Saturday, April 22, 2017

Do Paul & James Disagree on Justification by Faith Alone?

Paul writes, "Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified" (Galatians 2:16). James tells us, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). What is going on here? Do Paul and James contradict each other?

Click here to read Tom Schreiner's excellent answer to that question (Hint: they don't contradict).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Keeping Our Focus on Christ's Death and Resurrection

Now that Easter weekend is mercifully over, we can get back to largely ignoring Jesus' death and resurrection. Wait, did I just say that?

The church as a whole does not, I'm convinced, actively ignore the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. However, for much of the year these wonderful truths are not the church's focus. Simply put - they should ALWAYS be the church's focus. These two events stand at the epicenter of our faith and salvation. They are of core importance.

Paul reminds us of this in I Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV).

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

The apostle refers to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection as "of first importance."

We live in a culture that is extremely busy, if not very efficient. As often happens, the church emulates the culture. Most churches have all sorts of activities. Larger churches, especially mega-churches, have stuff going on all the time. My belief is that all this busyness is the primary cause of the lack of focus on the death and resurrection of Christ.

Let's be less busy. Let's also be like Paul and remember what is of first importance.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Church's Real Easter Problem


It's almost Easter, and that means bunnies, baskets, and colorful eggs. While I find these things somewhat annoying, they are generally not dangerous to the church. Some Christians believe these secular symbols confuse the actual meaning of Easter. I don't believe that. I've never met a Christian adult who struggled to differentiate between bunnies and eggs of the one hand and Jesus, the cross, and the empty tomb on the other.

The church has an Easter problem, but it had nothing to do with PAAS or anything else like that.

The church's big Easter-related problem is the focus upon "Holy Week," with particular attention on Easter Sunday. While there's nothing wrong with the week and day per se, what it does is take the church's attention off the other 51 weeks of the year. This week will be full of special services (ceremonies) focused completely upon the death and resurrection of our Lord. However, not long after Easter Sunday, the church will gradually look elsewhere. While Christ's death and resurrection will not be ignored, they also won't be the focal point.

As followers of Jesus, we have the privilege and pleasure of celebrating his death and resurrection 24/7/365. When we gather to celebrate the Lord's Supper (a real meal by the way), it should always be in memory of what Christ has accomplished through his death and resurrection. That's what the early church did.

The institutional church loves high, holy days. It allows for more special ceremonies in special buildings led by special people. However, the early church saw no need for any of that. Instead, the first century Christians got together regularly to talk, eat, sing, and generally share life. The celebration of Jesus was never relegated to specific occasions, locations, or people. Rather, everybody celebrated Jesus' death and resurrection all the time.

A lot of good things are going to happen this week. I love all the discussion of what Jesus did and what it means for us. The trouble begins next Monday. Let's do all we can to keep the focus upon our Lord's death and resurrection. What could be more important than that?

Monday, April 10, 2017

65 Hours X Two


I haven't blogged much lately because my work schedule has increased dramatically. For each of the past two weeks I've worked 65 hours. This coming week will be more of the same, but I'm thankful that we may actually have a three-day weekend (Good Friday is an official JCB holiday; I don't know why, but I'll take it).

I do plan to publish a post this Wednesday on the church's real Easter problem.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

To Beard or Not to Beard?


I decided to have a bit of fun last week. When the weather begins to turn warmer it can be difficult to decide whether or not to keep the beard.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

What Do You Do When You Gather?

"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." (I Cor. 14:26, ESV)

"What should you do then, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each one has a song, has a lesson, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all these things be done for the strengthening of the church." (I Cor. 14:26, NET)

"How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." (I Cor. 14:26, NKJV)



On this blog I write quite a bit about the reason for church gatherings: mutual edification.

This topic is critical for at least three reasons. First, the scriptures are clear that this is in fact the purpose of the church coming together (see for example I Cor. 14:26 above in three different translations). Second, many Christians today have no idea that this is the reason for meeting; instead, they believe it is for "worship" (which they have no ability to define). Third, the church is in desperate need of more mutual edification. This is the only way it will move past its largely immature state.

Keeping in mind that God wants us to gather for edification, I have a specific question for you: What do you do when you gather?

I'm not speaking in generalities here. Rather, I'd like to hear specifics. What do you do personally? Also, what does your group do?

I'm not going to jump on you for anything I disagree with. I may question you on it, but nothing disrespectful. Frankly, my hope as always is to learn through challenging discussion. That said, what do you do?

I'd very much like for you to leave your answer in the comments section. Thanks.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Fellowship on the Run


The more I run and race, the more I realize that what I enjoy most is the fellowship. About one week ago I ran in the Skidaway Island Marathon, in suburban Savannah. This was my fourth lifetime marathon (marathon distance is always 26.2 miles). I'm very happy to say that this was the best of the four - not fastest, but best. I wasn't in much pain, and the experience was fabulous. The primary reason for this was the fellowship that I experienced pre-race, during the race, and post-race. The photos I've included tell the story. The first two are of me hanging with friends before the race. The third and fourth photos were taken around mile seven. The fourth picture is key because it shows me running beside Christine, who was a 3 hour, 30 minute pacer. It was her job to finish in that time; I just went along for the ride. We talked for much of the race. Around mile 18 I realized that all the other runners in our group had fallen off the pace. Therefore, we just kept talking. It was great because it helped me keep my mind off the discomfort while hitting the wall just after mile 20. I ended up finishing, as you can see in the following two photos, in 3 hours, 27 minutes.

After the race, I was able to spend more time with friends I've made in the Savannah running community. The last photo is the best. My biggest supporter in this endeavor is my wife, Alice. A runner herself, Alice spent this morning assisting me. She was there at mile 19 to hand me some Gatorade and GU. She was also there at the finish. There is a reason she is known, at least to our family, as Awesome Alice.

A special thanks to Endurance Race Services for yet again putting on a superb race!

My hope for you is that you combine fellowship with activities that you enjoy. Maybe you don't like to run. That's fine. What do you like to do? Whatever that is, try to make it a time of community.















Saturday, April 1, 2017

Priesthood of All Believers?


This meme/comic has been around for a while. I believe I've even posted it here in the past. However, it's so on point that I'm putting it up here again. The simple fact is that one person giving a lecture to a silent audience week after week is the complete opposite of the priesthood of all believers. How sad it is that within Protestantism the sermon has essentially become a sacrament. Most people tolerate it because they think they have to. How much better it is when the entire body actively functions during the gathering to build itself up in Christ!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Reformation Hymn


I have mixed emotions about the Protestant Reformation. On the one hand, I'm thrilled that the Reformers studied scripture, and in doing so uncovered the biblical Gospel that had been largely shrouded by Roman Catholicism for so many years. On the other hand, the Reformers for the most part did not look to the bible to inform what they believed about church life. Frankly, the majority of the church today functions in a very similar fashion to Rome.

One of my favorite aspects of the Reformation is the Five Solas (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria). In part because this is the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of his 95 Theses, Bob Kauflin and Chris Anderson have written a new, excellent piece entitled Reformation Hymn. Click here to listen, enjoy, and be edified!

Friday, March 24, 2017

I Guess I Haven't Evolved Enough


I came across this graphic a little while back. I can only assume that a Wordpress person put it together. Well, bully for them! I'm remaining in my caveman state with Blogger. Ha!

Monday, March 20, 2017

NTRF

If I was only allowed to recommend one site to you about church practice it would be New Testament Reformation Fellowship (NTRF).

According to the NTRF website, "The New Testament Reformation Fellowship is simply a fellowship of brothers who desire to continue the reformation of today’s church by the adoption of New Testament church practice." It goes on to say, "We advocate orthodox Evangelical Christian theology poured into the wineskin of New Testament church practice as established by the apostles."

Click on the link and enjoy the massive amount of helpful information you will find!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Two Wonderful Things


I highly recommend both coffee and blogging. However, if you have to choose one, take the coffee.

Monday, March 13, 2017

How Much Freedom Do We Have In Our Gatherings?

Those of us who are in Christ are free from the Law. Romans 8:1-2 tells us, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." What a wonderful truth this is!

Our salvation is not contingent upon our following of the Old Testament Law. Our salvation is contingent upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and His resultant resurrection. Additionally, as we live today we are not expected to live according to the O.T. Law. Rather, God has laid out His expectations for us in the New Testament (with some input from the Old).

This brings up an interesting question: How much freedom do we have in our church gatherings?

Since Christ has set us free from the Law, can we do whatever we want when we get together? Or, are we allowed to do whatever we think is right as long as we don't specifically violate commands of scripture? Or, should we try to emulate every aspect of church meetings that we see in the New Testament?

I believe the best answer to the above question is that as we come together as the Bride of Christ we should be following principles set forth in the New Testament. While we may have some freedom in the details, we must follow the principles that God has made clear and unavoidable for us. Those principles include, but are not limited to, the following (in no particular order):

Jesus Christ is the unquestioned Head.
Gatherings are to be Holy Spirit led and directed.
Everything that occurs is to be for mutual edification.
Meetings are to essentially be family get-togethers.
The body eats together (the Lord's Supper).
Group participation is the norm.
Each person uses his or her spiritual gifts to benefit the body.
Children are present and active.
Meetings are simple, preferably in homes.
Gatherings are a time to carry out the one-anothers.
Leadership = service.
Elders come from within the body.
Meetings are free-flowing and generally unplanned (unceremonial).
Reading of scripture takes place.
Giving is to meet needs.
Decision making comes through consensus.


The above are principles were approved of by the writers of the New Testament. The Bible testifies about itself that all scripture in inspired by God (II Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.") Therefore, we can and should trust that God approves of these principles and expects us to gather according to them.

So, how much freedom do we have when we gather? We have as much as we need as long as we first focus on meeting by God's principles.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

It's Low Attendance Sunday!


This is the day each year in the United States that churches experience low attendance. That's what springing forward and losing an hour will do. Lot's of folks who normally think they must attend weekly worship services conveniently come up with an excuse to skip today. Funny how that works.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

God Has Given Us All We Need

God has given us all we need to be the church He wants us to be. Period.

God has done everything in the work of salvation. We only know Him by His grace.

God has also done everything that we, His people, need in order to live in the manner He desires and expects. Far too often Christians act as if God has left some things out when it comes to the life of the church. This is when the trouble begins. They decide to invent new things that they think will benefit the body. Simply put, they are wrong. God neither needs nor asks for our creativity. It's fine to be creative in other aspects of life, but as it relates to the church it is unnecessary. By giving us the Holy Spirit and the Bible, God has done all that needs to be done. The Holy Spirit empowers and convicts us. The Bible instructs us. This is all we need.

I tire of hearing well-intentioned Christians speak about all the new things their churches are doing. Instead, what they ought to be doing is looking in scripture to see where they are and are not following the model God has given to us. If you look at almost any institutional church you will find a long laundry list of things that have absolutely no Biblical basis. These churches routinely spend large portions of their budgets on all sorts of stuff that, quite frankly, God doesn't care about.

If you read this blog, then you are likely convinced that what we see of the church in scripture is far more than descriptive. Rather, it is prescriptive. The institution fails to see this, much to its detriment. Since we recognize the authoritative nature of the Bible in church life, it's our responsibility to look at self. Are we obeying that model? Are we following it? Or, are we sort of playing around with it, picking and choosing what we like and don't like? It's simple and quite easy to point the finger at all the ways institutional churches are failing. More difficult is looking in the mirror to see where we are being disobedient.

God has given us all we need. I challenge you to take a hard look to see where you may be falling short. It can be a painful process, but it is utterly worthwhile.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Links

This past weekend I spent some time looking through the sites I've linked to in the past. Some no longer exist while others no longer interest me.

I reduced the number of links to only those sites I truly care about and recommend. I've ordered them alphabetically by topic. Also, I'm focusing on just one site per topic. My goal is to make the links page more user-friendly.

Click here to visit my links page or simply click on the tab above.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Three Key Questions to Ask Yourself

What is discipleship?

How is discipleship occurring within my local body of believers?

How am I actively discipling and being discipled?

Monday, February 13, 2017

Thinking On What The Church Can Be

Beware the trap of spending much time lamenting what the church is not. Instead, let's dwell upon what Christ's church can be.

I think we all agree that the church in this country has a multitude of problems. The shackles that the institution has placed upon the body of Christ are powerful. We can clearly see the lack of vitality within the church due to the man-made traditions that have been foisted upon it.

We need to sometimes point out the problems in order to discuss solutions. What we must avoid is spending much of our time only focusing on the problems. Instead, let's talk about both solutions and possibilities. After all, the church can be a powerful tool for good when it simply follows what God has told us in scripture.

My encouragement, therefore, to both you and me is to spend more time pondering what the family of God can be. After doing this, let's simply live it out. Some things we already know; we should be doing these things (and maybe already are). Let's ask God to show us how to live in a powerful way for Him, free from man's traditions and institutions. Let's also spend a little less time dwelling upon what the church is not. The institution isn't going away. It simply is what it is.

What can the church be? Led by the Holy Spirit and following scripture, the church can be a dynamic, mighty force for good in this world. Let's focus on being a part of that!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hammering the Half


This past Saturday I competed in the half marathon portion of the Critz-Tybee Run Fest. That's me above in the red shirt. Although it looks like I'm in pain, I really wasn't at that point in the race. For some reason I always look like that when I run. Believe it or not, I really was having a blast.

My goal for the race was to break one hour and 35 minutes. I'm thrilled that despite the cold and wind I finished in 1:33:03. That's my fastest half marathon in fifteen years! Woo! Additionally, I finished first in my age group (45-49 years). Overall, I was 37th out of over 500 finishers. The best part of the race was that it took place on Tybee Island, which is basically Savannah's beach. While the race was all on asphalt, we did have some glimpses of the ocean. We also ran right past the lighthouse.

Another bonus is that this race was relatively easy for me. That gives me hope that next month I will be able to complete the Skidaway Marathon (all 26.2 miles) without too much trouble. That is one of my goals for 2017.

I have no idea whether or not you exercise. I highly encourage it. I choose to run because I love it, it's convenient, it's relatively inexpensive, and it makes me feel great. In fact, I think I'll go for a run right now.