Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bible Up, Blog Down

As I think about what is important in life, I've realized that my stated priorities have not been lining up with how I've been spending my time. Specifically related to this blog, I've been devoting too much time thinking about it and writing on it. On the other hand, I have not been spending enough time reading my bible. It's as simple as that. Therefore, I've made an executive decision. I'm reducing my weekly blog post frequency to 2-3 per week. Some will be quick links, while others will be more lengthy posts. Some weeks I might not blog at all. I need to be in the scriptures more. I just finished reading through the book of Mark over the past few days. It was wonderful. I need more of that, and my family needs me to do more of that.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Unity in Church Planting

I've heard it said that churches from different denominations can and should partner together to evangelize the world, but cannot plant churches together. What's the reason for this? Answer: they agree on the gospel message, but disagree on what the church is and should look like. For example, the thinking is that those who hold to infant baptism cannot plant churches with those who hold to believer's baptism because they disagree on the meaning of the church.

I used to agree with this line of thinking. Then we moved to South Asia.

When we arrived, we immediately craved interaction with other Christians. We soon met both South Asian Christians and foreign missionaries (the missionaries came from various countries, various sending agencies, and various denominations). We found that we wanted to work with all Christians, not just in evangelism but also in church planting.

There was one particular Christian Indian man who loved the Lord a great deal. We began talking about working closely together to spread the gospel in various places in India. Now that I think back on it, I have no idea what he believed about secondary issues.

How would this have worked? How can Christians of differing secondary beliefs also plant churches together? If we keep a few things in mind, it is no problem at all. First, we must remember that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who plants churches, not us. We must follow His lead. Second, we should avoid trying to plant specific denominational churches that are defined by certain secondary beliefs. Third, we ought to sit with the new believers, open our bibles together, and trust the Spirit to guide the group decision making.

The Holy Spirit can be trusted. He will lead the new Christians to make right decisions about the church. Once they are indwelt by the Spirit, they can understand what God wants from His church as He has stated in the pages of the bible. It is the local believers who must make important decisions about church life.

As foreigners, we can give small amounts of guidance here and there, but we must avoid taking leadership roles. The decisions must come from the group. They need to decide how to carry out the one anothers, how to meet together, where to meet, how to celebrate the Lord's Supper, how to care for the poor in and out of the church, who and how to baptize, etc. It's very possible that they may make some decisions that we disagree with. So be it.

We can be united in church planting. We must simply let the Spirit lead, get out of the way, and encourage new Christians to let the scriptures inform their decision making. If we follow this pattern, we can work together with any other Christians

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Small Groups?

In my previous blog post I brought up the issue of small groups. Now I'm asking a question about them:

What is the reason for the recent rise in small groups within the church in this country?

What do you think? Any ideas?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and Shaken American Foundations

My guess is that almost every American blogger, regardless of normal topics, either is posting or already has posted about the tenth anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001. Here's my addition.

Like many of you, I remember the attacks vividly. I was working as a school psychologist in a public school at the time. The ladies in the front office had somehow managed to quickly set up an old television just after the initial explosions in New York. I was watching the TV as the first tower fell. And then the second tower. What a nightmare it all was.

Can anything good come of something so horrible? My subjective answer is "Yes." In fact, even though I wish the terrorist attacks had never happened, my guess is that more than one good thing may have come from them. I do not write this flippantly. I still feel terrible for the tremendous loss of that day.

I'd like to take a moment to mention one good thing that I believe did result. The good thing is that, for many Americans at least, 9/11 shook the foundations of their belief that the United States is a country of absolute stability. Up until that day, many citizens of this country - including many Christians - thought that there were a few absolutes in life, and the USA was one of them.

My hope is that at least some of those folks began to realize the temporary and fragile nature of political countries. The USA is not permanent. It will eventually fall; even the Roman Empire did.

American Christians in particular must realize that there are few certainties in life (and I'm not referring to taxes). The most certain thing is God himself. When we die we all go before him either with or without a Mediator.

None of us has any reason to rely on the USA for stability. Placing our trust in this country is pointless. I sincerely hope that the horror of 9/11 caused both Christians and non-Christians to ask tough questions about what real stability in life is. What can they trust?

Although the attacks were something that we all wish could have been prevented, it is possible that some long-term good can come from them. If people's unshakable confidence in the USA is brought into question, then that is a good thing. They must look elsewhere. We can hope that they find the only true constant in this universe. If you don't happen to know who that is, send me an e-mail. Let's talk.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My Concern with the ESV

I like the English Standard Version. It's the version of the bible that I read most often. It's the bible that I usually take with me to our fellowship gatherings. I have about six or seven copies of it in various forms of study bibles, thin line bibles, pocket size bibles, etc.

I'm happy with the ESV because the translators seem to have been fair to the original Hebrew and Greek texts. The ESV reads smoothly like the NIV, but takes a more literal approach to translation like the NASB. As a bonus, the ESV Study Bible is the best I've read as far as study bibles go.

That all said, I do have one main concern with the ESV. I'm wondering if it is a valid one. My concern is that the ESV has sort of become "The Reformed Bible." If you read around the blog world these days, almost all of the writers who claim the Reformed label for themselves also use the ESV. If you attend a conference like Ligonier or T4G, just about all the speakers will use the ESV. John Piper uses the ESV. Al Mohler uses the ESV. R.C. Sproul uses the ESV.

Ask your Reformed friends what version they use; I guarantee that their primary version will likely be the ESV.

I'm sure that the response from the Reformed would be that they like it because they believe it is the best English translation available. Of course, we all tend to use whatever translations we think are the best available. Therefore, that answer actually has little meaning.

My concern comes from the fact that almost ALL of the Reformed use this translation. Why is that? We know that the Reformed tend to focus quite a bit on issues of God's sovereignty in salvation (election, predestination). Does the ESV slant in that direction? Does it give slightly more support to specific Reformed doctrines that would make it more preferable to the Reformed?

In reading through the ESV I have not found it to be biased in any particular direction. However, if the ESV has no bias at all, then wouldn't it simply be one of several versions that the Reformed might choose to use? What ever happened to the NASB, the NKJV, the HCSB, the NIV, or the NLT?

When any particular sub-group within Christianity seems to select one particular version of the bible, we should ask "Why?". At this point I'm not sure of the answers. Is the ESV just a good translation, or does it lean toward Reformed thinking?

Is this a valid concern? Do you think there is anything to this, or am I just wasting time with it? What do you think?

Regardless, issues like this are a good reminder that we will be wise to use multiple English translations when studying the scriptures.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Missions in Romans

Romans 1:1-6, "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine)

Romans 16:25-27, "Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith - to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen." (emphasis mine)

In the above two passages we read the beginning and end of the epistle to the Romans. In these verses, we see clear bookends to the letter. Paul's primary concern is that the nations hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and respond with the obedience of faith for the sake of the name of the Lord.

Romans is often thought of as a deep theological treatise that focuses primarily on man's sin, God's redeeming work in Christ, and our resultant sanctification. These topics are certainly dealt with in this letter.

However, when we try to understand where Paul's heart is, we don't see him dwelling on doctrinal truths while ignoring application. Paul loves all the truths about what God has done and is doing in this world, and the apostle desires to tell everyone about it.

In the end, Paul is concerned for the glory of the name of the Lord. Because of this, He wants to see all nations come to know Christ.

Romans, like all other books of scripture, illustrates for us how solid doctrine always has direct application. In fact, doctrine without application is poor doctrine.

The application in Romans is unmistakable. Paul's goal is to see the nations learn of and bow before Jesus Christ. Paul has a great message, explained in detail in Romans, that he intends to share with the world.

The gospel, by its very nature, intends proclamation. Let us share it liberally with all nations.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I've Finally Figured It Out

In blogging about the church, the discussions will frequently focus on issues of deep meaning and conviction to us. No surprise there. Almost all of us (at least the readers of this blog) agree that we must look to scripture to inform our decision making.

Some blog posts will be more positively oriented, while others will look more at the negative. As we examine what the bible has to say about the church, we will necessarily run into areas of our lives that do not correspond to what we read in scripture. We all have faults that the Holy Spirit is pleased to point out to us in the pages of holy writ.

In this blog, I attempt to look at a wide variety of topics. Frankly, I usually post about what happens to interest me at that particular time. For the most part, blog posts target church issues. I suppose this is because I continue down an exciting road in my life of learning what Christ wants His church to be.

As for blogging about the church, I sometimes look intensely at myself. Other times I look at our church family. Still other times I look at the broader church in this country and beyond.

It's in writing about this last category that I've finally figured something out. Here's what has become clear to me:

In the Christian blog world, when writing about the church, it is accepted by almost everyone when we point out problems within the church in general. Even specific problems are considered acceptable writing material as long as no one is named. However, it is often thought of as unacceptable when we write about specific people and/or churches who are functioning as the church in unbiblical/nonbiblcal ways.

Let me provide three examples:

1. It is thought of as fine if we say that worship services are foreign to the scriptures. However, we may be labeled divisive if we point out a specific church or churches that have worship services.

2. When we talk about the way churches spend money, it is generally accepted when we say that money spent on large buildings and a large salaried staff cannot be defended by the bible. However, if we link to a church that spends thousands upon thousands yearly on its buildings and/or staff, then our motivations and intentions will be called into question.

3. When discussing elders within the church, we can point to the clear multiplicity of elders in the New Testament. Talking about the problem of a single pastor is not seen as a problem. However, if we point out a specific church with a specific single pastor and say that this is an unbiblical practice, then we may be called a trouble maker.

My question is this: Why can't we point to specific people in specific situations who are doing unbiblical things related to the church?

We see Paul do this very specifically in Philippians chapter 4 with Euodia and Syntyche. These two Christian women appear to have been at or near the center of the disunity within the Philippian church.

I'm not calling intentions into question. When it comes to the church, I'm convinced that there are many godly Christian folks who are doing many unbiblical things with very good intentions.

I'm not talking about sin issues either. Rather, I'm referring to church practice that is foreign to scripture. If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know the topics I'm talking about.

If we only ever write in generalities, then we won't be able to see the specific problems. When we discuss particular situations and people, then the discrepancies with scripture become more apparent. In doing this, we can (I hope) be spurred on to look at our own lives to see where we fail to live up to the standard set forth for us in scripture.

In this blog at least, I'm going to continue to occasionally point out specific problems that I see in the church. I hope to speak the truth in love.

Specific examples of problems help us to gain an accurate diagnosis of broader problems. Then we can learn how to better deal with them, and proceed to engage other Christians in productive dialog.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tips for Jesus-Juking

Click here for a laugh (and some tips) on the fine art of Jesus-Juking.

Two Swords?

A few weeks ago I asked if anyone had any issues/scriptures they would like discussed on this blog. One of the responses came from my friend Jeff. He asked about Luke 22:35-38.

In that passage we read the following:

And he said to them, "When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "Nothing." He said to them, "But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: 'And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough."

In particular, the difficulty lies with what Jesus says in verse 38. What does He mean by, "It is enough"?

Below are six translations of the Jesus' response:

ESV - And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords." And he said to them, "It is enough."

KJV - And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.

NASB - They said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."

NKJV - So they said, "Lord, look, here are two swords." And He said to them, "It is enough."

NLT - "Lord," they replied, "we have two swords among us." "That's enough," he said.

YLT - And they said, "Sir, lo, here are two swords;" and he said to them, "It is sufficient."

What is going on here? What does Jesus mean? I've heard/read three common interpretations:

1. Jesus is speaking metaphorically. He desires that His disciples be spiritually armed and ready to fight spiritual foes. Ephesians six would be a related passage to this line of thinking.

2. Jesus is speaking literally. He is rebuking the disciples' desire to take swords for violent purposes. Jesus never condones the use of violence, even for self-defense. He says, in essence, "Enough of such nonsense!"

3. Jesus is speaking literally. He is approving the disciples' taking of swords. Swords at that time were often used for many tasks other than violence. They could, for example, have been used as tools. Jesus basically says, "That will be enough for what you need."

As I think through the above interpretations, I can see that all have some merit. However, number one seems problematic to me because the context of the entire passage is a literal one. Jesus is clearly telling his disciples that circumstances have now changed and they will, therefore, need to provide more for themselves as they journey around proclaiming the gospel. The disciples' response about the swords is clearly literal. Why would Jesus all of the sudden start speaking metaphorically? I don't think he would.

As for options two and three, I really don't know what the answer is. The reason for this is that I can't tell in reading this short paragraph what the disciples' intent was. If it is to have the swords for self-defense, then I think Jesus is rebuking them (second option). If, on the other hand, they are focused on the swords as tools, then Jesus is likely telling them that two is all they'll need (third option).

Jesus is concerned for the welfare of His followers after He departs. He is instructing them in what they will need to carry out His mission. His message is one of hope, but is always presented free of charge and without coercion. They would never need swords for violence of any kind. They might, however, need them for digging holes, cutting branches for fires, etc.

In conclusion, the meaning of this passage hinges first on what the disciples meant, and then on Jesus' related response.

What do you think? Do you agree with one of these interpretations or is there another, better one?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Addressing One Another in Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual Songs

During our church gathering yesterday we had a great discussion about the implications of Ephesians 5:19. This verse says:

(ESV) "...addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart."

(NASB) "...speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord."

(NKJV) "...speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord."

(NLT) "Then you will sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, making music to the Lord in your hearts."

The tendency for most of us, myself included, is certainly to sing and make music to the Lord. In the gathering we usually do this with our voices and our hearts. For literally as long as I can recall, I've been part of church bodies that sing corporate praises to God.

This verse clearly speaks to the importance of singing to God. Interestingly, Paul also stresses the importance of "addressing one another" or "speaking to one another" in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. This is fascinating because our tendency is normally to sing to God but not really think about our brothers and sisters in Christ. We focus on the vertical dimension to the exclusion of the horizontal. Paul counters this tendency in 5:19.

Paul writes something similar in Colossians 3:16 (ESV), "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." We again see the connection between "one another" and "singing."

How does this work out? What does it look like? My guess is that it varies from church family to church family. In the end, however, as we sing praises to the Lord, we should also be addressing/speaking to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We ought to somehow be showing that we care for their well being and edification. This might not actually occur during a song, but it might happen between songs, be inspired by a song, carry the same words or themes as a particular song, occur after singing but during the Lord's Supper, etc.

This is not some sort of new law that Paul is putting in place. Rather, the apostle is simply stressing once again that as we gather we should place our attention upon glorifying God through the edification of others. Even in song we can honor the Lord and build up the saints simultaneously.

As we gather as the body of Christ, let us make joyful melody to God with all our hearts. May this be conjoined to our addressing our brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that helps them mature spiritually.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


"He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance." Acts 28:30-31

These are the final two verses in the book of Acts. We read of Paul's continued activity of sharing the gospel with all who would listen.

I love the way this book ends. The gospel is flowing forth unhindered.

From the beginning of Acts, in which we see Jesus tell His followers that through the power of the Holy Spirit they will be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, to the end we read of the glorious gospel of Christ being proclaimed again and again to people who have never heard it. Nothing can stop this good news.

At the very end of the book we are reminded of this.  Luke selects an adverb to be the last word of his two part book (Luke-Acts). That adverb is translated in various ways (unhindered, without hindrance, unforbidden), but in the end the meaning is that the gospel could not be stopped.

Part of the meaning in that particular context was that no one was trying to stop Paul's proclamation. However, there seems to be more to it than that. We sense that the gospel is such a powerful message that it breaks the bonds of even those who might make an attempt at blocking its flowing forth. The good news is just too good to stop.

It appears that the only thing that stops the gospel is if the church is not zealous in sharing it. We read in Romans 10 that preachers/proclaimers are necessary for people to hear. There must be a sounding forth from believers.

Sometimes when I look at the numbers of lost it seems overwhelming. Sites like Joshua Project are wonderful, but at times the job just seems too big. Then I remember that the Holy Spirit is in charge, not me. He empowers and makes things happen. Our duty is simply to be obedient.

I also try to remember the last word from Acts - unhindered. The gospel is not simply good news. It is the only truly good news in this world. Because it is of God, it has a power that supersedes what we can even imagine. We've been charged with heralding this message. Let us see that it continues unhindered.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

For Us Coffee Lovers

UPDATE: I've been informed that this graphic has some significant errors in it. So enjoy it, but don't take it too seriously.

One great way to build relationships is to have conversations while enjoying cups of coffee. We must, therefore, understand what we're drinking. This chart, which I saw on Facebook a few days ago, sums things up pretty well.