Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Reformation Day

Apparently Luther was a blogger, too (I knew he was a bright guy). The Reformer was labeled "divisive" by many for asking hard questions about both salvation and the church. Thank God for men like Luther who were willing to look to scripture as their guide for God's truth. While I wish Luther had taken scripture to its logical endpoint like the Anabaptists did, I'm still grateful for his efforts (and those of others) in rediscovering the true gospel.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

On Chronicles

I realized recently that I had never read all the way through the books of I and II Chronicles. Since they were originally one book, I'll henceforth (a fun word to write) refer to them simply as "Chronicles."

The reason I had never bothered reading through Chronicles is because I thought of the book as simply a repeat of II Samuel and I and II Kings. I was wrong. Although there is much overlap, there is also a good amount of variation. While II Samuel and I and II Kings are basically a time line of the monarchy of Israel, Chronicles focuses in more on the highlights. In particular, the Chronicler (the author, whoever he was) spends much time on the temple and those who we might refer to as the "good kings" of Israel.

In reading Chronicles, I learned new things about David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The best part is seeing the hearts of the kings who genuinely, if imperfectly, sought after God. The Chronicler also repeatedly shows God providing for these kings and Israel as a whole in various ways.

Even though the good kings are the focus, we do see a bit of the evil kings showing through. For example, late in Chronicles we read about the long and evil reign of King Manasseh. Unlike II Kings, however, we not only see his wickedness but also his repentance:

II Chronicles 33:10-13, "The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God."

The Chronicles is full of small but significant differences from II Samuel and I and II Kings. I encourage you to read through it. I admit to skimming through the genealogies. Don't feel bad about that. Just enjoy reading a book that you may never have looked at much before.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Evolving Views on Halloween

For most of my life I embraced Halloween for the fun of it. As a kid I went trick-or-treating with everyone else. As an adult, when our children were young we dressed them up in various costumes and took lots of photos. The ghoulish, ugly side of the holiday never really appealed to me so that was a non-issue.

About a decade or so ago my wife Alice and I began to take a look at the pagan-ish side of Halloween. The fact that it is Satanism's high, unholy day of the year became a real concern to us. Combined with this, we tired of the increasing commercialization of the day. Therefore, we purposely decided to reject the day by actively not participating in any way (except the requisite Fall Festivals at various churches).

This year, for some unknown reason to me, my views on Halloween have changed again. I'm no longer for or against the day. I simply don't care about it at all anymore. It carries no interest for me. I suppose this puts it in the same group with St. Patrick's Day, Groundhog Day, and Columbus Day. I'm utterly ambivalent about Halloween.

I've come to the conclusion that this is an area of freedom for Christians. If you want to participate by dressing up, handing out candy, and carving pumpkins, then go right ahead. If, however, you want nothing to do with it, then by all means don't participate. As for me, I'll probably not take part just because I'll forget about it.

So I guess evolution does happen once in a while - at least as it pertains to my views on Halloween.

What about you? What do you think of Halloween? Do you participate or not? Why?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Me Planking

The late, great planking fad finally hit our house last night. Actually, I was just tired from 25 hours of work over the past two days. I lay down on the floor, and then in a brief moment of insanity started to "plank." It lasted just long enough for my wife to snap this photo. I'll probably never do it again, but at least I've had the experience. Note to self and others: don't try this on a tile floor. Additionally, I'm told that my technique is not correct - my head needs to be higher. Oh well, I'm an amateur planker.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Denominational Humor

Click directly on the graphic to enlarge.

Borrowed from (via John Armstrong) for a funny way to begin the work week.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"What Is the Mission of the Church?"

I'm always happy when a book that I hope will be good turns out to be good. That's the case with What is the Mission of the Church?, by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert.

In this text, DeYoung and Gilbert set out to define and explain what the mission of the church actually is. I agree with the authors that this is necessary because of the recent confusion surrounding this topic. Some Christians, with good intentions I'm sure, have begun to frame the mission of the church in terms of social justice and mercy ministries.

The authors define the church's mission this way, "The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples by declaring the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship and obey Jesus Christ now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father." (pg. 241) The authors continue, "In contrast to recent trends, we've tried to demonstrate that mission is not everything that God is doing in the world, nor the social transformation of the world or our societies, nor everything we do in obedience to Christ."

I was pleased to repeatedly read that the authors do, in fact, believe that doing all sorts of good works is extremely important for the church. However, they assert, this is not the core mission of the church. Rather, carrying out the Great Commission is.

DeYoung and Gilbert's work is very solid exegetically and thoroughly reasoned. They look at biblical passage after passage after passage, showing time and again that our prime responsibility as Christ-followers is to make disciples.

The high points of this book for me came in chapters 3-5. In chapter three, the authors look at the biblical narrative from a bird's eye view of the cross. Chapter four is an excellent discussion of what the gospel really is from both the "wide angle lens and zoom lens" perspectives. In chapter five, DeYoung and Gilbert provide a solid analysis of the Kingdom of God.

I'm always intrigued by Kevin DeYoung in particular. Sometimes I agree with him, while at other times I vehemently disagree. While he is an arch-defender of almost all things institutional church, in this particular book I agree with him in just about everything.

I highly recommend this book to all Christians.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pleading for the Priesthood of All Believers

This is a simple plea for all Christians to embrace the wonderful doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This biblical truth is one that is given lip service in the church but is often ignored when it comes to church practice.

The profound reality is that God intends for all his children to be his priests. We all have the tremendous privilege of having direct access to him. Peter tells us:

"You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." I Peter 2:5 (emphasis mine)

"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

Amazingly, despite our sin we are able to live in a sacrificial manner that pleases God. According to Paul:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." Romans 12:1

This, of course, is a reality because of what our great high priest, Jesus Christ, accomplished on the cross to pay for sin:

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Hebrews 9:11-14

I plea to all followers of Jesus Christ to fully embrace this great privilege and responsibility. Since we have direct access to God, let's live like it. We don't need to go through others to get to him. Instead, let's help others see this incredible news. As we make disciples, let's be sure to let them know that they have no need of anyone to stand between them and God. Christ alone is our high priest.

Interestingly, God originally intended for all in Israel to be his priests:

"Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." Exodus 19:5-6

As we know, Israel rejected God's design. God soon after instituted the Aaronic priesthood.

Now, the happy reality is that if we are Christians we are priests. There is no choice in the matter. It is fact.

In light of that, let's live in this reality. Let's encourage all our brothers and sisters in Christ to grab hold of this wondrous gift. Not only are we saved from hell, but we are saved to a life of direct communication and experience with God Himself.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On the Importance of Apostolic Presence

As we look in scripture at the church, we sometimes inadvertently ignore something of extreme importance. What is this? The answer is the presence of the apostles within the early church.

Apostolic presence is critical because the original apostles (I'm speaking here of the eleven plus Paul) spent much time directly with Jesus Christ. If anyone was in a position to know what Christ's expectations are for his church, these are the men. Additionally, the apostles were given at least some unique authority in decision making as it relates to the church.

We learn in Ephesians that the apostles are part of the foundation of the church:

Ephesians 2:19-20, "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone."

We see numerous examples of apostolic authority in passages such as the following:

I Corinthians 4:19-21, "But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?"

I Corinthians 11:17-22, "But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not."

I Corinthians 14:37, "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord."

Paul gives repeated reminders that his position as an apostle comes not from man but from God. For example:

Galatians 1:1, "Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead."

Within the evangelical church we tend to downplay the importance and authority of the apostles. My guess is that we do this as a reaction to Roman Catholic abuses related to prayer to the apostles and other such nonsense. We must be careful, however, to form our understanding of apostolic importance based on scripture and not simply because of a reaction to what others believe.

The reality is that Jesus Christ did give his apostles unique authority within the church. They were by no means dictators. First and foremost, they were to serve the church in a manner that glorified Christ. We know that they did a great deal of teaching. This makes sense since they, as stated above, spent so much time with Jesus.

The apostles taught a great deal about the church. In the book of Acts, we see them involved from the very beginnings of the church. This extends all the way to Rome, with Paul under house arrest but preaching the gospel unhindered.

We know that when problems arose in the church the apostles stepped in and addressed them. This sometimes took place with the apostles present, such as the case of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Many other times the apostles, especially Paul, corrected church problems from a distance through epistles. Just reading I Corinthians shows us this.

The apostles did not tell each church how to function to the smallest detail. However, they did give many instructions that, led by the Holy Spirit, were designed to shape the church in a manner that would honor Christ. Their presence ensures that the practices of the early churches were either acceptable or corrected. We know enough of the apostles to realize that when practices were unacceptable, they wrote or visited to bring them in line with God's expectations.

What does this mean for us today? As we think about church life, we must remember that the apostles were present in the early church. The apostles made great efforts for the church to be what Jesus wanted it to be. They taught and rebuked under Christ's authority. They corrected what needed correcting, and gave approval where the church functioned as it should.

In light of this, when we are dealing with church issues, we should always look to see what the apostles taught about certain issues. We ought to also look at how the early church functioned as a group and as individuals. We don't need new ways of doing things. We don't need to figure things out on our own. The scriptures themselves show us the church as the apostles thought it should be. They should have known. After all, they were with Jesus, the Head of the church.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some Traditions Really Are Helpful

The above photo comes from the classic film The Fiddler on the Roof. At one point in the movie Tevye sings a now famous song entitled simply Tradition. In Tevye's mind, certain things in life should happen because they are traditions.

Thinking along the same lines as Tevye, I believe that some traditions are helpful for the church. In fact, they are essential. Which traditions are these? Paul tells us in II Thessalonians 2:15. The apostle writes:

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter."

Paul makes it clear that the Thessalonian Christians are to hold to the traditions they were taught. This is not advice or desire on Paul's part. Rather, it is a command. We know from Acts 17 that Paul visited Thessalonica and was likely responsible (from the human perspective) for planting the church there. When this occurred, Paul certainly taught them many things, which he here refers to as traditions.

Paul also wrote at least two letters to his Thessalonian friends. Although short, both epistles contain a good amount of instruction in what to believe and how to live. Paul shared traditions with them through what he wrote.

What do we do with this? We don't know what Paul said to the Thessalonians but we do know what he wrote in his two letters. We benefit a great deal from seeing the traditions in the passages of scripture that Paul expected his brothers and sisters in Christ to follow. As they followed them, we should do the same.

Therefore, the church is helped a great deal by the traditions of the apostles. They provided these in speech and letter to help the early church. We gain much from following what we see and living according to these traditions.

The traditions that are most helpful to the church are the ones we know the apostles approved of. They are what we read in the bible.

As for all the other extra-biblical, non-biblical, and un-biblical traditions that exist today, some may be helpful, others may be harmful, and others may not impact the church either way. Looking at those sorts of traditions gets murky in a hurry. It is extremely difficult to know what to do with most of them.

Therefore, let's be certain that we are following the most helpful traditions - those we find in scripture.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Beautiful Prayer

I Chronicles 29:10-13

Therefore David blessed the LORD in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: "Blessed are you, O LORD, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.

I confess to not spending much time reading the Chronicles. However, I recently determined to push myself through them. In doing so, I've come across some wonderful passages, none more of a blessing to me than the above.

The setting for this passage is the collection for the construction of the temple. The people of Israel have just given willingly toward the building. David prays in joyful response to the collection. David's prayer continues after verse thirteen, but it is these first few verses that stand out to me.

David correctly praises the Lord for both who he is and what he has done. David understands God's position as creator and head. God is the giver of all good things. God's name is worthy of praise.

I suppose this is a good reminder to me that even semi-obscure biblical passages hold wonderful treasures for us. This prayer is one of the most beautiful I've ever read. David designs it as a blessing to God, but every time I read it I feel blessed. The reason? I'm reminded that we serve a God who can be accurately described as having, "the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Like Living Stones

I love I Peter 2:4-9. The apostle writes:

"As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.' So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, 'The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.' They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

This passage is full of tremendous truths about God the Father, God the Son, and His church. As I ponder these verses, twelve stand out to me:

  • God builds and is still building His church.
  • God has founded His church upon one cornerstone - Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus Christ is precious to God the Father.
  • Jesus Christ is rejected by men.
  • God uses live materials to construct His church.
  • God uses His materials (stones) as opposed to man-made materials (bricks).
  • The church is like Christ, but not Christ. He is the living stone; we are like living stones.
  • God's church is His spiritual house.
  • God's church is a holy priesthood.
  • God's church is able to offer spiritual sacrifices that God will accept.
  • God expects faith and obedience from His church.
  • Like Christ, God's church should expect rejection by men.

Passages like this this one are a reminder to us that, ultimately, the church is all God's doing. He builds His church by Himself and for Himself. It is all about Jesus Christ and is founded completely upon Him. The church is all according to God's terms and desires.

It is exciting to think that we redeemed sinners are part of this amazing plan. We get to be building materials right now in God's house. We are part of His abode here on earth. He has blessed us with complete access to Him. Despite our sin, because of what Jesus has accomplished we can live in ways that are acceptable sacrifices to God. Amazing!

As God builds His church, man does not. This is the somewhat tricky part for us. We are all tempted, in our pride and selfish desires, to try to form the church according to what we want. We are all tempted by this regardless of the form or structure of the local church family we are a part of. We must fight this temptation.

Let me give one simple example: the "one anothers" in scripture. These passages are some of the most challenging in the bible. They show us what God expects from His church in how we treat one another. But how often do we redefine these passages? How often do we basically say, "God couldn't really have meant that!"?

Peter reminds us that the church is all God's idea and doing. God determines the parameters. It is all based in Christ to bring glory to the Head - Christ.

We are infinitely privileged to be construction materials in God's new house. We are His priests (not the High Priest) who offer spiritual sacrifices that He finds acceptable. Because of this, we must enjoy this reality by living as He would have us live.

God is the author, designer, creator, and sustainer of His building project. This new temple is vastly more beautiful than the temple from the O.T. No one in Solomon's time told God what the temple should look like. We would be wise today to not tell God what His new temple should look like.

Let us simply enjoy being the church as God has made it. We are His living stones. He builds us as He desires.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

When Should We Meet?

Some Christians believe the church must gather on Sundays. They point to this passage for support:

Acts 20:7, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight." (emphasis mine)

Other Christians say we should be getting together every day. Their evidence for this comes from this section of scripture:

Acts 2:46-47, "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

So which is it? Must we gather on Sundays? Every day? Other days? Has scripture set a schedule for us to meet as followers of Christ? Is this even important?

I'm glad that we have these two passages from Acts mentioned above. The reason is that we see some Christians gathering daily, but others gathering on Sunday (it's possible that those in Troas also gathered daily; we have no evidence either way). The point is this: Luke makes no judgment about one being right and one being wrong. He doesn't even indicate that one choice is better than the other. What can we take from this? My conclusion is that what day or days is not important. The specific frequency doesn't matter either.

Related to this, scripture tells us that two things do matter.

First, we should be gathering with other believers. Scripture assumes we do:

I Corinthians 14:26, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."

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."

We are given some freedom in what this looks like, but we should at least occasionally be gathering with other followers of Christ (assuming we live near any of them). This might be a meeting of numerous followers, or simply a coffee shop sit down with a friend. It could be getting together with a few others to serve the community on various ways. It might be a dinner with a handful of other disciples in your home.

Second, when we come together the goal should be mutual edification. We see this here:

I Corinthians 14:26, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."

And here:

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."

What do we do with all this?

The reality is that we live in a culture that tends to give Sundays off from work. Because of this, Sunday is the day that makes the most sense for larger church gatherings. Churches could schedule larger gatherings, for example, on Tuesday mornings but I doubt many people could attend. Sunday, therefore, becomes the day for larger meetings not because of spiritual significance but because of pragmatics. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with this.

That said, we benefit a great deal when we find the time to meet in smaller groups during the week. While frequency doesn't matter, I think we all like to get together often (when we have the energy to do so).

In the end, there is no set pattern for frequency of gathering. There is no law to this. As for our family (the Carpenters), we are taking tomorrow as a day of relaxation and aren't meeting with anybody else.

Finally, whenever the church meets (in whatever form), no matter what day or how often, the goal is the building up in Christ. What a joy this is.