Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Lord's Dessert

On Friday night we gathered with about twenty other believers. Some friends of ours decided to simply invite other Christians over to their home. Although I was tired from working about sixty hours this week, our family decided to go anyway. It sounded like too much of a good time to pass up.

The simplicity of the meeting was wonderful. After hanging out for a bit, we all crammed into the living room/dining room areas. We then spent some time looking through several different biblical passages that focus on the Passover. After reading and discussing the OT foreshadowing and the NT fulfillment in Jesus Christ, we partook of the Lord's Dessert.

I refer to it as the "Lord's Dessert" because we didn't eat a full meal together. We had all eaten something prior to arriving, so at this gathering we had bread, juice and/or wine, and various desserts. It was sweet both literally and figuratively. I think I had some coconut creme pie, a brownie, and a cookie. While we ate, we again just sat around and talked about life. The ages ranged from about five to sixty-five.

The key in this, of course, is not the type of food consumed or even the food at all. The beautiful aspect is the body of Christ coming together and edifying one another. It didn't take much planning or effort. It only required brothers and sisters meeting to share life.

Edification is not the ultimate purpose of the Christian's life. Worship is. However, edification leads to worship. Therefore, its great significance.

I hope you have regular opportunities to get together with other Christians to celebrate the Lord's Supper in a variety of ways.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Number 7: Holidays

Since we're in the middle of what some people refer to as "Holy Week," this seems like a good time to deal with the issue of holidays. Although holidays often appear innocent enough, I believe they are part of Ten Church Structures That Hinder Disciple Making.

I'm not referring to all holidays (such as Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, or even Halloween). Rather, I'm specifically talking about the two holidays most Christians celebrate without question: Christmas and Easter. I'll admit to having mixed emotions about this. Additionally, let me say up front that I don't really have a problem with Christians celebrating these days as long as they have thought through what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Why, then, might the celebration of Christmas and/or Easter hinder disciple making? Five reasons:

1. There's simply no biblical support for either. The early church did not observe either day. In fact, Christmas and Easter as we know them did not come around for many years after the bible was penned.

2. It confuses what is pagan and what is Christian. Both Christmas and Easter have pagan origins (which are very old). The annual celebrations of both these days mix pagan with Christian.  Just look at all the churches that have Easter Egg hunts.

3. Legitimate biblical holidays exist. If Christians desire to take part in holidays, then why not celebrate some of the feasts we see in scripture? I remember one time taking part in a Passover meal led by a Jewish Christian man. It was wonderful.

4. The Lord's Supper is a celebration, but is usually not practiced that way. Sadly, many churches have transformed it into a funeral-type snack. When the Lord's Supper is celebrated as intended it feels like a big family party (as it should be!)

5. Celebrating Christmas and Easter artificially focuses the church on one aspect of Christ's life during only one part of the year. For example, how many people do you hear talking about the incarnation right now? All the focus is on the death and resurrection. What about a few months from now? We should be celebrating these great truths all year long.

My big concern is that celebrating Christmas and Easter can be very confusing to new believers. We tell them to search the scriptures for truth. However, Christmas and Easter cannot be found in the bible. Also, the new believers may wonder why the incarnation and resurrection are largely ignored for much of the calendar year.

That said, I do believe these celebrations can be turned to a positive. The key is to focus on the biblical accounts that the celebrations are now based upon. These are great truths to be taught and cherished. It is also important to explain that there is no intersection between the pagan and the Christian. Finally, let's embrace the incarnation and especially the resurrection all year long.

If handled wisely these two holidays offer much opportunity for wonderful teaching. Additionally, lost folks tend to be more open at these times of year to discussing these truths. We must be careful, however, that we do not allow these holidays to become stumbling blocks for the reasons listed above.

What do you think? Do you celebrate these days? If so, how do you handle them?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ten Church Structures That Hinder Disciple Making

Jesus Christ's church is a wonderful thing. I'm thrilled to be a part of it. On numerous occasions in my life I've witnessed the church do things that both honor God and stun the world. What a thrilling family to be a part of!

Despite the overall positives to the church, problems still exist. Many of these problems stem directly from man-created traditions that have ensnared the body of Christ. Once these traditions can be properly identified, solutions can be put in place to remedy the situation. This needs to occur within the body because many traditions are hindering the disciple making that should be taking place.

Most traditions are directly related to church structures that have come to dominate church life. Ten specific structures come to mind that are causing consistent harm to the life of Christ's church. Many of the ten are largely unquestioned by the majority of Christians. However, they will continue to stunt the spiritual vitality of the church if not dealt with.

Over the next few weeks I'll be counting down a list of the top ten most problematic church structures. My purpose in this mini-series not to insult or denigrate anyone. Rather, my desire is to identify problems and attempt to offer solutions.

Number ten is coming soon.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Expository Discussion

I have many fond memories of my time in seminary. One outstanding aspect of life at Southeastern was the constant challenge by both professors and friends to understand the meaning of the biblical text. We students were exhorted again and again to remember that the key is what the original author intended. This stands in stark contrast to the postmodern thought which permeates some churches today (the ideas that texts have no absolute meaning and that the reader brings meaning to the text).

At the seminary level, the first goal is to correctly understand the biblical text. The second is to preach that text in an expository manner. This simply means to explain the meaning of the text to those listening.

While I'm a big proponent of accurate exposition, I've rejected the traditional definition of preaching. Much more beneficial for the church is what we could refer to as expository discussion. This refers to a free-flowing conversation among a group of people seeking to accurately understand what God has said in the scriptures.

Expository discussion takes the best of expository preaching while rejecting the worst. It seeks to know what the original authors of the bible meant while doing so in a give-and-take setting.

Expository discussion is based in the idea that the church is a fully functioning priesthood of all believers. All Christians have the ability to read and understand what God has said. Some may be more experienced at this process, but all can and should participate.

Since all have the ability to read (or at least listen to) scripture and discuss it, the group dynamic is often a fascinating one. In a room with, for example, twelve people, the group can benefit greatly by what the Holy Spirit has to add through all twelve people. While the biblical text means one thing, the group has a way of seeing and describing that one thing is different ways. This helps all involved better comprehend both what God means and how they should respond to this.

A key in expository discussion is that all involved have the authority, under the direction of the Spirit, to say what they think the text means. Of course, there can occasionally be error which needs to be addressed. However, this is not the norm. Believers should be encouraged to add to the discussion. I've experienced many "A-ha!" types of moments listening to brothers and sisters simply describing what they believe a specific verse means. No one in the group has to wait for some outside expert to walk in and tell them what it really means.

I hope you are part of a small group of some type that functions in this way. It could be a home group, a Sunday School class, or simply friends getting together over coffee here and there. Regardless, expository discussion is deeply enriching. It never fails to challenge me. Almost every time I take part in it I see something new I'd never thought of before. This is not always comfortable, but it is beneficial.

Every Sunday our church family gets together. We are currently studying through both Genesis and Proverbs. Each week we discuss a chapter from both books. It never (literally) fails that someone says something that makes me think deeply about what I think I already know. I'm looking forward to this coming Sunday already. I hope you are as well.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Let's All Be the Proclaimers We've Been Called to Be

The word "preacher" has taken on all sorts of traditional baggage that was never intended. A "preacher" in scripture was someone who shares the good news with unbelievers. Today it usually refers to someone speaking to the church from behind a pulpit. For this reason, I much prefer the word "proclaimer." This word is free from the distortions of tradition.

I'm happy to see that the translators of the ESV decided to use "proclaim" instead of "preach" in one of the key Great Commission passages. In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." Mark 16:15 is not directed to only some specific subset of special Christians. Rather, it applies to all of us. Therefore, let's be the proclaimers God calls us to be.

Below is a favorite song of mine by a group called The Proclaimers. They are not a Christian group and this is not a Christian song. Despite that, I really like the music.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Intentionality in Disciple Making

I'd recently been thinking that it would be beneficial if the adults in our church family (myself included) were more intentional in disciple making. In particular I was pondering this happening during our church family gatherings. As these thoughts were sort of bouncing around in my mind, one of the other men in our group said, "It would be great if we would be more intentional in making disciples as we get together." I took this as confirmation from God that we are on the right track.

I don't know exactly what this will look like but I'm excited about it. Some disciple making certainly involves talking, but it also requires doing. One of the greatest ways to make disciples is to serve others together. That may have to happen outside the regular gathering (which would of course be fine).

I know that many of you are actively involved in disciple making.  How do you go about this individually and as a group?

I'm interested to hear your thoughts as we as a church family try to be more intentional.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jon On Elders

Jon at Jon's Journey shares some excellent thoughts in a recent post entitled Levites Priests and Elders.

I'm particularly interested in what Jon writes about elders. He makes a solid case that what we see in the Old Testament should inform how we think about elders in the New Testament. According to Jon, "Throughout the Old Testament we also see many references to elders. Elders had a recognized role in the Jewish community. They were older men with experience that the community respected and relied on for guidance."

Jon continues regarding the New Testament, "As the church expanded into non-Jewish communities, older respected men were recognized as elders in these new communities as well.

By using the term elder, I believe the writers of the New Testament had a different role in mind that what we tend to see today. There is no evidence these elders were responsible for religious buildings, church programs, church organizational policy, or church staff. There is no evidence they were elected for a limited term, and then became non-elder laity again a few years later.

I believe the role of elders is important, and it makes sense to study what the Bible has to say on the topic. Consider who are the older respected people in your life. Recognize who they are. Go to them for advice and guidance. Let them influence you. And at some stage in life you may play the role of elder to others in your community."

I appreciate that Jon is trying to understand what the scripture writers actually meant when they used the term elder. Only when we have correct definitions in mind will we truly understand the bible.