I recently read an article titled 8 Assumptions Pastors Can’t Make in a Post-Christian Culture. We live in a culture where Christianity is becoming less and less significant in the lives of people. Sunday is no longer a day of worship but a day for fun and sports. There is nothing wrong with fun and sports necessarily but among many other things in our culture they have become far more important than the worship of God and even our Christian faith. I would like to briefly address some the subjects in this article.
Pastors can no longer expect that people know the stories of the Bible. Many people have never heard these stories even within many of our mainline churches. Pastors can no long say, “We all know the story of …..” This poses a problem and a challenge. The problem is that the Bible is the foundation of everything Christianity believes and stands for. It is our source of doctrine and authority. The majority of Americans do not know what it really teaches and many don’t care.
Pastors must be faithful to study the Bible and teach the truth of God’s Word so that people understand its relevance and significance. We cannot afford to give in to our culture and succumb to the cries for tolerance. If we do, then true biblical Christianity will crumble.
Regular church attendance used to mean attending two to three times a week. Then it reduced to about three times a month. Now one to two times a month is considered regular attendance. This speaks to the attitude of the people and to the inability of pastors to demonstrate the significance of worship and Bible study.
Giving for many people has become what they do when they have some money left over. There is a decreasing commitment to support the local church with a regular monthly gift. No one likes to hear the pastor preach on giving but the Bible clearly makes it a priority for ever true follower of Jesus.
This country may be more divided over political issues than any other time since the Civil War. People are becoming more and more polarized. For Nebraska there had been a general alignment around conservative political views but that is changing especially among the younger generations. When our political views become our primary issue, the church will become more and more divided. The focus of pastors must be upon God’s truth not politics.
Awareness of and Agreement about Biblical Sexual Ethics
Now there is a hot topic. The Bible is clear about improper sexual behavior and about gender. Yet, our culture is telling us that the Bible is wrong. Our culture uses feelings, desires, and circumstances to identify sexual preferences and gender. These parameters have no consistent meaning and are as fickle as the changing of the weather. True followers of Jesus must carefully and lovingly reveal what God has said and demonstrate why God’s ways are actually good for human beings.
A Recognition of the need for Salvation
Many people do not believe that they need a Savior. Even for people who believe there is a God do not believe they need anything other than to please themselves. The concept of sin is rejected in favor of a pluralistic view of religion. According to our culture, accepting or rejecting any particular religious belief is simply a personal choice.
Jesus and the Bible are clear. Sin is the issue between God and humans. Jesus came to take care of our problem by suffering for our punishment. He arose from the grave and offers life to anyone who will accept it. He proclaims that he is the only way but offers salvation to everyone. This is the message of true Christianity. We do not want to be arrogant about the message but we must desire to faithfully and truthfully reveal God’s grace and mercy in salvation.
I am sure that some may not agree with me or may even take offense at what I have written. My purpose has not been to offend but to address some very important issues that the Church of Jesus Christ is facing in our culture which has truly become a post Christian culture. In addition, my purpose has been to encourage true followers of Jesus to evaluate their lives, beliefs, and responsibilities in order to maintain a consistent witness for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Do we really need Doctrine?
A few years ago I was talking with some young people about some biblical subjects and the word “doctrine” was used in the conversation. One girl responded, “I hate that word!” I explained that the word doctrine simply meant teaching and referred to that which we believed the Bible taught. She replied, “I know but I still hate that word.”
This student expressed a sentiment that is felt by many people today. The word “doctrine” seems to have many negative connotations. First, doctrine is often associated with controversy. People see that different religious beliefs often cause arguments and division. Second, doctrine is associated with narrow-mindedness. People often believe that those who hold strongly to their doctrinal beliefs have been led astray and are not open to the possibility that their beliefs may be wrong or need adjusting. Finally, people often believe that doctrine, particularly biblical doctrine, is not relevant to our current culture and time.
These various opinions are based upon one’s own perceptions, experiences, and personal beliefs (doctrines). Most Americans think they are progressive in their thinking and believe that science can explain most everything and/or their experiences determine what is true. They often see truth as relative. So what is doctrine and do we really need it?
As mentioned earlier, doctrine simply means teaching or that which is taught. It may refer a particular position taught by religion or government. It can refer to a body of teachings relating to a particular subject, not just religious subjects. The word used in the Greek New Testament means teaching, instruction, or that which is taught. The verb form of this word refers to the act or process of teaching.
When a person goes to a university they are taught doctrine on various subjects. When we send our children to school they are taught the doctrine of math, science, English, and many other subjects. So we understand that doctrine is not actually a bad word because we all have doctrines that we have been taught or have come to believe about people, government, history, science, religion and many other areas of life.
Yet, the word doctrine, when applied to religious belief systems, is still perceived as a negative word. Do we really need doctrine today? Isn’t doctrine a thing of the past? Isn’t belief in Jesus enough? Why can’t we just believe what our experience tells us is true? Since the Bible is so old, how can its teachings really relate to our current reality?
Our belief system about God, life, and relationships determines how we act. I am referring to what we really believe to be true. We tend to live our lives according to values and beliefs that we have adopted through experience and education. Our parents, family members, teachers, and other influential people have taught us life principles either good or bad.
Every person has a theology, a belief system about God, which affects their life and actions. Even atheist have a belief system about God. Of course they do not believe in God and that does affect how they live their lives. This belief system about God may be called ones faith or religion which involves at least some kind of doctrine.
Rich Mullins wrote a song several years ago called Creed in which he rewrote the words to the Apostle’s Creed and set it to music. One line in the song says, “I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am.” In other words, he was saying that his belief system affected everything about his life and actions.
One’s belief system or doctrine determines how a person will act or react to real life situations. For instance, if a person truly believes that it is wrong to be unfaithful to their spouse, that person will avoid situations that may cause them become attracted to another person. If a person truly believes that any kind of sexual activity is good and healthy between two consenting adults, then that person will not put any limits on sexual experiences.
There are many examples of how one’s beliefs determine their actions or reactions to real life situations. Therefore, it may be concluded that one’s belief system about life and God (that is one’s doctrine) needs to be clearly identified and verbalized.
Take some time to evaluate your beliefs, not what others tell you should believe but what you really believe about life, relationships, and God. Can you clearly state what you believe and how those beliefs affect your life? Do you actually live differently from what you say you believe? What is your belief system based upon? Are your beliefs based upon the Bible, traditions, experiences, or what you were taught by others?
Doctrine (that which one believes about life, relationships, politics, God, religion, etc.) determines how a person lives their life. Doctrine is a part of life, every life.
Every New Year, thousands of people make new resolutions, set new goals or just determine to improve their lives in some way. The New Year is an excellent time to do that. When a new calendar year rolls around we often think of new beginnings or a fresh start. Possibly the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around exercise and losing weight. It seems after the holidays, filled with delectable treats and excessive eating, people are prompted to make a change and lose a few pounds. Dieting programs, exercise gyms, and exercise equipment sales annually spike in January.
In addition, grocery stores stock up on low calorie products of all kinds. When I worked at Walmart, we reduced space for cooking products and fattening foods and increased our supply of diet meals and yogurt in late December and early January.
Yet a recent report released by the online grocer FreshDirect revealed that customer’s consumption of liquor and wine increased 40% in the first two weeks of February while juice-cleanse sales dropped by 25%. In addition, shoppers bought 15% more ice cream and desserts and 35% more pizza in early February than during the first two weeks of January.
Obviously, people begin the year with good intentions to lose weight but fall off the wagon within a month’s time. In fact, a study by Foursquare and Swarm revealed February 4th is the day people are most likely to fall off the wagon.
I too have been the victim of starting the year with new exercise and weight loss goals only to stop a few months or weeks into the year. It is very difficult to change a bad habit or start a new habit when you have little or no success in that area of your life.
Regardless, every year I evaluate my accomplishments and short comings of the previous year and set new goals for the coming one. I enjoy setting and reaching goals because it gives me a sense of success and achievement. Though I never reach all of my goals, I do accomplish things that I never would have done had I not set some specific goals for the year.
Paul said in Philippians 3:12-14:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Always looking forward toward new or higher goals gives us a positive outlook on life and keeps us focused on something good rather than focusing on our past failures. Every one of us can point to things we don’t do well, failures, or character flaws in our lives. No one is perfect. But we do not have to let our failures define who we are.
In addition, we can all point to things we have accomplished or done well in life. Though this can be a great source of encouragement to us, it can also hold us back if we focus too much on the past without looking toward new goals. Focusing too long on our achievements can make us prideful and prevent us from seeing that we have potential to continue doing more with our lives.
Paul said that he put the past behind him. This includes his failures and accomplishments. He continued to focus upon what was in front of him and the goal of achieving God’s higher calling for his life.
We should not forget the lessons that we have learned from our failures and disappointments but we must not allow the past to hold us back from striving to do better. Sometimes we need to forgive others as well as forgive ourselves and then move forward. Forgiveness is sometimes much easier talked about than achieved. It can be very difficult depending upon the extent of the pain. Yet, for those who know Jesus Christ, forgiveness rests at the very core their existence. We have been forgiven much through Christ’s death and shed blood. We are called to forgive as he has forgiven us.
Looking forward is the essence of hope. In Jesus Christ our hope is an assurance of what he has promised regarding our eternal destiny and our life here on earth. We have the assurance of eternal life with Jesus not because of what we have done but because of what he has done. We also have the assurance of his power and presence in our lives for he promised to never leave or forsake us.
Therefore, let me encourage you to look forward to this New Year by setting some realistic goals for what you would like to accomplish in order to grow in your relationship with the Lord and to improve your life here on earth.
Let us commit to strive toward achieving the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
I feel compelled to respond to the aftermath of our presidential election. Regardless of who you voted for or how you feel about the results, I would like to address those who read this from the point of a follower of Jesus Christ and a leader in his church, not from any political perspective. I will not tell you which way I voted so don’t ask. I do not want what I have to say to be tainted by my own political opinions. Political opinions are just that, opinions which have been formed by our experiences, circumstances, and those we listen to.
Some of you are very disappointed and angry over the results of the election. Others are elated and excited over the results of the election. I find that people who love and trust in Jesus Christ are on both sides of the issue. Often, regardless of which side you are on, you are unable understand the other side.
Let me say that there are a lot of ungodly responses on both sides of the issue that we as followers of Jesus Christ must not give in to. Many Trump supporters are gloating and acting very arrogant over the Republican candidate’s victory. These are inappropriate and ungodly characteristics for a follower of Jesus. On the other hand, many Clinton supporters are angry and acting out with violence and verbal attacks against those who voted against her. These are also inappropriate responses and ungodly characteristics for a follower of Jesus.
Ultimately what is happening is that Satan is once again dividing the Church of Jesus Christ, this time over political views. If you claim Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, if you claim to love him and follow him, and if you care about establishing his Kingdom on this earth, then you must not allow this political situation to divide the Church or cause you hatred toward the other side.
Friends, we have a much greater purpose and agenda than the politics of a nation. Certainly, I believe that we as Christians, who live in a country where we have the opportunity to participate in the political process, should take advantage of that opportunity. However, the politics of this nation is not God’s primary concern. I know there are some of you who would disagree with that but the Word of God teaches us that God has a much larger agenda than the presidential election of the United States of America. In fact, the United States of America is not found in the Bible anywhere.
Before Jesus left this earth he did not command his followers to go elect people to public office and pitch a fit when you don’t get your way or arrogantly gloat when you do.
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; teaching them to obey all I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Most of you recognize this passage as our primary marching orders. We call it the Great Commission. The priority of every true follower of Jesus Christ is the advancement of his Kingdom, his Church, through the proclamation of the Gospel and the spiritual growth of those who believe.
Therefore, followers of Jesus must not let this election divide us nor steer us from accomplishing the will and purpose of our Savior and Lord. We must not attack and argue with those who follow Jesus Christ yet disagree with us politically. We must not allow Satan a foothold in our lives or in the Church through anger and bitterness. Bitterness will destroy our individual lives as well as the unity in the Body of Christ.
Friends this is a time to set aside our differences and come together for the glory of God and for the exaltation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t know if the people of this nation are going to be able to unify for the good of everyone in the country. I don’t know if this will divide our country even more. But I do know that we must not let it divide the Church. I know that we must not verbally attack each other, fire off angry slurs or make proud derogatory remarks. I know that if there is ever a time for the Church of Jesus Christ to unify around the Gospel and Jesus’ purpose for us, it is now.
I implore you to set aside your angry or proud feelings. I urge you to forgive those you disagree with. And I beg you to obey the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The response of every follower of Jesus Christ should be to pray for our new president elect (whether you like him or not), pray for our leaders in congress to make wise decisions regarding the good of this country, pray for peace in our country, and most importantly pray that we will have the opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who don’t know him.
Perspective #2 tomorrow
There is nothing like something new: a new car, a new computer, a new house, a new job. When we receive something new to us there is an initial sense of excitement and happiness. We often love to tell others about what we have received and we want to share it with them. However, over time the newness begins to wear off and that which was once new becomes familiar. We may still enjoy it, but that initial excitement has subsided.
This is often true of our Christian lives. The initial moment of salvation can be very exciting. Something has changed within us. We feel and sense God’s presence in our lives. We have an assurance that we have been redeemed and belong to God. We know that our life has taken a new direction. We know we have a new and eternal purpose.
In the first weeks and months after our salvation everything seems different. We have a new perspective on life. Our attitudes and desires have changed. We attempt to live faithfully for our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Then reality slowly sets it. Many things in our life stay the same. Our relationships don’t really change. Our struggles in life don’t go away. We still experience pain and sorrow. We find that we still struggle with some of the same sins and temptations.
This often leads to feelings of doubt. Because of the presence of sin in the world around us and in our own lives, we begin to become discouraged and lose heart. We can become apathetic and indifferent about life and the work of the ministry. Maybe we even become bored with our Christian lives.
We may go through the motions of the Christian life (attending church, doing good things for others, being faithful to our family, and giving) but without any real change. Life can become just a series of daily routines and weekend rituals.
When I read the New Testament I find that Jesus came to give us more than just a religious experience or a weekend obligation. In fact, Jesus never said he came to start a new religion. Jesus came to give new life and a new way of relating to God. Jesus came to offer the free gift of eternal life through faith in his finished work. He came to make us children of God. He came to give us purpose and direction for the rest of our lives on this planet.
Jesus came to change and transform us into men and women who reflect his love and grace to the world. He came to redeem what was lost at the fall of mankind and to restore people to a place of ministry in the Kingdom of God. The life Jesus came to give was not intended to be dry, dull and boring.
What we often need in order to experience the real Christian life is renewal. Romans 12:1-2 speaks of the renewing of the mind. This is not necessarily a one-time spiritual experience. This is talking about a regular, continual renewal of our thoughts and attitudes. This renewal comes as we better understand God through the revelation in His Word. Renewal of the heart and mind then leads to a change in our outward behavior.
Renewal also comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart and soul. We are new creations in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit was the fulfillment of the New Covenant that was promised in the Old Testament and initiated through the death and shed blood of Jesus. Jesus freed us from the Old Testament Law and set us on a new path of life lived through the Spirit.
When we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our lives, He begins to produce the works of God in our lives. The Holy Spirit compels us to relate to God as our Father in heaven. The Holy Spirit compels and empowers us to live a holy life for the glory of Jesus Christ.
Where are you in your walk with Christ? Do you live with a sense of purpose or are you just existing day to day? Do you serve out of a heart of love for Jesus or out of a religious obligation? Is the Holy Spirit alive and moving in your heart and life or do you rarely sense the presence of the Holy Spirit? Are you looking forward to what God is going to do in your life or just looking forward to dinner?
If your Christian life lacks enthusiasm, I would like to encourage you to seek the Lord daily for renewal in your own life through His word and His Spirit. Ask the Lord for a renewed sense of purpose in your Christian life. Ask Him to restore the joy of your salvation.
I would also like to challenge you to ask the Lord for a renewal of the church in America. Ask the Lord to give His church a renewed sense of purpose and direction. Ask the Lord to renew our hearts to desire the things He is passionate about. Ask the Lord to use His Church to impact this community for His Kingdom and His glory.
Who is this Man?
It seems there is no end to opinions about Jesus. Who was he really? Can we know? What did he really teach? What would he say or do if he walked the earth today?
The media and culture are constantly challenging the church’s traditional view of Jesus. There have been many attempts to discredit the Bible, its authority, and its account of Jesus. Unsubstantiated stories about a Jesus who really did not die but got married and had children have risen and died over the past few years. The Jesus Seminar has called into question the Jesus of the Bible, claiming we cannot really know what he did or taught.
On the other hand, people are creating a Jesus based upon a Bible verse or two. Taking verses out of context they create a Jesus of their own liking. Some have created a Jesus based simply on their own opinions. Focusing on what Jesus did not say has been used by some to justify opinions and actions that are very much opposed to the Jesus revealed in the Gospel accounts.
Who is the real Jesus? Is he the prosperity Jesus who wants to make everyone rich? Is he the miracle Jesus that heals everyone? Is he the happy Jesus who only wants us to be happy and approves of anything that makes us happy for the moment? Is he the feelings Jesus who states that our feelings define us? Is he the angry Jesus who hates everyone that is not like me? Is he the patriotic Jesus who loves America more than any other nation? Is he the Republican Jesus or the Democratic Jesus? Is he the denominational Jesus who created my denomination but not yours? Is he the religious Jesus who created a new religion to rival the other religions of the world? Take your pick because there are many impressions of Jesus that have been imposed upon the man who claimed to be the Son of God.
May I suggest to you that the Jesus we find in the Bible is none of these? The Jesus we find revealed to us in the pages of the New Testament is not subject to the opinions and impressions of fallen human beings. Jesus presented himself as the one and only Son of God who was also equal to the Father (Father being a term that referred to God). He said and did things like no other human being. Though controversial, he is the most significant person who has ever lived.
Jesus not only walked on water but walked on the raging sea. Then he calmed the storm that threatened the lives of experienced fishermen using a single phrase, “Be still.” He actually healed people from physical ailments that did not return. He did not need to use psychosomatic suggestions that made people only believe they were healed. He actually healed them. He raised a man from the dead who had been in the grave for four days. This was not a near death experience but a physical resurrection from the dead. Yes, the Jesus of the Bible did things that no one has ever duplicated.
Jesus taught with such authority that people were amazed because no one had every taught that way before. I assure you there is no preacher today, including this one, who can teach with the clarity and authority of Jesus of Nazareth.
He confronted the Jewish religious leaders because they had taken God’s Law and added to it for their own selfish purposes. They had used it to become rich and to oppress the people. They had missed the purpose and truth of the Law even though they claimed to be teachers and experts.
He presented himself as the Messiah of the nation of Israel but was rejected by the leaders because he did not fit their impression of Messiah. They rejected him because he taught the truth of God and took the Law to a deeper level.
He ultimately surrendered himself to be crucified even though he had done nothing wrong. When the arresting army said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus simply said “I am” and the whole army fell backward. Though having the ability to resist and destroy the army, he allowed them to arrest and crucify him. This was to fulfill his ultimate purpose for coming into the world.
Jesus willingly gave himself to bear the penalty of the sins of all mankind for all time. As a pastor I do not understand why he would do this or exactly how it happened but I know that Jesus died for me and for you. All I can say is that the holiness, righteousness, and justice of God met perfectly with the love, grace and mercy of God at the cross. There Jesus paid my sin debt and has poured out his grace on an undeserving man. I know that he is my Savior and my Lord simply through accepting his free gift of life through faith.
Let me ask you, how well do you know the real Jesus? Have you ever taken time to read and study about his life? Have you ever stopped listening to popular opinion long enough to read what God has revealed about Jesus? Have you ever read all of the four gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
Let me end with a challenge to us all. Whether you have ever read the gospels or not, take time over the next few months to read the four gospel accounts of Jesus. As you do, pray that God will reveal the real Jesus to you. Open your mind up to what God has revealed. Do not limit your understanding to your opinions or to just a few verses. Then see what God will do in your life as a result. I would love to hear from those who are willing to take this challenge.
May the true Jesus become supreme in of our lives and our churches.
What is Truth?
What is truth and how can we know it? One of the mantras of our culture is "there is no absolute truth." Such a statement begs the question, "Is it absolutely true that there is no absolute truth?" This makes us realize the contradictory nature of definitively stating, "There is no absolute truth."
At the heart of the concept of relative truth is the personal desire to live without boundaries. We want to create our own personal standards of morality and we want everyone to accept them. Yet, this has nothing to do with truth and is only based upon our opinion. For example, I may have the opinion that the Green Bay Packers will win the Super Bowl in 2016, but that does not make it true.
We are still left with the question, “What is truth and how can we know it?”
Jesus said that he came to testify of the truth and that everyone on the side of truth listens to him (John 18:37). He came to reveal and teach absolute truth. John 1:14 states, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus was and is full of both grace and truth.
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” In other words, the way to know the truth is to follow Jesus and do what he said. There is great freedom in knowing the truth of God that Jesus revealed.
Jesus also declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” Some people reject the exclusive nature of such a statement. Followers of Christ are often criticized for repeating the words of Jesus. However, Jesus had no problem with speaking these words and other truths even when people did not like them. From a human standpoint, Jesus was crucified for speaking the truth.
Jesus embodies all that is true about God and life. He is the only one who can give real life now and for all eternity. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” He came to give people the life that God originally intended for them. Jesus came to redeem, renew and to restore people. That is the truth that Jesus has revealed.
Often our problem with truth is that we do not want to hear it and believe it when it contradicts our personal opinions. The fact remains that if there is such a thing as absolute truth it must come from one who is absolutely true. Only one who is greater than mankind and who sees and knows all things can state what is true and what is false. Since we as human beings are finite by nature, we are a very poor source of truth. If we are to know truth, we must look to the one who is perfect, holy, righteous and completely full of truth: the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the one and only son of God and as such is God himself. He is full of grace yet he does not excuse or explain away our sinfulness. He came to deal with our sin problem once and for all and to lead us into a life of Godliness.
The Jesus that is full of grace and truth is revealed to us in the pages of the Bible. Though the Bible has undergone intense scrutiny, it remains the foundation for the belief system of all true Christ followers. Many find great comfort and encouragement from its words. At times the words of the Bible convict and reveal things we would rather not hear. Truth may not always be pleasant, but it is always the best information to have.
Truth leads us to God and teaches us the best way to live in this life. God’s truth is always for our benefit. I submitted this article to my wife for editing and suggestions for improvement. She made some corrections that I did not want to hear but she was right. She told me the truth and it was for my benefit, so I listened to her.
The last point I would like to share is that Paul in 1 Timothy 3:16 said that the church is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” Jesus Christ created his church to be a conduit for his message of life, grace and truth. It is not the role of the church to change the message of Jesus in order to agree with public opinion or be politically correct. Neither is it the church’s role to be mean and hateful. The church’s role is to speak the truth in love. The church of Jesus Christ should be a safe place for people to come and ask their questions as they seek the truth about Jesus. The church must be loving but it must not shy away from speaking the truth.
May God bless you in your pursuit of His truth.
James Seal, Pastor