Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Job Possibility

This is one of those personal posts.

As many of you know, I've worked several different jobs since resigning from the salaried pastorate a little less than a year ago. My current job with JCB is fine, but the reality is that it simply doesn't pay enough to support a family.

I'm writing in part to ask for your prayers because I've applied for a job that I think might be a good fit for me in many ways. The position is that of academic adviser at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). This job would provide a much better schedule than what I now have and would pay somewhat more. I'd be able to remain in Savannah while being a part of a fascinating art school. As a bonus, I'd be working directly with college students which would be a lot of fun. A massive mission field it is.

Thanks for praying.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Verse That Surprised Me

I was reading in Romans recently when I came to 1:15. Paul writes to the Roman church, "So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome."

When Paul normally talks about preaching, he is referring to proclaiming the gospel to the lost. This is what we see in his practice as well. In light of what verse 14 says, we sense that verse 15 refers at least in part to his preaching to the pagans in Rome.

However, in 1:15 the apostle clearly writes that he is eager to preach the gospel "to you also who are in Rome." Since he is communicating with the church, he must also be talking about preaching to his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. When Paul uses the word "you" in his letters, he is almost always talking about the church he is writing to.

This surprised me because in the NT we almost always see preaching aimed at the lost. Here we see Paul intending to preach to the saved. Why would he desire to do this? What's his plan and purpose?

My guess is that he simply wants to ensure that they fully understand the gospel and share with them what God has been doing in other places. Paul undoubtedly, based on other things he writes, desires to encourage and be encouraged by them as well.

Still though, he talks of preaching to the saved. This seems outside the norm for him. Any ideas on the significance of this?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Should the Lost Partake of the Lord's Supper?

A few good posts got me thinking about the Lord's Supper again (see here, here, and here).  As we celebrated the meal today as a church family, I thought even more about it.

Specifically, I've been pondering whether or not the lost should partake of the Lord's Supper when present at the gathering. My answer used to be an unequivocal "No."  That was based on a faulty interpretation of I Corinthians 11:17-34. What I failed to see is that passage is directed to believers who were abusing the supper; it doesn't deal at all with unbelievers.

Back to the question: should those who don't trust Jesus as Lord still eat the Lord's Supper? On a related note, should we invite them to partake of it?

I can still hear myself standing in a church pulpit as a salaried pastor and solemnly requesting that only followers of Christ eat the Lord's Supper that was about to be served. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. Not so anymore.

The setting and method of the Lord's Supper have a huge influence on whether or not this question has much significance. For example, if the Lord's Supper amounts to little more than a few ounces of grape juice and a small wafer cookie served for a few minutes during a worship service, then it doesn't make any difference to the lost sitting there. Why should they care about a little snack like that? Soon afterwards they will depart the building to go get a real meal.

However, what happens if the Lord's Supper is eaten as a full meal? What happens when this meal takes time and is accompanied by much conversation? What happens when it is one of the main meals of the day? Would we ask the lost among us not to eat of it? Would we send them out to McDonald's while we eat the good food? If we do so, we would show that we have little understanding at all of how Christ expects us to treat the lost.

Those who do not know Jesus Christ will, of course, have no real understanding of the significance of the community meal. To them it is just good food. They do, however, understand hospitality, community, acceptance, and love. We can show the love of Christ be inviting them to eat with us. We can just as easily turn them off to Christ by saying "Please don't eat."

One response to this might be to say that we should simply ask them not to eat the bread or drink the cup but still eat the remainder of the meal. The problem with this line of thinking is that it is a faulty separation of the bread and cup from the meal itself. The bread and juice/wine have no mystical power. They represent Christ, of course, but they are part of the broader meal, not in a separate category.

In the end, I've come to the conclusion that we must invite any lost folks to partake of the entire meal with us when we gather. To do so opens all kinds of doors of communication. To not do so slams the door shut on gospel proclamation.

The table must be open to all who are present. To all believers, it is a blessed community memorial to what Christ has accomplished for us. To unbelievers, it's great food. To all, it's a fabulous time for relationship building.

We must invite all to partake enthusiastically.

Maybe I Should Buy This...

What Glorifies God?

John 15:8, "By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Eating Greek

One of the best parts about following the biblical model for church gatherings is getting to eat Greek food every time we get together.

Just a joke (although Greek food is excellent).

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Day the Buddha Went Swimming

While we were on our trip to New York State we visited a small park in one of the many forests of the Adirondack Mountains. As our kids were swimming in a cold creek, I went wandering in the woods. I had heard that this was a place where Wiccans like to occasionally get together so I didn't know what I might find.

After a short stroll I came across something I wasn't expecting. Instead of Wiccan paraphernalia I found a small statue of the Buddha. He looked like what you see in this picture except that he was blue in color, only about four inches tall, and attached to a piece of concrete (like the top section of a cinder block). I wasn't sure what to do with it.

On the one hand a four inch statue of the Buddha is simply that. It was plastic sitting on top of concrete. There was nothing alive about it. I could have left it there and it would have never done anything except very slowly decay over thousands of years. The Buddha is not alive and neither was that statue.

On the other hand, the statue did represent what has become a false god. Although the Buddha himself did not desire to be worshiped, he nonetheless now has millions of followers around the globe. When we as a family briefly visited Thailand during our few months in India, we saw cultures trapped in the grip of this false religion. Near our own city in India (Varanasi), Buddhists would pilgrimage to see the Dhamekh Stupa, a large brick structure built where the Buddha may have preached his first sermon.

As I stood in the woods I had to decide what, if anything, to do with the statue. I did not want any young people to find it and become intrigued by Buddhism because of it. It wasn't the statue itself but the curiosity it might bring about that concerned me. After all, any world religion competes directly with Jesus Christ for Lordship over the human heart.

What could I do with it in that situation? I decided it was time for the Buddha to go swimming. After scanning the area for a good spot, I tossed the statue as far as I could under a small waterfall. My hope is that it landed in a spot where the current is too strong for anyone to find it.

God does not need us to defend Him against petty false religions. On the other hand, we have the responsibility to share the gospel and tell of the dangers of false belief systems. The Buddha statue represents a challenge for the devotion God deserves from all people. I hope this particular image of Buddha remains where he is, never to be seen again.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Did You Know?

I'm not sure how long video has been around, but it is nonetheless a good reminder of the need of the gospel by so many people in so many places.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Not the What but the Who

(A word of clarification, when I write "The Who" I'm not referring to these guys.)

Because of our two week trip to New York State and our visit to Chevis Oaks last Sunday, we haven't met with our church family in over a month. I know that Sunday gatherings are not the only time we should see the church, but the reality is that in the busyness of life, Sunday is when we get to see most of the people for the longest period of time.

A month is a long time to go without getting together. We miss our friends a great deal and are anticipating the wonderful fellowship we will have together tomorrow. I don't know exactly what will happen, but I have a good idea of who I will see.

As I think about tomorrow, I realize that it is not the what, but the who that is important. It is the people that matter much more than what actually happens. Frankly, (within biblical standards) I don't really care what happens. I'm sure there will be much talking, singing, encouragement, discussion of scripture, praying, etc. Those things will certainly be good. Oh, and there will as always be eating (how could I forget that?).

Although those aspects of the gathering are great, they are not what I look forward to the most. It's the people that matter. They are what I am thinking about.

I'm not trying to create some sort of false dichotomy here. What we do involves the people, and the people are the ones we do the things with. My point is simply that the specific activities are of little importance compared to the people.

We should all ask ourselves an important question: Is there any activity that we believe must occur when we gather as the church? If there is something, then we are probably placing a bit too much emphasis on the what instead of the who. What is most important is the church.

All of this must certainly happen within the context of glorifying the triune God through edification that leads to increased holiness, care for others, and sharing of the gospel. However, no one specific thing must happen in order for edification to take place.

As we ponder church gatherings, whenever they happen, let's simply remember that what matters is the people. The activities, while important, must remain secondary.

The Gospel's Impact on a Dark World

I recently stumbled across the above image as I was searching for photos on the internet. It strikes me as a wonderful visual of what God has done for this dead world through the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were all, at one time or another, living in absolute darkness, but God Himself intervened with His marvelous light.

I find it fascinating how darkness always flees from light. It cannot remain where light is. In the glorious gospel, God has broken through Satan's grip, and has brought light and life. As I think on these things, I'm overwhelmed by the infinite grace of God. If not for His intervention, there would be no salvation, no goodness, no charity, no kindness, and no love. We would still be sitting in the dark, unaware of our wretched state.

I'm reminded of a few verses that speak of the light of God:

"In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:4-5

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." II Cor. 4:6

"For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light." Ephesians 5:8

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." I Peter 2:9

"This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." I John 1:5

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." I John 1:7

Let's take great joy in living in this light today, while at the same time sharing it with those who are still in the dark.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Personal Preference Method of Biblical Interpretation

One of the best aspects of blogging is getting to interact with other Christians who have different interpretations than I do of various biblical passages. The discussions we have both stretch me and force me to ask myself why I believe what I believe.

These interactions force me to face something I'd rather not: my own method of biblical interpretation. Specifically, I'm referring to NT church practices and their application for today. We all face this struggle. In some passages, we see practices that we believe we should follow today almost exactly as we read of in NT times. In other passages we see the early Christians doing things that we believe provide us with principles for today, but not necessarily anything specific to imitate. Finally, we read of other things from the NT church that we believe we are free to ignore (or not) if we choose to do so.

What concerns me is that the way I interpret may best be described as "A Personal Preference Method of Biblical Interpretation." I hope this is not the case, but I fear that it may be.

Here's my angst in a nutshell: Rather than reading scripture and trying to discern what the original authors intended, I'm reading to see what I want to see based on personal preferences. The things that I like a lot I interpret literally and/or say that they have direct application for today's church. Those things that I don't like that much or feel indifferent about get interpreted in such a way that we learn principles only. The aspects of church life that I'd rather not have to deal with I simply interpret as completely optional.

In the end, the method of interpretation is not, "What did the author mean and how would God have that apply to us today?" Instead, the method ends up being, "What are my own likes and dislikes when it comes to the church, and how can I find evidence for these in the bible?"

Let me give a few examples. I like meeting in homes as a local body of believers. Therefore, I find evidence for this in the bible and say we should all do this. I don't particularly like the idea of washing feet or giving holy kisses. Therefore, although I see evidence for these practices, I say that they are examples of loving behavior but not things we are supposed to be doing. As for giving to the poor, I'll just suggest that this is optional and a nice idea.

This type of interpretation is not something that only I struggle with. We all do to one degree or another. Although the Holy Spirit helps us understand what scripture really means, our own indwelling sin leads us to sometimes warp what we read to support our own purposes and preferences.

This should not terrify us. Rather, it should spur us on to always ask what God is saying in the pages of the bible. What does God want? What did He mean then and how does He desire that we apply this today? What would He have His church look like?

If we reach the point of thinking that we can interpret the bible with little to no error, we are in a dangerous place. Instead, we must approach the scriptures with humility. We must remember that we have been wrong in the past and will be wrong again.

Sometimes as we discuss church-related issues in the blog world we run into this problem. We defend what we believe about whatever issue because we feel comfortable with/like our position. Take any issue. How about the Lord's Supper? Too often we read about and/or get involved in a discussion about meaning, form, frequency, etc. based on what we like. It's as simple as that.

We must guard steadfastly against allowing our own carnal desires determine what we believe the bible says. We cannot have a selective method of interpretation based on what we want the bible to say. Instead, trusting the Spirit to lead the way, let us humbly approach the bible and attempt to figure out what God meant and what He means.

We need each other for this. Multiple people involved in biblical interpretation act as a guard against all sorts of incorrect interpretation. Yet another benefit of community.

Let's continue to have good discussions about church issues. Let's even disagree some of the time. However, let's also do our best to keep our own personal preferences out of the mix. We won't be completely successful in this, but the attempt is worth it. An accurate awareness of our own fallibility should give us pause and keep us humble.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Got Questions?

I'll admit up front that this is a bit of a self-serving post. However, I hope it's not an egotistical one.

After blogging for a while, as I have, the ideas sometimes begin to sound the same. Because of that, I'd love to hear from you. Do you have any questions that you'd like to see discussed on this blog? Please note that I'm not saying that I necessarily have the or a answer to the question(s). I'd probably throw my two cents in on the subject, but the primary purpose would be to generate discussion. The topic may be theology, the church, culture, missions, family, or whatever else.

I still have plenty of blog post ideas, but frankly I'd like to look at some different things that I don't necessarily discuss simply because I don't think too much about them. That said, if you have any questions that you think worthy of a blog post/discussion, please send them my way via either the comments or email.


Monday, August 15, 2011


Yesterday our family returned to Chevis Oaks Baptist Church for their annual Homecoming celebration. Chevis Oaks is where I served as pastor for about 2.5 years before resigning in October of last year. Although we had previously been back, this was our first worship service attendance since leaving.

For those of you not from the South of the USA, Homecoming is a tradition where former members are invited back to the church for a sort of reunion. It gives everybody an opportunity to catch up on life together.

I'm happy to say that we had a very nice time. Although we now differ in various aspects of church practice from our friends at Chevis Oaks, the key is that we are still friends. More than that, we are one in Jesus Christ. We are brothers and sisters with God as our Father. We are part of the same spiritual family.

The best part of the time was the talking we were able to do after the worship service. I purposely downed my food quickly so that I could walk around and get reacquainted with different folks. Our family was welcomed back very nicely. Even though I had departed the church over ecclesiological differences, there are no hard feelings over this.

I'm reminded once again that Christ and His gospel are of first importance. Church practice, while critical in the life of the Christian, is secondary. Our oneness in Christ binds us together. Because of this, we can and should strive to remain as one even if what we think about church differs significantly.

I'm glad we went to Homecoming. I'm glad for these friends of mine. We are still one in Christ and will forever be so.

"Cup and Cross"

The more I read about those Reformation-era outcasts called the Anabaptists, the more I like them. They were generally either killed off or exiled because their beliefs did not mesh with the church/state relationships of the day. The reason for this? They wanted to be biblical in all they did.

Cup and Cross tells the story of the Anabaptist movement. The author, Michael Martin, does an excellent job in differentiating between what he calls the faithful Anabaptists and the fringe Anabaptists. While the faithful are the true Anabaptists, the fringe element simply used some Anabaptist principles to advance their bizarre and destructive ends. Sadly, the fanatics have given the term "Anabaptist" a negative connotation.

The faithful in the movement took the Reformers' insistence on scriptural authority to its logical end point. They did not simply apply the bible to salvation but also to all of church life. This got the Anabaptists in hot water with basically everyone in positions of power in that society.

Cup and Cross is divided into two primary sections. First, Martin details Anabaptist history, focusing on the Swiss Brethren, Dutch Anabaptists, and the Hutterites. In part two, the author looks at Anabaptist beliefs. These include sections on scripture, the church, discipleship, and the state.

The only negative to this book is that the author makes some statements that call into question whether or not anyone outside of Anabaptism is actually part of the real church. He doesn't makes these statements about today but rather about the situation in Europe during the 1500s.

The Anabaptists are one of those groups that make us uncomfortable. The reason is that they lived out what they said they believed. Even in the face of immense persecution, they stuck to scripture for salvation, the church, the state, etc. They were not perfect, but they also did not shrink back in the face of great opposition.

This book is worth the read because it challenges us to ask whether or not we are living what we say we believe. If interested, read more about it here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Where Am I? Where Are You?

This is not a post written by someone struggling with amnesia. It's also not composed by someone battling an existential crisis.

Rather, I'm asking these two questions (see the post title) in response to Felicity Dale's recent short piece entitled The journey from legacy church to simple/organic/house church. I encourage you to read it before continuing here.

Felicity discusses some of the struggles involved in the journey from legacy church to simple church. In particular, her focus is the difficulty of giving up certain things that we may have enjoyed in institutional church life. Felicity concludes by discussing some of the wonderful benefits of organic church.

My questions today are aimed at myself and you. Where am I and where are you in this journey? I realize you may not be on this journey at all, and that is fine. However, if you are, then where are you? I'd love to hear from you; please leave a comment describing your situation.

As for our family, we can well understand what Felicity is talking about. My wife Alice and I have been part of several churches through the years that have had dynamic music and solid preaching. I freely admit that on occasion I miss vibrant, practiced singing in large groups. I even, if I'm allowed to say so, even like a choir piece once in a while. As for preaching, there is no doubt that God has gifted some men in both teaching and oratory skills. When these are combined in a godly man, he often can deliver a very good sermon. I've heard many through the years and still enjoy them.

The singing and sermons, however, are not nearly enough to entice me to return to the institutional church. There are two reasons for this. First, we are convicted to follow the biblical model for church life. Second, the sense of community, group participation, and freedom in simple church is wonderful. This environment lends itself to deep relationships.

I'm not really sure what the "mountain top" of simple church life looks like. Felicity refers to this and may be there herself. I hope to be one day. However, we certainly aren't walking through any sort of "Death Valley" either. I'd say, to continue the metaphor, that we are about half way up the simple church mountain between the valley and the top. We continue to progress upward with our friends and with Christ in the lead. It is a beautiful thing.

I thank the Father, Son, and Spirit for the wonderful gift of what He desires His church to be. It is difficult at times, but is glorious to behold.

That's where I am. Where are you?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Theology from Micah

My good friend Micah Thornton is a student at Boyce College in Louisville. He is extemely busy balancing school and work so he doesn't get to blog very much. However, when he does he always has good things to say. I encourage you to read this post from his opening class in Christian Theology. It stems from his professor's thoughts on the study of theology. Good stuff Micah. Below are some of the best quotes:

"You do not study the Bible as a textbook. We do study the bible but we study it not only to grow in knowledge of God but also to be transformed in our lives."

"So the challenge in our Christian ministry is to engage our minds and our hearts in the study of God."

"This is ultimately what we are after; the exaltation of Christ, in our study of theology, in our proclamation of the gospel and the truth of the bible, and in our daily Christian lives."

"The moment you say that Jesus is Lord, you are making a most profound theological statement. And the moment you start living in such a way that proclaims that Jesus is Lord, you are living your life in the most profound theological way."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Google Images of Church Point to a Massive and Unfortunate Misunderstanding

When you go to Google Images and type in the word "church," this is what you get. You see photo after photo of buildings; almost no people are present.

What does this tell us? Our culture thinks that the church is a building. This is not surprising, but it is troubling. The simple reason is that the church is, by biblical standards, most definitely not a man-made edifice of any kind. Rather, it is the people of God.

Every Christian that I know, regardless of local church affiliation, knows that the church is people not buildings. They may occasionally refer to a church building as a church, but they do know the true definition.

Our culture, however, really seems to think that churches are made of brick, stone, concrete, stained glass, carpet, etc. This is problematic because it shows that we as the church have failed to communicate to the broader culture what the church actually is.

This is not some small issue of insignificance. Rather, it has gospel implications. The reason is that for the most part people don't really care about buildings (unless they are sight-seeing). They do, however, care about people. If non-Christians believe the church is a building, they simply aren't going to care about it at all. If we can on the other hand get the message across that the church is made of people, then they might take notice. They might want to know more about it.

This change will only come through conversation and really getting to know people. If we are willing to spend time with the lost, then we might be successful in changing some poor perceptions of what the church is. For example, if we let our lost co-workers know that we are the church, and then we live loving, serving, sacrificial, holy lives around them, they will take notice. Ultimately, we hope this will lead to gospel proclamation and salvation.

We need to be clear with our culture that the church is Christ's people. This will not happen if we retreat from the world. Instead, we must lovingly invade the world as Jesus' church.

There are many days at work when I feel like (to borrow a science fiction title) a stranger in a strange land. You probably do, too. To some extent this is a good thing because our citizenship is in heaven as opposed to here. We are new creations who stand in stark contrast to those who walk in darkness.

Let's be careful to recall that we all once walked in darkness as well. Now, however, we are the church. The world needs to know that this odd people, following after Jesus, are what the church really is. When we live differently they will take notice. That's when we get to tell them the great story of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for us.

The church is people. We must get that message across.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Monday, August 8, 2011

On Mowing My Lawn on Sunday

We arrived home on Sunday from our two-week vacation to find that our house was still in one piece but our yard was a mess. I expected this. A young man had done a nice job cutting the grass about a week ago, but at this time of year in south Georgia the grass grows very quickly.

I had a few options. I could let the grass grown until next weekend. I could cut it sometime this week. I could cut it on Sunday. The first option was a no-go because the yard would have looked putrid by Saturday. The second option was almost an impossibility because I'll be working all week in hot temperatures; by the time I get home I'll be too tired to cut grass. Option three seemed like the only option.

In light of the situation, I did something earthshaking: I cut my grass. On Sunday.

I'm having a bit of fun with this mainly at my own expense. Not too long ago I would not have mowed the lawn because I thought I was violating the Sabbath. I went so far as to look disgustedly at others who cut their grass on the first day of the week. In my head I'd think, "They treat Sunday just like Saturday." Many of them were probably lost people, so for me to think this about them at all was absurd.

I have no plans to start cutting my grass on Sundays - at least not on a routine basis. Normally on Sundays we gather with our church family, hang out together as a family, and rest. In that sense, we're generally treating Sunday as a sort of Sabbath. However, we're definitely not treating it like a strict O.T. Sabbath (not that many Christians keep it from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown anyway, but I digress).

As I study scripture, I see the Sabbath as a gift from God to man. We read this in Mark:

"And he said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.'" Mark 2:27-28

By Jesus' time the religious leaders of the day had turned the Sabbath into a burden - the exact opposite of what it was intended to be. Jesus, as always, set them straight.

Sadly, some well-intentioned Christians still treat Sunday as if it is an O.T. type of Sabbath. I can still remember an angry old man yelling at me and my friends for playing baseball on Sunday afternoons on a local field; we were about eleven years old at the time and had been "in church" earlier in the day. That is a bit of an extreme example no doubt. Many very nice followers of Jesus still see Sunday as the Sabbath.

Interestingly, Sunday was simply not the Sabbath. It's just a day when some Christians met together. They may have done this because Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday. Despite this, we are never taught in the New Testament to keep the Sabbath or think of Sunday that way.

We see in the book of Hebrews in particular that Jesus Christ is our Sabbath rest. He has fulfilled any requirements from the O.T. Our rest is in Him. For example:

"So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." Hebrews 4:9-10

We enter God's rest when we become Christ's.

The above two verses are interesting because they mention God resting from his works. The Sabbath, then, extends all the way back to creation and not simply to Sinai. Because of this, the concept of a Sabbath seems to have lasting importance. For this reason alone, the idea of taking a weekly rest of sorts appears wise. I know I always feel better after some rest on Sunday.

However, I don't have to rest on Sunday. Neither do you. Jesus is our rest. Just because we may gather with other believers on Sundays, this doesn't mean we are limited in our activities this day.

This can certainly be a thorny/sticky issue for Christians. How should we handle it? Paul helps us a great deal with this. In Colossians 2:16-17 the apostle writes, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ." (emphasis mine)

Paul makes it clear that his list, including the Sabbath, is a list of shadows. Jesus Christ is the reality. He has fulfilled the requirements for us to have eternal rest in Him.

In light of this, what should we do on Sundays? We should do whatever we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us to do. It's as simple as that. Some Sundays we might rest. On others we might mow the lawn. At other times the Spirit may tell us to serve others by cutting their grass.

In the end the Sabbath is a gift. It is ultimately Christ. We have rest in Him.

So I mowed my lawn on Sunday and despite what I used to believe, it really is O.K.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Nature of the Epistles Points to Unity

The very nature of the epistles of the New Testament points to expected unity of the church. In other words, the apostolic writers formed their letters in such a way that it was clear that they desired the unity of the body. I'm not referring here to commands for unity but rather characteristics of the letters themselves. I've thought of several that I'm briefly discussing below. Please add any that come to mind.

-The epistles, if not sent to individuals such as Timothy, were sent to all the Christians in a city or region.

I Corinthians 1:2, "To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." (emphasis mine)

II Corinthians 1:1, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the church of God that is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia."

Galatians 1:2, "Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — and all the brothers who are with me, to the churches of Galatia."

-The epistles were not sent to particular groups within a city. All the Christians in the city or region were thought of as the church.

I Peter 1:1, "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia."

-The epistles were designed to be shared between churches in various locations.

Colossians 4:16, "And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea."

-The epistles were written to everyone in the church, not just the elders/overseers and deacons.

Philippians 1:1, "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons."

-The writers considered all the Christians to be saints. The priesthood of all believers is emphasized. No one had special status.

I Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

-The epistles focus on the importance of the one anothers. All are expected to minister and serve. The commands associated with the one anothers are in the plural.

I Peter 1:22, "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart."

-The epistles were written to both men and women.

Colossians 1:2, "To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father." (The word for "brothers" in Greek often referred to Christian brothers and sisters).

-The epistles were written for all ages to hear.

Ephesians 6:1-4, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.' Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

We see that even the form of the NT letters was designed to convey the expectation of unity within the entire church. We can and should learn much from this example.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Being Christ-Centered is Being Other-Centered

Focusing on Jesus Christ in our Christian walk is certainly very important. While our fleshly tendency is to feed our own personal desires, the Holy Spirit testifies to us of the wonder and majesty of God. A heart given over to Christ is a heart that joyfully focuses upon Christ.

We see something interesting in scripture related to this. Those people who are most Christ-focused or Christ-centered are also those who are the most "other-centered." Instead of looking after only their own wants, they look to the good of others first. John shows us this connection over and over. It can best be described by a simple word: love.

In John's gospel account, we read the following famous verses 13:34-35. Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

In John's first epistle, he repeatedly makes the connection between loving God and loving others.

I John 2:9-11, "Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes."

I John 3:16-18, "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."

I John 3:23, "And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."

I John 4:7-8, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love."

I John 4:11, "Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."

I John 4:20-21, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

I John 5:2-3, "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."

John shows us over and over that a direct connection exists between love for God, which is almost synonymous with focus upon God, and love for others.

In our world we don't have a problem with what some may refer to as "man-centered" Christianity. The real difficulty we all face is self-centered Christianity. In the flesh we love self as king. Only through the Spirit can we look away from self and focus on Christ. When we do this, we show our love for Him through our love for others.

The beauty in this is that as we draw closer to Christ, He increasingly changes our hearts. As we mature in Him, we have an increasingly greater desire to be with, serve, and love others. This love for others requires work, but it is not drudgery. Rather, it is the fruit of a changed heart sacrificed to the one who sacrificed all for us.

Paul agreed with John. In Philippians 3 we read of a man who gave all for Jesus Christ. This is the same man who told us to love one another.

Romans 12:10, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."

Romans 13:8, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

Galatians 5:13, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

We see again and again in the bible that love for God and focus upon Him will lead directly to love for others and focus upon them. We show this love in sacrificial service.

Let us all be Christ-centered people. In doing so, we will also be other-centered.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"God's Gospel of Grace"

While on vacation, I've also been able to finish off God's Gospel of Grace, a compilation of Puritan writings from the Free Grace Broadcaster. I'll be honest. I struggle to read many of the Puritans. Their books intimidate me. I'd like to think it is simply the linguistic differences, but it also probably has to do with the depth of their writings.

The great thing about the above text is that each writing is only 5-10 pages long. That I can handle.

God's Gospel of Grace is broken down into five subsections: the gospel, substitution, justification, imputed righteousness, and repentance. Authors include (in no particular order) Spurgeon, Edwards, Bonar, Ryle, Pink, Owen, Hodge, Calvin, and Gill. You can read what you like and skip the rest; I did.

I've tried to find this text online but have failed in my efforts. However, I know that it comes from the Chapel Library. If you were to request a subscription - which is free if you reside in North America - of the Free Grace Broadcaster, you could probably also ask for a free copy of this book.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trying to "Master" One Book in Greek

I'm trying a new approach to New Testament Greek. Instead of reading various chapters and verses here and there, I'm attempting to "master" one book of the bible. I write "master" in quotes because, to be realistic, I'm just hoping for a good understanding of the text. Mastery would take years (and I'm not even sure what it actually means anyway).

I've always loved the epistle to the Philippian Christians. Because of this, I've got a pretty good understanding of the text in English. I even had the great blessing of taking an intensive summer course in seminary from Dave Black on this book. It is one of his favorites; even though the course focused on the English text, Dave still couldn't resist delving into the Greek, which was great for all of us.

Now the goal is to gradually work through the Greek text of Philippians. My plan is to translate it verse-by-verse about five times. By that point I hope to have a good feel for the verbs and participles. More importantly, my desire is to better comprehend Paul's primary themes in the letter.

I encourage all of you to venture into NT Greek in any way you can. If you don't have access to Greek classes but do well learning from books, then this is a good way to start.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Some Important Issues That Should Not Divide Jesus Christ's Church

Age integration/separation
Bible translation
Education (Homeschooling, Public School, etc.)
Foot Washing
Gatherings/Worship Services
The Holy Spirit
Interpretation of the creation account
Lord's Supper
Predestination/free will
Spiritual Gifts
Use of alcohol and tobacco
Women's roles
Youth groups

Let's certainly have significant, spirited conversation and debate over these issues. Through these types of interactions we will (we hope) sharpen one another. When we disagree, however, we must remain united. We are given no option. Christ unites us. He expects us to live out this reality.

Three Books I'm Looking Forward to Reading

Yesterday we visited our favorite store in New York State.  Sauders Store, which is owned and operated by Mennonites, has a wide variety of products. While we like the bulk foods, we love the books. My initial plan was to purchase one text; I ended up with three.

The more I study scripture, the more I find myself coming in line with Mennonite beliefs related to pacifism and involvement with the state. Because of this, the following three texts looked to be worth reading:

One Anothering, written by Simon Schrock, looks particularly interesting to me because I've been thinking about this topic quite a bit. Over and over in scripture we are instructed to encourage one another, exhort one another, teach one another, etc. In particular we are to love one another. How do we go about doing this in a practical manner? What does it look like? This book deals with this issue.

Separation and Nonconformity looks fascinating because this is an issue we all face as Christians. We all struggle with one degree or another with the issue of being in the world but not of it. It is far too easy to go to one of the extremes rather than seek biblical principles. My hope is that this book does this. My guess is that if the text leans too far in one direction it will be toward separation (thus the title). The chapters on church and state, marriage, and social customs ought to be intriguing.

Cup and Cross takes a look at Anabaptist history and beliefs. I'm interested is this text for a few reasons. First, Anabaptist history is controversial in nature because of its different streams of thought and practice. Second, I tend to agree with much about the Anabaptist view of the church. Third, the book is penned by an author who comes from this heritage (as opposed to an outsider). One minor negative is that this book is somewhat difficult to find online.

Now off to read.

Monday, August 1, 2011

One Anothers, Commands, and Community

Grammar is not normally the most interesting subject. However, when we're talking about biblical grammar it becomes much more important and fascinating.

When we look in scripture at the "one another" passages, we see something interesting. The phrase "one another" almost always follows either a plural command or at least an implied plural command. Here are several examples:

Romans 15:7, "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."

I Corinthians 16:20, "All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss."

II Corinthians 13:11, "Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you."

Galatians 5:13, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."

I Thessalonians 5:11, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."

Hebrews 3:13, "But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin."

James 5:16, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."

I Peter 1:22, "Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart."

Quite obviously the plural commands of scripture are written to more than one person (thus the plural grammar). They are written to churches. The scriptural writers appear to have wanted the receiving churches to live out these commands in community. The design for the church, then, was for the Christians to spend their lives together carrying out the one anothers. This of course does not preclude interaction with non-Christians, but it does imply that the Christ-followers will spend time together obeying the one anothers.

Obedience is a key in all this because these one anothers, as stated above, usually follow commands. I wonder if we think of them this way. In our daily walks, do we treat these exhortations as good advice and options, or as imperatives?

Grammar is important. A close study of it can and should inform the way we live. We see the one anothers as non-negotiables as we look hard at the verbs that often precede them. God has outlined His plan for His church in the words of the bible. We must trust the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds to comprehend God's grand plan.

The best part of the one anothers is that when we live them out we both honor God and are blessed through our interactions with others. God commands community living as a blessing to Himself and us.