Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Visual Reminder of the Task at Hand

Of course we are not limited to the countries within this rectangle. Our task, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is to get the one gospel to all people. May we strive with all our might to do so.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Bit of a Blogging Break

I'm stepping away from blogging for a couple of weeks. Although I enjoy the process, it occasionally begins to feel a little like work. When that happens, it's time for a break.

My family and I are going on vacation for the first time in a long time. Whilst away, I won't have significant internet access. Also, I really want to spend much time with my wife and kids. It's amazing how much time even one blog post requires; for me it's usually far longer than it seems.

That said, blogging is rewarding. I've learned a lot through it and gained new friends because of it. In a few weeks I'll fire it back up again.

I leave you with a reminder that we should never take ourselves or our blogging too seriously:

Teaching and Admonishing One Another in All Wisdom

In Paul's letter to the Colossians, the apostle spends quite a bit of time discussing the preeminence of Jesus Christ. Paul is concerned that false teachers might be leading the Christians astray. He writes this letter primarily to counteract this significant problem.

As is typical with Paul, toward the end of his letter he exhorts the readers to live out holy lives together. After instructing the Colossians to put to death various forms of sinful attitudes and behaviors, Paul writes the following amazing paragraph:

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:12-17 (emphasis mine)

That's quite a standard for us to live by. The entire paragraph carries the force of one large imperative. We are clearly expected to live far differently than the world lives.

As we read these words, we generally accept that fact that we are commanded to live according to them. However, I wonder if we think very much about the phrase, "teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Another Helpful Greek Resource

I am a biblical Greek novice and therefore need as much help as I can get. The Online Greek Bible is a nice resource that makes it easy to look up any New Testament passage. It would be particularly helpful if you were in a spot with internet access but didn't have your Greek N.T. with you.

For some Greek inspiration (that has no connection with The Online Greek Bible site), I'll repost this fun video:

The Gospel in Song

As I've written previously, my favorite hymn is Charles Wesley's "And Can it Be?" The music is rich and the words are straight gospel. I encourage you to listen to this wonderful hymn. The video is nothing special; just close your eyes and enjoy.

I'm Glad I Know How to Grind Coffee Beans Because...

O.K.  I know it's an old joke.  I just like the mug.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Therefore Let Us Go To Him 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 13:12-13

It is a great and wonderful truth that Jesus suffered for us. He did so under unspeakable circumstances. Our Savior in every way died in horrid pain outside the gate. As on the Day of Atonement when the bodies of the sacrificial animals were not eaten but instead were burned outside the camp, our atonement - Jesus - was murdered outside for us.

This is the great exchange that scripture speaks of so clearly. He allowed himself to be tortured and slaughtered in order to make us holy. This is simply stunning.

The author to the Hebrews doesn't stop there. After describing what Christ has done, he calls upon us to join Jesus outside the camp. If the camp signifies the comfort, safety, acceptance, and pleasures of the world, then when we venture outside to Christ, we are also opening ourselves up to "the reproach he endured." This reproach is suffering. We certainly won't all suffer alike, but we at least embrace the idea that followers of Christ generally face persecution with Christ.

In the O.T., those considered ceremonially unclean had to stay outside the camp; the world may think of us as metaphorically unclean, or at least really weird, because we do not embrace its ideals. Because we are outsiders, or "exiles" as Peter writes, we will probably face forms of social rejection at a minimum and possibly far worse.

I wonder how many of us desire to live fully for Christ but also want to remain inside the camp. Or maybe we desire to sort of stand with one foot inside and one foot outside. The author doesn't supply us with that option. The call is to embrace what Jesus endured, rejecting the fleeting pleasures that the world has to offer. Running to Christ is likely also running to suffering. The two go together.

I wonder if I, a Christian and an American, really understand this. For many people around the globe, the moment they embrace Christ is the moment they embrace suffering. For us in the USA at least, we face a not so subtle danger. We can be lulled to sleep by the lack of outright persecution and fall into the trap of trying to embrace both Christian living and capitalistic, democratic comfort. The two just don't go together.

We must remember the great hope we have in all this. While we will face persecution if we desire to live godly lives, we also have the promise of the city that is to come. We read of this in Hebrews 13:14, immediately following the above two verses. The ruler of that city is also the ruler of the universe. He is the one who embraced rejection outside the earthly city. May we all embrace him by embracing that same rejection outside the camp during our short stay on this earth.

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Thought Provoking Little Passage

Paul writes the following to the Collosian Christians in 3:12-17:

"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Wow. What a high standard. We truly are called to live in a radically different manner than the world lives. If we do so, the lost will no doubt take notice.

This paragraph is filled with short instructions about living out our faith among our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we think of these as adjectives and/or nouns describing Christians, then we should see in ourselves and others:

love (note: above all else)
one body
living out the word
teaching and being taught
admonishing and being admonished
songs of praise
doing all in the name of the Lord

That is quite a standard. We are given no opt-out clause. We can't pick and choose which of these we like and which we'd like to ignore. Rather, our lives should look like this.

The wonderful thing is that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can live like this. God is not some sort of mean deity who would demand of his followers what they cannot do. Because of what Christ has accomplished on the cross, we can and must live as aliens. We are strangers in a strange land.

Essentially, because we have been rescued from our spiritual deadness by Jesus Christ, we are freed and commanded to live as Jesus did. His church reflects his magnificence for all the world to see.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Agreeing and Disagreeing with Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is an intelligent, gifted, and funny theologian, writer, and speaker. He is also senior pastor at University Reformed Church in Lansing, MI. DeYoung is one of the new generation of Reformed writer/speakers who will eventually be handed the leadership of the Reformed mantle in this country from men like John Piper, Albert Mohler, and R.C. Sproul.

DeYoung fascinates me because I agree with him very much on some things, but at the same time disagree fervently about others. When it comes to theology in general and salvation in particular, I couldn't agree more with almost all of what DeYoung has to say and write. He also has much wisdom about living out the Christian life in general. One book that he has penned, entitled Just Do Something, provides a great deal of solid advice for Christians trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

I disagree, however, with DeYoung on almost everything that he writes about the workings of the church. I'm referring here specifically to the institutional side of church life. This is no surprise coming from a man who wrote a book called Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion (I'm not making up that title by the way). DeYoung is a full supporter of the current Reformed way of church life. He fully embraces the things you would expect: large buildings, salaried pastors, multiple programs, planned services, and the preaching of sermons to the church. DeYoung certainly believes in more than the few things I've listed; I'm simply trying to show that his views about the shape and functioning of the church fall in line with most of American Protestantism today.

DeYoung has a very high respect for the scriptures. I have no doubt that he desires to interpret them correctly. So why do we agree on some things but disagree on others?  Part of it obviously has to do with the fact that we are both faulty humans.  Neither of us has perfect knowledge or understanding. However, I think something else is going on as well.

The gospel, on which we heartily agree, leaves little to no "wiggle room." There are certain clear things you must believe in order to be saved - the core doctrines of the faith. The biblical writers give no options about believing in the divinity of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, the necessity of faith in Christ, etc. The scriptures are also clear that a new creation will live a changed, if imperfect, life. This means fruit bearing. Because the gospel and its ramifications are so clear, there is little room for disagreement among Christian brothers - like DeYoung and me.

When the bible discusses the church, however, there does seem to be a bit of wiggle room. We know that the church is all saved people of all time. What I'm referring to is the living out of church life together in the here and now. The bible certainly has instruction for us in this matter, but this information is not as black-and-white or clear-cut as what we see about the gospel itself. Issues such as church gatherings, leadership, women's roles, preaching, use of money, etc. are all important. Despite this, the bible often does not provide us with direct, imperative statements that match what it provides regarding the gospel. Because of this, DeYoung and I disagree on a lot about the church.

Although I don't know him, DeYoung and I are brothers in Christ. This unites us. Because of the clear-cut gospel, we are redeemed brothers. Within that unity, we disagree heartily about much regarding the functioning of the church. This is somewhat understandable in light of the way the scriptures discuss the church.

My hope is that we (all of us) will embrace our unity in Christ as we discuss church issues on which we might not find agreement. These conversations should not divide us; instead my desire is that they bring us closer together as we seek biblical truth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I Love Watching Greatness

I think I could watch Secretariat run all day long. This video shows his victories in the three 1973 Triple Crown races. It seems as if God decided to create nearly the perfect race horse in Secretariat. His victory in the Belmont, the third race, is the most stunning and dominating performance I've ever seen in any sport. He is simply a joy to watch.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On the Power of Language

I work in an environment where the language is, well, not the best (understatement of the year). The curses are a general part of everyday language. Most of the folks don't even seem to notice it. The company has a policy against it, but no enforcement exists. Frankly, I'm not surprised when lost people use foul language; they're lost. I shouldn't expect anything else. As for me, I try as best I can to filter what they say to hear the message without the colorful additions.

Since I don't curse, I also stand out. I don't think about it, but others have mentioned it to me. I'm glad if it makes me look different if it will lead to discussions of Christ and his gospel.

I bring this up because each day I am reminded of the power of language for both good and evil. I hear a lot of evil at work. Good is possible as well. It's amazing what a word of encouragement can do even in a factory. I make an attempt each day to be a positive influence on others through my speech.

We are made in God's image. He spoke the universe into existence. It makes sense that our speech would be powerful. We have a choice each day to use it for his glory or for other lesser purposes. I hope to use it for the good.

I'm reminded yet again of a simple yet profound verse that has deeply impacted me:

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."

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Few Fellowship Photos

Yesterday we had the privilege of hosting fellowship. I managed to snap a few quick photos of the get-together. As always, the most important aspect of the gathering is God's people. As the first picture shows, there is always a lot of talking going on.

And sharing the Lord's Supper together.

More eating together.

A sign of many friends in the house.

What the street looks like...a small parking lot.

We thank God primarily for his gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Secondarily, we thank him for our brothers and sisters in Christ. What great gifts!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One Anothers in the Thessalonians

Imagine what church life would look like if we all carried out the following on a consistent basis. Paul's expectation to the Thessalonian church was that they would. Let's do the same.

"Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints." I Thess. 3:11-13

"Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more." I Thess. 4:9-10

"Therefore encourage one another with these words." I Thess. 4:18

"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." I Thess. 5:11

"See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone." I Thess. 5:15

"We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing." II Thess. 1:3

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Something We Can Agree Upon

As Christians we can all agree that followers of Jesus should gather together on a regular basis. This may sound painfully obvious, and it is. However, so many discussions related to church gatherings, worship services, etc. focus on the disagreement that we forget that we actually agree on many things. Most important of these, of course, is that Jesus Christ is Lord. Related to the church, we agree that we are Christ's people, redeemed by His blood for His glory. We have a shared mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

As for church meetings, we can unite in the fact that they should happen. It is when we begin to look at the nature of these meetings that the disagreement begins. My hope is that as we discuss these important things, we remember that who unites us is truly greater than any disagreements we may have.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

20 Years of Marriage

Today Alice and I celebrate 20 years of marriage. I'm amazed it has gone so quickly. God has blessed us immeasurably through these two decades, and we praise Him for it.

Marriage as God planned it is a gift of His grace to draw us closer to Him. As we live intimately with another person, we learn what it is to give of ourselves completely in a meaningful way. I'm sure that many unmarried people have learned this in other ways, but for me, I needed marriage to learn what service is. Frankly, over the years with my wife I've probably been served more than I have done the serving.

Alice is truly a wonderful wife. She sacrifices every day for this family. She has followed me over the years from New York to Georgia to North Carolina to India and back to Georgia. Alice is a terrific mother who educates our children in an exceptional manner.

I have been blessed to be married to Alice for twenty years and am already looking forward to the next twenty. Marriage is a sweet gift from God.

I'm reminded of Proverbs 31:10, "An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels."

Monday, July 4, 2011

One American Christian's Thoughts on American Independence Day

Here we are again on the 4th of July. The weather is warm, most of us don't have to work, cookouts rule the day, and fireworks will fill the night.

How should American Christians handle this holiday? What is our appropriate response?

Answer: I don't know. This is not an issue where I think I can speak for all followers of Christ. Instead, I'm simply going to tell you how I react to the holiday in particular and patriotism in general.

I'm thankful to God to live in the USA. This does not mean that I think our country is somehow better than other countries. Rather, I'm simply happy to have the freedoms we have. For example, yesterday we gathered together with our church family. I'm happy that we didn't have to worry about secret police knocking down our door (may we pray for our Christian brothers and sisters overseas who face this form of persecution).

I believe the freedoms we have in the USA, such as those in the Bill of Rights, are a good outworking in a secular state of Christian principles. I'm pleased to live under these laws.

As for the 4th of July, I'm thrilled to have the day off from work to spend with family and friends. We are going to hang out today with my parents at their home on the other side of Savannah. We'll play in the pool, eat goodies, read books, play games, and rest. Good times.

Although I'm thankful to live in the USA, I unequivocally do not love my country. I do not love any country for that matter. As I look in the bible, I don't see any hint of patriotism anywhere in Christ's teachings or in the functioning of the early church. Rather, we are exiles whose citizenship is in heaven. These comments may anger some American Christians. Their response is usually that I should then move to some other country. Where would I go? God made me be born in the USA. I don't love any country any more than this one.

I do not celebrate my country. I do not take part in any form of USA patriotic parties or anything else of that sort. I'm not interested in politics. I even struggle anymore to say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the Star Spangled Banner. The USA does not in general stand for Christian principles. Instead, it is humanistic, functionally atheistic, capitalistic individualism that rules the day.

As for the military, I would probably refuse to fight under any circumstances. As I look at the teachings of Jesus Christ, I can't find anything that would justify taking up arms against other people. If the USA was attacked and I was defending my home, then I might think otherwise. Usually, however, the USA is attacking other countries; I can't have any part of that.

My wish is that the USA would have extremely minimal military involvement overseas. I'd love to see our country be a source of peace in this world instead of threatening others with the tip of the sword. Let's secure our borders and come up with a sensible immigration policy on a national level. Then let's bring our troops home.

I am thankful to those Americans in the military who have sacrificed for the freedoms we enjoy. However, I call into question many of the military decisions that have thrust them into harm's way in the first place.

In the end, I'll celebrate on the 4th of July. The celebration will not be of the USA. Rather, I'm just going to enjoy being with people I love on a day off.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

It Can Get Messy

Last week as we gathered it got messy for a few minutes. One child in the group accidentally dropped a bottle of soda on the floor. The photo on the left shows what happened. Carbonated liquid shot about seven feet into the air and landed on one man's back, a desk, the counter, and a few other places. It was sticky and yucky.

This was a tangible reminder to me that church gatherings can get messy. Explosive soda is a relatively small thing. However, sometimes more significant things happen. Sometimes personal interactions can get messy and be explosive. Why is this? The reason is that we are all real people with real problems. We are not all alike. We have preferences and opinions. We are also sinful.

In a setting where we are all free to talk about whatever we believe the Spirit leads us to discuss, sometimes things get messy. If we are willing to be real with one another, this is almost guaranteed to occasionally happen. Because we are humans, we will see things differently from time to time. This leads to disagreement about certain issues. The key is how we handle this. The goal should be edification through the process. In striving for this, we will sometimes have success and sometimes not. I hope mostly for the positive.

I would have it no other way. Little edification can happen when messiness is ruled out through planned ceremonies. Edification occurs when we encourage, exhort, rebuke, teach, listen to, hug, etc. each other. In this setting, we can all together strive for greater obedience to Christ.

Messiness is real. Messiness is a sign that good things can happen. I hope they do.

Friday, July 1, 2011

You Write the Caption

Please leave a caption in the comments section.  Thanks.

What Does Edification Look Like?

The Apostle Paul addresses the Corinthian church gatherings in chapters 12-14 of his first epistle. He makes an extremely important statement in the well-known 14:26, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."

Paul explicitly states that all things in the church meeting are for the building up, or edification, of the body. But what does this look like?

Whoever wrote the epistle to the Hebrews (maybe Paul) answers this question for us in other well-known verses. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

Again in the context of the church gathering, we see what we are to be doing. We are to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. We are also to encourage one another.

It's interesting that the primary activity in the gathering is not persuading others to believe what we believe. Instead, it is to exhort and encourage one another to lives of love and good works.

It seems safe to say that the growing Christian will gradually become a person whose life is more and more characterized by loving good works. These are to be encouraged during the gathering (whenever and whatever context this may be).

Of course these loving good works are not earning anything. Rather, they are made possible and empowered by Jesus Christ. He is the subject of the Hebrews passage immediately preceding 10:24-25.

Edification, then, is designed to build us up in Christ, draw us closer to Christ, and live lives more like Christ.

What does this look like? What is the outcome?

If we look at Jesus' life, we see what we should together be striving for. Edification should lead to gradually increasing service for others, care for others, compassion for others, and giving to others. The building up, as Paul says, ought to bring about increased sharing of the gospel with unbelievers, increased fervor for carrying out the Great Commission, and increased support of those working/serving overseas. As we grow closer to Christ through the encouragement of others, the good works will very likely be accompanied by increased holiness of life in all aspects (not perfection but sanctification).

Edification is not an end in itself. Rather, edification leads to God being glorified through the increased devotion and obedience of His people. This takes many forms and shapes throughout the day. In the end, the gathering should help us all grow into greater conformity to the person of Jesus Christ.