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.


Sunday, February 5, 2017

Thank You Church!


On Friday January 27th our home was burglarized. Since that time the church has stepped in tremendously to support us. We are doing much better now than we were a week ago. Thank you brothers and sisters in Christ!

On the 27th, after the police left, my first concern was how we were going to secure our house that night. The front door and frame were both broken. After a few phone calls, a Christian brother showed up and spent a few hours securing the door. He gave up money and time to help us.

The next day another friend called us offering to both buy us a new door and install it. Wow! That was awesome. I hadn't even begun yet really thinking about how we were going to replace the old door. After a lot of work on Saturday and Sunday, the new door was in place. Our friend had freely sacrificed most of his weekend to help us.

On the night of the break-in some neighbors bought us supper. Other folks have helped around the house with clean up, etc.

A few days ago some of my wife's close friends gave us $250. We received a check from some family members for $150. These gifts are wonderful because although the insurance company has been helpful, we still have a typical deductible.

Countless other Christian folks have been praying for us and giving us words of encouragement.

First and foremost, I want to thank our Lord God for providing for and taking care of us. Secondarily, I want to thank His church for supporting us. Although this experience has been somewhat traumatic, it has not been nearly as bad as it could have been.

One additional fact worth noting: most of the Christians who helped us are folks we do not gather with regularly. This, of course, has to do with the fact that we do not meet with many people. However, it also shows that believers don't have to only help those who they meet with on Sundays.

Today we are installing a security system in our house. We've also taken a few other measures to make our home less inviting to would-be burglars.

Thank you for your prayers!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Our Home Was Burglarized





This past Friday someone broke into our house and stole several different things. I don't have much time to write about it now since we're dealing with various issues related to getting our home back in shape. The thief or thieves kicked in our front door even though we have a dead bolt (see top photo). They took a couple of laptops, a phone, and cash. They may have departed somewhat frustrated since we don't have much expensive stuff. I praise the Lord that the bad guys didn't trash our house just for the sake of doing so. I also praise Him because a few of our friends have already helped us get a new door in place. We need to do some cosmetic stuff, but we are secure.

The police have no real leads right now; I highly doubt we will ever see the laptops again. We are ordering a security system today for our house. The worst part of all this is feeling like we have been violated. Additionally, it is very difficult to not hate the thugs who did this. I'm relying on God's grace to keep me from despising them.

I appreciate your prayers as we go through this. Our home used to be the place I felt the most secure and stress-free. For now that has been taken away. It is a difficult time. Christ will carry us through it, but quite honestly this is not a road I want to travel. I'll post in the days ahead if anything of interest happens. For now we are just trying to get life back to normal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Be Gone You Divisive Person!

"As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11).


If you ask hard questions within the context of the institutional church, expect to face opposition. If you ask hard questions about leadership within the institution, expect to be unwanted. If you challenge pastoral authority and especially salaries, expect to be labeled a divisive person and be asked/told to not come back.

The above may seem like hyperbole to some of you, but my guess is that for others of you this is what has really happened. I have a good friend, for example, who after asking some tough questions was instructed to leave a local body because he was no longer welcome.

The institutional church exists in part due to extremely poor and inconsistent biblical interpretation. When you challenge these particular interpretations, those who benefit from said interpretations are going to be none too happy. They will likely at first feel uncomfortable. Then they will provide you with some sort of unsatisfactory, shallow, and/or condescending answer. If you challenge that answer you will be asked to meet with the pastor in private. That is when, unless you surrender, you will be labeled divisive and asked to leave.

This is, of course, a perversion of the real meaning of Titus 3:10-11. Paul writes to Titus on Crete to exhort him to put the churches there in order. One of the problems is divisive people. In the verse just prior to 3:10-11, Paul says, "But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless." The apostle doesn't want Titus or anyone else on Crete to be wasting their time discussing pointless things. He also doesn't want anyone present in church gatherings who is going to stir up dissension. Paul is referring to people who cause division for the sake of division. He is not talking about Christians who ask hard questions based on sound biblical interpretation.

Let it be known that if you do challenge institutional pastoral authority and especially salaries, you will be seen as a threat. When you threaten paychecks, you will be shown the door. No matter how nicely, sincerely, and appropriately you ask, you will be given the dreaded label "divisive." At that point, they will want nothing more to do with you.

Know that it could happen to you.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Running with George Whitefield




One of the things I love most about living in Savannah is the history. For example, in 1740 George Whitefield (well-known for preaching at Jonathan Edwards' church during the Great Awakening) founded an orphanage in Savannah. Today that orphanage has been transformed into Bethesda Academy, a private Christian school for boys. A few weeks ago I ran in a fundraiser 5K at Bethesda called the Resolution Run.

The photo above was taken during the playing of the National Anthem right before the start. I'm standing just to the left of center, a few rows back in a gray shirt. I'm happy to say that the race went well considering the conditions. The Resolution Run is a trail run that meanders through a cow pasture. The footing can be a bit tricky, especially when it rains. Well, it was raining during this race, which meant running through several puddles along the way. Regardless, it was a blast. Not only was the racing fun, but I finished first in my age group. My time was 19 minutes, 30 seconds; however, we think the course was short so that time is somewhat misleading.

In the photo to the left I'm standing with my awesome wife Alice. She volunteered during the race (and also taught a Spanish class at Bethesda this past fall). I'm holding my bling - a cowbell medal, the most appropriate medal I've ever received.

I run because I love it, and it keeps me healthy. I highly recommend it. Racing is not needed, but it is fun!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Reformation Still Matters 500 Years Later Because the Gospel Still Matters 500 Years Later


This year marks the 500th anniversary of the unofficial beginning of the Protestant Reformation. October 31st, 1517 is the date of Martin Luther's nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. Although the Reformation had its faults, it still matters. It matters all these years later because the Gospel of Jesus Christ still matters.

It's popular today within many Christian circles in the USA to act as if the differences between Catholicism and Biblical Christianity aren't that significant. Excuse me, but they are still extremely significant. That's because Rome has not changed its dogma since the time of the Reformation. The reality is that Rome doesn't change. In the Middle Ages it offered a works-based salvation, and it still does today.

God used the Protestant Reformation to rescue the Gospel from the clutches of Rome. The Reformers did something that was novel at the time: they looked in the Bible to see what it had to say about salvation. What they found was justification by grace alone through faith alone. Let me repeat: they found grace in the Biblical Jesus Christ.

Today many of us have multiple copies of the Bible that we can read whenever we want. The situation was far different 500 years ago. Most folks couldn't read, and they certainly didn't have Bibles. They relied on Roman-bought priests to tell them what to believe. What the common man received was a bunch of Latin hogwash dressed up in hocus pocus. It was tradition wrapped in ceremony dressed up in, to quote that famous theologian Han Solo, "simple tricks and nonsense."

The Reformation is not about Martin Luther. The Reformation is about Jesus Christ. God has revealed His Son, the God-Man Jesus Christ, to us in the pages of scripture. What we know about Jesus we know from the Bible. Frankly, everything we know about Christ comes from scripture. Additionally, the best way to abide with Jesus is through the Bible.

The Gospel matters because Jesus Christ matters. The Reformation will not stop mattering until the Gospel stops mattering. That, of course, will never happen because Jesus is the One and only who offers true salvation: by grace alone through faith alone.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Kevin's Story

I hope more and more of you who read this blog send your stories to me. If you are interested in sharing your church journey with the rest of us please just let me know in the comments section of any post. I will reply, and we will go from there.

Today I'm linking to Kevin's story. Click on over to see what you can learn from his journey. If you have words of wisdom or encouragement please send those his way, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Greatest Among You Will Be Your Servant

"But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:8-12, NET)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

They Don't Know Where You Are


One struggle we simple church folks have is that we often don't know where other like-minded Christians are. We may as well be asking one another, "Excuse me, but where are you?"

I live in Savannah, Georgia. Our fair city has only one mega(ish)-church. This facility happens to sit less than ten minutes from where I live. Because it is so big, just about every Christian in Savannah knows where it is located.

My wife Alice and I don't have a sign outside our home. We don't have a website. We don't put on shows. We don't require police officers to direct traffic. The fact is that we don't "have a church." Rather, we simply gather with friends in our home a few times per month (other times we meet in friends' homes). Nothing about what we do stands out as unique. Therefore, nobody really knows where we are.

I find this predicament sort of sad. I believe there are other Christ-followers in Savannah who desire to gather simply, following the biblical model as faithfully (if imperfectly) as we can. However, I don't know where they are, and they don't know where we are. I don't have an easy answer for this.

When I look in the New Testament it appears that the believers who received Paul's letters knew each other. For example, when we read the epistle to the Christians in Rome the context implies familiarity among believers in that city. How did they all know each other? Were there so few that it was no problem? I do not know.

God has a mysterious way of bringing His people together. Alice and I have prayed about meeting others, and God has often delivered. Prayer is certainly critical, which almost goes without saying. Beyond that, however, what sorts of things do you do to meet others?

This post is not a lament, a complaint, or a temper tantrum. Rather, I'm simply curious and a bit confused. If you have any ideas I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tim's Story

I'd like to share more and more of your church stories/journeys with one another. We all have much to learn from both what we have experienced and what we are currently experiencing. Today I'm sharing Tim's story with you. Enjoy!


Tim and Judy's Journey Towards Greater Obedience

I was born in the Philippines to Baptist missionary parents. Except for 3 years of "furlough" living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I lived in the Philippines, attending mostly Filipino churches which are formed just like American churches. My parents were in Bible school administration and teaching, training Filipinos to lead the school and church. My father taught the men how to use the original languages and my mother taught music. Since the 1950's, the evangelical church has been exploding with growth into more remote barrios, in greater ways than most countries in Asia or in the world.

When I was seven, I realized I was a sinner and could receive forgiveness by placing faith in Christ's death and resurrection. At 13 I was baptized during one of our furlough years. After graduating from high school in the Philippines, I attended a Christian college in Oregon. For the first time in my Christian experience I engaged in Bible teaching that included extra reading, writing papers that were graded, interaction with teachers, and testing to determine if I had learned what I was taught. I had never experienced this quality of teaching in church life. The strict one way communication with no other response on my part but to listen seemed odd. I was also taught to test what I was taught to see if it was really true. I was confused by my church life in general. I knew it was important because God was involved. In my second year I was listening to a radio preacher who talked a lot about the importance of being a shepherd/pastor for God's people. I had a deep emotional experience, complete with tears, where I concluded God was calling me to become a "pastor". So I joined the Pastoral Education Major. Immediately I began to learn about contradictions between what God's word said a Pastor did and what I was told a pastor should do. The first was when a nationwide preacher came to the school for special meetings. They gathered us budding "pastors" into a leadership meeting. He told us that as a pastor, we must maintain a professional distance from the people. We were the shepherd and the people were the sheep. The two don't connect with mutuality or intimacy. I knew from reading Paul's relationship with the churches that this was bogus. I determined I would not be that kind of pastor. The second issue was sitting in homiletics class learning to lecture the Bible every week to "teach" God's people. I wondered, does "preach the word, in season and out of season" really mean lecture the word by only one man for the whole time with zero participation from any other believer for their whole life? I realized there was no way you could "exposit" this text or any other text to strictly mean lecture by one man in perpetual dependency.

I graduated and was called to be a youth pastor. I knew I was thinking outside the box and that might cause trouble. I was going to be a member of the local family of God, not just a hireling to keep the programs running smoothly. As a youth pastor I realized I was primarily a program developer for different youth age groups so they would "grow spiritually". Making disciples was not included. In a year the Sr. Pastor took a different job, and the Associate Pastor left to be a missionary. Things did not go well from then on. I was "asked to resign" which means I was told to write a letter telling the people God was calling me somewhere else. That meant I was being asked to lie to make it look like my leaving was my choice. I lied, but decided I would never tell that lie again. I realized I could be a more faithful pastor serving for free as a businessman so I would not be forced by a church management board to do things that were not making disciples. I also realized my "call to the ministry" came from men, not God. There is no call to never work a job and lecture the Bible to believers every week of their life so they never say one word to their fellow believers during the "worship service". There is a call to the opposite of that. When I say this I'm not questioning anyone else's sincerity. I am questioning the accuracy and source of their experience and their willingness to test what they have been told with the scriptures. I have seen every scripture used to justify this, and they are all twisted. Example: Romans 1:1 "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,..." This is used to mean "set apart from working in business so you can devote all your time to 'gospel' things." This is corrupted exegesis at many points. 1. The term "set apart" is a locational movement. He is leaving to bring the gospel to "all the nations" verse 5, including Rome. Verse 6. 2. The rest of the NT tells us Paul always combined marketplace work with his spiritual leadership no matter where he was. Any time he received financial help was temporary and always from saints in another town, never from where he was currently working. (Big distinctions ignored by hired experts.) 3. This "calling" creates a false dichotomy between "secular work" and "sacred work". Col. 3:23 says "whatever we do" is to be "serving Christ". Every second I am doing filthy, smelly, despised tasks, I am serving Christ. Employees are watching and see my example of joy in this work. My marketplace work is "full time ministry."

I was dating a woman I met at college. She managed her parents business. In 6 months a position opened up, and I moved to that town to learn business. This was an amazing provision of God as he was completely redirecting me out of professionalized church leadership. I am amazed as I look back. We began serving together as volunteer leaders in a large church youth ministry where one of my classmates was on staff. Finally we were making disciples. We were married in that church and over the course of 15 years served in almost every area of ministry as our two boys were born and grew up. At this time I was learning about more corruptions in this corporation oriented form of Church. I realized that it was considered normal for churches to consume 84% of their "giving" to buy services for those who gave the money. Only 16% on average went outside the church door. I was shocked to realize I was consuming most of my "giving." I asked God, "Is there a way to do all of church and send 100% of my giving beyond my own "needs"? God began answering that question immediately with scripture, very clear scripture I had been blind to. I, every preacher, and every pew sitter were blind to these truths. Example: Hebrews 10: 24 "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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." The "meeting" believers are not to "neglect" was "stirring up one another" and "encouraging one another." I had heard this preached all my life, and the meeting was strict one way communication by one man, the exact opposite of every believer participating in "one another" oriented communication. Wow! There it is. This does not require a hired pastor or a special building, the two things that force the consuming of 84% of the "giving," or it should really be called pooling. God did not stop with just this one scripture. He added more and more.

I began sharing these scriptures and many others with the saints in this fellowship, including the staff. I was on the church board so I had an "open door" with the Sr. Pastor. That door quickly shut, and the saints had no interest in talking further about these things. Soon there after the Administration Pastor and the Chairman of the Board asked to have lunch with my wife and me. We all know what that means - the official warning of being "unruly" or "out of step" from 2 Thes. 3. My wife and I realized it was time to exit and begin practicing obedience to God's instructions regardless if anyone we knew was interested. That was about 20 years ago. This journey has been completely unpredictable from one year to the next. I have stories to tell of people God connected us to and then separated, and then connected again, and so on. We have seen the power of what I call 100% church.

1. 100% of the giving goes out the door. NO pooling any money to bless ourselves. We received the truth without paying so we distribute it without anyone paying (Matthew 10:8b).
2. 100% mutual relationships . No power pyramid. No honorific titles. No offices for reserving ministry for a few experts. We are all brothers, all servants and slaves.
3. 100% two way communication. There are 58 one another instructions and no lecture instructions unless you want to assume into the text.
4. 100% reproducing leadership. Everything a leader does is "entrusted" (2 Tim. 2:1-2) to those who are "fully trained" (Luke 6:40).
5. 100% intergenerational gatherings. Never send the children away. Children can pray, read the scriptures, talk about the scriptures, ask questions, select songs they love, pass out hugs and love on people, etc. They are never considered a nuisance.

Last year in July, my wife was diagnosed with Leukemia. On December 5th God took her home. The grief for this loss is great, but I know God is working everything out for His purposes, including Judy enjoying heaven. As I share God's call to greater obedience, to further reformation with believers in traditional churches, I am finishing a free book called "When Men Are Paid To Lead". I go through most of the texts where Paul specifically teaches by word and example that spiritual leadership should always be connected with marketplace work. I have been shocked at what I have found. I am not surprised at how every professional commentator or preacher trashes their principles of exposition and explain away 8 texts on the basis of their twisting 3 texts to say the opposite of what it says. My book isn't professionally edited yet so maybe that will get done at some point. It's in PDF format so anyone who wants it can have it.

These things are not the end of transformations and clean up God wants for his church. There are many more. I'm watching out for what's next. I want to be ready.