How do I know if I'm going to the right church, besides biblical preaching?

                Assuming the theology of the church is biblical, I'd recommend looking for the following two criteria to know your church is a good church:
1) A Godly Leadership
                Have the kind of leaders (not just pastors!) that help you see how God wants you to live. They should be people that you hope your kids (when you have them) will be like. You shouldn't have to make excuses for them as spiritual leaders. Their names alone should inspire a sense of holiness, where you know that this is a person who fears and loves God.
A great place to look in the Bible is 1 Timothy 3:1-13, where the apostle Paul describes exactly what is expected of the church leader ("overseer") as well as those who serve in the church in some active position ("deacon"). A youth group staff functions as an eldership. Students in the band or helping in committees would be like deacons. Inspect to see if your church has godly leaders and servants. They should be self-controlled in issues of romance, alcohol, money, temper, gossip, family, and faith. That last one means the leader must be biblically trained to be "able to teach" those whom he is in charge of. If he does not know and live the Bible better than his students, what credibility does he have to call himself their teacher?
2) Active Transformation
                This one is hard to see in a church unless you've been there for a while. See if people's hearts are being drawn closer to God as they spend time in the ministry. Ask someone how he/she has grown over the past year, and see if you get a response about their love for God and hatred of sin, or if you get a confused look and wait for a long pause while he/she thinks of something convincing to say. See if there are people of good character that are in the ministry, especially if they are NOT in a visible position of involvement or leadership. If there are committed, godly students in a youth ministry, that's great, and usually they're in a student leadership committee. But if you also see that kind of student who isn't drafted into student leadership, you know the ministry is just growing a high quality of followers of Jesus, and they're not so short-supplied that they have to recruit all the good ones and throw them into a committee. If the ministry is good, it will bear good fruit.
                Don't get me wrong here. This doesn't mean everyone in the congregation should be perfect or else the church is messed up. It means they're BEING perfected. Church is like a hospital: full of sick people WHO ARE GETTING BETTER. So take the temperature of the ministry by seeing that's what's happening: are sinners being sanctified? Are the people getting better?


Members of the early church shared their possessions (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32, 34-35), and there was not a needy person among them. Was this informative or instructional? Should the church today follow this communal behavior?

                The passage is Acts is DESCRIPTIVE in that it describes true events that took place.  The passage by itself is not PRESCRIPTIVE since the author makes no particular implication of instructing us on how to do our own churches. He simply shows that this is what they did and God blessed it. Imitating them is not a bad idea, it's actually a great one, but that doesn't mean the passage is a command.
                We actually find the PRESCRIPTIONS for their behavior in other parts of Scripture. Romans 12:5 or 1 Timothy 6:18 are two of my favorite verses that talk about sharing your stuff. James 1:27 is probably the best verse, in my opinion, to show that a believer is ALWAYS called to take care of the needy. 
                Sharing isn't the same as communism. When a parent tells his kids to share, it has everything to do with the idea of loving one another as giver and receiver and taking care of each others' needs. It doesn't mean having to divide everything into equal parts so no one has more than anyone else.


How should we feel about single-ethnicity churches?  Am I wrong for feeling uncomfortable about them?

                Your thoughts are probably borne from a desire to see God's will fulfilled in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) where Jesus instructs the disciples to "make disciples of all nations."  There's great nobility in a desire for a multi-ethnic church.
But there's great danger in that too, if that desire is a mask for unholy dissatisfaction.

                If a church is of a single-ethnicity, that is not sin. If it DOES NOT WELCOME people of other ethnicities, then there is a problem.  The apostles had no qualms with their Jewish churches in Jerusalem and Judea. But they did have problems with churches would intentionally separate from other ethnicities from a spirit of superiority.  

                Sometimes it is practical to have a targeted ministry. One of my greatest inspirations, for instance, is Step-Off Ministry--a church of gangsters, founded by my personal hero and friend, pastor Sam Thomsic. That church has plenty of different ethnicities, sure, but they all are (or were) gang affiliated. It is specifically aimed at reaching people who are lost to gangs and violence and drugs and crime.  I see God moving in incredible ways because of the godliness of their leaders and servants.  While it is specifically targeted at gangsters, Step-Off doesn't reject anyone else that comes through their doors. They are simply very clear about their objective and calling. It is not out of a spirit of superiority that they are so specific in their population, but out of vision and direction. That fine line is what needs to be carefully discerned by every church's pastors.

                Not every single-ethnicity church has perfect intentions on being single-ethnicity. But that doesn't mean they're all ill-intentioned either.  My advice would be to see the heart of the leaders and discover whether they reach out to their ethnic company out of vision and direction, or comfort and ethnocentricity.

                My personal confession: I have a specific heart to train PASTORS up in the community of SECOND-GENERATION ASIAN AMERICAN "ALMOST-CHRISTIANS."  I want to take "almost-Christians"--that is, people who go to church thinking they knew the gospel, and drive God's Word deep into their soul to see the unmistakable transformation that ignites a hunger and thirst for truth and righteousness. I hope to do so in the community of American-born Asian Americans because I believe the plight of dealing with bicultural identity is handicapping for most, but incredibly empowering for those who can unlock its potential. And I hope to train them for pastoral ministry because of my extreme dissatisfaction with so many of today's pulpits and so-called "biblical" resources that lack true substance and depth and turn devotional time for God into a 5-minute story time after reading only 1 sentence from God's inerrant Word.

                This is a specific target. Very specific. You are free to discern whether it is out of vision and direction, or comfort and ethnocentricity, though only God is my Judge.  I, however, have a clear conscience before Christ that I'm inspired by and following after a very specific calling He has planted in me.


What do I do if I feel like I can’t share with my brothers and sisters at church?  This includes pastors.

                Let me begin with the situation about your pastors.  If you are at a church where your pastors are not above reproach and are characterized by a pattern of sin, you need to leave that church as fast as possible. If gossip, slander, or unloving attitudes come out in a pastor's speech as the norm instead of the exception, that's not a leadership nor a church that will lead you toward godliness. There is no excuse for a pastor to remain in position when clearly unqualified for it by God's standards (1 Timothy 3:1-7; James 3:1-2, 9-12), and there's likewise no excuse for a believer to willingly follow a leader who is so clearly unqualified (rather DIS-qualified) for the pastoral position--a position that is to be an example for church members to follow, not to avoid.

                If there are members at your church that you feel reluctant to share with, it could be that it's because they have demonstrated a tendency to speak badly about others. But also examine whether or not you might be projecting your own fears upon them. Would they really take what you have to confess and intentionally try to spread it around and hurt you or disrespect your privacy? Do they really have no concern for your feelings? Do they have no desire to pray for you and see you grow through your trials? If that's really the case, are you sure they're brothers and sisters instead of just church-goers? In that situation, you have to decide whether to stay or go. If you go, then find a church where the leadership is exemplary, the teaching is solid, and the congregation is growing. If you stay, then make the example of true confession as well as confidentiality--and do this even when your brothers and sisters fail to do the same for you. If you stay, you must be the example and the transforming agent.

                Basically, a church that you can't be sincere, honest, and vulnerable at is no longer a church; it's a hangout. You either leave to find a place that will help you stand firm in difficulty, or you stay and show the church how to stand firm: by providing an environment where others can come and confess to you and learn how to respond to vulnerability by seeing your example. These relationships take time, of course, and you can't really expect much visible change for at least a year or two, and even then, the change will only start with the ones that you directly/frequently interact with. Many will disappoint you, almost everyone will mess up at some point. You yourself will encounter multiple moments when you feel like quitting. If you choose to stay, be mentally prepared for it all, and go through it in imitation of Christ who understands failure, disappointment, and betrayal but doesn't quit.

                If you leave, leave with love and grace, praying for God to provide the right kind of leader and lessons and experiences for the congregation to grow where they are weak. Leave without speaking hurtfully about that church when you explain your motives.

Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of Christ. The Church is His Bride, so do not dishonor her even when church people fail to display the godliness they've been called to.


Would it be wrong for me to "test" other churches?  I've only been to 2 churches in my life and don't really know much about myself or what environment I'd like the best, or even what denomination I belong to.

                Test EVERYTHING and hold on to the good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). That means to inspect every idea that comes your way. In regards to churches, there is nothing wrong with sitting in service and really inspecting whether or not what they're saying is true and biblical. If you're planning on going church shopping to see what other churches are like, I'd do it only with the permission of your home church's pastor. It really takes like 3-6 months to really get to know any church, or else you'll just end up visiting and liking whatever thing that church has that your home church doesn't. The grass will always seem first. 
                Go to a church that has a godly leadership, biblical instruction, and opportunities for you to use your gifts. Make sure there are older members (men if you're a man, women if you're a woman) that you can learn from and try to be like. All the other stuff is external--the style of music, the comfort of the building, the quality of the food, etc. Don't get fooled by stuff the world can imitate. Those are extra blessings, but not the main idea.


When is it okay to leave a church? What are some valid and invalid reasons?

                The acceptability of staying at or leaving a church really isn't determined by reasons, since it's motive that determines what's worship and what's sin. People can hide behind reasons whenever they want. They can say convince themselves that they're "just not growing" at one church or that they "can serve more effectively" at another. Those reasons sound good, but they could be cover-ups for just plain selfish dissatisfaction.

                One might say you should never leave a church just because your ex-girlfriend goes there. After all, you should reconcile and be at peace. That is definitely sound reasoning. But what if you're engaged or married and your wife can't help but feel threatened that someone else in the congregation has intimate history with you? Would it be wrong to leave out of protection for your wife's feelings--whether they're rational or not?

                If the decision to stay at a church is done out of a love for God, a burden for the congregation, and a desire to be an agent of sanctification whether by service or support, then staying is a good idea. But if the decision to stay at a church is done out of obligation, thinking that if you left the place would fall apart without you, or if you stay out of reluctance, or especially if you stay but do not support the vision and direction and teaching and leadership of the church, then staying is a terrible idea.

If the decision to leave a church is done out of a love for God, a clear conscience, a given and received blessing between you and your current congregation, and a sincere desire to contribute at least as much as you receive from your new church, then leaving is a good idea. But if leaving a church is done out of spite, unreconciled relationship, boredom, or some other self-interested value that has more to do with one's own comfort than God's true worship, then leaving is a terrible idea.

                Motives speak of what makes leaving or staying a good or bad thing. Not everyone was meant to stay at the same church forever--else we'd have no missionaries and we'd send off no pastors.  And too often we think that jobs and schools are perfectly acceptable reasons to change churches for convenience of proximity, and too frequently we think that leaving to serve God elsewhere with greater exercise of one's giftedness is a bad idea.

                Whatever you do and wherever you go, make sure you're chasing God in surrender and loyalty, not fluffing your own spiritual pillow. And treat those who leave or stay with a lot of love, encouraging them to do so out of a pursuit of holiness. Then we'll have less discussion about the morality of actions and more concern about the virtue of our motives.


How should I go about finding a church after I move into college?

Here's a good place to start:
                1) Look for a godly leadership. If your pastor is an alcoholic, leave the church. If the Bible study teachers exhibit crude or inappropriate humor, I wouldn't trust that ministry. If any of the leaders are addicted to anything, then I'd be extremely cautious about them. The people who are in charge of the ministry should be admired for their character, not their skills. If you see a sincere and diehard commitment to repentance and righteousness, that's one of the healthiest signs you can have. It doesn't mean that leaders are picture-perfect with no flaws. It means that leaders aren't afraid to confess when they mess up and make a real effort to live right by seeking prayer and accountability. Ask the people about the leaders and see what their regard for them is. Why do they look up to them (if at all)?
                2) Look for a spiritual growth. I don't mean a numerical growth. The ministry can go down in size, but take a look at the members who have been there for at least a year or two and find out if they're any different today than they were when they first entered. Has spending a year or two in the ministry matured their outlook on God and godliness? Have they been urged away from sin and toward righteousness? Do they know the Word better? Do they pray more? Do they sincerely believe in the fellowship, accountability, and community of believers--or do they try to handle their sin privately?
                3) Look for a sound doctrine. That can mean a lot of different things and that's where most people feel least adequate to judge, so here are seven basic NON-NEGOTIABLE truths. If a church teaches differently from any of these seven things, don't even consider going there:

a) There is only one God. He is the God of the Bible--not a summation of all the gods of all religions throughout the world. He is one God in three Persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. He is the moral standard by which the universe functions, and He is the only Judge to determine fault and penalty.
b) The Bible is His perfect Word. In its original authorship, there is no error in its fullness or in any of its parts. It is fully inspired by God through the penmanship of godly men. It is from real, living human authors to real, living human audiences in real, historical circumstances, and should be understood according to its grammatical, historical, and literary context from authorial intent.
c) Man is inherently sinful. He is spiritually unable to act or react in any degree of godliness, but is inclined toward rebellion against God without a desire for repentance or faith from the moment of his conception.
d) Jesus is the only Savior. He is the only means by which men can be saved through faith. He is fully God and fully man, allowing Him to reconcile the relationship between the two. He is sinless, holy, and the head of the Church which is God's people.
e) We are saved by grace. There is no human merit that contributes to the acquisition of salvation. God, fully by His grace, saves man by the power of His Holy Spirit that calls people to faith. This is not in contradiction to human free will, nor to be confused with determinism. The credit and glory of salvation belongs to God and God alone, such that men are in no place to say who can or should be saved--or who cannot.
f) Jesus is coming again. He will return in physical form, in glory, and in judgment upon the earth to bring an end to sin. He will rapture the Church, bring tribulation on the earth, rule with His people, and bring final judgment upon all who have ever lived.
g) Heaven and Hell are real destinies. They are not figurative ideas, but are eternal dwellings. Both will be made new in the final judgment, with God's people living in the new earth and new heaven, and those whose names are not written in the book of life spending eternity in the lake of fire that was prepared for Satan and his angels.

                Those are what I think are the most important parts to consider. There are other important things too, but these are the NON-NEGOTIABLES. I would never go to a church that disagrees on any one of those points.

If you are a pastor, does that mean you can't have children because it's sinful?

                No, that's not a true statement at all. Having children is not a sin. Children are born with a sinful nature, but God's very first command was to multiply on the earth and be fruitful, filling the earth with people who were made in His image (Genesis 1:27-28). Our mission today is still to fill the earth with God's people, God's image, from every nation (Matthew 28:19-20).

                In 1 Timothy 3:4 and 12, we find instructions to church elders (leaders) and deacons (servants), and both are expected to raise their children properly. The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom on raising children. That's even spoken of in 1 Timothy 2:15 as one of the major sources of fulfillment in a woman's life! And in the instructions to elders in 1 Timothy 3:4, the wisdom with which the elder raises his children is indicative of his ability to shepherd the church. 

                Don't forget that God is a Father too! His title is not as biological as it is ontological, but the fact remains that His example of fatherhood and sonship are ours as well.


In ministry, is growth in size more important than growth in quality of relationships?

                Growth in size doesn't mean anything if there isn't a growth in quality. If I get a thousand unbelievers into my church service, but they walk away still in unbelief, my church hasn't grown--it's just become more crowded.
                Growth in quality doesn't mean there's no effort to grow in size. Growing in quality, after all, means becoming more like Christ and following the Great Commission he's given the Church: to make more disciples.
                We need growth in size of quality. As the weeks go by, we need to see that more people are coming to a greater surrender to Jesus in repentance from sin and pursuit of righteousness, no matter how long they've been in the faith or how new they are to church. We're called to make disciples, both old and new--to take care of sheep and to feed lambs.




I understand everyone will like some people more than others, but is it okay if staff members of a youth group are really obvious about who their favorite students are, since at times, favoritism makes others feel less cared for.

                I think this is a difficult issue in every ministry. Pastors and leaders are called to love all the people in their congregation. Some of those people will respond more visibly than others. Some are very affectionate, some are very shy. And so it becomes very easy to start thinking that the leaders are closer to the affectionate ones. That leads to a very easy temptation that Satan can use to cause the church to accuse the leaders of favoritism. Sometimes they're right. Sometimes, though, they're not.
                I think the best way for people to avoid favoritism is not by holding back on how much they love certain people, but rather to make sure they are NOT holding back to loving anyone at all. That means that they don't reduce how much love they give to the responsive students. Rather, they make sure that they are fully available to love everyone else just as much.
 And to be clear, love isn't the same as physical affection.  It can mean having meaningful conversations, giving rides to go places, or encouraging or inviting or even disciplining.
                If a leader is okay giving rides to one student, but grudgingly gives rides to another because he doesn't like him as much, he probably needs to fix his attitude. That assumes, of course, that both students are equally in need of rides and neither one is trying to exploit the leader just because he doesn't want to call mom to come get him.
                Leaders should constantly be making an effort to build relationships with people they don't know as well as the others. If the leader isn't doing that, then he's on the wrong side of favoritism. A sincere hello, a short conversation, a warm handshake--these are all things that help build to a closer step next week. But if the leader doesn't even try to meet the new people even when he's able and available to, then that's when you know it's a bad situation.
                Give grace to your leaders though. Just because they have a position in the church doesn't mean they're pros at meeting newcomers. If you were given a leadership position, would you automatically be buddies with everyone in your congregation? Probably not. It takes time and practice. Hopefully your group size is manageable for your leaders too. There should be at least 1 pastor per about 50 people in a healthy congregation if the church wants proper pastoral care. If your group size is smaller than that, then the leaders should really know everyone. If the group size gets larger than that, then understand that each leader will only really be able to reach some of those members effectively. Hopefully they won't stop trying, but realistically, they won't know everyone.

Did drums originate in satanic religions in Africa? 

                Drums were developed in lots of different cultures. Did they originate as satanic instruments? Not in the literal sense of the word, no, because Satanism is actually a more recent religion. They did have their use in many false religions, so if that's what you mean by satanic then you can go ahead and exercise the term that way. But just because drums were used "satanically" in the past doesn't mean they have to stay that way forever. Trumpets, for instance, were used for war. Is it wrong then to use trumpets for worship? The Bible doesn't think so (Psalm 150:3).
                Are there drums in the Bible? Well, you've got tambourines in Exodus 15:20 Psalm 150. You also have cymbals in Psalm 150 as well. But the important thing is this: who cares what the instrument was originally used for? It matters how it's being used now.  The guitar didn't start out in the church, and neither did the piano. In fact, PEOPLE don't even start out as part of the church. We all start out sinful. What matters is being transformed. Remember that anything that you use to make music is an INSTRUMENT, but YOU are the worshiper. It's not the instrument that takes credit for good or evil, but the heart behind it. Even in Amos 5:21-24, God hates the people's worship music not because of their instruments, but because their hearts were far from Him. The music never mattered. It was always about the motive.
                The apostle Paul emphatically teaches people not to try and make laws to distinguish clean and unclean foods, rituals, and even musical instruments. He says instead, "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31) and again, "whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Colossians 3:17).
                The best example is the cross of Christ. Right there you have a satanic act used by God for the ultimate work of worship and glory. In fact, it is exactly that irony that God used: He took the most evil and wicked thing and turned it into the greatest moment of worship ever in the history of man. He does that. He didn't stop and say, "Wait, we can't use the cross because that has satanic intentions behind it." No, God is a God who takes something broken or wicked or unworthy and makes it into something strong, righteous, and holy. He uses foolishness to shame the wise, and uses sinners to shame those who think themselves religious.

How can I know if our guest speakers (at church or at my Christian club) are really in Christ? 

                The better you know the Bible, the better you'll be able to discern what is true and what is false teaching (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:1-16). Your first step, then, is simply to involve yourself with your church and be sure to engage yourself in daily Bible reading. Ask your questions to your pastor and try to get a friend or two to also read the same stuff so you have something to discuss together. You'll start growing in knowledge very quickly if you do this with sincere effort.


If Jesus had a favorite disciple(s), why is it wrong for teachers to have a favorite student(s)?

                I'm a little puzzled at why you think Jesus had a favorite disciple. Is that because he worked more closely with Peter, James, and John? I'm not sure that was out of favoritism. I think it had more to do with their gifting and their roles. They were far more leader-like than what we see from the other disciples. It makes sense that they would require deeper training to cover not only the normal stuff, but also the additional responsibilities that come with their leadership.
                But I'm also curious why you think it's wrong for teachers to have favorite students. Don't be confused by the word "favorite" and the word "favoritism" and the verb "favor." All three have very different uses:
                "Favorite" simply means that you like something more than anything else in its category. Rocky Road is my favorite ice cream flavor. It's not something that I can very actively control since it's built on my system of values or preferences, not a choice that I logically deduce. One cannot help but have favorites. You can't simply choose "I will not have a favorite student" since that's outside of your control. At least one student will appeal more to you. He or she is, in that sense, your favorite. It's a statement of your affections or preferences, but that doesn't automatically say that you treat that person differently than the others.
                "Favoritism" is used negatively in the Bible when it refers to bestowing unfair, unwise, undeserved privilege to arbitrarily chosen individuals. James talks about it a lot in James 2. He condemns giving special privileges to the rich members of the church while depriving the poor members of the church of those privileges. Everyone is to be treated with the same level of grace and love and correction and discipline. Each should be offered the services of the church, and each should be appropriately rebuked and chastened by the church. Favoritism, in its negative sense, would be withholding privileges from some members out of a lack of love, or withholding discipline against certain members out of a lack of justice.
                "Favor" is where I think we can get the most confused. God favors Israel. God favors the Church. God favors whom He favors, simply because He can. This idea is to say that God gives even more grace, even more goodness, and even more kindness upon His favored ones than He does to others. His favor, though, rests with those who follow His instruction. It's a favor that is appropriately distributed by Him who has the right to distribute it as He wills. 
                In response to your question then: Jesus had favorite disciples perhaps in the sense of who he happened to get along with more, but not in the sense of extra privileges that were unfairly denied to the others.  It is not wrong for teachers to have favorite students as long as those favorites are not given extra leniency on the godly standards or exclusive privileges that should more appropriately belong to all the members of the body.


A few years ago I had a pastor who was amazing but I wasn't really close to.  I wanted to open up but couldn't, and he recently left our church and I was really down.  It's been over a month and I still feel this way.  What would you do in this situation?

                What would I do? I'd probably go tell him whatever I needed to tell him, regardless of if he worked at my church or not. If any pastor takes his calling seriously, he'll know that his ministry isn't determined by the building he works at. He's accountable for the flock that God puts under his care. For me as a pastor, I personally made a promise to God that once someone is under my watch, that bond is permanent. I don't care if he hates me or turns away from the faith--that's irrelevant. My responsibility is to do everything in my power to have him experience and surrender to the truth of the gospel.
                If you have some real spiritual issues that you need to talk to someone about, seek out your pastor (both the old one and the new one!), and your Bible study teacher, and your accountability partners in your small group. Anyone who is going to care enough to really pray for you and help you is someone you should talk to. If you're disappointed that you didn't talk to your pastor before, you'll only be further disappointed by not talking to him now--especially if it's only been a month. Even if it was a few years, as long as you remember his name, go sit with him in person (not online or on the phone if you can avoid these) and share and pray together. If you have no one--no pastor who you can trust with it--you at least have me, and I'm more than willing to hear you out and give you whatever insight God grants me. But I strongly recommend you talk first with those whom you trust will give you godly counsel with plenty of seasoned experience.

If a strong believer seems to be guiding people in their faith (which is good) but may be attributing the outcome more to himself than to God, should I let him know or allow God to rebuke them in His own way?

                If you are in a deep enough relationship with that leader to be fairly certain that you haven't misinterpreted his/her motive or attitude, then the biggest favor you could do to lead him/her closer to God is to give a loving warning. Say what you see, what it makes you think, and how you think he/she would be so much more of a blessing to you if you didn't suspect that he/she was robbing God of His glory by claiming credit for what the Spirit does through him. Be clear in how you say your concern, and be equally clear on your love for him/her. Whether or not the response is positive is not your responsibility. Being loving, tactful, direct, and true--that's what is expected of you.


If a church leader is telling me to do something that I don't think aligns with God's will, should I follow what I think or obey my church leader?

                You should find out whether that leader's instruction is godly or not. If he's not telling you to sin or stumble anyone, and if he's not advising you to put yourself or anyone else in danger, and if his instruction is not usurping someone else's authority, it's almost always best in those cases to submit.

I feel very pressured from some leaders to date a fellow brother in my church. I personally don't want to date anyone right now, but they keep telling me to pray about it since it might be God's plan. How can I tell them to stop?

                I think the easiest way to tell them to stop is really just to sit them down very seriously and tell them to stop. Let them know it upsets you, frustrates you, causes you to think poorly of them or whatever. Express your disinterest in not just the brother, but in the idea of dating, and remind them that—even though dating that guy MIGHT be God's plan--respecting your caution and discretion is CERTAINLY part of God's plan and they're failing to set the example they're asking you to do.


What is your take on non-Christians serving in the worship team (singing and playing)?

                Non-Christians should not serve in the Church. Period. It doesn't matter if it's the band, the welcoming team, or the kitchen. Service is meant to be an act of worship, and to remove God as part of it turns a local church into a pagan temple.

                Amos 5:21-24 is the probably the clearest passage in my mind that shows what God thinks of service--religious service!--that is not done with a worshipful heart. He even says in Matthew 5:23-24 that even a Christian who is trying to serve and give offering isn't allowed to if his heart isn't right with God and with the people around him.

                God isn't a beggar who is desperately pleading with people to do stuff for Him. He's a King, and only those who recognize that are allowed (by His grace) to serve in His court for His people. That message is crystal clear in the Bible, and needs to be strictly upheld in churches today.

                For people in worship teams or any other service in the church, their lives are to be holy examples to everyone. This is not contingent on whether or not they are in leadership positions. It's not because of a public office. It's because they are followers of Christ. If they commit sin, the pattern needs to be repentance. If they are unrepentant, they're not Christian. That's plain, as Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-20.

                The mission of the Church is to bring people to salvation by the gospel message, not by community service. Having unbelievers serving in local churches is not what convicts them of sin and compels them to repent. The Word of God and the demonstration of holy living--these are the things that testify of the grace and power of Christ. Until they understand that and agree with it in a life-changing way, they are not Christians and they are not qualified to serve in Christ's house.


I know I should go and talk to random people to just get over it and make more friends but I just can’t bring myself to. What should I do?

                Well the best thing to do would be to meet new people with your friends that you already know. Go out to lunch and invite someone new each week. If you know you have the most trouble getting to know people on your own initiative, making it a joint effort would be easier for you and more beneficial for the newcomer too.




Is it bad to be a Christian but not be baptized?  Do people who go to service but curse and do bad things and are just rude—are they considered sons and daughters of Christ? Does God still love them?

                Christ instructs believers to be baptized as an outward confession of our faith. Think of it like a wedding--it's a public announcement of the start of a new relationship. You only do it once, and you do it in front of the church. So if you're a Christian and you have the opportunity to be baptized, do it as soon as you're sure of your faith. If stage-fright or laziness are your obstacles to getting baptized to announce your love for Christ, I'd probably rethink whether or not you truly understand the sacrifice Jesus made for you. If your circumstances prevent you from getting baptized, it's not a big problem--just do it when you have the next opportunity. But if it's in your attitude/desire, that speaks more of whether or not you've actually surrendered to Christ lovingly, joyfully, and completely.

                For those people who go to church but also curse and do bad things, they're Christians if they're in the process of repentance from such sins and transformation into the life of Christ. They're not Christians if there is no conviction of guilt for such sins, hatred for that kind of behavior, love for righteousness, joy in forgiveness, and desire to be humble to serve.

                Whether Christian or not, God loves those people. I think the easiest way to illustrate that would be with between my son and me. If my son hated me and disobeyed my instruction, I would be angry with him, I would offended by him, and I would punish him--but I would still love him. In fact, it's because I love him that his disobedience would upset me. Everything I teach him is for the enrichment of our relationship and for his personal growth and fulfillment. When he acts against that, I'm angered because he doesn't trust me and he harms himself. If a stranger disobeyed me, I wouldn't care because I have no investment in him. But because this is my son, everything he does matters to me because I want the best for him. Obedience means he is rewarded and fulfilled, and I love him. Disobedience means he is rebuked and punished, but I still love him.


What is going on with my faith if I hardly ever say out loud, "I love Jesus," and I cringe when I hear other people say it?

                Imagine if that were the situation between you and the person with whom you are in a dating or marital relationship. I think it really kind of speaks for itself about the sincerity of faith and trust and love.  Matthew 10:32-39 addresses this issue. Your regard for Jesus reflects His regard for you. Any relationship that is valuable to you is something you will defend and be proud of. Any relationship that is an inconvenience to you is something you will hide and be ashamed of. 

                Of course, I don't want to overstate the case and say it's EASY to wear all the corny Christian jewelry and retreat t-shirts and things. You don't have to go out of your way to be some kind of walking billboard that advertises Jesus in a contrived kind of way. And, yeah, sometimes when crazy people are screaming "I love Jesus" who are completely bizarre and hyped up on too much caffeine and stuff--I'm sure it's understandable to some degree that you wouldn't want to be associated with them because it's embarrassing. But those are external factors. If the idea of loving Jesus is what makes you cringe, that's the core infection. If it's the PEOPLE who are saying "I love Jesus" who makes you cringe, that's a wholly different issue where you probably just have to learn to accept the fact that not all Christians are as cool as you think you are. Some are weird and bizarre. But Jesus was never in the habit of recruiting the likeable ones. If you understand that, you'll see that He used the outcasts and misfits to transform the world, and He still does that today.


What are "good works" and "dying to ourselves" in today's society?  Does buying someone lunch or giving them a ride home count?

                A "good work" is just another way the Bible speaks about acting in love without motive for selfish gain. Any time you do something for someone else's sake in order to serve them, showing them godliness and encouraging them through it, that is a "good work."  The apostle Paul will describe the same notion with different wording, such as "put on the new self," or "consider others better than yourselves," or "submit to one another," etc. When Jesus called His people to die to themselves, he was saying "stop being your own lord and living for your own satisfaction."  In exchange, he told us to pick up our crosses (our own death sentences) and follow Him. Jesus called us to exchange our lives for His--to stop living our way, but to start living like Jesus. That's why the apostle Paul will say things like "to live is Christ" in Philippians 1.  All of these passages speak of loving one another out of godliness without trying to honor yourself.  Assuming the motive is directed by love without selfish gain, then yes, buying lunch or giving rides are some specific examples of "dying to ourselves" in today's society (actually, they apply to any society).

Is it a sin not to participate in Christian clubs and events at school? 

                No, it is not a sin.  Those clubs exist to create community among believers, provide midweek training in the Word, and encourage students to pray. If you're actively in engaged in those regularly, then you're fine.  If you're not regularly fellowshipping, worshiping, evangelizing, reading the Bible, praying, and serving, then look for opportunities at church and at Christian clubs to do that.  Maybe you are involved in those things at church, but you can still consider joining those clubs to help less-involved believers too.


Is it wrong to feel embarrassed when you want to raise your hands during praise but don't actually do it because no one else is?

                Not at all. Feeling embarrassed is normal. I'd like to say, "You shouldn't feel embarrassed, and even if you do, ignore it and just do it." But I don't think that's necessarily the responsible way to go about it. 
                If you want to raise your hands during praise, maybe stand somewhere where you won't feel embarrassed doing it, like in the back or something. That'll probably help you develop the courage and boldness to do so more comfortably later. 
                The reason why I don't just recommend ignoring your feelings is because if you're feeling embarrassed while raising your hands, you're probably no longer focusing on the lyrics. You're wondering what people are thinking around you. At that point your participation in worship is distracted. I think it's better to worship freely without the distraction, so just go move over to a spot where you won't feel so visible. Hopefully that will help.


I don't like the term religion--especially organized religion.  Christianity isn't a religion (in my mind).  Is it right to think like this?

                I'm not real fond of the word either, only because of how it is connotative with rituals, ceremonies, and mostly human effort and philosophy to obtain some higher spiritual standing. But the word "religion" is still appropriate in that it refers to ideas concerning the supernatural origin and purpose of life. 
                I don't like being called "religious," but that doesn't means it's not true of me. I am religious. I just hope people will come to see that it only means I live by what I believe, and what I believe is that I have been saved by divine grace, not by any ritual, ceremony, or human effort; and it is now my mission to bring that salvation to everyone I can.


Do Christians have to observe dietary restrictions, get circumcised, or observe the Sabbath?

                Christians aren't under any dietary restrictions, as God makes clear in Acts 10:9-16.

                Christians also aren't required to circumcise, since that was a covenant sign with ethnic Israel. The apostle Paul vehemently says that if we start requiring circumcision for Christians, we're depending on religious rituals to save us instead of the grace and blood of Christ, and so we'd wrongfully depend on moral laws to save us (Galatians 5:3-4).

                Even the Sabbath (which is the seventh day of the week, or Saturday) was for Israelites (Exodus 31:16-17). Even Moses explains Sabbath as a celebration of ethnic Israel's deliverance from Egyptian slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15). Paul says not to let anyone judge you for not following their religious diet or observance of Sabbath (Colossians 2:16), since Christ put an end to Jewish religious laws (Colossians 2:14). He recognizes that some Jewish converts have trouble breaking those habits of observing Sabbath (Romans 14:5-6a), but he firmly prohibits Christians from intentionally adopting such laws as religious obligations (Galatians 4:9-10).



If my talents/skills at something are stronger than my spiritual gift, can I exercise my gifts to bring it to par, and beyond? Or is it going to be at that level forever? Does it get rusty if you don't use it?

                "Talent" and "skill" are just words to describe things that you're good at.  "Spiritual gift" is just a term to describe something you're good at for the sole purpose of blessing other people toward godliness. 

                Some people will try to artificially distinguish between talents and spiritual gifts (like this question does), but the healthier understanding is knowing that a talent is a spiritual gift when used to build up the body of Christ. When it's employed for any other reason, it's just a talent or skill.
                Take Bezalel and Oholiab, for example, who helped craft the Tabernacle and all its furnishings. They were expert craftsmen with incredible skill, but they used it for the worship of God and the edification of the people. That employed their skills for spiritual use. Their natural gifts (that is, their "talents" or "skills") now were used as spiritual gifts.
                I'd say any talent or skill you have IS a spiritual gift if you use it for the glory of Christ and the edification of the body. Consequently, any spiritual gift you have is a talent or skill that you are employing with godly purpose.

How do I find my gifts? 

                I recommend just trying everything.  Seriously.  Try serving in every opportunity that your pastor can offer, like helping keep records of attendance or planning events or playing in a band, welcoming new people, setting up chairs, helping lead a group of students from a younger department, etc.  See what you enjoy doing and pursue those things. Then if you're able to do them all without being really short on time, then do them all. If not, pick the one you think is best for the church.
                Be motivated by joyful serving, not filling a need. Just because there is no bass guitarist doesn't mean you have to be it just because you play bass. Serving from the motive of obligation is a quick road to burn-out. Serve because that's the way God made you, and you delight in doing what He's built you to do. "Giftedness" doesn't mean you have to extremely good at something. It just means you can worship God with the right heart as you're doing it. It is something you can do to build someone else up instead of yourself. If you can do it with that motive, then that's what God wants you to be doing.


How do you get/pray in tongues?

                The Spirit sovereignly gives spiritual gifts to each believer. It's really up to Him, not us, so getting the gift is something that you're not really involved with.
                A lot of churches teach you certain methods for trying to acquire the gift of tongues, but that only points to an action that is a learned behavior, orchestrated by the effort of the person, not the Spirit. There's no problem asking for gifts, praying that God would give it to you, but really that's the extent to which the Scriptures go in telling us to desire after them (1 Corinthians 12:31). That instruction, by the way, is plural: it's meant for the church to want all the gifts; not for a single believer to want all the gifts. In the context of the individual, we're to be thankful for what we're given, and to be good stewards of those gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Peter 4:10-11).



Is it okay for a Christian to get a tattoo?

                There are just a lot of things to consider. A lot of people point at Leviticus 19:28 and say tattoos are sinful, but considering the context, tattoos in that era were for religious/demonic power, not fashion statements. It was placing faith in mysticism that God was speaking against--not ink. Other people point to 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 and say that the body is a temple, so don't throw graffiti all over it. I think that's a better argument, but still not a good one.
                The use of the body is always worship (Colossians 3:17). It's not a matter of how permanent the ink of a tattoo is; it's always the attitude of the heart. Even the clothes we wear (which changes everyday) can be good or bad, depending on the motive of the heart (1 Peter 3:3). Making permanent alterations to the body isn't actually categorically condemned in Scripture. In Exodus 21:5-6, a master would pierce his servant's ear with an awl and that would be his permanent mark for life that the servant would work for the master. Eunuchs are never rebuked for their castration even though they couldn't enter the congregation (Deuteronomy 23:1); rather, they're promised compensation for their loss (Isaiah 56:3-5).  So when it comes to getting a tattoo, we remove the arguments of permanent body alteration and essential morality from the issue. What makes it right or wrong is the heart, and the things to consider are these:
                a) What message is trying to be conveyed, not only by the tattoo itself, but by the fact that you have a tattoo? The fact that this is a question at all is proof enough that tattoos are controversial. What is so important about the tattoo that it is worth riling controversy over?--especially if our great fight is to live above reproach--not on the edge of it!
                b) Why does this message need to be conveyed by a tattoo instead of some other clothing, or lifestyle, or even good old fashioned conversations?
                c) Is this going to stumble someone else? Will someone interpret that as hypocrisy or compromise with worldly values in such a way that it would damage your testimony of Christ? Will a brother who wants tattoos for the wrong reasons look at you and use you as an excuse to make his decision seem right? Is the person's family and/or loved ones okay with this decision?
                I know plenty of Christians with tattoos (for instance my wife). Some have done it as a mark of worship and love. Others have done it with vanity, pride, or rebellion. Because tattoos are, still today, connected to anti-authoritarian values, we have to be very careful how to approach the issue, and who to consider in the decision's repercussions. More than anything, our lives should be marked by a selfless abandon--a dying to ourselves--to give up any preference that would interfere with Christ, but to celebrate and enjoy the freedom we have to worship him. If getting a tattoo would honor those two prerogatives, I don't see a problem with getting one.

Is it okay for a Christian to have piercings?

                Well, first, the Bible doesn't actually prohibit altering bodies necessarily. The people of Israel had piercings for things like earrings. They actually used earrings that they were wearing to make a golden calf in Exodus 32:2. God didn't have a problem with their earrings. He had a problem with their idolatry. No verse in the Bible prohibits piercings.
                When handling any of these issues about the treatment of our bodies, the most important approach to take is one of humble worship. If whatever you're doing to your body is going to damage your testimony for Christ or violate the priority of modesty or cause another person to either have the wrong idea about you or fall into sin, then avoid it. But if you can freely worship with what you do with your body, then do so joyfully.


Is it okay for a Christian to gamble?
                Gambling, like any controversial behavior, is less about action, and more about attitude. Gambling isn't wrong in and of itself. But it's connected to so many other dangerous things, like addiction, debt, greed, dishonesty, etc.
If someone bets a dollar that he can beat me at a game, I have no problem with that. If he bets his car, I'd think he has a serious problem.
                If I had 20 dollars to spend for recreation, I'd have no problem using it to go to a movie or something. I also wouldn't have a problem playing poker with it. The circumstances are the same: I had 20 dollars to spend on recreation, and I did just that. But that's only permissible as long as it remains within the bounds of responsible stewardship of our resources, of course. Being wise with our money is part of our calling (Luke 16:9), and that can include enjoying it. But gambling that's motivated by greed, with a love for money, is certainly ill-motivated (1 Timothy 6:10). 
                As a general guideline for myself, I avoid gambling simply not to confuse people about the issue. But if I went to Vegas with a bunch of pastors and everyone in our churches was okay with it, I'd probably take a set amount of money to spend on recreation (let's say, for example, 50 bucks). Then if I spend it on blackjack and lose it all: no problem, I had fun. And if I won and increased it, I don't think I'd let myself go past 50% of the original amount (so I would stop when I win $25 in addition to my $50) just to set boundaries for myself and not get caught up in the lust for money. 

Is it okay for Christians to go clubbing?

                Clubbing is a combination of controversial behaviors, like drinking and dancing, and some blatantly wrong behaviors: hooking up, substance abuse, etc.
                While it's possible to go clubbing and avoid the wrong stuff and be responsible with the controversial stuff, that's rarely the outcome, and usually just the excuse that people use to convince others that it's okay to go. I honestly believe Jesus would have been hanging out at clubs, but I don't think he would have been clubbing. He would be there to be a light, to transform the environment, not participate in it. Doing these kinds of things really just begs the question of why someone would so willingly jeopardize their testimony of Jesus, since it's almost entirely assumed that when you go clubbing, you engage in wrong activity.
                So I think it's possible to go and have a good time without getting into anything bad, but that's very rare and nobody actually gives you that benefit of the doubt. You would need serious accountability and wisdom in even approaching this kind of behavior.


Is it bad to grind at dances?

                Almost always, "yes." 

                Dancing is a physical expression of passion and emotion. If your dance expresses lust and sexual lewdness, that reflects a motive in the heart that needs to be repented of. Even in the case where someone could try to claim pure motives, the issue then becomes that of testimony (the image your portray as Christ's representative on earth), or that of stumbling others (who might take your behavior to be license for them to follow suit, but without pure motive, or would just be incited to lust in their hearts).   If you can find a case where motives are pure and no one is stumbled and your testimony isn't damaged, then dance however you'd like. But that basically just sounds like a husband and wife dancing at home where no one else is watching.


Is plastic surgery a sin, such as eyelid surgery?  What if the surgery is to play sports better?

                Take the issue of killing: if you kill because someone looked at you funny, that's sin (murder). If you kill someone who has invaded your home and was a threat to your family, that's not sin. The difference is base motive--whether you're looking to destroy or to protect.

                Plastic surgery too is neutral until you consider motive. Reconstructive medical surgery is meant to restore and heal (which is something Jesus did!). Cosmetic surgery to feed a vain concept of self-worth based on physical appearance is much more suspect to scrutiny.  

                I, personally, don't think all cosmetic surgery is a sin. If you want that extra eyelid fold or whatever, I don't think that means you necessarily have a profound insecurity that starves for attention and needs social validation by attracting people to you romantically. But the motive is better discerned by everyone who knows you well (not just the one person who supports/agrees with you). If they think you're doing it because you aren't satisfied with the way God made you, I'd take their position pretty seriously.
If a person is significantly unsatisfied with their appearance (without the surgery), it's not plastic surgery that's the sin. It's the misplaced value on human worth, having confused it with physical attractiveness.

                Proverbs 31:30 and 1 Peter 3:3-4 gives a really good instruction for our self-perspective: "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight."

                The contrast, of course, is between where you base your self-esteem and self-respect. If eyelid surgery is NECESSARY to make you feel good about yourself, that speaks of an inherent problem in your perspective on your self-value.   It's not a sin to comb your hair, dress nice, or lose/gain weight to look a certain way. People are blessed with beauty and are certainly encouraged to cherish it. But physical beauty is a luxury, not a necessity, and our desire for it should never regard confuse that. A person can be whole and of great worth to God with or without physical attractiveness. A person can NOT be whole or of great worth without godly character.

                Can people get eyelid surgery without sinning? Sure. They can if it's permitted and within their resources and is not the expression of an unhealthy understanding of true beauty toward God or a misplaced value on attracting attention.  In the case of eyelid surgery to play a sport, that reason for surgery by itself is purely functional, which would remove it from the category of sinful motives.


Is it bad to be very serious about physical fitness?  Or is that idolizing the body?

                There's no problem with wanting to have a healthy and fit body. That, by itself, is a good thing and a reasonable hobby of sorts. But if that begins to get prioritized over more important things, then you'll know it's a problem. If going to the gym or following a certain diet or something like that hinders your ability to fellowship with other people or be available for people that need you, then cut back on it. If you have an unhealthy value for self-image and think that your worth is measured by your physical attractiveness, then keep that in confession and prayer with your accountability. But if you just want to get built and toned because you enjoy it, then enjoy it with gratitude.


Is wanting to watch a rated-R movie a sin if the movie is related to sex?

                Yes, not because of an R-rating, but because the movie incites lust or sexual immorality. Jesus was pretty clear on avoiding those kinds of images (Matthew 5:28-29) though somehow Christians tend to convince themselves that this isn't a big deal. The apostle Paul is equally clear on what kinds of things that we should focus our attention on (Philippians 4:8), which also Christians tend to convince themselves that they're already doing well enough so as to neutralize any need to improve on it further.
                Watch movies that celebrate the right kinds of values. Watch movies knowing what is dangerous for your mind and heart. Watch movies that you won't feel awkward watching with your parents, your children, and (most importantly) your Savior.


What should I tell my parents who want me to get plastic surgery?

                Lots of things:

1) "I don't want it."

2) "Why don't you like my face the way it is?"

3) "I'm content with the way God made me. Why aren't you?"

4) "What would you say about donating that money to the needy? If we have money for cosmetic surgery, we have money to save someone's life."

                Make a direct, sober statement about your position on cosmetic surgery to "fix" or "improve" your face. Let them know that even the suggestion of it is hurtful to you.


Is cross dressing okay?

                No. Cross-dressing is one of the things that God actually describes as detestable, an abomination, in Deuteronomy 22:5. That marks it as an instruction that wasn't localized for the nation of Israel, but it's an actual opinion and standard that God upholds.
                It's not a big deal if women wear slacks or pants--don't misunderstand the idea. And it's not the same issue as when someone in your church skit dresses up like the opposite gender for perhaps comedic effect to play a part. Cross-dressing is when a person dresses to appear as the opposite gender--noticeably or deceptively--with the intention of not being accepted and treated properly as his own gender. Even culturally, the style of hair was indicative of gender in Paul's day, and God still had instructions not to appear as the opposite gender, even for the believers in the Church (1 Corinthians 11:3-15). Always, the issue is the heart: you are to carry yourself with the dignity and modesty of your gender, not indulging even our artistic and aesthetic preferences for what is unnatural to us (Romans 1:24-27).


Is it a sin to cuss?  What if you're quoting or reading something or if it's an accident?  What about when you are mad?

                One of the common pitfalls of the above question is to place spiritual value on words and phrases instead of attitudes and intentions.  Scripture tells us to have our speech "seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6), which means to have it pure, uncontaminated.
In 3:17, the apostle Paul says that whatever we do, whether in word or deed, we should do it (or say it) in the name of the Lord Jesus--meaning, we do or say it in representation of Jesus Himself. Our words and actions directly display the speech and actions of Jesus Christ in the context of our lives.  Notice that Paul does not tell you what words to avoid. He does not tell you not to cuss. Avoiding specific words doesn't make your speech godly by itself. Your speech has to be given out of love and respect, in humility and grace.

                On an alternative line of logic, Jesus tells His disciples not to insult one another with the word "Raca" in Matthew 5:22. It almost sounds like he's saying "Raca" is a cuss word. But Jesus follows that by telling us not to say, "You fool."   If you really look at Jesus' instruction, you'll find that He's not teaching you to avoid specific words. After all, He just said them Himself! He said, "Raca" and "You fool" in His speech. So the words weren't actually the issue. The USE of the words, the intent behind them, the testimony that is given by that manner of speech, that is what Jesus is telling us to keep clean.  Even if you got rid of cuss words and replaced them with substitutes, the issue of the heart is where God judges the person. You could maliciously call someone "Cupcake" and it could be sin (see STAR TREK movie).  Jesus tells us that we're responsible for the things we say even in the times when we're mad.  Emotional distress doesn't dismiss us from our moral responsibility--else, rape or murder would be okay as long as you're lustful or hateful!

                Cussing, then, is not about the words that come out of your mouth, as much as it is the motives behind the heart. Anything said to verbally attack someone is hostile, regardless of the word choice.  There's definitely a call for us to be blameless in our speech, careful only to say that which is good and constructive--not driven by selfish ambition, hate, jealousy, or other sinful motives. 

                So to make a verdict: use words that keep you with a blameless testimony that helps people see Jesus in you. That involves not only avoiding bad words and phrases, but being careful to have righteous motives in all that you say.  When you're mad, find something to say that will help you resolve your anger--not perpetuate it.

Are you allowed to say words like "d*mn" or "hell" when you are singing a song?  Or do you have to always change it when you sing it?

                The syllables, consonants, and vowels won't determine what makes a song right or wrong. It will always come down the attitudes, intents, and values. If the song promotes crudeness, or fosters ungodly emotions, or celebrates sinful ideas, then change it.  The word "hell" comes up in plenty of worship songs too. And even the word "damn" appears in a few old ones. I'm sure you can distinguish the difference in its usage, versus that of the secular songs that play on the radio today. You figure out in your own heart whether or not this is something your conscience is clear about. If it's something you can sing in the presence of God, then there's no reason to change anything about it.


Is it wrong to say "hell yeah" or "what the hell?"

                Our words always need to be spoken with respect and right intentions (Colossians 4:6), and under control and in submission to God (James 1:26). The reason for this is because our speech is not only an expression of how we feel, but our words also influence us to feel certain ways too (James 3:3-6). Have you ever told a scary story and freaked yourself out? Have you ever told an old joke and cracked yourself up? Even when you start to talk about something/someone you hate, have you ever felt yourself get really worked up and more upset than if you were to just keep quiet for a bit?
                Whatever words you use, know that they are both an outcome and an influence of who you are. The way you use the word "hell" will, in this way, express your particular understanding of what hell is, and it will affect how you view it.
                A victim of violent sexual abuse doesn't go around using the word "rape" flippantly. After watching a sports game, you don't hear her say, "Our team totally raped the other team." That victim has a proper understanding of the horror of sexual assault and she'll more likely take offense at those who treat the issue with such ignorance, apathy, or disrespect. 
                The same is true about hell. How serious is it to you? Do you understand its horror, tragedy, and sheer destructive purpose? If so, do you think it's a good idea to cheapen the understanding of hell by turning it into a harmless little idiomatic expression so that no one takes it seriously anymore?
                While there are many uses for the word "hell," the call of the Church is to know the difference between wise and unwise usage. The fact that the rest of the world can say "hell" and think it's not a big deal is not a reason, license, or excuse for us to do the same. The problem today is the Church's camouflage in our fallen society, in lieu of its mission to stand set apart as a beacon of light in a world of darkness. True faithfulness to the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ needs to drench us in the godly power of the Holy Spirit in very part of being--through every single thing we think, say, and do.
                Make every effort to be wise in your speech as an act of worship to God, not as a cheap attempt to be accepted by the world through dilute understanding and crass verbal expression. Do this and then just watch what happens: over the pattern of your life, people will realize that the things you say are right, discerning, important, and true. That's a person people will trust and respect, and they'll have nothing bad to say about you.


Is it wrong to say "god da** you're beautiful" to a girl? 

                Yes. That's a pretty clear example of throwing God's name in for personal effect rather than reverent worship. It diminishes His greatness to our pettiness. It also takes very lightly the concept of damnation which, when really understood, is nothing to take lightly at all. You're accountable for the things you say, and they'll display whether you take God seriously or not. The proper treatment is not only to control the mouth, but to really inspect why the heart would even tolerate that kind of speech coming from the lips of one for whom Christ shed His blood and died precisely to SAVE him from damnation.

Is it a sin to lie when it was to avoid hurting someone's feelings?

                Honestly, I don't think every lie is a sin--much like not all killing is murder.  When a girl asks, "Does this dress make me look fat?" I am more inclined to answer, "No," regardless of if that's the truth or not. I want her not to think about her outer appearance, but just to enjoy herself when she dresses up.   When an infant boy asks his mom where his dad went, and when she tells the boy that Dad had to go away to work instead of telling him he went to jail for a heinous crime, it makes me think she didn't do the wrong thing, given the child's inability to fully understand the situation. Perhaps she could have tried to explain the situation to her son, but maybe she couldn't emotionally handle that kind of a conversation.  If a man puts a gun to my head and asks where my family members are so he can hurt them, I know I'm going to say, "I don't know." I'm not going to say, "I know where they are, but I just won't tell you." And I'm not going to dodge the question with endless little escapist retorts like, "Why should I tell you?" or "Just let me go." 
                But I think the danger here lies in the fact that people will always try to justify their own words and deeds. Lying is certainly one of the bigger categories of sin that a person will try to rationalize.
                While I don't think every lie is a sin, I do think that every lie is testimony to the sinfulness of man. It should be something that we don't take lightly, and would always operate in such a way as to remain above reproach. If we lie about where we were last night because we didn't want our parents to worry, that certainly has, mixed into it, a certain element of self interest. That kind of manipulative attitude has no place among God's people.
                What we lack in our day and age is a person who is known to simply stand by his word. Is there anyone in your life that you'd say always keeps his promises? A person who is reliable, dependable, and up front and lovingly honest--that's what we need today. That's definitely what we need. 

Is smoking a sin?

                Smoking is not a sin. But addiction is, and so is illegal activity (like smoking underage), and so is disobeying your parents, and so is damaging the testimony of Christ or causing another person to stumble. 
There definitely are contexts in which a person can smoke without being in sin, but given the highly addictive nature of it, it's very rare that this is the case.


Please provide your thoughts on working in a job position with an employer that 1) encourages obesity/gluttony, 2) promotes alcohol or cigarettes, 3) hires illegal aliens, 4) pays "under the table", 5) manufactures adult toys.

1) Obesity/Gluttony
                I'm not so sure about jobs that intentionally encourage obesity and gluttony. Working at McDonald's, for instance, certainly intends to make a profit off of people who would eat there frequently. But I don't think their goal is to see a fat population of people for the sake of spreading poor health worldwide. If a job specifically intends to do exactly that, then avoid it.
2) Alcohol and Cigarettes
                On my own personal opinion, I think that--even though Christians are free to responsibly enjoy these things without falling into addiction or indulgence--to actually work at these places starts to wander into dark territory. When the apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, he specifically told Christians that they were free to eat meat that was sold in the marketplace by people who worked at the temples of false gods (chapter 8). While the Christian was free to purchase and buy that meat, it doesn't mean he was free to work for that temple! He was free to enjoy the meat, but not to profit off of the addictions or false religion of other people. 
3) Hiring Illegal Aliens
                Here is a pretty difficult issue for the church. We're certainly responsible to take care of the needy. We're also called to be in submission to the authorities (government). Let me address the action we're to take, and then the motive we're to have:
When you look at passages like Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:13-14, you just can't get around the clear instruction to Christians to obey the law. It's abundantly clear that the government is in the position to make decisions on how to deal with people who violate the nation's law. Illegal immigrants are guilty not only of that, but because of it they are also guilty before God. Those who condone and/or aid illegal activity are also guilty of it (Romans 13:2). Our action, as a church, is to obey the law--even when we personally don't like it. If we think laws should be changed, we should take legal courses to evoke such change (like voting), not ignoring the law or dismissing it. As long as our country deems it illegal to employ a person without the proper documentation, we as the Church are called to submit precisely to that as an act of submission to God.
                Our firm position on issues like this, however, does not dismiss our obligation to be concerned for the poor and the needy. There's just no room for hatred toward people--even if we were to hate what they do. We ought to derive no satisfaction in their suffering. A person who comes (illegally) into our country in desperate search of work to provide for himself and possibly a family is someone we ought to extend serious concern for. Without condoning illegal behavior, we're still called to do our best to give provisions to those who have none.
4) Paying Under the Table
                If you own a business and are hiring employees, they should be properly/legally paid. This is how you will be a just employer (Colossians 4:1) ensuring that the worker also receives social security from the taxes that are deducted from his payment. It is also how you properly uphold your submission to the taxation from the government (Mark 12:13-17).
Paying under the table other things (like having someone help you move your furniture) is legally negligible if the payment does not exceed a certain dollar amount, if I'm not mistaken. A person does not have to pay income tax, for instance, if his annual income does not exceed $4000. Tutoring is a good example of under-the-table pay. While it's not illegal to accept such work, that income still needs to be reported on your tax forms. Ignoring that income is an act of tax evasion, which is clearly a violation of tax law and God's law.
5) Manufacturing Adult Toys
                The more I think about it, the more I find that this issue falls in line with the topic working for alcohol and cigarette businesses. While there are uses for adult toys that don't dishonor a marriage, the businesses themselves specifically aim to indulge a sinful affection. I've heard there are some Christian companies out there that create their products with purity in mind, but that seems to testify more greatly as to how there has to be "Christian" version because the other businesses are so outright NOT Christian. We don't see "Christian" soda companies or "Christian" home contractors, because those businesses don't directly conflict with biblical values. When a business starts to have a sub-category of "Christian" versions, it certainly says something about the business.
While the Christian may have the freedom to work at such a place, I do think it takes him out of the arena of walking blamelessly, and should disqualify him from any significant role of service or leadership in the local church until his leaders make specific consideration of his situation.


Are these medical career paths morally neutral?  1) cosmetic surgery, 2) gynecology, 3) proctology, 4) sex-reassignment surgery?

                The careers are not morally pointed in any singular direction. Each of those practices can be used for healing and restoration, or for sinful indulgences. It will be the circumstances and motives of both the patient and doctor that will define each incident of practice as helpful or sinful. As far as the jobs go themselves, they are not neutral if discernment and discretion are not part of the exercise of such skills.


Is retirement biblical?  How much should we invest in a 401K?  Does Matthew 6:19-21 apply to this?

                Financial preparation is wise stewardship. One of the most important balancing acts that every Christian has to perform is knowing how to be a good manager of money without trusting money to be your true source of comfort or security.
                The passage you stated is about "storing up your treasures on earth." That doesn't mean having a savings account. It means treasuring the stuff of earth instead of the stuff of heaven. It means preferring wealth and possession over character and faithfulness. 
A person can invest in a 401K and have good, godly intentions to use his future retirement money to continue to provide for his family in honest and God-honoring ways. As a husband and father, I find it to be my responsibility to wisely prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and to be thankful in however the circumstances turn out. If that means planning to provide for my family by means of a retirement fund, then I hope to do that with gratitude toward God who ultimately is my provider in everything.


How should I deal with brothers and sisters that make really racial stereotypes? 

                If their comments are really bringing you down, you can either tell them to stop or just remove yourself from their company. There's nothing that obligates you to hang around them. But if you decide to stick with those friends, just be sure not to let their conduct corrupt you. Be a light to them. Demonstrate an attitude of grace and love that speaks truth in constructive ways, not to tear anyone down. Be silent when they say something destructive. After some time they'll get a sense that you're not laughing at their coarse jokes and you have a different perspective on people than they do. If you can display that without being arrogant about it, but respectful and inviting, then hopefully they'll be sanctified by your right living.

Why is it so easy to hate others? 

                I think it's easy to hate others because it puts us in a position of judgment. It's the great temptation of man to usurp the place of God. That was the first temptation in Genesis 3, and it still is today. People don't want to submit under His rule, so they set themselves up as their own authority and interpret the rest of the world as an object that is meant for their own glory. That's the nature of sin, and hate is just one of the expressions of it.


How should I react to a friend who is determined to fight someone else?

                That depends on what the nature of the fight is. If your friend can't be talked down, you have the choice to not get involved (this is wise), to be there just in case he needs someone to call 911 (this is cautious), to fight alongside him (this is supportive), or to just watch to see who wins (this is likely).

                It comes down to whether or not you think the reason for the fight is important enough for you to be there. If he's defending a value you think is important, stand alongside him. If he's petty and can't control his temper or can't get over what someone said or did that personally offended him, tell him he's being an insecure baby, and then let him know you hope he doesn't get hurt in the fight (that's sarcastic, but you get the point). 

                You already know that fistfights just don't really testify the gospel very effectively. If he cares about that at all, call him out on it. If he doesn't, then there's really nothing you can do, because what righteous counsel can you give a man who has no fear of God? If that's the case, whether he fights or not, he's still in sin.


Is yoga bad because it supports Hinduism?  My friend tells me not to take it, but I disagree.

                Let's separate yoga into two parts: exercise and philosophy.  If you like exercise, stretch all you want. It's good for you.  Yoga's philosophy, however, is rooted in Hinduism. It speaks of internal energy, emptying of self and mind, etc. These are alien to Scripture. Never are we instructed to stop thinking or to release all our energy. The better word is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:17) and full of self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). 

                If your friend thinks taking yoga is bad spiritually, she either thinks it's because you're adopting the philosophy or because you are giving money to people who are Hindu. In the former case, explain that you're just exercising and not adopting their system of faith (assuming this is true of you). In the latter case, you are actually free to go ahead and take their classes and things as long as it doesn't stumble anyone. This is explained in the context of eating food that was sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. If your conscience is clear before God--that you're not worshiping false gods or dishonoring God by improper worship--then the only thing to watch out for is causing another believer's conscience to feel violated on your behalf.

                In your case, that's what's happening. Your friend thinks you're in sin. If you can't explain to her where her understanding is lacking, the better thing to do would be to refrain from yoga, to keep her from being stumbled. Else, your testimony and blamelessness are compromised for nothing more than paying for stretching classes.

                Talk to a pastor WITH HER.  If you're sure you're right about something, there's no fear of being wrong when speaking to a pastor, is there? Same for her. And if either of you (or both) are wrong, then you'll be corrected in front of the other, and both will be set straight.  Make sure never to brush off someone's concern for your character. Your character and testimony are the vehicle by which you proclaim Christ. When it comes to that issue of character, nothing is inconsequential.

Can Christians go trick-or-treating?  What's Halloween about anyway? 

                Halloween has all sorts of troubling historical roots in lore, mysticism, and superstition. I'm sure you can find out all about its history on Wikipedia. Today, though, it's really just a fun holiday for dressing up and getting candy. The problem is, the influence of the old mysticism and demonic influence is now domesticated and commercialized and celebrated in the holiday as a theme, though not a religion. People don't believe in vampires or the warding power of jack-o-lanterns or anything like that, but that doesn't make it a great idea to put on the appearance of such. 
                Christians are called to be set apart--it doesn't necessarily mean they can't go trick-or-treating; it just means we celebrate different things. Why would a believer dress up as something demonic, evil, or violent? What quality of that is he proud to wear? What image is he glorifying in it?
                If Christians are going to go trick-or-treating, what's important is to be safe, both physically and also spiritually. Don't ever masquerade as an agent of darkness--and I don't mean by the colors you wear, but by the image you display. That kind of deception is imitative of Satan, who masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15).

Is it wrong to keep secrets?

                That depends on the motive for keeping the secret.  If you're intent is to throw a surprise birthday party, your motive is love and celebration, and you're doing your best to make sure that your friend has the best time possible.  If you're intent is to not get caught or rebuked, then your motive is to hide sin or shame or insecurity--all of which are meant to be confessed for correction or encouragement or reassurance, respectively.  Jesus kept his messiahship a secret for a while (for instance, see Mark 1:21-25). That was done to allow him to reveal himself to the world by teaching and serving, not by letting word-of-mouth draw crowds to him so he could fulfill the mobs' expectations.  Jesus also says to give to the needy in secret and to pray in secret and to fast in secret if you need to avoid the temptation of trying to impress people with your piety (Matthew 6:2-6; 16-18).   Most of the time in Scripture, though, secrets are descriptive of sin (like in 2 Corinthians 4:2 or Ephesians 5:12).  

                In the case of just keeping a secret such as, "That guy John likes that girl Judy," that's, again, reliant on motives. If you're keeping it a secret because John asked you to since he's not ready to tell Judy yet, then that's great. You're a good friend. 
If you're keeping a secret like, "You just dropped a 20-dollar bill but I'm not going to tell you...I'll just pick it up and put it in my pocket and give it to you if you happen to ask me if I found it..." then that's not cool. That's actually really messed up. I mean, man, that's really REALLY messed up.


Is there ever a reason to hide the truth and tell a lie? 

                Sure. Surprise birthday parties, covert military operations, the game of mafia, etc.  I don't think that's the same as maliciously trying to deceive your neighbor in order to gain something or prevent losing something or to avoid getting caught.  Not everyone is going to agree with me on that.

                The Bible has a few instances where someone lied and it resulted positively.  In Exodus 1:15-21, the Hebrew midwives lie to protect Hebrew babies from being killed.  In Joshua 2:5, Rahab lies to protect Israel's spies from being caught.  Both times the result was favorable, but the Bible never actually condones or encourages it.  On the contrary, God says repeatedly that love "rejoices with the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). 

                When it really comes down to it, I firmly believe that God inspects the heart of the speaker.  When you are speaking out of love without your own self-interest at heart, I think that's what goes to your credit when He judges (1 Corinthians 4:4-5).  Whether you use your words for the good of others or for the good of self (which is often actually evil), your words will demonstrate the motives of the heart (Matthew 12:33-37).

                As a good example, if you were in the Holocaust, hiding Jews in your home, I don't think God would judge against you for telling Nazi soldiers that there were no Jews with you.  You acted out of love to protect people from evil, putting yourself at risk.  This kind of circumstance is so rare, however, that I think the vast majority of people go through their whole lives never facing such a situation.

Is it a sin to be an organ donor? 

                Jesus gave his body and blood to save people.  In imitation of our Lord and Savior, we're called to do the same. If your body and blood can save another, use it for such. "Greater love has no one than this, that he gives his life for his friend" -John 15:13.


Why does judgment within the church have such a negative connotation if it was so prevalent in the Old Testament?

                I don't know if judgment has a negative connotation in every church. That hasn't been a recurring idea that I've come across. I know the word "judgment" usually has serious misgivings for people who aren't looking to repent of sin. Judgment holds no real threat toward someone who walks rightly. 
                Judgment in the Old Testament, though, carries a much more soteriological and eschatological meaning. God's judgment was on unbelief--not on incidences of sin--where entire nations would be completely wiped out for their acts of wickedness. That's a very different context than someone who feels like church people are judgmental about his worldview.
                When people have negative opinions about judgment in the church, I think they usually mean that they don't appreciate feeling like they're considered worth less as a human being simply because they don't act like everyone else at the church. In that context, the church certainly needs to try harder to communicating the love of Christ on top of the need and value of repentance.

What do you think about euthanasia?

                1) Euthanasia is something that I think can't be judged by a person fairly without a serious amount of prayer and concern for people who are in the throws of death, dying, and despair.
                2) Even if something like euthanasia becomes legal, it does not dismiss the believers from being discerning with their conscience. The world should never set the standard for what we accept as right and legal and just. That position comes from God alone, revealed in Scripture alone, understood by faith alone, given by grace alone.


If you commit suicide, would you end up in Hell?


                Look at the first series called "The Human Soul" and you'll see that the fourth lesson is called "Dying on Purpose." That document is a short Bible study that should take you step-by-step through the issue. The footnotes will also help answer your question.