Why Most Christians Don’t Understand Worship

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Worship has suffered from an increasingly narrowing definition over the past few years.

Consider the way we use the word. Worship Night means a night full of singing. “I really feel like I can worship there” means “I love the songs they use.” The worship pastor is really the music director.

Our concept of worship has become exclusively tied to Christian music.

Unfortunately, this version of worship – a spiritual, emotional state brought about by a rousing guitar riff or some heartfelt piano melody – not only fails to encompass the biblical concept of worship but inextricably ties worship to a state of relative inactivity and a strictly designated space and time.

When we restrict our worship to the 20-30 minutes before the preacher takes the pulpit, we’re failing to exercise our rights and duties as Christians in the New Testament age.

In John 4, the woman at the well tells Jesus that the Jewish ancestors worshipped on a mountain, but that Jesus says Jerusalem is where people ought to worship. Her concept of worship is as much tied to location as ours is to music.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24)

God is spirit. He cannot be contained in a song, or on a mountain, or in a specified time frame. Our worship should not be restricted either. Rather, our entire lives should be acts and expressions of worship. Just as God is in everything, worship should permeate everything that we do. In Romans 12, Paul calls true and acceptable worship “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”

The worship we are called to is all-encompassing. It is the sanctification and sacrifice of our very selves.

There’s nothing wrong with worshipping God through song. Music was given to us by God, and it can inspire us to contemplate God’s attributes and praise him in a way that few things can.

But to limit our idea of worship limits our worship. And God deserves so much more than a chorus or two sung with raised hands. He deserves to be worshipped through all that we are.

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Searching for a Good Reason: The Problem of Evil Part 3

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In the last post in this series, I talked about why the existence of evil means that God allows evil to exist.

Since this is, understandably, a little difficult to deal with, theologians have created several theodicies, or explanations for why God allows evil in the world.

A soul-making process characterizes the first theodicy. According to the idea of soul-making, God desires that His children develop into increasingly moral beings. This results in “an immeasurably good state in which rational creatures are in the richest possible intimacy with their Creator.”

Proponents of a soul-making theodicy argue that natural and moral suffering create the perfect “moral training ground” for this process to occur. People can only grow into ethically upright beings by surmounting the moral challenges God places in their path. Just as hunger drives a person toward food, suffering guides a person toward a deeper connection with God. Thus, through the persistence of suffering, God achieves a greater level of communion with His creation, which He considers an ultimate good.

Another popular theodicy purposes evil as the ultimate backdrop for God’s righteousness. The apostle Paul declares, “But if our unrighteousness brings out the righteousness of God, what shall we say?” (Romans 3:5). Contextually, Paul is saying that Israel’s wickedness does not nullify God’s goodness toward them. Rather than dimming the character of God, Israel’s sin makes His righteousness even more radiant. Only by the contrast of evil does the purity of God abound. In more practical terms, a Christian would never realize the extent of God’s righteousness – not to mention their moral inadequacy – if not for evil. As Christian theologian John MacArthur acknowledges, “We would never understand the full glory of God’s righteousness if we were not so familiar with our own.”

How could we receive salvation if we could not measure our sinful deeds in light of a sinless God? Or how could God make known His goodness and mercy to an evil race if evil never existed? According to this theodicy, evil serves as the darkness that makes the flame of God’s goodness shine even brighter.

While the problem of evil may sometimes appear to bring about the collapse of Christian theism, there are numerous arguments that offer a sound response. However, multiple responses indicate that no individual theodicy or defense can truly withstand all queries raised concerning the problem of evil. Is there truly an answer to the “Achilles’ heel” of Christianity?

Maybe the answer is God himself. God is God. As Most High, He maintains the authority to do whatever He wants. “The Lord does what is good in his sight.” (2 Samuel 10:12). If the Lord does only what is good, who are we to question the means by which He brings it about?

We exist as finite beings, yet we are trying to comprehend the ultimate complexity of God’s divine will. If this were ever possible, human beings would ascend to the very supremacy of the Most High himself.

It Seems Good to God that Evil Exists: The Problem of Evil Part 2

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In my last post, I talked about why Christians deal with the problem of evil.

But just because Christians struggle with it doesn’t mean that there are no answers. Theodicies offer explanation for God’s allowance of evil in the world and are derived from key theistic principles:

  1. God exists.
  2. Evil exists.
  3. God wills evil to exist.

For the Christian, the first principle is undeniable. The supernatural God of the biblical account indeed lives. He is described as “holy” (1 Peter 1.16), “righteous” (Psalm 119.137), and immeasurable in greatness (Psalm 145.3). He is loving (1 John 4.8), all-powerful (Isaiah 43.13), all-benevolent (Psalm 119.68), and just (Job 34.12). He stands as creator of the universe and the author of man. In summary of all God’s attributes, the apostle Paul says He is “over all” (Ephesians 4.6). No other being transcends Him.

The second statement is similarly indisputable. The Bible makes clear references to the existence of evil in the world. But what is evil? Simply put by Christian theologian R.C. Sproul, “Evil is nothing.” That is, evil has no being. It is merely the condition of an action. Furthermore, evil is defined as a negation. For example, many define evil as something that is not good. The Bible often employs the terms “unrighteousness” or “ungodliness.” Thus, evil is a non-real condition where good is absent. It is also important to note that, because evil has no existence, God did not create it. God only created things.

Theologian John MacArthur categorizes evil into three types: natural evil, moral evil, and supernatural evil. Natural evil is confined to external events like famine, disease, and earthquakes. On the other hand, moral evil is internal. Pride, greed, and lust are all moral evils committed by moral beings. Lastly, supernatural evil occurs in the spiritual realm. Supernatural evil characterizes the work of Satan and his demons. This is where the atheist would claim Christian theism is contradictory. For how can an omnipotent, all-benevolent God and a world ridden with sickness, avarice, and starvation coexist? The answer is found in the third principle.

According to His divine sovereignty and omnipotence, God wills evil to exist. Everything within the created universe is under God’s domain, which includes evil. While God contains no trace of evil within Himself, that does not logically prevent Him from employing what is “not good” to accomplish his sovereign will.

This view is not without biblical support. For example, the author of Lamentations declares, “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3.37-38). Or in Amos, “When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? (Amos 3.6). Therefore, God must assume responsibility for evil without being its source.

Many Christians find the last principle hard to swallow, for doesn’t it make God answerable for evil? Yes, it does. However, God is the ultimate standard of goodness. He is good and does only what is good (Psalm 119.68). Therefore, though we may not fully comprehend, it seems good to God that evil exists. It can be concluded that the evil God intends is necessary to accomplish the good He ultimately seeks.

But why? Theologians have made several attempts to explain God’s allowance of evil, which I’ll discuss in Part 3.

Christianity and Atheism’s Common Ground: The Problem of Evil Part 1

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Atheistic scholars have labeled the problem of evil as the “Achilles’ heel” of Christian theism. They claim that, like Achilles’ heel, the problem of evil inevitably brings Christianity to ruin. In fact, many God-professing individuals have converted to atheism due to this unresolved question. But Christian theists are not left without an answer to the problem of evil.

The problem of evil is logically structured into three statements:

  1. God is omnipotent.
  2. God is all-benevolent.
  3. Evil exists.

Atheists argue the incompatibility of these statements. They say that if an all-powerful God created a world in which evil exists, then he must not be all-good, or else he would have used his power to eliminate such evil. Transversely, if God is all-benevolent, then he desires to eliminate evil. But since evil exists, he must not possess the power to do so. They conclude, then, that God does not exist.

Before proceeding, one point must be made clear. While the source of evil is a perplexity for a Christian, the source of good is not. God is the origin of all goodness, for “He is good” (Psalm 107:1). And, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). With God as the ultimate authority over what is good, a Christian can evaluate what is right and wrong based on His righteous standards. Consequently, when God no longer exists, neither does ethics.

In an atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as a moral, law-giving God. Instead, morality is merely the result of chemical reactions in the brain of an evolved animal. Without any objective standards, good and evil become relative to the animal, or determined by mutual agreements within a society. Therefore, morality is reduced to the mental whims of an evolutionary process.

In fact, moral standards can fluctuate at any given time. Homosexuality, for example, was widely accepted in ancient Greek and Roman culture, as men would often participate in sexual activity with other men. Not only was it tolerated, but homosexuality was even celebrated in the arts, theater, and culture, according to some scholars. Skipping to the thirteenth century, homosexuality was strictly condemned in European society. Stringent laws called for the severe punishment of homosexual acts. Some reports indicate that people were even burned to death or beheaded for unlawful sexual behavior. The moral pendulum swung back, as homosexuality is currently accepted in most Western cultures.

With a worldview in which morality is constantly shifting – as with the issue of homosexuality – on what grounds can the atheist brand certain actions as good or bad? Human thought should be just as valued as the random process in which it was evolved.

But only the most committed of atheists live as though moral principles do not exist. For an atheist, even testifying to the problem of evil is, at its core, admitting to objective morals.

The problem of evil for the Christian theist then becomes the problem of good and evil for the atheist.

What Are You Doing With Your Life?

IMG_4849What are you doing with your life?

Your life is a gift from God. Every day, every minute, every breath is a gift.

Your life is irreplaceable. Once a minute of your life is lived, you cannot retrieve it.

Your life is unique. God has given it to you. No one else has ever had your life, and no one else ever will. Every minute of your life is a gift from God only for you. What are you doing with it?

Your life is precious. So precious that God’s Son had to die for it to be saved. In God’s eyes, your life is priceless.

Your life is fleeting. It is but a vapor. It is a small grain of sand on the endless road of eternity. It is a small window in the palace of time…and yet you are given the whole window.

Your life is timeless. You have a whole life to use, and what you do with your life will not be undone. What is accomplished with your life is stamped on the history of mankind and no man can erase it. What are you doing with it?

Your life is unknown. You don’t know how many minutes you have left. Perhaps you have two days, perhaps you have 70 years. It is a bridge, waiting to be crossed.

Your life is a responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly. It is a gift: irreplaceable, unique, precious, fleeting, timeless, unknown. It is not something to be thrown away or esteemed as worthless. It is priceless.

God has a purpose for your life. He has a perfect plan for you. He wants you, He wants your life.

What are you doing with your life?

I waste so much time. I squander it on unimportant and minuscule things for my own pleasure, that I will forget about tomorrow. At the end of the day, I look back and regret those precious moments that I cannot get back.

And it hurts.

No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. (2 Timothy 2:4)

Ouch. I forget about the battle. Actually, I ignore the battle. I entangle myself in the affairs of this life, in things that won’t matter. I fail to please the One who enlisted me.

I waste so much time. And that hurts. What am I doing with my life?

(For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” – James 2:14)

I don’t have forever. My life is a fleeting vapor. When my life ends, so does my part in the battle. What am I doing with my life?

My life is a gift from God: irreplaceable, unique, precious, fleeting, timeless, unknown. What am I doing with it? Am I fulfilling His purpose and His plan for my life?

My life is priceless.

So is yours.

What are you doing with your life?

 

I’m Giving Up

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I tend to hold onto things. Memories. Emotions. Notebooks from classes I took several semesters ago. When I get set on a vision, I rarely stray from it. When I think I know what’s right for me, I don’t compromise. You could say I’m a little stubborn.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. I know what I want and what’s important to me. So why do I often find myself wrenching my closed fists open in prayer? Why do I feel the need to lay it all down, however begrudgingly?

Because the Lord wants us to give up.

He wants us to give up any notion of control we think we have, because He has plans He swears to carry out (Isaiah 14:24). He wants us to give up our ideas of what we think is right for us, because He is powerful and wise beyond us (Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 55:8-11). He wants us to give up our delight in other things, so that our desires are fixed on Him (Psalm 37:4, Matthew 6:33). He wants us to give up our hope in flawed institutions, because the hope He gives is perfect and infallible (1 Peter 1:23). He wants us to give up our fears and frailty because He loves us, and because He is strong enough to save us from them (1 Peter 5:7, Isaiah 59:1). He wants us to give up our very lives to give Him glory (Romans 12:1).

But we don’t just abandon all these things on the side of the road somewhere – we offer them up to Him. We have to trust that what He can give is more satisfying than what we thought we always wanted, and that can be scary. After all, giving up is so contrary to human nature. But, wonder of wonders, He doesn’t rob us of our humanity and leave us empty. This is the joy of salvation – that He makes us new, that we can be complete in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 2:10). To live is Christ, to die is gain.

So let’s just give up. What we gain in the process amounts to so much more.

What Should Christians Do About Halloween?

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Halloween can fill us with warm fuzzies and fond memories.  Countless hours and millions of dollars are spent to persuade children and adults to disguise themselves, march around neighborhoods and beg for treats. Costumes, decorations, and candy consume the months of September and October each year.  But, if we stopped to look at this holiday with fresh eyes and a Biblical perspective, those warm fuzzies might be replaced with horror and shock at what we have been mindlessly participating in, all in the name of fun. Here are some points to consider as you contemplate what to do with this holiday.

First, let’s consider how this holiday began. Many years ago, Scottish, Irish and English priests taught that their god, Saman, would tell the spirits of dead people to communicate and visit with men on earth on October 31. Why October 31? They said that autumn, when leaves fall, is a symbol of death, and winter is the season of death. To keep these evil spirits away, these priests told people to burn animals, saying that the light of the fire would scare spirits away. Then they turned the animals inside-out to proclaim the future and to make peace with evil spirits. If these evil spirits did no harm to a family, the family would celebrate. Parents would dress their children up as ghosts and ghouls to scare away the real spirits, sending them to collect food and treats from neighbors. As the children paraded around the blocks, they would call out, “Trick or treat!” and if they received no treat, they would vandalize houses. People from these countries believed in witchcraft. Witches (women) and warlocks (men) wore dark clothes and were messengers and priests of the devil, Satan. They used his power to make people afraid of them. These innocent people were taught to believe that witches could fly on brooms and together with warlocks could transform themselves into bats, spiders and black cats. Witches’ special day is still October 31 because they believe all the spells they cast in the previous year would come true on that night. They celebrate with noisy partying and cut scary faces into pumpkins.

Why should we celebrate this day? It is filled with evil, the devil, and things with which we should not associate.

Walking through our neighborhood, lawns that just a few weeks ago contributed to a sense of peace and well-being with their verdant lawns now boast skeletons, tombstones and half-decomposed bodies protruding out of the ground. Ghosts, witches and spiders hang from trees. Black cats and ghoulish faces carved in pumpkins grace walkways and front porches.

Why? The overarching purpose seems to be to prey upon people’s fears. Why do we want to celebrate fear? We read in the Bible that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7). And, “We did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear” (Romans 8:15). Rather, “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (I John 4:18). If God has set us free from fear, why would we willingly participate in a holiday that seeks to produce fear?

Not only does Halloween celebrate fear, but it also focuses on ghoulish, hellish death. We all will face death someday, but believers look forward to death that leads to life. Halloween focuses on the death that leads to eternal death. Everywhere we on Halloween we see signs of death. The Bible says, “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24). So, why should we celebrate the very thing we’ve escaped?

Now you might be saying, “Look, the adults like decorating, the children like the dressing up and the candy so what could be wrong? Many people just celebrate Halloween because it’s fun. They think it is harmless. Fun is what everyone looks forward to.” But we have to face the facts. What does the Lord reveal in His word?

  • Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
  • Abstain from every form of evil (I Thessalonians 5:22).
  • Do not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).
  • Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4).
  • Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him (I John 2:15).

I’m not opposed to having fun, but we need to be careful how we implement our convictions about things like Halloween. Fun isn’t more important than showing our loyalty and allegiance to the God who has reached down to save us from the very powers of fear, death and darkness.

With that in mind,  now that we’ve examined the origins of Halloween and its focus on fear, death, and darkness, what are we as Christians to do? The holiday is not going away.

The truth is, while we don’t need to participate in the holiday, there are some advantages to the believer. For example, some of us go door-to-door trying to get an audience for the gospel with the hopes that someone will meet the Savior. But once a year, people come to our door and are a captive audience for the gospel. Why not take advantage of the opportunity? Jesus himself said, “If your neighbor asks something of you give it, and more besides.” If they come asking for candy, have it ready and also a tract and a short presentation of the gospel.

We have an opportunity to counteract the fear with hope, the darkness with light, and death with life. So let’s not participate in what the world has to offer, but instead respond with the gospel the Lord freely offers. We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Sources

All scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible

Perry, Bill. A Look inside America:  Exploring America’s Cultural Values and Holidays. Pennsylvania: Mulit Language Media, 2000.

Miller, Toby. What Does Halloween Celebrate? Crockett, KY. Rod and Staff Publishers.