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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Dealing with Conflict

From almost the beginning of this world, conflict has been present. When man conflicted with God in the garden, to a couple of weeks ago when my wife and I didn’t see eye to eye, conflict has reared its ugly head in the face of peace and tranquility. Conflict affects every person. From the youngest child who is forced to share their toy with the sibling or neighbor they would rather not be with to the teenager annoyed at his parents for being “too-involved” to the husband and wife who can’t come to an agreement, conflict is the problem.

With such a widespread problem, one would think that people would have found a sure-fire way to rid humanity of this harmful cancer. However, the fact of the matter is this: until people are perfect, conflict will arise. So because it cannot be uprooted one hundred percent, how can we treat this problem? How can we deal with conflict? What are some things we need to remember?

  1. How we handle conflict can be helpful.
    Conflict is inevitable, but how we handle conflict can make or break a situation. Handling conflict can be harmful when we refuse to be humble. Pride is often the cause of conflict in the first place; therefore, when we refuse to rid ourselves of pride, we only make it worse. Instead of extinguishing the flame, it feeds it. When we become only interested in what we want, our conflict helps no one. However, if we choose to humble ourselves, this conflict can usually be helpful. When we put away pride and approach a conflict humbly, the conflict can many times be resolved.
  2. Recognize that both parties are responsible for the conflict.
    As mentioned in the introduction, conflict will arise until we are with our Saviour. Because all parties in a conflict are imperfect, each party is responsible to some degree. Whether the blame lays 99% on one person and 1% on the other, each person has a fault. When you approach the resolution of every conflict with the realization that it is partially your own fault, restitution can be achieved much quicker than when we place the blame solely on the other person.
  3. Deal with the conflict with wisdom.
    As with all of life, wisdom is necessary. Often times wisdom is a vague idea thrown around without any solidarity in its meaning. So how do we deal with this conflict? First, seek to understand. While this may go hand in hand a little with humility, it needs to be said. Instead of seeking only for the other person to understand where we are coming from, we need to put the other person first and try to understand their position. The person we are in conflict with most likely grew up in an entirely different situation than yours. Because of that, there is a different outlook and different worldview than yours. While there may be similarities, there are always differences. When we use wisdom and humility to approach a situation seeking to understand the other person, we have the opportunity to grow as a person.Also, remain calm. When a conflict rises, the temptation to allow emotions to overtake us rise with it. Whether grief or anger, emotions can often get the best of us. Over running emotions can harm the relationship further and restoration slips further out of reach. If needed, take a few minutes to gain composure before approaching the other person for a solution.
  4. A harmed relationship with a brother or sister in Christ harms our relationship with Christ Himself.
    The Book of Leviticus talks about how when a person gets leprosy, it affects the fibers of their garments- the warp and woof. The warp is the thread that runs one way, while the woof (or weft) goes the other direction. The idea is this: if one direction is corrupted, the other cannot go unaffected. Spiritually speaking, if our relationship with someone is damaged, our relationship with Christ cannot go unaffected as well. It is imperative that we do not let our relationship with Christ remained damaged.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I hope that you take some of these principles and use them when you find yourself in the inevitable conflict.

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The Born Identity

Several weeks ago, Charles wrote a great post about why church camp matters. I wanted to echo his thoughts by sharing how the Lord worked at our camp two weeks ago! Our theme this year was The Born Identity. Identity is a very important concept in the cultural zeitgeist. Sexual identity, gender identity, racial identity…it’s everywhere! We wanted to challenge our young people to find their identity in Jesus Christ. So many teenagers are seeking their true identity in friends, sports, games, or a job; these aren’t bad things, but we need to find our true identity in being a Christian.

My Pastor is the director of Northwest Sr. Camp, held at Graceway Baptist Camp in Goldendale, WA. For us staff guys, that means there is a lot more to do for camp than just preparing our church! Churches need to be contacted, materials need to be ordered…it can be overwhelming! Sometimes when we get to camp, we are already exhausted from months of preparation. That’s how I felt coming into the week. To be honest, I was looking forward to getting home and being able to put camp behind me for a while!

That isn’t how I felt when I left camp, though; I felt exhilarated! God moved and worked at camp in a way that I wasn’t expecting (to my shame). Many were saved, and many more made decisions for Christ. Teenagers heard (maybe for the first time!) how they must biblically respond to our culture’s obsession with homosexuality and transgenderism. They were challenged to reflect Christ and find their identity in Him! As a youth pastor, I came away feeling challenged, convicted, and refreshed. Here are three ways God used camp this year:

  1. Many Decisions Were Made for Christ. We had a total of 91 decision cards this week, 17 of them for salvation. Keep in mind these weren’t the only decisions made at camp; I know in our group alone we had several decisions that did not get recorded for one reason or another. We began to run out of decision cards on the last night! These decisions are why we have camp. The whole point of camp is for God to speak to young people, and for them to respond. It was amazing how God spoke through the preaching!
  2. Our Youth Group Grew. This was an incredible week of camp for the Foundation Baptist Church youth group. For some of our teens, they had to overcome some personal struggles just to come to camp; but when they stepped out and obeyed God, He blessed abundantly! They began to grow and change even during the week. Some of our teens got things right that they have been struggling with since I’ve been their youth pastor. Our teens worked hard and stepped up in the preaching and music competitions. Most important, we had one young lady get saved! We also grew together as a youth group, making decisions together, praying together, and drawing closer to God and each other! It was amazing to see so many of our young people coming to the altar and making decisions for Christ!
  3. God worked in our counselors, too. Do you ever have those times where God convicts you of all kinds of sin in your life? It hurts! It’s humbling! It’s painful…but it’s so good! These last two weeks (camp and revival), it’s been like God has been bringing stuff to the surface that I had tried to hide or ignore, and showing me that I need to get right with Him on those things. It feels like ripping a band-aid off…but it shows that God is working in my life, and I’m so thankful for that! I know that God spoke to my Pastor and the other counselors as well. That’s one of the amazing things about camp; you go for the teens, but God works in your life, too.

Ministry can be tiring; there are times when it feels like you’re spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere. There are times it seems like others are seeing much more fruit in their ministries than you are in yours. I wanted to share this testimony to be an encouragement to you! Maybe your ministry is going through a great season right now: people are being saved, things are exciting, and you can’t wait to see what God has next! I hope that your further motivated and delighted by hearing how God has worked in our camp. If you are struggling right now, then I hope that this testimony just serves as a reminder that God is still good and still working in people’s lives! We spend a lot of time talking about how we can grow and improve, and that’s great; but sometimes it’s just right to stop and praise God for what He’s done!

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The Christian’s Off-Season

Fact:  Great athletes are made in the off-season.

While I never measured up to being a “great athlete”, I do remember the off-season being essential to my development as an athlete.  As a lacrosse player in high school, I would listen to my coaches talk to all of the players at our year-end team party about off-season training.  I remember, without fail, they would put some sort of material in our hands to help us with strength training, skill development, and information about playing in recreational leagues with other lacrosse players.

As a freshman on the team, I remember taking my commitment to train in the off-season seriously.  At one point, my regimen included running a mile to a school near my house, practicing different lacrosse skills for another hour, and then running another mile back home.  The investment of that time, day after day, compounded over a few months; and I began my sophomore lacrosse season as a completely different player.

When I showed up to practice as a sophomore with several other teammates who had trained seriously during the off-season, it gave our coaches the freedom to use practice to work on skills beyond the fundamentals.  We no longer had to waste half of our practices on developing the basic skills of lacrosse; we were free to use practice times as an opportunity to improve each player’s ability to function as part of a team.  Our diligence in the off-season didn’t make in-season team practices a waste; it actually made team practices more beneficial.

It Takes More than Church

Allow me to modify my opening statement to apply to believers:  Growing Christians are made in the off-season.

The Christian’s off-season is the time between each church service.  While the few days that pass between Sunday and Wednesday are much shorter than the several months that pass between the end of one lacrosse season and the beginning of the other, the time is just as valuable.  So much of a Christian’s growth depends on their willingness to have meaningful communion with God between Sunday and the midweek service.

Church isn’t enough.  If an athlete needs more than a few team practices to really develop their skills, doesn’t it make sense that a Christian needs more than a few services a week to develop as a Christian?

God had over 40 authors who lived over the span of 1500 years write 66 books in perfect agreement that have been preserved for thousands of years.  Do you think God did all of that just so His children would interact with the Bible two days a week?  Even in the Old Testament, when having a copy of God’s Word in one’s home would have been impossible, God inspired different authors to write statements such as this about God’s Word, “And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8).  It was in the Old Testament, when one couldn’t even access the entire Word of God that the Psalmist wrote of the blessed man, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).  Apparently, the lack of your own copy of Scripture was not a good enough excuse to not interact with God’s Word daily.

God’s Word is like a hammer– the full effect requires repetition.  There are no Christians who are changed every time they are exposed to God’s Word, but continual exposure to God’s truth sinks the nail deeper and deeper into your life.

Like many other Christians, I’ve had my fair share of struggles trying to read my Bible on an everyday basis.  I remember one time several years ago that I took Bible reading seriously during my sophomore year of college.  I decided to get a commentary that covered the book of Matthew and diligently study out each passage, which would give me a chance to make sure that I understood and applied every passage I read.  I remember many mornings sitting in a cheap office chair reading my Bible on my built-in desk in my dorm room, feeling like God was right there talking to me!  I’m not trying to be weird, I’m just trying to explain how God used those times to speak to me personally about many of the issues I was facing in my life.  That sophomore year of college, along with all the other seasons in my life marked by consistent time in God’s Word, have always been the times of greatest growth in my walk with Christ.

If it’s not a part of your daily routine already, I’d encourage you to carve out a time every day to spend time reading the Bible and praying to God.

It’s Not Easy

If Bible reading were easy, then there would be no need for me write this post or for your pastor to mention it so often!  There are plenty of factors that add to the difficulty of maintaining this habit:  There are passages that seem boring because they were written to address situations unlike our own, there are times that we feel too busy to stop our day for several minutes; and some of us just plain struggle focusing long enough to read material of any kind.  If that’s you, don’t worry; I’ve been there before, too!

I want to give you some principles that have helped me to stay in my Bible, even when it seems difficult to read.

  1. Some of the most special times in a Christian’s life happen during Bible reading.
    Every Christian knows the feeling of hearing a sermon from their pastor and thinking, “How did he know that?”  If preaching is done right, we ought to feel like we’ve heard from God.  As special as those times are, it’s even more special when God speaks to you when it’s just you and your Bible–no pastor or preacher can take the credit.  Sure, today’s reading from the Bible might have taken you through a challenging portion of Leviticus, or a family genealogy in Genesis, but hang in there!  If you refuse to give up, you’ll soon be reading a verse and thinking I needed this verse at this exact moment!
  1. You have to accept the fact that reading God’s Word requires work and discipline.
    When you read your Bible, there will be words you can’t define, cultural references you don’t understand, and words you can’t pronounce–that’s okay!  The original readers of the Bible lived a couple thousand years ago, so it only makes sense that you might have to study the context of a verse to figure out what it means.  On a positive note, you can trust that even the most difficult to understand passages have a practical truth that can help you!
    Every Christian could benefit from buying a resource of some kind to accompany their Bible reading time.  Often, when I am reading through a book of the Bible, I buy an easy-to-read commentary to go along with it.  When there’s a verse I don’t understand, I look it up in the commentary, and I usually can move on with a basic understanding of what God was trying to say.  Naturally, the more you slow down to really digest the truth of God’s Word, the greater the possibility you’ll put down your Bible having learned something.
  1. The Bible is a spiritual book, and it requires a spiritual person to understand it.
    The Bible is clear to mention that the Holy Spirit is who helps us understand what the Bible is saying.  As you read, the Holy Spirit illuminates that passage and helps you to understand how it applies to your life.  I’ve discovered that many of my struggles with reading the Bible have to do with the fact that there is sin in my life that is hindering me from benefitting from the Spirit’s ministry.  Before you start blaming the Bible or your reading skills for your difficulties with Bible reading, maybe you should ask yourself two questions: “Am I sure that I have been saved?” and “Is there sin in my life that is hindering the Holy Spirit from speaking to me?”

What if every believer in each church took the off-season seriously?  I would imagine the effect on God’s team would be similar to the effect it had on my lacrosse team:  The pastor won’t have to spend time dealing with issues that God could have dealt with on Tuesday morning.

Why wait?  Carve out some time and get into the Word today!

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Declaration of Dependence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” One man named Stephen Ellis calls these words “the most potent and consequential words in American history.” We know these words to come from the Declaration of Independence, written by John Adams on July 2, 1776 and approved by Congress on the Fourth of July. This Declaration was written with the intent of listing the colonial grievances against King George III. This document changed the world. What started as 13 colonies in the British Empire became a nation, small but strong, able to withstand the might of the Redcoats. They declared independence against their mother country. They would not be under the rule of Great Britain, and thus became a self-governing nation.  

What I fear though, is that too many Christians have signed their name in John Hancock-like fashion on a declaration from Someone else. Christians have signed the declaration of independence from their Creator-the same Creator who endowed us with rights listed in America’s Declaration. They sign away their dependence from the heavenly Father. They choose to live independently from the Creator in most aspects of their life.

Perhaps American Christians have slid to the apathetic spiritual state they are in because they have decided to live independently from King Jesus. Christians make their own decisions. They try to provide for themselves. They live their lives from day to day without any thought to the Sovereign God who sent His Son to die for them. What I submit to you is this: Christians need to sign a declaration of dependence. Let us consider these truths of dependence on God.

  1. Dependence on God should be our natural response to His goodness.
    I don’t need to spend a large amount of time reminding you readers of the goodness of God. It’s an obvious truth. How often do we respond to His goodness, not with dependence, but with a prideful attitude of self-sufficiency. You finally get that long overdue raise at work. Your youth group is growing and it looks like you are making an impact. Your family relationships are stronger than ever. Then, you start to think, “I’m not doing so bad. I think I’m going to make it.” While God has been so good to you, you start to become independent. You stop relying on God. You forget that the raise you received at work was the answer to a prayer you’ve been praying for work. The growth in your youth group is a result of your obedience to the Great Commission and His blessing your efforts. Your family relationships grew stronger because God worked through your searching Him in how to treat your family Biblically. It was His goodness that brought you these great things in life. Because of His goodness, you should respond with further dependence on Him.

  2. Dependence on God requires humble faith in Him.
    Isn’t it easy to look at a situation and think, “I’ve got this”? My mind immediately goes to the story of Abraham and Isaac. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test of Abraham’s devotion to God. However, God didn’t tell Abraham where to go. (This wasn’t the first time God had done this either!) At this point, Abraham has to make a choice. He can either choose to humbly believe God or choose to pridefully deny Him. “God, if you don’t tell me where I’m going this time, I’m not going. Sorry! It’s just not going to happen. You didn’t tell me where I was going last time we did this, and I’m not going through that again.” Abraham chose to humble have faith in God. He depended on God. God had made a promise to him that he would be the father of a great nation, with people numbering as the sands of the sea and the stars in the sky. He had to have a (rightful) heir for God to do that. Abraham humbly believed that God would work out all the details. Maybe you’re not sure how the car is going to get filled up with gas, or the electric bill is going to get paid. God wants you to be involved in a bigger way in giving to the missions program at your church. The temptation is to say, “I’ve got this!” Maybe you try to work more hours, borrow money from someone, get a second job. But in reality, the best answer is first to have humble faith in Him. practically speaking, God may use some of those things to help you, but the difference is that HE brought you those avenues of provision. Maybe your child is going astray even amidst diligent Biblical parenting, and you think that going to a psychiatrist is going to help. I’m not against doctors, but what I’m saying is that our first step is humble faith in God.

  3. Dependence on God is often the tough thing to do.
    There is an element of uncertainty when depending on God. We’re not sure where the provisions are going to come from. We’re not sure which direction we’ll be led. We don’t know the outcomes of any given situation. Dependence on God doesn’t mean we know all of those things. It means that we believe God will provide, lead, control whatever situation we place back in His care. This is not always an easy task. Maybe it means making sacrifices you haven’t had to make before. Maybe you’re scared because you think people are watching you and you care too much what they think. It isn’t about anyone else; just God Himself. It may be tough, but it is the most rewarding action we can take. Because whatever the situation God calls us through, when we depend on Him we get the best possible outcome. It is not always what we think, but it is what is always best.

If you’re anything like me, I find myself too often trusting in my own power. I trust my own wisdom. While the Declaration of Independence is the beginning of our great nation, a declaration of dependence is the beginning of a great Christian.  

If Socrates was a Worship Leader

I read something fascinating a few weeks ago. I was reading Plato’s Republic, a dialogue about governments and justice among the famous Greek philosopher Socrates and several of his companions. They are attempting to create a hypothetical republic that would be perfectly just, wise, and good. Socrates and his friend Glaucon discuss every aspect of the republic from its economy and government to its art and music. As Socrates and Glaucon discuss the kind of music they should allow in their republic, they have this very interesting exchange:

SOCRATES: At any rate, you can tell that a song or ode has three parts – the words, the melody, and the rhythm; that degree of knowledge I may presuppose?
GLAUCON: Yes; so much as that you may.
SOCRATES: And as for the words, there will surely be no difference between words which are and which are not set to music; both will conform to the same laws, and these have already been determined by us?
GLAUCON: Yes.
SOCRATES: And the melody and the rhythm will depend upon the words?
GLAUCON: Certainly.
SOCRATES: We were saying, when we spoke of the subject-matter, that we had no need of lamentation and strains of sorrow?
GLAUCON: True.
SOCRATES: And which are the harmonies expressive of sorrow? You are musical, and can tell me.
GLAUCON: The harmonies which you mean are the mixed or tenor Lydian, and the full-toned or bass Lydian and such like.
SOCRATES: These then must be banished; they are of no use, even to women who have a character to maintain, and much less to men.
GLAUCON: Certainly.
SOCRATES: In the next place, drunkenness and softness and indolence are utterly unbecoming the character of our guardians.
GLAUCON: Utterly unbecoming.
SOCRATES: And which are the soft or drinking harmonies?
GLAUCON: The Ionian and the Lydian; they are termed “relaxed.”

The discussion continues longer, but I think this will suffice. Socrates and Glaucon are onto something here; namely, that music affects us. Not just the lyrics, but the music itself. As Socrates says, they had already decided on what words would be allowed in art, and that would include lyrics. They are now concerned that the music, the melody, harmony, and rhythm, should correspond to the lyrics! In other words, the music should communicate the same message to our hearts that the lyrics communicate to our minds. Socrates and Glaucon want their guards to be bold and courageous, so they won’t let them listen to sorrowful music. They want their guards to be moderate, so they won’t allow music that encourages drunkenness and laziness.

Wait, hold on; music that encourages drunkenness and laziness? Does that seem strange to you? Remember, they are not talking about lyrics that encourage those things, but the actual music. Can music really affect us this way? I recently taught a series on music to our church. I asked if music can make us happy, and everyone agreed. I asked if music can make us sad, and again, everyone agreed. Then I asked if music can make us angry; some tentatively agreed, but most looked surprised by the question. But why couldn’t it make us angry? Why couldn’t music encourage us to drunkenness, laziness, or sensuality? Surely something as powerful as music does not have such a limited emotional range that it can only convey happiness or sadness.

I understand that some may ask, “Why should we care about what Socrates, a pagan Greek, has to say?” Fair enough, but it isn’t about Socrates; it’s about what he’s saying. We must be careful not to discount truth just because it comes from an unlikely source. We need to ask ourselves if what Socrates is saying about music is true. Does music really communicate a vast range of emotions? That’s really the question; if music does in fact influence our emotions, then it follows naturally that we must take care that our music does not influence our emotions in detrimental ways. Frankly, it seems bizarre to me that anyone would deny the powerful affect that music has. Does anyone truly claim that music doesn’t affect our emotions? One study found an interesting correlation between adolescents’ emotional state, and the music they chose to listen to. For example, 42% chose to listen to heavy metal when they are feeling rage, but 0% chose to listen to the same music when they were sad. 41% chose to listen to pop music when they were feeling enthusiastic, but only 13% when they were feeling rage. It seems clear that they chose to listen to music that communicate the emotions they were feeling at the time! (Rucsanda, Mădălina. “The Effect of Various Music Genres on the Adolescents’ Emotional State”, Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braşov – Supplement Series VIII: Performing Arts  Vol. 8 No. 2 – 2015).

We have a few examples of this being played out in the Bible. David playing his harp for Saul comes to mind (I Samuel 16:23). Have you ever heard a harp?  They’re beautiful, relaxing instruments. It’s the aural equivalent of a spa day. It certainly influenced Saul! We clearly see that David’s music affected Saul’s emotions, and caused the evil spirit to depart. The same phenomenon takes a different form when the Israelites worship the golden calf in Exodus 32:17-18. Joshua describes the noise of their singing as “the noise of war in the camp.” The music used in worshipping their false God communicated the kinds of emotions that Joshua (no stranger to war) associated with battle.

I’m afraid we have forgotten a simple truth that Socrates and Glaucon knew: music exerts a powerful influence on our emotions. It can encourage bravery or cowardice. It can excite us or depress us. It can communicate anger and aggression, or reverence and thoughtfulness. Imagine how you feel when you hear the Imperial March in Star Wars: danger; power; it’s “bad guy” music. What do you feel when you hear the music at wedding? It probably makes you feel pensive and thoughtful. What about a basketball game? The music there is designed to get you pumped up and excited!

This is a very important truth to understand about music, because it should affect the kinds of music we listen to. For example, do you want to listen to music that encourages anger and violence when you are stuck in traffic on a Monday morning, about to spend eight hours with an obnoxious coworker? I can name many (Christian!) songs that I should not listen to because they encourage me towards pride and arrogance, sins which I’m predisposed toward anyways. It’s not the words of these songs that’s the issue; the words are good (if shallow) truths about God. The problem is the music communicates pride and arrogance.

It also has serious implications for the kind of music we choose for our worship services. Worship music shouldn’t be about how new or old a song is, what’s popular today, or how things were done 60 years ago. Worship music should be chosen based on the kind of music that best communicates the emotions appropriate for worshipping a holy God.
It is very important to understand that music communicates a vast range of emotions and desires to our hearts. As Christians, this should lead us to ask two questions, like Socrates did: what effects do we want our music to produce in our lives? What kind of music will help produce these effects? Both are important questions, and I hope to discuss them in future articles very soon. We will first look at what effects music should produce in a Christian’s life, and finally what kind of music will produce those effects.

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Lessons from my Daughter

I’ll never forget the day that Natalie was born.  My in-laws were in town, hoping to be a part of the excitement, and my father-in-law and I decided to go play tennis.  I thought that my decisive win was going to be the highlight of the night, until I came home to my wife—who was in labor.  Like most first-time parents, Shelby and I arrived at the hospital thinking delivery time was just around the corner! We were wrong! After an hour of doing laps in the delivery unit and several more hours of waiting and sleeping (for one of us), we finally got to welcome Natalie Joy Collins into the world.

Even after Shelby’s parents went home for the night, I sat there in complete awe and totally in love with this little squishy ball of cuteness that is our daughter.  Every sneeze, cry, and movement was something worth watching, and, of course, I thought she was the most beautiful baby in the world (I still think that)!

When I first became a parent, it was obvious that my role was to begin the long process training my child to be an independent, Jesus-loving adult.  We knew to start by teaching her to eat a full meal, then to sleep through the night, soon to talk and crawl; and, as many others have told us, we’ll soon find ourselves teaching her how to drive.  I heard from almost every other parent that having a child changes you, but I didn’t understand fully what that meant until God started to train me as Shelby and I tried to train Natalie.  I’ve recorded some simple lessons that God has taught me that I hope can be a help to new dads, not-so-new dads, and future dads alike.

  1. Parenting is a team sport.
    I would imagine that every decent man intends on helping his wife with the day-to-day parenting responsibilities—diapers, clothes, holding, etc. Men are different from women in this area.  Unlike my wife, the cries of my daughter don’t awaken my hormones and cause me to immediately rush to her aid.  No matter my hormonal makeup, though, my responsibility as a father should lead me to offer my fair share of help in changing the diapers, getting up with a crying baby in the middle of the night, and other not-so-fun parts of parenting.
    Men, here’s the thing: your wife can survive as “single parent”, but the emotional and physical strain of parenting a newborn is more than any woman should have to bare alone.  Sleeplessness, post-partum depression, and many other things are close to unbearable without a spouse’s help.  Even with my help, the rough patches of infancy were very taxing on my wife.  I can’t imagine how hard it would have been for her if I didn’t help at all!
    It may be funny around your friends to say the number of diapers you’ve changed is in the single digits, but there are plenty of moms who wished their husband would have helped just a little bit more.

New Dad tip: Offer to feed your baby a bottle so your wife can sleep uninterrupted or offer to care for the baby while your wife gets a much-needed nap.

  1. Patience is key
    My first week of dad life was deceivingly easy! All Natalie did was eat, stare, poop, and sleep, eat, stare, poop, and sleep.  Then week two happened.  Our squishy ball of cuteness suddenly morphed into a screaming ball of terror during the darkest hours of night!  I remember holding her, with her little mouth screaming into my ear, thinking, “When will this stop?”  We tried every remedy to get her to sleep better (and have since moved past that stage), but those 2 weeks simply turned into a grind of outlasting that phase.
    As I held my beloved screaming ball of terror in my arms one night, I remember being very frustrated with her.  It was silly to be frustrated with an infant, but I had nobody else to be frustrated with.  I remember the Spirit reminding me that the parenting process was also designed to grow me, and this sleepless night was one way for God to instill in me a much-needed fruit of the Spirit—patience.
    It occurred to me that getting frustrated or giving up was short-circuiting the process God had designed to help me.  I will need the lessons from those sleepless nights in the terrible two’s and all the way through her teenage years.  In fact, I need those lessons of patience in my marriage and in my career!

New Dad tip: When parenting gets tough, stop and think, “What is God trying to teach me right now?”

  1. Slow Down and Take It In
    After Natalie was a few weeks old, a sense of normalcy finally came over the Collins household.  I was getting my sleep again, and I was back to working full-speed at the church I love.  Like every other working man, there are days that I need to work a little late, or take my work home.  There were also plenty of other days where my drive to get as much done as possible kept me away from home more often than necessary.  Around this same time, I was reading a parenting book in which the author made a statement that stuck with me: God made some moments of parenting for you to enjoy.  The smiles, giggles, and first steps aren’t really for the child as much as they are for the parent.  God loves His children enough to make parenting an experience that can be enjoyable for the parent, too!
    What was I doing by missing out on those moments? I was only cheating myself of some of the joys God had in store just because I chose to be present in Natalie’s life.

New Dad tip: Get a camera, or a good phone, and take lots of pictures and video.  Find a way to keep those files long-term: you’ll be glad you did!

I’m not an expert dad (not even close!), but I’d like to think I’ve stopped to learn some of the lessons God has been trying to teach me.  I hope you will keenly listen for God’s voice in the whirlwind of parenthood and learn the lessons He has for you.  Parenting isn’t just about a product: it’s a process that should mature Mom and Dad just as much as it matures their child.

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The Importance of Church Camp

Faith Baptist Church in Fritch, Texas, where I am the youth director, just got back from a wonderful week at camp. Although I have been the youth director for three years of camp, this was the first I was able to attend due to my secular job. Besides that, I haven’t been to any church camp in about five years, so to be able to attend was amazing.

Our church has for a long time used church camp as a family camp, and it has worked well for our church. For instance, this year we had 7 campers, but 26 people from our church attended Cedar Hills Baptist Youth Camp in Binger, OK. Camp is one of the highlights of our entire church every year.

But why is it so important? Whether you only allow teenagers to go, or if you open it up for more people, no doubt you see camp as somewhat of a necessity. You do fundraisers, practice for the different competitions, load everyone up on hot buses and use tons of gas money. People (hopefully) pray in anticipation for camp. We try to hype up the teenagers and families about the camp speaker and the activities that will go on. The reasons why may be familiar and obvious, but in the spirit of this time of year, maybe it would be a good reminder to consider why camp is important.

  1. Those who attend camp can grow spiritually.
    You don’t have to be around a “camp-going” church long to find out that camp is often a place where teenagers make life changing decisions. I was excited to see 3 out of the 4 teenage boys that went surrender their life to Christ. One of the teenage girls in my youth group made a number of important decisions as well, such as the decision to remain sexually pure and rededicated her life to Christ.

    Teenagers are given a chance to grow spiritually, but often many are born spiritually. I wish there were a count of how many people have gotten saved while at church camp, but I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said millions of teenagers, and adults alike, have accepted Christ while at camp.

    The opportunity for growth is optimal. They are able to take a week away from their normal lives where they are constantly bombarded with the world and its ways. The distractions of their phones and social media can be (and, in my opinion, should be) taken away. They are able to clearly focus on the teaching, preaching, and studying of God’s Word. They can more easily listen to voice of the Holy Spirit. Those who attend can grow spiritually.

  2. Those who attend can grow in unity.
    There’s something about camp that brings a great deal of comradery among those from your church who attend. Living together for the week at camp can bind teenagers together that weekly meetings at church rarely can. Besides living together, I think that making decisions to follow Christ together brings people closer. There is a sense of accountability that arises in this situation. “We can help each other follow through with the decisions we made this week.” Teenagers grow together as a whole. The young men grow together. The young ladies grow together. The teens grow together with the youth director and other sponsors. All around, unity based on truth is achieved at camp.
  3. Those who attend can fellowship with other believers.
    Teenagers who attend camp have a great opportunity to meet other believers. Some will be reunited from friends from last year and years before that. New friends will be made. Churches that have the same goal and much of the same body of doctrine will be joined together for a week of fun, preaching, and fellowship. Youths will get to be with other teenagers who face the same struggles, yet in a different town. They will see people who are like them. Fellowship with other believers is necessary, and it is very helpful to connect with people not from your church. You get to see that you aren’t the only church out there. There are other people who are trying to see people saved. There are other people who are striving to be all that God wants them to be. These friendships are incredibly valuable and can last long past the years of going to camp.

 

Wherever you are, I encourage you to go to camp. Camp is an invaluable resource to Christians, for teenagers and adults alike. Amazing decisions for Christ are made all around the country at camp. Friendships are made both in your own church and with other churches. Don’t rob yourself of this profitable time away from the world.

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Five Great Forgotten Hymns

I love congregational singing! It’s a wonderful, Biblical way to praise and worship God, and reflect on biblical truths. Music just has a way of affecting our hearts in a way that few other things can! When you combine that influence with great truths about God, the results can be dynamic. There have been many wonderful hymns written throughout the centuries (and many great hymns being written today) that we all know: Amazing Grace, It is Well, In Christ Alone…but there are also many hymns that have been somewhat forgotten or left behind. One of the greatest joys I have had in the music ministry at Foundation Baptist Church is introducing some of these hymns to our congregation. Here are five that I have found to be particularly good:

 

1.Glorious Freedom

An exciting, beautiful song by Haldor Lillenas. This triumphant hymn speaks of the freedom from sin we have in Christ:

Once I was bound by sin’s galling fetters,
           Chained like a slave, I struggled in vain.
           But I received a glorious freedom,
           When Jesus broke my fetters in twain.

2. My Wonderful Lord

The Collingsworth Family recorded this hymn on one of their albums, but I came across it in our hymnal, and it has become one of my favorite hymns for worship. It combines a beautiful melody with lyrics that reflect how wonderful Jesus really is.

My wonderful Lord,
My wonderful Lord,
By angels and seraphs in heaven adored.
I know Thou art mine,
My Savior divine,
My wonderful, wonderful Lord.

 3. All I Need

I love hymns that reflect great biblical truths, and this hymn draws from I Corinthians 1:30 – “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:”. It is an upbeat song with a fun, catchy melody!

Wisdom, righteousness, and power.
Holiness this very hour.
My redemption full and free,
He is all I need.

4. Tis Marvelous and Wonderful

This song may be familiar to those that have been at Heartland Baptist Bible College in the last few years. The school introduced it in our chapel services. I have since introduced it at our church, and used it to work with our congregation on singing parts! It is an exciting, powerful song, which makes strong use of counterpoint.

Oh, it is wonderful, it is marvelous and wonderful
What Jesus has done for this soul of mine,
The half has never been told!

  1. Satisfied

I first heard this hymn sung by Josh Cobb, a former Gospel singer. It’s a quiet, pensive song, with a very emotion-filled melody and thoughtful lyrics.

All my life long I had panted
For a drink from some cool spring
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.

 Oh hallelujah, I have found Him,
Whom my soul so long has craved.
Jesus satisfied my longing,
Through His blood I now am saved.

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