Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gotta Get Out of the House

There is a strange assumption among many who plant churches. The assumption is that they must get out of the house.

Most church plants begin in homes. The reason is simple: most church plants are small and therefore need little space. Over time, the hope is that as the church shares the gospel, people will come to Christ as Lord and Savior. This will in most cases cause the church to grow in number.

This is where the strange thing happens. There is an almost automatic and unquestioned assumption that the church must leave the home and get some sort of larger facility. What is implied in this assumption is that the house is not sufficient. The strange part in all this is that the house was sufficient for the church in the New Testament.

Considering the sad state of many churches in the USA, it seems that church planters would want to do something different. Why not try what the bible models for us? Why not remain in the house?

Some might answer this by saying that the church has to move out of the home in order to find a place big enough for all the people. This indicates that the church has not considered meeting in multiple homes. Why not gather in several different homes?

The objection to meeting in several different homes will probably be something like this, "If we meet in different locations, then we will be splitting the church and no one wants to do this." My response to that statement is that meeting in different locations does not automatically mean that you are splitting the church. Why does numerous locations have to mean different churches?

We must always be looking at the assumptions that inform our decision-making. The reality is that church plants would do well to remain in houses. There is a reason for the biblical model.

On a related note, established/traditional churches would be wise to figure out how they can gather in homes at least some of the time. Small groups meeting in houses goes a long way toward at least beginning to follow the biblical model. It also fosters community and spurs discipleship.

So instead of thinking we have to get out of the house, let's figure out how we can either remain in the house or get into the house.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Beauty in the Backyard

God has blessed us with a home that backs up to a pond in our backyard. On a regular basis we get to enjoy all sorts of different birds that enjoy the water. These Canadian Geese landed on our backyard last week. We thank God for the beauty of His Creation.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Paul's Last Words

It is interesting to look at the final verses that Paul writes in his letters. It is safe to assume that Paul wanted to say something significant at the conclusion of his messages to his friends. The apostle appears to be stressing the grace of God through Jesus Christ. Paul writes "Jesus Christ (or Christ Jesus)" 10 times and "grace" 11 times. Since Paul thinks the grace of Christ is so significant, we should as well. Do we live like it in the way we interact with God and others?

Romans 16:7, "to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen."

I Corinthians 16:24, "My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen."

II Corinthians 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen."

Galatians 6:18, "Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."

Ephesians 6:24, "Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen."

Philippians 4:23, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

Colossians 4:18, "This salutation by my own hand -- Paul. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Amen."

I Thessalonians 5:28, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen."

II Thessalonians 3:18, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."

I Timothy 6:21, "by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be with you. Amen."

II Timothy 4:22, "The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen."

Titus 3:15, "All who are with me greet you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen."

Philemon 1:25, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To the Church in...

As we read the beginning of Paul's letters, we clearly see that he writes to churches (unless he is writing to close associates such as Timothy).

Paul usually writes something like, "To the church in..." or "To the saints in..." or some variation of this.

I have recently realized that what I have pictured in my mind and what Paul meant were probably two very different things.

As I have read Paul's letters over the years, I have pictured him writing to a local body. In particular, I have pictured those who are in the church (of some city) to the exclusion of those who aren't in the church. I suppose I was inadvertently taking the modern view of church membership and placing it upon those churches. For example, I was picturing Paul writing to the members of the church in Rome, while not writing to those who were not members.

As I read Paul's letters today, I think the apostle was emphasizing something else when he wrote, "To the church in..." Paul was making it clear that he was writing to ALL the saved people/followers of Jesus/Christians who happened to reside in a particular city. Paul had no aim of excluding any Christian from hearing the letter, but was simply addressing it to those who were in the church body in a particular geographic region.

Common sense tells us this must have been the case. Not everyone in these cities would have met in the same house. Therefore, the letters must have been circulated around the city. In fact, all the followers of Jesus in a particular city seem to have been considered part of the church in that city. Additionally, some of these churches were located relatively far apart, such as those who received the letter to the Galatians. It also appears that some of Paul's letters were circulated among churches who were not even named in the greeting, such as the church in Laodicea receiving the letter to the Colossians. Colossians 4:16 tells us, "Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea."

I write all this to make the point that Paul did not seem particularly concerned about boundaries for churches. He wrote to followers of Christ who lived in certain areas, but his focus hardly seemed to be aimed at writing to some to the exclusion of others.

This ought to make us think about how we view the church. If Paul wrote to all the Christians in an area, it is clear that he considered them ALL to be part of the church. Paul did not make the universal/local distinction that we tend to make in the modern church. If Paul saw, for example, all the Christians in a city as part of the church of that city, that should inform us as we think about issues of unity and membership.

"To the church in..." suggests unity as opposed to exclusion.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fun at the Beach

Having grown up about 8 hours from the nearest ocean, I am thrilled to now live less than an hour from the beach. It's also a blessing to live where it is at least warm for most of the year.

Last Saturday I took two of my kids (Mary and Bobby) to the beach to play for a few hours. It was a blast. We played on the beach, and then in the water, and then on the beach some more, and then in the water some more, and then...etc.

Above is the sand castle that Bobby and I (mostly Bobby) constructed. Bob's eyes are shut in the photo due to the sun. The photo is looking back at the sand dunes, with a little canal of water immediately behind the castle; it made for a great moat.

Note to self: it was a very good idea to take a regular-sized shovel to the beach instead of trying to use one of those small, plastic kiddie shovels that always brakes in your hands.

Anyway, it was a nice gift from God to just be able to spend some fun time together in the sand and sun.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Church Website

I would not characterize this as earth-shattering, but our church family has a new website up and running. I'd like to thank my friend Alan Knox of Full Throttle Development for putting the site together.

I have to admit that today I read back over the website, looking in particular at the "Leadership" page. For some reason I had referred to myself a couple of times as "Reverend Carpenter." Yuck. I quickly changed it to just "Eric."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Kids' Bedrooms Disprove Evolution

During the normal course of our homeschooling lives, our kids' bedrooms gradually move from neat to messy during the week. Sometimes this transformation is sudden (such as when a friend comes over to play), but most of the time it is gradual. By Saturday, their rooms have often descended into "dump status." At that point, either my wife says, "Children, you need to clean up your rooms," or I say, "Kids, pick up your dumps." Alice is a bit more eloquent than I am.

What we see during the week in the bedrooms is movement from order to disorder. As the business of the week moves along, the rooms transform from organized places to disorganized messes. When no effort or intelligence is placed into keeping things ordered, disorder reigns supreme.

There have been a few occasions where, for whatever reason, we have not asked our kids to keep their rooms clean for a longer period of time. The result is predictable (and typical and frightening). Their rooms, if they place no effort in cleaning them, turn into a completely wretched combination of clothing, wrappers, toys, shoes, stuffed animals, cups, etc. At times we joke that roaches would not want to live in their rooms.

The point to all this is that over time, order naturally descends into disorder. When no effort is placed into keeping things orderly, gradually increasing disorder is the order of the day. For order to be restored, someone with intelligence has to step in and re-order things. My kids rooms have NEVER become more orderly on their own. Oh how I wish they would!

One of the basic assumptions behind evolutionary theory is that, given enough time, disorder will (through mutation, natural selection, etc.) lead to order. This is how one-celled organisms can, according to evolutionists, transform over millions of years into human beings. Increased order is demanded, but it must come about through random chance, with no intelligence allowed to be a part of it.

It fascinates me that evolutionary theory rests on an idea (order coming from disorder apart from intelligence) that we never see in life. I can look at my kids' bedrooms. I can look at traffic. I can look at garbage pick-up. I can look at Wal*Mart.

In life, we never see order just happen randomly. Life as we know it rapidly descends into disorder when intelligence is removed. Just watch what happens at an intersection when the traffic light goes out. Semi-chaos erupts.

What we see in taking a casual glance at life is that order never comes naturally from disorder. Instead, disorder comes from order. What restores or brings about order? Someone from the outside with intelligence restores order. In the case of the traffic light, when a police officer arrives and directs traffic, order returns to the intersection.

Evolution depends directly on an idea that does not exist in life. For order to exist, an intelligent being is required. In order for life on earth to exist, an extremely intelligent being must exist - God.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My Daughter, the Blogger/Photographer

My older daughter, Caroline, has a growing interest in photography. I realize that I cannot be impartial, but I think she takes great photographs. If you are interested, view her new photography website by clicking here.

You can reach Caroline's personal blog here. If you want to read her book reviews, click here.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Few Photos From Fredericksburg Battlefield

Last week during our trip home to Savannah from New York, we stopped for several hours at the Fredericksburg Battlefield. This Civil War battle, which took place in December 1862, saw the Confederates defeat the Federals in a battle that was similar, only in reverse, to what occurred on Day 3 of the famous battle in Gettysburg seven months later.

The stone wall we are standing in front of was used as a defense by the Southerners as the Northern army attempted to attack. The wall was very effective - no Federal soldier made it within 50 yards of the wall during the battle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

For More on the Significance of Acts 2:42...

Acts 2:42 is an extremely significant verse for the life of the church. To learn more about what this verse means, click here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In the Church, "New" is Not "Improved"

In the modern West, we tend to think that just about anything new is also better. We are all extremely familiar with the phrase "new and improved." In our culture, we always seem to be craving the next new thing. For example, blogs gave way to MySpace, which gave way to Facebook, which gave way to Twitter. What's next?

This desire for the next new thing has also infected the western church. If we take a casual look around at most local churches in the USA, we see them doing all sorts of new things that are designed to be new, better, attractive, exciting, and fun. Church events and programs get bigger and bigger. They cost more and more. Meanwhile, the western church becomes increasingly ineffective and irrelevant.

The reason for this is simple: When it comes to the church, "new" is not "improved."

The irony to all this is that we know what the church should look like. We know what makes a church effective and relevant in society. We have a clear example of a church that is exciting and impacts society positively and radically for the Kingdom of God.

We can find that church in a book - the Book of Acts. In particular, we see the early church in action in Acts chapters 1-4. What we see is a united body of believers who lived radically and simply for Jesus Christ. They spent much time together, served one another, gave generously to one another, and loved one another. As Acts 2:42 describes it, they, "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." Interestingly, rather than praying for comfort or safety, they prayed for boldness.

Above all, the early church relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to direct them.

We can see all this very clearly with a simple reading of Acts 1-4. Why don't we do what they did?

The answer may be that Acts is old. It is very old. It is 2000 years old.

It is not new.

However, the reality is that the church in Acts is biblical. The apostles were part of it. They gave approval to it.

When it comes to the early church, it is old and best. It needs no improvement.

We would be wise to reject the "new is better" notion for the church. We would be wise to imitate what we see.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Helpful Tool

Check out this helpful tool from the BBC (of all places) on the history of civilizations.

Visiting with the Knox Family

We are still on vacation - at least for one more day.

We are thrilled to be spending the day with our friends, the Knox family (Alan, Margaret, Jeremy, and Miranda). Ever since we moved away from Wake Forest, NC in 2006, we have not been able to see our seminary friends very much. This has been a great reunion.

Alan and I have been able to discuss a wide variety of things, including (not surprisingly) the church. It is refreshing to talk about what the church should be based on biblical commands and the biblical model. I appreciate Alan's desire to follow the scriptures as they relate to the gathering of the church.

We thank God for friends. We look forward to seeing more friends as we return to Georgia tomorrow.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our Trip to Boldt Castle

Bobby and I took a short trip to Boldt Castle, which sits on a small island in the St. Lawrence River. Below are some of the best photos:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009