What Churches can Learn from Apple

It’s indisputable that Apple is one of the world’s most successful companies. Not only are they financially stable, but their customer base is one of the most loyal among brands of any kind. They didn’t get there on accident. The philosophy they held to back when they were still operating out of a garage has shaped them into the great company they are today.

While reading Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs, I came across the three philosophies that have shaped Apple into the brand they are today. I believe that ministries of every sort could learn from these three philosophies:

  1. Empathy
    From the beginning of the company, Steve Jobs was determined to understand and meet the needs of his customers in a way other companies wouldn’t. This is why Apple refuses to survey customers to see what they want in a product. They follow the thinking of the late Henry Ford, “If I had asked the customer what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse.”

    The trend of the business world to survey customers has leaked into the church world. Many who read this blog would be familiar with churches who base their philosophy, service structure, and even doctrine on what people want.

    Yet, shouldn’t church leaders, of all people, know what church goers need even better than the church goers themselves? We have the Bible, God’s Word, that tells us what people need: they need salvation through Jesus. They need to be baptized. They need to be taught how to live a life that reflects Jesus. Yet, even conservative churches can veer away from their mission by focusing on programs that meet a want, but neglect meeting what people truly need. That’s where the next value comes in.

  2. Focus
    In the business world, it’s common to diversify—to spread sources of income across a bunch of different products so that the company can handle bad turns of the market. On the other hand, Apple has decided that, “in order to do a good job on those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.” Steve Jobs was relentless about killing off projects that were not core to who Apple is as a company. His focus on the important has paid off, making Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.

    Churches are very susceptible to a lack of focus. It’s common for churches to miss out on opportunities to do gospel-centered ministries well because they give attention to unimportant opportunities. Too often, a fellowship event at church receives more attention than discipling new believers. Too often, big budgets are granted to pet ministries of long-time church members while giving token attention in the budget to actually fulfilling the Great Commission. Consequently, churches have many “ministries”, but do very little that fits within the bounds of the Great Commission.

  3. Presentation
    People DO judge a book by its cover. That’s why Apple made sure that their standard of excellence didn’t just apply to the product, but to every aspect of the customer experience. Could Apple save millions of dollars if they packaged their phones differently? Sure, but they knew that nobody would ever pay attention to the quality of their product if it was packaged poorly.

    As churches that declare the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have something of excellence to offer the world. Those who have tasted of the goodness of Christ have never regretted it. Jesus didn’t have to give a return policy for salvation because it’s never been needed. Yet, how often are churches guilty of packaging something as excellent as the transforming gospel of Christ in an unattractive way? What does it say about the gospel when people selling clothes have cleaner facilities than churches do? What does it say about our message when people find a more friendly, authentic community at a coffee shop than they do at church?

    The message of the gospel deserves to be marketed with excellence because people do judge a book by its cover. That doesn’t just include making sure that church invitations are attractively designed and look up to date, but it also includes having a church campus that reflects how serious you are about representing the gospel. It includes how church volunteers treat guests every week. This doesn’t have to be costly. For some, it could be as simple as making sure the chairs, hymnals, and offering envelopes are straightened and the floors are perfectly cleaned. In some cases, it might mean a cosmetic remodel project at the church. It might require some to pay a small cost to get a new design for their church invitations. The cost and time is worth it because the world will judge the gospel by the way it is marketed.

Jesus Himself said that there would be areas in which the children of this world would be wiser than the children of light (Luke 16:8). It’s perfectly OK to look at some traits that have made Apple successful and apply them to our ministries, making them more gospel-centered and more effective at reaching people than ever before.

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Stewardship and Faith

Perhaps many, if not all, of you have heard of Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover. (Let me preface that while there are many great ideas in his book, it’s not perfect, and shouldn’t be treated as such. However, his methods have been proven not only his own life, but countless others as well.) In his book, he chronicles the steps (what he refers to as “baby-steps”) that he took to overcome bankruptcy. The very first of his baby-steps to get out of debt is perhaps counter intuitive to many people, at least to me. My initial reasoning would be to retire debt as the first step. If you want to get out of debt, then pay your bills. However, Mr. Ramsey proposes a different first baby-step: build up a $1000 emergency fund. While this amount isn’t very much in comparison to various circumstance that could come my way (loss of job, car breaking down, etc.), it would be a big help to compensate for some of those times when a larger amount of money is necessary.

My goal today, however, is not to discuss Mr. Ramsey’s book at length. After talking to a number of people who disagree with the ideas of the book, I find that most disagree, mainly, with the first step (and a subsequent step that deals with building a hefty savings account). The common conception is this: by saving up an emergency fund, faith in God’s provision is taken out of the equation. By saving an emergency fund as a Christian, you do not have faith that God will provide in times of financial struggling. While, as I said, Mr. Ramsey’s book isn’t perfect, it teaches a very important Biblical principle that doesn’t replace faith, but rather complements it: stewardship.

Stewardship is the job of supervising or taking care of something, in our case specifically, money. We don’t have to look far in the Bible to find the command to be good stewards of what God gave us. The command is clear: what God has given us should be well taken care of.

Please understand that I am not saying we should not have faith. Having faith is an integral aspect of the Christian life. I would never want to downplay its importance. Having faith is an act of obedience.

I submit to you that being a good steward is just as much an act of obedience as having faith in God’s provision. The weekly denial of various activities or unnecessary items in order to save money is just as God honoring as trusting Him when a need arises. Because the fact is: God can provide for a need through an emergency fund. It’s like the man who had a bill that needed to be paid and he didn’t have the money for it. He prayed and asked God that He would provide miraculously for the need. The next day at work the boss asked the man if he would like to work some additional hours overtime. God provided for the man’s need, but he didn’t miraculously send a check in the mail. God can absolutely provide for an unexpected need by sending a check in the mail. However, He also would like to provide through the diligence and stewardship of his children.

The idea that saving an emergency fund negates the necessity of faith is somewhat misguided in this: unless you were able to save an astronomical amount very quickly, there will still be needs that an emergency fund will not be enough for. Faith is still necessary with a hefty savings account. Stewardship and faith go together. They are complementary.

I’m not a master at this, admittedly; but I am trying to be a good steward and have faith. Are you being a good steward? You don’t have to give up faith to be a good steward. They can go together.

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Event Idea: Youth Recharge

The most amazing thing about being in the ministry for me has been seeing God work in our teenagers and watch them grow in their walk with Him! Through our regular class time, as well as activities, youth rallies, conferences, and camps, we try to make spiritual growth the focus of our ministry.

Throughout the year, we have a lot of fun activities; sometimes we have a devotion, and sometimes we just have fun together. I have found that simply building relationships is one of the most beneficial things you can do with activities; it helps the teens become more invested in the youth group, and in church in general! Last year I started doing an activity that I hope becomes an annual tradition: I call it the Youth Recharge.

The goal of the Recharge is simple: take one particular topic I think our teens really need, and take a few nights to preach on it! We include food and games as well, but the focus is on the preaching. It’s sort of like a youth rally, but just for us. The benefit of this is that I can really tune in and focus on what OUR teens need for the coming year!

Last year, our theme was “Take Up Your Cross”. I perceived that while we had a lot of “good kids”, not all of them were truly interested in walking with God. We had the Recharge three Saturdays in a row, and each week preached on the importance of taking up your cross and following Christ. There ended up being far more guests than I had expected, so I ended up shifting my focus to be more evangelistic for the last two meetings. It was a great event, and I have been in awe of how God has worked in the lives of our teens over the last year: they have been growing by leaps and bounds! Many of them have taken the message of last year’s recharge and taken up their cross.

This year, our theme is “Find Your Place”. I’m going to be preaching on spiritual gifts and the importance of each member using their gifts to serve God. My goal is to help them know that they have been given a spiritual gift, and that they need to use it to serve God! I want to see our young people to be actively involved in serving. Honestly, they are doing a great job already! Many of them have been stepping out and serving in some big ways that they have never done before. I want to encourage them to continue growing in that, and help them find some of the ways they’ve been gifted!

I think the Recharge is a very important event for our youth group to grow together. We have a lot of fun, and it gives me an opportunity to really challenge them to grow spiritually in one area that I can see we really need. You may find something similar to be helpful at your church!

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Get More Done

Everyone seems to share this common problem: we feel like we don’t have enough time to give our best to our God-given areas of responsibilities.  That’s the case if you’re in full-time ministry, a stay-at-home mom, a teacher, a plumber, or a high school student.  All of us know the feeling of being behind on a project, forgetting an important deadline, or letting down someone on the other end of a commitment.  While I’m not an expert on the time management, here are a few time management “hacks” I’ve learned that have helped me tremendously:

  1. Have a System
    One of my guiding principles when it comes to time management and organization is assume that you won’t remember later.  This one principle can be a real game-changer for a lot of people! If you have a system to record items that need to be done, you can then make it your first instinct to write down those tasks as soon as they are assigned to you or they come to mind.
    Here’s what I mean by a task-management system: a central location to record and schedule every future task.  Your system could really be anything, as long as it’s a central location where every task is recorded: you could use a legal notepad, an app, or a planner.  For me, it’s helpful to use an app on my smartphone because those tasks are synced between my phone and computer, it’s more affordable, and a lot more portable.
    There are plenty of apps that can function in this way (Apple Reminders, Wunderlist, and Todoist), but I have found Todoist to be the most user-friendly.  Todoist works well for me because it shows me each day what tasks I have scheduled for that day.  It also allows me to set recurring reminders for tasks, such as a reminder every Wednesday to update the sermon audio on our church website.  Having a system where I can record everything has truly been a life-saver.
  2. Start with a Plan
    As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”  This is especially true when it comes to daily time management.  Something has to fill our waking hours, and that something is rarely meaningful if we aren’t intentional about how we will spend our day.
    Here’s how I go about starting my day with a plan.  Before I begin my work day, I do a quick “Daily Review”. During this review, I do a small number of things to help get me ready for my day:
  • Check my calendar for any scheduled meetings or obligations
  • Look over my task list and mark the most important tasks (it’s my way of telling myself, “Don’t procrastinate on these!”)
  • Decide if there any tasks that can be done immediately (see number 4) or delegated.
    This daily review rarely takes more than 5 minutes, and it is 5 minutes that have always been worth the investment.
  1. Prayer Increases Productivity
    It was Martin Luther who said, “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.”  I would guess that many of the readers of this blog would agree with the importance of prayer, but how often do we fail to practice its importance in time management?
    I’m starting to learn that the most productive days are those in which I spend time praying for God’s help to accomplish the tasks that are in front of me.  Here’s the thing: in my power, a biblical message can only get done so fast.  In my own power, I often sit at my desk in frustration, trying to finish a media project for my church.  In my power, I am less effective, less productive, and less patient, but God’s grace enables me to do more than I can do on my own!  While I’m nowhere close to spending the first three hours of my day in prayer, I have incorporated a daily time in my morning routine to pray over what needs to be done that day.  Personally, I’ve seen a major difference since I began this habit.
  2. The 2-Minute Rule
    Some of my most common failures in the area of time management have happened when I failed to do a task that would have taken me just a few minutes to do.  This is why the 2-minute rule has helped me so much.  The 2-minute rule says that anything that takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish should be done immediately.
    If an email lands in my inbox that only requires a brief response, then I take care of it immediately.  If something comes to mind that needs to be put on my to-do list, I input it that moment.  If the Lord prompts me to text somebody, then I try to do it right away.  If my wife asks me to take out the trash, well…sometimes I still procrastinate!  If it is going to take less than 2 minutes, just get it done now!
    These four time management hacks have helped me tremendously.  Incorporate them into your life and you’ll likely see some major changes in your productivity as well!

What tips do you have for managing your time?

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Four Tips for Effective Bivocational Ministry

I have the blessing of working as the youth director at my church. When I moved to Fritch over two years ago, I started teaching the youth Sunday School class, organizing activities, as well as other responsibilities outside of the youth group. It’s been a blessing to see a number of teenagers come to know Christ and grow closer in their walk with Jesus.

My wife and I have tried to make an impact in our small corner of the world, and we wouldn’t want to do anything else. However, we have had to do something else. Because the church is financially unable to support another staff member, I have to work somewhere else. My wife has had to work as well until a few months ago. While working a full time job outside the church has proven to be a difficult task, it is not impossible. Here are a few things I’ve learned since being in Fritch on how to effectively minister while holding a full time job.

  1. Use prewritten curriculum.

    For the first entire year I studied and prepared my own messages. While it was beneficial to study the Word in that fashion, it took a significant amount of time. I hadn’t thought about using prewritten curriculum until I was talking to another youth director who was also bivocational. The suggestion to use a curriculum opened my eyes to the possibility of being able to do other things instead of spending most of my free time on preparing a message. There are a number of good sources that offer curriculum at a fair price. I don’t use other people’s work all the time, but it is a good investment.

  2. Use time wisely.
    Using prewritten curriculum leads us to this related tip. Holding a full time job, fulfilling church responsibilities, spending time with my family, and up keeping my house is a lot to balance. While I haven’t mastered this balance yet, I recognize its dire importance. Sometimes I spend too much time working and not enough time with my family. Sometimes I haven’t made enough time to finish my church responsibilities. However, just like a tightrope walker is always making corrections and never 100% balanced, I always have corrections to make. If necessary, make a written schedule in an attempt to balance your time.
  3. Say no.
    I suppose that this may be true of someone who works full time at the church as well, but it is especially true of a bivocational minister. Because our time is limited, we must be careful not to add too much to our plate. Please understand that I am not saying to say no to everything. There are times when it feels like we simply cannot add another responsibility. In those times, we must step back and ask ourselves if it would be harmful to add another listing to our job description. If you feel like you are not able, politely decline, or ask if you can delegate this to someone else who would be able to fulfill the requirements.
  4. Remain dependent on Christ.
    This is, and always will be, the most important aspect of ministering. We have to recognize that using curriculum, making a schedule, or even denying some requests will never replace the power that comes from Christ. We start to fail when we do everything in our own power and in our own way. Bible reading and prayer must be essentials in our busy schedule. I’m reminded of Proverbs 21:31 “The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.” Solomon teaches his son that he can prepare his horses for battle. He can make sure they are physically ready. They can be fitted for battle armor. Their riders can be expert soldiers, but God gives safety. We can plan activities, write messages, organize ministries, spend time with family, and work, but power comes from Christ.

These are not all the things I have learned, but I hope they were a help. Whether you work with youth or adults or are even a bivocational pastor, rely on God for help, and be wise about your time.

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Four Fiction Books You Should Read

One of the first articles I wrote for The Ministry Wire was “Four Reasons You Should Read Fiction”. It seems like fiction often gets overlooked, even by avid readers. I get it; we all have limited time with a lot of demands. “I can’t read everything, so why use my valuable time reading a novel?” Fiction actually has several benefits for us, though! I gave four in my earlier article: fiction develops a love for reading, fiction can be a great way to communicate truth, fiction can help you communicate more effectively, and fiction is fun.

With that in mind, I would like to recommend four of my favorite novels. I have found these books to be challenging, thought-provoking, full of truth, and great reads.

 

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens when a group of British schoolboys crash on a deserted island? Written in 1954, Lord of the Flies follows the boys as they struggle to work together to survive on the island. Although they initially attempt to set up some form of civilization, electing leaders and establishing laws, the boys quickly descend into tribalism and savagery.

What makes Lord of the Flies so compelling is its’ exploration of human nature. Many people are comforted by the idea that man is essentially good, and evil is a product of a corrupt environment. Golding takes the most innocent of men (children) and places them away from all corrupting influences. As they descend into chaos and violence, Golding illustrates the depravity of man in a shocking and impactful way. Golding effectively shows that man is inherently sinful and evil, a truth found many times in the Bible.

 

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Imagine a great, grey city. In the center of the city is a bus that will taken anyone to heaven who wants to go. Not only that, but once in heaven, anyone who would like to can stay forever. Would not everyone go?

Lewis answers with a resounding no. Most refuse to ever get on the bus to heaven. Those who do go rarely stay for long. As Lewis states, there is a “great divorce” between heaven and hell. You cannot have both. What keeps so many away from salvation is their desire and love for their own sin. In the book, those who arrive in heaven from the grey city have the opportunity to stay and be with God forever, yet they almost always refuse because they refuse to repent of their own sins.

The most compelling imagery in the novel is the grey city with the bus to heaven. As men sin, they travel farther and farther away from the bus stop. Everyone can return to the bus if they wish; but the farther away they get, the harder it is to come back. Is it not so with salvation? No one is beyond hope. The worst sinner can repent, believe, and be saved; yet the more men indulge their sin and walk away from God, the harder it becomes to repent.

 

Animal Farm by George Orwell
Truly a masterful work about the dangers of socialism. When the animals on a English farm revolt against their human masters, they believe they have set up a perfect society with equality for all.

Yet it’s not long before the pigs begin to claim more and more power and become more and more like the humans they so despised. Animal Farm is a great example of the power of a story to illustrate truth in a way that is so much more compelling and memorable than an essay. Even if you are not particularly interested in politics, this is a fantastic read.

Orwell expanded on these ideas in 1984. While I consider 1984 to be the superior work, I must caution that there is some inappropriate content in the middle of the book, and as such, I cannot wholly recommend it here.

 

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My favorite novel, and one of my favorite books. Focusing on Alyosha, Dmitry, and Ivan Karamazov, the novel explores themes of justice and (most importantly) the effect that faith has in life.

The most important event of the novel is the murder of the brothers’ father, and Dmitry’s implication in the murder. Dmitry’s trial, and the question of his guilt, illustrates the philosophical struggle in the book between faith and skepticism. Alyosha is a monk who devoutly believes in God, and is therefore motivated to live righteously and love others. Ivan, on the other hand, is an atheist, who holds that without God “all things are lawful”. The novel explores how these beliefs determine the fate of these men, and how our belief in God determines our view of right and wrong.

These are a few of the books I’ve read that have made a particularly strong impression on me over the years. Besides being excellent reads, they each contribute truth in a profound way that could not be accomplished outside of a story. Jesus Himself often used stories to teach spiritual truth; these great books do the same.

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The Wife-ologist

Men, have you ever wondered why your wife sometimes expects you to read her mind? Have you ever joked, “I’ll never understand her ways”. Turns out, not only does your wife expect you to understand her on a deep level, but God expects you to as well.

Hear me out on this one!  In a classic passage on marriage, God called us husbands to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge” (2 Peter 3:7).  The idea in that verse is that we ought to be ever increasing in our knowledge of our wives, and adjust the way we dwell with them to the understanding we have of them.  It means that we ought to, over the years, be able to know more and more about our wives than we did before.  God has called you, in other words, to be a wife-ologist.  Don’t worry, God hasn’t commanded you to understand every wife (thankfully!), but He has commanded you to grow in your understanding of the one that sleeps next to you every night.  For me, God has called me to be a Shelby-ologist.  Fill in the blank with your wife’s name: that’s what God has called you to do.

While I have much ground to cover in my journey as a Shelby-ologist, here are 3 areas that might give you a start on your own quest to becoming a wife-ologist.

  1. Learn what she likes and dislikes
    I’ve found it amazing (and convenient) how my wife remembers if I liked or disliked an experience that I had several months ago.  She can tell me if I liked the fries at the burger place we ate at on vacation and she can recall if I enjoyed the movie we watched several months ago from Redbox.  What I’ve found convicting is how many times I can’t recall those same details about her likes and dislikes.  As I husband, I ought to pay attention to her well enough to learn what she likes. 

    To get down to the nitty-gritty, if a husband is going to dwell with his wife according to knowledge, he ought to be able to order her drink for her at a restaurant if she is running the kids to the restroom.  He ought to be able to pick out a decent Christmas or birthday present for his wife because he is familiar with some of her wants.  A developing wife-ologist ought to know that it drives his wife crazy to not put his socks away or to put his feet on the coffee table.Tip: When you go shopping, take the time to walk around your wife’s favorite part of the store and take interest in the things she likes.  If you’re smart you’ll take a mental note of the style of purse she wants or what small appliance could her life a little easier.

     

  2. Learn how she communicates
    It’s no secret that men and women communicate in very different ways.  If there’s any area in which I struggle the most as a wife-ologist, it has to be the area of communication.  I’m learning that when my wife asks a question, she isn’t always looking for an answer.  I’m learning that when she presents a problem, she isn’t always looking for me to analyze it to death and present my solution.  Chances are, when a husband decides to put his wife-ologist hat on, he might find out how his poor communication has been causing many of their arguments, or that his wife isn’t insensitive (and how he truly was being a jerk).  It’s a lot of work, but loving your spouse as Christ loved the church is going to take some work! 
  3. Learn what she needs (before she asks)
    This is where I’ve especially found myself excusing myself with the line, “I can’t read your mind!” And while it is true that I’m no mind-reader, I’m probably a better mind-reader when I engage my thinking.You’d be surprised how well you can “read your wife’s mind” when you pay attention to things like her spirit, her tone, and body expressions.  A simple attentiveness to those things will often give the observant an opportunity to fill a need before his wife asks.  When a husband comes from work, he can usually get an idea if this is the kind of night that he needs to take her out for dinner, take a walk in the park, or watch her favorite TV show, rather than bothering her about something else he needs her to do.

 

No man will ever arrive at a place where they know everything about their wife—I know I’m not even close!  But the wonderful blessing of pursuing your calling as a “wife-ologist” is that it is one of the many ways God gives life-long marriages a depth that no other type of relationship can offer.

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A Biblical View of Tradition

It seems that in recent days, traditions have been held in a negative light. We don’t have to look far to see that traditions are being cast by the wayside. Activities that have been happening for decades are being labeled as “old-fashioned” before being thrown out the door without a second thought. Though I am speaking generally within our culture, there seems to be a major trend even in Christianity of always inventing something new, and forsaking anything that has been taking place for more than a couple of years.

As Christians, you and I have the responsibility to base our entire lives on God’s Holy Word. This includes activities labeled as tradition. With that in mind, let us take a look at what the Bible says about traditions.

Traditions in the Bible

The word in Scripture gives a different connotation than what we think of today. A tradition today is basically this: a reoccurring activity. It is a custom passed on from year to year, generation to generation. However, in the Bible tradition is a truth or supposed truth that is passed on.

The literal words tradition and traditions show up a relatively few times in Scripture only 13 times, only in the New Testament. Matthew and Mark record a parallel account in which the disciples ate some food without washing their hands. One mention of the word by Mark is purely for narrative, explaining that the Pharisees held a tradition that they would not eat without washing their hands. Then each of the parallel accounts records a question asked by the Pharisees concerning why the disciples did not follow this tradition. However, this was not just a casual question. The Pharisees asked that they might accuse the disciples, revealing their heart. The Pharisees asked because they had elevated their tradition of washing of hands to such a degree that it was sin to eat without washing. Jesus then, in both accounts, uses five more instances of the word when He rebukes the unsaved Pharisees for holding their tradition as equal with God’s Word.

Paul uses the word one time (Galatians 1:14) in reference to his zealous devotion to the tradition of the Pharisees before his conversion. As we look through the writings of Paul, we understand that Paul trusted in Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation. He counted his life as a Pharisee as dung because he wanted to know Christ. His life as a Pharisee heavily involved these elevated traditions.

Peter also uses the word in the first chapter of his first epistle as a reminder to the believers that they were not redeemed with corruptible things like material possessions, nor from vain actions like the traditions from their fathers. These traditions were the traditions that Paul forsook for Jesus. These were the beliefs that the Pharisees had elevated above the level of the Word of God.

Paul also used the word twice in the Book of Second Thessalonians. These usages were not negative like the other eleven. Unlike the references to supposed “truth,” Paul was talking about God’s Word that he had written to them. These were the words that Paul wrote to them while he was gone and preached to them while he was there. He mentions one time to hold fast to those traditions, or truths; and another time to withdraw themselves from those who forsake those truths.

Then the question still remains: what do we do about traditions? While I am certain no one would say they think their church traditions are equal with God’s Word, we need to have a Biblical view. But if every person’s traditions were mentioned in the Bible, we would have world’s full of books. So we must use Biblical principles to guide the way we live, and especially our traditions.

Here are a few principles and guidelines that we need to remember.

  1. Not all traditions are bad.
    It seems as though many people are throwing actions to the wind for the sole reason that they are traditional. People get turned off to an idea or activity or method simply because it has been done before. However, just because something is a tradition does not necessarily mean it needs to be reevaluated. Canceling a tradition for the sake of canceling a tradition is frankly a terrible reason that doesn’t hold much weight.
  2. Some traditions do need to be reevaluated.
    Lest whoever reads this article think that I blindly follow any tradition because it is labeled as such, let me clarify. Some traditions are not helpful. Some traditions that worked in the past should be re-evaluated to ensure that we are being good stewards of the Lord’s time and money. We also need to evaluate our motives and purpose for having the tradition. For instance, does your current Wednesday night kid’s program fulfill the mission of the church? Does the annual church potluck (or “Dinner on the Grounds” if you’re in Texas) still achieve whatever purpose it had at its inception? While canceling for the sake of canceling isn’t wise, having for the sake of having isn’t wise either. Each tradition or method needs to be evaluated to ensure that we are actively seeking to honor the Lord and reach as many people for Christ.
  3. Traditions are not God’s Word.
    This is the very thing that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for. They had equated the ideas that their fathers set up with God’s Holy commandments. They went as far as to say that those who disobeyed their oral traditions were sinning against God. I say this with all due respect: you and I cannot get upset at people who disagree with your traditions. They are our own ideas and not equal with God’s Word. When the church in the next town decides that they won’t participate in the city parade like they have done for the past ten years does not mean they have forsaken the faith and have become heretics. It’s simply a tradition that they decided would not be a good fit for their church, whether temporarily or permanently.

Traditions can be good as long as they are still effectively bringing God glory. While, they must be evaluated periodically to ensure good stewardship, there is no reason to cancel them just because it is labeled a tradition.

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A Christian view of the Alt-Right

Introduction

A woman was murdered on August 11. The murder weapon was a car, driven at high speed into a crowd of people gathered to protest the “Unite the Right” rally held in Charlottesville, VA. Tensions had been rising between those at the rally and the protesters, finally culminating in a vehicular murder that killed one and wounded nineteen others.

Violence has become tragically common in our world. It would be impossible to name all the shootings, knifings, and other killings that have taken place even in the last year. Charlottesville is different, however. It was not carried out by foreign radicals, or even inspired by a “foreign” ideology like radical Islam. Charlottesville was political violence; Americans fighting, maiming, and killing each other on the streets because they hold different political views.

This is horrifying, but not too surprising at this point. Violence and violent rhetoric has been on the rise these last few years. The Left has become increasingly violent: Black Lives Matter has terrorized and destroyed communities based on false narratives. Lately, the Antifa (Anti-Fascist) movement has brought its brand of domestic terrorism to college campuses to “protest” speakers they disagree with. “Protest” here meaning attacking, beating, and wounding with extreme prejudice.

The political right has, unfortunately, contributed as well. President Trump was well-known for his use of violent rhetoric on the campaign trail. Whether you like him or not, he certainly used language that encouraged his supporters to act violently, and some of them did.

So, back to Charlottesville. A collection of white nationalists known as the Alt-Right decided to hold a “Unite the Right” rally. Their goal was to protest the removal of certain Confederate monuments in the state, and, more importantly, to promote their white supremacist ideology. Antifa showed up to protest, and violence quickly ensued. It’s important to understand that there are no good guys here. The Alt-Right is a truly despicable political movement, and their cries of white nationalism are racist, evil, and against the Gospel. Antifa is no better; they use violence to shut down speech they disagree with, and came to the rally looking for a fight.

This is all very disturbing, and as Christians we must know how to understand these kinds of political movements from a Christian worldview. By and large, I’m glad to see many Christians have been speaking out against the Alt-Right, as well they should. I think it is vitally important that we as Christians understand what is going on in our nation, and how to approach it from a biblical viewpoint. I do not believe I know any Christians who would agree with the racist agenda of the Alt-Right, but I have seen some retweet or share content from Alt-Right figureheads or supporters like Milo Yiannopolous, the perverse and profane political provocateur. Some have shown a bizarre instinct to defend the Alt-Right (“They’re just white nationalists, not white supremacists,” I’ve read; why that is supposed to be better, I’m really not sure). I don’t see the same level of vociferous denunciation for the Alt-Right as I do for the Left (who are equally evil, of course).

I don’t believe this is because these Christians agree with the Alt-Right or what they stand for. I do not believe that my Christian friends are advocating, or ok with, white supremacy. I believe the lack of response/tendency to defend the Alt-Right stems from two things. First, a lack of understanding of who the Alt-Right is, and what they actually believe. Second, I believe there is a tendency to support anyone who opposes the Left. The temptation is to support and defend anyone who opposes the insanity the Left pushes on us every day; but that does not mean those people are allies. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend; sometimes they are an equally repugnant enemy.

I do not want my focus to be politics. I enjoy politics, and I think they are important in applying the Christian worldview to our government and culture, but I always want the focus of what I talk about and write about to be the Gospel. So I do not want to write about this as a political topic, but a Christian one. As Christians, we must stand against the wicked and godless ideas, beliefs, and practices of our culture. For that reason, I want to talk about who the Alt-Right is, and why their beliefs are incompatible with and completely opposed to a biblical worldview.

What the Alt-Right Isn’t

As I said, I believe there is a lack of clear understanding of what exactly the Alt-Right is. I think many people have identified with the Alt-Right to some extent because they see them primarily as a group that likes to “troll” liberals online.

Indeed, the Alt-Right does have a significant online presence; much of their base is active and involved in targeting liberals online with pranks, tweets, comments, and memes designed to aggravate them. Many find this behavior to be very funny, and so begin to share their memes, assuming that the Alt-Right is nothing more than a juvenile segment of the internet dedicated to spreading cartoon Pepe the Frog memes.

This ignores the fact that the Alt-Right frequently targets minorities with their “trolling”, especially Jewish people. Many of their memes are wildly racist, and anti-Semitic in particular. One meme common during the 2016 election season featured Donald Trump placing various African-American or Jewish journalists and political figures in the Nazi gas chambers.

It’s also important to note that the Alt-Right is not a term that describes someone who is conservative; in fact, the Alt-Right is very much against constitutional conservatism. The media often misuse the term and apply the Alt-Right label to many conservatives who are not part of their movement as a way to discredit these conservatives and impugn them with charges of racism and bigotry. The Alt-Right does not describe Donald Trump or the vast majority of his supporters. While he bears some responsibility for catering to them and failing to adequately disavow them, President Trump is not a member of the Alt-Right, and does not share or represent their ideology.

What the Alt-Right Is

The Alt-Right is not an assortment of people who like trolling the Left and disagree with their policies. The Alt-Right is a political movement that espouses and shares a very particular and specific ideology; Christians should be very careful about associating and defending them if they do not share the same ideas and beliefs!

At the heart of the Alt-Right ideology is the idea that race (biodiversity, as they sometimes call it) has a significant and undeniable impact on peoples’ capabilities, intelligence level, and the kind of culture they build. They believe that white people are smarter, more capable, and create better societies than other races, and that Western culture is greater than other world cultures because it was founded by white people. They hold that it is impossible to have a society with multiple races and ethnicities, or that any race other than white Europeans would be able to preserve Western culture. Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, said, “The alt right accepts that race is a biological fact and that it’s a significant aspect of individual and group identity and that any attempt to create a society in which race can be made not to matter will fail.” [i]For this reason, they advocate white nationalism: building a nation only for Caucasians.

Richard Spencer, founder of AltRight.com, once said, “Our dream is a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”[ii] He has also stated America was “a white country…and it belongs to us.”[iii] Vox Day, a prominent Alt-Right “thinker” says “we must secure the existence of white people and a future for white children.”[iv] Other white nationalists prominent in the Alt-Right movement include Kevin MacDonald, Sam Francie, and Paul Ramsey.[v]

This is a repugnant idea, and antithetical to both Christian thinking, and the creed that America was founded on. I do believe that Western culture is superior in many ways to other cultures, and that America is exceptional as a nation. As a Christian, and a constitutional conservative, I believe that these things are true because of the creed that Western culture, and America in particular, are founded on. Ideas like individual liberty, equality before God, the dignity and worth of human life; these ideas, among others, spring from a biblical, Christian worldview.

The Alt-Right would reject the idea that the West was founded on a creed, and instead insist that it is the white European identity that constitutes the essential differences that makes America exceptional. This belief is evil, and utterly contrary to a Christian worldview.

In fact, you may note that this bears a striking resemblance to another dangerous ideology: Nazism. The term “Nazi” is thrown around liberally these days, but with the Alt-Right, it applies. The roots of the Alt-Right are planted deeply in a putrid mix of Nazism, Nietzscheism, and European paganism. The impetus of the Alt-Right is a desire to forge a white, European identity, much as the Nazis sought superiority of the “Aryan” race.

The Alt-Right and the Bible

It should be clear that this viewpoint is completely at odds with the Bible. The idea that one race is superior to others is antithetical to Scripture; consider Acts 17:26 which declares that God “hath made of one blood all nations of men”.

The New Testament especially deals with the issue of racism in early Christianity; in this case, it was not white superiority, but Jewish superiority that was the issue. There was significant tension in those early days between Jewish and Gentile believers; but the answer was (and is) not to separate ourselves along ethnic and racial lines, but to realize that all men are equal in the eyes of God, and that believers are all one in Jesus Christ.

In Acts 10, we see Peter come to this realization. Peter is praying, and receives a vision of a great sheet descending from heaven filled with “all manner of…beasts”. God commands Peter to kill and eat, but Peter refuses to eat the unclean (per the law) animals. God responds to Peter, “What I have cleansed, that call not thou common.” As Peter ponders these things, the Holy Ghost sends him to preach the Gospel to the Gentile Cornelius, and his house. Here Peter understands that the meaning of the dream is that Gentiles are not to be viewed as “common” or “unclean”, saying in in Acts 10:28:

Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

He continues in verses 34-35:

Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.

Paul also speaks about this in I Corinthians 12:13; there is also of course the incident described in Galatians 2 where Paul sternly rebukes Peter for disassociating with the Gentile believers in the church.

The principle is clear: there ought not be racial or ethnic divisions among God’s people. Every man, from every nation, race, and ethnicity has been made in the image of God and is equal in His eyes. It is a great sin to claim superiority on the basis of one’s race, or to hold bigoted and hateful attitudes towards someone of a different race. The Alt-Right’s message of white supremacy clearly violates this biblical principle and has no place in the Christian worldview.

How Christians Should Respond

Christians must stand firmly against the racism and evil of the Alt-Right. If we are to be salt and light in our culture, we must boldly stand against evil in all its forms, even if that evil may fall on our end of the political spectrum. There is no excuse for a Christian to associate with or defend the Alt-Right; to do so is to associate with and defend a worldview that is ant-Gospel and degrades the nature of men that Jesus Christ died to save and commands us to love.

All of us can be susceptible to racial prejudice; this is, unfortunately, a time of racial tension in America. You may say that the claims of systemic and institutional racism in our culture are overblown, and I would agree with you; but it is also possible that even well-meaning Christians could harbor some sinful and unkind attitudes and prejudices against those of another race. It is especially important in times like ours to closely examine our hearts for any unbiblical attitudes and repent of them. It should go without saying that racism has no place in the heart of any Christian. We must strongly denounce and reject all racist ideologies, including the Alt-Right; any Christian that has involved themselves in the Alt-Right movement or supports their racist ideas should repent and turn to the biblical truth that all men are created equal under God.

I would encourage Christians to use discretion in the content they choose to share on social media; some members of the Alt-Right, and Alt-Right popularizers, may say some things you agree with on various political issues. They might even say some things that are true, but we must be careful not to give the impression that we endorse and agree with their political movement. After all, I Thessalonians 5:22 warns us to “Abstain from all appearance of evil.”

Finally, we must do our best to share the Gospel the love of Christ to everyone in our communities. It is not a political philosophy that is the hope of our nation; it’s the Gospel.

[i] http://www.dailywire.com/news/9441/actual-conservatives-guide-alt-right-8-things-you-michael-knowles

[ii] https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/individual/richard-bertrand-spencer-0

[iii] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/A

[iv] http://www.dailywire.com/news/9441/actual-conservatives-guide-alt-right-8-things-you-michael-knowles

[v] http://www.dailywire.com/news/9441/actual-conservatives-guide-alt-right-8-things-you-michael-knowles

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4 Steps to Better Bible Reading

Church isn’t enough.  You can only become the Christian that God intends you to be once you get serious about daily Bible reading.  

If you’re like me, though, you’ve had your fair share of times that you’ve tried to read the Bible but never seemed to “get anything out of it”.  Trust me, I’ve been there.  For several years, I approached reading the Bible like every other book, but I rarely understood what God was saying to me.

Here’s what I’ve finally learned: I can’t read the Bible like every other book because the Bible isn’t like every other book!  The Bible has to be read differently because it is a book written thousands of years ago that God has preserved for the sake of speaking truth to every subsequent generation.  Since the Bible was written in a different original language, to a different cultural context, allow me to give you 4 steps to get more out of your Bible reading.  When you consistently apply these 4 steps, your time in God’s Word is going to turn from a dry ritual to an exciting time of learning what God wants to say to you!  

  1. ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE

    God promised that His Word would be “of no private interpretation”, but He never promised that it would be easy.  Anytime that we have difficulty understanding God’s Word, we have to accept the fact that none of those times are because God purposely made His Word impossible to understand.  Whether it be sin in our life that hinders the Work of the Holy Spirit, or a lack of understanding that can be overcome by disciplined study, we must accept the challenge and responsibility to get more out of our Bible reading!

  2. UNDERSTAND WHAT GOD SAID

    Before you can understand what God is saying to you, you must understand what God said to whom the passage was originally written.  Allow me to give you some short, helpful tips that will equip you to understand what God said in the passage you are reading:
    Eliminate distractions! You can’t mentally wrestle with the meaning of a passage if loud music is playing or if you allow yourself to check messages, email or surf the internet while reading.
    Use a Bible dictionary to define words that don’t make sense.  Even my Merriam-Webster app will occasionally do the trick!
    Read the passage more than once and consider its meaning.  The Bible refers to this as meditation, and it helps prevent my nasty habit of “scanning” through God’s Word.
    Purchase a devotional commentary to accompany the book you are reading through.  $10 every month is a worthy investment to better grasp God’s Word! Here are some that I’ve found to be user-friendly for a devotional setting: Christ-Centered Exposition Series, Tyndale Old/New Testament Commentary Series, and the John MacArthur New Testament Commentary Set.  WARNING: the authors of each of these commentaries may have differing theological views, but each of us can learn something from them.  Always seek out your pastor for help if you are wrestling with the doctrinal stance of your church.
    Summarize  each section of scripture you’ve read with a sentence or two.  Your summary statement will essentially be the answer to this question: “What was God (or the human author) originally trying to say through this passage?”  I use Microsoft OneNote as a virtual journal that keeps track of what I write down for each passage.  Completing this step is essential to being able to work through step

  3. DETERMINE WHAT GOD IS SAYING TO YOU

    Bible reading is not just an academic exercise! If you read the Bible without an understanding of something God wants you to do, then you have missed the point.

    Once you’ve done your best to summarize the main idea of the passage in a sentence or two, ask yourself these questions based on the summary statement you wrote in Step 2.  This will help you apply the principle from the Bible to your life.

    Is there a warning to heed? Ex. Beware of false teachers that will spoil me through philosophy and vain deceit (Colossians 2:8).

    An example to follow? Ex. Humbly serving others like Jesus (John 13)
    A sin to avoid? Ex. Searching for satisfaction in money (Ecclesiastes 2)
    A promise to claim? Ex. Jesus will never leave nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5)
    A mindset you need to change? Ex. I need to put Jesus first and trust him to take care of my physical needs (Matthew 6:19-34).
    A blessing for which God deserves praise and thanks? Ex. I need to give thanks for my victory over death through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

  4. OBEY

    There’s no blessing in just hearing God’s Word.  Blessing comes  when hearing God’s Word moves us to obey His Word (James 1:22).  If God has done something in your life through what you’ve read, be sure to take some time to pray about it or confess any sin that has been revealed!

I challenge you to watch how exciting Bible reading can be when you apply these 4 steps.

What tips do you have for getting more out of your Bible reading?

 

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