Monday, March 28, 2011

I Don't Know What's Going to Happen

One of the aspects of our church family gatherings that I love is that I don't know what's going to happen. When we come together we have no script, plan, or bulletin. Instead, each person is free to add to the gathering at any time. Because of this, we really have no idea what is going to happen as we gather.

Because the goal of the gatherings is God's glory through mutual edification, we do have some sense of what will generally occur. There will be much conversation. We will likely sing, pray, teach, listen, encourage, exhort, challenge, possibly cry, and definitely eat. All this will be done in the name of Jesus Christ.

Since we do not follow any sort of pre-planned schedule, this keeps things from getting dull.  Instead of deciding beforehand what we think should happen, we instead wait for the leading of the Holy Spirit. This causes each gathering to be different from the one before. Sometimes we sing a lot; other times we don't. Sometimes we spend quite a bit of time discussing scripture; sometimes not so much. Some days we focus on struggles and temptations; other times we may deal more with how to reach out to the broader community.

As we attempt to follow the I Cor. 14 model, we strive to take something with us to add to the conversation. This may be a teaching, a song, a prayer, a revelation, etc. We may anticipate adding this to the gathering, but the Spirit may tell us not to do so. Or, He may tell us to add it at the beginning, the middle, or the end.

We usually do not know what others are planning to bring (at least not other than the food). Each week I look forward to how God will use others in the church family to build up the body. Although this usually occurs through conversation, I don't know in advance what exactly this will look and sound like.

This variety keeps things exciting. We don't know what the Holy Spirit will do, but we anticipate something wonderful each week. While the gathering is by no means entertainment, it is nonetheless exciting in Christ.

I'm already looking forward to what the Spirit will do the next time we get together. I hope you feel the same way about your church family gatherings.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You Write the Caption

What does this picture mean?  Write a caption in the comments section.


Saturday, March 26, 2011

On Hebrews 10:24-25

Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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."

These are fascinating verses both for what they say and what they don't say.  In general, what strikes me is that the author to the Hebrews cares more about mutual encouragement during the church gathering than he does about any specific activities that may take place.

When we think about the assembled body of Christ, we often fall into a bit of a trap.  We tend, myself included, to think through various things that are going to happen: praying, singing, teaching, eating, testifying, giving a revelation, reading scripture, etc., etc.  In these two above verses, the author doesn't speak about any of those things.  I'm not suggesting that they aren't important, but the author of this letter appears to believe that the specific activities are less important than the overall building up of the body.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Excellent Post on Hermeneutics

Dr. Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (my alma mater), has written an excellent and helpful two-part blog post dealing with biblical hermeneutics. Let's face it: this is a critical issue for all of us. If we cannot interpret the bible correctly, we are destined to run into serious trouble in our lives.

Below I've quoted four short paragraphs from the post that stand out to me as excellent points. I conclude with a fifth quote that, I believe, illustrates the struggles we all have in determining how to correctly interpret narrative and/or descriptive passages. Click here and here to read the post in full.

1.  "It is important to understand this principle: the individual words of biblical texts have meaning within sentences, paragraphs, and books. A word’s meaning is determined by its relationship to other words within the context of sentences and paragraphs."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Photography

Click here to see and enjoy some excellent photographs from my daughter Caroline.

The Cross Covers Church Life

A big part of the purpose of this blog is the discussion of church life. No surprise there. In doing this, my hope is that we will all be stretched by scriptural truths to be the church that God desires. This can be painful and difficult at times, but well worth it in the end.

That said, none of us is ever going to either perfectly figure out what the church should be or live out what we have discovered. Despite our attempts, we will still fall short of the ideal. Sin has a nasty way of distorting even our best intentions.

In light of these failings, I'm thrilled to remember that Jesus' work on the cross covers church life. In His grace, God forgives our mistakes, failures, and disasters in church life.  His showers His great mercy down upon all Christians as we sort of take "two steps forward and one step back" in the church.  We all desperately need this grace.

No matter if we are a part of a denomination or not, a house fellowship or not, a mega church or not, a missions team or not, etc., we need God's grace to cover our church practices.  Even if we try as best we can to selflessly serve others as Christ did, we will still fall short of Jesus' perfect example.  Even if we strive to carry out the "one-anothers of the bible" as we read them, we won't be perfect (or even close).

Thank the Lord for His great grace! I need it in all areas of my life - including the church. The more I study the church in scripture, the more I see how much I still don't understand and how much more I fail to live out. This is not a blog post based in false humility. This is reality.

As we live today and every day as the church, let's bask in the grace of God. We should certainly try to be as biblical as we can regarding the church (and we will certainly have differences of opinion about what some of this will mean). At the same time, let's take tremendous comfort in God's gracious attitudes towards our failings.

His grace is greater than our sin!  He is indeed worthy of our praise.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Good Test of Community

Here's the simple test:

Can you name everyone in your church family?  Write down their names.

Please let me say a few things about this:

First, I'm not referring to the universal church; instead, I'm talking about the group of Christians you regularly gather with.

Second, just because you may know the names of all the people you normally get together with, this does not ensure community.

Third, you may actually be in community with some but not all of the people who normally go to the same building you do on Sundays.

Back to the test - can you name all the people you usually gather with?

A Quick Thought

Community in Christ is orthodoxy in Christ.  The two should not and cannot be separated.

As the church comes together, Jesus Christ is present in His body. We positivity impact (mutually edify) one another only because of Christ in us. He uses us to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ.  He uses them to do the same for us.

I know others have written extensively on this topic.  I have no desire to do that right now.  My point is simply to say that I agree.

Our beliefs about the Trinity, the atonement, the resurrection, etc. do not conflict in any way with beliefs about community, edification, mutuality, etc.  In fact, we most fully live out all of these beliefs in the context of the assembled body of Christ.

Monday, March 21, 2011


This is an example of how good intentions and lots of practice cannot make up for bad theology (and taste).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Reading Less, Reading Slower, Reading Better

Now that God has graciously granted me a full-time job, I have far less time to read. This is somewhat of a problem because I'm a relatively slow reader anyway. In light of this, I may now end up only reading one book every couple of months.

This forced reading slow down has caused me to think about how I read, what I read, and why I read. My tendency in the past has been to read fairly quickly through numerous books.  I think seminary had something to do with this.  I find myself "finishing" a book after a few days, but at the same time I don't have a deep sense of what the author was trying to communicate. That sort of defeats the purpose.

I'm beginning philosophical change to my reading habits. My goals are to read less, read slower, and read better. The reading less part has already started. Instead of trying to read quickly to catch up to some sort of arbitrary, self-imposed reading schedule, I now plan to read slower than in the past.  I hope that the slow down will cause me to read better.  By this, I mean improved retention and critical thinking.

In addition, I'm going to try to be more selective in what  I read.  I have had a tendency to rush to to order the newest copy of whatever is popular among Reformed evangelicals.  No more of that.  I'm instead going to wait, see what people are saying, and then make a purchase if it seems wise to do so.  On a related note, I'm going to branch out by reading a wider variety of authors (even some Arminians!)

I hope my reading improves.  If you are in a similar boat to me, I encourage you to slow down and read better as well.

Monday, March 14, 2011

House Church - Series Summary

To summarize this series, I'm a house church advocate because I believe it is the best model of church life. This is grounded in my belief in the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of scripture.

Jesus Christ, as Head of His church, has shown us all we need to know in the bible to live as His church in a manner that pleases Him. The house church strives to actively live out what is commanded, what is shown in principle, and what is modeled for the church in the scriptures.

Click below to read any of the posts from this series on the house church:

House Church - Trying to Follow the Biblical Model
House Church - Gathering in Homes
House Church - Seeking Community
House Church - Holy Spirit Guided Participation
House Church - Spiritual Gifts
House Church - Mutual Edification
House Church - What About Women?
House Church - Keeping the Family Together
House Church - The Lord's Supper Feast
House Church - Striving for Consensus
House Church - Non-Hierarchical Leadership
House Church - Teaching
House Church - Discipleship
House Church - Giving
House Church - Missions
House Church - Unity
House Church - Reproducibility
House Church - Flexibility
House Church - Challenges (Part 1)
House Church - Challenges (Part 2)
House Church - Series Summary

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"It's Not Utopia"

I like the above sign because it shows that we have not reached utopia. This is certainly true of the church, including the house church.

Last year I was talking with Steve Atkerson, editor of the book House Church. He specifically told me of house church life, "It's not utopia." Steve is right. Because the church is composed of people, and we all still struggle with various sins, no model of church is going to lead to any sort of utopia. Like other ways of living out church life, the house church faces various challenges (see here and here).

This should not surprise us. When we look in the New Testament we see churches, which generally gathered in homes, dealing with all sorts of problems. Below is only a partial list:

Acts 6:1, "Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution."

Friday, March 11, 2011

God at Work

I'd like to share with you a bit about how God has shown Himself providentially through my getting a new job.

When I attended an initial recruitment day, I knew the competition would be stiff. I've heard that over 2,000 people applied for about forty positions. By the grace of God alone I received one of those forty jobs. Keep in mind that I have no experience in manufacturing, electronics, or assembly. It doesn't "make sense" by the world's standards for JCB to have hired me. It tends to be difficult for former occupational pastors to find jobs.

God has also provided an excellent schedule. I tend to be a morning person, so getting up at 4:30 isn't too difficult. I'm tired, but some of that is simply mental strain from the first week of work. Since I'm getting up early the traffic is basically nonexistent for my morning commute. The early schedule allows for both overtime (50 hours again next week) and evenings at home with my family.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Too Tired to Blog

Although I'm not as exhausted as the lady above, I am very tired.  This has been my first week at work here in Savannah for JCB.  I'm extremely thankful to the Lord for this new opportunity.  I'll write more about that this weekend when I am more coherent.  I'm tired because of the mental strain of learning a new position combined with the physical strain of getting up at 4:30 and working forty hours in the past four days.  I'm beginning to get used to the schedule, but I'm not there yet.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

White Collar to Blue Collar

Tomorrow morning I begin my new job with JCB.  Although I'm not exactly sure what I'll be doing, I do know that I'll be in assembly. I'm thrilled about the schedule because I'll have my evenings and weekends (at least Sundays) free to be with my family. The only downside is that the mornings will be early (waking up at 4:30), but I'll adjust.

I'm moving from white collar back to blue collar, from being a salaried pastor to working on an assembly line.  This has sort of been the story of my life.  I move from blue collar to white collar to blue collar to white collar, etc.  After working a variety of blue collar jobs in college, I jumped into the white collar world as a school psychologist.  When I went to seminary, I was employed at blue collar UPS.  Upon graduation, we moved overseas into the sort of white/blue collar world of missions work.  After returning home and dealing with my son's cancer, I was hired into the white collar world of pastoral work.  Now I'm going to JCB.  I even bought a couple of blue collar shirts to start.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

When We're Most Like Jesus

Mark 10:42-45, "And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'"

In these verses Jesus explicitly says that He came to earth "to serve."  He also says that in His kingdom servanthood equals greatness.

I'm struck by the fact that we're most like Jesus when we are serving others.  I'm obviously not referring to Christ's divinity, perfection, omnipotence, etc.  Rather, I'm talking about His attitude and actions while He was here on earth.  As we read through the gospels we see the incarnated Lord traveling from place to place doing for other people. The night before He died He washed His disciples' nasty, sweaty, dirty feet. The summit of Jesus' service came on the cross.

Friday, March 4, 2011

House Church - Challenges (Part 2)

A couple of days ago I posted about some challenges that house churches face. While these specific challenges to not apply only to house churches, they are certainly possible difficulties that those in house church life must deal with. I discussed five challenges in the previous post. Below are five more:

6. Isolationism.  It is easy to become part of a house church fellowship and sort of leave the rest of the broader church behind.  This tendency may come from the joy of leaving behind man-made structures and traditions in exchange for more authentic, simple church life.  Whatever the reason, if any church body begins to isolate itself from the church as a whole, this is not healthy.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Now On Twitter

Unlike my friend Alan Knox, I tend to avoid new technology until I can resist it no longer. This has been my pattern with e-mail, blogging, Facebook, and now Twitter.

A few days ago I read a good post by Frank Viola entitled Twitter vs. Facebook: Reflections, Comparisons, and Ministry Perspective. He does a nice job of showing the significant differences between the two. In part because of his article, I finally gave in and signed up for a Twitter account.

While I'm not as popular as Charlie Sheen, Tim Tebow, or John Piper, I'm happy to say that I now have a whopping 11 followers. Look out world! In case you are wondering, my username is ericcarpenter70. Despite my technology failings, I even managed to link from my Twitter to both my Facebook and blog.

I have no doubt that in a few years some new form of social media will sweep the globe. I'll resist for about three years and then cave to the pressure.  At least I'm consistent.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

House Church - Challenges (Part 1)

Thus far in this extended series on house church life I've focused primarily on positive aspects. The reality, however, is that house churches have challenges as well. The main reason for this is that, like all churches, house fellowships are composed of people. Since we all still struggle with sin, we will inevitably face challenges.

As I've thought through various challenges, I managed to boil it down to ten.  I'll address five in this post and five more in the next.  Some of these challenges are things that I've experienced while others I've simply read about.

1. Pride. I believe this is the greatest danger to any church including house churches. When we act prideful, we are basically saying that we know best, we act best, and we are best. Yikes.

This can be a particular challenge within the house church as it relates to how the church should function. First, we can become prideful in our attitudes toward those in institutional/traditional churches. Since most within the house church have made a decision to leave institutional churches for biblical reasons, it is dangerously easy to slide into the sin of thinking we are somehow better. Second, even within the house church itself we can get prideful in how we think things "should be." This may be how we think the gathering should go, when we should get together, what leadership should look like, etc., etc., etc.

We must always be on the lookout for pride in our lives. We are no better than anyone else. We must remember this.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

God the Great Provider

God has answered our prayers for a job!

I'm thrilled to say that yesterday I received a phone call from JCB here in Savannah. I initially thought the call was simply to set up an interview. Instead, the man offered me a job on the spot. I start orientation on Monday.

I'd love to be able to tell you that I've been faithful to God through these trying months. The reality is that my faith has wavered at times. I praise the Lord that He, in His great, surpassing grace, never fails us.

God was under no obligation to provide this job. He simply did it because He is always perfectly loving, merciful, providential, and absolutely sovereign.

This setting should provide numerous opportunities to get to know many different people. I'm looking forward to interacting with both lost and saved folks at the job site. Since my position will involve assembly of large equipment, I won't be talking all the time. Still, there should be ample opportunity to build relationships.

Thank you so much for your prayers about this.

God has once again shown Himself to be the great provider.