Calling the Church to Courage

Calling the Church to Courage

Christian courage emanates from the heart of Christ who faced the cross for our sakes and His Glory. As long as we have breath in our lungs, we must continue to call the church to courage.

Fear of anything but God is sinful unbelief. “Fear naturally produces cowardice in people… wherever it (fear) prevails, it extinguishes Christian courage and strength.” – John Flavel

As I wrote in December of last year in a post entitled “Deposing the Tyranny of Fear“, fear is a tyrant – a slave-driver’s whip that drives men into traps and bondage. A spirit of fear has enveloped the world (including the church). The church has been slow to awaken to this reality. We are witnessing a growing number pastors and church leaders stand up. But, we must continue to exhort and call the church to courage.

Sirens from the Spirit of the Age have bewitched and lured the captains of the Church into their snares with their beautiful songs. The mighty ships of Christ’s Church have sailed dangerously close to the rocky shores where the Siren’s call. The irresistible melody makes the Christian forget his first love (Christ) and fall in love with the Spirit of the Age (the world). Only when his ship sweeps close to the rocks and his eyes see the terror, will he awaken to his folly. But, fear grips him. Is it too late?

By no means! As long as breath reaches our lungs, we call the church to courage. And this is not just calling to the captains, our dear pastors at the helm. We call each other to greater courage. In order to break through the fog and run-through the spirit of fear with the sword of the spirit, it will require ‘all hands on deck.’ The Church is one body with many parts. Therefore, it will take the full force of the saints in one accord to crush the spirit of fear with robust biblical faith!

If our souls are committed to the care of God, then Christians laugh at threats, cruelties and the spirit of fear and only grows more resolute by them (to paraphrase a witness of the torture of Marcus, bishop of Arethusa).

The Puritan, John Flavel reminds us that over the centuries, “Christians have put their enemies to shame by smiling at their cruelties and threatenings… (this courage is not particular to an age long past) but the same spirit of courage is found among Christians in all ages.” That means, today! S.M. Huchens diagnoses our malady of timidity;

“But the world has turned and a new age is upon us. Anyone who is paying attention to its movements knows that Christians are going to have to decide to think and act like Christians or not—to cause offense by it or not—and to pay what it costs.

 

It is time for those who are called to be pastors in the Church of the next age (for God will not stop calling them) to gird up their loins and put an end to the cowardly dalliances of so many of their predecessors in my generation and the one preceding it, owning the Christian faith to be what it is and no longer advancing the bastard offspring of the Spirit of this Age and those who are afraid to trust God by doing battle with it. The seminaries are by and large emasculating theaters full of large smiles and hollow chests, and there is a terrible dearth of orthodox, learned, and courageous shepherds—men who carry and know how to wield their staffs—but there seems to be no lack of hirelings who run when the wolves appear, making wolf-noises as they leave their flocks in the twilight.

 

Nor do I see how the fight can be fought apart from a new asceticism among all believers, which needs to be intelligently planned—something like what Rod Dreher calls for in The Benedict Option. Not many of the churches of any denomination, as currently constituted, full of the spreading rot, unwilling or unable to fight it, can be expected to cooperate, nor can they be expected as a matter of course to give livings to ministers of a boldly scriptural faith in the face of its enemies. But there are still brethren in the weak and fallen churches—even those that have a name for “orthodoxy,” and ways must be found to not abandon them, but feed and strengthen them for the Last Days.”
S. M. Hutchens

Remember, sinful fear is rooted in unbelief. The remedy is faith and fear of the Lord. “To the extent that our souls are empty of faith, they are filled with fear… The weaker the faith, the greater the fear; unbelief generates fear and fear strengthens unbelief.” – John Flavel

Fear is not the fruit of the spirit.

Christian courage emanates from the heart of Christ who faced the cross for our sake and His Glory.

We dare not fear the death he died for us. Otherwise, the cross is emptied of its power. We dare not commit the sin of fear that drove Adam and Eve into the shrubs of shame. Either we accept Christ’s words as true, “Fear not, for I am with you (until the end of the age)” or we trade the truth for a lie and worship the creature over the Creator. Remember, we worship what we fear. We should fear God only and take courage. Faithful courage in the face of fear glorifies God and courage is contagious!

God Commands and Commends Courage

Joshua 1:9
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

2 Timothy 1:7
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

1 Corinthians 16:13
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

Proverbs 28:1
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.

Psalm 27:14
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

How can you call your fellow Christians to courage today?

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Part Two: The Christian’s Role in Culture, Politics and Government

Part Two: The Christian's Role in Culture, Politics and Government

Christians cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love our neighbors or God. Historically, Christians shaped the societies and times in which they dwelled. Christians were different – set apart but never apathetic to the people and communities around them.

This post is the second on a series on the Christian’s role in regard to politics and government. Part Two is better understood by reading my previous post. Click here to read “Politics is Downstream From Culture”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

When Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place.

Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of the church’s role in culture, politics and government. Some are helpful others are quite harmful. My intent is to bring clarity and point to a biblical vision for the individual Christian’s role in culture, politics and government. Our roles and expressions will be different but our cause is the same. We are His ambassadors, reflecting His glory and offering a reason for the hope we have. Please note, I am making a distinction between the individual Christian and the institutional church in this post. We’ll dive into that later.

Let me begin with understanding a few things and some approaches we are NOT to employ:

1. I understand the modern over-emphasis of the social implications of the Gospel at the expense of the salvific Gospel is problematic and heretical. I reject the liberal theological approach and understanding of the Gospel, also referred to as the ‘Social Gospel.’

2. I understand that our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is a spiritual and a battle of ideas (the mind).

3. I understand we are to approach culture and society as Christians not politicians or “culture warriors.”

4. I understand putting our faith, hope or trust in anything except Jesus Christ as Savior is idolatry.

Historically, Christians shaped the societies and times in which they dwelled. Christians were different – set apart but never apathetic to the people and communities around them. As a people redeemed through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, they lived redemptive lives and cared for people. They built hospitals, orphanages, built cathedrals, wrote music, poems, and books, and involved themselves in all manner of social and cultural activities. They abolished the universal historical slave-trade and sacrificed themselves for fellow image-bearers because human beings mattered.

A redeemed and transformed life transforms society.

How Christians abandoned positions of influence in society.

Secularism did not occupy society in America by dislodging Christian ideals of freedom, virtue and faith that formed the foundations of America. In the mid-19th century, Christians vacated the public square as a fearful overreaction to the liberalization of biblical faith. In other words, instead of engaging bad (heretical) ideas in the public square, Christian leaders thought it best to retreat inside the institutional church. This left societal domains deserted and empty of Christian influence for the most part.

Nature abhors a vacuum and Satan knows a good deal when he sees one. So, secularism didn’t invade as much as it occupied the empty cultural spaces left by the church (Christians). We simply allowed secular armies to march through the institutions of the church, the family, education, arts & media, and government. They took them over with little to no resistance – they are little more than squatters on Christian properties. Dark ideologies such as Atheism, Nihilism, Marxism, and Secularism took up residence on prime cultural real estate and inside powerful institutions, not lost but vacated by Christians.

During this period we observe the bifurcation of the Gospel and a reduction of the Christian vision. The “Gospel of the Kingdom” was deprived of its societal impact/implications and was reduced to a plan of personal salvation plus a pursuit personal holiness. In other words, the Gospel was rendered to a King without a kingdom and rendered Christians to a lifetime of holy navel-gazing. This theological movement finds a perfect home in a mid-20th century American culture growing more individualistic and autonomous. It fit nicely in our distinctly American “It’s all about me” ethos. At the end of the day, all evangelicals could do was get people saved (fire insurance) and focus on personal piety (moralism – being a good person). Remember, this result began as well-intentioned response to liberalism invading the church.

From a cultural study perspective, this over-reaction and retreat into the institutional church creates the conditions for liberalism to gain a foothold in the evangelical church. It’s a form of theological loss aversion. This is the reason why the woke social justice movement is gaining ground inside the institutional church. Christians of goodwill are simply not equipped to deal with the realities of life in the 2020s and are grasping for the tools offered by worldly culture. Instead of the robust practical and spiritual resources offered through biblical faith, the message has been reduced to, “get people saved from hell, be a good person, and everything else will be okay.”

As an aside, this is a big reason why the church in America struggles with discipleship and forming biblical community. A limited individualistic personal understanding of the “Gospel” lacks the force and inspiration to compel Christians to go and make disciples. In America, we want our Christianity the way we want our McDonald’s burger… “I want it my way” and “I want to be comfortable!” The result is a ‘Privatized’ faith instead of a public theology.

Honestly, there never was a “Culture War”, there was a slow abandonment. Limiting the Gospel to a personal plan of Salvation, a focus on personal holiness, a rise in biblical illiteracy, and side-lining of prayer and social engagement in order to form a ‘holy huddle‘ resulted in a removal from prayer in schools, dismantling of the biblical sexual ethic, legitimizing no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, rise of pornography, out-of-control fatherlessness, sexual confusion and legalized euthanasia. All the while Christians are told, “this is not our problem.”

As we see throughout the Bible, God works through His people. Our job is to know him, love him, worship him and be faithful in the moment. We demonstrate our love for God and the Lordship of Christ over our lives by serving him in all areas under his rule (everything – Psalm 24:1).

We cannot retreat from the ideas, institutions, laws, edicts and movements that harm our neighbors and still claim we love our neighbors. If we love God, we will love our neighbors. Christians ought to desire the best for all image-bearers as we bear witness to Christ as Savior and King. We offer hope by pressing into the darkness and chaos not by retreating from it.

Remember, when Christians who bear ‘the light’ retreat inside the walls of the church, the world becomes a very dark place. Christ is King over all domains of society, that means academics, art, music, media, politics, family, government, etc.

Below are some verses to meditate on and below that, a helpful video on Christians and politics.

Philippians 2:15 ESV
That you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Matthew 13:43 ESV
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

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Faithful in the Moment

Faithful in the Moment

You are not called to worry about what others think of you. You are not called to be anxious about anything. You are called to be faithful in the moment.

Dear Christian,

It is so easy for us to allow the dizzying moments and circumstances of life to make us lose focus. We are overcome with distractions, amusements and anxious thoughts. We are vulnerable to getting lost in the moment and losing track of the bigger story we inhabit.

Remember, you are not called to worry about what others think of you. You are not called to be anxious about anything. You are called to be faithful in the moment.

You are here in the time and place God appointed for you. Be faithful in the moment. Do not worry about what is to come. Turn over your anxious thoughts and distractions to the Lord – knowing that if you are faithful to God, the result will be faithfulness in all things.

We are faithful to that which we love and worship.

Your faithfulness and dependency on God will result in all other things being properly ordered and an outflow of blessings. You will experience troubled seasons and moments, but all God expects is faithfulness in the moment. String those faithful moments together, and you will realize your part in God’s bigger story.

Pastor Alister Begg said, “We need that dimension of understanding like the men of Issachar – that we would understand the times in which we live and we would understand the God who rules over those times.”

Moments mark cultures and histories. Moments mark stories and our lives. Don’t allow dizzying moments and circumstances of life to make you lose focus. Tomorrow has worries of its own … Be faithful in THIS moment God appointed for you.

Prayer:
Lord, may I be found faithful to you in THIS moment. Ultimately, that is all you ask or want. But, I need your help do be faithful to you. Thank you for giving me an abundance of moments to be faithful. Even when I fail in one moment, there is the hope of another moment to be faithful. May I be found faithful.

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Christians and Culture – What is culture?

Christians and Culture - What is culture?

 

By design mankind is a cultural creature.

It is not who we are as much as it is what we do.

We talk about culture a lot… But, what is it?

“We must stand against the culture!”

“We must not involve ourselves in the culture!”

“Christians must engage cultural issues!”

“Christians must not get entangled in cultural issues!”

Most don’t have a clear understanding of what culture is. Most people view culture as a thing – an ‘it’. We assume we know what we’re talking about. Furthermore, when we have discussions or debates, we may not even agree on the definition of the word ‘culture’. Different people have different notions about what culture is. I spent my college years studying culture (anthropology) and I know how difficult it can be to attempt to fully understand it. Let me take a shot.

Culture is distinctly human. Animals do not create culture. It can be complex and confusing. So, let’s try to understand it.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines culture as the following: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time; the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization; the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.(link)

While that definition is helpful, it does not answer the question, “Where does culture come from?” The Bible states God made humans in his image (Genesis 1:27). Bearing our Creator’s image, we humans create and inhabit culture. That is important to know as a first principle. Every human is creating and shaping culture just by living life in this world. The biblical narrative is set within cultures over history (Jewish, Egyptian, Roman, Pagan, etc). By God’s design mankind is a cultural creature. It is not who we are as much as it is what we do. It is impossible for a human not to be a cultural creature. So, let’s explore a little further.

If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” John Stonestreet once told a group of students (“A Practical Guide to Culture”, Stonestreet & Kunkle). Fish don’t know they are wet – it is the environment in which they live. Given, most analogies eventually break down. However, the fish – water analogy is a useful illustration.

Culture is “the environment we live in and think is normal” says Stonestreet. We understand it points to the fact that we’re assuming something about reality – a baseline, if you will. “This is the world and reality as we understand it” is the assumption that all people operate from and shape their lives around without even being aware.

So, what the heck is Culture?

I’m going to distill a few ideas found in Stonestreet and Kunkle’s book, “A Practical Guide to Culture” to help us. I definitely recommend reading it.

Let’s begin with what culture is NOT:

Culture is not creation (nature, plants, animals, humans, water, rocks, the sky, etc).

“Culture doesn’t just refer to all the bad stuff humans do.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

People are NOT culture.

“People make culture and are, in turn shaped by culture, but equating them with culture is wrong and can even be dangerous. If we see people as culture and culture as the enemy, we’ll likely see people as the enemy and confuse their bad ideas with evil intentions… Culture is NOT people, culture is what people do.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

So, what then is culture?

Culture comes from the Latin word cultura, meaning “agriculture” (plowing, tilling, etc).

“Culture is what humans do (activity) in the world: build, invent, create, tear down, compose, replace, embellish, engineer, assume, dismiss, emphasize, etc.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

“Culture is what humans make of the world,” says Andy Crouch

Ken Myers (All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes)
“It’s not a person. It’s not even an institution, like the church or the state or the family. It is instead a dynamic pattern, an ever-changing matrix of objects, artifacts, sounds, institutions, philosophies, fashions, enthusiasms, myths, prejudices, relationships, attitudes, tastes, rituals, habits, colors, and loves, all embodied in individual people, in groups and collectives and associations of people (many of whom do not know they are associated), in books, in buildings, in the use of time and space, in wars, in jokes, and in food.” (Stonestreet / Kunkle)

Culture is a kind of fabric produced by human activity.

Cultural forces shape our thoughts and behaviors without us even being aware.

Culture is created and cultivated for good or evil.

Everything we do or say, and the ideas we think impact culture.

Culture is a gift from God to be stewarded for goodness and his glory.

Attempting to “avoid culture” invites negative culture to fill the void.

Culture is powerful.

Culture isn’t a thing, Culture just is…..

Since humans naturally create culture, this begs the question: What kind of culture are we creating? 

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The Gift of Thought – Developing a Theology of Thinking

The Gift of Thought - Cultivating a Theology of Thinking

What do you spend your time thinking about?
What is the purpose of thinking?
What ought we think about?

Recently, I was a guest on Shanda Fulbright’s “Her Faith Inspires” podcast. She was doing research for a lesson for her Gen Z children and kids from her community. Shanda wanted to explore the difference between learning ‘how to think’ vs. being taught ‘what to think’. Through the wizardry of Google or some other search engine, she stumbled upon my blog post from 2013 entitled “How to Think vs What to Think” (read my post here…). Shanda reached out to me to discuss the topic on her podcast (listen here…).

After the podcast aired, I decided that it would be good to explore a little further and share some reflections. We will not explore the deep theological implications at this point but I will attempt to cultivate the theological soil a bit.

Addressing the modern problem – What to Think

Let me begin by stating the obvious. In our high-speed, Google, wikipedia, YouTube, social media, soundbite world – we Moderns have lost the art and skill of deep thinking and reflection. We have traded wisdom and understanding for quick information and convenience. We can tell you the what and how of a matter, but we can’t tell you why of the same matter. 

We have delegated our problems (healthcare, political, financial, cultural, educational, ecclesiastical, etc.) to experts to solve them for us. The result? We are now bombarded by technical experts who offer pragmatic (often political) solutions to modern problems. Since we have delegated thinking to technocrats and think tanks, we end up being forced or coerced into accepting their authority, conditions and uniformity – one size fits all solutions. Their solutions rarely solve the problems they claim to be solving. In fact, in most instances the experts we’ve put in charge end up creating more problems. Their excuse is, “Well, this particular problem is very complex. We need more funding or more political power or a little more of your freedoms then, we can come up with a total solution for all problems.” Mind you, this is all being said by experts who were never taught how to think in school or at home – just what to think. They are simply doing what they were trained to do. And they are telling us what to think as well. Our finest universities are producing tens of thousands of these what-to-thinkers every year. Critical thinking, wisdom and discernment have been discarded.

Recovering our ability to think – How to Think

Man is a thinking being because we are created in the image of a thinking God. We have the ability to reflect and go beyond cognitive exercises of remembering, comprehending and understanding. We can think in the abstract or the concrete. We can remember and we can imagine. Our minds can be disordered and chaotic one moment and tranquil and well-ordered the next. We can have disturbing, evil thoughts or contented, beautiful and good thoughts. We share the universal language of logic and reason with all mankind. The human mind is powerful!

Thinking is something we all do all the time. Thought is a very human activity. The ability to think is good.

From the imaginations of men like Tolkien, we enjoy realms of Hobbits, Elves and Wizards on quests to vanquish evil. The mind of Steve Jobs created iPhones that would seem like wizardry to the inhabitants of Middle Earth or the Renaissance. All manner of ideas, solutions, laws, cures, machines, stories and artifacts emerge from the minds of men and women throughout the ages. Thought has created the greatest feats and the worst terrors of men. Our ability to think is fascinating and extraordinary. Let’s consider a few questions for a moment:

  • What do you spend your time thinking about?
  • What is the purpose of thinking?
  • What ought we think about?

Our thoughts shape our lives, relationships, culture and our future.

The gift-nature of thought

Have you ever considered your ability to think as a gift from God? God created the world and infused it with meaning. He then created humans in his own likeness and gave us the ability to apprehend reality – the world as it actually exists. God gave his image-bearers the ability to think and understand His reality (albeit distorted by sin). At the same time, He gave humans imagination and creativity. All of which are housed in the mind.

The Bible speaks about the mind. It also teaches us how to think and how we ought to think. Therefore, there is a purpose (telos) to thinking. That purpose is something worth exploring.

What does the Bible say about how we should think? While I don’t possess the theological knowledge to bring a “theology of thinking” into its fullest grandeur (that may be a task for another), I can simply try to grasp at the basics here. But, a theology of thinking is something every Christian ought to seek to develop.

Together as fellow pilgrims, we can recover and cultivate the wonderful gift of thought. We can center our thought life on God’s Word and ask Him to bring a fuller vision of Himself and the world he created to light – as we glory in Him.

1. Below are some passages to help us think.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise,
And apply your mind to my knowledge…” (Proverbs 22:7)

2. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes help shape the our thoughts and hearts. They are filled with practical wisdom for every day living. They help us develop critical thinking skills and act as a guide to cultivating moral and honorable lives.

3. Books that I’ve found help me think.

  • Knowing God – J.I. Packer
  • The Knowledge of the Holy – A.W. Tozer
  • Why You Think the Way You Do – Glenn Sunshine

“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian has in a way that no other person has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?”

(J.I. Packer)

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Podcast: “Her Faith Inspires” hosted by Shanda Fulbright w/ Guest Lance Cashion

Podcast: Her Faith Inspires with Shanda Fulbright & guest Lance Cashion

There’s a difference between knowing how to think versus being told what to think. But how do you know the difference?

Last month I had the privilege of being a guest on Shanda Fulbright’s Her Faith Inspires Podcast. We had a fantastic conversation. I definitely recommend adding her podcast to your list.

Link: Episode 91 “Do you know how to think or are you being told what to think?” With Lance Cashion

Summary from Shanda’s Episode Page:
There’s a difference between knowing how to think versus being told what to think. But how do you know the difference? We also discuss brainwashing, freethinking, and what the Bible says about trading your mind to think correctly.

For additional context, here is a link to my original blog post from 2013 here…

Please check out Shanda Fulbright’s website here…

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*This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of my employer or my church. The opinions of expressed by guest authors and commenters do not necessarily represent my opinions.