Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Keep Reforming

October 31st is important to me for a couple of reasons.

First, October 31st, 1517 is the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. This act is one of the key historical markers of the Protestant Reformation. Although the Reformation was not without its problems, I am deeply grateful to those involved who stood for gospel truth in the face of persecution.

Second, October 31st, 2010 was my final day as a professional pastor. Although I had announced my resignation about one month earlier, the church where I was employed asked me to stay on until the end of October. Because it marks my final day in the paid pastorate, October 31st is a sort of personal Reformation Day for me. I still believe exactly the same things I did two years ago that led to my departure.

The Christian life should be one of consistent reformation. As we walk daily with Christ, we have the privileges of getting to know Him better, becoming more like Him, and helping others do the same. This was Paul's goal. In this sense, reformation never ends.

Monday, October 29, 2012

When On My Deathbed

I'm thankful to say that I've never been anywhere near my own deathbed. Although I've crossed a Rubicon of sorts (age 40), I still feel pretty good.

That said, I recently pondered what I will care about on my deathbed. My guess is that it will be the same for all of us. Assuming we are right with God, we will care about two things. The first will be seeing Jesus soon. The second will be relationships we have here.

In light of that, it seems that church life should be the same. If there is an urgency to this life, then we ought to abandon distractions and secondary issues that come between us. If we won't care about it on our deathbeds, then let's not let it matter much now. As Christ's church, let's instead focus on our relationships with Christ and others.

This speaks directly to the issue of unity of the body. When on my deathbed, I'm not going to refuse to spend time with someone because he disagrees with me on baptism, the Lord's Supper, women's roles, tithing, etc., etc. Instead, my guess is that we will cherish relationships with everyone we care about. We'll want to spend time together.

We tend to go through life as if tomorrow is guaranteed. We allow things of lesser importance to come between us and other believers. Frankly, we are often distracted. We'd benefit from living as if we're on a deathbed. When we think in these terms, it helps us prioritize what matters.

Church life is about relationships. When we sense urgency, these are all we want. We grasp and hold onto unity when life is nearing the end. Instead of waiting for the deathbed, let's start living that way every day.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Interesting Translation of Hebrews 10:24-25

"Let us keep one another in mind, always ready with incitements to charity and to acts of piety, not abandoning, as some do, our common assembly, but encouraging one another; all the more, as you see the great day drawing nearer."

This is the translation of Hebrews 10:24-25 from the Knox Bible (the translator is not, as some might suppose, Alan Knox).

I'm not suggesting that this is the best translation, but I do think it has some strengths. The language is colorful, giving the verse a sense of action. The word "incitements" in particular is striking. I also enjoy the choice of "to charity and to acts of piety." These words bring a real-world feel to what is often translated as "to love and good works." Finally, the use of "common assembly" is more interesting then simply saying "meeting together."

This appears to be an example where the work of one translator is superior to the work of a translation committee. Although I generally prefer the work of a group, an individual may be able to occasionally employ more diverse and striking language that a committee would avoid.

What do you think of this particular translation of 10:24-25?

Friday, October 26, 2012

What I Will Tell My Kids About Finding a Church

God has blessed Alice and me with three great kids: Caroline, Mary, and Bobby. They are teens and all live at home. However, someday they will depart. If they stay in Savannah, they may want to be part of a different church family. If they move somewhere else, they'll be forced to find other Christians with whom to fellowship.

What do I tell my kids about finding a church family? I've been thinking about that lately. It's helped me boil down what is most important. I came to a simple conclusion. This is what I will tell them, "Ask God to lead you to a group of people who you can help grow closer to Jesus Christ and who will help you grow closer to Jesus Christ."

Growing closer to Jesus necessarily includes becoming more like Jesus. This includes living sacrificially for others, striving for personal holiness, being an active disciple-maker, etc. When we look at the exhortations in scripture for how Christ's followers should live, we see these almost always given in the context of the Christian community. Commands are for the large part plural as opposed to individual. Growing closer to Christ occurs most effectively in community as opposed to solo.

III John verse 4 says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." All truth is God's truth. Jesus stated directly that He is the way, the truth, and the life." My great hope for my children is that they grow increasingly closer to the One who is the source of all truth. This will happen best with other believers who they can help and who can help them.

What do/would you tell your kids or others about finding a church family?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Testament Missions Series

I've concluded my look at significant missions-related passages in each book of the New Testament. If you'd like to read any of the posts, simply click here. Our Lord Jesus has commissioned us as his disciple makers. I'm glad that he has provided us with so much information to help us do it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Chain of Command in the Church

The church has a short chain of command:

First there's Jesus Christ as the unquestioned Head. Then there's everybody else.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Missions in Revelation

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'" Revelation 21:1-4

This is, quite clearly, the final post in this series on missions in the New Testament.

The book of Revelation has much to tell us about various aspects of life. One key is the great deal of information about Jesus' second coming.

It is interesting that the second coming is often left out of gospel presentations. So much time is spent on what Jesus did in the past that what Christ is doing today and will do in the future are frequently left out. We need to avoid this pitfall.

As we share with others about Jesus we need to make sure it doesn't sound like a history lesson. The past certainly is significant, but the present and future are, too. New believers must understand that Jesus is alive and well today, and will one day return to rule as unquestioned and unchallenged King. When we include this part of the good news, the one hearing can better comprehend the urgency of the message.

Additionally, when Jesus returns He will do away with all pain and suffering. This idea is extremely attractive to lost folks. It may attract them to Jesus Himself.

The second coming is part of the gospel. Let's not forget to share it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Silence Does Not Equal Agreement

A while back I blogged that I'm done arguing. This does not mean that I'll not counter false teaching about the gospel. It does mean that I'm not going to argue with other Christians about secondary issues. I'll talk about them, but no more arguing.

I came to this decision because I realized (finally) that silence does not equal agreement. Just because I don't counter what I hear, it does not automatically mean that I agree with what I've heard. I don't know why it's taken me almost 42 years to come to this conclusion.

As Christians we know we must stand for the truth of the gospel. The problem is that we also tend to think that we must stand for the truth of whatever it is that we believe about church structure, leadership, creation, education, women's roles, the meaning of the Lord's Supper, the form of the Lord's Supper, baptism, etc., etc.

Everything does not have to be argued nor should it be. When we are silent, this does not mean we've lost, caved in, or surrendered. It simply indicates that we aren't going to discuss the topic anymore at that time with that person. Since it takes two to argue, that stops it cold.

My advice to you is to pick your arguments very carefully. They can often lead to unnecessary division within the church. Instead, try being quiet. I've enjoyed it so far.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Missions in Jude

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." Jude 3-4

False teaching is not a topic that gets much attention in the church. However, we ought to be mentioning it as we share the gospel. Although it certainly will not be the first thing we will say, we also should not ignore it. Chances are good that whoever we talk to has already heard a decent amount of false teaching.

False teachers are prominent in this country. Their influence must be countered.

False teaching is written about by almost all authors of the New Testament. The letters of II Peter and Jude are almost completely about it. As we can see above, Jude's first desire was to write about their "common salvation." However, false teaching was such a danger that he had to write about that instead.

Jude's appeal is that believers contend for the faith. They were to speak the truth about Christ in the face of false teachings.

New believers must know that they may have to soon defend the truth of the gospel as well. Frankly, new believers are often well prepared to do this because they usually have a zeal for Christ. He has saved them, and they desire to defend the truth. Also, some folks in the new believers' lives will likely attack their new beliefs. They need to defend what they believe.

The gospel depends upon accurate teaching of God's truths. False teaching, therefore, is a direct assault upon the gospel. All believers, whether new or not so new, must be ready to stand for the truth.

To read any posts in this series about missions in the New Testament, click here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Scary Example of Poor Biblical Interpretation

This week I ran into a scary example of poor biblical interpretation.

I was talking with another Christian when the topic turned to politics. In discussing Afghanistan, we agreed that we would like to see our troops get out of that country soon. Then he said something that I find downright frightening. His words (paraphrased), "I think we should pull out of Afghanistan and then bomb them. I know this would hurt women and children, but God told the Israelites to kill all the people they faced in the OT. We should do the same."

I was stunned. I managed to spit something out like, "I think we should pull out but not bomb them." At the time I was so flabbergasted that I couldn't think up anything else to say. His reasoning was bad enough that my brain temporarily turned to mush.

This Christian man's thinking is an example of the danger of looking to the Old Testament for specifics about how to live today. In an earlier post I wrote, "The Old Testament, then, should be understood as always pointing ahead to the incarnation of Christ. Its shadows offer clues to us of the Redeemer to come. The OT is not a guidebook for us to follow as much as it is a promise of a better future in the author of the New Covenant."

We must be careful in applying too many OT specifics to our lives as Christ's church. Much of the OT was designed to help the nation of Israel live. The church is not Israel. The USA certainly isn't Israel.

When we want to know how to live today, the New Testament tells us all we need. Jesus emphasized peace with other people. For example, in Matthew 5:38-39 he said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." A few verses later (5:43-44) our Lord states, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I'm not addressing here whether or not the USA should ever go to war. Rather, I'm pointing to how followers of Christ ought to think about war. Biblical commands to Israel on warfare have no bearing on the USA today. It is dangerous to think that they do, for it will lead to much death.

We have to interpret all biblical passages in their context. Only then will we be able to accurately understand what the original authors meant. As Christ-followers, we should be people that emphasize the importance of peace. Peace is a hallmark of God's kingdom.

We must be careful. As this somewhat extreme example shows, lives can depend on it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Missions in III John

"Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God." III John 11

Sometimes we make the Christian life seem too difficult. New believers may be overwhelmed trying to figure out how to live. The above verse provides us with a good summary of the walk of sanctification.

When we share the gospel, the information is primarily about who God is and what he has accomplished. It is only because of God's actions that we can be in a right relationship with him. We are saved only because he has saved us.

That said, believers bear fruit in keeping with righteousness. Since we are new creations, we are able through the power of the Holy Spirit to live lives that please God. But what do these lives look like?

The scriptures certainly provide us with much information about how to live out the specifics of our walks with Christ. For example, I Corinthians gives the church all sorts of information about unity, law suits, the Lord's Supper, marriage and divorce, etc.

All this information may seem a bit overwhelming at first to new followers of Jesus. That's where III John 11 is helpful. New Christians need to know that their lives should look different from that of the world. They must strive to imitate good because it is from God. All evil is not.

To read any of the posts in this NT missions series, click here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Ceremonially Unclean Side of the River

As many of you know, our family had the privilege of serving the Lord in Varanasi, India in 2006-2007. Varanasi is one of the holiest cities in all of Hinduism. You've probably seen photos such as the one above. The Hindus are ceremonially bathing in the Ganges River in the hopes of washing their sins away. Large stone steps, referred to as ghats, line the city side of the river. Literally thousands of people pilgrimage to V-town every day to dip in the Ganges.

The far side of the river is barren. I don't have a photo of it because there isn't anything to see other than a mud bar and some small trees. The far side is considered ceremonially unclean by the Hindus. Somewhat ironically, and appropriately, the Indian Christians of the city hold their baptisms on the far side. What the Hindus consider impure, the Christians embrace.

The Christians often baptize of the far side because they face less persecution there. This is completely understandable; they will face enough persecution as it is. There's no reason to foolishly invite more by trying to baptize on the ghat side. As a bonus, the far side, while considered ceremonially impure by the Hindus, is actually much cleaner because there's nothing over there.

The baptisms on the far side of the Ganges remind me of Hebrews 13:11-13:

"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."

In many ways, the Indian Christians of Varanasi have run to Christ outside the gate. When they leave Hinduism for Christianity they often face all sorts of persecution (some worse than others). The far side of the river baptisms are a perfect illustration of living outside the gate with Christ. They have given up much for His great cause. They suffer with Him. They see that it's worth it.

It's odd living here in the USA. I often wonder what it truly is to go outside the gate to live with Christ. I've never suffered in any significant way for my Lord. I'm not complaining, but it certainly seems like an anomaly compared to what most believers face around the world today.

To some extent we all suffer a little when we reject the things of the world. However, in the United States this isn't really that big of a deal. We American Christians almost never face actual persecution for following Jesus.

I suppose the best thing to do is to be ready to suffer when the time comes. We'll all likely to be called to reside outside the gate sooner or later.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I Myself Will Be the Shepherd of My Sheep

A wonderful promise from God to His people:

"For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice." Ezekiel 34:11-16

He truly is the Good Shepherd.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Missions in II John

Continuing in this series on NT missions, we turn to a very short book. The epistle of II John contains only thirteen verses. Despite this, we see something critical for an accurate sharing of the gospel.

In verses 4-5 we read, "I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady — not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning— that we love one another."

We see John mention both truth and love. Christianity is a belief-system based on truth. It is also a way of life based in love. God's truth and his love are supreme. He showed this most fully on the cross. As his followers, we are called to live lives of both truth and love. These two concepts do not exist separately; rather, the go hand-in-hand. We are not living in truth if we do not love. We cannot love if we do not abide in the truth. It is both or nothing.

John specifically mentions in these verses both walking in the truth and loving one another. Both truth and love describe God's expectations for us. Ephesians 4:15 says, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ."

The church is often tempted to either speak the truth apart from love, or express love by caving in on the truth. Neither can be forfeited.

Let's convey the importance of both truth and love as we share the good news of Christ.

He's Got My Vote:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Missions in I John

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete." I John 1:1-4

The letter of I John tells us something extremely significant as it relates to missions. In the opening to the epistle (1:1-4), John testifies to being an eyewitness to the person of Jesus Christ.

The gospel message is significant only if Jesus is a real person who actually did the things the bible describes. John announces in this letter that he, along with others, spent real time with Jesus Himself. John had not simply heard that Jesus existed. Rather, he saw, heard, and even touched Christ.

Eyewitness evidence is extremely important. When we present the gospel we have the advantage of saying that numerous people actually saw Him alive. The one hearing this must deal in some way with this evidence. It is impossible to ignore.

To read any or all posts in this NT missions series, click here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Easy Reproducibility

When my wife Alice and I were in missions training with the IMB several years ago, we were taught much about church planting. What fascinated me about our instruction was that we were told to follow the biblical model in planting churches. For example, we learned that churches should gather in homes, should have a multiplicity of unpaid leaders, should multiply quickly, etc. We studied through the book of Acts together and modeled what we were going to do on what we saw there.

I'd like to say that our training was as it was simply because that's what scripture shows us. That's not completely the case. The main reason we were taught to plant this model of church is that it "works." It is much more effective in spreading the gospel than is the institutional model of big building and salaried clergy. Simply put, the biblical model for church has easy reproducibility. The institutional model does not.

I suppose it is no surprise that what we see in scripture is also the model that works. Of course God is going to give us the model that is most effective in reaching the nations. The irony in our training, of course, is that the IMB is the Southern Baptist mission board. Institutional churches that largely reject the biblical model for church life are nonetheless financially supporting a missions agency that teaches exactly that model.

It troubles me when I hear about short-term missions trips where the people are going somewhere to build church buildings. This does more harm than good. It keeps the folks stuck to a building. It would be much better to go somewhere short-term and help the local Christians spread the gospel in any way possible.

God has provided us with the model for church life that He desires. One of the benefits of this model is that it reproduces easily. This is critical in countries where financial resources are scarce. Meeting in homes with nobody receiving a salary is an easy model to replicate from place to place. It is this model we should follow.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Missions in II Peter

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." II Peter 1:3-4 (emphasis mine)

A complete presentation of the gospel is much more than simply telling someone that Jesus died for sins. The apostle Peter writes something important in his second epistle that we should be sharing with lost people (to read the first post in this series, click here).

Peter says, " may become partakers of the divine nature." What in the world does this mean?

In light of multiple other places in the bible, it is clear that Peter does not mean that we take on divinity. Our partaking of the divine nature does not indicate that we somehow transform into the divine nature. God never changes who He is, and He does not share his divine essence. Upon salvation, we become new creations, but we don't turn into mini-gods of any kind.

To partake of something is to become directly and intimately involved with it. When we partake of the divine nature, it means we become intimately involved with God Himself. We share life with Him. He shares His glory with us for us to experience. Since we become new creations, our interests and desires become more and more like God's. We gradually become more like Him (not in divinity, but in holiness).

All of God's life is a divine life. As we abide in Him, we share in this divine life. This is a truth that we need to convey to lost folks. Much of life is pointless drudgery to those apart from Christ. Many are searching for something beyond the next fleeting worldly pleasure. We must tell them that God's plan is for His special people to share life with Him. The idea of partaking of the divine nature is attractive to at least some people.

I'm not suggesting that we stress this above other truths when we present the gospel. However, we should also not ignore it. It is an astounding thing that God allows us to partake of life with Him. Let's share this wondrous truth!

To read any post in this NT missions series, click here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Applies to the Church, Too

Although the above Voltaire quote is most likely aimed at politics, it actually applies to all of life. When it comes to the church, this maxim certainly holds true.

Ironically, the only true Head of the church, and therefore ruler, is beyond criticism. You can't criticize someone who is perfect is every way.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wow, God Must Have Been Really Tired!

"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation." Genesis 2:1-3

The first few verses of Genesis chapter two tell us what God did on the seventh day of creation. He rested. I take this to mean that God rested for a 24 hour period (count me in with AIG on this one). While I do not know what it means for God to rest, I do know that He rested for a day.

There are many who do not believe that the word "day" in Genesis chapters one and two refers to a 24 hour period. Rather, they believe it instead points to much longer periods of time, usually millions of years. The folks at Biologos, for example, think this.

If "day" in Genesis chapter one speaks of thousands or millions of years, then "day" in Genesis chapter two must mean the same. That means, according to this view, that God must have rested for thousands or millions of years. My response to this is astonishment; God must have been really tired!

We quickly see the absurdity in this. God by definition is omnipotent, sovereign, and above physical limitation. He has no need to rest for millions of years. He doesn't get tired (Jesus got tired on earth, but that was His humanity).

The word "day" is used very consistently in Genesis one-two. When interpreting this passage, we cannot simply pick-and-choose how long we think a day is. It should be the same in each instance.

If God's rest was a short one, and it certainly appears it was, then each day would have been a short period of time. Twenty-four hours sounds about right.

If there is any further question about this, the Ten Commandments make it clear how long a day is.