Tag Archives: truth

Principles are weird…are you weird?

jetskiSometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, even if we have resolved to live our lives on principle. We will always be tempted to fall back into a habit of self-preservation and the seeking of our own self-interests. However, there’s another factor that will make it difficult to live consistently on principle.

Living on principle is weird.

It is unusual to find someone committed to living on principle. When you do, they stand out. They spend a huge amount of time doing things apart from their own self-interest; they don’t simply volunteer one or two Sundays a month at church, they are consistently and regularly volunteering hours whenever and wherever there is a need, while also being active in other community activities and outreaches. They don’t look at their time as something they sparingly donate, they are focused on making a significant impact on the world around them.

Looking around, you will see lots of people spending their money on lavish vacations, recreational activities, bigger and better vehicles, and other things that make life a little more comfortable. Often times, people who live on principle seem short on cash. They live below their means because their spending is tied to their principles. This doesn’t mean they don’t go on vacation, upgrade vehicles, or have other comforts, but they could have much more than they do if they didn’t spend so much money supporting their church and other worthwhile missions and causes. It isn’t an issue of tithing 10%; that is simply a minimum. Jesus highlights that we are called to more than the minimum; we are called to live generously.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4, ESV

Living on principle means putting those valued ideals of yourself and your own comforts. For some, that may mean donations yearly in the tens of thousands of dollars. For others, that may “simply” mean hundreds or thousands of dollars. It means we are willing to sacrifice some things that would be really nice for something bigger than us.

I remember when my youth pastor, Tim Hunter, challenged us to give 10% of whatever we money received as junior high and high school students. He said, “Right now, you are sacrificing a meal out or a case of soda, but if you can’t do that now how will you be able to sacrifice a jet ski or a new car when you tithe as an adult?” Living on principle means the mission is more important than the money.

As a ministry director for a new nonprofit, it’s fair to say that funds are not plentiful in my household. However, we were what I would call “comfortable” in our finances when I was a youth pastor and my wife worked for a law firm. We owned a modest home, had decent vehicles, and I even eventually saved enough money to buy my Harley Davidson motorcycle. However, that purchase came after a year of saving extra money after our tithe, our other bills, and additional giving to groups and missions like our support for a missionary friend in southeast Asia and our giving to a Christian summer camp that we are passionate about. Anything we purchase beyond essentials (true essentials, like food and clothing, NOT “essentials” like cable TV and gym memberships) was weighed against doing what we could do to support the advancement of the gospel in and through the various groups we worked with.

If by some fluke a “normal” person notices that you are living on principle and not for our personal interests, it will grab their attention. While they will talk about going to the cabin every weekend and the new snowmobile they bought to replace the “old one” that they bought last year, you talk about volunteering at the food distribution over the weekend or at the local youth drop in center. In addition, even though they know you make enough money to afford new things, they will notice that you don’t buy new toys every year. They may eventually work up the gumption to ask, “What’s different about you?” And when you give them the answer, their response will be simple.

You’re weird.

And they’re right.

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Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

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Grammys and art: Sia-squatch…or Take Off, You Hozier

GRAMMYSThe Grammys were last night. Here’s some highlights:

Pharrell did “Happy” in a weird orchestral setting with a piano player who is famous enough that no one has heard of him and the Pirates of the Caribbean music guy pretending to play guitar.

Beyonce performed a gospel chorus. She sang it once. It took 27 minutes.

Something they called a “Sia” was there. I think it might be related to a sasquatch.

Beck won Album of the Year, which is completely different than the Record of the Year. Obviously.

The big winner of the night was Sam Smith.

I have never heard of Sam Smith.


I didn’t watch the whole thing, and part of the joy of having DVR is that I could zip through the program and get some highlights while my daughter was not-sleeping late last night. I did monitor my Twitter feed, and this caught my eye:

If you’ve never heard or paid attention to the song, it is a musically beautiful piece whose lyrics intentionally demean Christian worship. The focus of the song is on the worship of ourselves and our sexuality instead of the God that created us.

This tweet created a lot of response. Very little was positive. Several individuals pointed out that the author’s intent of the song was to demean Christianity, some seemed to think Acuff didn’t think to look into the song and had just reacted to a catchy tune the first time he had heard it. Acuff interacted with several of respondents and later shared this thought:

As followers of Christ we are called to seek truth. God has revealed Himself to the world in various ways; He has given us His Word as a revelation of His story and nature; the universe proclaims truth of it’s Creator; and we have an opportunity to explore truth and beauty through art. Art is hard to define and comes in an overwhelming assortment of variations and forms. It can be good and bad and it can and often does reveal truth and beauty, all of which gives us a glimpse at the God of all goodness, truth and beauty.

Hozier intended to demean God, but sometimes when we are confronted with evil we get a glimpse of an insight into human nature and sin, and through that insight we see the truth of our savior standing in opposition to evil, and we can be encouraged through that insight.

Acuff looked through an artistic representation of something beautiful but wrong and saw a truth about the one true God. Lets not be so quick to criticize peoples reactions to the world around us and instead look for the different ways God is using the world to share Himself with us.

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My Response To Critics: Hey guys, I’m a false teacher!

Anti BartSo I think this is my final comments on the past conflicts we have seen in our push towards unity among Christians in my community.

Unless it isn’t.

So anyways, this lesson comes to us from a letter to the editor responding to my “Unite around the Bible” article that was published by the local newspaper. Here is some of what the letter writer says:

There are many sad things going on in this world and one of them happens to be so called “Christian” churches manipulating scripture to satisfy their own self worth and greed.
They then try to hide this manipulation by promoting a fake sense of “unity” to fool the public into a false belief that their disagreement with scripture isn’t harming them and all these other denominations really agree with their point of view…

So if you want true “Christian Unity” don’t follow the false teachings of the fake unity around us today, but ground your beliefs in the only true source God uses to obtain real “Christian Unity” – the Bible.

Anthony Scheff, “Unite around the Bible,” in Readers’ View, Fairmont Sentinel, Thursday, October 6, 2014, pg 6

As I have stated previously, we have not sought to water down God’s word or to ignore aspects of scripture, we have pushed to work together towards what God has called us to while not letting those disagreements on secondary issues prevent us from accomplishing the tasks to which He has called us. To claim that what we are doing is “manipulating scripture” is laughable. To think that the push is about making ourselves feel good or lining our pockets is absurd – for the Unity Station fair outreach I contributed hundreds of hours of work, and thousands of dollars were committed to the project, with income from donations covering well below 10% of the expenses.

As the writer of this letter continues, he echoes the criticisms of the local pastor who claims that any short of full agreement with their interpretation of scripture is acceptance of “false doctrine,” which this letter writer equates with being “‘united’ in belief with Satan.”

While some of the rhetoric in this letter goes massively overboard, it is representative of something I have seen more and more in recent years. In any (reasonable) collection of believers and Christ followers there will come disagreements over the scriptures. That is as true among a collection of believers in a church who have agreed to a statement of faith from that church or denomination as it is in an ecumenical collection of believers that crosses denominational and faith-tradition lines. However, more and more I am hearing claims that someone else is believes “unbiblical” or “false” teachings and beliefs.

Just because we don’t agree with someone doesn’t make them a false teacher or heretic!

Church tradition has laid out what we call orthodoxy. Orthodoxy can be defined as a standard of belief that has been carried by those faithful to the one true God throughout history. We do not stand as believers today on our own; we are supported by the faithful around us in our churches and communities as well as around the world, and we are supported by the billions of faithful followers of Christ who have come before us over the two millennia since Christ walked among us. Sometimes opposing viewpoints can both claim orthodoxy: for example, Calvinism and Arminianism both can show support for their respective beliefs from throughout Christian history.

Now to make the claim that any disagreement with one particular set of theological beliefs ignores the breadth of viewpoints from throughout history, as well as the breadth of viewpoints within the lifespan of individual teachers and leaders from history. With careful study you can see how Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and nearly any other great teacher from history developed their beliefs over the course of their lives. They did not jump into ministry at 18 years old with a fully developed set of beliefs and a full understanding of the scriptures; God walked these great men through the process of sanctification, teaching them, guiding them and growing them just as he does with each of us today.

Last week I posted an extended quote by Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate. Jerome was passionate about God’s Word, so much so that his life work was to bring a translation to the church that would be the most useful and as accurate possible. Here is a quote from Jerome:

Do not take offence on account of the simplicity of Holy Scripture or the unsophistication of its words, for these are due either to translation faults or have some deeper purpose. For Scripture offers itself in such a way that an uneducated congregation can more easily learn from it, some benefit there, and both the learned and the unlearned can discover different meanings in the same sentence. I am not so arrogant nor so forward as to claim that I know this, which would be like wanting to pick on earth the fruits of trees whose roots are in heaven.

-Jerome (342-420 AD)

“The Christian Theology Reader,” ed. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishing: 2007, pg 88.

Jerome, one of the greatest pure Bible scholars in history, was so impressed at the depth found in the Bible that he claimed it would be arrogance to claim to have full knowledge of God’s Word, even though an uneducated, average, every-day church goer can pick up a Bible and have an insight that would completely blow away long-time pastors and scholars alike.

So my closing encouragement is this: don’t take the Bible for granted. Be reminded of the incredible gift it is, and humbly acknowledge that part of that gift is our lack of understanding and opportunity to seek truth together, knowing that God is passionate about opening His truth up to those who seek after him.

The Lord has said: “ask, and it shall be given; knock, and it shall be opened; seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). So let us study here on earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven.
-Jerome

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My Respone To Critics: Unity and getting over yourself

Lets hug it out 2Unity seems like a good idea, right? Most people I’ve talked to, including some who do not regularly attend church, think the idea of churches working together to share God’ love to those who need it is a good thing. For most it is, as my mother would say, a “No Duh!” kind of thing.

Not so for everyone. The following excerpt was published in the Fairmont Sentinel on Oct 24th in response to our push for greater unity in the Christian community and our Unity Station outreach at the county fair;

Laudable intention. Wrong approach. An outward display of unity is pointless, even harmful, if there isn’t true unity based upon the Word of God. Christians end up settling for a “least common denominator” faith: We all believe that the Bible is true and Jesus has provided a way for us to be forgiven. Every other doctrine in Scripture is discarded as “secondary.”

…We’re more willing to settle for a façade of unity than to actually confront and correct false teaching on the basis of Scripture alone.

-Peter Hagen, “Can we achieve unity in the Christian church?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Oct 24, 2014, pg 6

I don’t disagree with the concept of unity being based on the Word of God. In fact, as we have communicated our vision for unity it has been based on the truth of Scripture and the need for saving faith. We have in no way “discarded” other theological beliefs, but we have stated that those beliefs are secondary because without saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord they are irrelevant; you can be the strongest believer the episcopal form of church government or consubstantiation in the world, but if you do not believe you are a sinner whose only hope for salvation lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then those beliefs are about as useful as a cardboard box in a hurricane. I believe that all followers of Christ should have some theological viewpoints on these and a multitude of other positions, but as I wrote previously, these things are not “essentials.”

Somehow, when I read the words this pastor wrote in October and received several phone calls from concerned friends and ministry partners, I didn’t think this pastor and I were on the same page. A month later in a follow-up article, the pastor continued his thoughts;

I contend that Scripture is clear. God’s Word means what it says and says what it means…

The problem is with unbelief, which sets God’s Word aside in favor of some other authority.

This problem is compounded by arrogance and condescension, masquerading as pity upon the poor soul who would dare assert that God’s Word is clear (and that, on the basis of that Word, a doctrine could be declared to be “false”).

-Peter Hagen, “Christian unity is good, but how do we attain it?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Nov 14, 2014, pg 6

Again, on the surface I agree with much of this statement, but the pastor’s statement that humility regarding our ability to fully comprehend God and His truth is actually “arrogance and condescension” is, to me, massively narrow-minded. The example this pastor uses regarding how “God’s Word is clear” is the creation account in Genesis 1. He encourages readers to survey local churches and ask, “Does your church teach a literal creation – seven regular days of 24 hours each?” Any other belief, in this pastor’s opinion, is nothing less than a rejection of God’s Word for the acceptance of man’s misguided wisdom.

This point struck home for me. On the specific issue of creation I have in the past shared his viewpoint. I remember a conversation I once had with one of my students, a highly intelligent and well-studied high school girl, over creation. She and her family would be described as “old-earth creationists,” clearly believing that God created everything, but that it was not necessarily in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000 years ago. The statement I made to this student at that time was this; “I’m not sure someone who doesn’t believe in a young-earth creation view really believes the Bible is true.”

I now look back at that conversation with regret (and I later apologized to that family), because I now believe that viewpoint was misguided and arrogant.

For what it’s worth, I am still a young-earth creationist – I do believe that the world was created in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000-10,000 years ago. The thing is, I don’t really care all that much if someone agrees with me on those specific points. My reasons for saying this are the following:

  • I believe that all truth is God’s truth-not just Scripture, but truth found in nature and the world around us. Everything that is true, good and right is intentionally put in place by the Creator. Anything that is evil is a corruption of God’s good, true creation.
  • Our understanding of truth is open to some interpretation. I have extensively studied evolutionary theory for years, and I do not believe it is scientifically irresponsible to hold a young-earth creation view. I can read the Bible and come up with the belief that professing believers should be baptized, others can read the same words and believe that children should be baptized. This isn’t one side or the other refusing to submit to the truth of scripture, it is simply a difference in reading and understanding truth that God is communicating. God is bigger than us, and He is a bit smarter than us. His truth as communicated to us stretches us because it’s more than we can deal with on our own. As Augustine said,

If you understand it, it isn’t God.

  • We must approach the search for truth and understanding with humility, acknowledging that some of God’s truth is beyond our ability to comprehend and must be opened to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12, ESV). God has begun a good work in us, and we are called to spend our lives humbly pursuing His truth wherever and however He reveals it.
  • On the issue of creation, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to acknowledge that it is very possible that there are other models of creation that are not only possible from a scientific perspective but also from a biblical viewpoint. For example, each day in Genesis 1 is not transitioned with “the next day,” leaving open the possibility of time gaps between days. It says “there was evening and morning,” but the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day, so what requires that the first 3 days be viewed as 24 hour periods of time, a standard humanity has built from the movements of the sun and the moon? The list of examples could continue, but my point is this: even if I believe in a young-earth view, I can humbly acknowledge that I may be wrong and, more importantly, I can acknowledge that this belief does not directly impact the truth of the Bible as a whole or the gospel specifically.

As God has grown me and taught me more about His truth, He has been required to repeatedly pound into my skull my need to acknowledge that I don’t know everything and I will never know everything. I look back at where God has brought me, from a narrow-minded perspective on the Bible that looked at any and every disagreement as a hill to die on, to a place where I am willing to humbly continue to pursue and defend truth while acknowledging that not every difference is worth arguing over, and I am thankful for the lessons God has taught me. 10 years ago I was one of the last people in the world that anyone would expect to be pushing for unity and solidarity across personal and denominational lines, but I can rejoice that God has and continues to refine me and use me. As Paul wrote,

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-2 Corinthians 12:10

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“Unfashionable” – Tullian Tchividjian

Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same.

What does it look like to live a Christian life? When people look at us, what should they see? Should Christians stand out, visible against a backdrop of non-believers? Should they have that subtle, “there’s something different about you” quality that is recognizable but not necessarily dramatic? Should we blend in entirely, like some kind of special forces undercover God Squad?

A little over 100 years ago, a debate raged in the church about truth. Was the Bible completely true, how does what the Bible says interface with the world around us, and what should Christians believe? This was sparked by a book that has impacted Christianity more than almost any other book ever written – “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. Because ofDarwin’s hypothesis of evolution, Christians around the world brought the Bible’s creation account into question, which brings the entire Bible into question. The debate raged – do Christians believe in the Bible and look like fools to a world that was increasingly drawn to scientific studies or do Christians change their views of what the Bible, God’s revelation, and truth really are? A battle raged for several decades between what would be known as Fundamentalists and Liberals within the church, eventually leading to the distancing of more liberal denominations, including many Methodists and Presbyterians, as well as a significant theological shift in many major Christian seminaries and schools, most notably Princeton Theological Seminary.

The debate between Fundamentalist Christianity and Liberal Christianity, much like the debate between evolutionary biology and intelligent design, is far from over. However it could be said that for 100 years fundamentalism has been losing the fight. With the loss of Princeton(that really was a big deal), among other events, fundamentalists retreated in the culture war and holed up in big, closed off buildings away from the front lines.  Take a look at a lot of buildings built by conservative churches from the early- to mid-20th century and you will see big, imposing walls with very small windows that feels closed off from the outside.

One of my soap boxes for years has been that conservative Christians need to be engaging culture more and fulfilling our calling to love and care about others. Too often we have looked down at “sinners” like homosexuals, people who have children out of wedlock, alcoholics, smokers, etc., and we have very effectively hated both the sin and the sinner. We cannot and should not accept these sins, but these sinners should be loved and cared for by our churches just like the sinners that are volunteering in the ministries, serving on the church boards, and preaching the sermons.

When I started reading “Unfashionable” I was worried that I was going to get another book that said we need to separate from the world more. I’ve read too many of those and heard that too often already. However, that isn’t the message Tchividjian has. The subtitle of the book really is his focus; “making a difference in the world by being different.”

The Bible makes it clear that Christians need to be people of double listening – listening to both the questions of the world and the answers of the Word. We’re responsible to be good interpreters not only of Scripture but also of culture.

Christians aren’t called to simply wait out our time on earth until we can get out of here – we are called to a purpose, right here and right now. We have lives to live, people to serve, work to do. Being “unfashionable” as Tchividjian outlines it isn’t about running away, it’s about standing up. We are called not to conform but to transform; our lives should reflect Truth like a city on a hill, so that we shine Truth into the dark world that we are living in.

None of this means that following and applying God’s Truth to our lives is easy. “Unfashionable” is a challenging book to help us keep our focus in the right place. Our lives should not be structured around the world’s assumptions and forms; they should reflect God’s priorities for us. We should not be living passive, scared lives; we should be boldly proclaiming God’s truth, even as we humbly admit we are still trying to understand it.

To us [God] has given – and will continue to give – grace and truth. And it’s grace enough and truth enough that we’ll become people who make a profound difference in this world…by being profoundly different from this world.

“Unfashionable” by Tullian Tchividjian

ISBN# 1601420854

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