Should the Church Practice Online Communion?

Preface

I can be an ungracious critic. I am aware of this sin in my life. Some of my closest family members tell me that if God doesn’t get my criticism under control by his redeeming power I will become a mean and crusty man. I know my faults, and I pray God would remove this harshness from my disposition. Therefore, my goal is not to criticize churches or leaders who are practicing the Lord’s Supper in an online format. I am not trying to be overly critical of others or single anyone out in this post. My goal is to provide (or attempt to provide) a theological answer to the question, “Should the church practice online communion?”

From the outset, I am concerned that we are asking the wrong question when it comes to communion in the COVID-19 pandemic. I am afraid that many advocates are asking the question, “How can we make communion happen,” instead of, “should we theologically move our churches to perform this action.” To put it another way, I think pragmatism seems to be the ideology of the day instead of correct theology. As Christian ethicist John Frame once rightly defended, “Ethics is theology, viewed as a means of determining which persons, acts, and attitudes receive God’s blessing and which do not” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 10). Therefore, does the online only act of communion receive a blessing or not according to the Bible? The sufficiency and authority of Scripture must determine our answer.

First Corinthians 11:17-34: “Come Together as a Church”

In Christian ethics, we must begin with the biblical norm (cf. Frame calls this the normative perspective in DCL, 33). Holy Scripture dictates to us the ethical norm we must apply to our situation. What is the ethical norm when it comes to the Lord’s Supper? Paul provides one of the most instructive teachings on the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. We must begin by noting that this letter was addressed to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). When he gets to his instruction for the Lord’s Supper, he continues to exhort this local body by using the phrase “come together” four times (cf. 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, 20, and 34). To help us understand what he means by come together, Paul directly identified the gathering as “when you come together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:22). From this brief exegetical analysis, we might conclude that Scripture affirms–as the biblical norm–that communion ought to be practiced within the local church when it “comes together.” In other words, when the body of Christ is physically gathered.

From Scripture, we should all agree that the bilbical norm mandates that communion ought to be practiced in a physically gathered, local church context.

Exceptions to the Norm?

Now, we must move from the biblical norm to the exceptions (if such exceptions should exist). We may all be thinking that COVID-19 has brought a possible exception to the theological norm due to social distancing. The question remains: Is online communion an appropriate exception to this God ordained instruction? A more general way to phrase the question reads, “Is it ever appropriate to practice communion outside of the local body of believers?

John Piper once preached, “We do not forbid taking the Lord’s Supper to someone in a nursing home or a hospital, but that kind of individual celebration is exceptional, not the Biblical norm.” Piper is absolutely right. However, taking communion to the nursing home or hospital may still meet the parameters of the biblical text in order to make the exception valid. Theologian Allen Verhey’s The Christian Art of Dying presents why this type of practice stands on biblical grounds in accordance with the instruction of 1 Corinthians 11. The context for Verhey’s argument is a person on his deathbed or a sick individual who is unable to gather with a local body due to his physical ailments. In this situation, Verhey defends, “The community comes with it, gesturing that the sick and dying are still members of the community” (Verhey, 331). Notice why Piper’s exception meets the biblical norm according to Verhey. The local church comes to the sick or dying person in order to bring them the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, we see a physical representation of the church coming together in order to partake in communion, which “proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26).

Before moving to online communion, we must acknowledge that the nursing home or the hospital does not exist as the normative ethic. The church does not only gather at these two places in order to participate in the Lord’s Supper. The primary place where the ordinance ought to be regularly observed is in the local church. The nursing home and hospital are exceptions to the biblical norm, but still meet the requirements of God’s people coming together as a faith community.

Is Online Communion an Exception?

To begin our answer, we should determine if an online only worship experience meets the biblical requirements for coming “together as a church” (1 Cor. 11:18). We must be careful in how we answer this question because we could be indicating that the online church experience can be a substitute for meeting together, and I don’t think many of us would biblical follow that line of reasoning. The author of Hebrews states:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis added

We are encouraged from the author of Hebrews to regularly meet together in physical gatherings. We then must ask, “What are some characteristics that may exemplify we are meeting together as the church? Martin Luther in Luther’s Works Volume 39 helps us when he provided seven characteristics of the church gathering (I am indebted to my mentor for pointing me to Luther’s work on this subject). W. Robert Godfrey wrote a summary of these seven characteristics for Ligonier Ministries in 2016, and I will use his summary to provide you with Luther’s view. Luther’s seven characteristics were:

  1. The Word
  2. Baptism
  3. The Lord’s Supper
  4. Discipline
  5. Biblical Offices
  6. Worship
  7. Suffering

NOTE: You may see Luther’s explanation for each of these characteristics on the Ligonier Ministries blog here.

From these characteristics, we could make the case that an online only worship gathering does not exist as an official model of a gathered church. Do I have the ability to call all the online followers of an online church service to vote in or vote out the pastor on the screen, which is a biblical office? Of course not. Many would call me foolish for such an attempt. Does the pastor on the screen have the ability to ensure that I am a member in good standing with a like-minded gospel believing church–i.e. not under church discipline? Absolutely not. In fact, how is the pastor able to ensure that I am not partaking of the cup or the bread “in an unworthy manner,” which is his biblical duty according to his biblical office (1 Cor. 11:27)? In all reality, it would be impossible because he is unable to observe my physical presence as I come to the table. These questions are only a few out of a myriad that illustrate an online only community does not exist as a gathered church body. As I wrote in another blog post, the online church exists due to COVID-19 as a necessary abnormality, but should not be considered a substitute for the the physical gathering of the saints.

Additionally, the Lord’s Supper is a time where the local church gathers and preaches the gospel to each other through this symbolic act. Listen to Paul once more, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup you proclaim the Lords’ death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). If I’m sitting in my house by myself taking communion with a pastor on a screen, who (besides me and the Holy Spirit) am I proclaiming this gospel truth to? No one. The Lord’s Supper exists as a time where believers come together to reflect on the work of Christ and celebrate, as a collective body, his substitutionary atonement. To put it another way, we are preaching the gospel to each other during this act (and any lost people joining our worship service). Therefore, we may conclude that online communion misses the mark of being a gathered body of believers.

From this conclusion, we may determine that online communion does not seem to be an exception that meets the biblical norm.

Now What Do We Do?

Where do we go from here? How might we think differently about the practice of the Lord’s Supper during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is how I think we should respond in light of the biblical norm. We should respond by praying that God would cease this pandemic. We should ask God to relieve the coronavirus in our society in order that the shelter in place orders will be lifted and the church can once again physically gather together. Coming together as the body of Christ should be what all of us (pastors and church members) long for in these unprecedented days of social distancing. And when we are finally able to physically gather together on our first Sunday after the pandemic, we should joyfully celebrate by coming together as the church united to the table.

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 be more broadly applied than simply on a personal level. My purpose in writing this post is to provide a resource to assist parents in helping their children grow in holiness during this time of school closure.

What Is Holiness?

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:14-16

The Apostle Peter provides us with three answers to this question. The first answer is God is holy. When we think about holiness, our minds should begin by contemplating God through his Word. John Frame commented, “His personality shows his kinship with us, but his holiness shows his transcendence, his separation from us” (DCL, 20). Everything God is, does, and says, is holy. Therefore, he is our standard of holiness.

Our second answer is that we are not naturally holy, but are able to be redeemed in Christ. The fact of the matter is we are the polar opposite of holiness. We are sinners and separated from God due to our wickedness. So how can we pursue holiness if we are sinful people? The answer is found in Jesus Christ. When we believe in the work of Christ, this text says we become children or as the Apostle John states, children of God (1 John 3:1). In other words, we are covered with Christ’s righteousness in order to be brought into a relationship with God.

Once we understand that God is holy, and that faith in Christ saves us and covers us with Jesus’s holiness, we are able to provide the third answer to this question. Our faith in Christ propels us towards holiness. Peter tells his audience to pursue holiness by turning from their former sinful passions. If we are turning from our passions, what do we turn towards? We are to turn to God who is holy and conduct ourselves according to his revealed standard. His revealed standard is his Holy Word.

Pursing Holiness by Reading Scripture

After we have explained these answers about holiness to our children (in a way they are able to understand), we now have an opportunity to help them learn who God is, the standard of holiness he expects from his disciples, and the power of the Holy Spirit to help his children become like him. Parents, we have an opportunity in this season of social distancing to teach our children about holiness by helping them read the Bible. We have an opportunity to take intentional time to train our children while we are confined to our homes. Therefore, I would like to provide you with a way to help your children pursue holiness by reading the Bible.

STep One: Pick out a passage of Scripture

Pick out a passage that your child or children would enjoy reading. This week one of our children read Ezekiel 37 (The Valley of Dry Bones), and another read John 1:1-18 (John’s prologue). The Bible is filled with interesting historical narratives that will make your child’s imagination light up with biblical truth. Before they read the text, teach them to pray and ask God to help them understand what they are about to read.

Step Two: Ask these three simple questions

After they read the text (or before depending on your child’s personality), ask them:

  1. What does this passage teach you about God?
  2. What did you find to be the most interesting truth in this text?
  3. What is one question you would like to ask me about this reading?

Notice what these questions are designed to do. The first question helps the child comprehend that the Bible is first and foremost about God. We need to help our children understand that this is how we come to know, love, and understand who God is. The second question guides the reader to think about how a biblical truth either connects him or her to God or outlines what God expects from his people who follow him. The third inquiry allows the child to ask questions without fear in order to allow the parent and child to have some time interacting with the text together. We want our children to talk about what they are learning about God, but we also want to train them to be comfortable to ask questions when they read something in God’s Word they don’t understand.

Step Three: Pray with your child

Take a moment to ask the child what you can pray about with them. Thank God for this opportunity to grow closer to him with your son or daughter. Ask God to continue to reveal himself to you and your child through his Word. Request that you and your child will continue to pursue a life of holiness as you both read God’s Word together.

My encouragement to all parents is that we not squander this social distance time together with our children. We should look at this time of isolation as a great opportunity to connect with and disciple these little image-bearers God has given us for a temporary amount of time. Remember, mom and dad, the words of Paul in Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Yes, I know it says “Fathers,” but we can infer that it is our responsibility to train and instruct our children into pursuing personal holiness by reading Scripture.

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3 Reasons Facebook Is Destroying Our ‘Real’ Lives

Almost a decade ago, I was deployed to a combat theater while serving in the military. My wife and I had just been blessed with our oldest daughter two weeks before I left the country. It was a challenging time in our marriage because here was my wife with a newborn baby living five states away from our family, and her husband was off to serve our country. It was a challenging time for me because I was leaving my wife and newborn baby. By the way, I only had two weeks with this little girl before getting on a plane to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom. By God’s grace, I am writing this blog post, and our daughter is approaching ten years of age.

Why do I tell you this story? One of the ways my wife and I stayed connected was through Facebook. Social media technologies like these can help in some situations of geographical separation. However, a danger looms in the background of such technologies that are impacting many people–especially women–on an emotional level.

During my deployment, I was convinced that our baby girl never cried, threw temper-tantrums, nor made any messes. I believed this little girl was the perfect baby. Why did I have such beliefs? The only pictures my wife would send me through Facebook were ones of her smiling, eating her first bites of baby cereal, and laughing. I was being fed images of what seemed like this perfect child although the reality at home was completely different. By the way, I want to be fair to my wife in this post. She posted these types of pictures because I was already in an intense combat environment. The last thing my wife wanted to do was to make me think that all was not good at home. I think what my wife was doing intentionally to me is what many people on Facebook are doing to themselves and others unintentionally.

Through this experience, I believe that Facebook has created a harmful false reality for people who engage in its use. I would argue that the false truths presented on Facebook are truly harming marriages, families, and individuals more than helping keep people connected. Why do I think this is the case? I would like to provide you with three reasons:

  1. Many Facebook Posts Create a False Reality. The Facebook “wall” seems to exist as an social media forum where people can create their own “online” life. Many users predominately only post the “good” things that are happening in their lives. Rarely, if ever, does anyone post the realities of their actual social lives. Not many users post the various marriage problems they are experiencing or the rebellious child in their lives or the insecurities they feel as a mom, dad, wife, husband, student, etc. However, on Facebook, they don’t have to because they can develop their “happily ever afters” in online social space. Facebook allows us a place of escape to post the lives we wish we were really living, but when we turn off the screen, we come back to reality that our lives do not reflect what we are putting online. This displaying of false reality contributes to the hurts of both the user and their “friends,” which will be addressed in the next two sections.
  2. The False Reality Fuels Desires for Perfection. When people create unreal Facebook posts, they may not realize that they are revealing the desires that they have within themselves. People are actually posting their “dream lives,” for the world to believe they are truly living. When many Facebook users post these false realities of their lives, they look at their online profile and realize they are not living this dream in “real time.” Therefore, many users begin to experience two types of realities: insecurity and obsession. People experience insecurities because they realize how imperfect their lives are compared to what they are posting on social media. Some people post these images to overcome their real life insecurities. These insecurities lead to obsessions. In other words, they obsess over making everything in their lives a reality of their online posts in order to control their insecurities. They hold their children, husbands, wives, and friends to the level they portray on their walls. Ultimately, this type of false reality weighs heavily on those who engage in this type of online lifestyle.
  3. The Danger of Comparison. While the last reason highlights what happens in the individual user, this reason looks at the many people who observe the lives of their Facebook “friends.” As people promote “filtered” or unrealistic realities of their lives, many of us review these realities and compare their fake realities with our own actual realities. I believe this is where many of our women are greatly impacted by the duplicity of social media. We look at these Facebook narratives and desire what we see other people “pretending” to have. Many of us make these comments in our hearts and minds, “I wish my husband was that sweet.” “Why can’t my wife look like that?” “Why don’t our children act like theirs?” On and on these comparisons go, and as we engage in such thinking, we begin to impress these unhealthy thoughts on people we actually have relationships with in real life. We can become so deceived by the “false realities” of others–we are deceived because we buy into the lie of social media comparison, that we put our real life relationships in serious jeopardy. The danger is that we try to make those in our lives live up to the expectations that we see being promoted in the lives of our online “friends.” In turn, this could destroy the real relationships we have.

As I mentioned at the outset of my post, Facebook was a helpful tool when I was deployed, but we should be cautioned that it can have a harming impact on our hearts, minds, souls, and real life relationships. I was amazed when I came home from my deployment. This little girls who I had seen only smiling and enjoying her life suddenly was a real person. She would cry in the early hours of the morning. She would sometimes not eat her food or try and get into areas of the house that could harm her so I had to be keenly aware of her surroundings.

One time she wasn’t feeling good and she regurgitated all of her breakfast directly onto the front of my body. I was covered from head to toe. I thought to myself that this can’t be the girl I had seen in all those “happy” photos, but her mom tells me she is just like her daddy. It was in that moment, I knew she was mine. Even in all of her imperfections, I would rather have the real flesh and blood girl than a false image I saw for all those months on Facebook. Why? A real relationship built on good times and bad times beats a false reality every time!

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) ignites a fiery relationship between two people. Could you imagine saying to a potential future spouse, “Hey, we are not going to spend any personal time together, but here is a picture of me that you can interact with, and I promise it is going to bring us closer together so that we will fall in love.” We have to admit that would be a pretty silly thing to say. Yet, Instagram seems to be promoting this same type of mentality through their social media platform.

As a father of two girls, I think Instagram’s platform is doing something far more dangerous to our young ladies besides promoting a false narrative. This social media outlet is capturing their souls. By capturing their souls, I mean that many young ladies are attempting to find their identity in the pictures they are sharing. Our young girls are coveting the “heart” while at the same time destroying their own spirits. They are valuing their self-worth in the number of followers, and we, as Christian parents, are just standing aimlessly by letting it happen. We are letting it happen because we have not truly sat down and thought about what Instagram in particular and all social media in general could be doing to our young ladies. My article is an attempt to, at a minimum, incite dialogue and discussion with other parents and our girls about this platform’s impact on their souls. Therefore, I want to expound how Instagram might be capturing the souls of our girls before our very eyes.

Three Points for Consideration

  • Finding their identity in Instagram. Instagram is a platform that idolizes the self. Look at these three comments from their website with my added emphasis: “Express yourself in new ways with the latest Instagram features,” and “Connect with more people, build influence, and create compelling content that’s distinctly yours,” or “Share and grow your brand with our diverse, global community.” Do you see it? The implication seems to be about creating “your” identity, but implied in this freedom of expression is the idolatry of “self.” Our girls are picking up on this, and posting pictures to create their own egos. This mentality is anti-gospel. We must teach our girls that their identity is not trying to look like a model or post provocative pictures or show their latest life stage for a group of followers they barely know. We must show them their identity needs to rest in Christ, and Christ alone. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20a). Instagram feeds on the idolatry of “self,” and our girls are buying it. Therefore, we must fight against it.
  • Coveting the “heart” to feed their image. Instagram has many ways to interact with content, but one of the most common ways is liking a post by clicking the heart button. This means our girls are finding their identity by what gets the most likes from their followers. This coveting of affirmation by the click of a “heart” on Instagram implies that their followers are actually influencing their identities. Our girls are monitoring what they are posting to get more likes, and thereby, seeking the approval of others to build up their idol, which is the self. Coveting the “heart” seems to impact the dangers of cyber bullying and certain disorders in our girls (Instagram has a policy for both of these threats that can be found here). When certain types of pictures–i.e. provocative, filtered, or life milestones are posted on Instagram, the “likes” fan the flames of the hearts to seek more “hearts” in the future by posting similar or more exposed pictures. Instagram is all about the image. The images of our girls are being fed by “likes,” and for many of our young ladies, this thirst for follower approval is becoming an obsession. Thus, this feature is capturing their souls by feeding the goddess of self-image with little “heart” buttons.
  • Collecting followers increases their self-worth. Up to this point, we have observed that our girls are seeking to define their identity through Instagram, and their identity is being fed by the coveted “heart” button. However, one of the most dangerous aspects of this type of media, for our girls, is that it opens their lives to more people–many of whom they probably do not know. In order to feed the idol of self, they need more people to follow them to obtain more “likes.” Instagram knows the danger of such a diverse community of people on their platform because their policy states that users must be a minimum of 13 years of age to obtain an account. Parents, do you know the people following your young ladies? Instagram’s Community Guidelines acknowledge, “Instagram is a reflection of our diverse community of cultures, ages, and beliefs.” With such diversity, means people from all over the world can see the images our ladies are posting. Not only can they see their images, but people can also interact with those images to feed the identities of our girls. How many young ladies accept followers or have open accounts that allows all types of diverse people peeping into their lives? The idolatry associated with this form of media seems to expose our girls to a larger crowd of people that we probably wouldn’t want them to physically be around in person. Nevertheless, the idol must be fed, and our girls are open to a vast array of unknown followers.

Parental Guidance Required

When we as parents think about what this form of social media is doing the souls of our girls, we should seek all means necessary to remove the temptation and the social strain Instagram may cause. Christian parents should seek to discuss with their girls how their identity is not found in likes and followers, but rather in Christ. We should graciously remove such propaganda from their lives in order to guard their hearts from seeking to walk down the wrong path. Nevertheless, if you have reservations about such an action, I would highly advise you to review Instagram’s “Know How to Talk with Your Teen About Instagram: A Parent’s Guide.” While I may disagree with our girls using this type of media platform in the future, Instagram has rightly attempted to open the lines of communication between parents and their teenagers on ways to protect themselves in this social media arena.

After reading this post, I hope you will be more open to discussing this type of social media outlet with others in order to think about recapturing the souls of our girls and pointing them to Christ.

Why I Deleted My Twitter Account

It was a tough moment in my life. The message on the screen was begging me to stay. After a series of attempts to delete my account, this was the final plea from Twitter to change my mind. “Are you sure, Jeremy? Once you hit this button, your account will be permanently deactivated and @jeremybell06 will be gone!”

I had a variety of feelings in this moment. The fear of missing out on all the “news worthy” stories that flooded my Twitter feed. The insecurity that now my platform for “gospel advancement” would be over, and I would no longer reach celebrity pastor status. The excitement of being a rebel, and the ability to smugly say, “I don’t have a Twitter.” Those few moments were intense as I stared at that button to officially deactivate my Twitter. As the beads of sweat poured down my brow, I quickly hit the button. It was finished!

Immediately, I felt relief, freedom, and disbelief. “Did I really just do that?” I said to myself. I did, and it felt amazing! Why did I do it? Why did I delete my Twitter account (for-ev-er–Squints from The Sandlot)? The main reason was that Twitter was deteriorating my soul. I couldn’t stand the negativity and harsh criticisms that were being posited in 280 characters in politics or the evangelical community. As I would scroll through my feed, I would feel times of intense anger, frustration, and disappointment. These emotions were heightened when I would see evangelical leaders being completely cut-throat in their tweets towards others. Is this new dog-eat-dog in the twitter-verse the way we as evangelicals understand the Imago Dei? Obviously, our evangelical leaders are similar to the politicians they criticize more than they may realize.

I despise that Twitter is unable to disconnect a proposition from a person. People living in America are soft. We can no longer attack a position without everyone taking it personal. When an evangelical leader attacks a position of another, everyone took it personal and rushed to the aid of the “victim.” What really happens in Twitter-world is a consistent barrage of ad hominem Tweets, which does not build up anyone, but rather destroys people. Again, my evangelical community is just as bad if not worse than the American culture. Just thinking about the use of verbal assaults on Twitter makes me nauseous.

Many people are speaking out about the harm social media is causing in the area of civil dialogue (cf. Antisocial Media by Siva Vaidhyanathan or Jaron Lanier’s article, “Four Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”). Twitter frustrated me because I couldn’t dialogue with people who disagreed with me or vice-versa. In fact, people find it easier to put out a tweet that blasts a person rather than sitting down and having open and honest dialogue. The current MacArthur verse Moore fiasco only perpetuated to unhealthy levels from both sides because no one had any actual discussion about it in person. How many other issues are unresolved or further divided because we subvert verbal communication for irresponsible tweeting?

I know that some of my fellow believers might disagree with me because they might be tempted to think that we can “reach more” people through Twitter. Many assume the Christian community can use Twitter for “gospel advancement” and getting our Christian worldview disseminated to larger groups of people. However, I would like to respectfully push back on this notion with these two questions: How many people have been led to Christ through Twitter? How many people have changed their view to a Christian one because some Tweet, packaged in 280 characters, presented a biblical worldview with such precision and persuasion? I am fairly confident that the numbers are slim if they exist at all.

Honestly, Twitter has divided our evangelical community, and I don’t see any chance of us coming together to reconcile our differences. Isn’t this anti-gospel (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-20)? Have we, evangelicals, even thought about what the world sees in our trigger happy Twitter slander? I don’t want you to think that you have to get rid of your Twitter, but I think we should be aware of what Twitter is doing to our faith communities. By the way, I don’t think these concerns only apply to Twitter, but could apply to all social media platforms. At this time, I have deleted both my Twitter and Instagram, and pretty soon, Facebook, you might be next.

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Sorry Luke Bryan, “Most People Are NOT Good.”

My family and I took a road trip to Texas over our summer break. Seventeen hours crammed into a minivan will definitely bring people closer together–both figuratively and literally. We talked, slept, watched movies, and listened to music. When it comes to music in the Bell family, we enjoy listening to a variety of styles. Our children want to continuously listen to Disney soundtracks. My wife enjoys country music, but when she hears Texas country, she gives me that look of “Take Me Out to the Dancehall” (Pat Green). For me, I listen to pretty much anything and everything.

Christians can listen to all kinds of styles and forms of music. Music is purposed for our enjoyment, but believers need to listen with a critical ear. Francis Schaeffer encouraged his readers to judge art on the basis of its content because the content “reflects the world view of the artist” (Art and the Bible, 64). In other words, music should be thought of as a medium for conveying a message. Believers need to hear and measure the message with our Christian beliefs. When we listen, we should ask not only, “Do I like this song?” but also, “What is this song trying to tell me about the world we live in?” These questions are important because, whether you recognize it or not, music has the ability to shape us.

On our seventeen hour car ride, I heard “Most People Are Good,” by Luke Bryan. From the outset, Luke Bryan–in my opinion–is a decent country artist. My post is not designed to take away his singing talent and musical gifting. I just disagree with the worldview he sings about. The song repeatedly promotes his belief that “most people are good.” When he sings these words, it intends to make us feel good about ourselves. Who doesn’t want that repeated in a chorus? Plus, “good” rhymes with “sainthood,” which is important for any song. However, is this belief really true? Are “most people good?”

The Reality: The Bible seems to paint a very different picture of us as human beings. Luke Bryan might make me feel good, but the Bible tells me I’m actually evil and condemned. For example, David prayed, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). We see the effects of sin in us when Cain murdered his brother Abel after the Fall (Genesis 4:8). Jesus calls us sick people who he came to heal when he states, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). One of the most scathing realities of our condition is from Paul who wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). I could go on with other passages, but I think you can see that the Bible sings a different tune about our condition. In other words, the human canvass is not as good as we think we are.

The Consequences: By telling people we believe “most people are good,” we might actually be harming our fellow man. We are harming people because they will not see the depths of their sinfulness in order to see their need for the Savior. Many people will begin to believe they are “good people,” and this belief will push them away from their desperate need to believe in Jesus Christ.

To Believers: The gospel requires us to critically analyze the content of our music. We can listen to any musical genre available, but we need to hear the words and understand the message of the artist. Then, we need to measure what the artist is singing about with Scripture to determine if we are able to accept or reject their worldview.

What does this mean for the believer who hears Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good?” It really depends on you. Maybe you should change the station because you could be influenced by this message. Maybe you can listen to the song with a vocal disclaimer that this song is theologically inaccurate to others who are listening. I would have no problem dancing to this song with my wife in the kitchen while changing the words to, “I believe most [aren’t] good!” My post is not designed to tell you how to live your life, but to show you how to think critically. Therefore, listen with a critical ear, and decide for yourself, your course of action.

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Why A Divorce Will Not Doom Your Future

The statistics on divorce in America might be alarming at first glance. While the divorce rate among Christ followers may be slightly lower than the national average, the church still sees its fair share of broken marriages. Many people know that divorce leads to a wake of hurt, brokenness, and confusion in the lives of the divorcing husband and wife, but children who experience the splitting of two parents are also negatively affected by such actions. Some statistics present a vivid reality for the possible discouraging future of children who experience this traumatic event. However, this data only paints one side of the equation, and misses how the gospel can impact people who have suffered from a divorce.

We need to first understand that this situation happens both inside and outside the church because we live in a fallen and broken world (Rom 3:23). Sin makes us messed up people, and in our raggedness, marriages fall apart due to a variety of issues like unfaithfulness and/or abuse. Yet, many people think because their marriages have been broken them and/or their children are doomed. On the flip side, many children who have experienced this scenario may feel insecure in life, their current marriage, or their future marriage.

While this post is purposed to be one of encouragement, divorce does have negative consequences for everyone who is involved. So please don’t leave this post thinking that a divorce will not adversely effect a family. Nevertheless, the repercussions from a separation should not stigmatize anyone as being a “child of divorced parents” or “a divorced person” for the rest of their lives. In other words, people should not be given an identity based on their past breakup or parents’ actions. For example, this identification could make kids believe, “Well, my parents are divorced so I guess I’m not going to be successful in life or marriage.” That type of insecure thinking is not true because many children who have experienced this scenario were able to move on and become successful adults, husbands, and wives.

If you are a parent or person who has suffered a divorce, be encouraged that you and your children are not doomed. Additionally, children of divorced parents, know that your future is not as bleak as some statistics might suggest. One’s fate is not sealed due to a divorce because everyone can experience hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, the world is broken and divorce happens, but Jesus came to save and redeem all people and things (Col 1:19-20). The gospel gives anyone who experiences a divorce a new identity in Christ. Faith in Jesus makes a person a new creation, and he will give all people the ability to live out that new life regardless of their past experiences (2 Cor 5:17). Therefore, children, parents, and adults who experience divorce do not have a hopeless future, but rather can have a hope filled future in Jesus.

While everyone involved will be emotionally, physically, and spiritually effected by divorce, Jesus Christ desires to give everyone hope to overcome these effects. In other words, there is a gospel hope that will prevent anyone from becoming a negative statistic in the wake of a divorce. Everyone should recognize from this post that a relationship with Christ changes the way we endure, understand, and overcome the negative circumstances of our lives (Phil 4:10-13). Christ, and Christ alone, provides the only hope for all our futures.

Therefore, be comforted if you have experienced the separation of your mother and father. You still have a future and hope in Jesus Christ. If you are a parent or adult who has painfully experienced a divorce, find rest knowing that Jesus Christ will take care of you and your children. We all must remember that Jesus died on the cross in order to save us from our brokenness. Moreover, when we reflect on the empty tomb, we are guaranteed a future hope regardless of our past and current circumstances. Believe in Jesus, and truly begin to live life to the fullest for the glory of God.

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3 Questions to Help Prevent Your Child from Leaving the Church

Children are like human sponges. They are constantly taking in everything they see and hear from us, but as sponges, something will inevitably happen. These little sponges will spill out all they have heard and seen to others. If you are a parent of little children like me, you have probably experienced this scenario before with one of your kids. Our youngest child loves to raise his hands in the air, as if he just won a gold medal at the Olympics, and screams with resounding joy, “I pooped today!” Cute? Yes. Hilarious? Absolutely! Embarrassing when he does it in front of church members? Um…you decide. He is a human sponge after all.

Christian parents, we are all aware that our children soak in everything we project to them, but I’m not quite sure we truly understand the implications of these living, breathing sponges as it pertains to their involvement in Christ’s church. LifeWay Research recently posted an article about the drop out rate of young adults (see article here). The article revealed that 32% of those interviewed dropped out of church because church members were seen as being judgmental or hypocritical. Parents, we might be part of the problem for seeing the mass exodus of our children from the church.

To prove we might be part of the problem, ask yourself: Have I ever criticized the church in front of my children? Have I ever judged the style of worship or the charisma of the pastor while driving in the car home from church when my children were in the backseat? What about judgmentally gossiping about another church member or criticizing a church decision around the lunch table after service with my kids sitting there? Sometimes I fear we as parents in our hypocritical and judgmental conversations are driving a wedge in between our children and Christ’s church.

I am not saying we shouldn’t think critically about sermons or music when it comes to theology, but I am saying we should not present a critical spirit to our children by voicing everything we see wrong in the church–the bride of Christ. The bride, by the way, he shed his own blood to save and purchase for himself (Eph 5:25-27). Therefore, here are three questions to answer in front of your children in order to help them fall more in love with Christ and his church to help combat the mass exodus of young adults.

  1. What did God reveal to you? We live in a day where you can hear many preachers on the internet (some good and some not so good). One of the problems with access to a variety of online sermons is internet pastors are not your pastor. Therefore, we might be tempted to compare the sermon we heard on Sunday to another sermon we heard on the internet. We might pick a part all that the pastor said, didn’t say, and should have said. However, when you sit under biblical preaching, you should be listening with an open heart and expecting to hear what God has spoken through his Word. Instead of criticizing or comparing the preaching to others, talk about what God revealed to your heart. What did you take away? What did God show you about himself? What did the Bible say about something you were experiencing that week? When God’s Word is preached, God speaks, and he speaks to you each time. Talk about it in front of your kids.
  2. What do you see God doing in the local church? We live in a culture that criticizes nearly everyone and every institution. We are notorious for finding flaws in all of our experiences. No church is completely perfect, and we are not expected to be the perfect place of worship. Nevertheless, our imperfection as the bride of Christ points to the perfection we have received in Christ. Look for things that God is doing in your local church. Celebrate where you see God working in front of your kids. For example, highlight for your children when the church you attend is sending missionaries, reaching the lost, or serving each other with loving-kindness. By speaking highly of the church, your children will begin to fall more in love with the body of believers they see God working through and in for his glory.
  3. Where do you see the gospel at work in the lives of others? One of the greatest joys as a pastor and church member is seeing people grow in their walk with the Lord. When you see people growing in their relationship to God, try to acknowledge their transformation to your children. The gospel is life changing. When people believe in Jesus, their lives are truly transformed and being transformed into the image of Christ. Acknowledge the gospel’s power in the lives of others. Show your children how the gospel propels volunteers to serve children and youth with joy. Point out the man who gave his life to Christ, and the way he interacts with his wife and/or children because of it. Maybe point out how the gospel has turned you from being judgmental and hypocritical to compassionate and kindhearted. By pointing out the gospel’s impact in the lives of others, our children will observe the power of the gospel firsthand.

While teenagers and young adults are abandoning the church in droves, perhaps God can use us to point out all the ways we see God working in our lives and within our local churches to prevent them from leaving. Let us speak often and uncritically about God’s Word, goodness, grace, and power, and watch our children fall more in love with Jesus and his bride. May they love the church as much as, if not more than, their mothers and fathers.

Are there any additional questions you would like to add? Please feel free to share them with us in the comments section in order to encourage others.

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Parents, Stop Raising Quitters

I stood with my mouth wide open at the baseball field. It was a moment of both shock and sadness. Our son’s baseball team was determining if we were going to forfeit the next game because the team we were playing was better than us. Forfeit a game because we might get beat (“humiliated” was the word actually used). My heart sank for these boys who had given their all this baseball season. My stomach churned because of the lessons that were being taught. Lessons like quitting, giving up, and you aren’t as good as the other guys (talk about a self-esteem drainer).

What has happened to us in America? What have we become as coaches and parents? What will be the implications of this type of parenting/coaching on our children in the future? Only time will provide the answers to these questions, but I think we might see a generation that will grow up to become pansies who can’t handle difficult situations. They won’t know how to take on challenges. When things get tough, they will just quit. They will have low self-esteem because they will constantly be comparing themselves to others who are better than them.

Parents, WE HAVE TO STOP THIS! Out of all the parents standing there, I was the only one to speak up and say, “Play the game!” Some people might wonder why I spoke up to play a game that we might lose, but there are greater lessons to be learned than simply winning baseball games. Here are four lessons that we teach our children when facing difficult situations where they might lose:

  1. Our children will work to get better. A fact of life is that there are people in the world who are better than us. I am a pastor, and I know other pastors who are better than me. I enjoy doing CrossFit, and I could give you a list of people who are better at CrossFit than me. I am a PhD student, and I know some students who are much smarter and better writers than me. Guess what? Just because people are better than me, doesn’t mean I don’t preach, CrossFit, or study for my PhD. It actually does the opposite. These people push me to get better in life. To put it in context, let your children do things in life where people are better than them because that will actually make them become better. If we shelter our kids from people who are better we are planting soil for them to grow into pansies who can’t handle life’s challenges.
  2. Rally the troops for victory. One of the biggest problems in our American society is that we make decisions based upon our perceived results. I only know of one being who knows the future: God. The coaching group was making an assumption that we not only were going to lose, but also that we had already lost. We haven’t played the game yet, so we don’t truly know the outcome. However, nobody remembers when the powerhouse beats the underdog, but everyone talks about when the underdog beats the power house. Why? Because on any day, the game starts at zero and can be won by either team. Think of all the great movies based on true stories like Rudy, Remember the Titans, or The Pistol. We remember and celebrate when David beats Goliath. When our children take on difficult situations, victory is sweeter when they have to work even harder to earn it.
  3. A lesson on humility. Sometimes the opposite might happen. Our children may get beat by a better team. May I let you in on a little secret? Sometimes you and your children are going to get beat at something in life. Our kids aren’t going to get a job or a promotion or an award, and that’s life. Welcome to the world. If we don’t teach our children now how to deal with getting beat, our children are going to walk around like arrogant people. However, their arrogance will prevent them from dealing with being defeated. As a result, their lives will turn out to be disastrous. Do we really wonder why our children are dealing with certain behavioral disorders? Maybe we should look in the mirror and see that we have not trained them how to deal with getting beat in this world.
  4. A lesson about self-confidence. I still think this old saying has some truth to it, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose it’s how you play the game.” As a competitor, winning and losing does matter. However, these outcomes are not the ONLY thing that matters. We want to teach our children to fight and compete, but we don’t want to make life only about winners and losers. We want to teach children that no matter the outcome as long as they gave everything they had they should hold their heads high. This could apply to any results that our children bring home. When our kids bring a report card home and it has a “C” on it, we ask, “Did you do the very best you could?” Their answer determines their self-confidence. As long as they are giving their “very best,” we are proud of them and tell them to keep their head up. Of course, we coach them to move beyond what they “think” their best is, but we still believe that their work ethic and willingness to take on a difficult task is a reason for building their confidence.

To conclude this story, I’m proud to say that the boys stood up and said, “WE WANT TO PLAY!” That moment my heart went from sinking to jumping and my stomach went from churning to whirling with excitement. Parents, we must allow our children to face some difficult scenarios in life because these situations will teach them valuable lessons.

Are there any additional lessons you would like to add? Please feel free to share them in the comments section to encourage others.

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3 Concepts to Teach Children About the Easter Bunny

Our oldest daughter asked me a pointed question this week. She inquired, “Dad, why do people make a big deal about the Easter bunny? Isn’t Easter about Jesus?” I cannot begin to describe the feelings of joy that pierced my heart when this question left her mouth and infiltrated my ear canal. I was thankful she recognized the distinction between a biblical understanding of Easter with the cultural Easter norms being celebrated around us.

From the outset, I am not anti-Easter bunny guy. Please don’t accuse me of being like an Easter bunny Luddite. However, Christian parents have to think about raising our children by navigating the biblical and cultural meanings of special days like Easter. I want to provide you with three concepts that you should teach your children about the Easter bunny.

  1. The Easter bunny is not real. Some parents might think this is a harsh reality to teach their children. However, I think we should be honest with our children about the Easter bunny. Just because the Easter bunny is not real does not mean we can’t have fun participating in Easter egg hunts or taking pictures. We should allow our children to enjoy their imaginations, but we don’t have to connect their imaginations to biblical truth. In other words, we don’t make Easter about the Easter bunny. Rather we should make Easter about Jesus Christ. We need to highlight the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to our children not a cute bunny. As we highlight Jesus, we can have fun with all the Easter festivities in our communities (I am indebted to John Piper for his discussion of Santa Clause in a recent podcast for my thoughts on this subject; see his comments here).
  2. Get into gospel conversations at community events. I will unashamedly admit that I use my children as “gospel bait.” The Easter bunny is a cultural conception to our neighbors and community who may not know the gospel of Jesus Christ. To put it another way, many people may not know that Christians have a different reason for celebrating and remembering what Christ has done for us on Easter, but many people in our communities and neighborhoods will gather to hunt eggs and see some poor soul dressed up in a white bunny costume. Teach your children that these are perfect events to share their faith and invite others to church. Training our children for cultural engagements and evangelism is another part of our instruction and raising them as faithful followers. You will be encouraged the first time that one of your children beats you at inviting someone to church. (I can’t wait for the day when one of our children invites the poor soul in the bunny costume).
  3. Make worship at a local church top priority. It amazes me that so many people can make plans to attend a neighborhood Easter egg hunt or find out where the cutest Easter bunny pictures will be taken and not make it to church. People will spend hours in the cold, rain, or sunshine to see their kids joyfully get eggs or take an Easter bunny picture, but they won’t spend an hour and fifteen minutes gathering with the body that was bought by the blood of Christ. We should teach our children that we can plan to have fun at these events, but Good Friday Services and Sunday morning worship gatherings are going to take top priority in our schedule. We remind them that the Easter bunny is not real, but we serve a risen and real Lord, Jesus Christ. We will devote our lives to Christ, and if it comes between a pretend Easter bunny and worshiping the resurrected Savior, we will choose the Savior every time.

I hope these three concepts are helpful as you seek to raise your children in our American society under the authority of God’s Word. By teaching our children that the Easter bunny is not real we are able to highlight the true meaning of Easter, which is Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. As we keep Jesus at the center, we are able to have fun with our children, but teach them how to engage with the culture around them in a more biblical and faithful way. Work hard at teaching them to be little evangelists, but also faithful worshipers during this Easter season.