It’s Not About You

I have said on many occasions the most significant statement in Rick Warren’s bestseller The Purpose Driven Life is the first four words of the first chapter, “It’s not about you.”  These four words are a startling contradiction to the current cultural perspective.  Most in our society seem to be possessed with an innate sense of entitlement, governed by materialism, and in a headlong pursuit of pleasure.  Their tacit creed is, it’s all about me.

As a pastor this is a grave concern.  The Church in America is immersed in this cultural misconception, and while the Church should be exerting an influence of godliness and good on society, it is apparent that the Church has been influenced by society’s false perspectives.  By falling under society’s influence the Church in America has ignorantly crippled itself.

The very next paragraph of Rick’s book offers a fuller explanation.  “The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness.  It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions.  If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God.  You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.”

There you have it.  It’s not about you; it’s about God.  Now I can understand that people who do not know God, and who reject what the Bible teaches, and are self-centered believe that life’s purpose is the pursuit of what they want.  What I do not understand are people who claim to be Christians, believers in the Bible, and claim to be God-centered, and ignore what the Scriptures teach.

On the sixth day of creation Genesis 1:27 declares “God created man in his own image.”  Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, man was created in God’s image to reflect His glory.  When our first parents sinned they not only disobeyed God, they also failed to bring Him glory by being obedient.  This thought is echoed in Romans 3:23 when Paul writes “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin is more than disobeying God; it is simultaneously failing to fulfill our created purpose, to bring Him glory.

The salvation offered by and in Christ is not only intended to save us from the penalty of sin, but to deliver us from the power of sin in our lives.  He is to be Savior and Lord, not either or.  I hate those bumper stickers that say “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.”  If the Christian has sinned he needs to flee to Christ in repentance and seek His forgiveness, not offer some lame excuse on the bumper of his car.  There is more to Christianity than wearing a cross around your neck and drinking from a coffee mug that has “Man of God” painted on the side.  Christianity is much more than a media campaign.

The purpose of Christ’s sacrifice is foreshadowed in the words of Moses to Pharaoh, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me (Exodus 8:1).”  Just as God demanded the release of His people from the bondage of slavery so they could serve Him, Christ has delivered the believer from the bondage of sin to serve Him.  We have been saved for a purpose; we have been saved to serve.

When one accepts Christ as his Savior, he becomes a member of a worldwide body of believers, the family of God, the Church.  Part of making Christ one’s Lord means becoming a member of a local family.  It was Christ who founded the Church by His sacrifice.  He knew we could accomplish more for His kingdom if we joined together and marshaled our time, abilities, and resources to fulfill His commission to disciple the world.  God knows, as should we, that we can accomplish more together than we ever could alone.

Since its inception the church has had its problems from within and without.  One can read about them in Paul’s letters.  When problems arise some are quick to forsake the church.  But problems are to be resolved in the light of Scripture and the Spirit of Christ.  Despite its shortcomings, the Church remains the only earthly institution charged with spreading the Gospel.  Serving in a local body of believers, a church, the Christian is afforded the opportunity to mature individually and collectively.  He can fulfill his commitment to Christ and glorify God.  It can’t be done alone, because it’s not about you.

Advertisements

Love It, Learn It, Live It

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, and author of the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, launched a program in his church called 40 Days in the Word.  His goal for his congregation is to love the Word as they never have loved it before, to learn the Word as they have never have learned it before, and to live the Word as they never have lived it before.  He kicked off his campaign by showing the Bible is historically, prophetically and scientifically accurate.  Love it, learn it, live it.

While the Bible is the number-one-all-time bestseller, I witness examples everyday in our society of people who are ignorant of what it says.  I am not talking about people in general, but about people who profess to be believers.  We live in a time when, at least in America, the Scriptures are more readily available than they have ever been.  Bibles are less expensive, more prolifically printed, and in more versions and translations than ever before.  I have a Bible app on my iphone that I downloaded for free.  It gives me twenty-seven different English versions of the Bible literally at my fingertips.  If the Word is so accessible, why is it read so little?

According to statistics one third of high school graduates and forty-two percent of college graduates never read another book in their lifetime.  Most high school graduates only read at an eighth grade level and twenty percent of adults read at a fifth grade level or less.  These figures indicate a loss of interest in reading and that leads to reduced literacy.  Why is there this reduced interest in reading?

We live in a fast paced world where most of us live hectic schedules just trying to make a living and provide for our families.  Most people believe reading is uninteresting and time-consuming, little to be gained and time lost.  If the practice is truly unproductive then its decline could be understood.  But I think most people have forgotten some of the benefits and joys of reading.

People who read are generally smarter than those who don’t.  Reading is no fun if you do not understand what you are reading.  Get an inexpensive dictionary, you will improve you’re your understanding, enjoyment and vocabulary.  Your writing skills will improve as you read what others write.  By paying attention to details as you read you are training your memory and improving it.  By thinking about what you read you nurture the ability to analyze information and the associated skills of making good decisions.

Besides the ongoing educational benefits there are emotional and spiritual benefits also.  Reading is a way to escape from the hectic pace of life, to slow our schedule and reduce stress.  Most adults spend two hours a day watching television that is no more than a virtual repeat of their daily tedium.  Reading can be a stress reducing alternative.  Reading allows the opportunity to pause and think about what I am reading and can be the source of tranquil contemplation; I am not being forced to accept the perspective of a script writer being presented at the pace of a televised program.

These benefits are common to reading in general and more specifically true when reading the Bible.  The scriptural record not only establishes the historicity of the Word, but also underscores the truth that history is His story.  The prophecies that have been fulfilled in the past are a promise of those that will be fulfilled in the future.  Careful consideration of the biblical text shows there is no contradiction between true science and scriptural truth.  Come walk with your ancestors, consider the counsel of kings, commune with prophets and worship with the psalmists.

As singer Mark Harris has said, “I don’t have a god I can put on a stand, or a god I can hold in the palm of my hand.”  Christians do not worship an idol, nor cling to a carved piece of wood, sculpted stone, or molded brass; we worship He who is Spirit and has revealed His nature and will in His Word.  Derek Prince was right, “You do not know God any more than you know His Word, you do not understand God any more than you understand His Word, you do not obey God any more than you obey His Word, and you do not love God any more than you love His Word.”

Read your Bible this year.  As you do, God will give you a heart to love it, a mind to learn it, and the ability to live it.

Spanking

I no longer subscribe to cable television or a newspaper.  My primary source of news is from the internet.  Last week I came across a bizarre article, Spanking kids can cause long-term harm; Canada study.  It seems that Joan Durant, a professor at the University of Manitoba, and co-author Ron Ensom, with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario at Ottawa, think that “spanking children can cause long-term developmental damage and may even lower a child’s IQ.”  They did not know my father.

On Christmas Day 1957, I was five.  Our family was celebrating the holiday with my father’s family at my grandfather’s farmhouse.  For some unknown reason I threw my cousin Anne’s much coveted Christmas gift, a baby doll, into the living room fireplace.  As it burst into flames; she burst into tears.  Before I could bask in its glow and warmth my father turned my world upside down, literally.  This was my first spanking (a wholly inadequate term).  I was left with two impressions.  The one on my posterior healed.  The one on my psyche remains; respect what belongs to someone else.

The last time I remember my father disciplining me, I was fourteen.  The corporeal punishments I received during the interim of these two events were not many, but they were memorable.  I cannot recall a single time that my father punished me that I did not deserve it.

Solomon said, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him (Proverbs 22:15).”  My father understood the principle that the foolishness of disrespect, selfishness and rebellion of authority can be driven out of a child’s heart by physical punishment.  Many parents today don’t embrace this truth, because they do not understand what my father and Solomon did understand.  They think physical punishment is barbaric and hateful.  But the Bible says, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently (Proverbs 13:24).”  A parent has to be both loving and disciplined to properly discipline a child.

Every time I witness a parent trying to negotiate terms of obedience with a three-year-old tyrant throwing a tantrum, or trying to bribe a child to be good, I am reminded of Proverbs 29:15.  “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.”  Parents are supposed to love their children, not worship or adore them.  It is shameful to do otherwise.

I do not believe that spanking is the sole means of disciplining a child nor, depending upon the circumstances, the most preferable, but there are times in child rearing when it is indispensable.  For instance, it is appropriate when a child rebels against parental authority.

That is why I am concerned when Durant and Ensom write the sort of things they do and states like Mississippi want to make spanking a felony.  Evidently the Hospitality State does not take kindly to parents spanking their children and is considering Senate Bill 2180.  I can understand the lawmakers’ concerns.  There need to be laws to address child abuse, because child abuse is on the rise.  And for legislators it is a balancing act between what legitimate discipline is and what constitutes child abuse.  But I hope they do not allow Durant and Ensom’s twenty years of research and more than eighty studies to supplant 2,500 years of biblical wisdom.

Durant and Ensom claim physical punishment predicts “aggressive and antisocial” behavior.  I have never been arrested.  They assert children who have been physically punished have “developmental difficulties” and are prone to “depression and substance abuse.”  I am not pessimistic, nor am I an alcoholic or drug addict.  Their studies “suggest it [corporeal punishment] may reduce the brain’s grey matter in areas relevant to intelligence testing.”  If my father spanking me reduced my brain’s grey matter mass, it must have merely condensed it.  I went back to college at the age of forty-two while working fulltime and carrying a full course load.  I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree while maintaining a 3.79 GPA.  I recently took the GRE to gain access into a postgraduate program and scored better than two of my daughters in the verbal and quantitative portions, and they are both practicing Advanced Registered Nurse Practioners.

I am left wondering if Durant and Ensom had children.  They said, “There are no studies that show any long term positive outcomes from physical punishment.”  I am fifty-nine years old.  Since that Christmas Day in 1957, I have not thrown someone else’s baby doll in the fireplace.  That was more than fifty-four years ago.  Study that.

The Issue

What is the top issue facing Christians in America?  That is an important question, one that should give every thoughtful believer pause to reflect.  Recently this question was posed to some leaders in the Christian community and the responses are predictable from one perspective, but surprising in another sense.

An informal survey of the board members of the National Association of Evangelicals showed the economy was the concern of many.  Over forty different denominations and more than 45,000 churches and religious organizations are represented by the NAE.  The overriding issue for many NAE board members seems to be the national economy and our country’s debt.

Head of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins said “social issues are intertwined with the fiscal issues.”  He thinks “we have neglected and in many ways discourage family formation, and that core economic foundation, which is the family.”  President of Standing Together Greg Johnson says our number one priority is to “honor God as a nation” and “second, we need to tackle our debt as a nation.”  Penny Nance speaking for Concerned Women for America claims “Women care deeply about economic issues’ and believes presidential hopefuls do not adequately address the concerns of female voters on economic security.

I am well aware of the financial difficulties these leaders have commented on.  The church I pastor experienced an approximate twenty-nine percent reduction in tithes and offerings from 2010 to this past year 2011.  While a host of circumstances bear on this loss of revenue, I believe the reduction of income is a direct reflection of the dire financial straits my flock is facing.  I am concerned about the ongoing recession and how it is affecting my church family.  These are hard times.

Considering what many Christian leaders are saying, and my experience as a pastor, and even in my own personal circumstances during this recession, it would seem reasonable to conclude that the economy should be our number one concern.  But I was reminded of something Billy Graham said in an interview with Christianity Today just over a year ago.  He was asked, what are the most important issues facing evangelicals today?  Graham responded, “The central issues of our time aren’t economic [emphasis mine] or political or social, important as these are.  The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature, and our calling is to declare Christ’s forgiveness and hope and transforming power to a world that does not know him or follow him.”

I agree with Billy Graham.  The economy should not be the focus of our attention.  While the economic downturn is a concern, for the Christian it is nothing more than a distraction and is not our chief care.  God promised Joshua “Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”  God has called the Church to “make disciples of all the nations.”  I am convinced that if the Church will give itself to fulfilling its biblical mandate, God will give Himself to its provision.

Granted, as a nation and as individuals we have been in the habit of spending more than we make and those practices have gotten us where we are today as a nation.  We need to repent of our deeds and give ourselves to a life of financial responsibility.  If we are faithful to confess our sins God has promised He will forgive us.

Economists are saying we are recovering from the recession, but last year was a hard one.  I can ride through town and point to one business after another that has folded shop and closed its doors.  But despite the financial hardships, our church doors are still open for business, the business of God.

As rick Warren said in the Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you.”  We were created to do God’s will not pursue our own desires.  Christians need to work together more than ever before to fulfill the Great Commission.  If we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” we will have all we need to do all He wants.