Decision Making for Christians

Before we make decisions, it’s a good idea to ask some questions. These questions help decisionsus to make better choices and live with fewer regrets.

We might ask…

  • Will this work?
  • What will people think?
  • How much will it cost me? Do I have time for it?
  • Can I get away with it?
  • Am I capable of doing this?
  • Will it make me happy?

Questions like these are pretty useful tools when we make those choices. These are the sorts of questions that many really smart people rely on. I’d like to suggest that Christians should add another set of questions to their lists:

  • How does God feel about this?
  • Will it bring glory to God’s name or is this more about me?
  • Am I helping others or am I just advancing my personal agenda?
  • Is this truly wise?
  • What eternal difference will this decision make?
  • How will it affect my walk with God?
  • Will this decision make it easier or harder for me to follow Jesus?
  • Will this decision make it easier or harder for my family and friends to follow Jesus?
  • Would Jesus make this decision?
  • Is this the best use of the resources I’ve been entrusted with?
  • How will this decision affect eternity?

It’s good for us to think strategically and long-term. It’s better for us to think with God’s perspectives.

What questions would you add to the list?

Would you jump off Niagara Falls if…?

authorityScripture is the authoritative guide to a life that pleases God. It builds faith and makes us wise. Despite the Bible’s great potential, we’re not all in the same place in how we respond to it. Try a little thought experiment with me:

If the Bible said, “All Christians should jump off Niagara Falls,” what do you think would happen?

Some people are so convicted by the authority of scripture that they would run and jump with no hesitation.

Maybe a group would be scared and confused. They’d think about it. They’d pray about it. They’d ask for wise counsel, but when they decided this is what the Bible really said, they would walk to the falls with knees trembling, but they would jump.

Others of us would say, “God knows what he’s doing, so you guys go ahead and jump. I’ll catch up with you.” After our Christian friends jumped, we’d probably come up with a reason to explain why that command didn’t really apply to us, so we’d go home without jumping. We might feel guilty about it, but we’d let it go.

One sneaky group would point out that the command didn’t say where to jump off at Niagara Falls. They’d build a trail to the very bottom of the falls with a little 1-foot drop. They’d probably charge admission to let people use it.

Another group would probably spend a lot of time yelling at the people who didn’t jump without ever getting around to jumping ourselves.

Some of us wouldn’t be sure what to do. Jumping off a cliff seems like a bad idea. Not obeying the Bible seems like a bad idea. We’d just kind of ignore the question and hope it goes away, and get mad at anyone who ever brought the question back up.

I imagine that some of us would say, “No way, that’s crazy! I’m not jumping off a cliff!” Some around us would go a step further and try to prevent others from jumping off a cliff.

Which group would you find yourself in?

This thought experiment isn’t great, because the Bible does not command stupid, dangerous, or immoral things of Christians, but many of the commands of scripture feel nonsensical to non-believers. Non-believers can’t comprehend the meek inheriting the earth, self-sacrificial love of enemies, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and a strict personal code of right living that denies many apparent pleasures and opportunities.

I share this article with my Christian friends for two reasons:

First, I want to you to examine your relationship with scripture. How closely do you listen to God’s word? Do you follow it when it is easy and when it is hard? Is the Bible your guide or your weapon to bully others with? Jesus said that hearing and obeying the words of God is the bedrock of life.

Second, I want you to be more aware of the world in which we live. Fewer people in our culture accept the authority of scripture in the same way that our parents and grandparents did, and that shift affects how we speak to the world of Jesus. For my friends who trust in the authority of scripture, it is sufficient for me to say, “The Bible says so,” and they will comply. For my friends who don’t trust in the authority of scripture, I have to have an entirely different conversation.

The Bible is God’s book. It is the only book that is “God-breathed,” “living and active,” able to make us “wise to salvation,” and “thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It deserves a careful hearing.

How We Can Guard the Truth

Print“How can you tell if a politician is lying?” “His lips are moving!”

How sad it is to live in a society where truth has been replaced by her more popular cousin, opinion, and few can tell the difference anymore. How sad it is to see that we have reached a time when we require fact checkers who then need fact checking of their own.

Andy Andrews researched the Holocaust and found a chilling question—and answer.

“How do you kill eleven million people?”

“Lie to them.”

When truth erodes, we will find its replacement incapable of bearing the weight of society.

Too often, though, Christians have understood “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” too narrowly. We have rightly complained about politicians who lie, media that spins, and cons who deceive, but often, we have failed to see our own contribution to the decay of truth.

Every time we gossip and repeat a story about someone in town, we erode the foundation of truth.

Every time we make an assumption about someone’s motives and tell it as fact, we undermine the foundation of truth.

Every time we forward an email or share a message about our political opponents that we didn’t verify, we mar our credibility.

Every time we cling to an old wives’ tale, a tradition, or a superstition when facts tell a different story, we are chasing truth’s shadow, not its substance.

Every time we quit listening to a person because we don’t like what they have to say, we might be muzzling the voice of truth.

Every time we naively accept what we hear without question, our faculties for identifying truth get a little bit weaker.

Every time we use a bad argument or bad evidence in service of a good point, we suggest that falsehood is better than truth.

Every time we exaggerate the story or caricaturize people who disagree with me, we make lies bigger and truth smaller.

Every time we place a higher burden of proof on the claims of others than we do ourselves, we relativize and trivialize truth.

Every time we refuse to be persuaded by valid and true evidence and reason, we build another door to lock truth behind and live in a world of hypocrisy.

Every time we make an accusation on the front page and print the retraction on the back page, we mute truth’s volume.

Every time we sweep our problems under the rug or stick our heads in the sand, we attempt to falsify reality and cover up the truth.

A friend once said that since Jesus is truth that sets us free (John 14:6, 8:32), we should love the truth so much that we wouldn’t misquote the devil.

Never forget that all the world’s sin and pain began with lies from the father of lies.

Do we really want to advance his work, even in a small way?

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” Thomas Jefferson

Ritual or Rote?

seagulls-008“Tradition” is a dirty word in some circles, but for others, it is practically sacred. Some eye anything repeated with suspicion while others fear the new and different. I recently heard a story that demonstrates the beauty of meaningful tradition.

Every Friday afternoon an older man would carry a bucket of shrimp to a particular spot on a pier in Florida. The shrimp weren’t for eating or fishing or for crabbing; they had a different purpose. As soon as he arrived in his spot, the sea gulls would take notice and swarm him. He fed the shrimp to the gulls, one at a time, until his bucket was empty. Then he returned home.

What was the purpose behind this strange ritual?

The man was Air Force Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. In World War II, he and 7 comrades were flying a B-17 across the Pacific to deliver a message to General MacArthur when the plane went down into the ocean. These eight men had to survive on a tiny life raft. When their emergency rations were exhausted, the men knew their situation was bleak.

After a period of prayer followed by a nap, Rickenbacker awoke to a sea gull landing on his head. He knew that if he could catch the gull, they could survive. He reacted quickly, caught the gull, and the men now had meat and fishing supplies that sustained them until help arrived.

When the war was over, Rickenbacker made a tradition of going to the beach to feed the gulls as his way of saying, “Thank you, God.”

Tradition, when infused with meaning, purpose, and feeling, is a beautiful thing. Tradition divorced from its meaning is an empty shell of a thing. If our worship is infused with meaning and passion, it can be a beautiful ritual. If it is mindlessly offered and repeated, it will become a worn-out rote.

Harder, But Better

jeff-bezosJeff Bezos was an exceptionally bright young man. Even in grade school, he became a leader of his peers in the program for gifted and talented children. He has used his abilities well. You most likely know of him as the founder of He is one of America’s wealthiest tech giants, but the lessons he has learned as a genius and entrepreneur are insignificant to one that he learned from his grandparents.

Young Bezos had to learn that there is more to life than being bright. When he was only ten, his grandparents took him on a road trip. From the backseat of their car, he heard an anti-smoking public service announcement. Bezos took the data he heard on the radio and did some mental math, before proudly announcing to his grandmother that her smoking habit was likely to cause her to die nine years prematurely.

You probably aren’t surprised to know that she didn’t take this pronouncement very well, but Jeff was caught off-guard. He didn’t understand her reaction. What he said was true. He His grandfather pulled the car over and escorted him away as his grandmother continued to cry. Bezos wasn’t sure what would happen next—a lecture, a spanking, a disagreement—but he never forgot what happened next. He said, “My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, ‘Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.’”

It’s not that hard to be right. Clever isn’t that difficult, either, but kindness, that takes work.

Maybe we need to learn the lesson that young Jeff Bezos learned. Maybe we need to do the hard thing. Maybe we need to do the better thing.

What is baptism?

Baptism-2011Have you ever thought about all the things that happen when a person is baptized?

Baptism is a killing. The “old man” of sin and shame is killed and buried with Jesus (Romans 6:4).

Baptism is a birthday. A person is “born again” not of flesh and blood, but of the Spirit of God to walk in a new kind of life (John 3:5-8, Romans 6:4).

Baptism is an imitation. A person who is baptized is doing what Jesus did (Matthew 3:13-17).

Baptism is a change. It a part of the process we call repentance which is a change in thinking and living (Acts 2:38).

Baptism is a bath. Ananias told Paul to quit waiting, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16)

Baptism is gift. When a person is baptized, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s personal presence and power in life (Acts 2:38).

Baptism is a celebration. When someone repents, the angels rejoice (Luke 15:7).

Baptism is clothing. Paul told the Galatians, “as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Baptism is a unification. Everyone who is baptized is baptized into the body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

Baptism is the birth of a new Christian, the saving moment when a conscience is made clean (1 Peter 3:21).

If you never have been baptized into Jesus, you’re missing something incredible. Don’t put it off any longer.

Five Ways to Help the Burns Church

1.10.BestWayHelpChurch_458597731Sometimes when people hear about some of the good things going on at Burns, they ask, “How can I help?” There probably are a million ways—but here are five that almost anyone can do.

ONE: Show up. It sounds simple—because it is—but simply being here when we meet helps more than you know. You matter. Your voice improves the singing. Your question improves a Bible class. Your hug improves our hospitality. Your presence adds energy to the room.

TWO: Refuse gossip. I know that none of you reading this would ever repeat gossip, but there’s more you can do to stop it. If someone starts to tell you something that you don’t really need to know about, politely stop the conversation. If you refuse to listen, it will help stop the damaging effects of gossip in the church.

THREE: Gossip! Not in the bad way. Tell a friend what’s happening here. Did you know that 82% of unchurched people say they are at least somewhat likely to attend worship if invited? Stats from 2010 say that over half of Dickson county is religiously “unaffiliated.” The number is higher if you count those who are inactive at their church. Invite a friend to an activity, class, or worship at church. They’re more likely to come than you’d expect.

FOUR: Give. Your consistent giving makes the work of the church possible. Consider using your bank’s free automatic payment feature to automate your giving if you’re forgetful. Giving blesses the giver and the recipient.

FIVE: Prioritize. I’ve never met a person who has as much time or money as they’d like. You demonstrate your priorities by how you allocate those precious resources. If you prioritize the kingdom of God (in the words of Jesus, “seek first the kingdom”), you will help other people see that God’s family is more than a nice add-on to your life; it is where we found life.

The Parade of Nations

Twenty-two time Olympic medalist swimmer Michael Phelps carries the Stars & Stripes to lead Team USA into Maracana Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 5. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs

Twenty-two time Olympic medalist swimmer Michael Phelps carries the Stars & Stripes to lead Team USA into Maracana Stadium during the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 5. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, IMCOM Public Affairs

The Olympic opening ceremonies concludes with a beautiful ritual: the parade of nations. Athletes follow a flag-bearer into the stadium dressed to reflect their culture. You can feel the energy in the scene through your television. In a world that is more polarized and factious than ever before, it almost feels like a miracle to watch people from over one hundred countries coming together in unity for two weeks. When we watch, we feel hope.

Revelation 7 paints a similar scene. John said, “After this, I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

John’s parade of nations is not celebrating the beginning of a new series of Olympic games. They are celebrating the coronation of the king of God and the beginning of an era where no sin or death will ever be seen again.

The parade of nations in Rio gives me hope, but the parade of nations in Revelation excites me even more. The one I see on TV reminds me that the one in heaven is yet to come—and it’s going to be even better!

Holy, Holy, Holy

holyholyholyIf you ask most people, love is God’s number one attribute. I won’t argue with passages like 1 John 4:8 that say “God is love,” but we shouldn’t forget some of the other qualities that scripture attributes to God.

For example, did you know that the idea of “holy” appears 900 times in your Bible? Many commentators say that holiness is the most frequently described attribute of God. Holiness is important to God’s people, too. Hebrews says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14)

Almost every time that a human gets some glimpse of God, the attribute of God that overpowers them isn’t his goodness or even his grace—it is his holiness. When we see God’s holiness, our unholiness is revealed in stark and painful contrast. When Isaiah peeked into the throne room of God, he witnessed the seraphim crying, “Holy, holy, holy”–the same thing John saw in Revelation 4, by the way—and it nearly broke him. He said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:1-5).

Why, then, does “holy” rarely make the top of our lists of God’s attributes?

Perhaps we haven’t understood the beauty of the word “holy.” Maybe some “holier-than-thou” types have caused us to think less of holiness than we could. Maybe our own unholiness doesn’t like to be confronted with the perfect holiness of God.

Whatever the reason—it would do us well to look into this attribute of God, one that he specifically commands us to imitate. God himself said, “You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). That’s what we’ll be doing for the next several weeks in our worship assembly. I hope you’ll come, ready to be challenged by the holy God of scripture!

Oh be careful little lips…

wordsThe tongue has incredible power. When James wrote about it, he said that the tongue is the spark that ignites a forest fire or the rudder that steers a large ship. He said that humans can subdue and control everything—except the tongue (James 3:1-12).

We don’t often realize the deadly power lurking behind our words.

In a relationship, a harsh word can be devastating and cause nearly indescribable heartache.

In a doctor’s office or pharmacy, a misplaced word becomes a medical error that maims or kills instead of heals.

In society, an untrue word repeated over and over again can become the basis of belief and action that launches out into all sorts of wickedness.

In a church, words of gossip can divide and totally obstruct the work of God.

In an office, words of complaint and negativity can sap productivity and make everyone miserable along the way.

In the military, secret words repeated in front of the enemy cause defeat with loss of life.

Words are more powerful now than they have ever been. Today they can spread to the whole world with nothing more than a click of a button. We don’t often think about the responsibility that comes with the “forward” button on our emails, but these words are just as important as the words that we say or write.

Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23).