A Fighting Faith: The Disciplines

In my last post, I talked about the importance of spiritual discipline. I gave an example of a woman in my church who excelled in her spiritual life so much that others would seek her out for prayer and counsel. If I had to describe a list of qualities she had, I would probably put together a list that looks one this:

  1. Love
  2. Joy
  3. Peace
  4. Patience
  5. Kindness
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Self-Control

You might recognize this list as the “fruit of the spirit”. When I came to faith in Jesus, I used to think that just because I am a Christian I have those things along with improved wisdom and street smarts.

Boy was I wrong.

I think it’s fair to say that a measure of that fruit is implanted into us automatically when we are saved. However, it’s more accurate to say that we begin to desire those things as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The list of the fruits of the spirit is a list of the rewards of spiritual discipline. To get those rewards we have to do as Paul says and work out our salvation through the disciplines of godliness. Donald S. Whitney said that “the Spiritual Disciplines are scriptural paths where we might expect to encounter the transforming grace of God.” If that is true, then it is fair to say that the good things of the Spirit are attainable through the diligence of practice and perseverance in disciplining ourselves.

So, what are the disciplines? What are the the ways for us to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness? How do we pursue the fruits of the spirit?

There are many, many ways to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness and to achieve even greater faith. The major disciplines are as follows:

  1. Bible consumption (reading, listening, study, and discussion)
  2. Prayer
  3. Worship
  4. Meeting in Community
  5. Serving
  6. Stewardship (of time, wealth, or other resources)
  7. Fasting
  8. Evangelism
  9. Learning
  10. Journaling

These disciplines can stand alone but are often better done in some combination with each other. Journaling your prayers, thoughtful worship, or insights about what you’re reading in scripture is an example of combining multiple disciplines.

Now, if you’re like me, these don’t all sound equally enjoyable and I certainly don’t want to do them every day. Some things are scary to me, like Evangelism. Others are really inconvenient, like serving others. However, just because I don’t feel like doing these things doesn’t mean that I should avoid them. The reason we discipline ourselves is because they help us move closer in godliness to our savior, Jesus.

As you start flexing your spiritual muscles, you’ll find that you are particularly gifted in certain areas. Pursue these areas the most, without neglecting the others. The Lord equips us with talents and gifts so that we can experience deeper meaning in some areas. By exploring these strengths within the spiritual disciplines, we can discover how God has called each of us individually to live in his kingdom. However, we must not forget to exercise in the disciplines that we are not particularly gifted or strong in or else we will miss out in entire aspects of God.

I have only recently begun practicing many of these disciplines and cannot elaborate on the full practices for these. For a fuller understanding of how and what spiritual disciplines to practice, I recommend Donald S. Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. This book came to me highly recommended by my wife and it has proven incredibly useful and interesting.

In my next post, I will discuss what to do when we miss our mark and fail to discipline ourselves the way we want to.

Having a Fighting Faith

When I was growing up, there were a few people in my church that everyone knew had something special in their spiritual life. I remember specifically Miss Juanita. I don’t really remember much about her other than that at the time that I knew her she was who you went to if you wanted someone to pray for you. Everyone knew that if someone was going to actually intercede for you, she was the one who would do it without fail. You also knew that her prayers got answered.

I remember that Miss Juanita didn’t have a whole lot and that if she had had a husband he was no longer in her life. She had few local family members and a small, older home. But, we all knew that she had a faith in the Lord that was unshakable.

So how does someone get a reputation like Miss Juanita? How does anyone achieve a faith so strong that others are drawn to it? How does anyone look so much like Christ that people actively ask for intercession with God? How can you have a faith that is unshakable, a faith that holds you together in the face of tragedy, a faith that fights?

Discipline.

When I think of discipline, I often think of punishment before I think of anything else. Fortunately, this is a limited view of what discipline really is. Punishment is a form of discipline, but it is the form that comes from without. This form can help steer someone towards a right path, but true and lasting changes come from within.

Lasting changes are ones created by taking hold of external truths and pursuing them with fervor and tenacity from your inner self. This is what’s known as self discipline. This means that discipline, or self discipline, is not something you have, but rather something that you do. Also, it’s not something done for the sake of itself but for the realization of the goal or purpose for which you grasp. In other words, discipline is the process or tool that you use to bring about the change that you seek.

Once, I thought this meant drudgery. I used to think that self discipline meant that I had to stop having fun so I could go and do the work that Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthian church: “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Corinthians‬ ‭9:27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Paul is correct in his assessment of self discipline, but I was incorrect in my interpretation. Terry Crews once said, “why do you hate discipline? It’s just training!” If discipline is just training, then that means that I can take part and exercise in spiritual training.

Thinking of the spiritual disciplines this way lets me move on from the thoughts of punishment and into a healthy understanding of Paul’s message. It also puts perspective on what Paul means when he says “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” ‭‭(1 Timothy‬ ‭4:7-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

Training myself in spiritual discipline let’s me become more godly. If I must put off my sinful nature, then to do so can only come by putting on a nature of righteousness. However, since I am surrounded in what Paul describes as a body of death, I can do no such thing. So what then can I do?

Amy Cuddy puts it this way, “Fake it till you become it.” Jeff Haden says that you should change your language from “I can’t” to “I don’t” so that you no longer have a choice to make but an identity to fulfill. Paul’s advice is, instead of being a slave to your sinful nature, become a slave to Christ. That is, assume the identity of one who is righteous and do what they do. Before long, you will be more like one who is righteous. Before long, you will become like Miss Juanita, so strong in faithfulness that others come to you for prayer and guidance, not for your own virtue but by the virtue of the One who is inside you.

In my next post, I will begin describing the disciplines of the spiritual life. These exercises will help to train your faith so that it can stand up and fight when the world is doing it’s best to defeat you.

Why is Judaism important to Christians??

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past 20 years, it’s that I am assuredly not Jewish. I am neither Jewish by nationality, nor am I Jewish by religion. These seem like obvious facts, and they are. However, Judaism and the Hebrew nation are extraordinarily important to Christians. The two, more than any other religions, share a deep and common foundation. The only problem is that many (if not most) Jews disagree with this claim.

This disagreement comes to a point primarily with the identity of the man called Jesus of Nazareth. Evidence of this disagreement is apparent in the gospels long before Jesus was crucified. While Jesus was performing his ministry throughout Judea and Galilee, he rarely had a moment without some heat from the local religious authorities. The vehemence and vitriol surrounding the controversy was exacerbated when Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time and his body mysteriously disappeared from his tomb. Since then the divisions have grown and solidified, becoming a wall with a narrow gate that only a few go between.

A Troubling Message

Christian scripture includes two testaments, conveniently known as the Old and the New.  The Christian Old Testament includes the entirety of Jewish scripture which was concluded approximately four hundred years before Jesus walked the earth.

This tells us one very important thing about Christians: we believe that our religion is a continuation of the Jewish religion.

That’s right, our Gospel is the Jewish Gospel. Everything that Christians believe is based off of everything that the Hebrew people wrote as scripture. Without God selecting Abraham and establishing the covenant to make him the father of a great nation, Christians would not be here.

If Christians believe that they practice Judaism 2.0 then they have to be getting this notion from somewhere. This idea of Christianity being the continuation is taught in several forms throughout the new testament but one specific occasion really heats things up for us and points to why people like me are concerned with Judaism.

In the book of Matthew, right before Jesus was accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death, he told a story to the chief priest and elders about some tenants and a wealthy landowner. The landowner had a large and fertile plot. This plot was an investment for him but he needed to take care of other matters. In the mean time, the land needed to produce income for him so he hired some tenants to produce a crop. In their contract, the tenants would get a place to live and money and food to live on so long as they sent the agreed upon portion of the profits back to the landowner.

Unfortunately for the landowner, the tenants did not keep their end of the bargain. At the appointed time the landowner sent some of his men to collect his portion, but the tenants abused them, murdering one, beating another, and attempting to kill the third. The landowner had cause to seize his land at this point, but being merciful he sent another round of servants, more this time than the last. Again, the tenants abused the landowner’s men and killed a few, totally disregarding the contract and disrespecting their benefactor’s wishes.

Finally, the landowner, still filled with mercy, sent his own son as representative for him. The son would go and collect the debt owed to the landowner as his family member and personal envoy. Surely, the tenants would realize how serious the landowner was this time since he sent his son. Again, the tenants were filled with disdain for their benefactor and jealousy over his possessions. They took his son and murdered him.

Jesus pauses here and asks his listeners what they think happens next. The elders respond:

 “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus then says a peculiar thing. He brings up a piece of the Psalms in response the the chief priests.

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’”?

Seeing the looks of confusion in their eyes and the question on their lips, Jesus explains what his means.

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

So this is where Jesus identifies two things:

  1. The elders and the chief priest are the builders. They were the tenants sent to prepare a harvest for their generous landowner.
  2. People like me will inherit the landowner’s property instead.

As you can tell, this is highly inflammatory. If Jesus is the Son of God as he identifies himself elsewhere, then he is the stone that the builders rejected and he is the one who will crush them. Jesus became that for Christians and we are broken at his feet. For Christians, Jesus is the cornerstone of the religion. Without him, the whole thing crumbles and we are all fools. However, this means that the kingdom of heaven was taken from the Hebrew patriarchs.

This is really unfortunate for someone whose identity is based on God selecting their forefathers to make a nation that will last forever.

Hope For the Future

Fortunately, this is not where the story ends.

In my last post, we talked about the primary differentiator between covenants and contracts which is that covenants, once established, never pass away. Before the New Covenant (which forms the premise of the New Testament), there were several covenants God made with his people. The good news for Hebrew people is that all of these covenants are still in effect. That means that all of God’s promises, including the fact that there will always be a remnant, will come to pass. It also means that through the Hebrew people, all of the nations are blessed.

If Jesus is who he says he is, then Christianity provides answers to the covenants that many Jews are still waiting to be fulfilled. Through Him, the nation of Israel gets to lay claim to the best of all claims. They are, in fact, the people of the promise, and I am only grafted in to that blessing.

The book of Acts and later the book of Hebrews demonstrate and explain this truth in depth. One of the most important messages of Acts is that that the Gospel is first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. The pattern of Acts demonstrates this truth. The first portion of the book is dedicated to the spread of the Gospel throughout Israel. Then the Gospel is spread to the Jews outside of Judea and then to the Gentiles. Hebrews then goes on to explain to the Jewish people the meaning of the Gospel according to the history of the Hebrew nation.

If anything is clear, the Gospel came first to the Jewish nation and then through them. This is good news, both in that it restores the identity of the chosen people and that Gentiles like me can share a heritage with them.

Are you a Legalist? (Part 1)

Have you ever heard of someone saying that someone else was being “legalistic”? Have you ever said it yourself about a friend or acquaintance? This word, legalism, is probably one of Christianity’s favorite insults or judgments to bandy about. For many, it’s an easy way to put a name to behaviors they don’t agree with, particularly when someone seems to be overly committed to piety. Or, to avoid the trap of legalism, we might say, “Well, I guess I could do [blank] because I wouldn’t want to be legalistic.”

But what is legalism?

I recently heard a definition for it on the radio that sort of makes sense, though it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. The speaker said that “legalism” is the separation of the Law from the God who gave the Law. In my own words, this would be a form of idolatry, where the Law becomes the object of worship and means of salvation rather than God. This is a very natural thing to do. It’s easy too!

We don’t have to try very hard to head down this road, especially when we’re trying to do our best to please the God who loves us. When the almighty, good and loving father tells us to do or not to do something, it makes sense for us to then take that rule and place safeguards around it. If God says, “I don’t want you to have any cookies after dinner.” You might then say, “If God doesn’t want me to have any cookies after dinner, then I will just not touch the cookie jar after 4pm.” This is logical. Since dinner usually happens somewhere between 5 and 9pm, you can’t possibly have any cookies after dinner with your new rule.

But where God gave you one rule, now you have two. Soon, you might ask, “what did God mean when he said no cookies after dinner? Was he saying no dessert? Or was he saying nothing sweet?” To be safe, you decide that he really meant you can’t have dessert. Also, just to be safe, you decide that the cranberry walnut vinaigrette that you were looking forward to on your salad might also be considered dessert if you were to include all things sweet. You might then decide that cookies are a form of bread so baked goods are also entirely stricken from the table. Eventually, you might think that since the cookie jar is in the kitchen, you have to stay away from the kitchen altogether because, in your preparation for dinner and cleaning up after, you might accidentally bump into it and break our second rule, which is to not touch the cookie jar after 4pm.

What have we ended up with in order to avoid having cookies after dinner is a complete ban on dinner and reduced access to one of your favorite rooms in the house. This is legalism, and it’s not at all what God was asking for.

When God set forth the Law, he made a good start with the Ten Commandments. In fact, as Jesus explains in the New Testament, God’s first two commandments should have been enough since all of the rest of the Law and the Prophets are wrapped up in them. It was man who asked, “But… how??” and was subsequently terrified by the answer. The remainder of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, after God hands down the 10 commandments to the Hebrew people, is full of the explanation and expansion of the Law. This portion of the Bible is part of the Torah and spells out the terms of the Mosaic covenant between God and His people, the Jews. Failure to meet these requirements meant death, not only to the body but to the soul.

The story of the Old Testament Jews is like that “no cookies after dinner” problem. Once the Law was given, the people gave themselves over to legalism in the extreme. When they came upon a lost or wounded animal that needed to be rescued on the Sabbath, they had to leave it and hope that it didn’t die before the next day. If it was time to give the tithe to the Lord, they had to then go and divide out the first tenth of not only the flocks, but also the produce, herbs, cash, and children, giving them over to God as an offering.

Today, we are no different.

Today, we still take the Law, the thing God intended for our benefit and His glory and worship it instead of Him.

Today, we enslave ourselves to the obedience of every last parenting/dieting/nonviolence/exercise rule we see.

But the story doesn’t end here. Some of us have evolved and moved on from such archaic requirements. Some of us have read scripture and know that we have something the Jews living under the Old Covenant never did; for us, the Law has been fulfilled. For us, there is a New Covenant between God and Man where Jesus, having fulfilled the Law through his crucifixion and resurrection, has removed from us consequence of breaking the Law.

If the consequence for breaking the law has been removed, are we now free to do as we please?

One of the biggest criticisms of Christianity is that Christians are hypocrites. We claim to hold to a higher way and yet often show that we are no different from our neighbor, neither in act or deed. This is a fair criticism, which we have earned.

Many (probably all) Christians have at some point or another wrestled with the question of what to do with the Law. Since the Gospel is that Christ has fulfilled the Law on our behalf, we now get to experience freedom from the burden that it represents. So, to exercise our freedom, we run headlong in the opposite direction of the Law. Believing that the Law no longer holds any significant weight, we scrap it and divorce ourselves from its code. This is what the scholars call “Antinomianism.”

antinomian. 1 : one who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary to salvation.

In other words, someone who thinks that they can do whatever they want because they’ve been saved by faith and grace covers all sins is an antinomian. Unfortunately for the believer, this too is a wrong response to the Gospel. Scholars in the past have reasoned that both the Legalist and the Antinomian both suffer from a wrong relationship with the Law. Indeed, both are still a slave to it. Jesus explains this to us in his Sermon on the Mount:

17 “Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20 CSB

Jesus’ statement about the Law paints a hard picture. You see, the Pharisees and the scribes knew the Law. They knew every letter and pen scratch making up the Law and could run circles around the rest of their Jewish brothers when it came to living it out. If the Pharisees were the epitome of legalism and Jesus tells them off multiple times for it, then we don’t want to be like them! But we don’t want to be antinomians either! What is a Christian to do? Are we supposed to keep the Law or not??

In my next post, I will discuss a right relationship with the Law and how Christians today should relate to it.

 

Hope Restored: Stop Trying to Earn Your Gifts.

This week, we have our first guest post! I asked my wife to add her thoughts and and experiences to this blog and she came through with a great post on Romans 6:23.

——-

My parents didn’t buy me a lot of the Christian stuff that other Christian kids’ parents did. Other kids got things like Veggie Tales videos, creepy Precious Moments dolls, and Jump5 and Mercy Me CDs. One of the few things my parents did get was a series of cassette tapes called GT and the Halo Express. GT and the Halo Express put Bible verses to song for easy memorization for kids. My family listened to those tapes every time we got in the car to go somewhere.

I had forgotten about good ole GT until recently when I started to actively memorize and bring to mind Scripture. I found that a lot of the verses I remembered were the ones I sang along to in my mom’s car! The one that stood out to me the most was “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It would get stuck in my head for HOURS, like American Pie or the Song That Doesn’t End (thanks Lamp Chop). But until last year, I had never really understood what the verse itself meant.

I always understood the second part about the gift of God being eternal life, but the first part about wages and death… geez, who talks like that? It wasn’t until I really started breaking down what the verse meant that I understood the gravity of the statement and how the sum of the gospel is held in the juxtaposition of its two simple phrases.

“For the wages of sin is death”

When you hear the word wages, it’s always in relation to how much money someone is paid, like the federal minimum wage. A wage is something you earn – you’ve spent the time, you did the work, you earned your payment.

In the context of this verse, the work we’re putting in is sin. The bad news is that sin isn’t just the bad things that we do. Sin is what separates us from God and includes anything against the moral character of God. By being human, we all have sin in our very nature. We can’t help but be separated from God and do things that continue to separate us from God.

We are paid a wage for the work we do against God, and that payment comes in death. It reminds me of Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are in the garden and God tells them they can eat from any tree except that one.

Then they go and hang out by that tree (bad idea) and the serpent comes along and is just like, “why aren’t you eating from the tree? it’s soooooooooo good.”

Eve is all like, “no we can’t, cause God said we would die if we did,”

Then the serpent is just like, “you won’t DIE! Just do it. You know you want to…”

Eve ate from the tree and gave it to Adam and he did too. But the serpent is a LIAR because they did die.

A bunch of other stuff happened first, like getting kicked out of Eden and God committing the first sacrifice (which is an altogether different story that’s super cool) and clothing them and getting them set up on some land. But then they died. Adam and Eve aren’t walking around now, are they? And everyone else that came after them died and everyone that’s alive now will die and everyone that is born in the future will die. I will die. You will die. We will all die, and it’s because of sin.

But we were not created to die. We were created to live in the garden in perfect communion with God, walking with him, talking with him, having a relationship with him. But because of Adam’s and Eve’s departure from God in their sin, they died. Now we, who are separated from God in our sin, will also die.

This is bad news.

“but”

It’s so sweet that there’s a but at the end of the bad news statement. That God loves us so much that he added a “but” and made a plan to rescue us. Because he’s God, and, again, he did not create us to die. He did not create us to be separated from him. In our present state, though, we were separated and we were going to die and continue to be separated from him. In his infinite goodness and love for us, he added a “but.”

“the gift of God is eternal life”

Gifts are not earned. They are not deserved. They are given freely and out of affection for a loved one. Even though, in our American culture, we put together birthday and Christmas lists so people can get us what we want, gifts can’t really be assumed or expected to be received because they were not earned. If you worked for it, you were really just paid a wage. If you didn’t, you were rewarded with a gift.

The gift we receive is from God. He crossed the chasm of sin that separated us from him and offered us rescue. Only he has the power to offer it to us. Again, it’s a gift. We cannot earn it. We can only accept it.

Eternal life is the gift that God gives us. Our bodies, because they are in their very nature sinful, will still pass away, but our souls, our inmost beings, will live forever in communion with God. This is GOOD NEWS! Death is not the end for us! We do not have to live forever in the shame, sadness, or darkness that comes from being separated from our creator! The feeling that’s within each one of us, the one that says something isn’t quite right and this isn’t the way things are supposed to be, will go away because everything will be put right. We will return to the way they were created to be. Eternal life means freedom, restoration, and regeneration.

“in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s important to note, though, that gifts can be given but not accepted.

For example, let’s say you’re hanging out at your apartment and it’s Saturday morning and you’re laying in bed not wanting to get up for the day. It’s a nice day and you can see the sun is shining and the sky is blue, and it’d be the perfect day to go for a drive. Only thing is that you have a super crappy car. Like, such a beater that you’re not sure you can even get it to the Walmart down the street later to get some groceries and even if you did you’re so embarrassed by the car cancer on top you don’t even want to!

Now for a bit of dramatic irony: your friend just won the Powerball. They took the lump sum and paid their taxes and built an offshore shell account and did everything responsible they were supposed to do first. Now they’re giving people stuff because they’re flush with cash, and they’re very loving.

Knowing your crappy car situation, your newly rich friend went out and bought you a brand new, shiny, fully-loaded vehicle and have it parked outside your apartment building now ready to give to you! But you don’t know this because you’re in bed feeling sorry for yourself. You get a text from them saying to come outside.

You’re like “nah I’m in bed ugh.”

They text you back and say, “for real, come outside I have something for you.”

And you’re like, “I’m not getting out of bed for anything right now.”

And they text you back and call you and start to get really urgent but you will not come outside. They come and knock on your door and call out to you but you just ignore them and finally send them a “new phone who dis” text.

So they got you a gift – but you never came out to accept it. If you don’t come out to receive your gift, you never get to enjoy the benefits of it.

Accepting the gift of eternal life comes through believing that Jesus, who is God’s son, ultimately paid the price for that gift with his own life. Jesus was both God and man. He was perfect and sinless as well as subject to the same sinful nature you and I have. Because of this, his death was the only death that could be the final payment for the death that we have all earned. He took death on for himself so that we don’t have to. He destroyed the power it held over us when he came back to life three days later. He broke the chains that bind all of us so we can live in freedom.

This is truly good news! That we could believe that God gave his son, Jesus, to take away the sins of the world to live in relationship with us. We cannot earn this relationship and we do not deserve to receive the gift of eternal life, but we can receive it when we accept it. Come out from the darkness of the pit of despair and shame you’re living in, and accept the gift of light and life fully restored to God.

Men and Church

“Why are all the baptisms for women?”

“Where are the good Christian men for my single friends to date?”

“How come none of our volunteers are men?”

If you spend any time in church at all you might notice that there’s an imbalance between men and women. According to David Murrow at Church for Men, the split for an average church is about 60% women 40% men. This is for the average, stable church.

On its face, that doesn’t seem like a problem. In fact, it feels kind of normal. However, that figure is not representative of the actual population of men and women in America. Based on the latest census data, the American gender distribution is roughly 50/50 with a very slight favor going to the women. Since the church has no stated bias towards women and Christianity is in favor of both genders, it makes sense that the church gender distribution should reflect the national population more closely.

Some would argue that religion in general is more of a feminine construct and that men simply don’t feel the need for it. However, looking way back into history, especially at religions born out of the middle east, men are the dominant figures. The arguers and perpetuators of  the major three (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) have nearly always been men, and often the manliest of men. Even today, a vast majority of clergy are men.

So, what’s the deal? Why don’t men just go to church?

1. Church is too girly:

In his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow makes the claim that men don’t go to church because it isn’t really built for them. If churches would “man up” their services by getting rid of all the doilies and stop singing “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, then men would go to church. This is an interesting point, but I don’t think that it really strikes at the heart of why men don’t go to church.

2. Church is boring:

Murrow moves on to make a much stronger claim that cuts even more closely to the core of the issue. Men don’t go to church because there simply isn’t anything for them to do there. Since I am a man, I can bear witness to this. In my early days as a Christian, I wanted to help out in any way that I could. Unfortunately, the only places for me to volunteer were the kitchen, the nursery, or as an usher. I very quickly realized the kitchen was too small for me to be of use and the nursery was a place where men simply were not welcome. That left ushering. In a church of 150 people, you don’t need very many ushers so if you wanted to get one of the available slots you had to be one of the first 4 people to volunteer that week. Fortunately for me, I got to learn how to play drums and promptly monopolized that position on the newly formed worship team.

3. Men are disobedient:

Murrow doesn’t make this claim but I think it applies. There is a really small piece of scripture in the New Testament that seems to indicate that there might have been a similar attendance problem in the earliest days of the Christian church.

Hebrews 10:25 (NLT) say: And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

The Bible is not short on commands, but this is one is especially relevant. The author of Hebrews intended his letter as an exhortation (corrective encouragement) for the church. The letter encourages believers persevere in their faith and provides many lessons and proofs for that encouragement.

Church might sometimes be boring and it can be girly, but God told you to be there for regular encouragement and to prepare yourself for the day of His return.

Going to church is better than it sounds:

Church is good for men. You might think of it like eating vegetables at dinner. Men, when you were boys, you didn’t want to do it but your mom made you anyway. Why? Because it’s good for you. When you grew up, you decided you were old enough to choose your own path and eat as little vegetables as possible. Then you got married and what did your wife do? She made you eat your vegetables… because it’s good for you.

According to David Murrow’s research the benefits are as follows:

  • Churchgoers are more likely to be married and express a higher level of satisfaction with life. Church involvement is one of the most important predictor of marital stability and happiness.
  • Church involvement helps move people out of poverty. Its also correlated with less depression, more self-esteem and greater family and marital happiness.
  • Religious participation leads men to become more engaged husbands and fathers.
  • Teens with religious fathers are more likely to say they enjoy spending time with dad and that they admire him.

Church for Men cites several sources for this information here.

Men are good for church too. Any church that finds itself with a willing male volunteer has found a treasure. If the church has the capacity to employ men in current volunteer positions, they of course fill a felt need. However, if a church has the creativity to empower men to activity when no open volunteer positions exist, the church grows. Men are makers and doers. Men like to carry heavy things, repair homes, plant gardens, and interact with people outside of sitting in the pew. The church needs to be a strong operations center with its hands out in he community seeking and serving the lost, sick, and broken.

David Murrow’s research indicates that the felt absence of men leads to the actual decline in church growth over all. Churches that are able to reduce the gender gap and encourage male participation actually grow. If the Great Commission is to be realized, then church must be for men.

What Religion Are You: Baptist or Methodist?

If you throw a rock in the South you’ll probably hit a church or two. The “Bible Belt” is an amazing place when you consider that there is almost literally a church on every corner. Sometimes two, or three, depending on where you look.

On one hand, it’s good that there are so many churches. It makes access to the gospel incredibly easy since you can get it anywhere. On the other hand, it presents an interesting problem for Christianity. That enormous number of churches makes it easier for wolves to dress themselves up as sheep.

This is where Christian’s have to practice discernment. Among all these churches, you’ll find various practices and beliefs that may or may not be biblical. This is a problem that Christian’s have wrestled with for two thousand years. Throughout those years whole factions of Christian practice have come and gone, each leaving their mark on the religion. Some of these marks are more profound than others, particularly when it comes to the division of the Roman Catholic Church and Protestantism. The debate between the Reformers (Protestants) and the prominent Catholic clergy still remains in our atmosphere and there are still divisions between the two.

The root of this division had to do with the authority of the Bible usurping the authority of the Pope, church staff, and traditions. The Protestant movement began with scholars reading scripture, looking at the actions of the Pope and the Church and seeing a disconnect between what Jesus and the Apostles said and did and the way the modern clergy was acting and teaching. The Reformers may not have intended to cause division but rather correction in the thinking of the Church. The resulting Protestant movement led to the empowerment of believers in asking (and answering) the question of how to practice and interpret Christianity and biblical principles. This question and the various answers have led to tremendous growth and challenge for Christians and helped to push forward the creation of denominations. (For a quick survey of church history, click here.)

The creation and proliferation of Protestant denominations has made it difficult for both Christians and non-Christians to understand whether what it is we say we believe is our actual belief or an allusion to another belief. Today, a safe estimate for the number of ways Protestant Christians apply the same gospel message is somewhere between 200 and 300 distinct doctrinal sets according to the National Catholic Register.

Lumping in Catholics and Protestants together, you end up with what is essentially “Three Hundered and One Ways to be a Christian”. This is alarming to think about when every single one of these ways claims that they are following Jesus in the “most correct” fashion. For a new or practicing Christian, this must be addressed in a discerning and humble fashion if you are going to make it through this gauntlet of competing beliefs and understandings.

To help test whether your church or the church you are attending is going to be the best church for you (i.e. one that is going to help lead you through the narrow gate) I have put together a short set of questions for you to ask:

  1. Do they believe in an actual, human Jesus that is both fully God and fully man who existed as a real figure in human history?
  2. Do they believe that faith in this Jesus is the only means of salvation for the sinner?
  3. Do they believe that we are all sinners in need of that salvation?
  4. Do they believe that salvation is a gift from God and that no work of man is sufficient to mend the brokenness of man or the separation between man and God?
  5. Do they believe in limited atonement (not everyone is going to make it to heaven)?
  6. Do they believe in the authority of the Bible as the Word of God to the exclusion of other religion’s texts?

A “no” to any of these questions should disqualify a church from being called a Christian Church because Jesus (who was the Christ) teaches these things himself.

There are many many other issues that exist when considering doctrines and how they apply to your faith. Many denominations fall to one side or another when it comes to answering these issues or fail to address them at all. Even churches within the same denomination may differ when it comes to how they practice and interpret the Christian faith. The questions listed above are certainly not the only ones that are important when deciding where to attend and discerning whether a church is leading its congregation well. There are more issues than doctrine at play when it comes to the health of a church and its message.

At the end of the day, it falls to the individual believer for how they respond to the Gospel. The church is meant to be a place where believers can gather, worship God, and do their best to grow the kingdom of God. So, when it comes to denomination, do some research. Find out what the church says it believes and test that against scripture.

In closing, I leave you with this longtime church maxim: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.