texas I never referred to my favorite restaurants as Hispanic. They were always Mexican restaurants. So why the change here? I just wonder if this is another attempt to be politically correct. Could it be that some grocery store owner has changed the signs on a type of food in order to keep from offending someone? Which raises the question. Is the phrase Mexican food becoming politically incorrect?

Regardless of this particular situation it reminds me of a more global problem in our society today. It seems that we live in a culture of fear. We are so afraid of offending someone with the words we speak. I am well aware of the command in Ephesians 4:29. We are to be careful with what we say. We are to encourage people and not use language in an offensive manner. However, it seems that in many areas we have taken this too far. As a result it becomes difficult to say anything at all.

Unfortunately this mentality has also entered the world of Christianity and theology. Over the years there have been many attempts to make Scripture gender inclusive. Some have tried to make the Bible less offensive by taking out any reference to men. I understand the desire to replace the universal “man” with words such as “humanity” or “people”. However, this is not good enough for some. There is also a desire to remove the masculine nature of the Father and even Jesus. Although, as my old seminary professor pointed out, no one wants to make Satan a woman! Another politically correct aspect is sin. It is no longer acceptable to discuss this aspect. For some it is too discouraging. For others it is too offensive. Furthermore, certain particular sins such as homosexuality are being targeted. It is becoming more and more taboo to label sins such as homosexuality as sinful.

We must be very careful in how we allow politically correct language to affect our theology. Although I do not have a problem with saying “humanity” instead of “mankind”, I do have a problem with making God into a female or not mentioning sin. As Christians we must not be ashamed of the content of Scripture. Furthermore, we must not become obsessed with trying to make it inoffensive. In truth, the Gospel is extremely offensive. It calls all of us sinners deserving hell. Furthermore, we cannot do anything to change our situation. Our only hope is found in a Savior named Jesus.

In the end I believe many more attacks will come against Christianity and the truths found in Scripture. Christians must be on the alert. I do not think the attacks will be as obvious as they were in church history. I believe the attack will be more subtle as people slowly try to make different aspects of our faith taboo or even illegal to talk about.

Thou Shalt Not Judge Me

“You can’t judge me.” How often have you heard this phrase? Many times it is used as a defense mechanism for people who have been confronted on conduct that many would deem inappropriate. The Bible is often used as proof for this viewpoint. Many will quote Matthew 7 and say that Jesus prohibits us from judging one another. But is that really what the Bible says?

Look at Matthew 7:1-5 more closely. In this passage the prohibition in verse 1 is not a prohibition on judging but on judgmental attitudes. This is proven in the following verses. Jesus encourages us to examine our own lives before judging others. We are called to first confess and deal with our own sins. Once we have done this we are allowed to confront other believers in sin.

Paul continues this theme of judging in 1 Corinthians 5. In verse 11 Paul tells the Corinthians not to associate with a believer that is involved in a sinful lifestyle. Paul gives authority to believers to judge other believers within the church. What areas are up for judgment? It is not such things as clothing or music preferences. Although this is what some in the church have the most disagreement over. It is over areas such as morality and theology.

It is important to note that Christians are not allowed to judge non Christians. Why? Because that is God’s responsibility. We cannot judge them for being immoral since they have not been saved by God’s grace and given the power of the Holy Spirit.

But how are we supposed to judge someone? Paul also provides the answer in Galatians 6:1. He notes that we are to judge someone for the purpose of restoration. We are to seek to point out their faults for the purpose of helping them grow closer to Jesus Christ. This is to be done in a gentle manner with grace. Paul also warns those who seek to restore someone in sin to be careful. They too can fall into temptation if they are not alert.

Can anyone else judge Christians? According to 2 Corinthians 5 all Christians will be judged based on our lives here on earth. This is not to determine admission to heaven. Instead it is an evaluation of our lives. It is a reminder that we are saved for good works (Eph. 2:10) and not to live out our own sinful pleasures.

Furthermore, according it seems that in John 17:23 Jesus notes that the world will judge Christians. They will judge us based on our love for each other and unity. The world will know that Jesus Christ is real based on how we as Christians relate to one another. These two judgments provide a serious reminder to live our lives in a manner worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1).


The First Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT Fee, Gordon.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians NICNT Barnett, Paul

The Gospel of John PNTC Carson, D.A.

Matthew NAC Blomberg, Craig

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Student Nutrition

John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, St. Augustine. These are names that are normally reserved for seminary courses much less a youth minister’s sermon. Some student ministries often focus on relevant issues such as friendships, dating, and lifestyle evangelism.

These are important things to emphasize. However, could it be that youth could handle much more? Could it be that some churches are selling students short by only giving them baby food when they desire steak? In school, students are tackling calculus, advanced history, and chemistry. They are writing 10 page papers and taking college level courses. But when they get to church they are often exposed them to light and fluffy sermons on dating.

Maybe it is time that we raise the bar on what students are taught.

This will require youth ministers to raise the bar on sermon preparation. Less time may need to be spent on creative manners to present the message and more spent on the content of the message. I have often been guilty of spending more time preparing how I say something instead of what I say. Don’t get me wrong, presentation is important. But maybe youth sometimes need less flash in preaching and more content.

So what does this look like? Here are a few suggestions for those who work with youth. First, preach through biblical books or major passages. This will give students a more complete exposure to God’s Word. Second, tackle some deeper issues. Look into topics such as the Trinity, the purpose of God, or the three phases of salvation. These are topics that may not have an easily discovered application but are vital to our Christian faith. Finally, spend more time in preparation. Crack open those commentaries, refer to some of the previously mentioned great theologians in our church history, or reference the wealth of sermons online at places such as Finally, challenge students to take steps to grow in their faith outside of church. Encourage them to memorize Scripture, develop a bible reading plan, and read some challenging books.

Our churches today are full of adults who are immature in their faith. One way to solve this problem is to provide our teenagers now with a faith that is deep, intellectual and authentic. This will enable the next generation of leaders in the church to possess a more mature and solid faith.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

American Idol and Joy in God

Surprisingly in a recent episode of American Idol I was prompted to think about why I strive to do what is right. This particular episode had a theme of giving back to the needs of various organizations around the world. Throughout the show they showed clips of the various needs in places such as Africa and urban areas in LA. The highlight of the night was a particular company agreed to donate to charity .10 for every person who called to vote for their favorite performer up to 50 million calls. This would total a maximum donation of 5 million dollars.

My jaded nature came out as my first reaction was one of cynicism. I thought this company is getting a great deal. True they are donating up to 5 million dollars to charity but they are getting major advertising throughout the show and a great public relations spin. This company isn’t doing just to help needy people. They are doing this to benefit themselves! This was just a selfish media spin to promote their name and get a lot of advertising.

Or was it? I was assuming that just because this company benefited from the act of kindness that it was therefore not virtuous or sincere. Is that true? Is the amount of virtue in an action determined by the lack of benefit to the person performing the action? In other words is a good deed only good if it does not benefit the one performing the good deed? If the deed is done in a totally selfless and non-beneficial manner does that make it better? Philosophers such as Kant would seem to think so.

All of this forces me to ask, “why do I do good things?” And to take it one step further, “why do I sometimes not do the right thing?” Why do I try to help those in need? Why am I faithful to my wife? Why do I try to be a good father? I think ultimately it is because I will benefit from it. I believe there is great joy to be found in being obedient to God. This is because God is our Creator. He has designed us to live and work a certain way. When we are obedient to His will we are happy. When we are disobedient we experience hardship and frustration. So why am I not always obedient? Because I often forget this truth. I buy into the lie that doing things my way will make me happier.

John Piper notes that our obedience to God is for our satisfaction. God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. When we obey God we are doing so in order to be satisfied. Therefore, our Christian obedience is done out of a desire to gain something, joy in God. When I read my bible, share my faith, or help a person in need I do so knowing these things will bring me a true sense of joy and satisfaction. As a result the person whom I have helped has their needs met and I have the joy of serving and being obedient to Christ.

One example that Piper often uses highlights this idea. Suppose my wife asks, “why do you love me?” “Because when I am with you I am full of joy. You make me feel good. I enjoy being around you. You bring such happiness to my life.” If I respond in this way my wife is not going to call me selfish. She is not going to say that I am only around her because she makes me feel good. The reason for this is my desire to be around her brings glory and honor to her. In this relationship my wife’s need to be loved is met and my desire to be happy is met by being around her.

So, I guess I owe an apology to the company donating millions of dollars to charity. You can in fact do a good deed and benefit from it yourself.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jesus: A Leadership Failure?

Go to any bookstore and you will find a host of books on leadership. Many promoting ideas on how to be an effective leader. However, no matter what type of leader you are, you will still experience some forms of failure. In today’s society failure is considered a sign of weakness. Only the incompetent experience failure. Truly good leaders will never experience problems with those they lead. However, Scripture seems to disagree with this.

Don’t believe me look at the life of Jesus. In Matthew 26 Jesus is betrayed. After pouring 3 years of His life into the twelve disciples Jesus is handed over by Judas. In Mark 10 we see division within the disciples. They experienced inner turmoil as they fought amongst themselves for a better position of power and importance. And finally Jesus was abandoned by His followers. During His darkest hour Jesus was totally abandoned by those whom He discipled. One of which promised to die with Him if necessary.

What can we learn from this? Even the Son of God experienced difficulty when leading groups of people. Why? Because He was leading sinful people. We are no different. When leading we must keep in mind that we will encounter our share of hardship and frustrations. This is common to both the experienced and novice leader. What determines our leadership ability is how we handle these difficulties.

Good leaders entrust themselves to God. They realize that their ministry is a gift from God. Any good fruit that results from their leadership is a result of God’s grace working in and through them. Good leaders work hard for the Lord and entrust the results to Him.

Good leaders do not get distracted by traitors in the camp. Every church has people that will seemingly betray us. They will pull away after we have invested time and energy into them. They will suddenly lead attacks against us or try to steer things in a different direction. Some of these people need to be dealt with directly. At other times it is best to simply ignore them and move forward. The key is to not let them get you off course. You are God’s person. You have been given the call to lead your area. Therefore, move forward and don’t be sidetracked.

Good leaders do not allow others to drain their passion and intensity for ministry. Some people are negative. They see only the dark side of things. These people can become a distraction and discouragement. A good leader must continually seek Christ through His Word for encouragement and renewal in order to maintain their passion. They must learn to lovingly ignore those who are by nature negative and focus on the fruit being produced in the lives of others. All the while praying that the Lord would also convict and renew those who may provide the discouragement.

Good leaders persevere. One of the biggest temptations in leadership is to give up. Give up on people, on the ministry, on God, on your own ability to lead. However, good leaders persevere through all of the disappointments, challenges, and failures. In the Christian life perseverance is key to our faith. This is true also of our leadership. When we persevere to the end we are at times allowed to see the benefits of our labor. Take for example Jesus’ own following. If we had left them just after His crucifixion we would be given the impression that they would never amount to anything. But as we know from reading the book of Acts God used those men to change the world by spreading the Gospel.

All Roads Lead to Heaven. Really?

All roads lead to heaven. That seems to be the popular view when discussing the afterlife. From Oprah to the average person on the street all faiths lead to the same destination. This may be partly due to the fact that there are so many faiths in our world. Therefore, no one wants to say that everyone else is wrong and they are right. Instead, it is not so much what you believe that is important, but how you believe. A person goes to heaven not based on a correct belief but in the passion and sincerity with which they believe.

However, this view does not work in other areas of life. For example, 2 + 2 = 4. It does not equal 5 or any other number. Or take money as an example. If you owe a person $100 and you try to pay the debt with a $10 bill you will still owe $90. And finally, directions. If you want to go from Los Angeles to New York City across the US by car you must travel east. You cannot get there by going north or south. In each of these scenarios there is only one possible solution. In practically every area of life people have no problem with only one solution to a situation. No one is saying that 2+2 should also equal 6 so as not to offend others. No one is suggesting that we make $10 equal to $100 to make it easier for people to pay debts. Yet in the area of religion and admission to heaven we swing the door wide open for all to enter as they choose.

As we look at Scripture we see that all are welcome to spend eternity in heaven but not as they choose. The invitation is open to all but only through the one way provided. In John 14:6 Jesus says that He is the only way to be saved. A person can gain access to heaven through Him alone. It is only by accepting Christ as Savior and Lord that a person can spend eternity with God.

To some this may seem offensive. Many will say that people are being excluded from heaven. However, Jesus does not exclude people from eternal life. The invitation is open to all who will call upon Him for salvation. Yes it does require a denial of false beliefs. However, if you were wrong would you not want to know and believe what is true?

On September 11 the tragedy that occurred exposed a major flaw in the belief that all roads lead to heaven as long as the believer is sincere and genuine. The men who crashed planes into buildings were practicing their beliefs with extreme devotion. So if you want to say that all roads lead to heaven then you must also say that what those men did was not wrong. They were simply doing what they believed their faith taught. However, if you believe that heaven can only be accessed through one person, Jesus Christ, then you have the ability to call what they did evil and reprehensible.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Organized Religion

“I believe in God, I just don’t like organized religion.” This seems to be a growing view among many who consider themselves spiritual. As a result some church leaders suggest eliminating much of the structure and organization found in our churches in order to allow people to experience a more fluid relationship with God. Religion has now become the enemy. We must rid ourselves of anything that resembles it.

However, I think caution is needed when examining these issues. Some churches do have too many outdated programs that do not minister effectively. Church has become irrelevant to many people. Sometimes the organization in the church makes it difficult at times to do ministry.

But let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Maybe organization and structure is not the enemy. Maybe programs are not the reason people are not satisfied with church. Maybe the problem lies with the people creating and implementing the programs and organizations. Organization is a neutral thing that is not inherently evil. What determines if an organization is good or bad is the people running it.

Furthermore, Scripture is full of people who were organized and implemented programs. In the Gospels Jesus organizes the twelve disciples for ministry and sends out seventy disciples to minister to the region.. In Acts we see the formation of the deacon ministry and Paul describes the elder as an organizational leader in 1 Timothy.

So what are we to do? Instead of starting over with how we organize our churches we simply clean them up. Here are some suggestions.

First, always have a specific goal and purpose for your program. Without purpose a church can stay busy but not actually meet any needs. Churches need to know what they want to accomplish and how to accomplish it.

Second, frequently examine your programs and organizations. If they become too complicated and inhibit ministry get rid of them. If they do not fulfill the mission of the church they need to be cut. Too often churches hold on to irrelevant or dead ministries for the sake of tradition.

Third, keep it simple and do it well. Each church has an unlimited number of good things that they can do. As a result many churches end up doing too many things poorly. It is better to say no to some things and do a few things with excellence.

Fourth, minister to real needs. What are the needs of the community? How can the church help? These are questions to ask when deciding on what ministries to initiate. The church must be careful to focus as much on the needs of the community as well as the needs of the congregation.

Finally, keep Christ as the center. Although this seems obvious how often do we become guilty of losing our ultimate reason for ministry. Our goal as the body of Christ is to bring glory and honor to the Savior. We must always remember that all ministry is for the glory of God.

Theme Park Church

Have you ever been to a theme park? Growing up outside of Dallas/Ft. Worth I loved going to Six Flags. It was always fun to ride the newest coaster and eat my fill of funnel cake. As I survey the church landscape in America I believe many churches experience difficulties because they are more like a theme park than a church. Churches that start with a vision and passion for expanding the kingdom of God stall or decline because they follow a theme park vision instead of a Biblical mandate. This can be seen in three areas.

Facilities vs. Ministry A theme park is best known for its facilities. Enormous amounts of money are poured into the newest rides. They have immaculate grounds, nice restaurants, and eye catching shops. And rightly so. After all, who would want to go to a theme park that is trashy and run down? Although this works well for the theme park is it the best philosophy for the church? Some churches spend huge amounts of money on buildings and comparatively little on ministry. We spend a disproportionate amount of our tithe money to pay bills, building notes, or paint. As a result little is left to do the work of ministry. We end up focusing more on maintenance than on ministry. Buildings and facilities are important but they must be kept in proper focus.

In Ephesians 2:21 Paul notes that the building God is concerned with is not a physical building but a spiritual one. He notes that God is in the process of building a new holy temple for Himself and we are the building materials. This is the true building that believers need to focus on. We are called to be more concerned about ministry than maintenance.

Entertainment vs. Service Why does someone go to a theme park? The obvious answer is entertainment. This entertainment mentality has crept into the church, as well. Church should be an exciting and encouraging place to attend. However, it is not a place to be entertained. People attend church expecting to be served and entertained. If the church does not offer instant gratification and excitement it is severely critiqued or abandoned. Churches are filled with people who sit but do not serve. As a result, it becomes easy to negatively critique aspects of the church in which people are not actively serving such as the music, the preaching, or the most recent program.

Scripture offers a better alternative to this. In Ephesians 4:11,12 Paul notes that God gifts His people to serve, not to be served. Every believer is called to serve. We are not to go to church to be entertained. We are to go to serve others and be discipled in the Word of God.

Come and See vs. Go and Tell A theme park has a come and see mentality. They spend their time and resources making their facilities a place that everyone will want to see. The expectation is for people to travel sometimes large distances to come and see what they have to offer. Unfortunately, the church has bought into this line of thinking as its only form of evangelism. Many in our churches operate with the mentality that a lost world will arrive on our doorstep asking for more information on Jesus Christ. This is not the case.

Christianity is no longer a driving influence in culture or thought. We live in a post Christian culture. The majority of Americans are not concerned about what churches are doing on Sunday. Furthermore, we cannot rely simply on church staff to create outreach programs to reach the lost.

In Matthew 28 Jesus provides us with another form of evangelism. We are called to make disciples as we go into the community. It is important that churches train their congregations to be ministers in their work, schools, and families. Evangelism is not just for the church staff it is for every Christian. Christianity is more than come and see, it demands us to go and tell.

It is important to ask a simple question. What is the purpose of the church? If the purpose is to build our own little kingdoms and adopt a theme park mentality for the local body I believe that the church in America will continue to decline and lose influence in our culture. However, if the purpose of the church is to make disciples of all peoples for the glory of God then I believe we are promised success by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.