grace Posts

Is Jesus Really God?

 I’ve talked to a lot of people who say they agree with, and appreciate, the teachings of Jesus. It’s popular in our day to resonate with His teachings but not His Church. Many people who are troubled by the exclusive claims of Christianity don’t realize that it was Jesus, Himself who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

He also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). The Jewish writer of Hebrews said, “He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3). John 1:14 say that “the Word, (God) became flesh (Jesus) and dwelt among us.” Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh.

As we approach the question of His divinity, we need to realize that at the center of Christ’s teaching, His mission, His Message, His life, was (and is) His identity. The central theme and focus of His teaching was not a set of principles or commands; it wasn’t love or grace – per se – it wasn’t feed the poor, be kind to one another, or be a good citizen. At the core of His teaching was His identity. Who He was. And to be one with Him is not to do what He says, as much as it is to believe in HIM, who He is and what He has done.

This is why His definitive question still echoes forth into our hearts today:

“But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15

This is what separates Jesus from every religious leader ever known. His message was not, “Do this, don’t do that”, but “Believe that I am who I say I am.” Think about it: Jesus was ultimately crucified, not because He talked about love or serving others or caring for the poor. No, His enemies crucified Him because of who He claimed to be. He claimed to be the Messiah, “the Liberating King”. And it is His identity that continues to be at the center of discussion, debate, belief and unbelief, heaven or hell.

The importance of this question cannot be overstated. How might we tackle such a massive question? We must get to the heart of the matter. What do you think is the central event of the entire Christian faith? In all of history? The Resurrection is everything. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we have to accept all that He said; if He didn’t rise from the dead, then we don’t need to worry about anything that He said. The central issue is not whether or not you like His teaching, but whether or not He rose from the dead. If the resurrection took place then He is exactly who He claimed to be. If He didn’t, everything is futile, we are still in our sins, and we need to pack it up, go home, and wait for death to come. This precisely the point that Paul makes: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

This appears to be the earliest statement of belief, a kind of creedal proclamation, doctrinal statement. In fact, we see elements of the Apostles Creed (widely accepted by the 4th Century), but this was written as early as 35-49 A.D. So we are looking at a statement of belief from within a few years after the Resurrection. Read it now.

Is Jesus Really God?  – Let’s corroborate Paul’s outline with historic documentation.

1. Christ died. (v. 3)

If you’re thinking it seems to be circular reasoning to seek evidence for the life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ by using the Bible, then let me give you sources outside of the Bible: Tacitus, a 1st Century historian, writing about Nero’s blaming Christians for the great fire in Rome wrote:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.”

These statements don’t prove that He was God, but they do prove that Christ lived (and when He lived), and that He died, through the “extreme penalty” (crucifixion), under Pilate. Celsus, a 2nd Century opponent to early Christianity, wrote the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity. He wrote:

Jesus accordingly exhibited after His death only the appearance of wounds received on the cross, and was not in reality so wounded as He is described to have been.” He says, after His “death”, He appeared with wounds.”

Liberal scholar, John Dominic Crossan (a part of the infamous, Jesus Seminar), concluded Christ’s death is indisputable, saying, “That He was crucified, is as sure as anything historical can be.”

2. Christ was buried. (v. 4)

In 1st Century Judaism, after a man died, someone had to claim the body and bury it before sundown. All four Gospels state that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich, dissenting member of the Sanhedrin, offered his tomb for Jesus’ body. Not one of disciples showed up to take, and care for, His body. This is what some scholars have noted, is a story of “embarrassment”, to the early followers. Not one of His followers believed Him enough to have the guts to go get His body. They all ran. They completely failed their Master, not a way to start a movement.

3. Christ was raised from the dead. (v. 4)

The fact there was an empty tomb is undeniable. The theories started immediately. Some said, “the disciples stole His body.” This theory claims that they were on the run, hiding out scared, and suddenly became grave robbers, overpowering soldiers guarding the tomb. The “swoon theory” claims that Jesus didn’t die but instead, passed out, and the cool of the tomb brought Him back to life. Professional executioners knew when a victim was dead. They did not bury Jesus alive. Another theory is that the women went to the wrong tomb. Then, of course, everyone went to the wrong tomb. Why did no one go to the “right tomb” and produce the body? Another source of “embarrassment” for the early disciples would have been that the first eyewitnesses of the resurrection were women. Women were not even allowed to be witnesses in court. No one would try to make up or devise a story that included women as the key eyewitnesses to the most important aspect of the story, unless it actually happened. You don’t have theories on an empty tomb unless there’s an empty tomb. There was an empty tomb.

  • He appeared to over 500 people. (vv. 5-9)

Paul points out that He appeared to different people, at different times, in various ways. One person here, a few people there, small groups, large groups, and to 500 at once. He’s pointing out these were not hallucinations. Paul says, some who saw Him, “are still alive”. Archaeology proves that the four biographies of Christ were written within the lifetime of Christ’s contemporaries. Most scholars agree that by 70-80 A.D. the Gospels were written. There were people who knew Jesus personally. They saw Him risen. Others could have refuted the claims about Him. So, within 50 years, would be the same as if people claimed J.F.K. was the Messiah or that, after his assassination, he rose form the dead. What would happen? Those who knew Him would refute it. Not unlike Lloyd Benson’s famous quip to Dan Quayle in the 1988 Vice Presidential debate; he could’ve said, “I knew Jack Kennedy. And he was not God, nor did he claim to be.”

  • The disciples believed, preached, and died martyr’s death. (vv. 10-11)

All of the disciples, minus Judas, who hung himself previously, and John, who died in exile, died martyr’s deaths. For many, this is the ultimate proof. No one would die, knowing they were dying for a lie.

  • The Church was born.

You cannot explain the birth of the Church apart form the resurrection. In the written testimony of Pliny the Younger (carrying out the persecution of early Christians for Trajan), he states that the early Christians “gathered on a stated day before dawn and sang hymns to Christ as to a god.”

Here’s what we know (apart from the Bible): Jesus lived (and when He lived), He was crucified, He was buried, an empty tomb was commonly accepted and not disputed even by the enemies of Jesus, and His early followers claimed to have seen Him alive again, and from the very beginning, worshipped Jesus as God. All of this points to the central event of history: the Resurrection. N. T. Wright makes this important historical observation: There was no thread of resurrection in Jewish theology or in Greek philosophy. There was no formation of resurrection theology over time. It appeared fully developed over night.

Here I have not proven that Jesus rose from the dead. But I have forced the skeptic to give an answer for the facts. But at the end of the day you can only receive this truth by faith. Immediately, many are frustrated, wondering, “Why faith!? I have such a hard time with faith! I can’t just believe.”

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Think about it: aren’t you grateful it’s faith. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have to be religious enough (because you can’t be). You don’t have to be smart enough. You can’t be. God is beyond your goodness and your comprehension. Praise Him for faith. Stop trying; stop working. Get off the treadmill of religion and believe.

Perhaps I’ve helped break some barriers that you have to have. But you must realize that belief precedes knowledge in spiritual matters. Faith always precedes reason as we approach a God who is bigger and more glorious than our minds can fathom. Eternity weighs in the balance. You must answer the question:

“But who do you say that I am?” – Jesus

Rediscovering God’s Design for Marriage

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With all the talk about marriage today, we need to rediscover God’s original intent, in light of His greater purpose for all of us. God has created us in His image and His original intent has not changed. And it is in Christ alone that we are brought back, made into His image. If you have received the grace of God in Christ, you have already been sanctified. Only as you have been forgiven can you find your true identity, to be truly forgiven and forgive, and live like Jesus.

God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us. And marriage is the foundation, the driving relationship that establishes the context for this sanctification process in the home.

Establishing a Solid Foundation Ephesians 5:21-33

1. The Power for Marriage (5:18) In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, “be filled with the Spirit”. This is the driving imperative and the rest of Paul’s teaching is linked to being filled with the Spirit. You can’t have a great marriage w/out being filled with the Spirit. This cannot be overstated. What does it mean to be filled with Spirit? It means that you live your life now in view of the Gospel, you are now a new creation- you have a servant’s heart, which relationally means, you have the ability to receive criticism, the ability to give criticism (w/out crushing others), and the ability to forgive and then love, not hold on to it. Spirit-filled means that you’re thinking logically, you know who you are and it drives all that you do. I accept myself because God has accepted me in Christ- not something or someone else. I should be cast off but Jesus has forgiven me, how can I be harsher with this person than Jesus has been with me? The power of marriage is the Gospel! And it is lived out by one who is filled with the Spirit. It’s the fuel that drives the engine, the oil that ends the rub- n unselfishness created only by the Spirit. It’s cause and effect.

Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained researcher and author, in her book, “The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths about Marriage and Divorce”, details groundbreaking findings from an extensive eight-year study on marriage and divorce. Among other things, her research found: The actual divorce rate has never been close to 50% “The 50% figure came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would become as they watched the divorce numbers rising in the 1970s and early 1980s when states around the nation were passing no-fault divorce laws”, and those who attend church regularly (the ones who have access to the Spirit of God) have a significantly lower divorce rate than those who don’t. “‘The Good News About Marriage’ also reveals the divorce rate among those active in their church is up to 50% lower than among non-churchgoers.” SO, the power of the Spirit makes all the difference.

2. The Posture in Marriage (v. 21) Here, the qualifying participle (of the main verb, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit”) is “submitting” in v. 21. It is mutual submission “out of reverence to Christ”. So in marriage, our greatest concerns are the needs of the other person. This is radical. This of course, involves the need for forgiveness and restoration of the relationship in the case of sin, which is inevitable in all relationships. Christopher Lasch, was an author, professor, who famously labeled us as a “culture of narcissism” explained that most people do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together- but instead as the union of two people who somehow fulfill one another’s needs. Instead, marriage creates a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world”, Lasch calls it. Paul says, mutuality does not mean sameness in roles. The husband is Head, as Christ is Head of the Church- Husbands are the first servants in the home and bear the ultimate responsibility for the marriage before God. What does this look like? It all comes down to this question: “How can I help?”

3. The Purpose of Marriage (5:22-30) is (what Tim Keller calls), “Gospel re-enactment”. Marriage points to Christ & His Church. Marriage is the union of two good forgivers, growing servants. God takes your selfishness and biases and He forces you to deal w/ them in marriage. For the first time in your life, you can’t run. God will not let you run. Marriage brings light to your selfishness, So in marriage, we find the most powerful potential for change. This is why God’s purpose in marriage is not to satisfy you, but to sanctify you.

Keller points out that the Christian answer to the idea that you will find another to satisfy you- the myth of the right person- is that no two people are compatible. He sites Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas, who has famously made this point: “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. But there’s another reason we never find the “right” person. Any two people who enter into marriage are spiritually broken by sin, which among other things means to be self-centered – turned inward for self rather than outward for God and others. Marriage is not designed to bring ultimate satisfaction but sanctification.

4. The Priority of Marriage Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24 – “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife.” (vv. 31-32). We find here also the exclusivity of marriage. Marriage is not only permanent, sacred, intimate, and mutual; it is also exclusive (Gen. 2:22-25; 1 Cor. 7:2-5). This means that no other human relationship can interfere with the marriage commitment between husband and wife. For this reason, Jesus treated sexual immorality of a married person, including a husband’s lustful thoughts, with utmost seriousness (Matt. 5:28; 19:9). For the same reason, premarital sex is also illegitimate, since it violates the exclusive claims of one’s future spouse.

Sex outside of a loving, committed relationship is sin because it goes against God’s design and your own design. If sex is money then it is a massive devaluation of the currency. It is cleaving, a public commitment, honoring the parents of the individuals. Marriage is not merely a human agreement between two consenting individuals (as in a civil union); it is a relationship before and under God (Gen. 2:22).

5. The Projection of Marriage (vv. 22- 33) Here “projection” is the act of showing, presenting, especially to an audience. Marriage points to something greater than itself. As we love one another like Christ has love us, we point others to Him! (v. 33) Marriage as “Gospel reenactment” points people to God through Christ. In Jesus Christ we’ve been married to God! SO:

The ultimate purpose of marriage is to point to something else (the Gospel) and to Someone else (Jesus). And a watching world sees in a married couple how Christ love us. And guess who has a front row seat of this Gospel reenactment? The children in the home!

God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us.

There are no “relationship problems” or “marriage problems”- there are only “people problems”. The Bible calls this “sin”. The only relationship that fixes us is the relationship with the One who brings forgiveness and redemption into our brokenness. We are in need of rescue and this is what we all have in common: We cannot rescue ourselves. But being in Christ means that you are now made holy. Don’t miss this. You’ve been “holied”.

If you have never received Christ’s gift of grace, you will never experience the kind of relationships you were designed to have. And you will never be sanctified, made righteous on your own. But in Christ, you are made holy. Made righteous by Jesus. “For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” Hebrews 10:14. If you are in Christ the process of sanctification is not becoming something you’re not, but becoming who you already are in Him.








Fixer Upper

What do you do when you’re in the right location but you’ve got the wrong design? You’ve got to fix it up! On their wildly popular show, Chip and Joanna Gaines walk us through the process of transforming dilapidated, but potential-rich houses into showcases. This is an apt analogy for those of us who know we’re in the right family (by God’s sovereign design) but stand in need of help. Every family needs to be fixed up.

In Ephesians 5:21-6:4, God’s Word gives us principles to help us see how this happens.

In the end, here’s the radical truth that will change your family:

 To fix your family up, you need power down.  

Throughout this passage we see the word “submit” and the little word “as”, referring to Christ and His submission to the Father and His love for us over and over. Submission to one another in the family is what makes it work. We are to be “as” Christ in our relationships. In order to stay the course, and not bail when a remodel or redesign is necessary, we need exactly what God teaches us in Ephesians 5. A family that has “staying power” is a family that follows these biblical principles. Our culture continues to debate, define, and re-define the family. We’ve been asking the wrong questions: How can my relationships make me happier? How can my spouse fulfill my needs? How can my children make me happy? How can marriage be more fulfilling for me? What’s in it for me? God shows us a very different perspective on the family because:

God’s purpose for the family is not to satisfy us, but to sanctify us.
“Sanctify” is a word that means, to make holy, to set apart, to be made righteous. God’s original blueprint for us is to be created in His image and display His glory in all we do. We busted that plan up early on. Through God’s rescuing grace, we are brought back to His original design, sanctified. The process of sanctification then, is not becoming something I’m not, but becoming who already am in Him. My identity is secured. I am His “beloved”. The family serves as God’s subcontractors to create the environment within which this process takes place. We need families who will stay the course.

Staying Power

1. Stay submissive to Jesus Christ. (5:1-2) All of Ephesians up to this point is about God’s rescuing grace. The Gospel indicatives always lead to the Gospel imperatives. Paul moves to how we respond to God’s one-way love for us in Christ. Paul says, because you’ve been rescued from your sin, now submit to Christ.

2. Stay submissive to one another. (5:21) What does submission to Christ look like in the family? At the beginning of this entire passage on the family, he says we submit to one another out of reference to Christ. What does it mean to submit to another person? It means I will leverage my assets, my strength, my power, and my time for your benefit. This is Gospel reenactment in the family. It’s all I am for all that you need. Do you want to fix up your family? Power down. Submit to others, serve, and help one another. The radical, guiding question in the home becomes: How can I help? How can I serve you?

3. Stay committed to your marriage first. (vv. 22-33) The key to raising happy, healthy children is to give more time and attention to your marriage than you do to your children. Don’t forget that later is longer. You will be married long after your kids are gone and the days you have with your adult children will be long through the years. Stay the course and keep your marriage first in the child-rearing days. Keep dating. Get away. Keep growing.

4. Stay clear about the family structure. (v. 22-25, 6:1-4) Understand the family structure and communicate it clearly to the entire family. If the key to a great family is mutual submission, then is anyone in charge? This is where it becomes counter-intuitive. Jesus is the Head of the Church and He gave His life for everyone in it. He came to serve, not to be served and He ultimately gave His life away. He was Servant Number One. Husbands are to serve their wives and children in the same way. We feel if we give up power we’ll lose everything but Jesus, who is the Head of Church, is precisely so because He gave His power. He gave His life away. To fix up, we need to power down. Here we see that God’s family flow chart shows us that the husband is the head of the wife (practicing mutual submission in their varied roles) and the parents are over their children. The simple role of the children is clear: obey. Instead, in many American families, children have taken over. We’ve put kids in the corner office. They’re driving the family bus and calling the shots.

Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor, once observed this about American families: “The thing that impresses me about American families is the way the parents obey their kids.”

Put your kids first and you can be assured that they will become manipulative, demanding, and unappreciative of everything you do for them. You will guarantee that they’ll grow up believing it is unfair to expect them to do anything and it will further guarantee your child’s unhappiness because happiness is only achieved by accepting responsibility for one’s self, not by believing that someone else is responsible for you. See the health of the family as a unit and it all starts with the health of the marriage. The parents are benevolent dictators. We need are more parent-centered families and fewer child-centered families.

5. Stay close to your children. (6:1-4) Being parent-centered doesn’t mean you don’t spend time with your children. You must stay in close to your kids. Know their friends names, the music they like, their favorite shows, clothes, and sports. Stay near to their hearts. Let dinnertime become a time to catch up and find out where their hearts are. Sit down with your child, do homework together, play together, and pray together at bedtime. You must stay in relationship with them. The old adage is so true: Rules without relationship breed rebellion. Remember to keep the end in sight: emancipation. You’re raising them to leave. And in parenting the days are long but the years are short. Keep in the end in sight.

6. Stay centered in God’s family. Make the church your family’s epicenter. Let the church help you raise your kids. Single parents, and parents who may feel you are, you’re not alone. Just as God has been very clear about our families, He’s also been very clear about His own big family, the Church.

“How great is the love of the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1

God invites you into His family. There’s no perfect family, but there is a perfect Father. Psalm 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in a family.” What does this submission to Christ, submission to one another look like in the home? I think it was Andy Stanley who brought this whole idea of submission down to a single question. I’ve discovered it can change everything:

How can I help?

And as you seek to serve others well, don’t forget this: no horizontal relationship in your life will ever satisfy. And as you seek to be sanctified, remember in Christ you have been made righteous already. You’ve been holied.

And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

Sanctification is not becoming something you’re not, but something you already are. It’s living out the new identity you now have in Christ. Rest in Him. You’re already loved perfectly and have nothing to prove. And because you now have all the love you’ll ever need in Him, you can love others without any need for love in return. I can power down and love like Jesus.

“For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Hebrews 10:14

 To fix your family up, you need power down.  


The American Dream is derailing the American Church.

The American Church is losing her way. I write this in hopes of helping some of us get back on track. In recent days our passion, even anger, around non-core issues has revealed that we’ve forgotten who we are and Whose we are. Our early brothers and sisters knew that they were “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in a foreign land. Not once do we see them demanding that the Roman government get on board with their agenda. I can’t imagine Paul thinking, “If we could only get the right emperor on the throne in Rome we could finally advance this Gospel.” Instead, he taught what Peter, and every other apostolic leader taught, that in Christ we now belong to “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). I think Jesus would tell us we’ve been fighting the wrong battle, with the wrong weapons.

If our deepest emotions reveal our idols, then the current anxiety, and anger of some, has exposed our misplaced values. Augustine defined sin as “disordered love”, having highest affections for good things, but not the Supreme thing. Instead of a passion for Christ as Lord and a devotion to love as He has loved us, it seems we’ve come to believe that the kingdom will be ushered in through the White House, rather than through God’s House – through God’s people.

We’ve baptized our own version of the American Dream, with our own American Jesus. The American Dream, that has produced (in my view) the greatest country on earth, has created a national ethos founded on the wonderful ideals of freedom, prosperity, and success for all. Driven by a desire for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, Americans have opportunities that others around the world can only imagine. Today, we pause to thank God for those who have gone before us who have established the God-given principles that guide us. But let’s be sure that we separate the Bible (that helps us live as “aliens and sojourners”, following Jesus every day) from the Constitution (that helps us live as law-abiding Americans everyday).

In his book, “On Two Wings”, Michael Novak explains the context out of which the “American Experiment” was born. Novak states that the way American history has been told for the last century is incomplete. Secular historians have “cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies.” The founding generation established a compact with the God of Israel “and relied upon this belief. Their faith is an indispensable part of their story.” But, as aliens and sojourners, we must remember that there were two wings that established the greatness of America. If one wing was a Judeo-Christian (mostly Christian) ethic and biblical worldview, the other was driven by the Enlightenment, with an emphasis on reason, a secular point of view detached from God. John Adams and others, representing the Christian wing and James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others representing the secular wing, hammered out through compromise, a constitution they could all agree upon. Indeed, history has proven it was brilliant and unmatched.

Christians today need to remember two things: First of all, the Constitution is not our Bible. The Constitution governs our nation while the Word of God governs our daily lives. Secondly, we need to recognize that diversity was a central part of our Constitution from the beginning. Therefore, everyone has a seat at the table. The atheist, the Muslim, the Buddhist, the homosexual, the straight, the Christian, the agnostic (you name it), all have a seat at the table. If we pause to consider what we love so much about America and what true religious freedom really is, we realize it must be this way. Christians today need to understand the rules of the game. The great tragedy in our nation today is that we can’t sit down with tolerance and enter into conversation. This is true on all sides of the table. Christians should model a different way, one that James described as being “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). In fact, it’s possible to agree constitutionally with a decision made by the Supreme Court and at the same time, disagree with it biblically (again, the constitution is not our Bible). The frustration for many Christians today is that it seems we’re no longer able to leverage political power to help make substantial decisions that sway public policy and opinion. But we need to recognize that it’s never been that way, not regarding decisions that will ultimately change the course of our nation and the advancement of the Gospel. The Gospel will advance (as it does in every nation) as followers of Jesus live their lives fully devoted to Him, sharing His Gospel with a lost and dying world. We need to be able to move into the new normal with a balance of grace and truth. Only Jesus, Himself “full of grace and truth” lived this out perfectly. So, as we fail to do so, may we constantly point to the One who did so perfectly on our behalf. Let’s point them to Jesus who is not simply our Example but our Substitute. He alone has lived the perfect life for us, taking on our sin and shame upon the cross, and rising again so that we too might live as a resurrected people, all to His glory.

Anne Lamott wrote, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” May love be the supreme descriptor of God’s people, in America, and in every nation on earth. Today is a good day to celebrate our freedoms and the founding fathers who made them possible. It’s also a good day to think deeply about where our faith truly lies. I am very hopeful for the American Church. I just returned from a week with hundreds of students who are carving out a new path for the advancement of the Gospel for this emerging generation. I see young people who, like their counterparts of the early church, refuse to allow the emperor his preeminent place and instead call Jesus alone, Lord and King. Let us live as He truly is.

Millennials, Worship, and the Church

Recently, Relevant Magazine posted an excellent article by Sarah Held Evans, entitled, The Church Needs to Stop Pandering to Trends . As usual Sarah brings her gracious and thoughtful perspective, representing many millennials’ views of the church. She points out what I’ve observed for years; “Millennials are not looking for a hipper Christianity. They’re looking for a truer Christianity”. Surely Jesus surrounded Himself with mostly uncool people, in the eyes of the world. They were more like misfits, outcasts, the under-resourced, and the marginalized. God has always chosen people like that. It’s possible for young people in some churches today to believe that being “cool” is a prerequisite to being “Christian”. Jesus taught nothing like this.

My specific love and concern is for the congregation that I’ve been called and am privileged to shepherd, the Park Cities Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas I hope my thoughts here will be helpful for other pastors and leaders who are seeking to guide their congregations toward God-honoring worship as well. Many pastors I talk with believe that our attention has turned to non-core issues and way too much time is spent talking about secondary matters. Of course this is nothing new to the church. But a hyper-focused return to the Gospel is our only solution. This is why I constantly seek to keep the attention on what matters most: Christ, the Good News of His rescuing grace, and the attempt to join Him in the renewal of all things. Even still, conversations around forms, styles, music, space and such, though non-core, can be helpful.

Please read the above link to Sarah Evan’s post and particularly the Barna Research that prompted her article. I read over this research in November of last year (it was first released 10/2013). It was Luke Sammons, our High School Minister, who pointed me/our team to it. It very much confirmed our direction, and what we knew: Praise God for the amazing worship space that He has given us at PCBC! For those unfamiliar, we worship in our Sanctuary , built about 60 years ago, our gym , constructed about 50 years ago (and remodeled about 4 years ago), and in our Great Hall completed about 10 years ago. Our own local community survey conducted by Auxano confirms the information found in the Barna Research. The survey of our local context also focused on sermon content, driving values, programs and ministry preferences. It also revealed that corporate worship that includes classic/more formal elements, such as a choir, and worship that is led by a band/praise team, are both desired by people in our demographic. Our local survey revealed what the Barna survey shows on a national level: Millennials are drawn to a mix of “casual”, “classic”, “quiet”,”down to earth”, “modern” elements, and participatory/experiential worship. Our study confirms much of what we’re doing at PCBC and also points to what we wrestle with each week: Our Great Hall, though excellent space, is a wonderful speaking room but not the best worship/singing room (it’s challenging acoustically). Our team has been aware of this and is working to improve the congregational singing in the room. As a result, we’re singing better in the Great Hall than we ever have. Our Sanctuary, on the other hand, is an amazing singing room, but I sometimes hear from members who have trouble hearing the spoken word. We are constantly seeking to improve that as well, and progress has been made. Praise God for our wonderful tech team.

The trend Sarah Evans is referencing is one of millennials moving toward a more classic (in her case, Episcopalian) liturgy and a desire for a broader, historical connection to the Church. She says,”I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.” “We need to creatively re-articulate the significance of the traditional teachings and sacraments of the church in a modern context.” I agree with her. We must continue to be creative with each new generation to re-articulate, to help them re-discover, the ancient and timeless truths of the Gospel through all we do.

Sarah left the evangelical church because of a growing need for things, “like space for silence and reflection, a focus on Christ’s presence at the Communion table as the climax and center of every worship service, opportunities for women in leadership and the inclusion of LGBT people.” I love her openness and desire for grace to all people, but I think we would disagree with her on several points. I like to remind millennials and church planters that “we didn’t just show up yesterday”; that we are part of a powerful heritage, and this critical connection helps us know who we really are in Christ and where we fall in His ongoing mission in our world. We see locally what Sarah is referencing (and what the survey points out) in churches like the The Church of the Incarnation near Uptown, in Dallas, reaching lots of millennials through historical liturgy (the Apostles Creed, Common Prayer, weekly communion), and a more open, generous orthodoxy. In terms of style or form, in the end it’s a blend of ancient liturgy, sacred space, modern instrumentation (primarily acoustic), and a more casual dress, perceived as more “authentic”, raw, down-to-earth in its expression. Like us, and other churches reaching across the generations, the Church of the Incarnation offers multiple service options. We’re also seeing churches like Watermark Community Church that are reaching millennials by the thousands through very modern expressions. Not surprisingly, in our own context at PCBC, we see that our more contemporary forms are reaching a younger crowd as well. We also see some younger couples drawn to our traditional forms. Most of our preferences in worship are tied to our past experiences. What we’re seeing in our day is that fewer and fewer worshippers have had an experience in churches like the one I grew up in (with traditional Baptist worship). We’re seeing the results of that as the number of such worshippers is declining annually.

The key is authenticity among the leaders and worshippers whose whole lives are focused on Christ alone. People show up where God is active and alive in the hearts of the people. Millennials (indeed, all of us) are seeking real, honest, even raw, broken people, like us all. I also appreciate the desire toward more quiet moments, more “God time” as I call it, space for us to be silent before Him. We’ve been talking a lot about this lately in our worship planning. I love the multiple expressions we have at PCBC – Great Hall, Sanctuary, gym, all reaching different kinds of people. Though these articles are helpful, I always want to move our conversations away from music, buildings, forms, and on to worship. That’s where they need to stay. Deeper thought regarding the essence of worship, the Object and Subject of our worship, acceptable and unacceptable worship, etc. will point us to proper expressions of worship. I will continue to teach and guide us toward these things. Stephen Carrell, Justin Hornsby (Associate Pastors of Worship), and Ronny and Denny Robinson (who lead in our Hispanic service) will do the same. That’s what I LOVE about our church- we have the unique opportunity and resource (praise God) to reach a broader number of people in our ever-growing, and ever-more diverse population. What unites us is not music, but it is the Gospel; Jesus is the One who unites us. I love that we seek to do whatever it takes to reach people for Christ in our context.

Every church has its own unique collective potential (the people and resources that God Himself has assembled), in our own unique local context, guided by a specific group of leaders (lay and clergy) whom God has called out to lead. These factors all guide us and inform each church as they worship. Indeed all programs, forms, structures, etc., are informed by His mission for us. His Person and His mission drive everything. Clearly at PCBC, a more traditional/formal expression of worship helps so many people connect with God in corporate worship and a more contemporary form does as well (as does our Hispanic expression). Of course, this creates a real challenge for a pastor/leaders – and the members – as we must all learn to celebrate various forms and rejoice in them as they are pointing so many to Jesus, which is all we want to do. And we must guide our people not to discredit one person’s expression of worship over another that we might prefer. That’s my constant prayer for us in regard to worship – that we honor all types, extending grace and celebrating one another as we celebrate Jesus. Strange as it sounds, you know you’ve shifted to “worship” music and not Jesus when you feel you must fight for your personal preference over others. We’ve lost the focus at that point. We all have preferences – though I’m one of those who loves all kinds of worship forms and styles equally (which I’m sure is one of the many reasons why God brought me to PCBC to be the pastor). I think it’s hard in a church like ours to honor, love and respect one another when we don’t see each other in the other venues. We’ve learned what other churches have seen as well – that some prefer their personal preference of music (be it “traditional” or “contemporary” or something else) over the desire to be together as a church family. I understand that reality in churches which have determined to offer multiple expressions of worship in an effort to reach a diverse cultural setting. It is difficult but a necessary reality that brings about a complex leadership structure. One solution, or help, is to come together periodically and worship Jesus together, blending styles and forms, which many churches do weekly.

The pastor’s goal, and the worship leader’s goal, is to always exalt Jesus alone. We must keep the conversation on Jesus, the Gospel, and the essence of worship, not forms and personal preferences. Each of us must simply respond to Jesus, His Gospel of rescuing grace, and His unending love for us. Then you will “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20