Saturday, July 31, 2010

Unpopular VBS Theme

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is an annual tradition that descends upon evangelicalism in the summer time. Regardless of denomination or location, every church that I have been a part of has had some sort of VBS. It is ubiquitous.

In my experience, most VBS themes are too man-centered. The pre-packaged material often tells kids how great they are, that they can have a friend in Jesus, and that the gospel is a really good idea. There is often very little, if any, discussion of sin.

I'm suggesting that next year all churches use SIN as their VBS theme. It would be unpopular, but boy would it be biblical. It could be called something like, "You're a Rebel Who Deserves Hell." I'm not sure how that would go over, but it would certainly be fun.

For the typical 5-day VBS the daily core truths could go something like this:

Day 1 - God is infinitely holy and perfect.

Day 2 - You have sinned. You are a sinner.

Day 3 - Sin is infinite rebellion against holy God.

Day 4 - You deserve eternity in Hell.

Day 5 - Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord.

I could see some parents not being too keen on this theme. Also, some of the kids might be upset when they go home after Day 4 in particular. However, I bet they would be motivated to hear about salvation on Day 5. Of course, if they don't come back on Day 5 that would be a bummer.

I write this post a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, I'm serious as well. VBS is a microcosm of the modern church as a whole. In evangelicalism (to say nothing of mainline churches), we downplay sin. We don't like to talk about it, and if we do we speak in generalities. We enjoy discussing the love and grace of God, but shy away from His holy wrath.

We need to talk about sin much more than we do. When we do this, we are being biblical. Also, when we discuss our sin, it causes us to gaze with even more wonder upon the mercy of Christ.

So, for those of us involved in VBS, let's all agree to use SIN as the theme next year. Sure, our attendance will be way down, but at least we'll be biblical. Some kids might even actually get saved in the process.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thoughts on Mission

I've been thinking about our mission trip over the last few days. If you have ever been on this sort of trip, you know that it is often difficult to put into words. I suppose the reason for this is that the time away allows you to focus on gospel mission in a way that is difficult to do at home. Additionally, how can you put into words what new relationships mean?

To summarize, we traveled to Rochester, New York to assist some churches there in reaching out to their communities. In the mornings, our group led a small bible club for kids and helped churches with different construction tasks. The real fun took place in the evenings. This was when we helped three churches come together to put on a VBS for their neighborhood. The churches were a primarily Caucasian church, a Latino church, and a Bhutanese/Nepali church. The ethnic diversity alone made it fascinating. It was a blast discussing the gospel with kids and adults. In the above photo you can see some of the kids in the VBS class I taught. The best aspect of the week for the churches was their cooperation with each other; I hope this continues. For me personally, the thing I won't ever forget is the new relationships.

Several keys stand out from our time in Rochester:

Unity in Christ bridges all gaps - There we were, a bunch of Southerners in the middle of a northern city. We were surrounded by people who don't drink sweet tea or eat grits. However, we had sweet communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ. One night, we enjoyed a terrific meal and time of fellowship at a Dominican couple's home. Despite the racial and cultural differences, we were one in Christ. It makes me long for heaven.

Ethnic diversity is beautiful - I don't say this because it is politically correct. I say it because it is true. At one point during VBS, I gazed across our VBS table and saw white kids, black kids, Latino kids, an Indian child, and a Bhutanese child. Wow!

Churches need to help churches - We have a tendency in our churches to focus on our own needs. "Membership" often leads to an us/them mentality. This trip confirmed to me the importance of churches helping one another. We are not in competition, but cooperation in the global mission of Christ.

Unstructured Christian fellowship is sweet - This trip gave us plenty of opportunities to spend time with other Christians outside of the typical church setting. We were able to have many discussions within our group and with our new friends. Growing relationships based on Christ is invigorating.

Trips help you get to know one another - Whether you want to or not, mission trips make you get to know one another much better. This is undoubtedly a good thing. Too often the church environment is sterile, with everyone putting on their best behavior. On this length of trip, you get to see people's strengths and weaknesses. A church family needs to know one another as we really are.

Soil is different in different places - The change in scenery was a good reminder to me that soil is different in different places. Rochester is a tough place. The hearts of the folks there do not seem to be as open to the gospel as are folks in the South. The work may take longer there. This is why we need to help.

I realize this is a relatively short summary of our trip. I may discuss it at later times. However, this is a good synopsis for now. I thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity. I thank Him for brothers and sisters in Christ in far away places from different cultures and backgrounds. I thank Him that we will all spend eternity together before His throne.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Still Processing...

Although I've been home for several days, I'm still processing our mission trip to Rochester, NY. I'll blog about it within the next week. For now just let me say that we had a terrific time, made some new friends, experienced wonderful Christian unity, and delighted in sharing the gospel.

While in NY I didn't have much time to read (nobody ever has extra time for anything on mission trips - especially sleep!). However, since it's about 1,000 miles from here to there, I read some on the road. My choice this time was D.A. Carson's Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

Carson takes a look at the scandal of the cross and empty tomb. Apart from the crucifixion and resurrection we have no hope, so these twin truths had better be, well, true.

Focusing on passages from Matthew, Romans, Revelation, and John (in that order), Carson discusses key issues related to Christ's death and resurrection. This text is less an apologetic in favor of these truths, and more an enjoyment of them. If you love Christ's work on the cross and His miraculous resurrection, then you will take delight in this book. Carson is a great writer and scholar. He is at his best here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Doing Well

I managed to find a computer for a few minutes.

Things are going well in Rochester. Our entire mission team feels blessed to be here. We have been involved in a mix of construction projects and VBS activities. The best part, in my opinion, has been the new relationships we have made. At VBS in particular we have met many new people. It is exciting because three churches have come together with us for the VBS. As a big bonus, the ethnic diversity is wonderful. Last night I looked at the kids I'm teaching (3rd-6th grade) and saw Indian, Bhutanese, Latino, and American black and white. It reminds me of what Revelation has to say of all tribes, nations, and tongues sitting before the throne in heaven.

I would appreciate your prayers for the remainder of the week. We are tired but still joyful. My main prayer is that God will use us to love others and accurately proclaim His glorious gospel.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New York State Mission Trip

I'll be on a blogging break until July 26th because tomorrow I'm leaving for Rochester, New York. Our church is taking part in a mission trip to Rochester to help several churches there. At a personal level, I'm excited because I grew up only about an hour from where we'll be working. I'm looking forward to serving in an area of the country where the gospel is not as readily heard as it is here in the South.

We'll be working with folks from the Finger Lakes Baptist Association. Many of their churches are small and therefore do not have the man-power to put together some of the things they would like us to do. Our main priorities will be a couple of Vacation Bible Schools and several construction projects.

The main thing I'm looking forward to is spending time with people. The ten of us on our church's mission team will be together a lot over the next week and a half. It will be great to see each other in different life situations. We are also anticipating getting to know many different people in New York. One of the Vacation Bible Schools will pull from three different churches: a predominantly white church, a Hispanic church, and a Bhutanese church. That mix should be fascinating. Throw in some Southerners and you have quite a melting pot. We hope to have a good number of unchurched neighborhood kids attend as well. They may come from other ethnic backgrounds. I hope so.

I'm not sure what the Lord has planned for this trip. I'm just looking forward to great fellowship and many opportunities to share Jesus. Other than that, I simply want to get out of the way and see what happens.

I look forward to sharing with you the high points of the trip after we return.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

5 Things That Agreeing-to-Disagree Doesn't Mean

The bible speaks of many important truths. Core gospel truths (such as the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection) are worth dying for. As followers of Jesus Christ, there is no room for agreeing-to-disagree on these issues.

The bible also speaks about other important issues that are secondary to the gospel. These issues (such as baptism, spiritual gifts, the church in general) are serious ones and should be discussed. Despite their importance, these issues are not worth dying for. In fact, they are not worth dividing over either. We know this because the bible never tells us to divide from other Christians. The dividing line is the gospel (Galatians 1:6-9).

As Christians, when we are discussing secondary issues, we should agree-to-disagree when we cannot come to a resolution. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, it shows both unity and humility.

I have heard the idea of agreeing-to-disagree criticized by some Christians. I believe they view this as theological compromise. I disagree.

Part of the problem is a misunderstanding over what agreeing-to-disagree actually means. On the positive side, it means that Christians can remain united while disagreeing over important issues.

On the flip side of the coin, below are five things that agreeing-to-disagree does not mean:

1. The issue isn't important to you. Just because you remain united with someone who disagrees with you, this does not mean that the issue isn't important to you. For example, I strongly believe that only believers in Christ should be baptized. Despite this, I'm not going to divide from those who hold to infant baptism.

2. You don't care about the issue. This is closely related to number 1. You may care deeply about it. Agreeing-to-disagree does not show apathy. It does not equal compromise.

3. All ideas are relative. Some people will say that everything is relative and that truth doesn't matter and/or exist. When you agree-to-disagree, you are not saying this. You are not caving on the truth by remaining united with those you disagree with.

4. There is no absolute truth. This is, obviously, closely related to number 3. In our postmodern society it is fashionable to insist that, especially in religious matters, absolute truth is nonexistent. That is simply not what you are implying when you agree-to-disagree.

5. You don't hold strong convictions. This is one of the primary charges against those who don't divide over secondary doctrines. It is simply false. You may hold very strong convictions about these doctrines. When you agree-to-disagree, you are also showing that you hold strong convictions about the doctrine of the unity of the church. Those who divide over secondary doctrines cannot say the same of themselves.

I strongly encourage you to think about what doctrines/issues are worth dividing over. In other words, what issues does the bible instruct us to divide over? The bible tells us that it is the gospel and the gospel alone. In light of this, we must ask why denominations even exist. We know that Christ prayed for His church to be united. He never prayed for denominations.

When you desire to remain united with brothers and sisters in Christ, you will have to sometimes agree-to-disagree. When you do this, you show both humility and unity. Also, you are not caving on the truth or implying that you don't have strong convictions.

Hold to the truth. Know what you believe. Unite with other Christians. Be humble. Be willing to agree-to-disagree.

"The Plight of Man and the Power of God"

If you want to read a short, excellent book about man's need of the gospel and God's provision of it, this is the book for you.

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is one of the great theologians and writers of the twentieth century. In The Plight of Man and the Power of God, Lloyd-Jones discusses man's confusion over morality and religion, man's misunderstanding of sin, man's rejection of a belief in the wrath of God, and man's utter need of the gospel. In the final chapter, the author skillfully describes God's gift of salvation.

This short text (only about 120 pages) is broken down into five chapters entitled:

-The Religious History of Mankind
-Religion and Morality
-The Nature of Sin
-The Wrath of God
-The Only Solution

If you would like a fresh reminder of the wonder of the gospel, this book will be beneficial. Also, if you know someone who may be swayed toward the gospel by a thoughtful, analytical, biblical argument, this book would be a good choice.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because not only is it biblical, it is also extremely well-written. On top of that, Lloyd-Jones compiled this text during the middle of World War II. Because of this, it offers a real-world feel to his discussion of sin.

This book is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I remember the first time I ever heard an "unspoken" prayer request. I was sitting in a classroom at a Christian school (when in high school) and the teacher was asking for requests. One person said, "Unspoken." I suppose he didn't want to tell everyone else what was going on in that situation.

I can understand why a high school student would say "unspoken." However, it troubles me that in the church we have many problems in our lives that we do not share with others. In fact, we don't even say "unspoken." We just keep our problems to ourselves.

Of course we will share our physical maladies with others. But, will we share our financial problems, marital problems, parenting problems, financial problems, chronic sin problems, etc. with others? Are we willing to get real with others so that they can encourage and pray for us?

On the flip side, do we want others to share their deepest problems with us? Do we even want to know them that well?

If a church is a family, which it should be, then we need to be real with one another. In order to do this, we must be willing to let down our defenses and tell others our struggles.

A related issue is that much modern church structure is not designed to foster family-type relationships. Churches that are large and program-driven often give little opportunity for folks to truly get to know one another at more than a surface level.

So maybe the "unspoken" issue is less a problem with individuals and more a problem with institutional church structure. My guess is that many people who have unspoken prayer needs (whether voiced as "unspoken" or not) would be much more willing to share in a small group, familial, church setting.

What does "unspoken" tell us? Maybe is lets us know that something just isn't right with the way our church operates.

One "Little" Issue

One of the great things about Christianity is that God has answered all of life's important questions for us. He has spoken clearly to us in the bible.

I find it both fascinating and sad that secular evolutionists are lacking the answer to a very important question related to their worldview. Evolution answers, so they believe, how life transforms over time. However, evolution does not answer how life began.

Secular evolutionists would like this to seem like a ''little issue." Their difficulty is that it is a very significant issue. They do not know anything about the very beginning of what they believe. They don't know how it started. This is a basic, fundamental, foundational issue for any belief system. When it comes to what began the evolutionary process, some will say that it all started with a "Big Bang". However, a bang, no matter how big, needs something to start it. Secular evolutionists have no idea what started it.

I enjoy watching Ben Stein's movie Expelled. In this film, Stein discusses the problem that within the secular university system any discussion of anything other than evolution (such as Intelligent Design) has basically been outlawed. In the movie, Stein interviews several prominent university professors who are secular evolutionists. I will never forget Stein asking one of them how life began here on earth. The professor, with a straight face no less, told Stein that life began "on the backs of crystals." I'm not making this up.

Stein was incredulous. So am I. That answer amounts to a non-answer.

The reality is that secular evolutionists want to avoid this question because they understand its significance. If they have no answer, then the remainder of their belief system crumbles. They have been building a house of cards.

I'm thrilled that God has told us very clearly how life began. He answers this basic, profound question in Genesis 1:1, saying, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." That is an answer that makes a lot of sense. It is actually quite easy to believe that an all-powerful being created things as they are. In fact, it is the only logical answer.

God goes on to further explain His creation in the remainder of Genesis chapters 1-2. He answers all the questions we need to know. He leaves nothing out that is important.

Let's be thankful that God has provided us with answers to life's basic questions. Let's live in such a way that others will want to know why we believe what we believe. Then we may give them the answers God provides.

Monday, July 12, 2010

One Another in Ephesians

"One another" is a very powerful term in the bible. Especially in the New Testament, "one another" is frequently used to describe the reciprocal, mutual nature of church life as God intended it. On numerous occasions, we are instructed to treat one another in certain ways in order to honor God and edify our Christian brothers and sisters.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all tried a little harder (through the grace God supplies) to live out the one anothers of scripture?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul uses the term one another in five verses:

Ephesians 4:2, "...with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love..."

Ephesians 4:25, "Therefore, putting away lying, 'Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,' for we are members of one another."

Ephesians 4:32, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you."

Ephesians 5:19, "...speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord..."

Ephesians 5:21, "...submitting to one another in the fear of God."

In these verses we see exhortations to humility, patience, unity, kindness, forgiveness, charity, submission, etc. These are appropriate descriptions of the Christian life as Christ would have us live it.

I encourage you to search through the one anothers of the bible. We learn a great deal about what the church should look like and how it should function. John makes it simple for us in I John by repeatedly telling us to love one another (3:11, 3:23, 4:7, 4:11, 4:12).

Let us not get caught up in the busyness of church life and/or secular life. Instead, may we strive to honor Christ by focusing on the one anothers of lives given over completely to Him and His kingdom.

What the Catholic Church Teaches about Mary

I've heard much debate over the years about what the Roman Catholic church teaches about Mary. This made me curious. I decided to go to the source of all sources - the Vatican itself.

While at the Vatican's official website, you can look at a catechism. Among many other things, this catechism addresses what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches about Mary. Read it by clicking here.

There are several things that I find very troublesome. I'll quote a few of them below:

964 - "This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation..."

966 - "Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things..."

968 - "In a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the Savior's work of restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace."

969 - "This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation .... Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix."

971 - "The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of 'Mother of God,' to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs..."

If you believe that church tradition holds authority in life, then the above statements probably cause you no concern. However, if you hold to sola scriptura, then the above statements about Mary ought to cause you to cringe. The reason is simple: the statements cannot be supported scripturally in any way.

This is not a small issue. Rather, statements like what we see above are a frontal assault on the gospel itself. The gospel is all about the work of Christ. We are nowhere told to worship or venerate any other. God is a jealous God who alone deserves the glory. Christ alone is our Mediator. Christ alone was free from sin. Christ alone is our King. Christ alone ascended into heaven.

If we are to be biblical people, we must reject Roman Catholic teachings about Mary.

Ending Well

I'm happy that my parents will be coming home from Kenya next week. As I've mentioned here before, they have spent this past year teaching at the Rift Valley Academy near Nairobi. My mother has written a good post about ending well. I encourage you to read it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Surprised by Suffering"

Suffering hurts.

We've probably all been there to one degree or another. Suffering causes us to ask what we really believe. We may wonder why we have to suffer. Suffering also lends itself to questions of death and life after death.

We all need to take time to be certain what we believe about these issues before we find ourselves in the middle of suffering. When we are in the midst of great pain (whether physical, emotional, or both), we are in no position to try to decide what we believe.

R.C. Sproul has written a helpful book on the topic of suffering. Surprised by Suffering: the Role of Pain and Death in the Christian Life is really more like two books in one. In the first half of the book, Sproul focuses his attention on suffering in this present life. He offers sound biblical arguments that should lead to greater understanding of this difficult issue.

In the second half of this text, Sproul switches his attention to life after death, in particular for the Christian. After shooting down popular secular ideas of what the afterlife might look like, Sproul lets the bible inform us. He shows that the bible teaches that to die is gain. Then, looking in Revelation and other books, he shows us why. I appreciate his biblical description of heaven.

If you or someone you know wants to think through these issues, this book would be a good place to begin.

Order it here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

"Just Trust Me" and "You Don't Understand"

Here's the scenario:

You are reading your bible and see something that doesn't make sense to you. Maybe it is a difficult passage to interpret. Maybe the theological truth it indicates seems to conflict with what you have learned elsewhere. Maybe it describes functioning of church life that is different from what you see in your church. Maybe it exhorts you to live in a way that you have never heard before. Regardless, something just doesn't make sense.

You go to your church leadership to ask about what you have read. Maybe you go to your elders, pastors, small group leaders, etc. You ask about it.

There are two responses that, if you receive them, you need to immediately question.

The first response is "Just trust me." This happens when you ask a question and receive an answer that seems unsatisfactory. Maybe it is a vague answer. Maybe it doesn't deal directly with the scripture. Maybe it avoids the situation entirely. Maybe it fails to speak to inconsistencies between what you have read and what you see in the lives of individuals and/or the church as a whole. When you question further, you may receive some form of "Just trust me." Basically, the leader is telling you that he knows best, even if he has failed to provide you with an adequate answer. When he says this, he is avoiding the situation for some reason. Maybe you have pointed something out that makes him uncomfortable. Don't accept this answer. It is a cop-out. Keep graciously asking questions.

A second response, which is related to the first is "You don't understand." You will often receive this answer if you question the popular interpretation of a difficult passage of scripture. You will also hear this if you question church traditions that have no place in scripture. Additionally, if you question the "Just trust me" response, you will probably then hear "You don't understand." This is a fall-back response of some in leadership positions that says, in essence, "I'm the expert and you are not. Therefore, you don't understand but I do because I have read more than you and (maybe) have a seminary degree."

In my life I have met many in church leadership positions who do not answer in this way. They really try to give solid, biblical answers. However, there are certainly some who do not. If your question deals with a relatively obscure matter (such as how Cain found a wife), almost any church leader will try to give a biblical answer. However, if you ask questions that, in particular, challenge how he exercises his leadership or how the church does things, you will often hear the two responses mentioned above.

As examples, here are ten questions that might lead to the "Just trust me" and "You don't understand" answers:

1. Why do so few people talk as we gather together as a church body?

2. Why do we have a scripted service?

3. Why do we celebrate the Lord's Supper in a way that isn't a supper?

4. Why do we spend most of our money on our church building and salaries?

5. Why do we seem to care more about the lost on the other side of the world than the lost in our neighborhood?

6. Why do so few people get to preach?

7. Why do we pay our pastors?

8. Why do we interpret this bible passage (whatever it may be) as descriptive only but not prescriptive?

9. How do we understand the O.T. law in light of N.T. grace?

10. Why do we separate from other Christians over non-gospel issues?

These ten questions are difficult ones. I encourage you to graciously ask your church leadership about them. My hope is that you will receive solid, biblically-based answers.

However, if you receive answers that amount to either "Just trust me" or "You don't understand," don't accept these. Keep graciously questioning.

Keep asking.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Feeling Blessed?

Life can be very difficult at times - no surprise there. In light of that, it is helpful and encouraging to look to scripture to see how we have been blessed by God in numerous ways. Ephesians 1:3-14 tells us that God has blessed us with "every spiritual blessing." Since this is one of my favorite passages in the bible, I decided to count the spiritual blessings mentioned in this passage. I came up with eighteen! Here they are:

1. God chose (elected) us (1:4).

2. God caused us to be in Him - Jesus (1:4).

3. God made us holy (1:4).

4. God caused us to be without blame (1:4).

5. God did this in love for us (1:4).

6. God predestined us (1:5).

7. God adopted us (1:5).

8. God accepted us (1:6).

9. God redeemed us (1:7).

10. God forgave our sin (1:7).

11. God has caused His grace to abound toward us (1:8).

12. God has made known to us the mystery of His will (1:9).

13. God has made us be gathered together in Christ (1:10).

14. God gave us an inheritance (1:11).

15. God gave us faith (1:13).

16. God made us hear the gospel (1:13).

17. God sealed us with His Holy Spirit (1:13).

18. God guaranteed our inheritance (1:14).

When we keep these overflowing spiritual blessings in mind, it makes it much easier to make it through the hard times in life.

Our only appropriate response to these blessings is to, as Paul says, "praise the glory of His grace."

Wisdom from Spurgeon

"There are two great truths which from this platform I have proclaimed for many years. The first is that salvation is free to every man who will have it; the second is that God gives salvation to a people whom He has chosen; and these truths are not in conflict with each other in the least degree."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Worst. Songs. Ever.

O.K. - this is a quick poll. Which of these songs is worse?

A Sobering Reminder from India

This is my favorite photo that I took during our time serving in India a few years ago. We are seated in a boat on the Ganges River. In the background you can see the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, where we lived for four months. The boat driver's name is Manooj. I'm certain that he is a Hindu. The sad thing is that despite taking western tourists for boat trips on the river, he probably rarely if ever hears the good news of Jesus Christ. This photo reminds me of the desperate need for many more missionaries to places like Varanasi where the gospel is unknown to most people. Let's do all we can to support international missions.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Meeting with a House Church

On Sunday we did something we have never done before: our family gathered together with a house church. It was a wonderful experience.

This past week was vacation for me. We stayed around Savannah to relax and get some things done. As we approached Sunday, we didn't really know what to do about church. We wanted to get together with a church family somewhere, but we weren't sure where to go. The more we thought about it, the more we liked the idea of coming together with some friends of ours who are part of a house church.

We arrived at their home at around 11:00. We were the first to arrive, so we just hung out with our friends for a few minutes before others came. We knew some of the others and got to know the ones new to us. Everyone welcomed us and made us feel, appropriately, right at home. We all stood or sat talking for fifteen to twenty minutes. This was a nice way to get familiar with those we didn't know.

At some point, we gradually made our way to the living room. This family has been blessed by God with a big house. That made it comfortable for twenty or so of us to be there together. Ages ranged from infant to about 50. Most of us sat with bibles open. Before we studied the scriptures, we had time to tell what God is doing in our lives. We also prayed. We spent much of the time studying and discussing Daniel chapter 9. That is the difficult chapter that tells of Daniel's prayer of repentance and his hearing from Gabriel about the 70 weeks. It was a blast to discuss such a tough chapter in this setting. I was thrilled to be able to listen much more than I spoke. Everyone was free to enter into the conversation, including kids. We spoke about themes of repentance, humility, sin, prophecy, end times, etc. We saw that this all points to Jesus Christ.

On top of all this, it was great to be able to spend Sunday with my family. Normally, I'm too busy on Sundays to see them very much.

After our more formal time of bible study, we did what churches do - we ate. The theme for the day was Mexican. The different families all brought various forms of Mexican dishes. I'm not sure what all I ate, but I know it included tortillas, meat, and cheese. We topped it off with brownies. Priceless.

Actually, the priceless part was the fellowship. As we ate, we stood around talking for several hours. I spoke with some of the men, while Alice spoke with the ladies. This was not planned, but just seemed to happen this way. Our kids ventures off somewhere in the house to play.

As I stood around with the other men, we spoke a lot about the church in general. We talked about how this house church could function more effectively. I was pleased to see that they are open to change and are wanting to be more biblical all the time. I'm certainly no expert, but I chimed in with my two cents. We ended up leaving at about 3:00.

Two main things stood out to me from this house church. First, the relationships seem very real. There was very little at all that seemed fake to me. Because of the setting (home) and the numbers (20 or so), these people really know one another and feel comfortable sharing real issues with one another. There was a great deal of edification going on which, after all, is the point of the church gathering in the first place.

The other main thing that stood out was that Jesus is the focus. He is clearly the leader of His church, the focal point of the gathering, and the chief shepherd. No one human person is "the man." No one dominates the action. Even in the informal discussions, the desire is to live more fully for the glory of Christ.

In this house church, everyone learns together, eats together, grows together, and is mutually encouraged in Christ together. It felt very real, or to steal an overused word, authentic.

No church is perfect. After all, we are all sinful people. No doubt there.

Despite that fact, I liked a lot of what I saw in this house church. They are trying to follow the biblical model. Everyone participates and everyone is built up.

Christ is the head. No one gets is His way.

I'm thankful to God for this experience. I'm thankful for new friends.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I'd Move

I love living in Savannah. After having grown up in the frozen tundra of western New York State, the warmth here is wonderful. On top of that, we have an historic, fascinating city that is near the beach. The people are friendly, the food is great, and we can get to Florida in two hours. Nice.

So why would I move? I've been thinking about that recently. Quite frankly, there aren't many reasons that I would leave Savannah.

There is one reason, however, that I would vacate quickly (something like the guys in this photo are doing). If the state of Georgia ever told Alice and me that we could no longer educate our own children in our home, we would leave immediately.

In some of the more liberal-leaning states in the Northeast and West, parents' rights to educate their own children are gradually being taken away. Nowhere has a state yet said that you absolutely cannot homeschool (although Germany has), but several states continue to make it increasingly difficult. How do they do this? They do it by requiring certain educational levels of mothers. Or they require all kinds of paperwork to be turned in to the local public school system. Or they force parents to use state-approved curricula. And the list goes on.

We may ask what motivation that states have for making homeschooling difficult. What is their agenda and/or thinking? Some people in education believe that kids are better off if they are educated by government schools. This way the government can determine exactly what they are learning. Remember, the school system wants to create good citizens of the state.

Christian parents, however, are given the wonderful task of raising godly children. This is not the same thing as creating good citizens. The two can co-exist, but they are not the same thing at all.

Some folks in governmental positions are afraid that homeschooling will bring about people who are not loyal to the state government. I've even read some things that make it sound like homeschooling is dangerous because the kids might end up being extreme in their ideology.

All this is nonsense of course. Homeschooled children always do extremely well in all educational and social criteria. What about socialization you ask? Homeschoolers are fine, thank you.

Homeschooling gives parents the wonderful opportunity to determine what their children are learning. This way, all of the curriculum can be Christ-centered. It can be flexible. It can meet the needs of each child.

I'd like to live in Savannah for the rest of my life. However, if Georgia decides that homeschooling cannot be tolerated, then we'll move. Where? Wherever we can continue to raise godly children according to biblical standards.

"Mere Churchianity"

Do you ever read books you disagree with?

Do you ever read books and afterward not know whether you liked them or not?

Do you ever read books that challenge many things you believe?

Mere Churchianity is one of those books.

This book, written by the late Michael Spencer (known as the blogger Internet Monk), is an uncomfortable read - and I mean that in the good sense of the word.

Michael Spencer was one of the most popular Christian bloggers in this country. Part of the reason for his popularity was that he was willing to challenge the status quo of evangelical church life in our culture. He accurately identified real problems and suggested solutions for these.

Spencer took many of his thoughts and ideas about the church and put them down on paper not long before his death from cancer earlier this year. In Mere Churchianity, Spencer in particular writes to those who love Jesus but have become tired of the evangelical church. The author talks much about what the church should look like and what it actually does look like. He makes helpful suggestions for what people should do who are followers of Christ but who don't love Christ's church.

I'll be honest: I both liked and disliked this book (is that possible?).

First what I liked: Spencer is willing to call the evangelical church to task for its failings. He accurately points out how the church in this country by and large does not provide opportunities for real relationships, real communication, and real shared life. He discusses how the church has expectations for its members that are far removed from the teachings of Jesus.

As for what I didn't like: Spencer is very hard on the evangelical church - too hard in my opinion. He makes some sweeping statements that simply do not apply to all churches. Additionally, he seems a bit soft on some significant doctrinal issues.

Over all, I recommend this book because it caused me to think and ask myself some questions. I certainly did not agree with all the author wrote, but how interesting is a book if it doesn't challenge its reader? I probably agreed with about 75% of what he had to say.

To order, click here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Why I Don't Love the U.S.A.

"On Why I Don't Love the U.S.A." is a negative sounding title, but I hope this post will be positive in the end.

Since today is both Sunday and the Fourth of July, the U.S.A. will be worshiped in many churches today. "God Bless America" will be sung in many places. Church signs will be full of "God-and-Country" type slogans. The cross and the flag will be wound tightly together.

I just can't stomach the worship of country any longer.

Let me be clear: I like living in the U.S.A. I appreciate the freedoms we have. I'd rather live here than anywhere else. I just rooted for the U.S. soccer team in the World Cup (and was disappointed).

However, I don't love the U.S.A.

In fact, I don't love any country.

When we look to the bible, we never see any command to love country. It is not even implied. Yes, we are to obey those in political power over us, but this does not mean we are to love country. I can't imagine Jesus telling His followers to love the Roman Empire.

What does the bible tell us?

In Philippians 3:20, Paul writes, "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul, a citizen of the Roman Empire, considers his real citizenship to be in heaven with God.

In I Peter 1:1, Peter addresses his letter, "to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." Peter is telling the Christians in modern day Turkey that they are to consider themselves exiles. In other words, they were never to be too comfortable in their earthly countries because that was not their real home.

Back in Philippians, Paul writes in 1:27, "Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ..." Paul is literally telling the church in Philippi that they should "behave as citizens worthy of the gospel." Why? The reason is that they are citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Part of the problem in this country is that many American Christians act as if the U.S.A. is some sort of new Israel. The thinking is that as God has a special place for Israel, so He also has a special place for the U.S.A. This is simply not the case. Just look in the bible. Israel is mentioned repeatedly. The existence of the U.S.A. is not even hinted at.

If a Christian declares that he loves his country, my question is, "Why? What is your scriptural basis?" The great commandments are to love God and to love neighbor. We are to do this whole-heartedly. There's no command to love country.

My devotion is reserved for God. He alone is worthy. He alone is deserving of my love and worship.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Why Does the Universe Look So Old?

I love to hear well thought out, biblical answers to difficult questions. In this video, Dr. Albert Mohler answers why the universe look so old.

This is a question we need to be able to answer in such a way that the world can understand. We must not cave in to those who would say that the universe is millions of years old. If we cave, we also say that death comes before sin. If we accept that, we have a huge theological problem on our hands. Additionally, the straightforward reading of Genesis 1-2 indicates a six 24-hour day creation. When we read other interpretations into Genesis 1-2, we are in effect saying that scripture does not mean what it appears to say. What can we then say about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus?

When you have about an hour, take the time to listen to Dr. Mohler. It will be worth it.