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How to Die as a Christian

This blog post comes out of a sermon I preached on 7/25/2021 at First Baptist Church Spring Hope.

-Jeremy Bell

When is the last time you ever heard a sermon about dying well as a Christian? The chances are probably never, and I find this extremely odd. If the gospel is to be at the center of our lives, then, shouldn’t it be at the center for how we die faithfully as God’s children? Yet, this topic is dead silent in the church. I want to remedy this silence, and teach you through the martyrdom of Stephen how to die as a Christian.

Here is the main point I want you to take away: Dying gives us an opportunity to witness about the hope we have in Christ.

A Theology of Death

Before we can tackle this topic appropriately, we must first have a biblical view of death, which I find many people lack. First, death is not natural to God’s created order. God created a world that did not include sin and sin’s consequence, death (Genesis 1 & 2). Second, God did, however, create a world where death could come into existence if humanity sinned against God (Genesis 2:16-17). When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree, their bodies began to die, and death spread to all people (Romans 5:12). No matter how advanced modern medicine becomes, everyone is going to die.

Third, the unnaturalness of death causes us to have various reactions to it. Some people just ignore it. Others might fear it. Maybe we mock it. Culture has made it into a human rights issue.

The question remains: How should Christians approach death? Now, we need to be clear that this is a martyr context, but I think the model we see in Stephen applies on a broader level as Christians experience their deaths. I want to show you how the gospel shapes our view of death by looking at the martyrdom of Stephen.


54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:54-60

First, we set our sights on Jesus Christ in the face of death.

Since we have discovered that death is a consequence of sin, we also believe that through Christ’s sacrificial death we have been forgiven of sin and thus, death has lost its sting. Through Christ’s resurrection, death has been defeated. When we think about death as Christians, we think about it through the mental framework of Jesus Christ the conquering King. In other words, we look to Christ because he has redefined the meaning of death for his children.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:54-57

When Stephen is about to be stoned, and he sees the rage in the eyes of his opposition, we see these words, “But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55) The Holy Spirit’s power came to Stephen in the midst of his impending death, just like those who are his children today. Thus, the Holy Spirit gives you the power to look to Christ in the face of your death. 

Stephen finds Holy Spirit provided comfort in this tragic moment, and I believe Christ still comforts his people when they are experiencing the dying process by his Spirit. Stephen says, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This Son of Man language comes directly out of Daniel. Daniel prophesied, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14-15, emphasis added). 

We look to Christ in our dying because our hope rests securely in his work. In other words, we look to Christ in the midst of dying knowing where our hope comes from and the security of our eternity with him. “Where does my hope come from?” the Psalmist asks. It comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:1-2). This may be thought of as an internal perspective to how we die as Christians.

As we set our sights on Jesus in the dying process we have an opportunity to show the world our witness and faith and hope in Christ. That’s the second way we die as Christians. 

Second, death gives us an opportunity to share our hope in Christ with others.

As we are fixing our eyes on Christ in death, our focus on Christ will show the world the goodness of the gospel. Out of our hope for Jesus, the world will see our faith on display. This is exactly what we see in Stephen’s stoning.

The leaders cast him out of the city and stone him after laying their robes at the feet of Saul (Acts 7:58). Now, they set their garments down so that they could have more range of motion to cast these stones at him because their intentions were to kill him. Think of the suffering Stephen is experiencing. This would have been a prolonged event in which he would have felt extreme pain. Verses 59-60 read:

59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

During his death, he shared the hope he had in Christ. He asked God to forgive them and not to judge them. To overlook this sin, which Christ has already done through the cross and resurrection. His death displays an opportunity to share Christ at the end of this life.

Like Stephen, we must reveal our faith and hope in Christ by faithfully dying while clinging to Jesus. Stephen pointed out to his attackers the goodness, mercy, and grace of God through Christ. The way we handle death through a gospel lens points our family, the church, and the culture to the greatness of God’s sacrifice through his Son, Jesus Christ. For the Christian, death is not something to be feared, but rather allows our faith in Jesus to be featured.   

Brothers and sisters, death has lost its sting because of Christ. Death is a doorway for the believer to an eternal life founded in Jesus Christ. We look at death like sleep because one day we will be raised from the dead like Christ. We will live again and we will reside on the new earth. Until that day, dying gives us an opportunity to witness about the hope we have in Christ.

Do you have hope in Christ?

I want to conclude by showing you one more figure in this narrative: Saul. Saul watched this take place and approved of its practice. This Saul would one day become the Apostle Paul. One day this Saul would meet Jesus, and his life would also drastically change (Acts 9). He would follow Christ and become one of the greatest missionaries this world has ever known. I think the image of Stephen’s stoning would stay with Paul forever, and I believe that through Stephen’s witness, Paul saw what it looks like to die well as a Christian. Paul would also be killed for his faith. Yet, like Stephen his death was an opportunity to preach the life giving truth of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

For those who may not believe in Christ reading this post, I want you to know that God’s grace is bigger than any sin–even the approval of murder. God’s love is stronger than any rebellious person could fathom. God is bigger. God’s love is greater. God’s grace is stronger than you, a lost person, can withstand. So, repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, and one day die with confidence and hope knowing that death’s sting has been obliterated, and embrace the eternal life that is to come through the work of Jesus Christ.

Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Psalm 100:1-2 The Psalmist shows us that singing exists as one important aspect of worshipping God. Psalm 100:2b asserts, “Come into his presence with singing!” Thus, singing should have a part to play in … Continue reading Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 Before coming on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I served as a Lead Pastor at a normative size church in South Carolina. Words cannot express all the lessons that I learned in this pastorate, … Continue reading Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective

As I write this, I am nearly in disbelief. I feel like I need to pinch myself to see if the reality of our eldest child going to church youth camp is really happening. *Pinched myself* Guess what? It is confirmed; she is headed off to youth camp. By God’s grace, our little baby girl is growing up into a young lady, and we are both thankful and a little nervous. Yet, my wife and I are constantly placing her in the sovereign hands of the Lord who we know rules and reigns over everything.

My concern, however, is rapidly growing for parenting in the American context. The question I am asking myself is: Have we replaced an eternal perspective for parenting with the temporal success of our children as our main goal for raising our children? To be clear, the pull of the world is extremely powerful when it comes to raising our children to be successful as the world defines success.

For example, my wife and I had to make a decision about sending our oldest to church camp. You may be wondering why this was such a difficult decision. Our child attends year round school. This means that while most students have their summers off, ours just started her school year. In other words, attending camp results in her missing school.

Here comes the parenting perspective. On the one hand, our child would be at youth camp where she will hear the gospel, where we pray Christ will open her heart and mind to the fullness of who he is and what he has done, and where she will have an opportunity to build godly relationships that will help her thrive in the future as God’s grace becomes more evident in her life. On the other hand, she would miss three days of schooling, be behind on her work, have to spend some extra hours making up that work, and will be exhausted from camp when she returns to school the following Monday.

The pull of the world’s perspective was quite enticing to keep her in school and out of youth camp. As parents, we began to think about potential consequences for her future. What if she fails a few assignments because she missed school and went to camp? What if she didn’t make up her work because she was too tired? There goes college, and a career, and possibly earthly success. Right? These are all the thoughts that we parents wrestle with when it comes to our children and their futures. As parents, we want what is best for our babies.

But, what is truly best for our children? This is where the goal of this post materializes. My wife and I asked God to help us keep an eternal perspective when it came to making this decision. What’s more important in this life? A grade on a test? A career? A life living out the American Dream? Or one decision that has an eternal consequence? Perhaps we, parents, need to start asking the question: How do the decisions we make for our children have eternal significance for their spiritual condition?

When you begin to think about parenting with an eternal perspective, what’s best for our children is a relationship with Jesus Christ above all else. I would rather my child miss a few days of school instead of miss eternity with Christ. A grade on a piece of paper seems so insignificant when it comes to a decision to follow Jesus and be with him for all eternity.

Please do not hear what I am not saying. This doesn’t mean we don’t challenge our children to do well and succeed. In fact, a relationship with Christ will cultivate within them a desire to be excellent because God is excellent. A desire to get a good job because God created us to work. A desire to honor authority because God commands it. A desire to make money and be good stewards as God decrees. A desire to make the world a better place for Christ because God mandated it. In other words, everything in life falls into its proper place when we have King Jesus at the center.

Therefore, the most important thing we can do as parents is point them to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Pointing them to him places a new perspective for our parenting–an eternal one. I get the enticing pull of the world to help our daughter be a Valedictorian, have exceptional skills and gifts that will allow her to be in successful in life, see her become a veterinarian, and enjoy a life full of great friendships. But the words of the Apostle Paul ring ever more true in my ears:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:7-10

This Bible passage exemplifies parenting with an eternal perspective. I would rather see my children lose the whole world and gain Christ. I pray that God would use Katie and I to guide our children to place their faith in King Jesus before it is eternally too late. And, that is my prayer for you too.

How to Die as a Christian

This blog post comes out of a sermon I preached on 7/25/2021 at First Baptist Church Spring Hope. -Jeremy Bell When is the last time you ever heard a sermon about dying well as a Christian? The chances are probably never, and I find this extremely odd. If the gospel is to be at the … Continue reading How to Die as a Christian

How to Pray for #SBC21

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday registered messengers from all over will join together in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual Southern (Great Commission) Baptist Convention. For those unfamiliar with Baptist polity, this will be a well-attended business meeting. Reports indicate that approximately “20,000 messengers and guests” will be in attendance. I will be in attendance as … Continue reading How to Pray for #SBC21

Think about Scripture while Singing in Corporate Worship Gatherings

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!

Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

Psalm 100:1-2

The Psalmist shows us that singing exists as one important aspect of worshipping God. Psalm 100:2b asserts, “Come into his presence with singing!” Thus, singing should have a part to play in corporate worship gatherings. I think that worship in song sets the stage for the preaching of the Word of God. To put it another way, music has the ability to prepare one’s heart for the message.

Music is a powerful tool for the Christian because God created us as complex beings made in his image. Music allows us to be creative, which reflects our Creator who created the world ex nihilo, i.e., out of nothing. Music has the ability to impact our emotions. Music can be used to help us remember certain biblical truths. On this last point, music serves as a phenomenal resource for teaching children Bible verses and the gospel.

Nevertheless, how many people think about the words they sing in worship gatherings? Perhaps many followers of Christ do not take time to think about the lyrics of a song because they have not been taught how. Therefore, many of us are unintentionally neglecting the cognitive attributes that music plays in worship services. My goal for this post is to assist you in thinking deeply about the music we sing at church services. However, before I do this, I will need clarify one presupposition that supports this statement.

Thinking deeply about the music we sing in worship requires us to know the Word of God intimately. While the truths of Scripture can be sung, we must know where the location of those same truths are found in Scripture. Our time in God’s Word will strengthen our appreciation for Christ and grow our love for God in corporate singing. How can you sing about the faithfulness of God, if you have not seen the faithfulness of God throughout the pages of Scripture? I would argue you can still sing about it, but the depth of those words will not have the same impact on you until you have first drank deeply from the Bible.

One goal in singing is to take the lyrics and connect them to God’s Word in our minds. Again, my assumption about having a healthy diet of God’s Word assists in thinking about songs in corporate worship. For example, Maverick City Music recorded a song called, “Promises.” Probably one of my favorite songs to sing right now. The first lyric reads, “God of Abraham, God of covenant and faithful promises, time and time again, you have proven, you’ll do just what you said.” Now, let me show you how to think about Scripture when singing this song in a corporate worship gathering.

To begin, we will need to know the biblical narrative of Abraham. You can find Abraham’s testimony and experience with God from Genesis chapter 12 to Genesis chapter 25. Take one aspect of Abraham’s life to see how God is the God of covenant and faithful promises like the song suggests. God made a covenant with Abraham (to all you Bible scholars, yes, I know he was Abram at the time of this promise) saying, “And I [God] will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). This promise was exceptional because Abraham and Sarai, his wife, had no children, and Scripture suggests that Sarai may have had infertility issues (Genesis 16:1; Genesis 18:9-15). Yet, God promised Abraham that Sarai would conceive and bear him a son, Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19).

At the age of 90 years old, Sarai conceives and bears Isaac like the Lord had promised. Genesis 21:1 reads, “The Lord visited Sarah as he said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised.” This example serves to illustrate that when we sing about God’s faithfulness and covenant keeping attributes that have been recorded in Scripture, this will deeply impact the way we sing in worship services.

Most of all, songs should lead us to a deeper appreciation and love of the gospel. When I sing “Promises,” I reflect on God’s promise to Abraham as it relates to Christ. Matthew 1 records Christ’s genealogy all the way back to Abraham. When we reflect on the promise God made in Genesis 12, we remember that it is through Jesus Christ that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b). When I sing the first lyric, I reflect on the promise that God would save people from their sin through the Savior and this was promised to Abraham before Jesus took on flesh (see John 1:14).

You may be thinking, “Does he really think about all of this when he sings?” Yes, I picture God speaking to Abraham about Isaac. I picture Sarai laughing, and the following year she gives birth to Isaac. I think about Jesus who is the promised Messiah in Genesis 12:3 from Matthew’s genealogy. I am reminded that God is the God of the living and not the dead (Mark 12:27), including Abraham who was saved by his faith in God’s future promises (Hebrews 11:8-9). All of these truths scroll through my mind when I sing the first line of “Promises.”

In conclusion, music has the ability to engage our entire being. Our emotions may be stirred, our hearts may be warmed, and our bodies may sway back and forth from the music, but we should not forget that singing should also engage our brains. Next time you sing in church, see if you can sing those lyrics while your mind reflects on Scripture. My belief is that you will not only be meditating on the goodness of God who you are singing to, but also preparing your heart for the message that will most likely be preached after the music ends.

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Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

This book could be considered by some to be outdated since it was written in 2013, but the Charismatic Movement remains a prevalent false theology that permeates society today. Renowned theologian, John MacArthur, has such concern for the unbiblical views of this movement that he decided to both confront the theology and leaders within this … Continue reading Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

Young Pastor, Practice the Spirit’s Fruit of Patience

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

Before coming on staff at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I served as a Lead Pastor at a normative size church in South Carolina. Words cannot express all the lessons that I learned in this pastorate, but I want to share one truth that I wish I would have learned more effectively before stepping into my first ministerial leadership role–the Holy Spirit’s fruit of patience. Perhaps what I learned during my first Lead Pastor position will help you in whatever ministry context God has you serving in right now.

Galatians 5:22-23 reads, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Paul lists for his readers 9 fruits of the Spirit. When Christians think of fruit, our minds probably move to Jesus’s teaching on false teachers. King Jesus warns his followers to watch the fruit of ministry leaders because their fruit determines their faith. In other words, good fruit equals a true faith, but bad fruit equals no faith. Jesus says it this way, “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:17-20). My prayer for young pastors reading this is that we would all be recognized by the ripening fruit of the Holy Spirit in ministry.

When I use the word “young” in the title of this post, I am specifically talking about experience in ministry and will continue to hold that meaning throughout this blog. Young pastors have many good traits. A zeal for evangelism. A passion for church growth and health. A heart to influence their congregation for the glory of God. An energy for ministry that has not been jaded by the pangs of pastoring. However, like any Christian, they are still in the midst of growing in their calling. If you are a young pastor, I want you to know that I appreciate you and hope this post will help you grow as a pastor and church leader.

With our zeal as young pastors, we can sometimes push our people to unhealthy ends. Lead Pastors with little experience are still learning this particular fruit of the Spirit. We see a problem or a theological issue within the church, and we immediately jump to action in order to correct the deficit. Sometimes (albeit every time) we should step back and pray about the issue we have observed in the church. Is this an issue that needs to be tackled immediately? Should I spend time teaching through the Word of God to let it do its work and change the hearts and minds of the people? Should I let this problematic area go so that I can take care of other more pressing issues the church I serve is facing? These are prayerful questions we should go to God with as we seek to determine which areas need immediate assistance and other areas that need more time.

Pastors, remember that there are no perfect churches out there. As one of my professors once said, “Every church is being revitalized because all churches are (should be) continually growing towards biblical health.” This proposition is true. Churches with solid evaluation techniques are constantly looking at areas that need to come under the authority of God’s Word. And if we are honest with ourselves, every church has many areas to bring under the lordship of Christ. Plus, if a church is constantly reaching people for Christ, health and growth will be a continual pursuit in the local church by both leaders and members. To put it bluntly, the churches we serve will never arrive to the state of perfection found in Scripture until Christ returns and makes all things new.

With that in mind, I think we are in a better position to practice the Spirit’s fruit of patience. Young pastors, we don’t have to change everything all at once, and I know the pressure you feel to push everything in the church you serve towards biblical health. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you discern what areas to push and what areas to exert spiritual patience. Also, remember the Holy Spirit’s work in bringing about health in a local church. The Holy Spirit will illuminate the Word of God that we preach faithfully week in and week out, and God’s Word will change the people so that he can change the spiritual trajectory of the church. Sometimes we need to stop pushing and starting praying for patience.

When I contemplate some of the mistakes that I made in my first pastorate, I realize that majority of them came from a lack of patience. Instead of waiting on the Holy Spirit to do his work, I pushed the people on issues that probably should have been tackled 5 or 7 years into my pastorate. The temptation to move quickly for results and to establish my credibility as a pastor sometimes overshadowed the fruit of the Spirit in the area of patience. Young pastors, learn from my mistakes, and be patient as you wait on the Lord to do his work in the local church you serve.


How to Pray for #SBC21

This coming Tuesday and Wednesday registered messengers from all over will join together in Nashville, Tennessee for the annual Southern (Great Commission) Baptist Convention. For those unfamiliar with Baptist polity, this will be a well-attended business meeting. Reports indicate that approximately “20,000 messengers and guests” will be in attendance. I will be in attendance as a guest not a messenger, but this does not mean that I am absolved to pray for unity.

SBC President and my pastor, J.D. Greear, believes this will be one of the most important annual meetings that “will determine the basis for SBC unity.” My goal for this post is to encourage all who read it to that end. To specifically, pray for unity at #SBC21.

In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21 ESV). This verse has been in my mind and on my heart leading up to this annual meeting. My prayer is that as we come together, we come with a spirit “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Think of it like this, that we pray to be an answer to Jesus’s prayer for us in the Gospel of John.

I would like to show you two ways to pray leading up to and during SBC21:

  1. Pray we would be one (John 17:21). Jesus was asking the Father as he prayed for not only the disciples with him that day, but also “for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20). Did you see that? Jesus prayed in this prayer for future disciples, which includes those who have placed their faith in Jesus going to the annual meeting in 2021. What a humbling thought to know that Jesus prayed for our oneness. May we all pray with this type of fervency for oneness going into and coming out of this meeting. Yes, there will be disagreements on issues, but when these discussions arise, we will be in a better position to work them out if unity is our desired outcome.
  2. Pray the world will see Jesus in our meeting (John 17:21b). Look one more time with me at John 17:21. Jesus’s prayer states, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21b, emphasis added). Unity reaches a community for Christ. Many people will be watching this meeting with great interest, but in our prayer for unity, may they see Jesus who came to reconcile sinners to God. Jesus’s emphasis at the end of this prayer is missional. Jesus says it again, “I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). Pray that our unity (our witness) at this convention in 2021 would bring others into God’s Kingdom through the perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

As I stated earlier, my goal is that all who read this would take a moment to pray for unity at SBC21. May the world see the gospel in action during this time in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you for joining in me in prayer over the next several days.

Online Church Is A Necessary Abnormality: A Warning for Christians Post-Coronavirus

Shelter in place. Practice social distancing. These are the recommendations rightly being passed down by our government’s leaders during an unprecedented time in our nation’s history. COVID-19 has caused many institutions, businesses, and churches to rethink the way they operate in order to relieve stress on the health care system and protect those most vulnerable … Continue reading Online Church Is A Necessary Abnormality: A Warning for Christians Post-Coronavirus

Review of Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship by John MacArthur

John MacArthur. Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. Nelson Books, 2013. 333 pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-1400205172. $18.49.

This book could be considered by some to be outdated since it was written in 2013, but the Charismatic Movement remains a prevalent false theology that permeates society today. Renowned theologian, John MacArthur, has such concern for the unbiblical views of this movement that he decided to both confront the theology and leaders within this theological camp, and provide his readers with a biblical explanation of the Holy Spirit’s work. The author’s thesis reads:

“My prayer for you as you read this book is that the Spirit Himself will give you a clear understanding of His true ministry in your own life, that you will embrace a biblical perspective on the Spirit and His gifts, and that you will refuse to be duped by the many spiritual counterfeits, false doctrines, and phony miracles that vie for our attention today.”

MacArthur, page xviii

MacArthur’s main concern from leaders and teachings in the Charismatic Movement is that they “elevate religious experience over biblical truth” (p. 16). The author walks through the history of this movement, and evaluates the Charismatic Movement’s teachings with Scripture.

In the second part of this book, MacArthur explains the differences between the Charismatic Movement’s understanding of apostleship and the biblical qualifications for apostleship (p. 92). Additionally, the author helps the reader understand the difference between newly formed prophetic messages from leaders within this movement, and his position of Sola Scriptura. MacArthur’s focus throughout the book is summed up well when he writes, “[2 Timothy 3:15-17] teaches that Scripture is utterly sufficient, ‘able to make you wise for salvation,’ and able to make you ‘complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work'” (p. 117). To put it another way, the Holy Spirit’s illuminates the text of Scripture for believers, but the Holy Spirit no longer gives new revelation to believers apart from the Word of God (cf. 117).

Next, MacArthur explains the gifts of tongues and healings that promote Charismatic theology. One should note that the author fits into the theological category of being a cessationist– “the miracles of Christ, and by extension, His apostles were unique and unrepeatable” (p. 233). While MacArthur treats teachers within the Charismatic Movement with proverbial harshness due to his belief that they are false teachers, he treats Christians in the continuationist theological camp with respect and dignity in his chapter titled, “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends” (pp. 231-248). However, his argument that Charismatic leaders use tongues and healings as false ploys to gain power and profit over their followers remains valid.

The author does not leave his readers with only criticisms of the theology that Charismatics employ for their practice, but also explains the biblical work of the Holy Spirit today. This argument encompasses all of Part Three. He breaks the Holy Spirit’s role into three parts: salvation, sanctification, and illumination of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture will be MacArthur’s ultimate purpose for combatting the Charismatic Movement’s view of experience over biblical truth (cf. 16).

One area of concern for this work is the ability for its impact to sway the followers of Charismatic leaders like Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Joel Osteen, and others that MacArthur calls out in this book. MacArthur criticizes their theological views with truth and conviction, but at times, seems to turn his attention to their followers in his attack on these Charismatic leaders. For example, MacArthur comments on Hinn, “It is ludicrous to think Holy God would authenticate such egregious error by giving a false teacher like Benny Hinn miracle power” (p. 175). While he is correct in his assessment of Hinn, if he is trying to convince Hinn’s followers of Hinn’s horrendous theology, this type of statement could lead followers to reject MacArthur’s argument because they may think he is personally attacking them–i.e., they are ludicrous in their thinking for believing Hinn. One could argue that this is not MacArthur’s motivation, but the harshness of his criticism against Charismatic leaders might have a negative effect on persuading their followers.

Perhaps if Macarthur would have shown more grace to those who have fallen into these false teaching his work might be able to persuade followers of these false teachers to abandon the Charismatic Movement and pursue a biblical understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture and the biblical teaching of the Holy Spirit’s role. At any rate, this book does an excellent job of diving into the theological depths of the Charismatic Movement and presenting how their theological pillars stand in stark contrast to the Bible. I would highly recommend this read to those who follow this blog. The length of this book should not deter any reader because the content will keep your attention and you will be done with it in a relatively short amount of time.

More Posts by Jeremy Bell

4 Ways to Share the Gospel During Social Distancing

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew … Continue reading 4 Ways to Share the Gospel During Social Distancing

Teaching Your Children to Pursue Holiness by Reading Scripture

Tony Merida, pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC, recently published his reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic. One of his reflections was encouraging believers to take time during social distancing in order to grow in personal holiness. From the outset, I am in complete agreement with this reflection. However, I think this reflection could … Continue reading Teaching Your Children to Pursue Holiness by Reading Scripture

A Common Mistake Believers Make When Sharing Their Testimony

The other week I was sitting in our small group, and I made this comment, “When sharing your testimony, do not glorify sin because it will take away from the glory of the Savior who redeemed you.” I was asked by one of our small group members to further explain my statement. The context of this discussion came out of our group studying Ephesians 2. In our discussion, we challenged each other to share our testimonies using Ephesians 2 as our guide (i.e., life before Christ, salvation in Christ, and life after Christ).

At the beginning of this chapter Paul states:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:1-3

Notice how Paul talks about all people before he gets to conversion in Ephesians 2:4-9. He uses words like “dead,” worldly, followers of Satan, “disobedient,” “carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,” and “by nature children of wrath.” What do all these words have in common? Sins destructive power in our lives. All the brokenness we see in our lives, in our world, in our relationships, in our minds, in our hearts, can be traced back to Adam’s sin in Genesis 3:6-7. When Adam fell, the entire human race fell with him as Paul taught in Romans 5:12, and thus, we live out our deadness in life prior to Christ.

The Common Mistake

How does this impact the way we share our testimony? Many times Christians will talk about their sinful past with a sense of pride. Believers will almost relish in how much they used to drink or party or (fill in the sin here). They will almost present Ephesians 2:1-3 to unbelievers in a positive light. In my statement above, I call this the glorification of sin because we elevate sin to a level that doesn’t seem so destructive.

I understand that it is tempting to glorify sin. In some ways, we are connecting with those who are still in Ephesians 2:1-3. Many Christians who glorify sin in their testimony may have positive motivations for doing so. They might be trying to establish a connection with the person or try to show the unbeliever how “bad” they were before Christ redeemed them (Eph. 2:4-9). I think this is a common mistake when believers share their testimony with others.

The mistake resides in taking glory away from our Savior, Jesus Christ. The main problem I see with the glorification of sin in a testimony is that this type of wording portrays sin in a positive light to the unregenerate person. If we paint sin with a sense of pride, why would an unbeliever repent of it and turn to Jesus? Think of it like this: A lost person hears us boastfully speak about how much we used to sin, but now we are saved by God’s grace in Christ. An unbeliever will ask themselves the question: If they talk about sin in this way why would I need to stop sinning and turn my life over to Jesus? This seems to degrade the gospel of its life giving message.

My point is that when we glorify sin in a testimony we take away from the glory of Jesus Christ who came to save us from our sin. To pull us out of Ephesians 2:1-3 by Ephesians 2:4-9 so that we can live in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Therefore, we need to think rightly about how to share our Ephesians 2:1-3 experience when we are sharing our testimony.

A Better Way Forward

The way forward is the reduction of glorifying sin in our testimonies and sharing how living in Ephesians 2:1-3 brought about extreme brokenness in our lives. Unbelievers will understand that truth, and will follow that realization with a question: How do I get out of this vicious cycle of hurt and pain that comes from “being dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)? When an unbeliever gets to this question, the opportune moment has arrived for the gospel to be shared. To put it another way, tell them about the glory of the Savior who heals and redeems all people who call upon his name (Romans 10:9-13).

Let me provide an example of what this looks like: Let’s say you were a classical utilitarian. This type of lifestyle seeks to elevate pleasure and/or happiness and reduce pain and suffering. In other words, do whatever makes you feel good and avoid anything that makes you suffer as long as it doesn’t effect the happiness of those around you. The problem with this philosophical worldview is that no matter how much happiness you try to gain, suffering and pain always accompany these types of actions. For example, when people consume large amounts of alcohol, they may experience happiness for a short amount of time, but the next day they will experience the effects of pain that the alcohol takes on the body. They sought pleasure through sin, but in the end, it only brought them pain and suffering.

The other issue is that no matter how much pleasure or happiness you seek it will never be enough. By indulging your sinful desires of the mind and body, you will still feel like something is missing. So, you continually seek more ways to live out your classical utilitarian worldview, but nothing ever satisfies. Eventually, you will find yourself like the prodigal son in Luke 15–completely broken and longing to be fed. When this type of lifestyle begins to take its toll on your life and relationships, you begin to show the person that you are witnessing to how sin only brings destruction. Therefore, you needed a way out of your classical utilitarian worldview, and you found that salvation and new life in Jesus Christ by God’s grace (Eph. 2:4-9).

Do you see how this is a better way forward when sharing your testimony? You are not glorifying sin by making it sound like a good thing. You are explaining how living in Ephesians 2:1-3 brought about severe pain, suffering, and destruction in every area of your life. Lost people can relate to all of that, but as a Christian, you get the privilege in that moment to extend to them the only hope that will pull them out of the destructive spiral they are experiencing, and his name is Jesus Christ. Therefore, use this better way forward to go and make disciples who make disciples in Jesus’ name when sharing your testimony.

5 Helpful Tips for Scripture Meditation

Though God in this threefold revelation has provided answers to our questions concerning Him, the answers by no means lie on the surface. They must be sought by prayer, by long meditation on the written Word, and by earnest and well-disciplined labor. However brightly the light may shine, it can be seen only by those who are spiritually prepared to receive it.

A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 14.

Tozer’s words remind us that we must think well when it comes to knowing God as he has revealed himself through Scripture and through the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:14). The Knowledge of the Holy encourages believers to meditate on God’s Word. With Tozer’s writing in mind, when is the last time you just sat and thought about God? Admittedly, taking time to sit and think or just thinking in general does not come easy to us who live in a fast-paced American culture.

The internet has exacerbated our thinking problems, and social media has, in some sense, taken away our time to just sit and think due to our fear of missing out in the online world. To illustrate the busyness of the American culture, I was pastoring a church a few years ago, and I had them sit in silence after the service ended for about a minute. The silence made some people in the room uncomfortable–including me–because our lives are so “noisy” with everything happening around us.

My goal in this post is to provide you with 5 helpful tips that I have utilized when meditating on God’s Word. This week, I decided to sit down and think about and write down what God tells us about himself as our Father. The concept I wrestled with was: Lord, please help me understand the attributes about you as my heavenly Father that you have revealed to me in Scripture.

Here are the 5 steps that I implemented during this time of meditation that I hope you will find helpful in your own spiritual walk with Jesus.

  1. Pray. Prayer is probably the most important step when it comes to meditating on Scripture. Praying before you meditate allows you to get into a posture of submission before approaching God’s Word so that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the text for you. A good way to open in prayer would be to ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to his Word, and to expose the glory of God and exalt Jesus during your study. We should not approach meditation as merely an academic exercise or the emptying of our thoughts, but rather as growing in our relationship with the living God by learning more about who he says he is in the Bible.
  2. Read. Depending upon what you are trying to accomplish in your time of meditation, read the Bible passage over and over again. For example, if you decide to meditate on one text of Scripture, consume yourself with reading it as many times as possible. If you are going to take a topic (like I did), read all the passages you can that convey that subject. To put it in the context of this article, read all the passages in Scripture that discuss God as Father by using a concordance. Immersing yourself in God’s Word will help you with the next tip–thinking.
  3. Think. As you read, think. Take a moment to pause and reflect upon what you just read. Thinking correlates with meditating. Take time to really give yourself a mental workout by concentrating on what the text says and what God meant when he wrote it. Meditating will not be easy work because during this time, we are thinking about an infinite God as finite human beings. We are trying to grow in our love and knowledge of God, which will be difficult work because we have so many things in life that prevent us from learning more about our Lord who is holy. However, the difficulty of this act should not prevent us from doing it as believers, but rather challenge us to work at it so that we will do it well.
  4. Write. This point has two concepts associated with it. First, writing will help you as you think. Write your thoughts down in a journal and read over your words. Are you thinking about God correctly? What is God teaching you about himself? Moreover, keep writing until your mind feels like it has nothing left–then, read and write some more. Second, writing down your thoughts will allow you to remember and reflect at a later time what you have meditated on in the past. When you return to your thoughts at a later date, you will be amazed at one of two realities: 1) how much you have grown in your walk with God, and 2) recalling the biblical attributes of God that you had forgotten since the time of your writing. I highly recommend getting a prayer and meditation journal to do this activity because you can go back and physically see how God is working in your life.
  5. Pray. Before you end your time of meditation, pray. Thank God for that precious time with him in his Word. Show gratitude to God for what you have learned about him during this activity. Praise God for opening your heart and mind even if you feel it was only a little. Meditating on God’s Word should never be considered time wasted because God’s Word always works in our lives. Of course, we will have better days than others, but we need to remember we are growing in our relationship with an infinite God so enjoy the process and do not be too hard on yourself. In whatever God reveals in his Word during this time of devotion, praise and thank him for it when you are done.

The list I have provided may not be exhaustive when it comes to meditating on the truths found within God’s Word, but perhaps it will help some readers who have never included this form of spiritual discipline into their personal time of devotion. My encouragement for those who have never practiced meditating on the Word of God is to start out slow and build as you grow. Our fast-paced American society has hurt us in the area of sitting still, in silence, and thinking about God. Therefore, it will take time to overcome our busy habits, but spending uninterrupted time meditating on the truths of Scripture will be a joyful experience as you reflect on a living God who desires to walk with you in life and who has saved you from your sin through Jesus Christ.

“For as the rain and snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11

Mask Mandate? Christian, the Great Commandment Informs Our View About Masks

Fox News got me again. My entire family was still asleep. I was in that awkward moment where I was about to get up and start my day, but the warmth under the covers was just too enticing to leave. So, I opened FoxNews.com on my phone. The title of the article I first opened reads, “Biden hits Trump for refusing to concede, says ‘national mask mandate’ discussed with govs.

The words “national mask mandate” leapt off the screen way before the words “refusing to concede.” The temptation to read was overwhelming, so, admittedly, I read it. After reading the article, I felt compelled to share two perspectives about mask wearing because much discussion seems to be invading our social circles about the use of masks during this pandemic.

The American Perspectives

For some Americans, “mask mandate” sounds like a “Big Brother” move right out of George Orwell’s 1984. The idea of our elected government “mandating” its citizens to wear a mask seems like an infringement on our constitutional rights as Americans. The phrase could imply that America may no longer be the “Land of the Free.” Perhaps many of you feel this tension when our elected officials are trying to push a “mask mandate” on its body of citizens.

The alternative American approach is that masks should be mandated by the government to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. This view implies that the government’s policy on mask wearing is not an infringement upon constitutional rights, but rather a way to protect those who live in America. Perhaps many of you who hold to this perspective feel that it is the responsibility of our elected officials to serve their constituents by protecting them.

From what I can see, both of these American perspectives I have broadly summarized have some validity to them. Both sides are trying to argue their positions from two categories that are a benefit to all people: rights and service. Therefore, we can conclude one area of common ground: both sides are trying to do what they think is best for the country. Maybe this should cause us to be better at dialoging between the two positions instead of belittling one another via social media grudge matches . . . but that is a blog post for another day.

A Christian Perspective

As I have thought about wearing masks, I have decided to take a different approach or what I’m calling a Great Commandment approach to the dawning of the mask due to COVID-19’s global impact on people’s health. I would like to share my thoughts on why I choose to wear a mask based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 22:34-40. Thus, maybe–just maybe–we can add a new voice, a Christian perspective, about wearing masks in this pandemic.

Jesus’s Teaching

Matthew 22:34 begins with this scene. Jesus has just told the Sadducees they had a wrong view about the resurrections in Matthew 22:29–the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection (Matt 22:23). After Jesus “astonished” the crowds with his teaching, he concluded, “He [God] is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:32). Then, a lawyer of the Pharisees asked Jesus this question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (Matt 22:36)? Jesus responds with this answer, which I will provide in full:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 22:37-40

You may be asking, “What does this have to do with masks?” I want to submit to you that Jesus teaches that our freedoms are restricted as followers of Christ, and we do not need a government mask mandate because the moral law prescribes how we are to love our neighbor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, I would like to provide three thoughts for Christians about mask wearing that have informed my Christian perspective.

Love of God

Jesus begins his answer by explaining to the crowd that “the great and first commandment” is to love the Lord your God. Before we can move to obedience and love of neighbor, we must first love God by responding to the gospel. We must first believe in Christ’s work on our behalf–his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection–and respond to that work by faith, which leads to a relationship and love for God. Jesus is the only way that we can turn to love the Lord our God entirely (i.e., all our heart, soul, and mind).

First John 4:9-10 explains God’s love for fallen and broken humanity when he wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). The word propitiation can mean to satisfy. God loves you and me, and his love is demonstrated by him sending his Son to take the punishment for our sin and satisfy his wrath.

When we trust (i.e., respond by faith) in what Christ has done because of God’s love for us, we turn from sin to a love for God. However, this love has implications for Jesus’s disciples. Our love for God means that we submit our lives to God. Think of it like a marriage. When a husband and a wife give themselves over to one another in marriage, they are expressing to one another that they intend to love each other completely or with every fiber of their being. The same is true of our love for God. Our love for God ought to impact every aspect of our lives from our souls to our minds and our actions. In fact, Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15), and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Loving God is the affection of the Christian that informs the rest of their words, thoughts, and deeds.

Love of Neighbor

Christian, you cannot truly love your neighbor until you first have a true and faithful love for God. It is only once you and I understand God’s love for us manifested in Christ that we can truly turn around and love those around us. This is why Jesus responds to the Pharisee lawyer with “And a second is like it” (Matt 22:39). I think of Jesus seeing the lawyer and his Pharisee pals shaking their heads in agreement because they were taught this truth since they were young from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and he goes “Oh, by the way, don’t forget,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).

In a similar passage, Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life by another lawyer. Jesus responded to this person with two questions, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responds with the same words Jesus said in Matthew 22. Jesus gives him the thumbs up, but the lawyer is still struggling to comprehend so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point of this parable is that a love for God through faith in Christ leads a believer towards love and mercy for those around them. The Great Commandment text discusses how loving God tends to lead a person towards loving their neighbor.

But, what does this love look like? Jesus answers: “as yourself” (Matt 22:39). We have to admit that we are pretty good at loving ourselves. If you are hungry, you love yourself by eating. If you are thirsty, you love yourself by getting a drink. If you are selfish, you love yourself by taking the last donut. If you are self-centered, you love yourself by making sure everyone knows how “awesome” you are. Seriously, the list could go on and on, but the point remains valid that we are good at loving ourselves. We all have an inherent ability to be like Donna and Tom from the episode in “Parks and Rec” where we live by the mantra “treat yo self.” Jesus teaches that when we truly love the lord our God with every fiber of our being it manifests (I use this word purposely to make your remember Christ) into a love for our neighbor.

A Lawful Love

Jesus concludes the Great Commandment with these words, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Now that we have a firm grasp on love of God and Love of Neighbor, we can move to the issue of “mask wearing.” These two truths are what make a Christian perspective different from the two American perspectives. As Christians, the government doesn’t have to tell us to wear a mask because we live by what Christians for generations have called a “love ethic.” This ethic is established from the moral law of God. In other words, I love my neighbor the way God’s law commands me to love them. This love is not arbitrary but rather objective. The only way to love my neighbor is by loving them the way the moral law tells me, which is directed by God himself in Scripture.

For application, let’s walk through these concepts systematically to find out a Christian attitude towards dawning a mask during COVID-19. First, we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. A total love that requires submission and obedience to God because we are in a relationship to him through Christ. Next, our love for God moves us to a love for our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Everyone we connect with socially. Finally, we may ask the question, “How can I love my neighbor well according to the Law?” Answer: a lawful love is wearing a mask to protect my neighbor from COVID-19.

John Calvin taught that the moral law can be summarized in the Ten Commandments. I think that a Christian perspective of mask wearing is found in the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). I’m not saying that not wearing a mask is equivalent to murder. But, as I have argued elsewhere, this commandment exhorts the principle of carefulness. Therefore, the logical progression for a love ethic as it pertains to mask wearing is: I love God, the God of life commands me to respect and value all human beings, thus, I wear a mask to love all those around me (my neighbor) so that they know I love them and value them enough to protect them from possibly contracting COVID-19.

Conclusion

Hopefully, looking at Jesus’s words in the Great Commandment will help you think less about a political view about mask wearing and more about how a Christian might take Jesus’s words and put them into practice when it comes to wearing a mask during these unprecedented times. I would like to end this post with the words from the Apostle Paul to the church of the Thessalonians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thess 3:18).

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Rethinking Pastoral Ministry in America: How Pastors Should Start Thinking About the Future

Ken Myers, the founder of Mars Hill Audio, once said in his Epiphany Lectures that he does not like to be prophetic. By prophetic, he does not mean that he has been given some special word from God similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. He is not claiming a “Thus says the Lord,” … Continue reading Rethinking Pastoral Ministry in America: How Pastors Should Start Thinking About the Future

Instagram Is Capturing the Souls of Our Girls

Instagram’s creators promote this social media tool with these words, “Bringing you closer to the people and things you love.” This phrase makes a great marketing slogan. It makes users and potential users feel like they are going to really grow in their personal and professional relationships. However, interacting with someone’s picture rarely (if ever) … Continue reading Instagram Is Capturing the Souls of Our Girls

3 Reasons I Deactivated My Facebook Account

It’s no secret that I am a critic of social media. About a year ago, I posted a blog titled, “Why I Deleted my Twitter Account.” The final sentence of that blog post reads, “At this time, I have deleted both my Twitter and Instagram, and pretty soon, Facebook, you might be next.” Well, the time has come for you, Facebook. You have been “deactivated.” Goodbye. Au revoir. Farewell.

The reason I “deactivated” instead of “deleted” (there is a difference) my Facebook account is that I remain optimistic. I believe that Facebook was created with good intentions, but because we are human and prone by our sinful nature to take good things and make them evil, I think we, society, can correct the problems social media platforms like Facebook are causing. Therefore, I have deactivated instead of deleting my account with the hope that the wrongs can be righted, and once they are, I might rejoin the Facebook community.

So, why did I deactivate my Facebook account? Let me provide you with 3 reasons that may encourage you to do the same:

  • Facebook Wastes Precious Time. Facebook’s design is to keep you attached to your phone or computer as long as possible so they can make money. The design is so well done that many social media users are like Gollum in the “Lord of Rings” just scrolling along in our digital caves not knowing a real world exists beyond the Facebook app while simultaneously chanting in our hearts, “My precious.”

By the way, we waste time because we are infatuated with the what could be next on our newsfeed. You know you may be wasting your day on social media apps when someone interrupts your time on the “precious” and you turn into Smeagol by yelling at the person, “I’m ON MY PRECIOUS!” What I am trying to convey is that Facebook will destroy the time in your day. It’s designed to waste your time, which means you will miss precious moments with the love of your life (if you have one), family, friends, and enjoying the world we actually live in not the imaginary one that Facebook makes you believe exists.

  • Facebook Destroys Diplomacy. I know you have seen it on your Facebook news feed, and I was tired of seeing this problem during this election year so I deactivated my account. Someone “shares what’s on their mind,” and the lines for debate are drawn in the social media sand. Often times, the comment wars are verbally bloody with many casualties and collateral damage. Words that would never be said in person are carelessly lobbed like hand grenades in the digital sphere. Why is this the case? Because we are social beings that engage in real space and time. When we are having in person discussions, many of us are more reserved and respectful when engaging in debate because we can feel the tension of the other person if such tension is present. Facebook does not allow these types of discussions to convey all the types of communication forms humans are endowed with, such as, but not limited to: body language, tone, facial expressions, etc. Facebook destroys diplomacy, and I would rather have humane discussions and debates in person rather than through a social media platform like Facebook. I think the lack of diplomacy is contributing to the rising division in our country and this is a result of the way we debate through social media channels.
  • Facebook Is Invasive: This point is a self-inflicted wound to our private lives. Yet, we allow it to happen. Facebook allows us to practically post anything we desire for the digital world to see. We willingly and ignorantly allow people into our lives that we have little if any contact with in the real world. We do this by sharing our opinions, photos, and even our location. Why do I care if some person I met fifteen years ago in a class at Texas A&M sees that I’m at chapel with our oldest daughter? In fact, it’s a bit creepy that a person who I hardly knew in the past has open access to my social media life. I would argue that you can and should scrub your Facebook friends list, but that only solves a small part of the invasive problem. When we activate a Facebook account, we are agreeing to let Facebook into our lives as well. The company is able to use our information to keep us active on their social media platform and influence us through our newsfeed. Honestly, I deactivated my account because I don’t want my privacy to be violated by anyone I don’t choose to allow to come into my reality.

These are my 3 reasons for deactivating my Facebook account, and my post is not designed to tell you what to do about your social media account or accounts or use. However, I hope it will make you, at least, think about the impact social media platforms like Facebook are doing to your life. Perhaps with some honest thought you may choose to do the same or modify your use on social media apps.

May I take a moment to be honest with you? Deactivating Facebook will give you a new sense of freedom. It might be scary to do it at first, but after the first day you will feel a relief you haven’t felt since you signed up with that username and password. I believe you won’t miss it, and you will never look back once its gone. I want to encourage you to get out of the digital cave and enjoy and experience the people and world around you today by either eliminating or limiting your time on social media. Your family, friends, and the world will thank you for being truly social.

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A Clarification of Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness

In chapter 35, I argued from the manslaughter legislation of the Mosaic law the principle that we should not only avoid murder, but should also be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life….But where it is evident that carelessness can lead and has led to tragedy, we must take precautions (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 724, emphasis original).

John M. Frame

Anyone who knows me in an academic setting, will confirm that I like to call myself a “Frame fan.” His book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), has greatly influenced my thinking as I continue to grow as a scholar, budding scholar perhaps is a better phrase, in the discipline of Christian Ethics. In fact, I requested him to be my major figure for comprehensive exams because of how much his writings have influenced me. I was disheartened when he retired from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida the semester before I was going to ask him to take me on as a student for an independent study. By the way, I still asked, and he graciously and respectfully declined because after all, he had retired.

Even though I am a self-proclaimed “Frame fan,” I still have moments where I might disagree with his ethical framework or thought. What can I say? Scholarship is about refining ideas through rigorous study, thought, and critique. While I think his triperspectival methodology is helpful for handling moral dilemmas, scholars could argue that his method could have some faults. Again, this is part of scholarship, and scholarship is not for the faint of heart. With that, I would like to critique Frame’s “Doctrine of Carefulness” wording with the intention to propose a better phrase for my future posts.

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Explained

John Frame once wrote that we should “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). In DCL he called this moral idea “The Doctrine of Carefulness.” Frame’s emphasis for this doctrine is that Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life should not only refrain from disobeying the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” but also, that followers of Christ ought to avoid any situation that puts life in danger of being taken. In fact, Frame rightly points out that the sixth commandment does forbid the idea of unlawfully taking a life–what we might refer to as murder, but the Hebrew word also conveys that humanity is to “take precautions against the loss of life” (DCL, 688). In other words, to practice the art of carefulness so as to not accidently cause a life to be prematurely terminated.

For example, Deuteronomy 22:8-10 reads, “If you build a house, make sure to put a low wall around the edge of the flat roof. Then if someone falls off the roof and is killed, it won’t be your fault.” In this time period, the roof was used as a place where friends and family would congregate to enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps you could think of it as the premier patio that oversees the city. Without a wall around the roof, someone could unintentionally fall to their death. Notice, however, that if a person died from falling when no fence was present, the homeowners were held responsible. “It won’t be your fault” if one obeyed this civil law implies that if no wall is present then it is “your” fault.

Why is the homeowner at fault for their guest falling off the roof and dying? Don’t we have insurance companies for situations such as this? Even the accidental loss of life, exists as something worth grieving over when the idea of carefulness is neglected. The person who owned the home failed to protect life by inadequately creating a safe environment for his guests. To put it in terms of Frame’s doctrine of carefulness, the homeowner was careless with human life because they did not respect the lives of their guests enough to build a wall and protect those at the “dinner party.” Therefore, to use Frame’s wording for the doctrine of carefulness, “We must guard against the possibility that someone might be killed, being alert to correct life-threatening elements in situations” (DCL, 688).

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Critiqued

From the outset, I think Frame’s understanding of biblical carefulness exists as a valid position that can be defended by Scripture. Those who hold that Scripture teaches an inviolability of life ethic–i.e. all human life is sacred–would do well to practice the notion of carefulness. In fact, my point in critiquing and developing this concept is to argue some best practices Christians should think through in applying this principle in various areas of life.

The issue I have with Frame’s thought is the phrase he utilizes to convey this ethic. I hesitate to call this a “doctrine” of carefulness. Doctrine seems to imply a definitive position or objective truth. When evangelicals speak of doctrine, we are typically using that term to argue for some type of non-negotiables of the Christian faith (i.e. the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the incarnation, the Imago Dei, the gospel, etc.). The Holloman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines Doctrine as “Christian truth and teaching passed on from generation to generation as ‘the faith that was delivered to the saints'” (Jude 3 HCSB). In other words, Christian teaching derived from the Bible to explain and affirm essential truths of the faith to believers.

I am not saying that carefulness is not taught in Scripture nor is it something that isn’t being passed down from generation to generation, but rather I think that this moral responsibility is an application of a doctrine rather than a doctrine in and of itself. Therefore, Frame is expounding the notion of carefulness from the moral law summarized by the sixth commandment, which expresses the inherent worth and value of human beings made in God’s image. For this reason, I am arguing to modify Frame’s thought from the “doctrine of carefulness” to the “principle of carefulness.”

Carefulness could be considered a subjective term for each individual’s conscience, which is why, in my opinion, it is difficult to defend this concept as a “doctrine” (Frame acknowledges this difficulty on pp. 724-25 in footnote 7). For example, the speed limit in the United States is designed to keep drivers and passengers in all vehicles safe–thus, protecting life. If you and I were debating about how fast to drive on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles, California based on the concept of a doctrine of carefulness, you would think that both of us should say that we should drive at 70 miles per hour–the speed limit. If you have ever driven on certain parts of “The 5” you would know that this could be a dangerous course of action.

Drivers have to make continuous moral judgments on how fast they should drive depending on where they are and what is happening on Interstate 5. You might say that I need to drive 70 miles per hour to keep up with the traffic flow of other drivers so that I am not hit by other cars when driving too slow–“The 5” can be a fast-paced road during non-rush hour times. I might, in return, argue that going 5 miles under the speed limit is safer because coming over a hill or around a curve and seeing traffic backed up will allow you to react in a timely manner, thus preventing any accidents. Do you see how carefulness could be considered a subjective term? Therefore, I think that carefulness must be attached to an objective truth–i.e. the Imago Dei.

With this in mind, I prefer to designate the term “principle of carefulness” as the more appropriate phrase for believers. The applications of carefulness will vary (principle), but the respect for human life does not (doctrine). Go back to my example of our argument about driving on “The 5.” You and I are arguing different applications of the principle of carefulness, but we are making our cases with the same doctrine in view, all life is sacred because all people are made in God’s image. To put it another way, the principles that we arguing for are dependent upon the same doctrine we both believe in– i.e. the Imago Dei.

The Principle of Carefulness Concluded

To conclude, I agree with Frame that the Bible teaches Christians should uphold to such a high view of human beings made in God’s image so that we are constantly encouraged to “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). I think the phrase “principle of carefulness” exists as a better alternative to Frame’s use of “doctrine of carefulness” by recognizing the various applications that could be practiced by believers holding to an inviolability of life ethic. While the biblical warrant for Christians to favor life in all situations remains biblically justified, the principle can be applied differently depending upon the conditions. I am not arguing a situational ethic, I am holding to the biblical truth of the Imago Dei as the foundational doctrine for the principle of carefulness.

Rethinking Pastoral Ministry in America: How Pastors Should Start Thinking About the Future

Ken Myers, the founder of Mars Hill Audio, once said in his Epiphany Lectures that he does not like to be prophetic. By prophetic, he does not mean that he has been given some special word from God similar to that of the Old Testament prophets. He is not claiming a “Thus says the Lord,” type of truth. Rather, he is arguing that he sees a problem in the area of music, and presents a seemingly unpopular theological view about this topic to his audience. I can relate to Myers’s sentiment about being prophetic, and yet, I seek to be prophetic in this blog post. My article seeks to look at the current trends about the church in America, and propose that pastors need to think about and discuss this topic more deliberately in order to prepare for the future.

Current Decline in Attendance

The church in America is declining. Statistics are indicating–like those at the Pew Research Center–a downward spiral of both professing believers and church attendees. People are less committed to a local church, and those who are committed are attending less and less. The reasons for such a decrease are numerous, and in some ways, unknowable. One factor for the decrease in numbers is due to the increase in people who are identified as “Religious ‘Nones.'” “Religious Nones” are people unaffiliated with any form of religion or religious organization. The rise of this group reveals a telling truth: the impact of the church in our American society is weak at best, and non-existent at worst, therefore, we are not reaching people with the gospel.

If you will permit me, I would like to make a brief observation about what has been called “Cultural Christianity.” Many believers think America used to exist as a Christian culture. I have argued that America has never been truly Christian, but rather existed as a culture that attempted to live out Judeo-Christian values on a societal level. The church used to be the social construction of society, but many people attended church to “save face,” or build on their relational connections. Therefore, many people in these eras seemed to be “Cultural Christians,” Christians out of cultural obligation, instead of actual Christians. When new ideologies started to pop up in culture like the Sexual Revolution, a new way of thinking was introduced and “Cultural Christianity” began to wane because a new way of life was being not only permitted, but also adopted. Today, Cultural Christianity is nearly obsolete, and a new way of life has been adopted by American society so that people can identify as a “Religious None” without fear of societal degradation.

The rise of the “Religious None,” and I don’t mean that to sound negative, indicates that it will take the church longer to reach this group with the gospel. As Mike Breen once said to me in his huddle, “Christians will have to disciple people before reaching them with the gospel.” To put it another way, many Americans do not have a foundation of biblical knowledge in which a witness can draw on in order to point them to Christ. Believers living in a post-Cultural Christianity will have to explain terms, the biblical narrative, and other truths about Christianity in order to point people to Christ as the only means to be forgiven and saved. The consequences of this cultural reality portray that it will take longer to see people come to Christ, and the time needed to reverse the decline will not necessarily be a quick fix.

Current Decline in Finances

Have you ever played the game “Wack-A-Mole?” When you play this game, you hit a mole with a padded hammer and another one or sometimes two moles raise their silly heads to be hammered down quickly by the gamer. This same concept applies to the church. The decline in attendance and the rise of people who are growing away from any form of religion means that the local church will take a financial hit. If it takes longer to reach people with the gospel, it will take longer to disciple people towards biblical giving as well. Plus, many pastors are already experiencing a decline in giving according to this article in the Christian Post. Smaller churches, which make up the majority of my denomination, are also currently burdened by financial crises. In other words, the current financial decline already exists in many local churches.

Many factors seem to be contributing to the financial decline. Of course, attendance is down and this reciprocates into a decline in tithing. People are not giving to charitable organizations including religious entities like in the years past. Some generations who were faithful tithers are beginning to pass away, and the generations replacing them are so steeped in various forms of debt they couldn’t give even if they had a desire towards Christian generosity. While Christians struggle to influence the American culture, the church in America is increasingly struggling to maintain the massive overhead that “Culture Christianity” produced.

A Possible Way Forward

Pastors should be noting these current trends, and possibly rethinking ministry for the future of the church in America. At a minimum, this post should encourage discussion, but also cause us to think of ways to influence an increasingly anti-Christian culture with the gospel in the days to come. I would like to provide you with two possible ways forward:

First, think of ways to reduce the church’s overhead now. Every church is different so this thought will have many implications. Pastors should think about leading their churches towards being debt free in order to reduce the budget overhead and free up money for missional purposes. While finances may be strong, get rid of debt fast. Also, churches that are growing or running out of space should consider only building or renovating in a debt-free mentality. A church may be growing, but one decision or economic disaster could take a church of 200 down to 100 almost instantly. Just because the attendance or tithes decrease does not mean the bank will decrease the loan amount each pay period as an extension of economic grace. In fact, they won’t. Therefore, the loan amount gets spread to less people, and will financially hurt the church and their outreach in the long run. Churches should consider some of the thoughts outlined by Francis Chan in his book, Letters to the Church. Maybe one way to reduce overhead is to get rid of the church buildings all together and look more like the church in the book of Acts–meeting together in homes and reaching people in closer proximity.

Second, and here is me being prophetic, maybe pastors should prepare to become “tent-makers” in the future (cf. Acts 18:3). Tent-makers are pastors who work a full-time job and are either part-time or volunteers at a local church. When I type those sentences it really hurts as a pastor who gave up a stable career and earned two (almost three) theological degrees in order to think about getting out of “full time vocational ministry.” If you are church member, it might bother you to think that your pastor might have to give up full time ministry in order to support his family, the church, and reach more people with the gospel. However, the reality of the declining numbers may demand this possible future for pastoral ministry. Therefore, maybe pastors should start thinking about what type of careers they can work in order to embrace this consistent downward trend and create more time to spend with unbelievers.

Conclusion

One truth we should walk away with is that God is still sovereign. Yes, we may note the trends and think about how these declining numbers may impact the future of the church in America. Pastors, church leaders, and church members should think about and discuss what measures need to be taken in order to sustain a gospel presence in the American culture. However, our planning should never circumvent our need for prayer. May we pray that God would open the pathway to another spiritual awakening in America, and the Holy Spirit will bring people to Christ in droves. May the church be ready to disciple them faithfully according to God’s Word in order to strengthen the church’s resources to reach more people for the glory of God.

Fathers: Lead Your Children by Example

Marine officers have a motto that they see each day when they attend The Basic School, ductus exemplo. This phrase translated in English means “Lead by Example.” This motto, I believe, should be adopted by every Christian father.

Have you ever heard the saying: More is caught than taught? The idea behind this phrase seems to imply leading others by example. As fathers, it is imperative that we not only instruct our children in the ways of the Lord, but also bring them up by modeling this instruction to them (cf. Eph 6:4). ‬‬Here are 4 ways Christian fathers can lead their children by example:

1) Model spiritual disciplines. You may or may not be surprised to learn that spiritual disciplines are probably not widely practiced by believers living in America. The statistics of believers reading through the entire Bible remains dismal. Fathers, we can be the agent of change. We have the ability to reverse the trajectory of spiritual disciplines if we would simply practice them ourselves. Our children need to see us praying, reading Scripture, and memorizing/meditating on Scripture. If you are regularly practicing spiritual disciplines, invite your children to sit in on this time with you to observe and ask questions. Children, especially boys, want to be like their dads, and as fathers who desire to be godly examples, we want our children to see our good habits, but more importantly our personal time with the Lord.

2) Prioritize worship. As a pastor, Mother’s Day has higher worship attendance over Father’s Day. Perhaps because many fathers would rather be on the golf course, on the lake, or just enjoying a relaxing day. God has given fathers an important role in the home. Paul explicitly calls out fathers in Ephesians 6:4 because of the spiritual leadership dads provide to their children (this is not to say that moms don’t have an important role or that this principle doesn’t apply to parenting on a broad level). The point Paul makes is that fathers will be held accountable for how they lead their children, and dads have an important role in their spiritual development. Therefore, we must make worship a priority in our lives because children are watching our every move. What we prioritize our children will also place a higher emphasis on in their lives. Fathers that make worship a priority will lead their children to do the same.

3) Show them evangelism. Fathers, we must model sharing the gospel to others in front of our children. They should see how we share Christ, and ways that we introduce Jesus into our conversations. All disciples have been given a mission, which has been called the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20). As dads, we need to lead the charge in pointing people to Jesus. Our children need to see our Spirit-empowered boldness to proclaim Jesus with our friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else we meet. Prayerfully, this will lead our children to do the same with their friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else they meet. Fathers, we must lead by example in evangelism and model it for the young ones living in our homes.

4) Love their mom well. Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). We lead by example in how we love our wives, and in our love for their mom, we display the gospel to our children. We have an opportunity to show an imperfect love that represents the perfect love of Christ to his bride–the church. The church that he bought with his blood to make us clean from our sins. Fathers, the way we love their mom will teach our boys what a godly husband looks like, and show our girls what they should be looking for in a future spouse. In our example, we are pointing them to a prefect savior, Jesus Christ.

Biblical disclaimer: To be clear, you and I cannot lead by example if we don’t know Christ as Lord and Savior. You cannot lead if you are not first and foremost a follower of Jesus. While these may be great principles even for a non-believing father, you will be unable to lead by example if you have not first surrendered your life to Christ. The gospel gives fathers the ability to pursue God’s design as a Christian role-model to your children.

Ductus Exemplo-Lead by Example. Our children are not only listening to our words, but as Christian fathers, they are looking at our lives and actions. What are they seeing in us? Are we showing them a glimpse of the gospel’s changing power as they watch us? My prayer is that for all of the dads who read this post, they will be filled with the Holy Spirit to show our babies Christ in us. Through our godly example, may God open them to the truth of the gospel, and grow them into believers who will bring glory to Christ and advance his Kingdom when they leave our homes.


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