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Jesus in the Bible Belt

26 Dec

My status on my Facebook page recently was “I really hate living in the Bible Belt sometimes.”  I was surprised how many people commented on it either agreeing with me or asking me “what happened?”  I don’t remember anything in particular that was going on that day to make me say that, but it is something that I think to myself quite often.  So I was thinking yesterday, “Surely there are some good things about living in the Bible Belt… there is has to be…”  But, honestly, I couldn’t come up with much. 

In this video Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Highland Village, TX, talks about ministry in the Bible Belt and describes people as being “inoculated to Jesus.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

In the South, in the Bible Belt, 

“… the bulk of people have some understanding of who Jesus is… the bulk of people have enough of Jesus to feel like they don’t need him, or that they understand him enough.”

  

 

One thing that is frustrating to me about living in the Bible Belt is that everyone thinks and says they are a Christian.  People believe that because they grew up in church, or because their parents are Christians, or because they went to Vacation Bible School when they were a kid, or because they said a prayer once when they were at a Christian camp one summer, that they are a Christian.  

I came across the blog earlier today of a church in Winston-Salem.  The title of the post was “How ‘Getting Saved’ Can Lead You to Miss Jesus.” 

Yesterday, I preached from Acts 8.9-25 about the life of Simon Magus, who professed Christ, was baptized, joined the church, and then turned out to be a false-convert and a heretic. While we shouldn’t assume that anyone who isn’t involved in the life of a church belongs to Jesus, Simon proves to us that not everyone who talks about Jesus and belongs to a church knows him either. And this should make us stop and think. We need to ask where our hope and our trust are. This is especially important here in the South, the Bible belt, because everyone goes to church here. And there’s a lot of bad teaching about salvation in the churches many people go to. 

The typical approach to salvation here in the South is that you must “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “give your heart/life to Jesus,” or “enter into a personal relationship with Jesus,” or “make Jesus your personal Lord and Savior.” There are a few problems with this mindset. The first is that none of these phrases are to be found in the Bible. Scripture casts salvation in terms of repentance and faith. We trust in Christ and his work on behalf of sinners. Jesus makes us right before God (justification). At their best, these expressions are trying to get at this. But often they degenerate into something harmful. 

For example, Pastor Stephen was “saved” and got baptized around seven times during his childhood. He asked Jesus into his heart a lot. And at no point was his faith put in Christ. I’ve personally said the “sinner’s prayer” countless times. And it never worked. And the problem is that by expressing the matter in these terms, we turn the focus onto ourselves and on what we’re doing, rather than on Christ and what he has done. Our confidence is shifted to our act of prayer, or confession, or acceptance, or walking the aisle, or whatever other accoutrements may attend the “conversion experience.” And when that happens, there’s a very real possibility that we are trusting in ourselves and our own works rather than Jesus. 

Often times, people are pointed back to their conversion experience for assurance of salvation. But again, this is a misguided idea. Our assurance can’t come from something we’ve done. Maybe I “believed” in Jesus back then, but what about now? Only faith in the present tense is the instrument of receiving Christ and his benefits. And what if I “did it wrong?” What if I didn’t repent or believe enough or the right way? Instead, biblical assurance of salvation comes from the Holy Spirit leading us to recognize the promises of God to all who believe, and that we ourselves are included in these promises. Biblical assurance pushes us back to the cross and resurrection of Jesus and away from ourselves. 

I’m not saying that all people who “ask Jesus into their hearts,” or “get saved,” or say the sinner’s prayer haven’t been truly converted. But I am saying that many are not because they are trusting themselves rather than Christ. And I am saying that when we explain salvation this way, we confuse people about the nature of hope, and risk leading them to miss out on salvation even as they are “getting saved.” 

I think this is one of the reasons so many people in the Bible Belt sincerely believe they are Christians, when in fact many are not – because “there’s a lot of bad teaching about salvation in the churches many people go to” and because “we confuse people about the nature of hope, and risk leading them to miss out on salvation even as they are ‘getting saved.'” 

I honestly think I would rather live in a completely secular society than in a society where, as Matt Chandler said, “everybody feels like they already know the gospel, despite the fact that they don’t know the gospel.”

In Christ Alone

14 Dec

Today I have had so many songs stuck in my head.  One of them is “In Christ Alone.”  The lyrics are just absolutely amazing.

“No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand. ‘Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Till on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost it’s grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Brought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

Fun Times

6 Dec

From 6:30 last night ’til 11:30 this morning, Grace Foothills youth group had our Christmas overnight retreat. It was pretty awesome. Just had fun hanging out with some awesome peeps, our pastor, and youth leaders.

Around 3:00 this morning I once again came to the sad realization that this was probably the last overnight/retreat I will ever go on with these people. In just eight months, eight very short months, I will no longer be a part of Grace Foothills Watershed Youth.  This kind of makes me sad.  Even if I weren’t moving off to college next Fall, I still wouldn’t really be a part of the youth group though, since it’s just 6-12 grade, but still, I am going to miss GF terribly. Without a doubt more than I will miss anything else.

Oh well. In two more days it will be a year since I started going to GF, so by the time I have to say goodbye, I will have been fortunate enough to have been able to spend 20 months with these guys. I am blessed.

Manhattan Declaration on Marriage

3 Dec

Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience

*Note: Many Protestants, particularly of the Reformed tradition, have chosen to decline signing the Declaration.  However, there are many notable signatories of the Declaration, including Dr. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and Dr. Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

We, as Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians, have gathered, beginning in New York on September 28, 2009, to make the following declaration, which we sign as individuals, not on behalf of our organizations, but speaking to and from our communities. We act together in obedience to the one true God, the triune God of holiness and love, who has laid total claim on our lives and by that claim calls us with believers in all ages and all nations to seek and defend the good of all who bear his image. We set forth this declaration in light of the truth that is grounded in Holy Scripture, in natural human reason (which is itself, in our view, the gift of a beneficent God), and in the very nature of the human person. We call upon all people of goodwill, believers and non-believers alike, to consider carefully and reflect critically on the issues we here address as we, with St. Paul, commend this appeal to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Marriage

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24

This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:32-33

In Scripture, the creation of man and woman, and their one-flesh union as husband and wife, is the crowning achievement of God’s creation. In the transmission of life and the nurturing of children, men and women joined as spouses are given the great honor of being partners with God Himself. Marriage then, is the first institution of human society – indeed it is the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation. In the Christian tradition we refer to marriage as “holy matrimony” to signal the fact that it is an institution ordained by God, and blessed by Christ in his participation at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. In the Bible, God Himself blesses and holds marriage in the highest esteem.

Vast human experience confirms that marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all persons in a society. Where marriage is honored, and where there is a flourishing marriage culture, everyone benefits – the spouses themselves, their children, the communities and societies in which they live. Where the marriage culture begins to erode, social pathologies of every sort quickly manifest themselves. Unfortunately, we have witnessed over the course of the past several decades a serious erosion of the marriage culture in our own country. Perhaps the most telling – and alarming – indicator is the out-of-wedlock birth rate. Less than fifty years ago, it was under 5 percent. Today it is over 40 percent. Our society – and particularly its poorest and most vulnerable sectors, where the out-of-wedlock birth rate is much higher even than the national average – is paying a huge price in delinquency, drug abuse, crime, incarceration, hopelessness, and despair. Other indicators are widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation and a devastatingly high rate of divorce.

We confess with sadness that Christians and our institutions have too often scandalously failed to uphold the institution of marriage and to model for the world the true meaning of marriage. Insofar as we have too easily embraced the culture of divorce and remained silent about social practices that undermine the dignity of marriage we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.

To strengthen families, we must stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity and restore among our people a sense of the profound beauty, mystery, and holiness of faithful marital love. We must reform ill-advised policies that contribute to the weakening of the institution of marriage, including the discredited idea of unilateral divorce. We must work in the legal, cultural, and religious domains to instill in young people a sound understanding of what marriage is, what it requires, and why it is worth the commitment and sacrifices that faithful spouses make.

The impulse to redefine marriage in order to recognize same-sex and multiple partner relationships is a symptom, rather than the cause, of the erosion of the marriage culture. It reflects a loss of understanding of the meaning of marriage as embodied in our civil and religious law and in the philosophical tradition that contributed to shaping the law. Yet it is critical that the impulse be resisted, for yielding to it would mean abandoning the possibility of restoring a sound understanding of marriage and, with it, the hope of rebuilding a healthy marriage culture. It would lock into place the false and destructive belief that marriage is all about romance and other adult satisfactions, and not, in any intrinsic way, about procreation and the unique character and value of acts and relationships whose meaning is shaped by their aptness for the generation, promotion and protection of life. In spousal communion and the rearing of children (who, as gifts of God, are the fruit of their parents’ marital love), we discover the profound reasons for and benefits of the marriage covenant.

We acknowledge that there are those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships, just as there are those who are disposed towards other forms of immoral conduct. We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity; and we pay tribute to the men and women who strive, often with little assistance, to resist the temptation to yield to desires that they, no less than we, regard as wayward. We stand with them, even when they falter. We, no less than they, are sinners who have fallen short of God’s intention for our lives. We, no less than they, are in constant need of God’s patience, love and forgiveness. We call on the entire Christian community to resist sexual immorality, and at the same time refrain from disdainful condemnation of those who yield to it. Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts. Jesus calls all who wander from the path of virtue to “a more excellent way.” As his disciples we will reach out in love to assist all who hear the call and wish to answer it.

We further acknowledge that there are sincere people who disagree with us, and with the teaching of the Bible and Christian tradition, on questions of sexual morality and the nature of marriage. Some who enter into same-sex and polyamorous relationships no doubt regard their unions as truly marital. They fail to understand, however, that marriage is made possible by the sexual complementarity of man and woman, and that the comprehensive, multi-level sharing of life that marriage is includes bodily unity of the sort that unites husband and wife biologically as a reproductive unit. This is because the body is no mere extrinsic instrument of the human person, but truly part of the personal reality of the human being. Human beings are not merely centers of consciousness or emotion, or minds, or spirits, inhabiting non-personal bodies. The human person is a dynamic unity of body, mind, and spirit. Marriage is what one man and one woman establish when, forsaking all others and pledging lifelong commitment, they found a sharing of life at every level of being – the biological, the emotional, the dispositional, the rational, the spiritual – on a commitment that is sealed, completed and actualized by loving sexual intercourse in which the spouses become one flesh, not in some merely metaphorical sense, but by fulfilling together the behavioral conditions of procreation. That is why in the Christian tradition, and historically in Western law, consummated marriages are not dissoluble or annullable on the ground of infertility, even though the nature of the marital relationship is shaped and structured by its intrinsic orientation to the great good of procreation.

We understand that many of our fellow citizens, including some Christians, believe that the historic definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a denial of equality or civil rights. They wonder what to say in reply to the argument that asserts that no harm would be done to them or to anyone if the law of the community were to confer upon two men or two women who are living together in a sexual partnership the status of being “married.” It would not, after all, affect their own marriages, would it? On inspection, however, the argument that laws governing one kind of marriage will not affect another cannot stand. Were it to prove anything, it would prove far too much: the assumption that the legal status of one set of marriage relationships affects no other would not only argue for same sex partnerships; it could be asserted with equal validity for polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships. Should these, as a matter of equality or civil rights, be recognized as lawful marriages, and would they have no effects on other relationships? No. The truth is that marriage is not something abstract or neutral that the law may legitimately define and re-define to please those who are powerful and influential.

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality – a covenantal union of husband and wife – that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow. First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral. Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends. Sadly, we are today far from having a thriving marriage culture. But if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws a false proclamation about what marriage is.

And so it is out of love (not “animus”) and prudent concern for the common good (not “prejudice”), that we pledge to labor ceaselessly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture. How could we, as Christians, do otherwise? The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God’s creation covenant. Indeed, the union of husband and wife mirrors the bond between Christ and his church. And so just as Christ was willing, out of love, to give Himself up for the church in a complete sacrifice, we are willing, lovingly, to make whatever sacrifices are required of us for the sake of the inestimable treasure that is marriage.

Life of the Soul

29 Nov

When sins and fears prevailing rise,
And fainting hope almost expires;
Jesus, to Thee I lift mine eyes,
To Thee I breathe my soul’s desires.

Art Thou not mine, my living Lord;
And can my hope, my comfort die,
Fixed on Thy everlasting word,
That word which built the earth and sky?

Since my immortal Saviour lives,
Then my immortal life is sure;
His word a firm foundation gives
-Here let me build, and rest secure.

Here let my faith unshaken dwell;
Immovable the promise stands;
Not all the powers of earth or hell
Can e’er dissolve the sacred bands.

Here, O my soul, thy trust repose;
Since Jesus is for ever mine,
Not death itself, that last of foes,
Shall break a union so divine.

Anne Steele, 1760
No. 623 in “Our Own Hymnbook”

The Heart of Man Plans His Way…

23 Nov

I have been thinking a lot lately about… well… what I’m going to do with my life (and yes, I do realize how cliché that sounds.) For the past three years or so, I have thought I would go to college and get a bachelor’s degree in biology, and then on to get a master’s and perhaps even a doctorate, and have some great job in the science or medical field. And until a few months ago, that was still the plan.

For over a year now, I have also thought that I was definitely going to transfer to UNC-Greensboro this coming May when I graduate. However, as of late, I haven’t been so sure about that either.

So pretty much, everything that I had kind of “planned,” or that I thought I would do in the next few years, I’m seriously doubting. I’m beginning to wonder how this “plan,” if you can call it that, that I had for myself for the next few years is going to mesh with where God wants me to be and what He wants me to be doing… And while I don’t know what all His plan may involve, I think I’ve got an idea about parts of it… ;)

I will say that after putting much thought into it, I am pretty sure that I will still go to UNCG next year and major in biology. After I graduate two years later, though… I have no clue what I’m going do to. I may still go straight to grad school like I had thought, or I may not. Who knows? I definitely don’t. Luckily, I have at least two and a half years to figure it out ;)

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”
- Proverbs 16:9

We Need to be Reminded of the Gospel

19 Nov

I came across a blog earlier that listed ten reasons why we need to be reminded of the gospel every day. I know all of them are true for me.

1. We quickly forget the gospel.
2. We doubt the power of the gospel to transform us.
3. We think of ourselves more highly than we ought.
4. We are easily distracted.
5. We need the gospel just as much today as we did yesterday.
6. We hope in the wrong things.
7. We are hard-hearted and stiff-necked.
8. We are suspicious of God’s intentions.
9. We are stingy.
10. We are full of idols.

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