Category Archives: Church

My Top Ten Books for Christians

It seems that there are a lot of “Top Ten” lists of books that every Christian should read.  So, as I sat down this morning, I thought to myself, “Why not make one of those lists?”  With that in mind, here goes my top list:

#1. The Bible.  This may be the most obvious of them all, yet it is strangely missing on a lot of lists.  Without a doubt or hesitation, I can say that every Christian should read the Bible.  All too often people will read books about the Bible while never having read the Bible itself.  I understand you may have to read a book about a time or country that you are unable to visit, but getting your hands on a Bible in most places is not that difficult.  The Bible is the sacred text of the Christian faith and, as such, should be read by adherents of the faith.

#2. Mere Christianity.  This classic by C.S. Lewis is an excellent, understandable defense of Christianity.  Lewis was a remarkably articulate writer who seemed to make difficult concepts very accessible.

#3. Christianity 101.  This book, by Gilbert Bilezikian, was one of the first I read after deciding to get serious about my faith.  I still recommend it to others as a great introduction to the faith. In particular, I like that Bilezikian exposes the reader to different views within the church on a variety of doctrines.

#4. Know What You Believe.  I read this little gem by Paul Little while working on my undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute.  To this day, I still think it is one of the more useful books that I have come across.  Between this book and Bilezikian’s, you should be able to get a grasp on the major doctrines of the church.

#5. Know Why You Believe.  This is another book by Paul Little that I think is worth reading, especially for those who are in the early stages of their Christian walk, or those who simply have not thought about why they believe what they believe.

#6. Disciplines of a Godly Man.  I was recommended this book, written by R. Kent Hughes, years ago, and I am grateful that I took the time to read it.  Now, I should note that between the author and his wife, they have books that relate specifically to men, women, and the family, so they have you covered.  While there are many who will put Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I find this book to be far superior.  In particular, I found it to be the most practical book I have read relating to spiritual disciplines.

#7. Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic by John Bunyan is another that I read soon after deciding to take my faith seriously.  I am just as impressed today, as I was then, with how Bunyan managed to intertwine the Scriptures into his book.  The man is masterful in that regard.

#8. Evidences of Christianity.  Another classic on the list, this one was written by William Paley.  You may be more familiar with Paley as he relates to the design argument.  This book, however, is a rich treasure trove of information as the author sets out a case for the Christian faith.  His argumentation is methodical and well supported. And, as a bonus, the book is in the Public Domain so you can read it for free.

#9. Reasonable Faith.  William Lane Craig does a superb job of laying out his case for the Christian faith in this book.  For those who might think the content is a little too advanced, his book, On Guard, is more accessible, while still covering much of the same information.  Of the modern apologetics books, this is a great place to start.

#10. The Space Trilogy.  Before there was Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy of books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.  The books can be purchased individually, or as a single bound collection.  The Books are real treat to read even while dealing with heavy spiritual ideas.  While I particularly enjoyed the first and third books, they are all worthwhile and I can heartily recommend them to any Christian looking for some quality science-fiction to read.

Now, I should close this post out by saying that you can always check out my books 😉

Happy reading!

It’s after Easter, now what?

The Church calendar is a continuous cycle.  We celebrate the same holidays and set aside the same days every year.  For some, the special days that we celebrate have become a mere routine and have lost their significance to the person.  For others, each year offers fresh new opportunities to celebrate these days and the events that they represent all over again.  The pageantry, the gifts, the fellowship, and the significance of the days are forever pleasant in the minds of such individuals.

The Church calendar is a great teaching tool that aids in our worship and the sharing of our faith.  However, it is a cycle that repeats itself year after year.  The same cannot be said for the Christian faith.  Nor can it be said of our own journeys as followers of Jesus Christ.  As disciples of Jesus we grow, or at least should grow, in our faith.  Those who are not growing in their faith are not simply going through different phases in a cycle.  Instead, their faith is stagnant.

Centuries ago a group of Jesus’ closest followers sat in a room with a degree of uncertainty about the future.  Jesus had been crucified, buried, and was now risen from the dead.  Some of their number had seen the empty tomb.  Still, uncertainty and insecurity seemed to rule the day.  In the midst of this uncertainty Jesus made appearances to the Apostles and to others followers of His.  One would think that these visits would ease their doubts and give a renewed sense of purpose to those that saw Him.

Yet, there was very little forward movement on the part of Jesus’ followers.  For instance, several of Christ’s Apostles were found fishing on the Sea of Galilee shortly after the resurrection (John 21:1-14).  Fishing was the occupation of Peter before he began following Jesus (Matt 4:18).  So, was Peter returning to his work as a fisherman instead of going “into all the world” and preaching “the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV)?

Indeed, even at Pentecost the Apostles “were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 NIV).  But, that day would turn out to be like no other day.  As they sat there in that room together the Holy Spirit came upon them in a most unusual way.  They were touched with what appeared to be tongues of fire, were filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke languages that were not their own (Acts 2:3-4).  From that day forward the followers of Jesus Christ would be movers and shakers.  This group of unlikely candidates would go from a huddled mass to the emboldened spearhead for the spread of Christianity into an unwelcoming and frequently hostile world.

After you have read the four Gospels and move into the remaining twenty-three books of the New Testament, you will notice that there is no looking back.  In much the same way we are a forward looking people.  I once heard it said that God put eyes in the front of our head because we were to look forward and not backward.  Yes, there is a time and a place to look back.  Looking back is what keeps us grounded and true to our faith and calling.  But what we cannot do is become stuck.  God does not want for us to become stagnant.  Instead, we are to be about the work of advancing His Kingdom wherever we are.  As we move forward from Easter and look forward to the celebration of Pentecost, remember the power that has been given to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Then, let us look forward and consider the ways in which we can each continue to grow in Christ this year.

Passion Week

Passion Week is now upon us.  During this week we will take time to remember the days that led up to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord.  Of the many holy days (holidays) that we celebrate as Christians, there is no day more important than Easter Sunday.  Sure, you could say that without Christmas there would be no Easter.  However, Scripture and the history of Christianity shout out that Easter is the chief of special days on our calendar.

While the four Gospels only contain two infancy narratives, they each contain an account of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Further, the shear amount of space devoted to the Passion Week in contrast to the nativity speaks to God’s (the author behind the authors) intent that we would place more emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus than on His birth.  If you read beyond the Gospels you will see that the New Testament continues to pay only scant attention to Jesus’ birth while repeatedly referring to His death and resurrection.

There is good reason why the Scriptures place so much emphasis on the events of that final week in Jesus’ earthly life.  Our salvation is undeniably connected to those events.  Jesus died for our sins.  He took the Father’s wrath upon Himself for us.  He rose from the dead conquering death so that we too could conquer death and have eternal life.  Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we would all still be lost in our sins and under condemnation.  But, thanks be to God, that He “…so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

So, why is it that we seem to give Christmas so much more attention than Easter?  In response, I think it is important to point out that churches do still give proper respect to the Easter Holy Day.  Many churches will have special activities or worship services planned for the week and the worship services on Easter Sunday are typically the most beautiful of the year.

However, the same cannot be said about our culture in general.  While it is seemingly easy to capitalize on Christmas, this does not necessarily hold true with Easter.  At Christmas time there are pictures of a jolly Santa Claus and a cute baby in a manger along with sales advertisements and other enticements to lure consumers into spending money.  It seems easy for merchandisers to separate the Christmas holiday from its root in Jesus’ birth.  But, when it comes to Easter there are no cute pictures and jolly, chubby guys in red suits.  The imagery of Easter and the week leading up to that day is that of a crucified Savior dying for the sins of the world, being buried in a tomb, and rising from the dead.  And, as Paul told us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit centuries ago, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18 NIV), and “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23 NIV).

Putting Our Eggs in the Wrong Baskets

I write this post simply to state that a lot of us, as Christians, misguidedly place all of our eggs into the wrong basket. And, if someone has all of their eggs in a basket that fails, then the result is often times a very damaged, or even abandoned, faith.

For instance, a person can place all of their eggs into a particular view of creation (you can take your choice between Young Earth, Old Earth, Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, or something else). If that view comes under attack and the holder of the position does not feel it can be adequately defended, a domino effect can take place in that person’s spiritual life that can lead to the ultimate demise of his or her religious belief.

It is important to note that the Christian faith stands or falls primarily on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul, himself, says as much. Outside of this, there is plenty of room for argument and discussion, but if you are going to put all your theological eggs into one basket, then this would be it. After all, the resurrection has several vital doctrines connected to it.

So, why am I spending these few moments to write this very brief post? The answer is simple. Many people will where themselves out battling over some obscure piece of turf that should have never become as important as they made it out to be. It would be like the United States being defeated as a nation, and surrendering unconditionally, in a battle in Greenland – no offense to the good people of Greenland.

Now, let me wrap this up with a note of clarification: the various doctrines we hold are important (even the ones we disagree on), and there are many things worth fighting for (even Greenland). But, it is my prayer that we don’t get so consumed by items on the margins that we lose sight of the most central component of the faith: the resurrection.

The Lonely Text

A tragedy in much of the modern church is the lack of Bible-centered preaching. Perhaps you have sat in on a worship service where the biblical text sits alone by the wall while the one who brought it to the dance goes off and dances with something else. The scenario is familiar to many of us: a Scripture is read and the sermon hardly, if ever, acknowledges the text again.

Whenever I sit in such a service, I look around at all the people filling the sanctuary and think to myself, These people are starving for the Word of God. They come in and out of here each week looking for what the Scriptures have to say, and leave empty handed. It is my sincere hope that folks in such churches have the wherewithal to know that they are being spiritually undernourished and seek to be fed elsewhere.

With so many preachers delivering up “puff pieces” to congregations each week, it should come as no surprise that people are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face in the world. Consider this, according to research by the Barna Group, the top 6 reasons young people leave church are:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twenty somethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Popular “puff pieces” will never overcome these six items. The results of Barna’s research indicate that shallow and simplistic sermons simply will not do. A well-read, thoughtful, pastor who has a heart for Biblical preaching, however, can serve as the antidote to the poison that is destroying the spiritual life of so many young people.

So, getting back to the lonely text. There is simply no way that a person can leave church feeling that the Bible is relevant for today if the preacher ignores while instead choosing to tell fluff stories. If you are a pastor: feed the people! Don’t leave the text for that day’s message leaning up against a wall looking for someone else to come along. Be about the work that you have been called to and preach the Word of God.

Persecution of Christians

My family and I watched God’s Not Dead II last Saturday, and everyone agreed it was a quality movie. The focus of the movie is the pressure, or persecution, being applied to Christians living their faith in public. Such a premise is timely considering the numerous cases reported in the news of public displays of religion being challenged through the legal system. Still, much of the world sees what the Christian community is complaining about as nothing but whining. For instance, I recently stumbled across this quote, attributed to Jon Stewart:

Yes, the long war on Christianity. I pray that one day we may live in an America where Christians can worship freely! In broad daylight! Openly wearing the symbols of their religion… perhaps around their necks? And maybe — dare I dream it? — maybe one day there can be an openly Christian President. Or, perhaps, 43 of them. Consecutively.*

So, in the eyes of Stewart, Christians are simply imagining things. But, it is not just Jon Stewart who feels this way. Many people believe that the Christian community is just crying over little issues and, essentially, making mountains out of mole hills. Even worse, is the fact that there are many Christians who feel this way.

My question, however, is: How long are we to wait before acknowledging the changing tides? Sure, what we are presently seeing is more along the lines of “pressure” than “persecution.” But, after a while, this simply turns into a game of semantics. Belittling the idea of persecution now, on an individual and small-scale level, will allow the ease of transition into more widespread, governmental persecution. We must always remember that Russia was once a staunchly Christian nation that underwent a radical change in a very short period of time.

So, should Christians stand up and speak out when we witness the silencing of the Christian witness in our land of freedom? Absolutely! I cannot help but be reminded of “First they came…” the famous poem from Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.**

In much the same way, I wonder how long before the church can easily change the words “Socialists,” “Trade Unionists,” and “Jews,” for things like “Christian business owner,” “Christian politician,” and “Christian educator”?

* http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1719-yes-the-long-war-on-christianity-i-pray-that-one

** https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007392

 

 

 

The Corrosive Effect of Liberal Clergy

If you were to take a look at the church as a whole, you would probably notice that members of the clergy vary widely in their view of Scripture. There are many who have a very high view of the authority and veracity of the Old and New Testaments, and there are probably just as many that have a very low view of the same. Now, when I speak of a “high view,” I am speaking of a view that maintains that the Scripture is, in fact, the inspired, inerrant, Word of God. So, for instance, a person with a high view of Scripture will see the miracles recorded in the Bible as actual historical events. The high view also leads to the recognition of the Bible as the accurate and authoritative teachings of God in regards to morals and ethics.

The “low view” of Scripture, on the other hand, sees the Bible very differently. In this camp you can find an anti-supernatural bias that guides its members in their approach to Scripture. So, a person with a low view of Scripture will question the miracle claims of found in the Bible, and will cast doubts on the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s Word. As an example, an instructor I had for a class in the Course of Study doubted that Matthew wrote the Gospel bearing his name as well as the account of Jesus feeding the multitude. For him, Jesus simply inspired others to share their lunches. (For another example, click here, or read this post from Albert Mohler).

Now, I should also point out that there are people all along the way between the high and low views. So, now that I have mentioned it, I will move along.

The low view of Scripture (as I have described it) is found almost exclusively among liberal clergy. Please recognize that I am not referring to politics when I speak of liberal and conservative in the context of theology. You can find liberal clergy who are diehard Republicans, and conservative clergy who are died-in-the-wool Democrats.

So, why am I writing this post? Simple. Liberal clergy have an incredibly corrosive effect on the church. In fact, you could say that liberal clergy are the atheists’ “man on the inside.” That liberal clergy have a powerfully corrosive effect on Christianity can be seen in the watered down morality espoused at many churches. Even atheists such as Daniel Dennet and Linda LaScola recognize how effective liberal clergy are in destroying people’s faith (click here to see the article). I see such clergy as a fulfillment of Paul’s warning in 2 Cor. 11:14 that, “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (NIV). But, to make matters worse, there are even atheist pastors. It is a sad, but true, thing to say that there are apparently numerous wolves in sheep’s clothing standing in pulpits. Evidence of this is abundant with the advent of The Clergy Project, and a book authored by Dennet and LaScola.

The reason I bring all this up is that we should take a good, hard look at what we are being taught from the pulpit. If we are being told only those things that we want to hear, it may be that we are worshiping something of our own creation. Christianity was never meant to be easy. Sure, it is easy to slap a label on one’s self and say, “I’m a Christian.” But, it is a whole other matter to actually BE a Christian. Ordination committees should be wise in carrying out their sacred duties, as should pastor-parish committees. And, if these governing bodies fail in their tasks, then Christ followers should prayerfully consider leaving those congregations that are being led by the spiritually blind.

So, at the end of the day, let me say that, if you want to see your faith grow, then you would be better off under the teaching of someone who actually believes what they are preaching.