The Clean Life is the Good Life

The Clean Life is the Good Life

Despite all of the jokes and snide remarks made by some about living a moral life, Christians should be confident that the clean life is the good life. A pursuit of purity and godliness certainly does not promise that there will be no problems or exempt anyone from illnesses, but we can be assured that we are within the will of God when we follow His ways. Also, living the clean, godly life helps to shelter us from some of the mess in this world. We may not be able to dodge it all, but we can dodge a lot of it when we remain faithful to the Lord.

Think of those you know who have operated outside of the Lord’s will for their lives. You know those folks who have slept around, shacked up, become addicted to alcohol, are hooked on drugs, party all the time, and those who lie, and cheat, and steal, etc. Many of us know these folks up-close-and-personal. We may be related to them or work with them. These types of sinful behaviors are not just “religious stories” intended to make people feel guilty. As a matter of fact, the consequences of these actions are all too real. When sensual and selfish desires control us, there is nothing but heartache and misery for ourselves and others around us. The proof is in the puddin’, as they say.

Recently, many of our scriptural lessons have conveyed the theme of confronting sin, in our own lives and in our church. Now, to the unbeliever that may sound negative or even absurd, but for Christians that have any spiritual understanding and maturity in the faith at all, we grasp the practical wisdom of stopping sin before it mushrooms into something much worse. Sin breeds sin. So, it is very much a positive thing to learn from the Lord how to confront and defeat sin in our lives and in the lives of those we love and appreciate. Fighting sin (living the clean life) is the responsible and loving thing to do.

Keep fighting sin! Don't let others get you down. Live the clean life, and be happy in the Lord. That is the only true happiness that exists.

What's the Big Deal? Church Membership . . . Again

What’s the Big Deal? Church Membership . . . Again

As you probably know or could guess, I do a lot of reading and thinking about church life, including church attendance. And, yes, I am about to write another article about church attendance. For those of you who are with us every time the doors are open, take this letter as guidance for your own conversations with people. For those of you who do not attend church on a regular, routine basis, take this message into meaningful consideration. Seriously.

Every few months, I think it is necessary to teach on the subject of church involvement. Maybe this is so because every few months it begins to bother me again how many of our “members” are so lax in their participation in the local congregation. There are clear biblical commands and instructions about our service to the local church. There are many theologically practical reasons to be involved in the life of the local church. And yet, so many evade church gatherings on Sundays. How did we get to this point?

There are several explanations of why folks do not attend church as often as they did just a few decades ago. For example, more people have more money, opportunities, and better transportation than ever before. Our country has also grown more and more into an entitled society. Many think that they deserve a mini vacation every few weeks. Moreover, there is the focus on youth activities that has grown and grown. Americans think that their kids need to be involved in multiple sports, activities, and lessons all throughout the year. And, surprise, Satan grabbed what was healthy and fun and has used it against us. Now our youngest are more and more depressed, they are acting out in ways they never have before, and many of those great activities are on Sundays, the Lord’s Day (do you think that’s by accident)! Another major reason/problem with the lack of full commitment and attendance to the local Christian body is the issue of blended families and single parents. Certainly, there are innocent parties in many of these situations, but are we working against these trends? It doesn’t seem like the church is doing much to help curb the unhealthy trend of sin in the home, problems in marriages, and the high divorce rate in America. Now, these are all “explanations” for the fact that overall church involvement has decreased over the years, but are they “good” reasons? We can do better. We must minister to one another and begin to realign our priorities; and gathering for worship, fellowship, and mutual edification on Sundays will go a long way to helping with these things.

Now, some of you may think that this is just a pastor who is upset about the size of the church. Honestly, being a small church is not the problem. Most churches in America, and around the world as a matter of fact, are “small” churches, 50 people or less. Being a small church is not the dilemma. The issue is the lack of devotion by those who claim the name of Christ (“Christians”) and who, at some point, pledged allegiance to the local church by joining (“members”). To be a Christian is to know Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord. To be present when the church gathers is one of the most basic necessities for the Christian life (the Lord commands it), and it is the most basic requirement as a member of a local church. Every believer has obligations to brothers and sisters in the local church. The only way to begin to fulfill all of those obligations is to gather with them at appointed times.

Not only are members skirting their duty to the Lord and His church by not gathering with fellow believers on Sundays (whether it’s because of work, vacationing, youth activities, or flat out laziness), but folks are hurting themselves and their families. The Lord designed the church and her structure for a reason. The God of heaven and earth, the one, true and living God, formed the church, organized the church, loves the church, died for the church, and wants what’s best for the church—His church. We rebel against God when we go our own way. And what does it say about the Lord to our children when we do everything but devote ourselves to Him every day, and especially on the Day when we are supposed to worship Him? Are we telling our kids that soccer is superior to worship; shopping is more enjoyable than Christian fellowship; swim lessons are more important than Bible lessons? Really—what does it teach our children when we only gather with the church when we have nothing better to do?

And what about you, personally? Do you think that skipping out on church has no impact on your own spiritual life? Think again. When you dodge the Christian assembly, you miss out on mutual edification, encouragement from other Christians, singing praise to the Lord with others, praying with the church, remembering the Lord’s Supper, solid Christian teaching, and the list goes on and on. Without these things, you are weak and vulnerable to the world and the enemy. You know, deep down inside, that missing church on Sundays hurts you spiritually and in many other ways. So, create some new habits, break some bad ones, make some adjustments, and get back into church on Sundays. Come worship with all of who you are. Come love your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Come sing your heart out. Come pray with all your might. Come remember and proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. Come learn and grow. Renew your faithfulness to the local church, and watch the Lord do amazing things in your life.

*Disclaimer: Yes, occasional vacations are fair; the issue is excessiveness. Yes, working on Sundays is unavoidable at times; but why not pursue a new or better schedule or job? Yes, some folks are shut-in and unable to attend. Yes, divorce happens, but we must deal with it to the best of our abilities. And, finally, yes, there are some other exceptions to the general rule, but they are “exceptions.”

Creating Healthy Habits

Creating Healthy Habits

You know, some habits are actually good for you. I have never quite understood why some people question the routine of the Christian life. For example, we are told that, for ideal physical health, we are to exercise on a regular basis. What is it that say? Exercise four times a week with your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes? And, what about sleep? We are to have uninterrupted sleep for 7-9 hours each night, no matter our age. Now, we don't always fulfill these ideals perfectly. However, they are certainly goals for which to strive toward.

My intention with that introduction is to remind you that some habits are healthy for you. The same is true of your spiritual life. I am sure my own personal habits are just as poor as any other at times when it comes to regular, routine spiritual practices. Yet, I am constantly working on it and battling to do what I already know is best (just like that ongoing, lifelong battle against weight-gain!!!). Let me tell you what I have started recently in hopes that it may encourage/inspire you in your devotional practices.

Recently, I have made up my mind, again, to begin each work day with simple Bible reading and prayer time (I say simple reading and prayer time because this is different from biblical studies for lessons and sermons and the rapid prayers I fire off throughout the day). For the reading, I selected the book of Acts, and I am reading half a chapter or a whole chapter each time. I am also doing the reading out loud. There is something different about it that way. I am also getting down on my knees to pray afterwards. My prayers have been fueled by what I have just read in the book of Acts. I'm praying for myself, my family, my ministry, members of our church, and, especially, for the salvation of a few key people that I know and am working with in various ways. *We need to spend significantly more time praying for souls to be saved than for colds to be cured. This is just the simple truth of the matter.*

Now, I have been interrupted a few times, even though I am doing this first thing in the morning when I get to the office. Phone calls, text messages, and people coming over are things that are always going to happen, but I have made sure to go back and finish the reading and/or finish the prayer just afterwards or even a little while later. The Lord knows our hearts, and He knows our lives. We are all busy and find ourselves in all kinds of situations. Sometimes our prayers are short and sometimes they are longer. The vital thing is to have our thoughts set on the Lord.

So, I have not written this to put myself on any pedestal. If anything, I am confessing my sins of omission, and my recently renewed commitment to Scripture reading and prayer. I hope that you will brainstorm after reading this post and put a plan in place to set aside even just a few *concentrated* minutes each day to worship our Lord by reading the Word of God and by calling out to Him in prayer.

Congregational Singing

Notes on Congregational Singing from a Recent Sermon

Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Eph 5:18-19 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.

Our Guides for Singing
The first thing we notice in these passages is that our worship and our singing, specifically, are governed by (1) The Word of Christ and (2) The Holy Spirit. Both are said to reside within us, individually and as a church. The Word is to dwell richly in us (make a home in us), and the Spirit is to fill us. Our worship and our singing in particular is not biblical, is not Christian, is not received as praise before the Lord unless it is prompted, regulated, and guided by the Gospel and the Spirit.

Application: What does this tell us practically? We shouldn’t sing songs just for the sake of singing songs, or just because we like the music, or just because they are popular in the culture (even in the American church culture). We should be careful and thoughtful in picking out the songs that we sing. They should be biblically informed and theologically rich. They should be spiritual and Gospel focused. So then, taking these guides, we should probably rule out many contemporary songs as well as several songs out of the hymnbook. We should not just be guarded against songs that have bad theology, but we should also be defend ourselves against songs that have no theology.

The Purpose of Singing
Next, we learn that we are to teach, admonish, and speak to one another through these various forms of singing. Our worship, totally governed by the Word of Christ, is to be, in all aspects, an opportunity to teach one another over and over again the glories of Christ. There is a pastor/teacher who is responsible for most of the teaching ministry in the local church, but you are also to take part in it through various means but especially by singing out loud. Let your voice be heard! To “admonish” is to exhort, to persuade, to correct, to emphatically encourage. Don’t we all need it?

So, there is the aspect of ministering to one another through song. However, there is also the aspect of singing “unto the Lord.” The gratitude and love we have for the Lord in our hearts is verbalized and expressed through song unto Him.

Yes, you have always been right to think about your singing as your opportunity to praise the Lord, but do not forget that the Lord calls on you to minister to others through your singing. There is even more reason to sing out loud so others can hear you!

Application: Again, practically speaking, this tells us that we ought to choose songs for congregational singing that are “singable.” We should not pick songs that require too much musical talent. They should not be too high ranging, or low, or with music too difficult to figure out. This, too, rules out a lot of music, both contemporary and traditional.

Various Types of Singing
Psalms: Old Testament songs, set to music.

Hymns: Christian songs newly written. There are many examples in the NT like Phil 2 and Col 1.

Spiritual Songs: This seems to be a catch-all category that may include songs of testimony and witness as well as spontaneous songs.

Application: These various forms of singing described show us that the Lord is pleased with us to sing all kinds of songs. We may sing Scripture, ancient hymns, old hymns, new hymns, contemporary songs, acapella, accompanied, bluegrass, Southern Gospel, country, old spirituals, etc. etc. The key is not the style but the content of the songs.