Monday, May 31, 2010

A Weird Church Dream

Last night I had a weird dream related to the church. Here's what happened:

In the dream I heard a knock at our front door. When I opened it, I saw Al Mohler and Mark Dever standing there. These are two heroes of mine, so I was excited - at first. However, it soon became apparent that they were here to confront me about my changing beliefs on the church. In particular, Mohler and Dever came to my house to both defend the traditional/institutional church and to tell me where I am wrong about the church.

It was unpleasant to say the least. Both of these men are far smarter than I am. Also, it was two against one. I don't remember the specifics of their arguments, but I do remember just wanting to get out of the situation. The dream felt like it lasted for a few hours. I was mighty relieved when I woke up.

Now, I'm not much into interpreting dreams. My undergraduate degree in psychology was enough to prove to me that Sigmund Freud was a nutcase. Interpreting the details of dreams is basically a waste of time.

I do, however, think that this dream shows one thing for sure: I've been thinking about people's reactions to my changing views of the church.

I have been anticipating some push-back from the establishment regarding what I now believe the church ought to be. I've already experienced some, and I'm sure more is on the way. When a pastor of a traditional church begins to challenge the way the establishment "does church," others in positions of power within this structure will push back. No doubt there.

Apparently I am a little worried about this. Maybe this is why I dreamed about it. It's interesting that it was Mohler and Dever that showed up. Maybe it's because I just saw them both at T4G, they are both Southern Baptists, and they both are very established within the traditional church framework.

I'm not sure what is going to happen in the near future, but if this dream has any basis in reality, I'm guessing that others who fall in line with Mohler and Dever will really come calling.

Great, Good, and Bad

Great:

Good:

Bad:

"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ..." Philippians 3:20

On this Memorial Day, let us (those who are American citizens) be thankful for our political freedoms.

Let us (those who are citizens of heaven) be even more thankful for our spiritual freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.

Let us also, PLEASE, not mix the two. The cross is great. The American flag is good (in the sense that we should obey our governing authorities and enjoy our religious liberty). However, mixing of the two is simply bad. Nowhere in scripture do we see a mix of church and state. When this happens, it is always the church that suffers.

Don't minimize or trivialize Jesus' work on the cross by wrapping it in an American flag.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Church Moves 900 Miles?

About 15 years ago we moved from western New York State to Georgia. This story tells of a church that is doing the same thing. There is one key difference: my family is made up of people, while this "church" is just a building.

The story tells of a church building in Buffalo that is no longer used. A church in Atlanta wants to move the building down south so it can use it. The whole issue has more than a few people upset in Buffalo and will cost millions of dollars to make it happen. This is another example of the problems we face when we place our emphasis on buildings instead of people.

In reality this story does not tell of a church that is moving. It's really just about an old building.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Reformation, Tradition, Scripture, and the Church

I thank God for the Protestant Reformation. What a wonderful movement it was that reclaimed the biblical gospel. We owe a great debt to Reformers like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, etc.

One argument that was used against the Reformers was that they were arrogant to challenge 1000 or so years of church history. They were told that to challenge what the church had learned over many hundreds of years was foolish and wrong. They were also called schismatic. The bottom line, from the Roman perspective, was that Rome should not be challenged because of the traditions that had been accepted for the millennium prior to the Reformation.

The problem for Rome, of course, was the scriptures. While Rome looked to tradition for authority, the Reformers looked to the bible.

We must keep something important in mind: the Protestant Reformation was a reformation primarily in soteriology, not ecclesiology. In other words, it was a rediscovery of the biblical gospel (salvation); it was not a rediscovery of the biblical church. There were certainly changes that took place within the church, but the PRIMARY change was a return to the gospel proclaimed by Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc.

Let's fast-forward 500 years. I think we all realize that there are both positives and negatives with the modern church in the West. We are all in a difficult spot because the Reformers did not complete a reformation of the church. If they had lived long enough they might have done so. Alas, we will never know. We do know that the modern church is in need of reform.

I'm sure that almost all readers of this post would agree that the church needs change. The disagreement, of course, is how much change is needed and in what areas. Some people think more and some think less. How do we know? What do we do?

In light of all the disagreement, we must look to our only objective source: the bible. If we are to try to live by sola scriptura, then let's do this not just for salvation but also for the church. Let us follow in the footsteps of the Reformers, but this time let's apply sola scriptura to how we live as the church.

One problem we will run into today is the same problem the Reformers faced. If we push for biblical change, there are many in the institutional church who will use what amounts to a Roman argument. They will say much has been learned from church history. They will say that since the church has done certain things (especially since the Reformation), we should do them as well. If we question certain beloved practices, we may be called schismatic.

If we think through these arguments carefully, what we see is an argument from tradition. Certain Roman church practices were barely changed at all by the Reformers. Many of these remain today. Many are found nowhere in scripture.

What happens when we question and/or challenge these today? Those who believe in these practices may defend them with scripture. If so, we should engage in healthy, gracious debate. However, they may also defend these practices by looking to church traditions (especially from the past 500 years).

When we hear this argument, we must recognize that it is an argument from tradition. It is a Roman argument. It is an argument that holds no weight.

As we think about what types of changes need to occur in the modern church, let us really live according to sola scriptura. These changes may be uncomfortable. They will not be welcomed by many. However, they must occur.

Let us have lively discussions about these important issues. However, let us only look to the bible, and only the bible, for authority.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What's Wrong With This Picture?


What's wrong with this picture?

The problem is that we see names of God plastered all over a bag that will soon be thrown out. I'm sure the folks at Lifeway had good intentions with this, but they need better wisdom and discernment. God takes His name very seriously. We should treasure His name instead of placing it on items that will end up in the dumpster. This is another example of the commercialization of Christianity run amok.

The verses below are just some that speak to the importance that God places on His name. In light of these verses, we should do the same.

Exodus 3:14-15 -- And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.'"

Exodus 20:7 -- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Leviticus 19:12 -- And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

Isaiah 42:8 -- I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images.

Isaiah 48:11 -- For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; for how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.

Mark 9:37 -- Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.

John 14:13-14 -- And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.

Acts 9:15 -- But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel."

Romans 9:17 -- For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth."

Revelation 3:8 -- I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.

"With One Voice"

Just a cursory glance at our culture shows us that there is much confusion when it comes to singleness, dating, and marriage. This confusion is rampant both outside and inside the church. In With One Voice, Alex and Marni Chediak try to answer that confusion.

The subtitle tells a lot about this book. It reads, "Singleness, Dating, and Marriage to the Glory of God." As soon as I read this I figured that I would like the book. The reason for this is that the authors understand that these issues go beyond the individual's own desires. Instead of thinking of ourselves, we need to think about what God would have from us.

This book is short (150 pages), simple, and easy to read. It is also very practical. The Chediaks do not spend much time in philosophical reasoning. Instead, they get down to practical "nuts-and-bolts" very quickly.

If you have thought through the issues of singleness and dating from a biblical perspective, then I would not bother reading this book. However, if you have not done so, then go ahead and read this one. It is ideal for young people in particular who are or will soon be facing these issues.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Passover Celebration

This past Sunday our church family celebrated a Passover Seder together. It was a wonderful experience. I've read and heard about the Passover all my life, but I've never participated in one until now. We were led by Stephen Fenchel, a Messianic Jew who serves with Chosen People Ministries. Stephen and his wife Carol (read their fascinating bio here) serve as missionaries to the largely unreached Jewish population in this country. According to Stephen, the Jewish race is only .01% Christian.

As far as the feast was concerned, the best part was the way Stephen illustrated how this meal points directly to Jesus Christ. Numerous aspects of the Passover, even those practiced by secular Jews, clearly point to one person: Jesus.

Below are some photos from the feast. I wish we could have taken more, but we were all too busy listening and eating.

The Haggadah is a text that tells the order of the Passover Seder.

Here we see the calm before the storm.

This is the head table, where Stephen led the seder. The cushioned-chair is for Elijah.

Stephen Fenchel in action. Yes, that's me behind Stephen adroitly holding a cup.

Our church family enjoying the seder together

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"When the Church Was a Family"

We live in an extremely individualistic society. We probably all recognize this. However, I doubt that we understand just how much our individualistic view of life impacts the way we live out being part of the church.

In When the Church Was a Family, Joseph Hellerman discusses the church as Jesus Christ meant it to be - a family. The author challenges our modern, Western mindset about the church by showing that Jesus saw His church as being very much group-oriented as opposed to individual-oriented.

Hellerman takes a fascinating look back at the way people from Jesus' time viewed the individual and the group. The author makes a convincing case that in that day, 1) the group came before the individual, 2) the extended family was the most important group in a person's life, and 3) the closest bond came with siblings.

Hellerman goes on to show that Jesus formed His church to be a family. Jesus also asked His followers to be more committed to their new family - the church - than to their genetic family. This was challenging back then, and it continues to be challenging today.

Hellerman continues by showing how Paul also thought of the church as a family, employing family language again and again to describe the church. The author then illustrates how the church in its first few centuries followed this model.

Toward the latter part of the book, the author looks at the church today in the modern West and provides some suggestions. He makes it clear that in order for the church to function as a family, we must gather together in ways that allow us to share in each others' lives.

For the most part I really liked this book. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read about the church as family and community.

My one criticism is as follows: Hellerman serves as one of several pastors of a medium-sized church (about 250 people). Throughout the pages of this book, he speaks positively of his church family. When he talks about church as family, he always talks about small groups. In fact, on several occasions, he makes it blatantly clear that the church functions as family when it meets in small groups. For example, on page 154 the author discusses a case of a man named Bill who was facing church discipline for divorcing his wife. The question was who should be told about the situation. The author writes:

Bill and his wife had been members of the same small group for nearly a decade. It was quite obvious to us that this group was the place where they experienced the tangible reality of being part of the family of God. For all practical and relational purposes, Bill's group members were his brothers and sisters in Christ. The small group, therefore, was Bill's "church" in the New Testament sense of the word.

Here is the problem with the situation: If the tangible reality of being part of the church occurs in the small group, then what is the point of the big group? Hellerman repeatedly says that small groups are where family occurs. If this is the case and if the church is a family, then it appears that he has made the case that there is no real purpose for the big group (the large gathering of 250 people).

However, the author cannot outright say that the large group has no purpose because that is where he serves and that is where his job is. Several times he comes close to saying it, but then he backs off. Quite frankly, he seems conflicted in this area.

Overall this book is a helpful reminder that Jesus expects His church to be a family. The challenge to us, especially those of us who have grown up in individualistic societies, is to live this out.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"I Know What the Bible Says, But..."

I'll never forget the time I heard someone say, "I know what the bible says, but..."

A few years ago, while I was attending seminary, I had the opportunity to preach for a church whose pastor was on vacation. I arrived at the building on Sunday morning and was greeted by some very nice folks. As was expected, I was given about 30 minutes to speak to them. Everything was fine.

After the service, one of the deacons and his wife took me out for lunch. We had a good conversation, the food was good, and (bonus) he picked up the bill.

Despite all this, what really sticks out for me is what he said at one point during the meal. We were talking about their church and, specifically, their deacons. He told me that they have ladies serving as deacons. Then he said, "I know what the bible says, but..." He then went on to justify ladies serving as deacons based on pragmatic reasons.

My point in this post is NOT to debate whether or not women should serve as deacons. I know there is a lot involved in that discussion.

Rather, my point is that this man, who I'm sure has good intentions, based his view on women deacons on pragmatics. He actually believes that their church is violating scripture but that this is somehow acceptable because it works.

It is easy to fault this man. Instead of doing that, let's take a hard look at our own lives. How often do we say we believe one thing but then live another way? How many times do we believe the bible says one thing, but then turn around and do the opposite? How many times do we do things just because "they work"?

Most Christians say they believe the bible. Most say they believe the bible is our final authority. We all say these things. But do we really believe it?

If we dare, let's take a hard look at our lives to see where we are in reality saying, "I know what the bible says, but..."

Take A Look

Take a look at this excellent post by my friend Alan Knox. In "Living in the Shadows," Alan discusses how we tend to look to the OT instead of the NT to inform our views of men, services, days, and places.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Good Stuff From Africa

Click here to see photos from my parents' recent trip to Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya. The place might sound scary, but it is actually quite beautiful.

What Are You Bringing?

"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up." I Corinthians 14:26 (ESV)

"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." I Corinthians 14:26 (NKJV)

Assuming that you gather with your church family on Sundays, what are you planning to bring? The above verse from I Corinthians indicates that the folks in that church (despite its myriad problems) actively brought something with them to the church gathering. In many cases, this seems to have been directly related to the exercise of their spiritual gifts. Paul wanted to be sure that this was all done for the purpose of mutual edification.

It is safe to say that in the modern church the majority of people do not prepare to take something with them to build others up. Instead, most people arrive at the gathering unprepared. They may very much be looking forward to what will happen during their time with their church family, but this does not mean that they are prepared to build one another up.

On a related topic, if you did bring something with you, would you have an opportunity to share it during your church gathering? Would you be invited to do so?

Back to the topic at hand: preparation. It may be that our preparation is more a mindset than something more tangible such as a teaching. It may be a mindset of seeking out others to exhort and encourage. Regardless, we should all at least be prepared to use our spiritual gifts to serve one another.

I'm paraphrasing the following from Dave Black: Many churches have a slogan that reads something like, "Enter to worship. Depart to serve." Instead, it should read, "Enter to serve. Depart to worship."

As we gather with our church family (regardless of denomination, worship style, traditions, etc.), let's all bring something with us. Maybe this will be something a bit structured such as a teaching or a song. Maybe it is simply a mindset of being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to share a word of prophecy. Whatever we do, let's be prepared by bringing something.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Participating in a Passover Meal

I am looking forward to this Sunday night because our church family is going to get to do something that most of us have never done before: participate in a real Passover meal.

Stephen Fenchel of Chosen People Ministries is going to spend Sunday with our church family. Stephen is a Messianic Jew who lives in New York City. Since it is Pentecost Sunday, Stephen will speak about the significance of Pentecost during our morning gathering.

The real excitement, however, is about what is going to happen in the evening. Stephen is going to lead our church family through a Passover Seder. However, he will do more than that. Stephen will also point out the many ways Jesus Christ, the Messiah, can be seen in the Passover and ultimately fulfills the Passover.

I have been looking forward to this time for several months. The main reason for this is that we are actually going to participate in the meal. We are not going to just sit watching Stephen tell us what happens during the Passover. We are actually going to all partake of the meal together.

Over the past several days I have found out that putting together a Passover meal requires quite a bit of preparation. There are many different symbols that I want to be certain to get right. Also, I hope we don't accidentally do something wrong like somehow add leaven or pig to the meal. We'll do the best we can and hope for the best.

My real hope is for our church family. By participating in this meal together, my hope is that we will all cherish Jesus Christ a little more deeply. My desire is that we gain an even richer understanding of what He has accomplished for us. In addition, I hope that participating in this way will inform our future celebrations of the Lord's Supper.

We may make some mistakes in the Passover meal preparation, but that is really not the main issue. The issue is seeing Christ in the midst of this wonderful feast.

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Way

The One Way sign is a good symbol for what happens when most churches come together for their primary gatherings. The communication is almost all one way. Someone stands behind a microphone and announces/speaks to everyone else. That person is usually one of two people: the "worship leader" or the pastor. These two people get to exercise their spiritual gifts for the edification of others as the communication flows in one direction. In most instances, the only group communication comes in the form of singing; these songs, however, are selected not by the group but by the "worship leader."

The problem with this one way communication is that it doesn't follow what we see in the bible. When we look at the early church, we see group communication, group edification, and group exercise of spiritual gifts. Instead of seeing a ceremony that includes an "order of worship," stage, and pews, we read about people meeting in homes sharing with each other, encouraging each other, and building one another up in the faith.

In a typical, modern, institutional church gathering, there may be 150 people present. If all 150 were invited to exercise their spiritual gifts, a great deal of edification could take place. However, we know that in a typical worship service, only about 5 of those 150 ever get to speak. And, it is one person, the pastor, who does the vast majority of the speaking. When this happens, it starves the church. These five people's spiritual gifts are not enough to meet the needs of the body. Everyone needs to be actively using their gifts and invited to do so.

If we look at a small, biblically-modeled church gathering, we will see something very different. There may only be 20 people present, but all are invited and encouraged to exercise their spiritual gifts. In this way of multiple and mutual communication, all 20 people are edified by all 20 people using their gifts. In this case, the church thrives because all parts of the body are working. No one person has to do too much. Everyone works together.

As we think about our church gatherings, let us encourage a movement toward not one or two way communication, but multiple direction communication. Keeping in mind that all things must be done in an orderly manner, let's encourage and invite everyone in the church to exhort one another to holy, God-honoring lives. Let's encourage each other to serve the church and the broader community through good works.

Let us be active as we come together. Let us participate. Let us seek and encourage the entire body to use its spiritual gifts as we gather together.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Family Beach Time

A few days ago I took Mary and Bobby to the beach. We had a great time together enjoying God's creation. Mainly, we either played in the ocean or built a sand castle. It was great just to be able to spend time together. Since Alice and Caroline could not come, we have decided to all visit the beach again next week. Time with family should be treasured.












Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Agreement on the Early Church

I find it fascinating that there is much agreement about how the early church functioned. Even among those who would disagree about what the church should/can look like today, there is almost no disagreement over what the early church looked like.

For example, there is agreement that the early church generally met in homes. Early church gatherings were participatory in nature. The early church gathered to celebrate the Lord's Supper as a meal. The early church had non-hierarchical and multiple elder leadership.

The fascinating part of this is that we in the modern church act like there is not agreement about what the early church looked like and how it functioned.

Let me explain. In the modern, Western church we agree that we must follow what is commanded in scripture. We may not always carry this out, but we at least say we agree with it. We do not, however, agree about how the modern church should deal with what is modeled in scripture. Because of this, churches look and function very differently from each other.

If there was great disagreement over what the early church looked like, then it makes sense that modern churches would look so different from one another. Disagreement would naturally lead to this.

But there is agreement! Since there is agreement, it seems logical that we would then agree to try to look like what we see.

Since we see meeting in homes, it seems like we would try to do this at least some of the time. Since we see participatory gatherings, it seems that we would structure our church meetings so everyone could speak. Since we see the Lord's Supper celebrated as a meal, it seems that we would move toward doing the same thing. Since the early church had multiple eldership, it makes sense that we would move toward having more than one pastor.

We are in the odd position in today's institutional church of agreeing on what the early church looked like, but at the same time rejecting much of what is modeled.

Why do we do this? Why do we agree on what came before us, but then act as if we don't agree by not following the NT model?

The reason is that we are comfortable in our traditions. Traditional Christianity in the USA says that we meet in big buildings, only a few people are invited to speak during gatherings, we celebrate the Lord's Supper apart from a meal, and one pastor either serves alone or is the "senior pastor."

In order to be biblical people, we must look at what we see in scripture. We see agreement on the early church. We know what they did well and what they did not. The scriptures have given us a clear picture of what they looked like and did.

The question we have to ask is whether we are willing to change to follow the agreed-upon biblical model. Will scripture or tradition hold sway?

Some people may read this post and say that we have freedom in the church to not follow what is modeled in the early church. They will say that what we see is descriptive but not prescriptive.

I hear that said a lot, but I've never heard a biblical reason for saying that. It strikes me that we have a tradition of doing what we want to do in the modern church as long as it is not forbidden in the bible.

There is agreement on the early church. In light of this agreement, let's stop asking whether or not we are required to follow this model. Instead, let's ask how we can best follow the early church model.

Since we agree on what we see in scripture, let's agree to follow it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goals Are Important

Nobody scores from 45 yards out, right? This guy did in Paraguay on Sunday. I guess this would be fulfilling a "long-term goal."

Monday, May 17, 2010

Homeschooling and Reading

Homeschooling fosters a love for reading.

That may sound like too broad of a statement for some, but I believe it's true. The reason for this is pretty simple - homeschooling parents (usually mothers) cannot possibly teach all the kids at the same time. Many homeschool families have multiple children at different levels of learning. While the parent instructs one child, the other children need to be doing something. The natural thing for them to do is read.

I'm thrilled that all three of our kids love to read. I was reminded of this again on Saturday at our daughter Mary's birthday party. We bought her a set of six or seven books she had been wanting. When she opened it, she gave a small cry of delight. She can't wait to begin reading those books.

I take little credit for our kids' love for reading. My wife does the vast majority of their schooling. We do encourage them to read, but not out of drudgery. We want them to love it. And they do.

Two things have helped that go along with their homeschooling. First, they don't waste time sitting in front of the TV. We do occasionally watch videos, but we got rid of our cable TV subscription a while back and it is one of the best things we've ever done. Second, both Alice and I love to read so it is easy to model this in front of our kids.

Reading has many, many benefits. It opens kids' eyes to all sorts of different learning possibilities. Bobby comes to me several times each day telling me something new he has learned in a book. Reading now prepares them for reading later. A kid that loves to read will have little difficulty dealing with heavy college reading loads.

The best benefit is that people who love to read will also (we all hope) love to read their bibles. God has revealed Himself through His written word. When we instill a love for reading in our kids, this makes it more likely that they will read the scriptures.

Homeschooling, however, is not automatic in bringing about a love for reading. There are certainly kids who have been homeschooled who don't like to read. Maybe the first sentence in this post should say, "Homeschooling done well fosters a love for reading."

Regardless of how you choose to educate your children, I highly encourage you to do all you can to instill a love for reading in them. Model it for them, read to them, give them time to read, give them good books to read, discuss what you and they are reading. Reading opens a broad world that TV just cannot compete with.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Old Fort Jackson

One of the best aspects of living in Savannah is getting to enjoy the city's history. Yesterday Mary, Bobby, and I visited one of the three Civil War-era forts near the Savannah. We had never been to Old Fort Jackson before since it is the smallest of the three forts.

We had a great time together looking at how the soldiers lived and what types of supplies they had. The high pint was the cannon firing. It was, as you would expect, very loud. Below are some photos of the fun.












Thursday, May 13, 2010

"A Man of God"

Earlier this week I was sitting in on a committee meeting for my son's Boy Scout Troop. As is necessary for all committee meetings, it was dull. Nevertheless, a few things were accomplished. One of those things was the appointing of a new treasurer for the troop. I'm happy to say that I avoided that position.

As we were discussing who should be the treasurer, something happened that disturbed me. A man sitting next to me suggested that I should do it because, and I'm quoting, "You are a man of God."

Ugh.

I guess this man, who I'm sure had good intentions (and was probably trying to avoid the position himself), figured that since I'm a pastor this means I'm going to be more honest than other people. Hasn't he watched the news about all the pastors who have stepped down because they've embezzled, etc.?

On the one hand I can see what he is saying. All Christians should be honest people. In fact, if anyone is to be trusted with money, it should be followers of Christ. We should certainly be more trustworthy than those who do not know Christ.

What really bothers me is not the expectation that I will be honest. I welcome that. What bothers me is the title "man of God." Titles like this indicate a marked separation in people's minds between clergy and laity. It shows an expectation that "the pastor" will be more honest than other Christians. It shows a level of reverence directed toward someone just because he's been hired by a church.

The problem is that there is nothing biblical about this. The scriptures certainly say nothing about a divide between clergy and laity. In God's eyes, all Christians are men and women of God.

As I heard the phrase "man of God," I think I cringed. I would cringe if I heard it again. It implies things that I am just not comfortable with anymore.

Thankfully, in the end pragmatics won out over the "man of God" issue. A man with computer-savvy was asked to serve as treasurer. More power to him.

I learned a long time ago from Dave Black that the best thing to be called is just your first name. So please don't ever call me "a man of God," "reverend," or anything else like that. Just call me Eric.

If That's Jesus at the Center, Then I Like It

I came across this icon somewhere and thought it would be a good one for the church. Of course, that's assuming that Jesus is the one in the center and not someone else.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

39.5

A few hours ago I looked at the date and realized that I am officially 39.5 years old - today.

That may sound like some sort of joke, for we know that a good number of people claim to be 39.5 when they are, in fact, much more age-challenged (or whatever we call it these days) than that.

Being 39.5 is a little odd. I can still look back and my teen years don't seem that far away. I can look ahead and realize that the typical challenges that accompany aging aren't that far into the future. I really do feel like I am in the middle with the odd experience of seeing things both behind and before me with some clarity.

I don't feel like I am looking over some sort of precipice, as if 40 is the end of the world. I know some people feel that way, but that is usually just because they are living for the things of the world instead of having more of an eternal perspective. I always feel bad when I see people who are trying to look younger than they are. What is the point? Just go with the age God has you at right now.

Anyway, I guess the point of this post is that we really don't have that many years to live for Christ here on earth. If I live to 79 years of age, which is a fairly normal age to die, then I'm already half way there. I have mixed emotions about that. On the one hand I am thrilled because I want to go home to see Jesus. On the other hand, that isn't much time to honor Him here through living out a Christian witness in a lost world.

Thinking about being 39.5 has reminded me today that we are stewards of the time God has given us.

I need to make better use of this time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"All I Have is Christ" -- I Love This Song

The first time I heard or sang "All I Have is Christ" was at the T4G Conference last month. It instantly became one of my favorites because of both its music and theology. Below is the same song from a previous conference.

Languages, Priesthood, and Much Discussion

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post entitled Original Languages and the Priesthood of Believers. In this post I was trying to stress a few things. First, all believers with the opportunity should learn as much Hebrew and Greek as they can. Second, anyone with knowledge of Hebrew and Greek needs to be humble about it. Third, use of the original languages can actually harm the priesthood of believers if those with this knowledge set themselves up (intentionally or not) as having some sort of special knowledge. The harm comes when those who do not know Hebrew and Greek feel like they cannot interpret scripture themselves and thus stop doing so.

Apparently this topic is one of interest to others as well. Several bloggers have linked to this post. I'm guessing this issue is one that is of concern to many people, especially those who humbly teach the original languages.

Here are some bloggers I have found who have linked to the above post (or linked to a link to the post):





I'm glad to see that others are concerned about this issue. It is clearly not one that has an easy, black-and-white type of answer. On the one hand, we certainly don't want to ignore the original languages. On the other hand, we don't want to create another divide in the church between those who know the languages and those who don't.

Here's my suggestion for how to best deal with this issue: Encourage the original languages to be taught in the local church free of charge to all who want to learn them. Once enough people are familiar with them, encourage them to be taught at home from a young age as part of family devotions. The more people who are familiar with the Hebrew and Greek, the less opportunity there is for a small minority to feel like they hold "special knowledge."

In addition to this, let us all show humility in this area as in all areas of life.

Important Announcement: I Have Found the Historical Jesus

This is an extremely important announcement: I have found the historical Jesus.

Over the last few hundred years, many different researchers have tried their best to find the Jesus of history. Despite much time and effort, they have failed. Not surprisingly, there has been much debate and disagreement as to who has found what.

Today the debate is settled. I'm thrilled to say that I've found the Jesus of history. If you would like to see the Jesus of history please click here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

No Protestants on the Supreme Court? No Big Deal

This morning President Obama nominated Elena Kagan to be the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. If she is confirmed, which will most likely take place, there will be no Protestants on the court. The court will be made up of six Catholics and three Jews.

I'm sure this development will concern some Protestants. They will complain that since our country is composed of mostly Protestants, the court should be representative of this.

Frankly, I see this as no big deal. I'm not concerned a bit.

The reason is that my citizenship is in heaven. As Christians, we don't rely on the supreme court to take care of us or defend us. In fact, we should expect persecution and a lack of "rights." When a secular government approves of what the church is doing, there is probably something wrong with the church.

On top of this, we know that God is sovereign over all things, including the selection of supreme court justices. We may not understand or approve of the appointment, but we can trust God that He is in control of it.

There is simply no point in Christians worrying about what happens in politics. Being involved in the process is one thing, but worrying about it is something all together different.

Let's look to Christ for leadership, and let the politicians do whatever they are going to do.

God governs my life, not the supreme court.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What the Church Should Look Like

I love the above graphic because it speaks so loudly of unity. This is how the church should be. If ever there was a group of people who should be united, it is the church. The reason for this is that we have the greatest thing in common: salvation in Jesus Christ.

It's ironic that I went to seminary to learn as much as I could about the bible, but while there I learned little about the importance of unity. I'm sure that much of this is my own fault. I became so focused on what Southern Baptists believe that I formed a sort of mental wall between myself and those Christians who are outside the "Southern Baptist bubble."

I realize now that this is not only absurd but also just plain wrong. The bible could not be clearer on the importance of the unity of the church. Despite the numerous passages dealing with this, I somehow managed to miss the importance of unity while I was "learning so much bible" at seminary.

Two well-known passages jump to mind as I ponder this:

John 17:20-21, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."

I Corinthians 1:10-12, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' or 'I follow Apollos,' or 'I follow Cephas,' or 'I follow Christ.'"

May we all strive for unity in Christ. He is what unifies us.

We will all probably hold some differing beliefs about issues secondary to the gospel. I doubt that I agree with anyone on the planet on everything related to the Christian life. However, I can still be united in Christ with them. I can even have a healthy discussion/debate with them. We can remain united while still differing in non-gospel beliefs.

The above graphic is a good one. However, one obvious thing is missing. To be complete, Jesus Christ would be at the center.

Homeschool Fun

Last night we had fun as a family as we took part in our homeschool co-op's annual Open House. I enjoyed getting to know some of the other parents, watching different short performances, and (of course) looking at my kids' various projects.

Each week Alice and our three kids take part in a local home school cooperative. Alice teaches a couple of classes (British literature and sign language), while our children take four classes each. We find that this is an excellent supplement to the educating we do during the remainder of the week. Caroline, for example, is taking classes in chemistry, geography, drama, and Brit. lit.

Last evening we were treated to several different performances. Young children did something called praise dance (it was fun, but I'm not really sure what it was). French students showed what they had learned so far. Various choirs sang different songs. The best part (said the unbiased husband) was Alice's sign language class signing along to the hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness.

In thinking back on the night, my favorite aspect was seeing so many kids being educated according to a Christian worldview. Every subject at the co-op is taught from the perspective that the God of the bible is our Creator and all of life should be lived in worshipful response to Him. The students see the broad picture of each subject as it relates to God's rule of the universe.

An additional nice aspect of co-op is that Christian families attend who are part of various Christian denominations. As far as I can tell, those differences do not cause any disunity in the co-op. The unifying factor is Jesus Christ.

I thank the Lord for leading us into homeschooling back in 2002.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Reformation and the Priesthood of All Believers

Many of the Reformers are my heroes. I salute their bravery and conviction when it comes to the gospel. However, I also lament the lack of reform that came to the church during that time. Although they got it right on salvation, they simply didn't when it comes to the life of the church (where "right" is defined as being biblical).

Frank Viola says it well in Reimagining Church (pg 58), a book I'm currently reading:

"The Reformation recovered the truth of the priesthood of all believers. But it failed to restore the organic practices that embody this teaching. The Reformation view of the priesthood of all believers was individualistic, not corporate. It was restricted to soteriology (salvation) and didn't involve ecclesiology (the church). The Reformers claimed the ground of a believing priesthood, but they failed to occupy that ground. In the typical Protestant church, the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is no more than a sterile truth. It would better be described as the "priesthood of some believers."

May we all live out this wonderful priesthood by encouraging and exhorting one another to love and good works. All children of God are priests so let's start acting like it.

Visit a Contemporvant Service Near You!

This is too funny to pass up. Thanks to other bloggers who posted this first.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is it Sinful for Christians to Not Meet with the Church?

My good friend Alan Knox has asked a couple of interesting questions of Christians who are not currently meeting with the church. I encourage you go look at his post and read the comments.

Let me throw in a related, if lengthy, question: Is it sinful for Christians to not meet with the church if there are no churches meeting near them who follow the biblical model?

I realize this question may seem unfair to some people. I'm just curious. What do you think?

We know that the model in scripture is for Christians to gather together on a regular basis. We see the expectation in Hebrews 10:24-25:

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (ESV)

"And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (NKJV)

Today, in this country, most churches do not gather together in a manner that even resembles what we see in the New Testament. Because of this, many Christians feel convicted to not meet with this type of church. On top of this, there may literally be no church near them that they know about that is trying to follow the biblical model.

However, the bible doesn't seem to say that we should gather only with churches that follow practices we agree with. And, at what point does this end? Do we only gather with people we line up with in every area of church life?

On top of this, we should ask if there are certain practices that should keep us from gathering with other Christians.

I've purposely asked a loaded question because I really would like to know what you think.

Let me ask it again: Is it sinful for Christians to not meet with the church if there are no churches meeting near them who follow the biblical model?

Let me add another to it: Why or why not?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Sufficiency and the Church

I have been thinking a lot lately about sufficiency. In particular, I've been pondering the sufficiency of scripture as it relates to the church.

One of the primary verses that speaks to sufficiency is II Peter 1:3. This verse says:

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence." (ESV)

"as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue." (NJKV)

Peter tells us that God has given us everything we need to live lives of godliness. Where do we find what we need? I believe we find it in the pages of scripture as the Holy Spirit testifies to the truth presented there.

If we look other places than scripture, such as nature, reason, or experience, we run the danger of falling into complete subjectivity. Additionally, God has not inspired our reason or experience. Nature tells us enough to know that there is a Creator God, but not enough to know how to be right with Him.

Back to II Peter 1:3. God has provided for us what we need to live godly lives. He has done so through the pages of scripture. How, then, does this relate to the life of the church?

God intends for the church to be, among other things, a body of believers who exhort and encourage one another to live godly lives and perform good works. We do this not to earn anything from God, but rather to live in joyful obedience to Him.

Based on the the numerous "one anothers" in scripture that refer to the workings of the church, it should be obvious that God intends for His church to encourage the godliness that we see Peter write about in II Peter 1:3.

If scripture is sufficient for godliness and God intends the church to help bring about godliness, then this means the bible has told us all we need to know about the church's role in this. To put it another way, God has told us all we need to know about the church in the pages of the bible.

Here is the ironic aspect of all this: as Christians we often act as if the bible is NOT sufficient in its description of how the church is to encourage godliness. We show this when we engage in practices that do not exist in scripture.

I hear much talk about how we have a great deal of freedom in the life of the church to do things that are not seen in the bible. I understand the arguments for these. However, when we engage in these activities, we are in effect saying that we need to add to what the scriptures show us in order to accomplish what the church is trying to accomplish.

Let's take a concrete example (literally and figuratively): the church building as we see it in the modern West. The building is almost assumed today. We see them all over the place. However, we do not see these in scripture. As we get outside of Jerusalem in the book of Acts and then into the epistles, we see churches gathering in homes.

If we meet in buildings today we must assume that this is a good thing. Why do we assume this? It cannot be because we see it in scripture when in fact we do not. It must be that we believe we are free to add a significant change in practice to what we see modeled in the bible. This addition shows that we do not believe scripture is sufficient in what it shows us about the life of the church.

If scripture is sufficient then it will tell us all we need to know about both the belief and practice of the church. If it is sufficient, then we won't need to add anything to what we see there in the life of the church.

We should ask ourselves some tough questions about our church lives (if we dare). For example, what church practices have we added/take part in that are no where in scripture? How is our church structured differently that those in the bible? How does our church spend money differently than those in the bible? How does our church encourage the body to use its spiritual gifts like those in the bible? How does it differ in this? What are we missing as a church that we do see in scripture?

Where we differ because we have added to what is seen in the bible, we need to ask ourselves "Why?" Do our additions really lead to increased godliness? Or, has God already given us all we need in the pages of scripture to bring about the godliness of His church that He desires?

Star Wars and Lego: What More Could You Ask For?

In our house we are huge fans of both Star Wars and Lego. Because of this, the following video was a big hit.



For a little musical fun:

Luther on the Original Languages

Martin Luther wrote this in 1524 about the importance of the original languages:

"And let us be sure of this we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which the sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and, as the gospel itself points out, they are the baskets in which are kept these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall...lose the gospel..."

Thank you, Martin Luther, for this reminder. May we all (not just pastors) labor to learn the languages for the sake of the gospel.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

NT Resources Blog

A few days ago this blog was linked to off of a blog named NT Resources Blog. The reason for the link was that I wrote a post about the use of original languages and the impact this can have upon the priesthood of believers (click here to read that post).

Since the link from NT Resources Blog, I have gotten hits from quite literally all over the world. Therefore, I have to assume that many people from around the globe are reading NT Resources. Although I'm no NT Greek expert, I have taken a look at the blog. It looks interesting and I encourage you to go on over and take a look. It is a bit technical, but it is worth the effort.

A Reminder That Sin Has Consequences

Look at that poor guy's face. He knows he's about to get tased.

I have loved the Philadelphia Phillies since I was a small child. I've remained a fan despite many losing seasons. I'm thrilled that the Phillies are in the middle of a renaissance.

Over the years there has always been one constant when it comes to the Phillies. Their fans are some of the craziest and most difficult in all of sports. Ask anyone. This is not an overstatement. Last night lived down to that reputation. A 17-year-old male (pictured scared above) ran onto the field. Why did he do this? I have no idea. He probably just wanted to get on TV. I doubt he knew that he would get tased. Just watch below:


This is a simple reminder to all of us that sin has consequences. The consequences may not be immediate such as in the above video, but in the end we will not get away with it. Let's think about this the next time we are tempted to sin.

Let's also be amazed that Jesus Christ took the eternal consequences of His followers' sins upon Himself on the cross. Praise be to God!


By the way, that kid will probably soon be putting one of these bumper stickers on his car:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Too Many Problems to Figure Out

Some news stories describe situations that are full of so many problems that they are difficult to figure out. Click here to read about the problems that some "married" gays are having in getting divorces. What a mess.

Here's an interesting question: What do you think God thinks of gays, who the state recognizes as married, getting divorced? Is it good, bad, or just ugly?

Who's On Your Blogroll?

If you have a blog (and you should), you most likely have a blogroll.

I keep my blogroll where it is so I can keep track of what various bloggers are discussing. My blogroll is purposely eclectic in order to be challenging to what what I believe. It would be terribly boring if everyone on your blogroll either agreed with you all the time or always wrote about what you write about.

I've been stretched a GREAT deal by many of the articles and posts I've read from those on my blogroll. Stretching is not comfortable; however, it is usually good.

Do all your favorite blogs fall into the same category? If they do, you may be in danger of not being able to see outside of a tunnel of your own making.

My encouragement to you is to read at least some blogs that will challenge what you believe and how you live. Some of the bloggers below hold various positions I disagree with in areas of theology, the church, pastoral ministry, the family, interaction with culture, education, worship, missions, etc. Despite our disagreements, I still enjoy reading what they have to say.

When you read people you disagree with, this actually helps in the area of unity. The reason is as follows. When you read about a position (whatever it is) and the reasoning behind it, you are more likely to understand why the person came to their conclusion. In doing this, their position will probably seem much more reasonable to you than it did before. Additionally, you may learn that what they believe and what you believe are less different than you thought. Most important, you will probably come to the conclusion that the existing differences are not at all worth dividing over (unless they are a gospel issue itself).

Here are the blogs on my blogroll and the main categories they fit into (many fit into more than one category, but for the sake of this post, I'm limiting them to one):

Church

Culture

Family

Humor

Seminary

Theology

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Drinking Water is Not a Luxury

I have written a few times before about my parents serving for this school year at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya. While there, my mother has made friends at St. Edwin's Orphanage. This is an orphanage that until recently did not even have a water tank to collect drinking water. They had to spend a good amount of their small funds in purchasing water to drink. I'm pleased to say that because of the giving of people back here in the USA, St. Edwin's now has a water tank. To see more about this and look at the living conditions, click here.

We have life so easy here in the USA. I don't think we should have to feel guilty about this, but we should realize just how good we have it to compared to many people in this world.

"What is the Gospel?"

Although the gospel is the great core message of the bible, many people struggle to articulate what the gospel even is - and I'm talking about Christians!

Greg Gilbert has written a small book that will help with the above difficulty. In What is the Gospel?, Gilbert addresses in about 120 pages both what the gospel is and what the gospel is not. The author writes in an intentionally basic style that anyone could easily understand.

This book is ideal for all Christians. We must be able to articulate what the gospel is. This is important for us as individuals and for our witness in the world.

I encourage you to purchase several copies and give them out to your friends. Tell them to read the book and then pass it on. The book would be good for unbelievers as well. Gilbert pulls no punches and does not try to make the gospel "palatable" to those who might be offended by the cross. He simply tells what the gospel is from the pages of the bible.

Give these to your church family for edification and to your lost friends for evangelization.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Some Jehovah's Witnesses Just Came to My Door

I was outside my house earlier this morning and saw some nicely dressed ladies talking to some folks who live across the street. It was clear that they were Jehovah's Witnesses.

I had mixed emotions about them coming to my house. Part of me just didn't want to have to deal with it. However, I also figured that since God is sovereign, He has a purpose in sending them to my door. Additionally, this may be one of the few times that they get to hear that Jesus actually is fully God. Jude 1:3 comes to mind, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints."

Of course, there was always the possibility that they wouldn't come. Then the doorbell rang.

As we began talking, they started in by wanting to discuss something that we would agree on: there is a lot of suffering in the world. As they continued, I wanted to be up front, so I told them that I'm a Southern Baptist pastor. Keep in mind that what REALLY matters is that I'm a follower of Jesus Christ, but I did want to be completely clear with them.

Whenever dealing with cults, we should be both loving and gracious. It is only loving to tell the truth, so I decided to "cut to the chase." I went straight to John 1:1 (which God in His providence had me read this morning). This verse says, in any decent English translation, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

That verse is a cornerstone verse for what we believe about Jesus Christ. In particular, it tells us that Jesus Christ is fully God. Jehovah's Witnesses deny this, so their false translation of the bible (The New World Translation) says, "...and the word was a god." The little word "a" makes a huge difference. They use this translation to say that Jesus is not fully God.

(To read a good explanation for the correct translation of John 1:1, click here.)

While these two ladies kept going to different verses that supposedly show that Jesus is not fully God, I kept returning to John 1:1. My purpose was not to win an argument, but rather to speak the truth in love and also to cause some doubt in their minds about what they believe.

In the end, we simply disagreed. However, these ladies acted like they had heard no good explanation before of why Jesus is fully God. My hope is that this conversation will at least cause them to think.

This episode reminds me once again that our entire Christian belief system really comes down to what we believe about Jesus Christ. When I say "believe," I mean whether or not we have fully surrendered our lives to the Christ of the bible as Lord and Savior.

All other world religions have other false gods. Atheists deny the existence of God. Cults all try to deny either the full humanity or full deity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the reason for all we believe. In the blog world, we spend a lot of time talking about church, culture, parenting, education, evangelism, etc. These are all important things. However, let us always remember that it is Christ who is at the very center of our worldview. He is the key.

What we say about Jesus really does matter.

Again and Again

The bible is the only book that I can read repeatedly and still find something new every time. This is (obviously) because the bible is the word of God instead of the word of man. Despite knowing this, I'm still amazed that I can read an individual passage for maybe the 100th time and still see new things. I hope this is your experience as well.

I just finished reading John 1:1-18. Wow. I see new things every time I read it. I thank God for His self-revelation through the Word (Christ) and His Word (scripture).

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’” And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.