It’s About Me, Me, and More of Me

Standard

Each generation thinks the next one is more self-centered, and a recent study supports this thinking. To measure trends in egocentrism, researchers at the University of Michigan analyzed the texts of presidential State of the Union Addresses from 1790 to 2012. They calculated the “egocentricity index” for each speech by comparing the number of words that indicated self-interest (words like “me” and “we”) with the number of words that showed a higher level of interest in others (words like “he”, “neighbor” or “friend”). Not only did they find a steady increase in the use of self-interest words in the speeches over time, the analysis also revealed that before 1900 the speeches almost always used more other-interest words. After 1920, nearly every speech used more self-interest words.

The researchers then compared their observations from the president’s speeches to other studies on egotism, such as those on books and songs. The researchers found an increase in egotism across the board, revealing that rising egotism permeates the culture (Scientific American: Mind, Nov-Dec, 2014).

The Univ. of Michigan study is compatible with other studies which show that an increase in wealth, and the economic security that stable employment and wealth brings, correlates with rising self-centeredness. In other words, one of the benefits of living in a stable and prosperous nation is that we can focus more on our wants and focus less on others.

How does this translate to the individual Christian and the church? Are we more self-centered than believers in previous generations? Perhaps thinking about three key practices will help us to answer this question.

First, for what do you pray? Do you pray primarily for matters of personal concern? How much of your prayer is focused on lifting others to the Lord? Do you regularly pray for our national, state and local leaders? Do you pray for other churches, missionaries in distant lands, Christians suffering persecution, and those without Christ in your own community?

Second, with whom do you worship and serve? Do you “attend” the church that best addresses your needs and desires? Or, is the church your family, the people with whom you worship and serve in God’s Kingdom? Be honest with yourself – are you primarily a consumer of religious stuff? How important is it that your church participates in building God’s Kingdom locally and globally through a sustained support of missions?

Third, to what do you give charitably? Do you give primarily out of impulse when your heart is touched? Do you give mostly to things with which you have a personal connection? The “giving question” is important because studies show that Americans are giving more to particular charities and less to churches, as a percentage of their income. Even many Christians practice an uneven pattern of giving, picking and choosing “particular causes,” rather than giving through their local church and the “system of missions” supported by their church.

What the Michigan researchers discovered should not be surprising. Self-centeredness is the natural inclination of a prosperous and secure people. But followers of Jesus have God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to help us overcome our self-centeredness. We are capable of living by faith, not by sight, and thus God’s Kingdom and His purposes mean more to us than any other thing. Or they should. It’s a continual struggle to find our satisfaction in God and not in this world. It’s an ongoing effort, a battle of the mind, to pray, give and worship in ways that honor God and contribute to what He is doing. We live in this world, but our citizenship is in heaven, which is where our chief interests reside.

The Importance and Power of Jesus’ Name

Standard

The name “Jesus Christ” is beautiful, warm, powerful, convicting, and inviting. The name “Jesus” informs us that God incarnated Himself in the person of His Son. The name of Jesus Christ reminds us that our God walked this stony earth with us, suffered for us, and was tempted in every way possible while maintaining absolute perfection and sinlessness. The name of Jesus tells us that God sent a Savior who occupied space and time on this planet.

Why, then, is Jesus’ name too often absent, or seldom spoken, in much of our worship? For several years I have witnessed the disturbing trend of neglecting to mention Jesus’ name as we gather. On more occasions that I can remember, the name of Jesus has not been spoken in song or prayer in the worship service of a Baptist church, at least not spoken until the sermon portion of worship. We mention God, or Lord, or most often “You” and “Your” in our songs and prayers, but too often we don’t use the precious and powerful name of Jesus.

Recently I spoke with a fellow preacher and he mentioned speaking with someone who had attended a Jewish synagogue, and they said that they sang some of the same songs in the synagogue that we sing in church. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing, so long as those who attend Christian worship understand that the God we worship is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I have no objection to singing songs to God that use the pronoun “You” in the song. Such songs are prayers and can communicate the intimate relationship we have with our God. Praying in “Your Name” can communicate the same intimacy.

That said, it always concerns me when I stand to preach, after having worshipped for 20 or 30 minutes, and I am the first to mention Jesus’ name. I wonder whom guests, especially lost guests, think we are worshipping. I wonder about the children too, and what we are teaching them about the God who embodied Himself in flesh.

It is certainly not wrong to use the name “God” as we refer to our Creator. But I often remember walking into the home of a devout Muslim in Pakistan, surprised to see a plaque that read, “God Bless Our Home,” much like the one some of us have. I learned that the name “God” was not offensive to him at all, but the name “Jesus Christ” carried a content that he found most objectionable.

With all of this in mind, I would simply ask that you pay close attention to the theology and content of our worship services. Every song, every prayer, each utterance provides an opportunity to worship and to teach. And while I am on this subject, make sure you include in prayer “matters” that go beyond the immediate concerns of those in the room. Pray for the community and our leaders. Pray for the lost. Pray for gospel harvesters. Pray for the persecuted Christians, some of whom are being slaughtered for their faith. Pray for the missionaries.  And pray for the children of our missionaries. There are thousands of missionary kids who are growing up overseas and their parents often struggle to educate them and prepare them for college in the United States.

Jesus’ name is precious and powerful. We love His name. In our worship services should speak Jesus’ name often, in prayer and song and sermon. It wouldn’t even hurt to welcome attenders in Jesus’ name!

A Few of my Favorite Books

Standard

I love books. Some are my friends. So when I was asked to compile a list of my five favorite books for Golden Gate’s Pacific Northwest Campus I enjoyed thinking back over my favorites of the last 30 years. I could have gone further back, to The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, which I read in the 8th grade and dearly loved. But I decided to stick with books read in adulthood. It was difficult to keep it to five, but I kind of fudged. Here they are:

1. The Autobiography of John Paton. Paton was a missionary to the New Hebrides Islands in the latter half of the 19th century. Amazing story and well written. When people speak about the danger of cannibals to early missionaries, John Paton is often referenced. And when you think of stories in which entire peoples repented and came to Christ, you again can think of Paton.

2. Freedom at Midnight, Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. It was hard to choose between this and O’ Jerusalem by the same authors. The first is the story of India’s independence from Great Britain. The second is the story of the founding of modern Israel. I love all of Lapierre’s books, including City of Joy, about the poorest slum in Calcutta (there, I mentioned 3 books in one slot!)

3. South, Ernest Shackleton. The story of Shackleton’s ship getting crushed in the Antarctic ice around 1914 to 1916, and how he led all 28 men so that each survived. There is also an excellent book about this same event written by Lansing named The Endurance. Here’s a quote: “For scientific genius leadership, you want Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” You’ve got to love that!

4. Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose. What’s not to love about the Lewis and Clark expedition, especially in the Northwest. We live within a mile of the Lewis and Clark trail. When they camped a few miles from where our house is, Clark wrote that they had trouble sleeping because the frogs and birds kept them awake. They still keep us awake more than 200 years later!

5. Safely Home, Randy Alcorn. Who will be the final martyr before Jesus returns? Read this book about the persecution of Chinese house church leaders and find out. Oh, and make sure you have some Kleenex close by. It’s one of the most emotionally powerful books I’ve ever read, and extremely well written.

There you have my list. What books would add to it? Some additional authors I would mention include the historian David McCullough – love his books. Also Simon Winchester, Philip Jenkins and Rodney Stark. If you like to read sermons (and who doesn’t!) try James S. Stewart, the Scottish master.

Okay, that’s enough for now. But don’t overlook the Journals of David Livingston or the African adventures of Henry Stanley, or ……

Outstanding New Ministry Leaders in the Northwest

Standard

Last week we conducted a New Challenge Seminar for Northwest Baptist ministry leaders who are new in their churches – and an outstanding group of leaders they are! One, who is an immigrant from China, has a Ph.D. in engineering and will start our first Mandarin speaking church in the Portland, OR area. These men and women, about 35 in all, are incredibly diverse in background, training, and language, speaking Mandarin, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish and English.

One episode made us English speakers sit back and say, “Wow. That’s really cool.” It happened when a man from Columbia, an attorney in his home country, but now a church planter, was struggling to come up with the right English words as he spoke. The woman who sat beside him is from the Philippines. Her first language is Tagalog. But she and her husband were missionaries in Mexico for several years, so she also speaks Spanish, her third language after English. So, as this man from Colombia struggled to find the right English word, he spoke in Spanish to the Filipino woman, who would then help him find the right English word!

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke, “What do you call a person who speaks two languages?” Answer: bi-lingual. “What do you call a person who speaks three languages?” Answer: tri-lingual. “And what do you call a person who speaks only one language?” Answer: an American!

That joke was reality in our New Challenge Seminar as most of us who were born in America marveled at our immigrant friends, who made up about half of our group. But it wasn’t only the language diversity that made last week so much fun. It was the testimonies of calling and commitment that each of these men and women shared. From young adults who are in their first ministry assignments, to senior adults who retired from their first career and are plunging into a new calling. Some moved across the country to start new churches, others came to pastor existing churches, and still others are serving in their hometowns as church planters. One couple toured the world with their musical band for ten years before coming home and planting a church. Another travelled the U.S. as an evangelist for many years, before moving to Washington to pastor a church because he wanted to be in an area where the need for Gospel witness was great.

I often say that it is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest. Spending a day with our newest ministry leaders only made me more certain of this.