Saturday, December 31, 2011

Question: Is the Calendar Year Significant to the Life of the Church?


As one year ends and another begins I'm compelled to ask: Is the calendar year significant to the life of the church?

On the one hand we could easily answer "No." The church is the church regardless of time of year. It has the same God, the same joy, and the same mission.

We could also easily answer "Yes." The ministry of the church is affected by the time of year. For example, weather plays a part in the needs of the church and broader community. Additionally, some within the church celebrate certain days on the calendar (Christmas, Easter, etc.).

This is probably a question that does not have a simple "Yes" or "No" answer. However, generally speaking do you think the calendar year is significant to the life of the church?

In looking in scripture, I can't find any indication that specific dates mattered much to the church. They seemed to celebrate the Lord's Supper fairly frequently. However, they may have also celebrated the Passover, which would have fallen on a specific date.

On today's calendar, the days of the week are an interesting issue. Many within the church view Sunday as a sort of Sabbath. It is often referred to as the "Lord's Day." We know the church in Troas came together to break bread on the first day of the week (at least one time when Paul was with them). That said, we also know that the church in Jerusalem met daily. We get no general sense that Sunday was any more significant than any other day of the week.

Our culture, whether we like it or not, impacts the life of the church. Generally speaking, more people have Sunday off from work than any other day. Because of this, larger church gatherings (over 10-20 people) are easier to schedule on Sunday than any other day. Does this make Sunday special in and of itself or do we just gather that day for pragmatic reasons?

All these factors and many more must be taken into account when answering the question at hand.

What do you think? Is the calendar year significant? If so, how and why?

I'm Not Saved Because...

The passing of another year makes me think back on my life. The most important person in my life is Jesus Christ. What matters most is the gospel.

I'm saved because of Jesus alone.

I'm not saved because I was born into a "Christian home."

I'm not saved because most everyone in my extended family is saved.

I'm not saved because I've been "in church" for as long as I can remember.

I'm not saved because my dad taught at a Christian college.

I'm not saved because I was raised in a town where most everyone goes to church.

I'm not saved because I can't remember when I gave my life to Christ.

I'm not saved because several of my family members are foreign missionaries.

I'm not saved because I won a memory verse competition in Sunday School in first grade.

I'm not saved because I was a Boy Scout (never made it to Eagle).

I'm not saved because I went to youth group some of the time (and survived).

I'm not saved because I went to Christian camps in the summer.

I'm not saved because I went to a Christian high school.

I'm not saved because I didn't get kicked out of my Christian high school.

I'm not saved because I attended a Christian college.

I'm not saved because I married a Christian woman who was an MK (missionary kid).

I'm not saved because we have more than two kids.

I'm not saved because we were Southern Baptists.

I'm not saved because I attended seminary.

I'm not saved because I'm ordained (or if I wasn't).

I'm not saved because we went to South Asia as missionaries.

I'm not saved because God healed our son from Lymphoma.

I'm not saved because I was a pastor.

I'm not saved because I resigned from being a pastor.

I'm not saved because I'm now part of a simple church.

I'm not saved because we reside in the "Bible Belt."

I'm not saved because I now work a regular job.

I'm not saved because of this blog.

I'm not saved because of any good works I've done.

I'm not saved because of anything I've done.

I'm not saved because of me.


I am saved because of the grace of God alone through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross alone. 


Praise the Lord!


My guess is that you have a list something like this. What's yours look like?

Friday, December 30, 2011

On Speaking a Different Language

If you take time to read this blog then I'm guessing that church-related issues are important to you. I'm also guessing that when you try to talk about the church you often realize that those you are talking with have no idea what you are saying. They simply don't understand. This happens to me frequently.

Regardless of whether or not I'm talking with a follower of Christ, I find little comprehension on the part of the person with whom I'm having the conversation. It reminds me of our time in India. India is an interesting country for many reasons. One of them is that since England colonized India, many Indians speak English to one degree or another. When in South Asia, we could talk with a good number of the people about basic issues. However, when it came to more in-depth discussions we often struggled to communicate. In particular, conveying Christian truth was difficult. The reason? English was not their first language. That's why we were beginning to learn Hindi before we had to come home.

Back to the present. What should we do if others do not understand? The fleshly temptation of course is to feel pride and/or disgust. However, those are not the responses Christ would like us to have.

So how should we respond? We need to take the responsibility of speaking in ways that others will understand. We need to meet them where they are. This is not condescension; it is rather servanthood. It is trying to humbly talk in a manner that will bring about understanding.

Up until just a few years ago I had never thought about church issues outside of the institutional box. If I had stumbled into a conversation such as we often have on this blog I would have had no framework for understanding. I simply hadn't thought about it before.

It's sort of like when I hear people talking about things like knitting, European literature, music from the 2000's, ancient Cambodian architecture, wigs, and Twilight. I have no idea what's going on.

We have a responsibility to talk with others, both Christians and non-Christians, in ways they understand. As for non-Christians, the best thing to do is talk a lot more about Jesus Christ than the church (at least at first). As for other Christians, let's humbly talk using terms and phrases that make sense. Let's continue to ask hard questions and point out inconsistencies in the church, but let's do so in a way that brings about solid dialog.

This does not mean that everyone who understands will agree with what we say. I know this about this blog. For example, one blogger who understands what I write at the same time takes me to task on his blog every few weeks. That's fine; he disagrees with me. But at least he understands. I'm glad about this.

Let's go out of our way to help others understand what in the world we are talking about as far as the church is concerned. We cannot control whether or not they will agree with us (they probably won't). We can't even really control whether or not they comprehend (but we can try).

Let's humbly and lovingly do our part.

Top Posts (Revisited) and Most Clicked Posts

I'm guessing that the feline to the left is not actually reading a blog. He's probably searching for a mouse instead. Regardless, I can tell from the computer background that he's not reading my blog.

For those of you who honor me with your presence here, I've revisited a page at the top of the blog entitled Top Posts. I did this a while back, but got rid of it because it wasn't well defined. I've changed it now so that it includes only posts that have received twenty or more comments. More comments usually means better posts on more interesting topics.

On a different but related statistic, Blogger offers a function that lists in order which posts have received the most hits all time. These could possibly be the most read posts, or they could just be the posts that have been clicked on the most. Regardless, I've placed the list on my sidebar and called it simply Most Clicked Posts. I'm guessing that search engines such as Google have something to do with why some of these posts have gotten the most hits. For example, my most hit post of all is entitled I Think He Thinks I'm An Alien. Maybe searchers for extra-terrestrial life are stumbling upon my blog. I'm guessing they don't stay for long.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Matters Most


"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." I Cor. 15:1-4 (ESV)

"For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God — so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.' " Rom. 15:18-21

On this blog I write quite a bit about the church and various issues related to it. I suppose this is because of the path my life has taken over the past decade or so. Church issues are both important and worth writing about. We need to ask hard questions and be willing to seek out answers - even if they are uncomfortable.

That said, as Christ-followers we must always keep in mind what matters most. Simply put, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that matters most. Paul makes this clear in the above I Cor. 15 passage. The apostle uses the phrase, "of first importance" to describe the profound basics of the gospel.

In Romans 15 Paul tells us that his desire and goal is to see the gospel spread around the world. He wants to take it where it isn't so that those who have never heard will see and understand. Paul's primary concern is that the lost hear and comprehend the good news of Christ crucified.

When we lived in India in 2006-2007 it was easy to see what matters most. Each morning when we woke we were immediately confronted with a society with little Christian influence. Hinduism dominated daily life. Islam ran a distant but significant second. We were constantly reminded that about 99% of the people in our city not only needed the gospel but had probably never heard it. We were not distracted by what we might refer to as secondary doctrines. It was the gospel and the gospel alone that mattered most.

Back here in the USA it is somewhat easy to lose sight of this. We have church buildings all over the place. We have Christian schools, colleges, radio stations, and TV stations. Christianity remains, at least according to unscientific polls, the dominant belief-system in our culture. Because of this, we within Christian circles can get caught up in discussions and activities of lesser importance than the gospel.

Paul helps redirect our focus. Because of the gospel, we who are in Christ are united in one big family: the church. Although we should heartily discuss important church issues (such as definition, form, function, leadership, gatherings, etc.), we must remember that we can only have these discussions because of something much more significant - the gospel itself.

We all, myself certainly included, must remember that the gospel is a divider. It separates those who are Christ's from those who are not. However, the wonderful thing is that this gospel is powerful enough to save any and all who repent and believe. And stunningly, our Savior has decided to use sinful us to be the heralds of this wonderful news.

Some of us will have the privilege of being heralds overseas in today's Illyricums. However, most of us will stay relatively close to where we are. That's fine. Fewer and fewer Americans have any substantive clue about what the gospel really means. There are enough lost folks for all of us. Even if we are busy preaching forgiveness in Christ we will never run out of people who need to hear.

This blog post is a little selfish and personal. I need to remind myself of these things more frequently than I do. You likely need to be reminded as well (maybe not as much as me). While church issues are worthy of discussion, the church would not exist without the gospel. No atonement = no forgiveness = no salvation = no church.

Since the gospel is of most significance, it should also be what we talk about the most. Apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ, we have nothing.

Jesus Christ and his gospel matter most.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Myths About Organic Church


Milt Rodriguez has much experience in organic church life. He offers sound advice on his blog for those seeking authentic church according to biblical principles. For this reason, he's on my blogroll.

Milt is in the process of writing a series entitled "10 Myths About Organic Church." So far in the series he has penned six of the ten entries. I encourage you to read all of them. While I don't necessarily agree with everything Milt has to say, I almost always find his thoughts to be both informative and challenging. Below I've included links to the six entries followed by my favorite quote from each:


Myth #1 – Organic Church is a New Method for Doing Church

“Why is it that we don’t come seeking life instead of more information and knowledge? Why don’t we come seeking Christ instead of other things? Organic church is really only about one thing – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! It’s about His life and living by His life with a group of believers.”


Myth #2 – Organic Church is a New Movement

“So we can see by the scriptures that God’s church is something that is founded upon none other than Jesus Christ Himself and not all of man’s ideas about Him. So it’s very clear by these definitions that actually the new movement is the institutional church itself, not the organic church. The organic church is the attempt of modern day believers to return to their ‘roots’ in primitive Christianity. These ‘roots’, of course, are nothing new, but rather a return to something very ancient.”


Myth #3 – Organic Church is a Spontaneous Free-For-All

“It’s not that we throw away structure in the organic, but rather that structure comes to have a whole new meaning for us. Of course there is still structure in organic church, but this structure is not mechanical as in the system, it is organic. That means it has a totally different nature. The essence of organic structure is based upon the indwelling life of Christ, not any man-made mechanism that is external.”


Myth #4 – Organic Churches Do Not Have Leaders

“We are ALL called to lead and to minister. Our Christ is the ALL in ALL (of us). But the key is that we all (hopefully) desire his Headship and his Centrality and to live by his Life. But all of these things or aspects of Christ are expressed THROUGH US! But this can only happen as we all learn to live by Him and abide in Him. This comes by mutually submitting ourselves one to another. He is our only Head and we discover his direction and leadership by submitting ourselves to the members of the body. This will happen in different ways at different times. Different members of the body will lead in different areas at different times depending upon what the Head wants for that particular season.”


Myth #5 – Organic Church is All About Rapid Multiplication and Discipleship

“Fruit only happens because there is much transformation (pruning) that goes on as the branches realized that apart from Him they can do nothing! All fruit comes in season. And the idea of seasons in the church (which is organic) has been abandoned for church growth principles, programs, and agendas.”


Myth #6 – Anyone Can Plant an Organic Church

“The record (New Testament story of the early church) shows that true biblical church planters are not made overnight. It also shows that not everyone is called to this work. It also shows that it takes years of preparation. It never has been, nor will it ever be a quick and easy task. At least, not if we do it His way.”


I'm anticipating Milt's final four entries in the weeks to come.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

As a family we've chosen not to celebrate the "Christian" side of Christmas. Instead, we just treat it as a winter holiday. In that spirit, enjoy this song:

"What Have We Been Doing?"

My wife Alice is a blogger too. She hasn't written much lately because of the current busyness of our lives. However, she had a bit of time yesterday to electronically pen some thoughts about what our family is doing these days.

Her post is entitled, "What Have We Been Doing?". I've linked to her because she is a good writer and a great lady. Alice somehow manages to keep our home running well with me working almost all the time. I cherish her and am thankful for her industriousness for the cause of Christ.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

$$$$$$$$ and Missions


Felicity Dale at Simply Church has written another great post entitled, "When Western Finance Does More Harm Than Good."  The reality is that many American Christians have a deep desire to give toward missions but do not know how to best go about this. Sometimes the giving, if not directed appropriately, does more damage than good. Felicity's short piece is a great reminder that we need to be aware of cultural contexts before we begin working there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Service is Supreme

Matthew 23:1-12 tells us the following:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (ESV)

In the past I've held the titles of both "missionary" and "pastor." While well-intentioned, titles of this sort create an artificial caste system within the church. They divide people into groups of "who is qualified" and "who is not." Instead of equality in Christ, special names within the church bring man-made hierarchies.

For this reason, Jesus in the above passage tells us not to use titles. Christ is specifically denouncing the practices of the Pharisees. However, his commands are clearly statements to those who would follow him. We see in these verses that only one person deserves titles: God himself.

Instead of titles, our goal should be service to one another. The greatest in God's kingdom seek no titles but instead serve the body and broader community. It is these who "will be exalted."

This passage informs how we should think of the biblical term "elder." If elder is an office or title to hold, then this passage is difficult to understand. However, if elder is simply a recognition of godly behavior and attitudes on the part of older men in the church, then it makes sense.

Christ permits no titles. They give no benefit and only bring harm to his church.

Instead, Jesus is looking for servants. Let's be that.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Thing I Don't Respect About Roman Catholicism

In my previous post I wrote about respecting Roman Catholicism for honesty about its sources of authority: both scripture and tradition.

In fairness, I think I should mention something that I don't respect about Roman Catholicism. That thing is the tendency to allow tradition to trump scripture in various church beliefs and practices. Frankly, it doesn't bother me when Catholics (or anyone else for that matter) do things according to tradition when these things do not violate scripture. The problem rises when the traditions transgress in some way what scripture teaches/shows us.

I've included a photo of the pope for a reason. The Roman Catholic tradition of having a pope flies in the face of all scriptural evidence. The bible nowhere at all in any way whatsoever suggests that one man is the head of the church (other than Jesus Christ of course). Nowhere in scripture is there any hint that the Bishop of Rome will be the leader of the church. There is no "Vicar of Christ." To suggest that the apostle Peter was the first pope strains biblical interpretation to an absurd degree.

I've met many Catholics in my life. Their thoughts about and attitudes toward the pope ran a wide spectrum. Regardless, they still admitted that he is the head of the church.

This is a tradition that plainly violates what we see in the bible. Scripture tells us that Christ is the head. We are all equals within his body. There is no hierarchy. Those who are elders are called upon to lead in living Christlike lives for all of us to emulate. To be great in the church is to be a servant.

Within Roman beliefs and practices, there are many that violate scripture. There is of course the pope. Other violations include the Mass/Eucharist, the Vatican, Cardinals, priests, nuns, monks, Lent, infant baptism, penance, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, confession to priests, veneration of the saints, praying to saints, and various beliefs about Mary such as her being the queen of heaven, a perpetual virgin, and the co-redemptress who ascended into heaven. Not all Catholics believe and/or practice all these things. However, they are very common within the Catholic church.

All of the above stem directly from allowing tradition to trump the bible in belief and practice.

My purpose in this post is not to bash Roman Catholicism. Rather, it is to focus on the danger of allowing our traditions to reign supreme in decision making. We would all do well to examine ourselves to see where our own traditions, whatever they may be, violate what God has shown us in the bible.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Thing I Respect About Roman Catholicism

In a word the one thing I respect about Roman Catholicism is honesty.

I'm referring specifically to honesty as it relates to sources of authority for both belief and practice. Roman Catholicism has, at least since the Council of Trent, made it clear that both scripture and non-written tradition are legitimate sources of authority in what to believe and how to live this out.

Roman Catholics are honest about this. They do some things according to the bible, and other things according to their traditions. I realize that I'm speaking in generalities, but overall what I've stated is true. It is up to Catholics to determine what aspects of tradition and what parts of scripture to follow. When the two come in conflict, I'm not sure how they determine what to do. The popes past and present have dealt with many of these types of issues. Regardless, in the end Roman Catholicism is consistent and honest: both tradition and scripture are authorities.

(As a brief aside, I'm not suggesting that I agree with Rome in this; I'm simply stating that that Rome practices what it preaches.)

Now we turn to the broad segment of Christianity known as Protestantism. That's a big tent to be sure. However, a few things bind Protestants together. One of these is the declaration, like the Reformers, that scripture will be the highest authority in belief and practice (Sola Scriptura!). Some today go so far as to say that the bible is the only authority, but that's not what the Reformers thought. The key is that scripture takes the highest spot.

This is where most Protestants simply aren't honest. I'm not suggesting that Protestants are purposely lying, but rather that they have largely deceived themselves into thinking that they actually treat the bible as their highest authority.

Part of the difficulty is that Protestants in general actually are biblical about beliefs related to salvation. The gospel of grace, as taught in scripture, is well beloved and embraced by the vast majority of Protestantism.

However, and this is a big however, most Protestants do not actually adhere to scripture as their authority when it comes to church life. A cursory glance around American evangelicalism makes this fairly obvious.

It's interesting to look at the church we see in scripture, the church we see in Reformation days, and the church we see today. If scripture was actually Protestants' highest authority, then today's churches would look more like the first century church than the church of Luther's and Calvin's time. However, that's not the case. Today's Protestant churches in this country look, with modernization, much like the church from 500 years ago. There is some resemblance, but only some, to the first century church.

Protestants would do well to do one of two things. Either they should embrace scripture as their highest authority for both salvation and the church, or they should be honest (like Rome is) and state that both bible and tradition determine why they do what they do. What we have today is a dishonest ignorance on the part of most Protestants.

Let's at least be honest. We all, even if we aren't part of the institutional church, still do many things because of man-created tradition. It's healthy to admit this. Then we have a decision to make. We can either change to conform to biblical teachings or we can stay as we are. Let's at least be honest and not delude ourselves.

Rome is honest about this issue. For this I respect them. What about the rest of us?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Church Anywhere, Anytime

There is a discussion/argument that some Christians have about what constitutes a church gathering. You've heard the question before: "If two Christians meet in a coffee shop, is that church?" The focus of the question is "what counts."

The problem with the above discussion is that it suggests that whether or not something is church depends on what we do. In other words, the specific activities determine if a church gathering is actually a church gathering. This is, in a word, preposterous. In scripture, the only determining factor for whether or not a gathering is a church gathering is who is there.

If those in Christ get together, it is a church meeting. This may look like a whole lot of different things, but in the end when Christians meet, it is a church meeting.

The church meets anywhere, anytime.

This is becoming more of a reality for me everyday. Since I work so much now, and in a secular environment, I cherish any conversation I can have with a fellow Christian. I wish they were more frequent. When we do get to talk, it's a meeting.

This issue comes back to the importance of accurate (re: biblical) definitions. The bible always describes the church as God's people, not as any sort of activity - even a meeting.

God has, in his grace, shown us why he wants us to gather (mutual edification leading to Christian maturity). He has also given us examples of things we can bring to gatherings that honor him (prayers, songs, testimonies, teachings, etc.). Although these things are important, they do not determine if a meeting is, in fact, a church meeting.

Ultimately it is God who determines if a church gathering occurs. He is the one who sovereignly saves; therefore, he determines who his children are. Whenever his children get together - anywhere, anytime - it is a church gathering.

In a way, this whole conversation is redundant. Asking if Christians getting together is really a church gathering is sort of like asking whether or not an apple is an apple. If Christians get together it is by default and definition a church gathering.

We can and should meet anywhere and anytime. God is pleased when we do. The actions don't determine whether or not it's church, God does.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back to a Simple Blogger Template

I've made the executive decision to return to an older Blogger template. The reason for this is simple. The primary purpose of this blog is to have conversations about the Christian life. The new template was preventing some folks from commenting. I suppose it is another example of newer not necessarily being better. Anyway, my desire is that we will all be challenged and edified through mutual discussion. This, quite obviously, should include anyone who wants to leave a comment. My hope is that this simpler template will allow just that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God's Work Provision

Most of you know that I used to work as a salaried pastor. Then I made the "mistake" of reading passages like this: 

Acts 20:32-35, "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

As I was in the process of resigning I knew that God would have to provide some sort of work for me to do. A few months later the Lord gave me a job with JCB. I've mentioned it a few times before but not in much detail. I work in JCB's North American headquarters near Savannah. The factory produces skid steer loaders, which are one-man vehicles designed to serve many purposes around construction sites, manufacturing plants, etc.

After working in the assembly section for about six months, I was by the grace of God recently promoted to an inspector position in the Quality department. Now I inspect the vehicles after they come off the assembly line and then run them through a small obstacle course to ensure proper functioning.

Last week I worked 65 hours. Same for the week before that. I prayed for work and the Lord very much provided. What a wonderful God we serve. If you prayed for me and my family, I thank you.

As Paul worked with his hands, I now do so with mine. It truly is "more blessed to give than receive."

I've included a video to show what the skid steer looks like. Although it is a sales video, it's still interesting. BTW - no surprise here: Larry works in the sales dept.

 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Church Gatherings Fight Hunger

When the church gathers together, one of the main purposes is to eat together.

Acts 20:7 provides us with one of the clearest purpose statements for a church gathering in scripture. Luke writes, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." Notice that the church got together "to break bread."

Numerous benefits come from eating together. One that we don't often think about is that the Lord's Supper provides everyone with a significant meal. It is a spiritual meal, but at the same time it is a real meal. The body gets to eat. This fights hunger.

Paul was greatly concerned that the Corinthian church was abusing the Lord's Supper. The apostle wrote in 11:20-21, "When you come together, it is not the Lord’s supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk." One of Paul's main frustrations was that some were going hungry.

We live in a country of plenty. Most of us rarely think abut truly feeling hungry. When our family had the privilege of living in India for a few months I was confronted for the first time with real poverty. We saw many people who, based on their ultra-thin appearance, usually had little to eat.

God is the provider of food for his people. When the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years God provided manna and quail for them to eat. He then sent his son, Jesus Christ, to save us and feed us spiritually. Christ is in every way the bread of life. We read the following in John 6:32-35:

 "Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" 

God provides his church to one another for both spiritual and physical care. We feed on Christ together. We feed one another. Part of this is literally feeding each other. For some poor Christians around the globe the best meals they may get are the ones they take part in at church gatherings. I'm sure everyone tries to bring some food, but the wealthier would and should bring more.

When the church eats, people get fed. This fights hunger. We shouldn't discount the significance of this. Jesus took time to feed the 5000 and 4000. We must care for the well-being of others, too. We can relatively easily do this by eating a meal when we gather.

Tomorrow we'll be gathering with our church family.  The theme is Italian.  I can't wait.

This Might Not Work Out So Well...


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Romans 14 - The Application


Here's the rub. How do we apply Romans chapter 14?

I've previously blogged about the Romans 14 issue, the Romans 14 context, and what Paul says in Romans 14. Now I'll tackle the place "where the rubber meets the road." What significance does it have for us?

I encourage you to again read Romans 14:1 - 15:13.

The key to understanding any passage is the context. We must remember that Paul was writing to a church that was likely a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers. There appears to have been some conflict within the body about how to deal correctly with the OT law. Specifically, how were they to handle various aspects of the ceremonial laws related to eating/drinking regulations and special days, especially the Sabbath?

The tensions arose over differing interpretations of how to live out what they read in their Hebrew bibles (translated into Greek) in light of what Christ had accomplished.

Paul tells the Roman church that each believer must be convinced in his own mind of what is right. They are not to pass judgment on each other about the conclusions they come to. Instead, they are to welcome one another in unity. Paul desires that they think of others before themselves so that they won't become stumbling blocks to one another. The Roman Christians are to do all for peace, following the example Christ had left them. All is to be done for the glory of God.

Let's return to the issue of context. This is critical for our accurate understanding. In this passage, Paul is specifically discussing how to interpret what has been written. He is pointing back to the scriptures that they already have. The issue is how to handle what they have read in the pages of the Old Testament. The context, then, is God's word.

 Since we now have the New Testament, this would fall within context.

If that is the context of this passage, what then falls outside of the context? What's outside is anything that scripture does not address. If it's not in the bible, then Paul's certainly not dealing with it in this particular passage.

This is important because Romans 14:1 - 15:13 is often used by some Christians to justify various church practices that have no biblical basis. The problem with this, as we have seen, is that Paul is not dealing with those sorts of practices in this passage. Therefore, Romans 14 is in no way a sort of "trump card" to allow us to do whatever we may think is right in the life of the church.

Paul is addressing something specific in Romans 14:1 - 15:13. In order to be fair to what Paul meant, we must be accurate in understanding what he was talking about. The issue was and still is what had already been written. Only when we apply Romans 14 to what has been written in the bible do we correctly apply it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

47 and Counting

I'm now up to 47 hours of work in four days. I'll probably hit 60-65 hours by the the time I finish on Saturday afternoon. This makes it a little easier to pay the bills, but much more difficult to see my family. Blogging has to take a back seat. I want to complete the Romans 14 series but will have to wait until Sunday to do that.

While at work, I keep mulling over a question that we all deal with: how can we at the same time both discuss important church issues and remain united as the body of Christ?

One way I've seen some folks do this is to focus almost completely on world missions. Missions does seem to be an issue of church life that is relatively easy to agree upon - at least at first. We all agree that everyone on the planet needs to hear the gospel in an understandable way. However, we don't all agree on the types/styles/forms of churches that should be planted. The issue remains. 

As children of Christ, we are one. John 17 makes this abundantly clear. This is Jesus' desire. So how do we go about living this out as the church while asking hard questions about the church? One step in the right direction is this: instead of focusing so much of our energy on being right, we should spend our time thinking about what would most benefit our brothers and sisters. We may end up coming to the same conclusions, but the path we take and the words we write/speak may be different.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

24


I've worked 24 hours in the past two days. No time to blog right now. I'm looking forward to completing the Romans 14 series by dealing with application. It will likely be a few days before that happens.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Psalm 46


Psalm 46 is one of my favorite Psalms. It is wonderful to know that God is our refuge who takes care of every aspect of our lives. Enjoy these beautiful words:

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
10 "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Romans 14 - What Paul Says...

Romans 14:1-15:13 is a critical passage for helping us understand how to deal appropriately with differences in the church. This passage is sometimes used as a sort of "trump card" for ending discussions about differences. Is this what Paul intended? What does he actually say?

I've already written about both the issue at hand and the broader context. Now I'm going to attempt to tackle what Paul says in this passage.

We must remember that Paul is writing to a church that is likely experiencing some division between Jewish and Gentile Christians over OT food laws. Specifically, they were probably disagreeing about what they could eat and what they could drink. How they viewed days, especially the Sabbath, was also likely a cause of grumbling.

Paul writes to this church in part to correct this problem. I've tried to summarize Paul's thoughts into ten key points:

  • Some Christians are weaker in the faith while others are stronger. Do not pass judgment on each other, but welcome one another.
  • Regarding eating/drinking and days, each must be convinced of what he believes.
  • All that Christians do, whether in life or death, must be to the Lord.
  • Each person will give an account of his life to God.
  • Every Christian should avoid being a stumbling block, and instead strive for peace and mutual upbuilding.
  • Related to food and drink, nothing is unclean in and of itself.
  • Anything not from faith is sin.
  • Jesus Christ did not please himself, but provided us with an example of bearing with others for their edification.
  • Each must welcome the other for the glory of God.
  • Christ is the one and only hope for both Jews and Gentiles.

How might we summarize these points in one paragraph? Here's my attempt:

Some Christians are stronger in their faith while others are weaker. While nothing is unclean in itself, each person must be convinced of what is right (related to specific OT ceremonial laws) and live accordingly. These differences, however, must not divide believers. Rather, Christians ought to avoid passing judgment and instead welcome one another. All this is to be done to the Lord, keeping in mind that everyone will give an account to God. Christ’s followers should avoid being stumbling blocks to one another, and instead strive for peace and mutual upbuilding. Jesus provided us with the ultimate example of this. He did not please himself, but bore with others’ weaknesses for their edification. Keeping in mind that anything not from faith is sin, we ought to welcome one another for the glory of God. The basis of all this is the person and work of Christ, who is the one hope for both Jews and Gentiles.

What would you add?

King Darius Got It Right


Sometimes God even uses those who aren't his followers to speak the truth. I love the following passage from Daniel 6:25-27 where King Darius says the following:

"Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues; he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions."

Darius speaks quite a bit of truth in this short passage: All people are to fear the God of Daniel. This God is living and endures forever. His kingdom and rule shall never end. He is the God who rescues. This God is one who works miracles.

What a glorious God we serve! Sometimes even the lost recognize this.

You Write the Caption


I have no idea what this church sign means. If you have any ideas, please write a caption in the comments. Thanks.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Brothers and Sisters for Whom I Feel Sorrow

For much of my life I assumed, without giving it much thought, that all Christians regularly meet with church families on a regular basis. I thought all believers were, to one degree or another, connected to a local body. It was an assumption based in the Christian culture but not in reality. Frankly, it just never crossed my mind that some Christians were not gathering on a regularly with other Christians.

I now realize that many Christians are not part of any sort of local body. They may see other Christians here and there, but they do not regularly gather with anybody. The reasons for this are many; some seem legitimate while others do not. I will say this: most are not being disobedient. Rather, most simply have not found other Christians who meet in an edifying manner.

These are my brothers and sisters in Christ that I feel sorry for. This is not pity, but rather sorrow. Life is difficult enough even with a supportive, loving church family. To venture through life's challenges without this sort of care must be extremely difficult.

Do you know brothers and sisters in this situation? How do they handle it? What has led to it?

As Christians, we can help each other in this. If we know those with no church home, we can help by simply trying to get to know them better and provide loving support. Many of these Christians are extremely lonely. They need Christian friends. We can all provide that.

I don't mean for this post to seem sappy or sentimental. This is a real struggle that many Christians face. Let's help when and where we can.

Friday, November 25, 2011

On the Significance of the Hall of Tyrannus

Acts 19:8-10, "And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks."

This passage records Paul on his third missionary journey in the city of Ephesus. We read that Paul reasoned daily with Ephesian disciples in the hall of Tyrannus. I suppose there could be several significant things about this, but one stands out to me: the Christians met in the hall of Tyrannus. This shows them not meeting in homes.

Of course, it is quite possible, in keeping with the general practice of the day, that some or all Christians in Ephesus normally met in homes. However, in these verses we clearly see that the believers met in a hall that was not a house. This was not a one time occasion either. Rather, they gathered "daily" for "two years." This suggests that they met in the hall of Tyrannus hundreds of times. That's significant. Additionally, these meetings had an impact on the wider region; Luke informs us that, "all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks."

I've read what I might call "house church-only" advocates try to explain away the gatherings in the hall of Tyrannus. However, none of their reasons seem compelling to me. Most attempted to make the case that these were teaching/lecture style meetings that were different from participatory-type gatherings. In my opinion, much has to be read into the biblical passage in order to reach this conclusion.

The reality is that the apostle Paul himself met with other Christ-followers on a daily basis in hall that was not a house.

Why is this significant? It shows us that churches can gather in places other than homes. They have at least some measure of freedom to do so. They are not sinning when they gather in places other than houses.

As one who generally meets in homes, there is a tendency to want to be right. I admit, however, that I have been somewhat too dogmatic about insisting that followers of Jesus gather only in homes. I've tried to explain away the hall of Tyrannus. I can do it no longer.

The difficulty, I suppose, is in figuring out what places beyond homes are acceptable to God. Where does God desire that his followers meet? In one sense, the answer is anywhere and everywhere. However, what does this mean specifically? I think we all agree that a few believers meeting at Starbucks is acceptable. We would all probably (at least readers of this blog) say that God is not pleased by the construction of multi-million dollar church buildings. But what about in between? That's the difficult part. We must look for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to guide in these important decisions.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Romans 14 - The Context


Please click to read Romans 14:1-15:13. At the wise suggestion of my friend Alan Knox, I’ve decided to extend this discussion to include the first part of Romans 15.

In order to understand 14:1-15:13, we need to take a look at the broader context of this epistle. The author was clearly the apostle Paul. He likely wrote to the Roman church from Corinth while on his third missionary journey. Paul desired to travel to Rome to meet these Christians, but first had to return to Jerusalem with the money he had collected for the church there.

We don’t know how or by whom the church in Rome was founded. However, as recorded in Acts 2, there were Jews in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit arrived during the feast of Pentecost. It’s possible that some of those Romans Jews surrendered to Christ at that time and then returned home with the gospel. Regardless, by the time of Paul’s third missionary journey there was a church in Rome.

The Roman church was most likely a mix of Jews and Gentiles. This could have created tension within the church as it relates to what to do with the OT law. We must remember that the only bible the Roman Christians would have had was the OT (probably the Septuagint). This would have undoubtedly informed both their thinking and decision making.

Paul’s letters are usually “occasional” in nature. This simply means that he wrote to deal with specific things that were going on. It is quite possible that Paul wrote to the Roman church in part to help them deal with Jew-Gentile (or even Jew-Jew or Gentile-Gentile) tension over how to best apply the OT law as followers of Jesus Christ.

Paul dealt quite a bit with the law throughout the letter. Generally speaking, he focused on salvation in chapters 1-11 and sanctification/application in chapters 12-16. We learn in 1-11, among other things, that the OT law does not save. Instead, all who have faith in Christ (apart from the law) are declared righteous/just in the sight of God. Paul famously wrote in 3:21-26:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it - the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The Roman church in particular seemed to be struggling with OT eating and drinking prescriptions. Some in the church thought they needed to follow OT restrictions. Others in the church ignored the law and ate what they wanted. Another area of possible tension and/or disagreement focused on how to view certain days. Some thought particular days (especially the Sabbath) were to be treated with unique prominence, while others treated every day the same.

Paul knew that the Roman Christians needed a full understanding of the gospel. This would help them better comprehend how to apply the law. His emphasis upon faith and grace apart from the law shows that it no longer held sway over them. In chapter 14 Paul referred to the Christians who followed OT restrictions as “weak.”

Backing up a couple of chapters, Paul begins his great application section in 12:1-2, writing, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The apostle goes on to instruct the Roman believers that they are all part of one body. They must use their spiritual gifts for the good of both the body and the broader community. The apostle then gets very specific about what the Christian life looks like. By the time we arrive at 14:1, the readers of Romans fully understand the gospel. They also know that Paul expects lives fully devoted to Christ in all areas. Additionally, the church is to be united as one body. Paul then instructs them, in 14:1-15:13, in how to deal with specific issues that have the potential to tear them apart.

What do you think? Is this the context? What should be added, deleted, or altered? 

Context is critical. Without it, we won’t correctly understand what Paul meant.

Not Blogging About Thanksgiving

I suppose it is the pseudo rebel within me, but I'm not blogging about Thanksgiving. I figure that many others are already doing that, and I'd rather not add more to what's already being written. Like many of you, I have much to be thankful for. I'll simply leave it at that.

Now if I can just find the time to blog about Romans 14, we can continue that discussion.  I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Romans 14 - The Issue


Before reading any more of this post, I highly encourage you to read Romans chapter 14.

Romans 14 is a fascinating passage that teaches us many wonderful truths. It also makes us a bit uncomfortable. For example, Paul writes in 14:5, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." On the surface that may sound a little postmodern. Is Paul suggesting that truth is relative? Of course not. However, Paul does appear to be telling the Roman church and the rest of us that some things in life do in fact come down to conscience.

Two issues we must deal with related to Romans 14 are how to correctly understand it and how to accurately apply it. Specifically as it relates to church practices, I've heard Romans 14 used again and again to support various traditions, programs, activities, etc. that have little to no scriptural support. The argument goes something like this, "I'm convinced in my mind that what we are doing (whatever it is) honors God. Romans 14 tells others not to judge us. Therefore, we are going to continue to do it." Romans 14 is often used as a sort of "trump card" to end discussions about church issues. When some Christians are unable to provide biblical evidence for why they do what they do, they pull out Romans 14 to both win and end the discussion.

Is this what Paul intended when he wrote to the Roman church? What is the context of the chapter and the book? Do these matter? What does Paul actually say? What does he not say?

How far can we apply Romans 14, especially as it has to do with how we understand the church? If Romans 14 has extremely broad application, then basically anything is justifiable as long as it is not prohibited by scripture. However, if Paul's intention is much narrower, then the Romans 14 trump card falls apart. The key for us is that we understand as best we can what Paul actually meant.

Because of its significance for church life, I'm going to blog three more times about this chapter: the context, what Paul says and doesn't say, and the application. My hope is that you partake in the discussion as well. 

How we handle Romans 14 has direct impact on our understanding of Christ's church.

Are We Headed in the Right Direction?

"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured." Hebrews 13:11-13

Sometimes I wonder whether or not I'm headed in the right direction and to the right destination. I'm not referring to salvation, but rather the walk of sanctification. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus suffered outside the gate. Because we are in Him, we are expected to go outside the camp to Him. Although we cannot and do not die for the sins of others, we still must expect that this journey outside to the cross will lead to persecution.

How easy it is to remain inside the camp. Or at least sort of stand at the gate of the camp. The author of Hebrews, however, calls us to "go to him outside." This includes bearing "the reproach he endured."

We cannot and should not seek persecution. If we are living for Christ outside the comfy confines of American values, the persecution (in various forms) we come on its own. I wonder if in this country of relative luxury we have embraced this biblical truth.

A life with Christ is a life outside the gate and outside the camp.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blog Options

I've finally chosen a more modern looking format for this blog. Since I'm not exactly technologically adroit, this was no easy task.

One fun aspect about this particular blog look is that you, the reader, get to chose the exact format you want to use. Interactive it is. All you have to do is place your mouse on the left side of the page over the word "Classic." This gives a drop-down menu of various choices for how you want to look at the blog. I went with "Classic" as the default because it's the most like a traditional blog. However, my favorite is actually the "Flipcard" function; I just wasn't brave enough to use it as the norm.

Well, there it is. Choose and enjoy.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Still Rated G


Not that it matters, but my blog is still rated G. I guess lots of talk about Christ's church doesn't cause too many problems out in the world.

Just for fun I checked out a few other blogs.  Arthur Sido also received a G.

Alan Knox, Al Mohler, Frank Viola, John Armstrong, and Dave Black were all given ratings of PG-13.

That Reformed Lost Boy Bobby Auner got an R.

If You Have Any Word of Encouragement...


Acts 13:13-16 tells us:

Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it." So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen."

No matter how many times I read it, this passage continues to fascinate me. Paul and company are on what is often called the first missionary journey. When they arrive in Antioch in Pisidia they follow their custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Although what Paul says in 13:16-43 is of most importance, it is what the rulers of the synagogue say that intrigues me.

They invite Paul and his companions to share a word of encouragement for the people if they have one. Specifically:

1. They were invited to share.
2. They were under no compulsion to share.
3. They were specifically invited to share a word of encouragement.
4. They were invited to share any word of encouragement.
5. They were to share for the benefit of the people.

Clearly, this is not a church gathering. However, we see that even in this situation the people present can benefit from hearing from others. Paul's statements were expected to be grounded in the Law and Prophets, which had just been read, and designed to encourage the other Jews there. Whatever he said was for the purpose or goal of encouragement.

We learn from this passage that when a group gathers, we can all benefit from hearing from one another. What is said must be truthful and based on previously revealed truth (scripture), and designed for the up building of the people. It sounds like an excellent recipe for a church get together.

Although the readers of this blog probably gather with other believers in a variety of ways and manners, my hope is that you have a time when everyone is free to share a word with the body for the benefit of the body.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Must Be Precise

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish pastor who lived from 1813 to 1843, stated the following, "The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness."

The above is an example of a quote gone wrong. What it is lacking is precision.

Since M'Cheyne was a pastor in the traditional sense, when he says "my people," I can only assume that he is referring to the people of the church where he was employed.

In this relatively famous quote, at least among pastors, M'Cheyne says that his people's greatest need is his own personal holiness.

Really? Is that truly their greatest need? I can easily think of ten things that his people needed more than his holiness:

1. God the Father
2. God the Son
3. God the Holy Spirit
4. Salvation
5. Sanctification
6. An attitude of servanthood
7. Scriptural knowledge
8. A loving church family
9. A holy hatred of their own sin
10. Their own personal holiness

M'Cheyne's quote lacks precision. I'm sure that if asked he would have said that the people of the church needed God far more than him. Since he was a solid Christian, there can be no doubt of this. However, his quote suggests otherwise.

How could the quote have been both better and more accurate? Here's my suggestion: "The greatest need of my people from me is my personal holiness." Simply by adding the two words "from me" we take a seemingly heretical statement and turn it into something that can at least be argued to be accurate.

As we write and speak, let's be careful. Precision is important.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Saul Knew Where to Look

"But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison."  Acts 8:3

In Acts chapter 8, immediately after the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution arose against the church. As this occurred, Saul (later Paul) was taking out his angry zeal and frustration against the brethren. Saul's plan was to detain followers of Christ and take them to prison. The fascinating thing is that Saul knew where to look. We're told by Luke that Saul entered "house after house."

Saul knew that he could find Christians in homes. This was, apparently, the natural place for them to be. Note that this is the only place where we are told that Saul looked. For example, he did not look in the temple.

Luke does not tell us here that church gatherings were going on in homes (we see that in multiple other places in scripture). However, it makes sense that Saul would go where relatively large numbers of Christians were together to imprison as many as possible. The only place he went was homes.

We need to be careful in drawing too many conclusions from a narrative passage that focuses mostly on the persecution itself as opposed to the specific location of the persecution. However, one thing is clear: Saul knew where to look. He could find Christians in homes.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Edification Necessarily Leads to Mission

The church comes together for edification. The church goes forth in mission. The two are linked. In fact, edification that does not lead to mission is not biblical edification.

Edification necessarily leads to mission. How do we know this?

The bible instructs us to edify one another within the church. This is to occur whenever we come together, regardless of size or type of gathering. To broaden out our thinking, Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Every word spoken by us should be for the building up.

But what happens when we are built up? What change takes place? The answer is that we simultaneously grow closer in relationship to Jesus Christ and become more in our character like Jesus Christ. Mutual edification within the body leads to everyone changing to be more like Jesus and to love him more. We read this beautiful passage in Ephesians 4:11-16:

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

As we are edified, we become more like Jesus and more devoted to him. This strongly implies becoming more missions-oriented. Why? The reason is that Jesus Christ was the ultimate missionary. He came to earth from heaven to not only share the gospel, but to be the gospel. He came as both high priest and sacrifice. He came to proclaim his substitution on our behalf. If anyone ever cared enough about others to go and tell, it was Jesus Christ.

As we grow in Christ, it should be that we become more concerned for the eternal well-being of others. If we are becoming more like Jesus, this has to be the case. He died for people we live near and who live all over the globe. As we transform through edification to be more like Jesus, our care for these people ought to grow as well.

If edification has its intended outcome, we will all mature in Christ. Part of that maturation is desiring for others to know the Jesus who is transforming us. As Christian maturity goes up, a desire for others to come to Christ ought to naturally rise as well.

The author of Hebrews tells us in 10:24, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works." Edification leads directly to love and good works. What more loving work can there be than proclaiming the life-giving news of Christ crucified and resurrected?

How we specifically live out a missional life will vary from person to person. Some will go to the far reaches of the earth sharing the good news, while many more will do so near home. Whatever the case, as we grow, a fruit of this growth should and will naturally be a deeper longing for others to experience the person we experience in joy each day - the God-man Jesus Christ.

There ought not be any tension in the church between edification and missions. As we come together as Christ's saints, the purpose is to build one another up in Christ for Christ. As we go forth into the world, having grown because of the building up, our zeal for Christ should show itself in our care for others. This care will take the form of meeting basic needs and sharing the best news in the world - the gospel.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Discussing the Dreaded "Exception Clause" Within the Context of Church Family

When our church family gathers as a large group, one of the things we usually do is study through a section of scripture. We are currently working our way through the book of Matthew. This past Sunday we began discussing Matthew chapter 19.

Studying through Matthew 19 means dealing with the dreaded "exception clause." I'm referring to Matthew 19:9 were Jesus says, "And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." (exception clause emphasized)

The meaning of the exception clause has been argued by Christians for many years. You've likely had the discussion yourself. Although I personally hold to the betrothal view, my point in this post is not to go down that path. Instead, I simply want to talk about the discussion we had.

As we gathered, we had about twenty people in the room. At least one-half have been directly or indirectly involved in and/or impacted by divorce. Therefore, this was not some sort of theoretical talk. It was real.

The body-life context of the discussion was critical. We all know one another well. We have solid, deep relationships. We trust one another. It's not perfect, but we are a family. Therefore, as we began to talk the entire atmosphere was one of grace and love. At the same time, we desired to seek God's truth and avoid falling into some sort of postmodern interpretive pit "just to make everyone happy."

We talked for quite a while about various aspects of marriage, divorce, God's desire for marriage, God's thoughts on divorce, what Moses meant and did not mean, what the exception clause may mean, what Christians should do now who have been divorced, what Christians should do now who have remarried after divorce, and what Christians should do now who are struggling in their marriages.

This passage could have led to one of two negative outcomes. First, we could have simply glossed it over, avoiding it to "keep the peace." Second, we could have argued over it in a nasty way. I'm happy to say that neither happened.

Instead, in the context of church family, we were able to talk about this hard passage in love, grace, and mercy. There was no judgment from any of us. We desired to see the truth and apply it from here forward.

It was beautiful to watch the body in motion. With various people adding to the conversation, different points of view and concerns came to the surface. Each person who spoke added a little bit to what we were all learning. We all gained in Christ from one another.

One example of this comes to mind. After I talked about why I hold to the betrothal view, a good friend of mine cross-referenced to Matthew 1:18-25. This is the passage where Joseph is betrothed to Mary and finds out that she is pregnant. The beauty was that this brother of mine added to the conversation in a way that I didn't. I hadn't even thought of that passage.

We as a group were also able to help some within the family deal with tough questions related to marriage and divorce. Many Christians struggle with their pasts related to this. Within the context of love and acceptance, we were able to ask hard questions and try to help these folks apply these.

I would not want to discuss this passage in any other setting. I was reminded again how we all need each other. We need one another not just for encouragement, but also to help one another determine the meaning of scripture. Our church family context enabled us to delve into this tough passage, dig for truth, dare to apply it, and lovingly encourage one another in the process.

My hope for you is that you have this sort of opportunity to share body life in a way that everyone is built up in Christ.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Promotion

Many of you know that my work situation has been somewhat difficult since I left the professional pastorate about one year ago. This past March God granted me an assembly position with JCB here in Savannah. This week I received a small promotion at JCB. Instead of working on the Skid-Steer assembly line, I'm now working as an inspector for completed machines. The work is more interesting, carries more responsibility, and pays a little more. As a bonus, I now get to drive the machines a bit. I share this with you not to pat myself on the back. Rather, I want to thank you for your prayers and support during this occupational odyssey. God truly is gracious and merciful.

I'm reminded of what Paul wrote to the Philippians in 4:19, "And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Reformation Day


Apparently Luther was a blogger, too (I knew he was a bright guy). The Reformer was labeled "divisive" by many for asking hard questions about both salvation and the church. Thank God for men like Luther who were willing to look to scripture as their guide for God's truth. While I wish Luther had taken scripture to its logical endpoint like the Anabaptists did, I'm still grateful for his efforts (and those of others) in rediscovering the true gospel.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Chronicles

I realized recently that I had never read all the way through the books of I and II Chronicles. Since they were originally one book, I'll henceforth (a fun word to write) refer to them simply as "Chronicles."

The reason I had never bothered reading through Chronicles is because I thought of the book as simply a repeat of II Samuel and I and II Kings. I was wrong. Although there is much overlap, there is also a good amount of variation. While II Samuel and I and II Kings are basically a time line of the monarchy of Israel, Chronicles focuses in more on the highlights. In particular, the Chronicler (the author, whoever he was) spends much time on the temple and those who we might refer to as the "good kings" of Israel.

In reading Chronicles, I learned new things about David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The best part is seeing the hearts of the kings who genuinely, if imperfectly, sought after God. The Chronicler also repeatedly shows God providing for these kings and Israel as a whole in various ways.

Even though the good kings are the focus, we do see a bit of the evil kings showing through. For example, late in Chronicles we read about the long and evil reign of King Manasseh. Unlike II Kings, however, we not only see his wickedness but also his repentance:

II Chronicles 33:10-13, "The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God."

The Chronicles is full of small but significant differences from II Samuel and I and II Kings. I encourage you to read through it. I admit to skimming through the genealogies. Don't feel bad about that. Just enjoy reading a book that you may never have looked at much before.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Evolving Views on Halloween

For most of my life I embraced Halloween for the fun of it. As a kid I went trick-or-treating with everyone else. As an adult, when our children were young we dressed them up in various costumes and took lots of photos. The ghoulish, ugly side of the holiday never really appealed to me so that was a non-issue.

About a decade or so ago my wife Alice and I began to take a look at the pagan-ish side of Halloween. The fact that it is Satanism's high, unholy day of the year became a real concern to us. Combined with this, we tired of the increasing commercialization of the day. Therefore, we purposely decided to reject the day by actively not participating in any way (except the requisite Fall Festivals at various churches).

This year, for some unknown reason to me, my views on Halloween have changed again. I'm no longer for or against the day. I simply don't care about it at all anymore. It carries no interest for me. I suppose this puts it in the same group with St. Patrick's Day, Groundhog Day, and Columbus Day. I'm utterly ambivalent about Halloween.

I've come to the conclusion that this is an area of freedom for Christians. If you want to participate by dressing up, handing out candy, and carving pumpkins, then go right ahead. If, however, you want nothing to do with it, then by all means don't participate. As for me, I'll probably not take part just because I'll forget about it.

So I guess evolution does happen once in a while - at least as it pertains to my views on Halloween.

What about you? What do you think of Halloween? Do you participate or not? Why?