Biblical Christians in Post-Christian America

I am a news junky, something I am not proud of. As Biblical Christians, we are called to be citizens of Heaven not of this earth (Phil 3:20). We are told to, “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2). But, I keep watching (the news), as our country falls farther and farther from its biblical underpinnings.

This trend in personal pleasure over group accountability and moral conformity is not new. All the way back in 1967, there was a book written by Anthony Harris titled “I’m OK, You’re OK.” It was on the NY Times Best Sellers list for almost two years and was an early step toward the acceptance of people for who they are, as long as their behavior is not hurting anyone else. This seemingly benign and reasonable view of humanity would conceivably fit well into Luke 10:27 or Matt. 22:37, loving your neighbor as yourself. However, over the succeeding years, the fallout from this new-found independence has been an ever-increasing attitude of “I can do anything I want as long as I am not hurting others in the process.” We now find ourselves at the extreme end of that rope where drugs (opioids and marijuana), the loss of the traditional family values and traditions, church attendance, the deterioration of our public schools, distrust of the news media, technological isolation (snapchat vs verbal conversations), government impotence, removal of prayer and Scripture from our institutions, and political polarization, to name a few, are rampant. We, as a nation of individuals, have become increasingly self-absorbed and detached from each other as we focus on our pet interests and projects, rather than group fellowship and activities. Even our workplaces have become more remote as local management has been replaced by off-site bosses and work-from-home career options.

These cultural shifts have impacted faith-based institutions in profound ways. A recent survey found 80% of SBC churches have either plateaued or are declining. Our Pastor Jarrod Scott mentioned from the pulpit in October that the definition of an active Baptist church member 15 years ago was being at church twice a week. Now “active” is defined as being in the Sanctuary twice a month. According to Barna, only four out of every 100 teens holds a Biblical Christian worldview.

There are at least three ironies in all this, in my viewpoint:

  1. Those who were the strongest proponents of individual freedoms (of speech and actions from the world of “I’m OK, You’re OK”) are now the most vocal in stifling opinions which differ from theirs. This, while groups like the Moral Majority of the 80’s and 90’s have all but disbanded and been silenced out of fear of being misinterpreted.
  2. In the midst of our lukewarm acceptance of being a post-Christian nation, Biblical Christianity is the fastest growing religion in the world. Similarly, as the early church was forming in the first century, it became clear that the genesis of our faith, through the Jewish race in Jerusalem and its surroundings, was rapidly replaced by a much broader geographic of gentiles, hungry for the truth (Acts 22:20-22).
  3. Through all this turmoil and bluster, two Supreme Court justices have been installed which will shift the court toward increased religious freedoms and protections for a generation. Further, and less obvious, there have already been another 82 lifetime appointments of District and Appellate justices installed across this nation in the last two years who hold similar views on preserving the constitution as it was originally written, rather than re-interpreting it based on conditional ethics and deteriorating societal norms.

God remains at work, through the hands and voices of His people. We, who have the Holy Spirit within our hearts, need to be in prayer for our nation, our faith, and our local body, that God will give us the courage and conviction to stand our ground (Eph. 6:13) as the prejudice and persecution becomes more intense.

Blessings,
Jeff Hilles

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From A Husband

Our current sermon series at church brought us this week to the passage in 1 Peter 3 regarding the relationship between wives and husbands.  The particular passage begins with the noteworthy section involving the role of the wife to submit to her husband.  Seeing as I am not a wife, there is little I might say concerning God’s instruction to those women.  It seems self-evident that God has a design for everything and expressed it in His Word, both here and all throughout scripture.  It is just as incumbent upon the Christ follower to adhere to the command to be humble, patient, forgiving, and control his tongue as to keep his or her role in marriage.  To honor one calling and disregard the other, whatever it might be, is to miss the mark.

But as a husband, I am especially interested in God’s instruction as to my relationship with my wife.  In short, my previous 24+ years, not to mention the past seven days, are not a glowing reflection of the one, solitary, powerful verse from Peter.  I can hardly take note of all the instruction and direction He gives the wife for the conviction I feel in what He says directly to me.

You have probably been in charge of an event, function, or occasion at some point in your life.  Think back and recall how you felt afterwards.  If you had this gnawing feeling that it could have gone much better, if you can only remember all the things you should have done, or done differently, then you have some sense as to my thoughts of the past quarter century.  Like the event that was successful, where few probably even noticed what was missing or left undone, my marriage has been wonderful.  But like the event organizer, I know what I have not been and where I have fallen woefully short.

My challenge to all of us husbands is to read verse seven of 1 Peter 3.  And then read the first six verses of the chapter, considering what type of spouse you should be to have a wife such as the one described.  How else should we treat a daughter of the Lord but with understanding, honor, and as a co-heir of the grace of life?

Whether we do or not has no less impact than on the relationship we have with our Savior.  And, my relationship with the Savior has every impact on my relationship with my wife.  The two are inseparable, and if I separate them, then God says He will separate from me.  I don’t want that, and I don’t want how that would affect my wife.  If I’m given 24 more years, or only 24 more days, I’m asking God to help me live them well.  For His sake, for mine, and for hers.  I hope you do the same.

Rich Holt

Thank You

In light of it being Pastor’s Appreciation month, I wanted to express my gratitude on behalf of my family and myself.  Most any pastor will tell you that we are not here for the money or other financial rewards.  Yet when people pass on their expressions of thanks or encouragement it feels like water when thirsty.  So your gifts to me and my family, as well as to Brad, were very special to me.  You would have enjoyed watching my kids eagerly go home for lunch so they could read the cards and open the gifts.

There was no way for me to know that the plan to give appreciation gifts would have been the same Sunday that I was preaching from 1 Peter 2 about honoring the authority of human institutions.  However, it allowed me to use you as an example of how to have hope in a strange land by hoping in Christ through honoring authority.  I believe that was a divine appointment to say “Good Worship” Green Pines and keep turning to our cornerstone in Christ.  This was about loving our Savior and showing it in a community.

I also wanted to let you know that we consider Green Pines, not really just the place of my employment, but our family.  You have loved us for a long time now and seen the different seasons of our lives in the good and the hard.  I really can not express what that means to me but know that I love you and consider it a privilege to be your pastor.

Jarrod Scott

Singing in Arabia, Sing! How Worship Transforms your Life, Family, and Church

In the postlude of their book, Keith & Kristyn Getty ask, Will you sing?  Their written question echoes a spiritual question that I believe the Holy Spirit has asked me on numerous occasion.  Eight years ago I sensed this question during a trip to a closed, muslim country. We had been singing in the conference with Muslims and I discovered that several of our praise songs converted easily to Islamic songs with just the Arabic translation.  I realized that a “Christian” worship time is only Christian if it is centered in Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The next morning I was setting out on the hotel balcony in prayer and  Bible reading.  I was able to look up and marvel at the towering mountain that served the backdrop of the city.  As is often the case, nature can serve as an inspiration to worship my Savior, Jesus Christ.  I began to sing songs of my faith and love for Jesus Christ.  As I sang, I sensed the importance of singing praise to Christ in a city that has only a small portion of believers.  The worship was mixed with prayers for God’s saving presence would be powerful and effective among a people destined to be before the throne of God.

The first morning I came home from my trip, I was preparing for a worship with my Green Pines Church family.  It was dark and early in my home and I sensed a familiar question.  Would I sing?  Would I sing and pronounce gospel blessings on my family?  Would I lead the home with song and praise?  Our family needs the working of the Lord among us.  So perhaps against my children’s wishes, I woke them up with worship.

This week it is “the best of times, and it is the worst of times,” and so the need for believers to hold tightly and loyally to the true Christian faith and to share it with conviction, courage, and compassion has never been more critical.”   The songs we sing together are lifelines that draw each of us back to the heart of the King we serve and to the priorities of the kingdom we are members of.  So as the Getty’s declare: “May we sing truth ad sing it as though it is true.”

Pastor Jarrod Scott

The Radical Witness when Congregations Sing! Part 7

Powerful Witness
God’s people have always witnessed to the truth through their singing.  In the Old Testament, the faith of the Israelites could be clearly heard in their songs.  Many of the lyrics of their hymnal, the Psalms, showed their awareness of other nations singing, and called them to praise God too.

The congregational worship in their prayer, their praise and their actions was a dynamic witness.   As Paul put it to the Church in Colossae, a church should always be “wise in the way we act toward outsiders” so that we can “make the most of every opportunity” (Col.4:5). “Every opportunity” includes every time a congregation stands up to sing.

A Damaging Witness
We must actually believe and live the truths we sing, otherwise what we sing can make us hypocritical, and not only does it not attract non-believers, it turns them off.   It’s easy to sing about the Lordship of Christ; far harder to live under it.

In Deuteronomy 31:19, God told Moses something remarkable:
“Write this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing  it, so that it may be a witness for me against them.”  Some of Jesus’ most fiercest words were reserved for religious people who “honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they worship in vain.” Mark 7:6-7.
Be careful that what you sing does not expose hypocrisy, and if and where it does, repent and ask God’s help to change, and sing the great gospel truths of forgiveness and renewal with all the more feeling in your heart.

Hypocritical living damages our witness and so does half-hearted singing.

Facing a Task Unfinished
The hymns we sing together do not only help us in the mission, they also call us to mission and sustain us on the mission field, whether that is staying where you grew up or thousands of miles away.   In his book Radical, David Platt writes, “I could not help but think that somewhere along the way we had missed what was radical about our faith and replaced it with what is comfortable. ” The words we sing should include thoughts that stir us to action and challenge us with the call of Christ in our lives.

Our singing is not just a gathering for our own family.  The doors are open , there is plenty more room at the table, and there is more than enough food for everyone who is hungry. “God blesses His people with extravagant grace so they might extend His extravagant glory to all people on the earth.” David Platt writes, “Your singing on Sunday will bear witness to the Savior of the world and fuel your witness through the week to the Savior of the world.”  And if this chapter has not convinced you to sing the gospel as a part of the way you share the gospel then the words of Frank Houghton’s Hymn surely will:

Facing a task unfinished that drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished rebukes our slothful ease
We who rejoice to know Thee, Renew before the throne
the solemn pledge we owe them
to go and make Thee known

Where other lords beside Thee hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defiled Thee defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying for life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying and pass into the night

We go to all the world
with Kingdom Hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ the Lord

We bear the torch that flaming fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose,
Ours is the same commission the same glad message
Ours fired by the same ambition to Thee we yield our powers  

Our Father who sustained them
O Spirit who inspired Savior,
whose Love constrained them to toil with zeal
untired from cowardice defend us from lethargy awake
Forth on Thine errands send us to labor for Thy sake
(Frank Houghton – “Facing a task Unfinished” – 1931)

 We are called to Sing as a Witness for His Glory, so why not SING!

Chris Best

Excerpts taken from the book Sing; Chapter 7 

Sing!, Part 6 continued

In their book Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, Keith and Kristyn Getty suggest 3 aspects of worship that will highlight being made in God’s image and incorporate what millennials and others are searching for in worship.  Those aspects are creativity, communication, and community.

In creativity, simplicity can become the highest form of creativity.  It is often the most simple thing done well and sincerely in a church that will make the most significant impression.  A stunning melody with clear and moving lyrics, sung with gusto and authenticity by a congregation, is a more powerful statement than a song that’s difficult to play or is awkward for the congregation to sing.

Are we communicating a deep faith through what we sin and how we sing it, or are we entertaining teenagers with something that will not hold water when they hit college or head out into the workplace?  Biblically rich content in songs, sung by people who look like they mean what they are saying, helps teach the gospel as something that is credible and powerful rather than cultural and optional.

The authors quote David Kinnaman’s book, You lost Me, when asking, “Can the church rediscover the intergenerational power of the assembly of saints?” A church that sings together- across generations, standing side by side, putting community unity before personal preferences – is making a powerful and attractive statement to those who yearn for community more authentic than can be enjoyed online and friendship deeper than is found in counting your Facebook friends.  We should sing with a mind toward those younger than us who are listening and learning from us.

Everytime you sing, you are expressing something about what kind of a church you want to be, and what kind of church member you are going to be.  Not all singing churches are healthy churches, but all healthy churches are singing churches.  Even in the Far East with hostile environments,  Christians whisper their singing together but still sing because of it’s critical nature to their faith and community.  Luther once said of music, “Music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of men,  Thus it drives out the devil and makes people cheerful . . .  The devil, the originator of sorrowful anxieties and restless troubles, flees before the sound of music almost as much as before the Word of God.”  Singing God’s Word helps us put on our spiritual armor.

Selections from Chapter 6 of Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church, Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Jarrod Scott

What is Church?

Webster defines “church” as “a building for public and, especially, Christian worship”. In fairness, it does offer a secondary definition as “a body or organization of religious believers”.

The word “church” comes from the Greek word “ekklesia” which is “an assembly or gathering of the called-out ones.” In Romans 16:5, Paul clearly refers to the church as a group of Christians attending worship together in a private home. In Ephesians, Paul again refers to the church as the body of Christ.

Perhaps most importantly, what do you think of when using the word “church” in a sentence? I suspect it’s often a reference to where we are going rather than who we are going to see and fellowship with.
* We go to church on Sunday or Wednesday.
*  We need to drop something off at church.
* I need to…. at church next week.

Perhaps it’s understandable that we use the term “church” in this way. Words such as store, school, library, and home, all represent physical structures. The use of these terms is a shorthand way of providing location.

My only point is that thinking of “church” as just a place we go, rather than the public worship we experience, allows us to become immune to the true meaning of why we show up on Sunday mornings. When I was first saved, I was as an adult and in my childlike Christian state I saw no need for congregational “church”. For the first few months of our newfound faith, Judy and I worshiped at home with the kids, watching Charles Stanley. The more I learned about this new relationship with Christ, the better I understood the full scope of Luke 10:27. More specifically, I began to realize that there was wisdom in 1 Cor. 12:12-31 where Scripture talks about the value of many different talents and gifts coming together to worship as one body. I soon realized that our small family, new in our faith, simply did not have enough body parts to function on our own. We needed the mutual accountability, encouragement, and discipleship that comes from a “church”, an ekklesia, a gathering of the called-out ones.

Pastor Jarrod made the comment last Sunday that many consider a “regular church attender” someone who makes it to church two or three times a month. As you struggle to add one more thing to your crowded calendar, having to deal with getting kids up, dressed, and out the door, as well as all the other distractions life in this country throws at you, don’t underestimate the value of staying connected to the vine through fellowship with other believers in congregational worship.

Hebrews 10:24-25: ” And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Blessings,
Jeff Hilles

Sing! . . . With the Local Church, pt. 6

1 Peter 2:4-5 “As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans, but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

We who are God’s people are being built together upon the solid Rock that is our Lord Jesus.  When we sing together as the Church, we are showing how we are a congregation of living stones.  Our singing is an audible expression of the bonds we share, testifying to the life that lies within these stones.  We are cut from the same elements of faith, united in one Lord, filled by one Spirit, brought in one Church, to offer our praise to Him.  We are being chiseled and refined through our singing, just as we are through every aspect of our lives.  We are forged together through our singing together.

So when you sing, look around.  Encourage others with what you are singing, and expect to be encouraged by the fact that there are others singing with you and to you.  We are reminded that we are not alone – we are members of a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-everything family.  We are reminded that we are not self-sufficient, for we need a Savior.  We are reminded that we need not despair, for we have His Spirit with us.  We are reminded that we are not the center of the universe, but just one voice and heart among the great worldwide throng of people praising the One who is.  And we remind each other of all this as we sing together.

When we consider the early church, many of the people had nothing in common, except that they had everything that mattered in common: faith in Christ.  According to Ephesians 5:18-20  a sign of this core commonality would be their congregational singing.  This is your family, You and these folk around you are the only eternal pieces of this fading world.  You are called to serve them by singing with and to them.  Don’t view singing with a church as an opportunity to sing in a way that sounds like the culture you live, or like a past era you wish you lived in – come to sing to lend your voice to the timeless, boundless sound of the congregational voice singing to the One who is eternally worthy of our praise.  

Selections from Sing! How Worship Transforms Your life, Family, and Church. by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Jarrod Scott

Florence Has a Question

Florence has been in the news a lot these past several days.  And not Florence, Italy, the capital of the region of Tuscany.  That historic city, which was home to the powerful Medici family and the misguided politician Machiavelli over half a millennium ago, went along peacefully while its namesake visited our coast.

Another Florence, named Nightingale, would have been right in the thick of the storm that has left its mark on dozens of communities and thousands of families.  This Florence, named after the Tuscan city in which she was born, was a nursing pioneer who changed the way women and nursing were viewed as she served her people during the Crimean War of the mid-1800’s.  She worked tirelessly, both day and night, to care for the sick and wounded.  Her efforts included addressing the unsanitary conditions of the hospitals and treatment areas where she served, and she very quickly made an incredible impact in reducing the death rate of wounded soldiers by two-thirds.  The Florence that left its devastation behind would have been the perfect situation for a person like Florence Nightingale to fulfill her calling.

Our area made out extremely well, especially compared to so many south and east of here.  But that doesn’t mean it’s been all rose petals and sunshine, though.  One of our growing partners where I work (a produce company) died yesterday from complications following surgery to remove a brain tumor.  A couple weeks ago, he was managing our farms like he had done for us for nearly 30 years, and today his family and friends mourn his passing.  Another co-worker lost her sister to cancer last week.  And our company’s 82-year-old founder is recovering from surgery to remove the infection from his leg and treat it as it had gotten into his bloodstream.  And tomorrow, it will be something else unwanted for someone who was probably not expecting it somewhere in our community.

When our CEO shared the news of our employee’s passing, he tried to offer some solace by encouraging us to trust and have faith.  But he could not bring himself to say the word Jesus or Lord.  He wanted us all to believe and have hope, but he would not urge us listeners to lean on Jesus.  I do not know his reasons, much as I do not know what brings him to his church on Sundays.  But this I do know, Jesus said that whoever is ashamed of Him and His words, Jesus will be ashamed of when He comes in glory.

It is not my intent or calling to judge my boss regarding his spiritual condition.  I use this example only to compel each of us to judge ourselves.  There is something greater than corporate appropriateness and political correctness.  When you offer comfort to someone, you should be doing it in the name and love of Jesus.  And that solitary motivation should not shrink from your lips.

If you’re helping out or consoling because you’re grieving and empathetic, that’s a good thing, too.  But if someone asks you what your message of hope would be to the one suffering and your response doesn’t include to trust in Jesus, then temporary comfort is all they’re getting.  But when the cancer strikes or the ceiling caves in or the waters wash away, more than that will be needed for eternity.  Be someone who shares living hope, because it’s living within you.

Rich Holt

True Love

As we continue to read our F260 Bible reading plan we have reached the New Testament Gospels and scriptures detailing the days leading up to the crucifixion.  And while it can be quite difficult to read, through it we get see a love displayed that no one on earth can duplicate.
In the days leading up to the cross, Jesus had been on a roll as we might say in our time.  He had been drawing big crowds when he spoke, he was performing miracles in his presence and from a far, and the people were eager to see Him wherever he went so things were great.  But what he knew was this would all turn around and get very different over the next few days.
Maybe you’ve found yourself in a situation where things are going great but you can sense a change coming, if so you know how that can feel and it’s not usually a comforting feeling.  Jesus was right in the middle of this as he approached the time where he knew God’s plan for salvation was upon Him so he heads up to Gethsemane to spend some time in prayer with the Father.   There he fell on his face praying and asking…”My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me, Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will.”  What a beautiful statement of love and obedience for us all to see.  He knew full well that over the next hours he would face ridicule, a brutal beating, and death on a cross but we are blessed that his love for you and me was bigger than all that.  And after the long and difficult walk to the cross, as he hung there he was still pleading to the Father for us, not for himself.  He said. “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  And even after that he shared his love and grace with a sinner like us hanging beside him who believed He was the Son of God.  He was loving us all the way to his final breath on earth  and as he said “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” and “It is Finished”,  love took on a whole new meaning!
We’ll never see or experience a deeper TRUE LOVE than this which the Father has lavished on us.  God’s word says without the shedding of blood there is no atonement for sin.  So praise be to God that his plan to show us what True Love is really about was to give his only Son Jesus, the perfect spotless Lamb to be that sacrifice of blood for our sin.   Now it’s our turn to Truly Love him back and share this great love with others.
Chris Best