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When It Comes to Worship, Paper Beats Plastic

When It Comes to Worship, Paper Beats Plastic

There’s a growing trend in churches, both in the pew and on the platform: Bible apps replacing printed Bibles. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I guess. In some ways, with the wide array of functionality these apps offer, reading the Word and taking notes can be a lot more convenient with these apps. In fact, I used to be part of that crowd, but, after looking at my two young sons sitting next to me, I gave up the plastic for good, old-fashioned paper, and I think you should consider it as well, especially if you’re a parent.

When I first started using a Bible app, my wife commented that people might think I was playing games on my tablet. I wasn’t too bothered by that, because people know me there and would know better, right? As I thought about that, though, I looked down the pew at my two young sons. What did they think I was doing on my device? Additionally, how could I tell them to get their Bibles when we leave for church and not set a clear example? I didn’t want to cause them to stumble if I could avoid it, so the printed Bible came back.

When we go to church now, they see me turning pages as the pastor preaches. They see me highlight verses that strike a chord with me. They see me setting a clear, unambiguous example of how to use a Bible in a worship service. As they get older, if they want to use a Bible app at some point, we can discuss that. For now, though, we start with a hard copy.

Another thing I want them to see me do is taking notes: those notes are not only good for me, but they offer yet another example of how to worship at church. It demonstrates that what the preacher is saying is important, so they should pay attention. One can, of course, take notes with a Bible app, but my goal is to make it crystal clear to the two young boys watching me what it is that I’m doing, and what they should be doing as well.

And it’s paying off. During a recent Sunday night sermon, my younger son got one of the slips of paper from the back of the pew and started writing. I assumed he was doodling, as he sometimes does, but after the service he showed me the card, which was full of sermon notes. He told me, “Sorry about the sloppy handwriting. He was saying so many good things, I had to write fast.” Talk about an encouraging word!

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with Bible apps in a worship service, if used correctly, and someday I might return to using one. However, my goal right now is to train my two sons, and a clear demonstration does a lot more than me just telling them what to do. I’m literally practicing what I’m preaching: Take your Bible to church with you; Turn to the passage the preacher is using; Pay attention. They see that lived out in front of them in every worship service.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that the Apostle Paul himself, were he standing in front of us today, would tell you to ditch your eBible. That would be silly and legalistic. I would, though, strongly suggest that, if you’re a parent of young children, you should think about whether or not paper is right for you.

Movie Review: Planes: Fire & Rescue

Movie Review: Planes: Fire & Rescue

My family and I recently went to the new(ish) Disney movie, Planes: Fire & Rescue (at The Beacon Drive-in in Guthrie). In addition to heartily recommending the venue, I would heartily recommend the movie. While not perfect, it’s (mostly) family-friendly fare with a message that is better than what Disney usually offers.

For those not familiar with the movie, Planes: Fire & Rescue is the follow up to the 2013 hit, Planes, which basically does with aircraft what Cars did with automobiles. In this installment, our hero, Dusty Crophopper, is back home in Propwash Junction, preparing for a huge race in the annual Cornfest festival, which now has national attention, thanks to Dusty’s amazing win in the last movie.

Much to Dusty’s chagrin, though, it turns out that he has a bad gearbox, which can’t be replaced since it is out of production, and is told he has to quit pushing himself. In spite of doctor’s…errr.. mechanic’s orders, Dusty takes to the skies to prove everyone wrong and ends up crashing and causing a fire. In the aftermath, it is determined that Propwash Junction’s fire fighting capabilities are horribly inadequate, so, unless they can find another firefighter, the airport will be shutdown and Cornfest will have to be cancelled. Unable to race, and feeling guilty, Dusty volunteers to take the training and get certified, which is where the movie starts in earnest.

Overall, this is a great movie that clearly highlights the bravery and selflessness of the untold number of men and women across the country who risk their lives in fires for strangers (the opening credits even has a dedication to them). The training shows how rigorous the job can be, and the story contains numerous examples demonstrating the dangers of the profession (or calling, if you will). The characters are fun and engaging, and the setting is great.

What I really loved about this movie (and jump to the next paragraph if you don’t want a minor spoiler) is how Dusty goes through the training, risks himself to save others, and, at the end of the movie, doesn’t seem to end up racing. Unlike in Cars where Lightning McQueen makes it to the race just in time, Dusty seems content to return home to a different role (though he and his new firefighting friends do fly a demonstration flight).

The movie is not perfect, though. At one point, a Propwash Junction resident shows off his bumper and under carriage to Dusty and his friends. Their reaction clearly mimics how we would react if someone were to… expose himself to show us the results of surgery, for example. Later in the movie, an old, long-married Recreational Vehicle couple, cleverly named Harvey and Winny, share how he got her new tires for their wedding, and how they “wore out a lot of tread” on their honeymoon. When Dusty looks shocked, they exclaim with laughter, “On the tires!” There were a couple of other minor items that you may or may not catch, and they’re all completely unnecessary, but such is the world of children’s entertainment these days.

Despite those issues, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, finding the plot and the message of the story much better than not only the original, but the bulk of children’s movies these days as well. Rather than “try hard and you can be the best”,  or “if you love hard enough, you can be a princess”, we see real life heroes celebrated in a fun, entertaining movie.

Photo credit: Disney

Giving up on “sin”

Giving up on “sin”

It’s happened again. Another “Christian rock star” (so dubbed by The Christian Post) has come out and proclaimed to the world that she’s gay. This time, it’s Vicky Beeching, known for songs such as “Great Is Your Glory” and “Deliver”. She says she’s tried all sorts of means to rid her of unwanted same-sex attractions, but none have worked. Finally, she has decided to embrace it, saying, ” I feel certain God loves me just the way I am”, and she’s right, to a point.

As non-believers, Jesus loves everyone just as he is. In Romans 5:8, we see that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Not because He had nothing else to do, but because He loved us, even though we were sinners. The problem for Ms. Beeching, though, is that while God loves as we are at the point of salvation, He doesn’t want us to stay that way. The Christian is told to be holy for He is holy, to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul proclaimed the name of Jesus “so that [he] may present every man complete [fully mature] in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). As Christians, we come to Christ broken, but we’re then expected to grow in Christ, to deny ourselves, daily take up our cross and follow Him.

Let’s look at this from another angle. What if a pastor were to announce this one Sunday: “I have struggled with pornography for years. I’ve tried everything to stop, but I can’t. I’ve finally come to accept it: I’m a porn addict, but I feel certain God loves me just the way I am.” Or a husband announcing at a family meal, “I have struggled with alchoholism for years. I’ve tried everything to stop, but I can’t. I’ve finally come to accept it: I’m a drunk, but I feel certain God loves me just the way I am.” The parallels are almost endless, but in none of these would we celebrate the decision to give in to sin. The pastor would lose his job. The husband might lose his family (and possibly his job, too).

Sin is hard; it’s pernicious, tenacious. It refuses to go away with the flick of the wrist or some spoken “word of victory”. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “forgetting what lies behind and reaching toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward cal of God in Christ Jesus.” He reaches. He presses on. His goal doesn’t just fall in his lap. This “chief of sinners” has to work for it, and so do we.

Far too often today, from the public proclamations like Beeching’s to the quiet acquiescence in the local pew, we find holiness hard, so we move the goal posts. Let’s stop giving up on “sin” and redefining holiness to fit our desires, and let’s start giving sin up, and taking on the holiness we see defined in Jesus Christ.

You Can Keep That Old-time Religion

You Can Keep That Old-time Religion

As a child, I grew up in a very small country church, where we sang — as they still do — all the “classics” of the faith. One of those songs was “Old Time Religion”. While the lyrics tended to vary from one singer to another, invariably the phrase “it’s good enough for me” was sung. These days, though, religion is under fire from all sides, including, shockingly, at least to me, from Christians. From Jefferson Bethke’s now famous “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” video, to lyrics in popular songs such “all religion ever made of me was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet”, religion can’t catch a break. I hate to put too fine a point on it, but those people are just flat wrong.

Christians and skeptics alike will tell us why religion is wrong, though the Christian usually goes a step further saying that “Yes, religion is terrible, but Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s relationship.” I should know. I’ve uttered that same bland platitude in my early days. Here’s the rub, though: Christianity is a religion, and I’ll attempt to prove it to you with two simple points.

The first is a simple definition. Merriam-Webster defines religion as:

  • the belief in a god or in a group of gods
  • an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
  • an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group

We as Christians certainly believe in a god, and we definitely have “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god”. Simple semantics should carry the day here, but let’s move to point two: the Bible describes what we “do” (for lack of a better word) as religion. James 1:27 says this, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” While there’s certainly more to living the Christian life, James describes this part of it as “pure and undefiled religion” without a hint of scorn or antipathy.

My guess is that most Christians, when they say “religion”, really mean legalism, or “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code”, and they’d be right. Unlike Old Testament Jews, our righteousness before God does not hinge on maniacal adherence to a set of rules (though it didn’t really for them either, but that’s a topic for another day), but on our relationship with Jesus Christ. That does not, however, mean we have no rules. We still have the 10 Commandments, the Golden Rule, and a host of admonitions, exhortations, and urgings given to us from God through Biblical authors’
writings. We don’t follow them, though, because we have to, but because we want to (John 14:21, for example).

So, yes, there is a difference between the Christian religion and virtually all other contenders. However, when we express this through talking about “hating religion”, I think we’re merely feeding a predisposition a faith-averse world has already firmly established. We may go on to say “but I still love Jesus,” patting ourselves on the back for our clever a turn of phrase, but I doubt the world really cares. They hear “I hate religion”, think “Yeah, me too” then tune out. In trying to be hip and cute, we’re throwing out the “old-time religion” baby with the bath water, and putting up a wholly unnecessary linguistic wall, and that’s not good enough for me.

Don’t Stop Berean

Don’t Stop Berean

One of the great things about the Internet (and the rest of modern media) is that it allows anyone to share his views with a wide and diverse audience. One of the bad things, though, about the Internet (and the rest of modern media) is that it allows anyone to share his views with a wide and diverse audience. Jokes aside, there’s a lot of good out there, but there’s a whole lot of bad. How is a discerning Christian to tell the difference?

In the book of Acts, chapter 17, we read the story of Paul at Thessalonica. A group of Jews and “wicked men” rejected Paul’s preaching and drove them from the city. Paul and Silas then ended up in Berea, where they found people who “were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” When Paul preached, the Bereans didn’t just accept it because some preacher said it. They examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.

This is the pattern that we as Christians should follow. Whenever we hear a preacher or teacher speak, or read a book, we should carefully compare those teachings with what the Bible tells us. For some teachings, the errors are obvious. For others, though, it might be more subtle. For example:

* Is Bruce Wilkinson’s “The Prayer of Jabez” a good model for prayer?
* Do charismatics have a “strange fire” as John MacArthur has stated?
* Is Rick Warren’s “Daniel Plan” a Biblically sound approach to faith and fitness?
* Does God want us to have our best life now, as Joel Osteen asserts?
* Should we pray in circles like Mark Batterson tells us to?
* Is Rachel Held Evans teaching what “Biblical womanhood” truly is?
* Is it true that “Love Wins” as Rob Bell teaches?

And on and on. As followers of Jesus, one of our goals is to know the God of Heaven as fully and completely as a finite creature can. We must be careful, then, about what we take in and accept. We must be critical (in the positive sense) of any teaching we hear, with the Word of God, clarified by the work of the Holy Spirit, as our guide. As you listen to sermons and read books, carefully compare what you read and hear with what the Holy Spirit tells you through Scripture. There are a lot of great resources for Believers out there, but there are also many wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Perhaps trust, definitely verify, but whatever you do (with apologies to Journey), my advice is this: Don’t stop Berean!