“Now that’s a good movie!” . . . or is it? How to discern what is okay in entertainment.

In 2012, the average American making 50k a year spent over $2600 on entertainment.  That is about $200 a month.  That is more than the average person gives to charity annually.  We are entertained in many different ways; movies, music, games, sports, etc.   Americans spend more time and money on entertainment today than any other nation in the history or the world.  We like to be entertained.  There is nothing wrong with being entertained.   In fact, if the Westminster Catechism is correct stating that man’s chief end is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” then good godly entertainment is certainly one way we can enjoy Him.  However, not all (or even most) entertainment that we spend money on today falls under the “godly entertainment” category.  Let us not say, on the other hand, that all entertainment must be inherently Christian for Christians to partake in and enjoy.

Is it okay to watch and enjoy a football, soccer, or baseball game without feeling sinful?  Most certainly!  Nevertheless, there is also a way to watch these things and it be sinful, depending on your motive.  How are we to discern what to watch and listen to in the way of entertainment?  I believe the Philippians 4:8 test is the best way to do this.  Paul wrote,

 “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.”

Before you turn on The Game of Thorns or Downton Abby, and before you download that new Taylor Swift album, take this test and hopefully you will be able to see if you should be spending your time, money, and energy on it.  Before you do anything, ask yourself these questions.

Is it True?

Can this (movie, book, TV program, etc.) be found in God’s Word as something that is true?  For example, can you listen to a love song not written by a Christian? I would say yes, as long as it is something that lines up with the truth of God, and is not distorting it.  If it lines up with the truth that is found in scripture and your conscience allows . . why not?  Remember that all truth is ultimately God’s truth.

Is it Honorable?

This is to say, is it something that is honorable to God?  Is it something where people are making light of sex? Then no, this is not honorable. Is it a game that glorifies violence? Again, I would say no, that is not honorable. What about a book that makes you lust after its character?  Is that honorable? NO!  You get the point.

Is it Just?

Is this something that is in harmony with God’s Word?  What about music that is glorifying getting drunk or songs where the singer is bragging about themselves?  I don’t think these are things that are justifiable to the Lord.  And what about watching some kid being beat up on YouTube?  Sorry, I don’t think that is justifiable entertainment either.

Is it Pure?

Is this promoting good or godly morals?  Is the music video, TV show, or movie that is showing people making out in a provocative way okay?  The question is, how is watching this going to make you more pure?  Peering through a window watching a couple make out would be a good way to have yourself arrested wouldn’t it?  There is not much difference in watching it on TV.  If it is not pure, you do not need to be entertained by it.

Is it Lovely?

Is this pleasing, kind, or gracious?  Is it okay to read a good hearted story about someone overcoming adversity?  Sure, we all love to hear these kinds of stories.  Actually, it often points us to the gospel.  There are plenty of feel good movies and books that are not overtly Christian that fall into this category.  However, if it is not pleasing, kind, or gracious, then the Philippians 4:8 test would say to “not think on these things.”  It is inevitable that you will have to face things that are not lovely in your life, but to openly be entertained by them is a different matter.

Is it Commendable?

Is it respectful?  Is it of high character?  Is this something that you could recommend to your friends or a Christian family?  I love war movies.  My all time favorite is Braveheart (but only the edited version).  I have recommended it to many people over the years.  However, there are some songs, articles, TV shows, and movies that could never fall under this category that I have been sinfully amused by in the past.  If you would not be willing tore commend it to your pastor, there is a great chance the Lord would not want you to participate in being entertained by it either.

These seven questions have helped guide me into making better choices in entertainment for my family.  They apply to movies, music, books, and even sporting events.  I love all sorts of entertainment. So, if Paul can quote a pagan poet (Acts 17:28) and it become part of the canon, it seems to be okay to be entertained by things that are not distinctly Christian as well as long as they fall into the above listed guidelines.  The next time you want to run to the theater to watch the newest flick, or click to download the newest album on iTunes . . . take the Philippians 4:8 test first and see if it is something the Lord would be okay with.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Should Christians Get Tattoos?

Let’s face it: tattoos are more popular now than they have ever been. Roughly 21% of all adults in America are said to have at least one tattoo. In the last 30 years they have become more culturally accepted than at any other time in history. At one time they were considered to be a sign of rebellion, but now they are seen as more of a sign of self-expression. Formerly, they were only for sailors and ruffians, but now doctors, lawyers, and even pastors are frequenting tattoo shops to get inked. The question is, while it may be more popular and more accepted now than ever, is it something that Christians should participate in? To be upfront, I have 4 tattoos myself.  I got them all before the age of 21, and now that I am older and more mature in my faith I wish I had not gotten them. While I am not ashamed of the content of the tattoos, I simply wish I had not done it.  This does not expressly mean it is wrong for everyone, especially the Christian. In short, scripture is not clear-cut on the issue of tattooing, but the Bible does say some things that may guide you in a better understanding of tattoos for yourself.

The Leviticus Argument:

There is only one place that the word tattoo is used in scripture. We find it in Leviticus 19:28. Most English translations render it this way, “You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD.”  While the word tattoo is not in the original language (“mark your body” is the best translation) the idea of it certainly is.  So, shouldn’t this be enough to end the argument? Scripture says it right? To understand this scripture it must be put into its context. According to your view of Jesus’ fulfillment of the OT law, a different argument could be made here. I (along with most of the Church over the past 500 years) hold to a moral law perspective: Only the moral laws still apply from the OT. I believe scripture supports that Jesus fulfilled this temporary law that was given specifically to the nation of Israel for a specific time. Leviticus 19:28 was a specific law for a specific people with a specific purpose. The law was intended to set Israel apart from cultural Egypt that was known for tattooing themselves for their dead. Tattoos were seen as an offering to the gods who ruled the dead. Thus, when the Lord brought his people out of the land, he told them not to tattoo. If in Christ the law has already been paid for and no longer binding on Christians, then Leviticus 19:28 does not seem to aid in the discussion on modern tattooing for the Christian. The Levitical argument used by some to forbid tattooing does not seem to hold much weight.

The I Corinthians 6 Argument:

Once we become Christians, we give ourselves over to the Lord, including our bodies. Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” The context of this has to do with joining oneself to a prostitute; however, there seems to be many implications for this truth as well. Every act of fornication, or any other sin committed by the believer in the “temple” was/is a very big deal. In the Old Testament, the High Priest would enter only once a year, and only after extensive cleansing, or he would be struck down by the Lord.  A case could be made to say that tattooing your body is a defilement of the temple. But if you go down that road too far, you could make that argument for eating unhealthy food, for piercing your ears, for smoking, and so on. The list is endless. Therefore, we need not make fast and overarching laws based on 1 Corinthians 6.  Nevertheless, the “temple” mandate of this text is enough for me personally to never get another tattoo.  I don’t believe this Scripture can be made into a mandated law for all Christians. While it does aid in the narrative, the argument from 1 Corinthians 6 is not an end-all on the discussion of Christians and tattoos.

Discernment in Tattooing: 

Since scripture does not have a clear stance on the subject, how then are we to discern whether it is lawful for a Christian to get a tattoo?  I would suggest asking a few questions before you ever get stuck with the needle.

1.  What is your motive? If it is to “stick it” to your parents or another authority (pun intended), then Ephesians 6 would forbid it. If you are trying to draw attention to yourself (pun intended), then James 4:6 does not seem to support that view either. If there is a way to draw attention to Jesus and him alone, then this is the only motive I can see that the Lord would accept.

2.  Have you prayed about it? There is much that can be discerned through prayer. God has told us to commit all things unto him (Psalm 37:5). Before you do something as permanent as a tattoo, it would be wise to seek the Lord’s blessing on it.

 3.  Is this going to glorify God? The content of your tattoo is very important if you decide the Lord has permitted you to get one. It should be something that is glorifying God.  After all, I Corinthians 10:31 says “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you don’t know the answer to that, then let me suggest you wait until you have a definitive answer. Remember, “DO ALL THINGS,” this includes tattoos.

4.  Will 45 year old you regret this Tattoo? – Many regret ever getting them.  Will you?

5.  Money, Message, Placement – these are all practical things you need to consider as well.  Is it good stewardship? What does it say to others about you? Will I be able to get a job if I am showing this tattoo off?

Does the Bible have a clear answer on the subject of tattoos?  No, but there does seem to be some good guidelines in Scripture. Ultimately, the decision is up to the person getting one. It does need to be an informed decision not one made out of ignorance. Finally, the law of liberty (Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8) must be applied I believe. Nevertheless Paul’s words, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable” should ring in our ears when searching through this subject. For myself, my conscience would never allow me to get another one. If you are considering getting one and you are a Christian, I would suggest doing your research . . . and more importantly seeking the Lord for your answer.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Finding Hope in a Miscarriage: A Father’s Perspective

One of the worst things for a parent to go through has to be the death of a child.  I can think of few things more tragic than this.  While I have never experienced the death of a child after they have been born, I have felt the pains of death in miscarriage.  Statistics say that somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage.  If you have ever been a part of that 10-20 percent, you know the pain it can cause.  You know all the questions that you have asked.  Often you are left with more question than answers. Often, there are just no good answers to give for why your little child died in the womb.  For many, there seems to be no hope in the case of a miscarriage.  It felt this way for my wife and me for a while.  It seemed that few people had answers . . . and even fewer cared to talk about it.  But what we found out is that you can actually find hope in the midst of it.  I read several articles on the subject when we went though it a few years ago.  They were helpful, but I would like to offer the perspective as a husband and father who has witnessed it firsthand.

Hope in the Right Questions:

First, it is important to note that God is big enough for your questions.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  He desires for us to come to Him with our burdens.  He even asked His father if He could “take this cup” from Him before He went to the cross.  When a miscarriage happens, a part of the grieving process may be to ask God why.  That is okay; He is big enough to field that question.  But the key factor in asking that question is not to stop there, but to submit it to the Lord.  Jesus submitted to His Father’s will by saying, “not My will but Yours be done.”  Have hope that there are answers to your questions, even if you don’t find them when you are asking.  God knows.  This leads us to the second point where we can find hope.

Hope in a Sovereign God:

There are four people involved in a miscarriage: the child, the mother, the father, and the Lord.  It is not always easy to remember during time of great pain and sorrow, but according to scripture God is the giver and taker of life.  Death is ultimately a byproduct of sin.  Death hurts. There is no way around it.  But when you have an understanding that God is sovereign over both life and death, it should bring comfort to know that the death of that little child was not an accident.  We should rejoice that the Lord counted us worthy to have that blessing for even a day.  God in His highest ways knew that it was best for His purpose.  He does not say that we have to enjoy His plan (I am sure Job did not), but when we have a good understanding of who He is we can submit to it and find hope that He knows what He is doing . . . and that He loves us while doing it.

Hope That You Will See Them Again One Day:

According to where you fall in the “covenant children” spectrum, this point of hope can be controversial.  Time, and words, would fail me if I tried to give a complete biblical defense of why I think infants who die very young go to heaven when they die (look here for my defense).  However, I believe there is great biblical hope for a parent who is a believer that suffers a miscarriage that they will one day see their child in glory.  This is one of the reasons my wife and I named our child that we miscarried.  While the case for miscarried (and even young children) going to heaven when they die is not as black and white as something such as the divinity of Jesus, or the virgin birth, I still believe we can say with a high degree of confidence that if you are a believer, you will one day again be united with that unborn child.  What hope that should bring.

Hope For Healing For Your Wife:

This miscarriage was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with.  Part of the reason for the hurt was seeing the pain my wife suffered.  For weeks she cried, it seemed like non-stop.  I felt helpless to do anything for her.  It felt the pain of the loss, but not in the same way she did.  I found the best thing I could do for her was to pray constantly, have a listening ear, and be a shoulder to cry on.  While my words did not bring much comfort to her during the first few weeks, she has since told me that what spoke volumes to her was me simply showing my love in these other ways.  I must admit: that was a God thing.  I am a fixer.  But for this hurt . . . the fix was just holding her and letting her cry.  I had hope that the Lord would heal her broken spirit . . . because I knew that I could not.

Miscarriage is difficult.  It hurts.  But for the Christian, there is hope.  We have a Father who crushed His own son so that His people could have a hope.  We have a Savior who can sympathize with us in our pain.  Finding hope during the distress of a miscarriage it not always easy, but if you are willing to look . . . it is there.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

How To Live The Normal Christian Life.

Have you ever wondered what the day in and day out life of a Christian is supposed to look like?  We know the big commands like “Go and make disciples,” and “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”  However, we don’t have a lot of texts that show us how to do these things in the day-to-day life.  In my particular denomination (SBC) sometimes we have a tendency to elevate our foreign missionaries to a very high level.  If we are not careful, we can make them out to be “Super Christians.”  I do not want to downplay the sacrifice required of all of our missionaries, but I also want to be careful not to elevate them to a place that is not God-honoring either.  God has called every single Christian to certain standards.  He has called us all to do a certain job.  The missionary has no higher calling than the school teacher if God has called you to teach school for His glory.  So, just what does that normal Christian life look like for both the factory worker and the pastor . . . the missionary and the stay-at-home mom?

Watchman Nee, a church leader and Christian teacher who worked in China during the 20th century, wrote a book nearly 100 years ago entitled “The Normal Christian Life.”  In it he wrote, “I do not consecrate myself to be a missionary or a preacher.  I consecrate myself to God to do His will where I am, be it in school, office, or kitchen, or wherever He may, in His wisdom, send me.”  I believe there is great wisdom in this saying.  If we want to see what this looks like, what the “The Normal Christian Life” looks like, I believe we can look at Paul’s exhortation to the Christians in Thessalonica in I Thessalonians 4:1-12.  He provides three commands for them that are just as applicable today as they were 2000 years ago.

Be Pure (I Thess. 4:3-8)

To be specific, he tells them and be sexually pure.  The word Paul uses here for sexual purity covers every type of sexual sin imagined (if you want a list see Deuteronomy 22).  The Christian who lived in Thessalonica lived in a very sexually perverted society, which is not that different from the world we live in today.  His instructions to them were simple . . . God has called us to remain pure, and thus you need to remain pure in this area, even if your culture does not.  Today we need to be reminded of this as well.  Recently statistics have shown that over 50% of men within the church look at pornography on a regular basis, and 30% of pastors have admitted to having an extra marital affair with someone within the church.  These statistics are scary and very disheartening.  A person cannot have a growing and thriving relationship with God while being sexually impure at the same time.  The normal everyday Christian (From John Piper to Jimmy Wright) has been called to be sexually pure . . . day in and day out.  You want to be a disciple of Jesus? . . . Be pure.

Be Loving (I Thess. 4:9-10)

The second command Paul gives is to be a person who loves much and loves well . . . specifically to his brother in Christ.  They had been taught by God through scripture and the example of Jesus, as well as the example of Paul when he lived with them.  They had already been doing a good job of this, yet Paul tells them to do it even more.  If we want to know what a disciple of Christ looks like and how one is to act . . . it must start and end with love.  Why did the Lord give the spiritual gifts?  He gave them for the outbuilding of the church.  What is the greatest commandment and the 2nd that is like it? . . . Love.  If we want to live a normal Christian life we need to be a people who are known for our love.  People should know we are Christians by our love . . . our actions toward others.  A disciple of Christ is one who loves the Lord so much that they desire to show their devotion to Him by loving others.

 Be Diligent (I Thess. 4:11-12)

The last command that we see is a call for diligence among all of God’s people.  He says that we are to be diligent in living a quiet life, minding our own business, and working hard.  There are many commands throughout scripture that go along with these charges.  One of my favorites is found in II Thessalonians 3:10.  It says, “for even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (This rule works great with children, by the way, when they don’t want to clean their room.)  Christians above all people should be a person that does not want to bring attention to themselves, but at the same time tending closely to what the Lord has given them to do as a vocation according Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  When we understand that our salvation is completely from the Lord and whatever we do we should give Him glory in . . . it should make us want to be diligent in it.  This is a normal everyday thing that the Lord has called us to.

Sometimes we over spiritualize what the Lord has called us to do.  Because we still battle with our flesh at times it is easy to let a bit of pride creep up in our lives and feel like we want to be noticed.  However, I believe Tim Challies has given some good advice when he said that we need to “Be content to be unremarkable.”  In a day and age when we elevate Christian pastors and musicians to a level that many believe they will never be able to attain it seems like a good time to remind us all that God may have called us all to different vocations . . . but He has called us all too certainly live the normal Christian life.  If you want to live a life that is pleasing to God you need to be sure to Be Pure, Be Loving, and Be Diligent.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

5 Ways to Help Affair-Proof Your Marriage

It is a scary thing to see what seems to be a good and godly marriage come to an end because of an unfaithful spouse.  Most of these affairs do not happen overnight.  Most who have an affair do not just end up in the bed with a total stranger and wake up the next morning and wonder how they got there.  It started out as “innocent” conversations, but then it progressed from there.  It is hard to imagine on your wedding day that an affair could ever take place; but if we are not careful, we can let an adulterous heart slip in (which is sin in itself), which can easily lead to adulterous actions.  With so many people seemingly falling into this sin, it seems like we need to prepare ourselves against such things.  If a person wants to have an affair, they will find a way to do so, but most people that I know of do not want to have an affair.  However, it seems like many people do little preventive work to keep it from happening.  I will be the first to say that I need to apply these principles as much as anyone.  “My heart is deceitfully wicked above all things” as well.  Yet, through the strengthening of the Lord we do not have to be overcome by sin.  Here are some ways we can be proactive toward helping affair-proof our marriages.  I sincerely hope that you will consider them.

Don’t forget about your covenant:

When you got married you made a covenant with not only your spouse but also with God that you would remain faithful to each other “until death do us part.”  When you decide to go down the pathway of an affair you not only break that covenantal promise to your spouse, but you sin against, lie to, and break your covenant with God as well.  To break a covenant with your spouse is shameful, but to break it with God is fearful.  If the thought of an affair ever enters you mind, don’t forget that you are not just telling your spouse that they no longer “do it for you”, but you are telling God that your desire for that other person is more important that you desire to please Him.

Don’t be alone with a person of the opposite sex:

Before I got into ministry, a very wise pastor once told me, “You need to make it a rule to try your best to never be alone with another woman in a room (or car) that is not your direct family.”  I have found this counsel to be very wise.  I believe this is a principle that we should all take, not just pastors.  Scripture tells us that we are to “flee from the appearance of evil,” in I Thessalonians 5:22.  If you are never alone with a person of the opposite sex, it will make it hard to allow an affair to take place.  If you must ride together in a vehicle, then if they ride in the front seat, you ride in the back or vice verse.  Your marriage is worth fighting for and keeping pure.  It may seem uncomfortable to tell the person who you are riding with why you are not sitting next to them, but I promise you . . . your spouse will love you for it.  This is just another way of preparing yourself beforehand to “flee from the APPEARANCE of evil.”

Don’t have “close” friends of the opposite sex:

What I mean by “close” friends is to say an exclusive friend who your spouse is not friends with also.  I certainly have friends who are women.  However, once I got married, I gave up the right to have them as a “best friend” or exclusive “close friend” due to my special relationship with my wife.  I love her too much to allow a close relationship with another woman to possibly hinder ours.   It is not wise to have friends of the opposite sex that you have lengthy phone, e-mail, text, or even face-to-face conversations with.  If you are finding time to just “run into each other” at the store each week, or you just happen to “get coffee at the same place” together each Saturday morning after your run, then it may be time to change up your routine.  If you don’t, you might wake up one morning and find yourself on the road to an affair.

Don’t have closed social media accounts:

            If you have social media accounts then your spouse should have your passwords and have open regular access to them.  If they do not, are you trying to hide something?  Most people are not trying to hide anything, but allowing your spouse this open access to your social accounts shows transparency to them and would also help keep you from trying to do things that your spouse might not approve of (remember, you are one flesh now).  It is also not wise to be “friends” with someone on your social network that you might have once had a dating relationship with.  Why be friends with someone who you once had feelings for?  If you and your spouse are going through a hard time, then it might be easy to try to find some comfort through an old flame.  Having old girlfriends or boyfriends on Facebook, Twitter, or even in your e-mail contacts is not wise.  Avoid old flames, and enjoy your current eternal one.  It is too easy to just “check out” your old friend and see what they are up to these days.  This has led many down a road that has ended in affairs and even divorce.  Just avoid the temptation and just say no to your Ex’s friend invite.

Do have someone you are accountable to:

If you want to help affair-proof your marriage, one helpful way of doing this is by having an accountability partner who will ask you tough questions.  Find a close friend, of the same sex, that does not mind asking you about your thought life and your dealings with people of the opposite sex.  I truly believe that for a majority of people who have had affairs, if they would have had godly people speaking into their lives asking them these hard questions then it could have helped stopped the affair before it ever stated.  It is a wise thing to heed the Proverb to let “Iron sharpen Iron.”  Having someone ask you if “you have been with a person of the opposite sex in an ungodly way or a way that would offend your spouse in the last few weeks” really makes you take an inventory of your life.  Having someone there who can help you pray though your struggles is a huge blessing.  If we are honest with friends about our dealings with others, this can be one major step in helping to keep our “marriage bed pure.”

There you have it.  Here are 5 ways that if subscribed to, will help prevent an extra-marital affair.  There are a variety of others.  Do you and your spouse have any established guidelines or practices to help affair-proof your marriage?  Have you found anything specifically helpful in keeping your marriage pure?  If so, please feel free to share . . .

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

What Does Biblical Repentance Really Look Like?

In recent months there have been some pretty high profile men (Mark Driscoll, Doug Philips,Tullian Tchividjian) who have either stepped down from the pastorate, or have been asked to, due to different sins in their lives. A firestorm of opinions has since lit up the blogosphere and every form of social media. Some have said that these men have not met the biblical level of repentance while others defend these pastors by saying that they have gone over and above what scripture requires for repentance. If you have been a Christian for very long, I hope repentance is something that you seek to do regularly. If we sin much, then we need to repent much. Scripture lays out plainly what repentance looks like. We must be careful not to add to God’s Word, just like we need to be equally careful not to take away from it. Some might want to add a certain amount of works (or penance) to the biblical model, while others may try to water down the Word so much that a person does not even need to confess one’s sin to God. The Bible provides us with the right balance. There are three parts to repentance, no more . . . and certainly no less.

Repentance in the Mind:

For repentance to be a truly biblical response it must have its place in the mind.  Repentance means “a change in your mind.”  Isaiah 55:7 says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” When we sin, we must come to an understanding that this sin is a violation of God and His law. The first step of repentance is recognition in your mind that you have transgressed a holy God. However, simply acknowledging sin is not full-on repentance.

Repentance in the Heart:

For repentance to be true, one must also be convicted in their spirit (heart) that they have offended the Lord by their sin. Paul writes in II Corinthians 7:10, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Unless the Holy Spirit convicts you, there can be no repentance. Confession can happen without the movement of the Spirit, but repentance that comes from a “broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart” is what “God will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). When you come face to face with a Holy God in light of your sin, a broken heart is what the Lord delights in and accepts.

Repentance in your Action:

For true Biblical repentance to happen there is still a third part that must be accomplished. This is also the hardest one to accomplish (not possible apart from the Holy Spirit I might add). It is a change in your actions. One might know they have sinned in their head, and be convicted of it in their heart, but unless they physically turn away from that sin then they have not truly repented of it. Repentance is not just a change of mind, but also a change of action. It literally means turning a 180. Luke 3:8 says that we are to “bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”  In Old Testament times this might look like putting ashes on your heard and wearing sackcloth. There must be an action taken to turn away from your sin. That is not to say that we need to wear ashes or sackcloth, but this action is actually a response to the first two parts of repentance (in the mind and in the heart). Unless, however, this portion of the repentant pattern happens, true biblical repentance has not occurred in the life of the sinner.

John MacArthur has rightly said, “Repentance is not just a change of mind; it is a change of heart. It is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. . . It is an inward response, not external activity, but its fruit will be evident in the true believer’s behavior.” It takes all three parts of the pattern if a person wants to truly repent of their sin. We must never forget, conversely, that all of this is done by the work of God and not done on our own. We could never repent unless the Lord showed us our sin though His word. We could never repent unless the Spirit convicted us. We could never walk away from our sin unless given the power to, through Christ’s death to that sin. When considering what repentance looks like in the life of men like the above stated (or even ourselves) we need to be careful that we do not add man-made requirements to the person in sin. God has told us what repentance looks like. He does not take lightly someone adding to his word. Yes, there needs to be fruit of repentance, but let’s let scripture define this and not try to define it ourselves. On the other hand, God does not take lightly taking away from His divine Word either. Confession is not repentance (much to the chagrin of some of my Catholic friends). Simply being convicted in ones heart that they have sinned is not repentance. It is a complete turning from it (mind, heart, and deed).  Repentance is necessary it we want to please God. So, when we sin . . . let us be quick to repent from that sin.  When a brother is in sin, let us lovingly tell them of their need for repentance. If they do repent, then praise God for it and act accordingly. Don’t add to their reproach, but certainly don’t make light of it either. Repentance is a good thing . . . so let’s make sure that we do it the biblical way.

Soli Deo Gloria

Adam B Burrell

Why I Almost Left Contemporary Christian Music Behind

Have you ever had an old friend who was once a best friend to you, but now it just seems like you have simply grown apart and hardly even know each other?  This is the best way to describe my relationship with much of the Christian music that we find on the radio today.  When I first started listening to Christian music 13 years ago, I fell in love with it.  When the Lord saved me, I knew that I needed to change the music I listened to.  Before I came to know the Lord, my CD changer (this was before the days that 2,000 songs fit in your pocket) was filled with bands like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin.  While these musicians had some talent, their music would often influence me in ways that would not be pleasing to the Lord.  I knew that after becoming a child of God, I needed to change the music I listened to.  Music was such a big part of my life; the Lord filled that desire with a better option . . . Christian music.  I was introduced to bands like Jars of Clay, DC Talk, Newsboys and a variety of others.   Over the years I continued to love those bands and came to love the music of many other contemporary Christian artists.  However, things are rather different today than they were 13 years ago.  I find myself listening to Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) much less than ever before, and have even contemplated (though just briefly) leaving it behind for good.  I’ve had a few realizations that have caused me to rarely talk to that old friend anymore; but when we do get together, it is still a pleasant conversation.

  The Realization that they are artists, and not theologians:

R.A. Sheats, author and friend, once made a very interesting observation that has stuck with me for years.  She said, “Today, Christian music is written by artists, while it was once written by theologians.”  There can be a pretty large gap between the two.  This is not to say that all writers of Christian music today have weak or bad theology; some certainly are sound (Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin, for the most part, to name a few).  But when we look at it as a whole, I believe my friend had a good point.  Most songs written in church history were written by pastors and theologians, where today many of the songs you will hear on the radio are written by 25-35 year-olds who are not even involved in a local church.  Being in the Word and under sound teaching consistently matters when it comes to the songs that are written.  Today, it seems like the music is more important than the words, which make sense if you are making art.  However, God has called us to make more than just art when we make music.  The words mean something and it tells us something.  For me, so many of the words in much of modern CCM music tells me little.  It tells me little of the vileness of my sin.  It tells me little of His substitutionary act of atonement on the cross.  It boasts much of God’s love, but little of His wrath.  Not all artists have bad or watered down theology, but it seems to me that many do . . . and it comes out in their music.  When I listen to or sing a song, I want it to paint an accurate picture of God, and not a light (often feminized) version of Him.

  The Realization that many love the world more than the Word:

There is no more hot button topic today than that of homosexual marriage.  Everywhere you look it seems to be talked about.  Some in the CCM world are even chiming in on the subject.  In the past year we have seen people/groups like Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, and even Carrie Underwood voicing their support of same-sex marriage.  Vicky Beeching (Brittan’s female version of Chris Tomlin), just this year came out to reveal that she is a lesbian as well, while people like Jenifer Knapp and Ray Boltz “came out of the closet” a few years back.  Just recently Derek Webb (once one of my musical heros) toured with Knapp in an apparent support of her lifestyle.  Sadly, the love for the world over the Word does not stop at the same-sex-marriage debate for some in the CCM world.  Musical artist Gunger (writer of “Beautiful Things”) made waves a few months back when he denied the validity of the Bible and said that Jesus “was probably just wrong” when He was quoting Moses’ account of the flood.  Even sadder is the fact that Tim Lambesis, the front man for As I Lay Dying, was sentenced to six years in prison for conspiring to kill his estranged wife this past August.  He stated that he and others in the band had become atheists 2 or 3 years back, but it was just easier to keep playing their music than it would have been to come out and say that they no longer believed in the God they were singing about.

It simply breaks my heart to hear these stories.  I know that one cannot toss a whole bag of fruit out because of a few bad apples, but I am afraid that this may very well be only the tip of the iceberg.  I pray that I am wrong, but I believe as times get harder on the Christians in this country who oppose these social issues, we are going to see more artists come out with similar weak-convictions.  It scares me to think that it seems like a shift is coming where people are being conformed to the patterns of this world instead of being transformed by the renewing of their minds.  How I hope I am wrong.

My journey has by no means come full circle.  I am not reverting back to my secular music days.  However, on my music journey I have learned that I need to be careful about what I listen to.  The belief system of the singers matters.  That is why I said I’ve almost left contemporary Christian music.  I have not given up on it completely.  There are still some great songs being written by orthodox Christian artists.  I love singing songs of worship to God like “Glory to God” by Fee or “10,000 Reason” by Matt Redman.  They fill my heart with worship and praise to God.  Nowadays I find myself pulled more to the old hymns, but also to the newer songs of The Getty’s, Jenny and Tyler, Sovereign Grace Music, Red Mountain Church, Andrew Peterson, Rend Collective, and Fernando Ortega.  I love a new Christ-centered hymn or chorus.  It just seems like the theologically sound ones are few and far between in the Contemporary Christian Music world.  While I almost left the CCM world completely because of my frustrations with it, I am glad to still be able to hang out with my old friend at times.  I hope you will join me in trying to practice good discernment when it comes to the Christian music we listen to, and the people we follow who make it.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

That Cannot Mean That: How to Deal With Hard Passages of Scripture?

If you have been reading scripture for any length of time it probably didn’t take you too long to run across a few passages that made you think, “Did the Bible really just say that?”  There is no doubt that there are some scriptures that are hard to understand in our limited capacity.  After all, this is a book that was written ultimately by a holy, all knowing, and all powerful God.  We are none of the above.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”  How the trinity works, how election and predestination work together with man’s choice can all be hard things to understand.  However, there is a difference between something that is hard to understand and something that is hard to accept.  There are some scriptures that at first glance people may say, “I don’t like that,” but if we believe that “all scripture is God breathed” then God must have intended to have it in the canon of scripture.  So how are we to deal with these hard passages in scripture that we might say we don’t like?  I believe that there are several principles we should employ when reading (and teaching) these texts.  Let’s use Psalm 137 as an example . . .

By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion.  Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”

How can we sing the Lord’s song In a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom The day of Jerusalem, Who said, “Raze it, raze it To its very foundation.” O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, How blessed will be the one who repays you With the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes Your little ones against the rock.  

Read and teach them in their context:

If the motto for real estate is “location, location, location” then the motto for scripture interpretation should be “context, context, context.”   The first eight verses of this Psalm are a beautiful, yet sad picture of the feelings of many of the Jews who were being led into exile from Judah to Babylon.  This was a horrible time for the Jewish people.  If you read Jeremiah or Lamentation you can get a picture of the horrors of the situation.  The first eight verses fit that situation nicely, but then we read verse 9.  If you are anything like me, I was taken aback by it the first time I read it.  After seeking the Lord, and reading commentaries on it, I came to understand it better in light of its full context.  The Psalmist is not calling for Israel to do this but rather calling for justice and retribution from God upon this nation.  In reality, this would actually be merciful for God to kill the children of this pagan nation.  If he were to kill the children in their state of “innocence” then their ultimate eternity would be in heaven, I believe (Why We Believe that Babies Who Die go to Heaven – Albert Mohler) rather than the place (Hell) that many of the youth and adults will end up for denying God.  So, while it may not be a pleasant picture that comes to our minds, we can understand it much better when put into its proper context.

Read and teach them as an ambassador and not an author:

We must always remember who’s book we are reading when we read the Bible.  It is not an ambiguous book that we can just have it say what we want it to say.  We cannot read into a text what we want it to say (eisegesis), but we must take out of the text that which God intended to say in the text (exegesis).  God does not need you to defend Him, but rather to be faithful to Him. It is always tempting to try to make a hard text say something that it does not by trying to “soften” it.  Revelation gives a very strong warning about adding to or taking away from God’s word.  This is why we must remember that we are simply delivers of God’s word, and not the writers of it.  This is why study is important.  This is why prayer is important.  This is one of the roles the Holy Spirit has, to give us the interpretation of a text.  The text is God’s text, not ours.  We must always be faithful to what it says, and not try to make something up that will make you feel better about it.

Read and teach them with humility:

            When dealing with one of these hard texts it is important to deal with it with humility.  God’s ways are not our ways.  His thoughts are not our thoughts.  We need to be thankful that God has graciously revealed himself to us so as to even be able to start to comprehend the truth of who He is.  When we step back and remember that He is God, and we are not.  He is sovereign, and we are not.  He is all powerful and full of complete wisdom, and we are extremely limited in these areas.  We do not have to know everything about God to trust him and know that He is good.  When you come to a text that you just cannot wrap your mind around simply humbly admit it and ask the Lord to give you understanding.  Remember Deuteronomy 29:29 and (if He does not give you understanding) humbly say that you may not completely comprehend all the complexities of God, that you can trust that He is good, and rest in the fact that “ . . . all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

If you read scripture often you will run upon these texts from time to time.  When you do, don’t fret.  Simply read it in its full context, remember that you are the messenger and not the writer of the message, and read it with humility.  God does not need you to defend his scripture, but simply to believe it and obey it.  In doing so, you can trust in the character of the God who wrote it . . . remembering that He is good, He is just, and He is kind.  Just because we may not like what it says, does not mean that it is not for our good.  Do you remember that bad tasting medicine you had to take when you were a kid?  You didn’t like it then, but it was good for you.  When reading a text you may not like, just remember that in the end . . . it is best.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell

Don’t judge me . . . no wait, please do!

If you have been alive for more than 10 days, you have probably heard someone quote (or misquote) the most popular verse in all of scripture: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”  This verse is very popular among those who do not hold to Christianity, and certainly do not hold scripture to be a holy book.  This is also one that is popular among many Christians who do not always put scripture into its proper context.  With all the sin that is in the church, and the onslaught of moral and ethical issues facing our society today, I think it would do us well to understand what this scripture really means, and just who we are not supposed to judge, and who we are to judge . . . if anyone.

We are not to judge those outside the church:

Let me be clear about what I mean by this heading.  Paul writes in I Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”  Christians are not to judge those outside of the church.  We are to witness to outsiders, but not judge them.  Anyone that has been in church for any length of time will understand that we are all sinners.  God has made it clear that He is the judge of all, and those who are not found righteous will be judged for their sins.  So, in a way, those outside of the church are right when they say we should not judge them.  However, Christians understand the penalty for those who do not know the Lord and walk in sin and thus should always warn those who are walking a path contrary to God.  Warning and judging is not the same thing.

We are to judge those inside the church:

While most people understand that Christians are to witness to and not judge those outside the church, it gets a little more tricky and difficult with the responsibility of those within the church to help judge the body of Christ. This is something that is very foreign in many churches today. Scripture is clear that we are to hold each other accountable (Proverbs 27:6, Matthew 7:1-5, John 7:24, I Corinthians 5, Etc.).  It must always be done with humility and love.  However, we must realize that if done properly, judging each other is a healthy and good thing.  Often people want to say, “get that log out of your eye, before you get the spec out of mine.”  Those who say that often miss the word “before.”  Jesus was not saying to never call someone out on sin, but BEFORE you do, you need to make sure that you are clean of it as well.  The church has a responsibility to hold each other accountable for the way we live our lives (Matthew 18:15-20).  Church discipline (the final act of judgment from a church) is actually a loving thing.  It shows the person that is being disciplined that sin is a big deal, and has consequences.  It shows the church member the same thing. It is not loving to let someone continue in their sin without cautioning them.  It may not be easy to confront them, or seem loving . . . but to let someone willfully spit in the face of God by sinning and say nothing to them shows a type of hate for that person.  A word of correction is loving, if done humbly, wisely, and with care.

We will all be judged by a righteous judge:

Paul Washer was right when he said, “The most terrifying truth of all of Scripture is that God is Holy, and we are not.”  God is a righteous judge and must always judge righteously.  I have heard so many people say, “God is my only judge.” The scary thing is, everyone will go before the judge one day.  He will see one of two things when judging you.  He will see your piles and piles of sin that must be paid for with eternal hell, or He will see one that is righteous because Christ imputed it to them.  Christ paid for the sins of his people at the hand of the righteous judge already.  However, there is an impending judgment for those who do not know Him by faith.  He is a good and loving God, but He is also a good and just judge who must render a proper sentence.   My plea to anyone that is reading this is to get on the right side of the judge now, so that you do not have to bare His wrathful sentence later.

When I hear people say, “Don’t judge me.”  I know what most of them are thinking.  Nevertheless, I want to say, “Please judge me!”  It is not always easy to hear a corrective word, but as Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”  I want to live a life that is most pleasing to God.  To do this I need to be conformed to the image of Christ as much as possible.  One of the ways of doing this is to have other godly people look at my life, speak into it, and call me out (judge) if I am veering off the path.  So, we need to always take “Judge not, that you be not judged” in its proper context.  We do not need to judge those outside of the church, but need to share with them the gospel.  To those inside the church; we need to lovingly, humbly, and regularly examine ourselves and hold each other accountable to God’s word in a way that is both scriptural and practical.  So, again I say, “Please judge me!” If you find I am veering away from God’s righteous path, tell me . . . and I hope you are willing to do the same.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B Burrell