Month: June 2016

How to Encounter God Through the Bible

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Reading the Bible can be difficult! In this video, I share with you how to read the Bible for transformation rather than information.

Lectio Divina consists of three steps:
1. Readying your heart, mind, and spirit to encounter God.
2. Reading the passage and looking for the specific word or phrase addressed to you.
3. Resolving to live out what the Bible teaches.

What are some helpful techniques you have learned in order to understand the Bible better? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Pastor… Where’s Your Passion?

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This post is based on the book The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch. Hatch outlines the influence of Christianity in the early United States. 


I recently had the honor of preaching at an outdoor church service in Garretson, SD. The main point of my message was “Religion without relationship brings destruction.” In other words, if we practice cold religion without an encounter with the Living God, we will deceive ourselves about our relationship with God.

As I was teaching through the text, I noticed an elderly couple close to the front row. I could tell that they were very religious; I thought they may have been offended by my message.

After the service, this elderly couple approached me. I was preparing myself to be scolded for the harshness of my message towards dead religion. I noticed their countenance was one of joy, not anger. With an almost prophetic pronouncement, they quietly told me, “I wish every pastor had as much passion as you do when they preach! Most pastors seem almost bored!”

It didn’t always use to be this way. There was a time when pastors were passionate about the Gospel and zealous to make converts… especially in the early U.S.

Nathan O. Hatch explains why this passion faded, “The allure of respectability dampened the original fire of the religious populist.”

Pastor, you are NOT called to be a professional. Ministry is not a career with the purpose of advancing to the next big church… it is a calling from God! In the name of “respectability” many ministers have drenched their passion in the freezing water of professionalism. Rather than heralding the glorious truths of Scripture, pastors trudge through a text without it first interfering in their own lives. The result is clear; our pulpits are filled with men and women who are too cowardly to boldly proclaim the Gospel. They are content with hanging pieces of paper with faded ink on their walls to demonstrate their calling to ministry.

THIS IS RIDICULOUS!

The Bible is the most incredible work of literature ever written! All of Scripture is “inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).”

If you put people to sleep when you teach the Bible… please stop.

If you view ministry as a profession rather than a calling… please stop.

If you seek the praise of man rather than the approval of God… please stop.

If you have no passion for this INCREDIBLE message called the Gospel… please stop.

Friends, we do not need more professionals. We need more preachers who will teach the whole counsel of God’s Word and call His people to repentance, forgiveness, and grace. We don’t need churches which are monuments of the 1950s – we need communities of believers, filled with the Holy Spirit, bringing renewal to the utter brokenness around them. We NEED Christians, who are no longer content living a Christianized version of the American Dream, to take up their cross and actually follow Jesus… EVEN if it means ridicule, death, and persecution.

Do you disagree with me? Does Paul’s description of himself and the other leaders of the early church seem professional?

“For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” – 1 Cor. 4:9-13

Your Church NEEDS to Change in Three Ways!

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The future is often stuck in a perpetual replay of the past. The events and attitudes of yesterday mold and shape tomorrow. Studying history can be incredibly prophetic in understanding the landscape of the 21st century.

One of the books I am reading for seminary is called The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch. Before you close out of my blog and assume that this has no relevance in your context since it is academic, STOP! Hatch gives a vivid view of how the Revolution influenced Christianity in the early republic… and it has DIRECT relevance for churches today!

Don’t believe me? Consider this reflection by Nathan Hatch:
“With the rise of fierce religious competition, movements that employed more aggressive measures prospered. Churches reluctant to compete on the same terms declined.”

The churches which were most effective in reaching lost people with the Gospel were those which employed radical means to make disciples. These aggressive churches were criticized by the established churches as being too progressive and radical in their outreach… sound familiar?

Churches in the 21st century MUST embrace change. Don’t get me wrong. I believe the message needs to continually come directly from Scripture and exalt the person and work of Jesus Christ. Our message CANNOT change… but these THREE things should!

1. We need to harness the power of media!
One of the revolutionary things these radical churches did was utilize the power of mass media. The established churches refused to distribute pamphlets and speak in a “common” language… hence they did not reach the average American!

This is still true in the western world. Churches need to harness the incredible power of media – ESPECIALLY social media! 78% of Americans have a social media account. In light of this statistic, there are MANY churches who refuse to establish a presence on social media. There is an audience waiting to connect with your church and you NEED to learn the basics of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the sake of the Gospel!

2. We need to strive for excellence in preaching!
The pastors which excelled in reaching the lost in the early Republic were those that displayed passion in their preaching! Far too many pastors are content with delivering a dry lecture with no emotion when they enter into the pulpit.

Pastor, eternity literally hangs in the balance every time you open the Scriptures before your people.

I do not understand how many pastors put people to sleep when sharing the INCREDIBLE story of God’s love for people! DO NOT get in the pulpit if you aren’t willing to be passionate about Jesus Christ. Dry lectures and intellectual language does not change people… the simple message of the Gospel does!

3. We need to empower the church for ministry!
One of the criticisms lobbied at these aggressive churches was against the abundance of “common” people involved in the ministry. READ EPHESIANS 4:12. Pastors are given to the church to EQUIP people for the work of ministry! If the people in your church are content with sitting in a pew while paid “professionals” do the work of the ministry, your church will die!

God has gifted your church with incredible men, women, and children called to the ministry! Each Christian in your church is part of the Body of Christ and the entire Body needs to work together in order to advance the Gospel. You need to train the people in your church to see themselves as ministers… not religious consumers!


What are some other ways the church needs to change in order to reach lost people? Let me know by leaving a comment!

Why all the denominations?

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People are often puzzled by the incredible amount of denominations in Christianity – especially in the United States. Many of these denominations began in the 1800s as people began to apply the principles of democracy and personal freedom to religion. As people exercised what they believed to be God-given reason and logic, it fostered a movement full of schisms.

According to Nathan Hatch in his book “The Democratization of American Christianity“, one of the primary reasons this happened is, “They denied the age-old distinction that set the clergy apart as a separate order of men, and they refused to defer to learned theologians and traditional orthodoxies.”

It this a positive or negative concept?

My answer is YES!

1. The concept of denying the distinction between clergy and lay-people is extremely positive.
As the church became institutionalized around the time of Constantine, Christianity became powerful. It was recognized as an official religion and Constantine devoted a vast amount of wealth to create buildings and memorials to the faith.

This also encouraged Christians to pattern their churches after the Roman government. Rather than being led by servants following in the example of Christ, the church was led by powerful leaders intent on exercising militant-like authority towards those in their charge.

Eventually the Scriptures were chained to the pulpit and the “common people” had to rely on the priests to mediate the Word of God. This resulted in spiritual abuse, domineering leadership, and the twisting of Scripture. Thankfully the many reformations led by men such as Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Zwingli and others brought the Scriptures to common people.

Nevertheless, there was still a distinct class difference between clergy and lay-people. The Scriptures teach that it is the job of the pastors and spiritual leaders in the church to equip the people for the ministry (Eph. 4:12). In other words, the model that the “paid professionals” do the work of the ministry while everyone else sits in a pew and critiques the work is deeply flawed and began to meet its demise in the belief that there was no distinction between clergy and laity.

2. The refusal to defer to learned theologians and traditional orthodoxies was negative and fostered heretical movements.
These first American Christians practiced what C.S. Lewis called “intellectual snobbery.” They believed that their own reason and logic trumped the labor put in by faithful followers of Jesus throughout the centuries. Through such statements as “No Creed but the Bible” the people were ironically led into heretical movements such as Mormonism!

The irony is that there are numerous creeds in the Bible itself!

When Christians, especially Christian pastors, refuse to study church history they are exercising arrogance. In pride they believe that their conclusions, arrived at through searching Google, are more sound than the hours of labor put in by faithful saints throughout the ages. As Christians, we desperately need to understand and defend sound doctrine against those who have shipwrecked their faith by listening to the teaching of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).

This means we need to enter into conversation with Christians of other centuries through carefully reading ancient texts and Christian classics. These writings have stood the test of time for a reason – they have something substantial to say which still applies to the 21st century!


Have you ever studied Christianity in the early United States? What are some concepts you noticed which have shaped our understanding of religion today? 

Christendom is dead… and it’s a good thing.

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The culture around us is descending into ruin and decay. The values once embraced by the elite and common people are being crushed under the veil of progress. Morality is fading into a subtle gray as the world refers to evil as good and celebrates it.

It is easy to lose hope.

But we don’t have to.

As Christians, we can either mourn the death of Christendom in the west or challenge the intellectual culture of our day. Far too many churches are trying to be pillars of Christendom – a dead and fading belief that Christianity is socially beneficial.

It is time to awake from our slumber and incarnate the Gospel into the present brokenness. In order to do this, we need to exercise Christian imagination. As defined by Vigen Guroian, Christian imagination is “both presenting the truths of Christian doctrine and exposing the errors of the age.” In a post-Christendom world, this is best done through art – whether its literature, music, painting, or speeches.

The world isn’t going to change through dry preaching and outdated church services.

What if instead of signing a protest about a retail store, we exposed the folly behind the decision? Similar to what Kevin DeYoung did in this thought experiment. We need to quit trying to convince people that the Bible is true and use art to elevate the beauty of the Scriptures for the entire world to be exposed to.

Don’t misunderstand me. I affirm a very high view of the Scriptures – I believe the Bible is the Word of God, absolutely true in every regard… but that’s not going to convince a post-Christian world of its need for Jesus Christ.

To be honest, I’m happy that Christendom is dead. It is refreshing to have conversations with people who are honest enough to admit they are not Christian. I am absolutely sick of “Christians” who claim the name of Jesus simply because their family taught them to do it. Second-hand faith is a dead faith; I don’t care what church you attended growing up… do you actually KNOW Jesus?

Over the next few weeks, I encourage you to join me in this discussion. Rather than bemoan society, how can we bring lasting impact to our communities and family? What types of art can penetrate through the calloused hearts of those among us? How does Christian imagination have anything to do with all of this? 

We have authority issues…

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I LOVE history.

One of the things I find incredible about studying history is the direct relevance it has on our lives today. I’m currently reading a book called The Democratization of American Christianity. The book explores 19th century Christianity in the early United States. It has given me amazing insight into why we act the way we do!

One of the issues we have as Christians in the west is a problem with authority. This is what gave rise to 100,000+ denominations in a short amount of time. This is what helped propel democracy into a time-tested institution.

When it comes to the church, our authority issues are toxic.

Hebrews 13:17 
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with sighing—for that would be harmful to you.”

Let’s look at this verse together. I want to make three observations to explain why our rejection of authority is to our own detriment and sorrow:

1. God has placed leaders in the church.
Many Christians have a romantic but unrealistic view of church authority. Church members often believe they should have a vote in EVERY decision made at a church. From the color of the carpet to the tone of the preacher; this is unrealistic! If a church votes on every decision and overrides the pastor repeatedly, the church has effectively stripped the pastor of any sort of fruitful leadership.

Many churches don’t want a pastor, they want a chaplain.

They want someone who will bow down to the felt needs of the congregation rather than boldly proclaim the Gospel. God has placed qualified and faithful leaders in the church to actually LEAD!

2. These leaders should be deeply concerned about your soul.
Pastors have many things to do. It is easy for them to become distracted by issues which are of no significance in the grand scheme of things if there is not a team of people around them.

The pastors in a church should not exercise domineering, CEO-like leadership. Instead the leadership should come from a place of deep humility, supernatural gentleness, and grave concern for the salvation of the church. Your pastor (probably) spends hours each week laboring on your behalf at the throne of grace. He is continually on his knees pleading with God for the salvation of his hearers.

3. These leaders will give an account to God of how they lead you. 
Pastoral leadership carries a terrifying weight. God has entrusted His people to the leadership of a church to shepherd and proclaim the Gospel. On top of this, pastors face intense spiritual warfare as they advance into the ruin and wickedness of this world.

Rather than trying to buck the authority of your leaders, pray for them. Rather than being easily offended and sending a nasty e-mail, allow your love to cover a multitude of sins.

Pastors are broken people trying (and often failing) to imitate the Good Shepherd. They are in desperate need of the grace and mercy which comes from the Gospel… just like YOU!

Instead of being the person with deep authority issues that the pastor has to shield himself from, make the ministry a joy. Allow your pastor to shepherd, lead, and boldly proclaim the Gospel… this is for YOUR good!

Three Destructive Ways YOU Label People

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One of the profound nuances of Flannery O’Connor‘s writing is the way she labels characters. Through the perspective of one of the main characters, the other people are identified by their skin color or economic condition. Repeatedly in her stories, people are simply known as “white trash” or “negro.” Rather than doing this to belittle people, she does it to expose our tendency to label people rather than understand them.

We are arrogant and do not take the time to truly know people. Far too often we are content with identifying people by their outward appearance and beliefs rather than as people made in the image of an immortal God.

We label people in a variety of ways; below are three prominent ones:

1. We label people based on their political beliefs.
Unlike many people, I absolutely love politics. I find it invigorating to watch debates and come to an understanding of different people’s viewpoints. This also causes me to be passionate about what I believe is right and wrong.

Used wisely, this can translate into action which benefits mankind. Used foolishly, this breeds contempt and hatred for those who disagree with me.

Do you relate?

For example, if someone advocates universal healthcare we assume they are a “communist liberal.” If someone advocates ownership of guns, we assume they are an intoxicated redneck shooting beer cans.

Rather than labeling people based on their political beliefs, seek to understand the story of that person. View them as a beautiful creation of God with an intellect; even if you disagree with them!

2. We label people based on their sexuality.
This is a BIG one in our culture today. We use derogatory comments to describe people who identify with a different sexuality – especially homosexuality. This brings tremendous destruction as people begin to feel as if they are identified primarily by their sexuality.

Even if you disagree with the lifestyle of a certain person, their primary identity is not the gender they are attracted to. Their identity comes from the God who made them, loves them, and gave His life as an offering of peace for them.

Rather than holding signs and screaming at “these” people, let’s embrace them with the love of Jesus Christ.

3. We label people based on their religion.
I’m a follower of Jesus. I really do believe Jesus is the only way to the Father. Nevertheless, when I encounter people who believe differently, I should love them. I plan on attending a Mosque this summer with a friend of mine who is Muslim (he’s also from Syria… if that offends you, I don’t care).

This does not mean I believe Muslims worship the same God. It DOES mean that Muslims are created in God’s image and Jesus absolutely loves them. Rather than labeling them as terrorists, let’s see them as people. The vast majority of Muslims are far more hospitable and welcoming than many Christians I meet… This is to our shame.


I encourage you to reach out with the Gospel to “those people”and begin to see them as “our people.” Your angry rant on Facebook doesn’t transform people, only the Gospel shared in love does that.