Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No Guarantee

As we come together as the church, we can try to follow the biblical model as much as possible.  For example, we can meet in homes, celebrate the Lord's Supper as a complete meal, remain together with all ages present, engage in participatory discussions, avoid the clergy/laity divide, etc., etc.

These things are all fine but they do not guarantee that the purpose of the meeting will be fulfilled.  The purpose is the edification of the body in Christ to the glory of God.  The above structural attributes of gatherings are great, but in the end they aren't very important if we lose sight of why we come together in the first place.

What can we do about this?  As we gather, we must make a concerted effort to focus on the needs of others in our conversations and actions.  If we make this attempt, I believe the Holy Spirit will give us plenty of opportunities to make this happen.  It may occur in the larger group setting or in individual or small group type conversations.  It might be a simple act of sacrificial service.  It may also take place at any time during the week, not just the Sunday gathering.

While at our gatherings, sometimes I find myself just sort of talking with others. This is fine some of the time, but if I'm not making some kind of an effort at mutual edification, then I'm likely wasting a great opportunity. We can make a deep impression on others when we inquire about how their lives are going and how they're doing in Christ. We should be able to have these types of discussions fairly easily with those we know so well.

I simply want to encourage us all to be intentional in our efforts at mutual edification as the body gathers. Otherwise we miss the point of the meeting altogether. There are no guarantees.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We Need Each Other

"For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged." I Cor. 14:31

What an amazing verse this is. As the church gathers, we can all speak. The specific context here is giving a word of prophecy, but it likely applies to other forms of speech as well.

We see here our need for each other. The spoken word, given by a brother or sister in Christ, is designed to benefit the hearers. We don't speak to simply fill the time, but rather in order that something will occur. That something is the learning and encouragement of others.

As the church comes together, God's plan appears to be that His children will speak in an orderly manner in order to help others. We see a specific cause-effect relationship.

In order for this to happen, we need to speak. For those who struggle to speak in group settings, I encourage you to do so - for the edification of the group. You will probably see that what you have to say is very well received.

Not only do we need to speak, but we also need to listen - a lot. This is a gift from God to us. His plan is that we will be built up in Him through what others have to share.  If we are too busy thinking about the next thing we are going to say, we might miss out on something wonderful added by someone else.

This blog post may seem extremely basic.  That's fine. I'm simply pointing out the scriptural idea that we really do need one another. This is, of course, true at all times. However, here we see it in the context of the gathering of the body. We need to speak and we need to listen in order to bring about mutual edification.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hosting: Tiring But Rewarding

This past Sunday we hosted the gathering of our house fellowship. Simply put, it was tiring but rewarding.

Hosting is tiring because you have a lot of people coming into your home.  If my count is accurate, we had about 18 people. That's actually a small number compared to our normal gatherings (several people were out of town or couldn't come for some reason). For me at least, hosting a number of people like that, even brothers and sisters in Christ, is a little stressful. I suppose the main reason is that the house needs to be relatively cleaned up. Also, you are responsible if something goes wrong in the bathroom, if people need something they can't find in the frig, if they need to find a place to park, etc.

To be honest, the biggest stressor usually falls on the moms. It has to do directly with the food. When lots of people come, it means a lot of food is entering the kitchen area. Some of it needs to be plugged in. Some needs to be cooked. It all needs to be placed in a way that it doesn't fall and break. The kitchen becomes a swarming mass of humanity. Thank God for my wife.

Hosting is tiring. However, the rewards outweigh the stresses. It is such a pleasure to invite people into your home. In particular, it is wonderful to have your church family over. It is a great privilege to take the body of Christ into your own house and essentially say, "This is your home, too. Let's share this time together." You get to share what God has given you. You get to let your spiritual family sit on your couch, chairs, and floor and simply talk about what the Spirit leads you to talk about.

Using your home in this way is an act of spiritual service to the church. It costs little, but allows the body to gather in a comfortable atmosphere where everyone can seek Christ together. It gives everyone the opportunity to follow the biblical model in church gatherings as they have been convicted to do. It provides a setting for mutual edification to take place in an everyday, natural way.

Hosting is a joy, even if it is tiring.

I encourage you, no matter how your church family normally gathers, to invite brothers and sisters in Christ into your home. Be creative. Eat together. Share life and have a great time. It may not happen on Sunday; instead get together some other time - anytime that works. You will enjoy it and so will they. You will probably be tired, but you will also feel rewarded.

It's worth it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On Prophecy

Prophecy in the New Testament is a fascinating thing. For whatever reason, it doesn't get too much attention in the church today. My hope is that God's people will gradually warm to the idea of discussing prophets and prophecy. This will only strengthen the church.

The bible speaks much about the gift of prophecy:

"Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith..."  Romans 12:6

" another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues."  I Cor. 12:10

"Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy."   I Cor. 14:1

We see from these verses that certain people are especially gifted as prophets. However, this does not limit others in the church from participating in prophetic speech. For example:

"Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven." I Cor. 11:4-5

"Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." I Cor. 14:29-33

Friday, June 17, 2011

Daughters on Mission

Our two daughters, Caroline and Mary, are currently in Tapachula, Mexico on a mission/service trip. They, along with eight others - including my parents - are serving in a unique capacity for the next week or so.

In Tapachula there are a few different children's homes for kids whose parents are in prison. The mission team is helping out in various different ways. One of the main purposes of the trip is to provide the house parents (whose normal responsibilities are numerous and taxing) with a much needed vacation.

My mother wrote the following in an e-mail today, "Everythng is going great here. What a ministry this is. These kids' parents are in jail and they are being brought up in a loving Christan home here. Actually there are three homes near each other which work in partnership but stay small for the family atmosphere. We are working mostly in the one with nine boys ages 4 to 15. They are so respectful and appreciative of everything. Mary and Caroline are fitting in great and helping out a lot. Everyone is impressed with them. We work hard mornings but have free time later to play with the kids. The four year old is here all day but the others are in school. The home is so well run; the kids are expected to help with chores and they do so with no complaining. They are very loving which is so important for them. After we were done with our work this morning a run was being made to Walmart. Caroline and Mary went there with all of the other ladies. I stayed and did some gardening. Mecho, the four year old, 'helped' me. He wore one glove and I wore the other and he thought that was great."

Alice and I are excited for this opportunity for our daughters. They get to serve the Lord by serving others. They'll also benefit from this cross-cultural experience. Even though Tapachula has Walmart, it is still quite different from Savannah.

I'd like to thank my Christian brothers and sisters of Wilmington Island United Methodist Church for inviting our daughters to help out on this trip.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One of Those Blogs

A few days ago I asked for ideas of blogs that I would benefit from reading - even if I would likely disagree with much of what is written.

In response to this, a few folks told me that my blog has become "one of those blogs" for them. In other words, they read A Pilgrim's Progress even though they disagree with much that is written. That thought never crossed my mind before this. I'm not really sure what I think of it; regardless, I'm glad they are reading.

The difficult part in blogging about the church is accomplishing two things. First, I desire to remain united with all brothers and sisters in Christ - no exceptions. Second, my hope is to generate healthy discussion about the Christian life in general and the church in particular. This is no surprise for anyone who regularly reads this blog.

The struggle, for me at least, is to discuss these things in a balanced way. On the one hand, I don't want to come across as bitter or prideful. On the other hand, I don't desire to write as if church issues are of little consequence. I also will not fall into the popular trap of saying that most church practices are of equal value and that we shouldn't "judge one another."

I will continue to look to scriptural command, principle, example, etc. for decision making. This will, of course, force us to ask hard questions. Because of its dominance in this country, the institutional church and its practices must be critiqued. More important than that, however, is simply the practice of asking what God has shown us in the bible about how He expects us to live as the church each day. This will of course deal with topics such as church gatherings, church leadership, and church structure. It will also look at simpler things such as holy living, service to others, living out the gospel, and simply being what Christ would have us be.

Some may say that I'm being divisive and/or unhelpful with certain pointed blog posts. I admit that at times I've likely crossed over the line of what is beneficial to what is not. However, I will continue to strive to write in a manner that makes myself and others think. If I point out that certain practices are unbiblical, it will make some people (those who love or at least approve of those practices) uncomfortable.

My ultimate goal in this blog is edification of the church to the glory of God. I hope this happens. Some posts will likely be more edifying than others. My hope is that the discussion will continue.

By the way, thanks for the blog suggestions. I added them to what I'm calling "Bloggers Who Interest and Challenge Me."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Preaching for Fellowship and Joy

"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

I love to read about John's motivation for sharing the gospel with others. In the introduction to I John, we read that John proclaimed the gospel in order to have fellowship in Christ with others. John recognizes that a certain, special type of fellowship exists between Christian brothers and sisters that is unique in this world. The apostle has a desire to share this fellowship with others.

This fellowship brings joy. John writes this proclamation about Christ in order to complete his joy. This is joy that comes from being in relationship with Jesus Christ and one another. This intimate relationship comes only through the gospel.

I wonder what our motivation is when we preach (proclaim, herald, announce) Christ. Do we do it out of some sort of guilt or compulsion?

We can learn much from John in this short paragraph.  John heralds the good news that Christ came in the flesh. John is an eye witness. John's motivation is sweet communion with the readers of this epistle. This precious fellowship that brings great joy can only come through oneness in Christ.

Let's preach Christ so, like John, we may have Christ's fellowship with each other. The result is great joy.

Emotion and Pragmatics

First watch.

My home is in Savannah, Georgia. Because of that, I'm deeply concerned about the church here.

Savannah Christian Church is this city's only mega-church. The leadership there is constantly asking people for money. This video is simply another example. Notice how they try to raise another $10 million. They appeal to both emotion and pragmatics. There is no scriptural evidence given for this monstrous expense of money.

As the church, we need to speak out against this sort of thing. Some may claim that I'm being divisive. So be it. There is too much at stake to silently watch churches manipulate people into sacrificing their money for another church palace. Why not raise $10 million to care for the poor and spread the gospel around the world? You don't have to build more buildings to reach people with the gospel. They understand it just fine in a living room.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Slow to Speak

We live in an increasingly self-focused, rash, impulsive society.  The general rule for speech has become one of, "I'll say what I want to say and let the chips fall where they may."

I hear other folks say that they don't care who they offend.  They are going to speak their minds.

As in all things, we should ask how Jesus Christ would have us talk. I think we all agree that speech is powerful. What does Jesus think about it? James and Paul help us in this:

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." James 1:19-20

"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Ephesians 4:29

We can see that James is writing with the specific context of anger in mind. However, there does seem to be a general principle in place. We ought to be quick to hear, but slow to speak. We can see the obvious contrast between the two. Unfortunately, in much of society today we see the opposite taking place. We've all been guilty of this. How often have we not listened, spoken quickly, hurt someone else, and then regretted it later?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


I don't agree with most of the theological statements that are posted on CNN's Belief Blog. However, the writers do have a pretty good feel for what is happening in religious circles around the country. In this interesting post, CNN tells ten things they learned in the blog's first year of existence. For example:

"Every big news story has a faith angle."

"People are still intensely curious about the Bible, its meaning and its origins."

"It's impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion."

"Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe."

It's worth reading.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Would I Attend Seminary All Over Again?

I attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 2002-2006. By the grace of God, I graduated with an M.Div.

I've asked myself lately: If I could go back in time, would I attend seminary all over again?

At some level this is a pointless question; what is done is done.  However, as I think about what I now believe about the church in general, I begin to wonder about seminaries.

As I think about my time at SEBTS, I can recall both the good and the not so good.

We made wonderful friends
We were confronted with the need for worldwide missions
We went on a mission trip to India
I learned a lot more of the bible
I spent time with excellent professors
I was exposed to/learned some of the original languages

It is extremely difficult on the family
I did not see my family much for four years
We had to move away from family and church family
Once I graduated, I became "an expert"

Tuesday, June 7, 2011