Why Gossip is Like Pornography

man wearing white shirt holding out hand in front of woman in white lace top

I listened to a great podcast the other day featuring Scott Sauls of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, about his new book, Irresistible Faith.

One thing he said really stuck out to me: that gossip is a form of pornography, because when you gossip you are essentially “undressing” a person, exposing things about them which are intimate, vulnerable and private — in order to get a cheap thrill out of them, and to gratify yourself by feasting upon them in your mind.

Scott went on to say, that when we gossip, we are objectifying a person — turning them into a thing in order to gratify yourself at their expense, without making a commitment to them.

I think Scott is right. But that brings up a few other questions which people often ask when it comes to gossip:

What Constitutes Gossip?

Since many of our personal experiences involve other people, it would be really hard to say anything without talking about somebody else. How do we differentiate between healthy forms of mentioning or talking about other people, and unhealthy forms, which constitute gossip? What exactly is gossip?

One dictionary defines it as: “Unconstrained conversation or reports about other people.”

The word “unconstrained” is key.

Another definition is: “The sharing of sensational facts about other people.”

The word “sensational” is key here, because it shows a motivation: the key is to titillate, to impress, to entertain. The problem is, it is done at someone else’s expense.

Hurting Rather than Helping

Looking at Bible verses which talk about gossip (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13), gossip clearly is linked to slander, thus it comes from a negative spirit bent on hurting rather than helping.

None of Your Business

Gossip is excessive interest in someone else’s affairs, for the purpose of entertainment. Paul calls it being a “busybody” (1 Timothy 5:13), i.e. someone who is involved in something which is none of their business.

Why is Gossip Wrong?

Besides the self-gratifying nature of it, what is so bad about gossip?

1. Gossip is Divisive

A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:28)

2. Gossip is Poisonous

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:7-8)

Many times I have observed people’s minds being poisoned in regard to how they think about another person because of gossip.

3. We Will Have to Answer to God for How We Use Our Words

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.” – Jesus (Matthew 12:36)

Some Guidelines for Talking About Others

1. Use Words that Build Up, Rather than Tear Down

One of the reasons people tear others down with their words is because they feel that by making other people look bad, it makes them look good in comparison. In fact the opposite is true: when we speak poorly of someone, it makes us look bad, even if we are too foolish to realize it.

‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’ (Ephesians 4:29)

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

2. Let Your Speech be Motivated by Love for the Other Person

People often talk about their children, but they almost never gossip about their children. Why? Because people love their children, and love protects rather than exploits someone’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

‘The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. ‘ (Proverbs 10:20-21)

Advertisements

Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

mountains with crepuscular ray

A reader recently sent in this question:

In John 3:13, Jesus says“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-the Son of Man,”

  • Is this saying that people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?
  • Where had everyone who died gone before Jesus died and rose?
  • Did this change after his death and resurrection?
  • What verses can you share with me about this?

Let me answer each of those questions in order:

Is this saying that people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Yes, I believe so.

Where had everyone who died gone before Jesus died and rose?

The Old Testament talks a lot about “Sheol” which is the dwelling place of the dead. Psalm 139:7-8, for example, says: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Is this saying that God is present in Hell? No. It’s saying He is present in Sheol. 

It would seem (I’ll give Scriptural justification for this below) that Sheol was divided into two sections: Abraham’s Bosom and Hades.

Abraham’s Bosom was a place of comfort for those who died in faith. Since they had not yet been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, they could not go to Heaven, so this was a sort of holding place, or waiting room for the souls of the Old Testament believers who died in faith, trusting not in their own works or performance to garner them favor before God, but casting themselves on God’s mercy and grace to save them through the Messiah who was to come.

Hades, on the other hand, was a place of torment for those who died apart from awareness of their shortcomings and apart from faith and trust in God’s mercy and grace. Hades, like Abraham’s Bosom, was/is a holding place or waiting room for the souls of those who have died apart from faith, and though those in Hades suffer torment presently, one day Hades will be emptied into the Lake of Fire, meaning that Hades is not the final destination for those who have died apart from faith.

Did this change after Jesus’ death and resurrection?

It seems that in the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus descended into Sheol and released those from Abraham’s Bosom and led them to Heaven. Those who die now in faith in Jesus go to Heaven, i.e. the presence of God.

Hades, on the other hand, remains in tact, and those who die apart from faith still go there.

What verses can you share with me about this?

Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 gives us insight to this through the story of the rich man and Lazarus: Lazarus, a poor man who died in faith, is taken to Abraham’s bosom, whereas the rich man who died apart from faith is taken to Hades. Between the two parts of Sheol, the story tells us, is an uncrossable chasm, and there is no escape.

The rich man desperately wants someone to go and speak to his family members, and plead with them lest they end up in Hades as well, but the man is told that his family members have been given Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the Scriptures), and they should listen to them.

Ephesians 4:8-10: He Led Captives in His Train

In Ephesians 4:8-10 we read this: Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives (in his train), and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

The Apostles Creed, one of the oldest Christian creeds, includes this phrase:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.

Going back to Jesus’ apostles, who spoke with him after his resurrection, there seems to have been an understanding that Jesus descended into Sheol, and did two things:

  1. Released those “captives” from Abraham’s Bosom and led them to the immediate presence of God (Heaven). (Ephesians 4:8)
  2. Preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19-20)

The latter of these was not evangelism, but a pronouncement of judgment upon those spirits in Hades. We know this because of the qualifying text in 1 Peter 3:20.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise”

2 Corinthians 5:8Luke 23:43  & Philippians 1:23 tell us that when a believer dies today, they are taken to the direct presence of God, AKA “paradise”.

Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire

Revelation 20:11-15 describes how, after the judgement of the living and the dead at the end of all things, Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Revelation 20:13-15)

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Heaven, as it is now experienced, is different than what will be after the final judgment, where Revelation 21 tells us that there will be a new heavens and a new Earth, for the first heaven and the first Earth will have passed away, and will be no more. (Revelation 21:1)

Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 that Heaven and Earth will pass away, but his words never will.

2 Peter 3:7 says, But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 

And 2 Peter 3:10 says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Thus, after the final judgment, there will be a new heavens and a new Earth, which will be not only the restoration of Eden, but the fulfillment of what Eden would have been had sin not entered in.

In the New Jerusalem, once again, we see humankind together with God, with no sin nor shame, nor any of the destructive effects of sin (i.e. sickness, pain), and that the Tree of Life is there. Whereas Eden was a garden, the New Jerusalem will be a garden city.

Submit Your Questions!

Thanks for these great questions! Keep studying the Word, and feel free to send more questions to me by filling out this form.

Mary Did You Know? – Questions About Jesus’ Childhood

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

A few weeks ago I created a page where you can submit questions or suggest topics. A reader sent in this question:

In John 2:3-5, Mary asks Jesus to do a miracle in order to save a wedding feast where they have run out of wine.

How did Mary know to ask Jesus for help? Was she even asking for help?

Did she know who he was and what he was here to do?

Why are there no stories of Jesus’ childhood, except in the gnostic gospels?

I recently taught this section at White Fields, during our Advent series. In the sermon I talk about how this first of Jesus’ miracles points to the eschatological hope of the gospel. You can listen to that message here: From Shame to Joy

Let me answer each of your questions in order.

Was Mary Asking Jesus for Help?

Yes, I think that is clear from two things we see in the narrative:

  1. Jesus’ apparent frustration with the request.
  2. Mary’s instructions to the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do.

How Did Mary Know to Ask Jesus for Help? Did She Know Who He Was and What He Was Here to Do?

Yes, Mary absolutely did know that Jesus was the Messiah! This is the woman who got pregnant without having sex. I think that’s something that would be hard to forget.

This is the woman who had the angel Gabriel appear to her to announce that she was pregnant with the Messiah (Luke 1:26-38). This is the woman who sang the “Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-56). This is the woman whose cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah also had a visitation from the Lord. Joseph also had a visitation to tell him the identity of the child (Matthew 1)

Lest we forget, this is the woman who also experienced:

  1. The visit of the shepherds who had heard the divine proclamation (Luke 2)
  2. The visit of the magi who came from the East following the star which proclaimed the birth of a new king (Matthew 2)
  3. Interactions with Simeon and Anna in the temple (Luke 2)

Furthermore, this is the woman who had to flee with her baby in the night to Egypt, where they stayed for several years as refugees until Herod the Great died, because he was committed to killing this one who was the rightful heir to the throne of David, i.e. the promised Messiah.

Mary and Joseph had an acute awareness of who Jesus was, and I would expect that they also talked about this with Jesus. One question that theologians debate is whether Jesus innately knew that he was the Messiah, or if it was revealed to him by the Spirit. I expect that his mother and father would have talked to him about it as well, recounting to him as a young child why they had to live as refugees in Egypt, and telling him stories of the angels’ visitations and all the crazy stuff that happened at his birth.

The word Messiah means anointed one. There were three people in ancient Israel who were anointed with oil as a symbol of the Spirit of God upon them to empower them for their ministry: Prophets, Priests and Kings. The eschatological Messiah was known to be one who would be the perfect fulfillment of all three of these offices: he would be the ultimate priest, the true prophet (remember Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 of the prophet whom God would raise up… the Jews understood this to be a Messianic prophecy – see John 1:21), and the true king (for more on this, read: If Jesus is God, Why is He Called the Son of God and the Firstborn of All Creation?)

Being that Jesus is the true and greatest prophet, it would be expected that he would perform miracles, like the “wonder-working prophets” Elijah and Elisha. This is why one of the expectations of the Jews from Jesus was that he validate his ministry through performing miracles. Jesus pushed back at this, knowing their hearts – but the fact is that he did perform many miracles.

Why are there no stories of Jesus’ childhood, except in the gnostic gospels?

It says clearly in John 2:11 that this was the first of Jesus’ miracles, or rather “signs”, by which he manifested his glory. This, by the way, goes to show the dubious nature of the childhood narrative of the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which purports Jesus doing miracles to heal birds.

My guess is that the reason there isn’t more written about Jesus’ childhood is because there wasn’t much to talk about. He spent his first several years in Egypt, then at age 12, his parents noticed that he had a keen desire to know the Father and study the Scriptures. Beyond that, Jesus and his parents would have always known that he was the Messiah, but he didn’t do anything in that role until his baptism at age 30.

Thanks for these great questions! Keep studying the Word, and feel free to send more questions to me by filling out this form.

Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’ and the Need for Hope

Image result for being mortal atul

I recently finished Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. It was given to me by a friend from church who recommended I read it, and I’m glad I did.

The Author and his beliefs

Atul Gawande is an American medical doctor, the son of two doctors who immigrated to the U.S. from India. He was raised nominally Hindu, but by his own admission he is functionally secular and non-religious, and the focus of his book is not at all on giving hope beyond this life, only on dealing with the death from a clinical perspective.

However, I would argue that whatever you believe about the future invariably affects the way you interpret the meaning and purpose of life, as well as how you cope with mortality, and this does come through in some of his conclusions.

Content and Highlights

The book begins with a description of physical changes that happen as people age, beginning at age 35.

Dying Well

Next, Atul Gawande gives a brief history of nursing homes. I found this part very interesting. About 50% of Americans die in nursing homes. Some might say this is very sad, which in some ways it is – however, understanding the way that most people died in the past makes you see that this is actually a great improvement over 100 years ago, when many people died in state-funded “poor houses” which even at their best had awful conditions.

He then goes on to describe the development of “assisted living” facilities, and how many have now deviated from their original purpose and design. He also tells stories of people who have sought to improve these facilities through innovation, such as bringing living things, e.g. plants, animals and children into these homes to improve residents’ quality of life.

While the author does say that the older model of a multi-generational home in which elderly people are cared for at home until they die has some benefits, he also shows its limits and downsides, using his own grandfather as an example.

Palliative Care

Atul also describes the benefits of palliative care for elderly people, which is focused on improving a person’s quality of life rather than on invasive treatments which may reduce a dying person’s quality of life even though they have little to no chance of curing them or significantly prolonging their life.

Even though palliative care has been shown to help improve and often prolong a person’s life, one of the sad things Gawande points out is that many insurance providers have stopped paying for palliative care, but they continue paying for invasive treatments, even if they are unnecessary or unhelpful to patients. This perpetuates a cycle of doing everything possible for patients, even if those treatments are not likely to lengthen their life and will probably make their quality of life worse.

The Big Point

Atul Gawande’s main point is summed up in this statement:

“Over and over, we in medicine inflict deep gouges at the end of people’s lives and then stand oblivious to the harm done.”

He argues that as people live longer and more die of old age, we should be focused on helping people stay in control of their lives as long as possible, achieve their goals, and die with dignity.

A Reason for Living

It is impossible to talk about dying without some sort of existential discussion about what gives life meaning and purpose.

At one point, Atul Gawande references the Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce, who said that “simply existing – merely being housed and fed and safe and alive – seems empty and meaningless to us.” He goes on to explain that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves, and it is in ascribing value to the cause and seeing it as worth sacrificing for, that gives our lives meaning.

Royce said that this reason for living was the opposite of individualism. An individualist puts self-interest first, seeing his or her own pain, pleasure and existence as their greatest concern. For the individualist, self-sacrifice makes no sense, but since their own self is the highest cause for which they live, their life has no meaning other than to make themselves happy. Ironically, it is for this reason that happiness and satisfaction will always elude them. For the individualist death is meaningless and ultimately terrifying.

It is for this reason, Gawande explains, that we all need something beyond ourselves and outside of ourselves to live for, and this is why elderly people who have pets, for example, tend to live longer lives.

The problem with Gawande’s search for meaning

The problem with Gawande’s search for meaning, is that he has identified a real need, and yet he basically says in the end that since he doesn’t believe there is anything beyond this life, therefore it is better to give someone the illusion that their life has meaning and purpose and value beyond themselves, even though no such thing really exists.

He does mention that people want their lives to make a difference after they are gone, but what he fails to answer is: to what end?  Why should anyone care about what happens after they are gone, if life is actually meaningless, and after this light burns out there is only darkness? From this same logic, a totally selfish existentialism could also be argued for – such as that of the Epicureans: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!” – in other words #YOLO – since we only live once, who cares what destruction we leave in our wake for others to deal with?! It’ll be their problem, not ours!

The solution which only the gospel gives

In this search for meaning and purpose, I would argue that it is only the gospel message of Jesus Christ which gives a satisfactory answer to humankind’s search for meaning and hope beyond this life.

It is only the gospel which gives us real hope beyond this life, and a real mission in this life which has more than just illusionary results. In the gospel we have hope for life beyond this one, and the effects of our mission are eternal in nature.

As CS Lewis put it at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia:

“For us, this is the end of all the stories…but for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” – CS Lewis, The Last Battle

In order to truly “die well”, what we need is not just dignity, but HOPE. And this is found only and ultimately in the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Should you read it?

I would recommend Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It was full of important thoughts about the process of dying in Western society today. However, I recommend reading the book with an eye to its one glaring shortcoming: it fails to address the need for and the source of HOPE both for this life and the one to come.

Podcasts I’m Listening to Right Now

silver iphone x with airpods

Craig Groeschel said, ‘You become like who you listen to.’ I heard him say that in his podcast…because I listen to his podcast.

In no particular order, here are some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to lately:

There are a few others I subscribe to and visit from time to time, and of course you should totally subscribe to the White Fields Community Church podcast, so you can listen to my sermons, as well as those of our other teachers and guests.

What podcasts do you listen to? 

Leave a comment with your recommendations for good content that you enjoy and that you think other people should check out.

Trust Your Instruments

two pilot inside aircraft

This winter our church has been partnering with Agape Family Services, a Longmont-based non-profit which helps people who have been homeless to transition to independence. Agape provides shelter, food, help with overcoming addiction and assistance in finding jobs and a place to live during their 6 month program.

White Fields partners with Agape by teaching a Tuesday morning Bible study for those in the program. It has been great seeing Agape’s work, the effectiveness of the program, and how the people are progressing. One man, for example, who comes to Bible study every week and reads his Bible avidly has, with Agape’s help, gotten sober, found a job, married his girlfriend and is working on finding a place to live when he graduates from the program in the spring. It has been great to witness his progress over the past few months, and to see his completion and countenance improve each week.

This past Tuesday, a man from White Fields named Brad led the Bible study. Brad used to fly corporate jets for a living, and he used an example from that world to illustrate what it means to live and walk by faith:

When Trusting Your Feelings Will Kill You

Brad said that pilots often experience “spacial disorientation”, which means that even if the plane is flying perfectly level, they will feel like they are tilted to one side, and that the plane isn’t going straight, when it actually is.

The danger with this is that if the plane is actually tilted, it will pick up momentum and spiral out of control. So this feeling of “spacial disorientation” triggers panic in your mind and body which tells you that you need to straighten out the plane or else you’re going to spiral out of control – except, if the pilot follows that feeling and “corrects” the plane, they will actually be tilting the plane which can result in entering into a “death spiral” from which they can’t pull out.

The pilot needs to know that what their body and mind are telling them might be incorrect, and rather than relying on those feelings, what they need to do is trust their instruments.

On the instrument panel, a pilot has multiple gyros (in case one fails), which tell them whether they are level. It is an act of faith to trust your instruments rather than your feelings, but if you don’t, you (and your passengers) will experience disaster and tragedy.

Slow Down and Think

I recently finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinkingin which he talks about rapid cognition and intuition. In the book, he discusses this same issue: that generally our minds are very powerful and our rapid cognition is trustworthy, but sometimes it’s not, and we must slow down in order to make the right decision.

He used the example of police brutality in the cases of Rodney King and other incidents, and how rather than being caused primarily by racism, they are caused by officers being in a heightened state of arousal (high heart rate) as a result of a chase, which causes their minds to shut off, and they begin acting without thinking. As a result of research, police departments have gone to great lengths to slow down procedures in order to create more “white space” for officers to be able to think before acting, knowing that sometimes their instincts will lead them to do things in an instant which they wouldn’t have done had they had time to think.

Landing the Plane

Similarly, as Christians, we know that our hearts can be deceitful (Jeremiah 17:19). Proverbs 14:12 tells us that ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.’

So rather than “following our hearts” or doing what feels good in the moment, it is important to think before we act, and trust our instruments, i.e. what God’s Word says is true, not just what we might feel in the moment.

This applies to how we think about ourselves, how we assess our situations and circumstances, and how we react to others.

In our recent study of Habakkuk, we saw that Habakkuk was a man who was struggling to understand why God was allowing certain things to happen, and why God had chosen a course of action which, to Habakkuk, seemed wrong and unfair. God’s response was to remind Habakkuk to “trust the instruments” in those instances when things seemed to be spiraling out of control; he was to remember who God is (e.g. sovereign, good, just), and then look at his circumstances through that lens, trusting that God was working out a plan, even if Habakkuk couldn’t see the whole thing just yet.

You can listen to that study of Habakkuk here: Habakkuk: The Righteous Shall Live by Faith

May we be those who trust the instruments God has given us, lest we end up off-course or in a death spiral – so we reach our final destination.

Upcoming Expositors Collective Event in San Diego

Screen Shot 2019-01-24 at 10.44.15 PM.png

The Expositors Collective was an experiment that began last year, the brainchild of my friend Pete Nelson, with the idea to create an intensive seminar to train young men and women who feel a calling or desire to teach and preach the Word of God. As opposed to many traditional conferences, this would be an interactive experience, where people would learn in group settings and actually get a chance to put what they’re learning into practice, get real-time feedback, and possibly establish ongoing mentoring relationships with experienced Bible-teachers.

The Expositors Collective held 3 events last year, in California, Colorado and Florida, and developed a great podcast and Instagram.

Our next event will be in San Diego, CA on April 5-6, 2019 at Maranatha Chapel.

This will be a 2-day interactive seminar for young men and women ages 18-34 who feel called to teach God’s Word and would like to receive instruction and ongoing mentorship in this area. If that’s you, then you won’t want to miss this – or if you know someone else who would benefit from this, send them our way!

For more information and to sign up, go to: expositorscollective.com
On the website you can see a list of some of the Bible teachers who will be coming in to lead this event.

Spaces are limited, so sign up soon!

Chinese Conviction & American Apathy

Image result for chinese christianity

In 2018, the Chinese government acted to crack down on unregistered Christian churches. These churches are sometimes called “house churches,” which is a misleading term, since many of these churches have hundreds, even thousands of members and own their own buildings.

Chinese law requires Christians to worship only in congregations registered with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a government-sanctioned organization which manages churches. Millions of Chinese Christians meet in unregistered churches which defy these government regulations, seeing them as compromising the church, especially considering the Communist government’s atheistic agenda.

Over the past few months, the Chinese government has stepped up their persecution of Christians by destroying crosses, burning Bibles, confiscating religious materials and closing churches, even demolishing their buildings, as can be seen in this video:

In December 2018, more than 100 Christians who attend a Reformed church in Chengdu were arrested and charged with “inciting subversion of state power.”

Chinese Conviction

The pastor of that church, Wang Yi, a former human-rights lawyer and law professor, who has been an influential intellectual in China, issued a statement along with other Chinese Christian leaders titled: “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience,” in which they stated that they would not cease gathering together for worship and studying the Bible.

Additionally, around 500 Chinese Christian leaders have signed a document called “A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith,” in which they stated that they were prepared to bear all losses, even the loss of their freedom and their lives, for the sake of the gospel.

For Chinese Christians, gathering together for worship and Bible study is an act of resistance and social disobedience. It brings with it the possibility of arrest, punishment and persecution. And yet – believers are resolute: they will not stop gathering for public worship services, no matter what the cost.

American Apathy

At the same time, on the other side of the world, the American church is seeing a rising wave of apathy.

Some of the reports of the decline of Christianity in the United States are misleading, as I’ve written about here: Is Christianity in Decline? Yes and No. – Part 1 & Part 2.

However, other reports show that while reports of the decline of Christianity in the US may be overstated, there is a growing sense of apathy in regard to church attendance.

Christianity Today recently published these infographics based on data from Pew Research Center:

image.pngimage.png

Read the full report here: Pew: Why Americans Go to Church or Stay Home

Two significant things that these infographics reveal: 1) Americans view Christianity as being important for the purpose of moral formation, 2) Americans tend to think that church is superfluous when it comes to Christian faith.

The Irony

Comparing the Chinese situation with the American one, what we see is that the people who stand to lose the most from going to church (the Chinese) are the most resolute in doing so, even though doing so will likely hurt them financially, socially, and even physically. Conversely, those who have the most freedom and stand to lose nothing are the most apathetic about public worship.

Whereas many Chinese Christians see gathered worship as central to their faith, something they absolutely cannot give up or do without, and an act of resistance – many American Christians see it as extraneous.

Who is Right?

I believe that we in the West can afford to learn something from our brothers and sisters in the East.

Christianity was formed and grew in the crucible of persecution, and perhaps the worst thing for Christians is to experience such ease and comfort that we lose the understanding that following Jesus is a radical and subversive thing in this world.

Perhaps the greatest danger our faith can face is not direct persecution, but patronizing “pats on the head” and people thinking that Christianity is “nice”.

Sinclair Ferguson has put it this way:

“We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.”

Recently I read an article by Simon Chan from the theological journal Pneuma, in which he very astutely wrote this:

[Western Christians] have a very weak sociological concept of the church. This has two negative consequences. First, the church tends to be seen as essentially a service provider catering to the needs of individual Christians. Rarely are individuals thought of as existing for the church. When the church is seen as existing for the individual, then the focus of ministry is on individuals: how individual needs can be met by the church. But when individuals are seen as existing for the church, the focus shifts from the individual needs to our common life in Christ: how we as the one people of God fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for the universe, namely, to glorify and enjoy God forever.

Chan is challenging us to ask the question: Contrary to our consumeristic mentality, isn’t it actually true that the church does not exist for us as much as we exist for the church, and the church exists for God?

I believe that we in the West can afford to look to the East and learn from our Christian brothers and sisters in China about the importance of gathered worship.

Feed the Goose & Use Your Calendar

white eggs in brown nest

One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of a man who found a goose who laid golden eggs. Every morning, he went and found another golden egg that the goose had laid, until one day he became greedy, and decided to cut the goose open so he could get more golden eggs. Of course, by doing so, not only did he not get any extra golden eggs, but he also ceased getting the daily eggs he had previously received, since the goose was now dead.

You can read the parable here or listen to this 1 minute audio version:

The point of the fable, Aesop said, is that greed often overreaches itself. However, like with most parables, there are several applicable truths packed into this very short story.

Many of the best things are acquired indirectly

The golden eggs in the story represent a desired outcome: something you want. For you, that might mean spiritual growth in your relationship with God, it might mean increased knowledge of the Bible or theology. It might mean deep and meaningful friendships, developing a skill, or increasing your success in your work. It might be making an impact on the world around you.

But what this fable illustrates for us, is that whatever the “golden egg” is for you, it is usually acquired indirectly. When the man in the story pursued the golden eggs directly, seeking to bypass the goose, he ended up with nothing, and killed the thing which gave him that which he wanted.

CS Lewis writes about how friendship works in a similar way. Friendship, he points out, must be about something else other than the friendship itself. The basis of a friendship is that both people are committed to and passionate about something beyond their friendship. “This is why,” Lewis says, “those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any.” “Those who have nothing can share nothing,” he points out, and concludes: “those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.” (The Four Loves, ch. 4)

The same is true of spiritual growth. To quote from John Piper: “Doctrine is the fuel for worship.” The way to grow, the way towards deeper worship, is indirect: it is through getting to know more about who God is and what He has done and will do, which fuels growth and worship.

If you’ve ever met someone who is purposefully seeking to “climb the ladder” or make a name for themselves in an organization or community, it often backfires, because it is seen as off-putting and self-serving. On the other hand, those who make a practice of genuinely and faithfully serving others will not remain anonymous for very long.

If you want to keep getting “golden eggs”, then make sure you feed the “goose”

The goose in the fable is the thing which you must “feed” in order to get the desired results.

If your goal is spiritual growth, then to “feed the goose” means to do those things which will result in spiritual growth, e.g. reading the Bible, prayer, attending worship services, joining a community group.

At White Fields, something our leadership has done is develop a plan that guides us in doing the qualitative activities which we believe will lead to our desired outcome (our vision): to build and foster a passionate, engaged and spiritually healthy Christian community to influence and bless Longmont and beyond. The way we go about doing this (our mission) is by making disciples of Jesus Christ through teaching the Word of God, engaging in the mission of God, and raising up leaders. In order to accomplish that mission, we have tried to determine what things we should be doing, which will lead to those outcomes.

The same is true on a personal level: a few years ago, after a doctor visit in which I was told I was pre-diabetic, I decided I wanted to get in better shape. Since running seemed to give the best return on investment, I decided to do that. Rather than setting weight-loss goals, I’ve set running goals, knowing that if I run a certain amount, whether I lose weight or not, I will be in better shape.

Make sure that the “golden eggs” you’re after are godly and aligned with God’s heart and will for your life, and then determine what the “goose” is that will produce that outcome, and feed that goose.

Check out: Inputs and Outputs for Growth and Maturity

Moving beyond good intentions and wishful thinking

I have found that using my calendar is the best way to make sure I’m feeding the “goose”.

Reading through the Bible in a year is a great goal, as is family devotional time and committed church attendance. However, if you don’t use your calendar to block out times for those things, they won’t often move beyond the realm of good intentions. I have found that by putting things in my calendar, I am able to prioritize things according to my values, rather than being a slave to the “tyranny of the urgent.”

May God lead you, as you seek Him, to determine the right “golden eggs” to pursue, the right way to “feed the goose” and the ability to be intentional in doing so.