Saturday, December 31, 2011

Question: Is the Calendar Year Significant to the Life of the Church?

As one year ends and another begins I'm compelled to ask: Is the calendar year significant to the life of the church?

On the one hand we could easily answer "No." The church is the church regardless of time of year. It has the same God, the same joy, and the same mission.

We could also easily answer "Yes." The ministry of the church is affected by the time of year. For example, weather plays a part in the needs of the church and broader community. Additionally, some within the church celebrate certain days on the calendar (Christmas, Easter, etc.).

This is probably a question that does not have a simple "Yes" or "No" answer. However, generally speaking do you think the calendar year is significant to the life of the church?

In looking in scripture, I can't find any indication that specific dates mattered much to the church. They seemed to celebrate the Lord's Supper fairly frequently. However, they may have also celebrated the Passover, which would have fallen on a specific date.

On today's calendar, the days of the week are an interesting issue. Many within the church view Sunday as a sort of Sabbath. It is often referred to as the "Lord's Day." We know the church in Troas came together to break bread on the first day of the week (at least one time when Paul was with them). That said, we also know that the church in Jerusalem met daily. We get no general sense that Sunday was any more significant than any other day of the week.

Our culture, whether we like it or not, impacts the life of the church. Generally speaking, more people have Sunday off from work than any other day. Because of this, larger church gatherings (over 10-20 people) are easier to schedule on Sunday than any other day. Does this make Sunday special in and of itself or do we just gather that day for pragmatic reasons?

All these factors and many more must be taken into account when answering the question at hand.

What do you think? Is the calendar year significant? If so, how and why?

I'm Not Saved Because...

The passing of another year makes me think back on my life. The most important person in my life is Jesus Christ. What matters most is the gospel.

I'm saved because of Jesus alone.

I'm not saved because I was born into a "Christian home."

I'm not saved because most everyone in my extended family is saved.

I'm not saved because I've been "in church" for as long as I can remember.

I'm not saved because my dad taught at a Christian college.

I'm not saved because I was raised in a town where most everyone goes to church.

I'm not saved because I can't remember when I gave my life to Christ.

I'm not saved because several of my family members are foreign missionaries.

I'm not saved because I won a memory verse competition in Sunday School in first grade.

I'm not saved because I was a Boy Scout (never made it to Eagle).

I'm not saved because I went to youth group some of the time (and survived).

I'm not saved because I went to Christian camps in the summer.

I'm not saved because I went to a Christian high school.

I'm not saved because I didn't get kicked out of my Christian high school.

I'm not saved because I attended a Christian college.

I'm not saved because I married a Christian woman who was an MK (missionary kid).

I'm not saved because we have more than two kids.

I'm not saved because we were Southern Baptists.

I'm not saved because I attended seminary.

I'm not saved because I'm ordained (or if I wasn't).

I'm not saved because we went to South Asia as missionaries.

I'm not saved because God healed our son from Lymphoma.

I'm not saved because I was a pastor.

I'm not saved because I resigned from being a pastor.

I'm not saved because I'm now part of a simple church.

I'm not saved because we reside in the "Bible Belt."

I'm not saved because I now work a regular job.

I'm not saved because of this blog.

I'm not saved because of any good works I've done.

I'm not saved because of anything I've done.

I'm not saved because of me.

I am saved because of the grace of God alone through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross alone. 

Praise the Lord!

My guess is that you have a list something like this. What's yours look like?

Friday, December 30, 2011

On Speaking a Different Language

If you take time to read this blog then I'm guessing that church-related issues are important to you. I'm also guessing that when you try to talk about the church you often realize that those you are talking with have no idea what you are saying. They simply don't understand. This happens to me frequently.

Regardless of whether or not I'm talking with a follower of Christ, I find little comprehension on the part of the person with whom I'm having the conversation. It reminds me of our time in India. India is an interesting country for many reasons. One of them is that since England colonized India, many Indians speak English to one degree or another. When in South Asia, we could talk with a good number of the people about basic issues. However, when it came to more in-depth discussions we often struggled to communicate. In particular, conveying Christian truth was difficult. The reason? English was not their first language. That's why we were beginning to learn Hindi before we had to come home.

Back to the present. What should we do if others do not understand? The fleshly temptation of course is to feel pride and/or disgust. However, those are not the responses Christ would like us to have.

So how should we respond? We need to take the responsibility of speaking in ways that others will understand. We need to meet them where they are. This is not condescension; it is rather servanthood. It is trying to humbly talk in a manner that will bring about understanding.

Up until just a few years ago I had never thought about church issues outside of the institutional box. If I had stumbled into a conversation such as we often have on this blog I would have had no framework for understanding. I simply hadn't thought about it before.

It's sort of like when I hear people talking about things like knitting, European literature, music from the 2000's, ancient Cambodian architecture, wigs, and Twilight. I have no idea what's going on.

We have a responsibility to talk with others, both Christians and non-Christians, in ways they understand. As for non-Christians, the best thing to do is talk a lot more about Jesus Christ than the church (at least at first). As for other Christians, let's humbly talk using terms and phrases that make sense. Let's continue to ask hard questions and point out inconsistencies in the church, but let's do so in a way that brings about solid dialog.

This does not mean that everyone who understands will agree with what we say. I know this about this blog. For example, one blogger who understands what I write at the same time takes me to task on his blog every few weeks. That's fine; he disagrees with me. But at least he understands. I'm glad about this.

Let's go out of our way to help others understand what in the world we are talking about as far as the church is concerned. We cannot control whether or not they will agree with us (they probably won't). We can't even really control whether or not they comprehend (but we can try).

Let's humbly and lovingly do our part.

Top Posts (Revisited) and Most Clicked Posts

I'm guessing that the feline to the left is not actually reading a blog. He's probably searching for a mouse instead. Regardless, I can tell from the computer background that he's not reading my blog.

For those of you who honor me with your presence here, I've revisited a page at the top of the blog entitled Top Posts. I did this a while back, but got rid of it because it wasn't well defined. I've changed it now so that it includes only posts that have received twenty or more comments. More comments usually means better posts on more interesting topics.

On a different but related statistic, Blogger offers a function that lists in order which posts have received the most hits all time. These could possibly be the most read posts, or they could just be the posts that have been clicked on the most. Regardless, I've placed the list on my sidebar and called it simply Most Clicked Posts. I'm guessing that search engines such as Google have something to do with why some of these posts have gotten the most hits. For example, my most hit post of all is entitled I Think He Thinks I'm An Alien. Maybe searchers for extra-terrestrial life are stumbling upon my blog. I'm guessing they don't stay for long.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Matters Most

"Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." I Cor. 15:1-4 (ESV)

"For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God — so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, 'Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.' " Rom. 15:18-21

On this blog I write quite a bit about the church and various issues related to it. I suppose this is because of the path my life has taken over the past decade or so. Church issues are both important and worth writing about. We need to ask hard questions and be willing to seek out answers - even if they are uncomfortable.

That said, as Christ-followers we must always keep in mind what matters most. Simply put, it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that matters most. Paul makes this clear in the above I Cor. 15 passage. The apostle uses the phrase, "of first importance" to describe the profound basics of the gospel.

In Romans 15 Paul tells us that his desire and goal is to see the gospel spread around the world. He wants to take it where it isn't so that those who have never heard will see and understand. Paul's primary concern is that the lost hear and comprehend the good news of Christ crucified.

When we lived in India in 2006-2007 it was easy to see what matters most. Each morning when we woke we were immediately confronted with a society with little Christian influence. Hinduism dominated daily life. Islam ran a distant but significant second. We were constantly reminded that about 99% of the people in our city not only needed the gospel but had probably never heard it. We were not distracted by what we might refer to as secondary doctrines. It was the gospel and the gospel alone that mattered most.

Back here in the USA it is somewhat easy to lose sight of this. We have church buildings all over the place. We have Christian schools, colleges, radio stations, and TV stations. Christianity remains, at least according to unscientific polls, the dominant belief-system in our culture. Because of this, we within Christian circles can get caught up in discussions and activities of lesser importance than the gospel.

Paul helps redirect our focus. Because of the gospel, we who are in Christ are united in one big family: the church. Although we should heartily discuss important church issues (such as definition, form, function, leadership, gatherings, etc.), we must remember that we can only have these discussions because of something much more significant - the gospel itself.

We all, myself certainly included, must remember that the gospel is a divider. It separates those who are Christ's from those who are not. However, the wonderful thing is that this gospel is powerful enough to save any and all who repent and believe. And stunningly, our Savior has decided to use sinful us to be the heralds of this wonderful news.

Some of us will have the privilege of being heralds overseas in today's Illyricums. However, most of us will stay relatively close to where we are. That's fine. Fewer and fewer Americans have any substantive clue about what the gospel really means. There are enough lost folks for all of us. Even if we are busy preaching forgiveness in Christ we will never run out of people who need to hear.

This blog post is a little selfish and personal. I need to remind myself of these things more frequently than I do. You likely need to be reminded as well (maybe not as much as me). While church issues are worthy of discussion, the church would not exist without the gospel. No atonement = no forgiveness = no salvation = no church.

Since the gospel is of most significance, it should also be what we talk about the most. Apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ, we have nothing.

Jesus Christ and his gospel matter most.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Myths About Organic Church

Milt Rodriguez has much experience in organic church life. He offers sound advice on his blog for those seeking authentic church according to biblical principles. For this reason, he's on my blogroll.

Milt is in the process of writing a series entitled "10 Myths About Organic Church." So far in the series he has penned six of the ten entries. I encourage you to read all of them. While I don't necessarily agree with everything Milt has to say, I almost always find his thoughts to be both informative and challenging. Below I've included links to the six entries followed by my favorite quote from each:

Myth #1 – Organic Church is a New Method for Doing Church

“Why is it that we don’t come seeking life instead of more information and knowledge? Why don’t we come seeking Christ instead of other things? Organic church is really only about one thing – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! It’s about His life and living by His life with a group of believers.”

Myth #2 – Organic Church is a New Movement

“So we can see by the scriptures that God’s church is something that is founded upon none other than Jesus Christ Himself and not all of man’s ideas about Him. So it’s very clear by these definitions that actually the new movement is the institutional church itself, not the organic church. The organic church is the attempt of modern day believers to return to their ‘roots’ in primitive Christianity. These ‘roots’, of course, are nothing new, but rather a return to something very ancient.”

Myth #3 – Organic Church is a Spontaneous Free-For-All

“It’s not that we throw away structure in the organic, but rather that structure comes to have a whole new meaning for us. Of course there is still structure in organic church, but this structure is not mechanical as in the system, it is organic. That means it has a totally different nature. The essence of organic structure is based upon the indwelling life of Christ, not any man-made mechanism that is external.”

Myth #4 – Organic Churches Do Not Have Leaders

“We are ALL called to lead and to minister. Our Christ is the ALL in ALL (of us). But the key is that we all (hopefully) desire his Headship and his Centrality and to live by his Life. But all of these things or aspects of Christ are expressed THROUGH US! But this can only happen as we all learn to live by Him and abide in Him. This comes by mutually submitting ourselves one to another. He is our only Head and we discover his direction and leadership by submitting ourselves to the members of the body. This will happen in different ways at different times. Different members of the body will lead in different areas at different times depending upon what the Head wants for that particular season.”

Myth #5 – Organic Church is All About Rapid Multiplication and Discipleship

“Fruit only happens because there is much transformation (pruning) that goes on as the branches realized that apart from Him they can do nothing! All fruit comes in season. And the idea of seasons in the church (which is organic) has been abandoned for church growth principles, programs, and agendas.”

Myth #6 – Anyone Can Plant an Organic Church

“The record (New Testament story of the early church) shows that true biblical church planters are not made overnight. It also shows that not everyone is called to this work. It also shows that it takes years of preparation. It never has been, nor will it ever be a quick and easy task. At least, not if we do it His way.”

I'm anticipating Milt's final four entries in the weeks to come.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas

As a family we've chosen not to celebrate the "Christian" side of Christmas. Instead, we just treat it as a winter holiday. In that spirit, enjoy this song:

"What Have We Been Doing?"

My wife Alice is a blogger too. She hasn't written much lately because of the current busyness of our lives. However, she had a bit of time yesterday to electronically pen some thoughts about what our family is doing these days.

Her post is entitled, "What Have We Been Doing?". I've linked to her because she is a good writer and a great lady. Alice somehow manages to keep our home running well with me working almost all the time. I cherish her and am thankful for her industriousness for the cause of Christ.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

$$$$$$$$ and Missions

Felicity Dale at Simply Church has written another great post entitled, "When Western Finance Does More Harm Than Good."  The reality is that many American Christians have a deep desire to give toward missions but do not know how to best go about this. Sometimes the giving, if not directed appropriately, does more damage than good. Felicity's short piece is a great reminder that we need to be aware of cultural contexts before we begin working there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Service is Supreme

Matthew 23:1-12 tells us the following:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (ESV)

In the past I've held the titles of both "missionary" and "pastor." While well-intentioned, titles of this sort create an artificial caste system within the church. They divide people into groups of "who is qualified" and "who is not." Instead of equality in Christ, special names within the church bring man-made hierarchies.

For this reason, Jesus in the above passage tells us not to use titles. Christ is specifically denouncing the practices of the Pharisees. However, his commands are clearly statements to those who would follow him. We see in these verses that only one person deserves titles: God himself.

Instead of titles, our goal should be service to one another. The greatest in God's kingdom seek no titles but instead serve the body and broader community. It is these who "will be exalted."

This passage informs how we should think of the biblical term "elder." If elder is an office or title to hold, then this passage is difficult to understand. However, if elder is simply a recognition of godly behavior and attitudes on the part of older men in the church, then it makes sense.

Christ permits no titles. They give no benefit and only bring harm to his church.

Instead, Jesus is looking for servants. Let's be that.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

One Thing I Don't Respect About Roman Catholicism

In my previous post I wrote about respecting Roman Catholicism for honesty about its sources of authority: both scripture and tradition.

In fairness, I think I should mention something that I don't respect about Roman Catholicism. That thing is the tendency to allow tradition to trump scripture in various church beliefs and practices. Frankly, it doesn't bother me when Catholics (or anyone else for that matter) do things according to tradition when these things do not violate scripture. The problem rises when the traditions transgress in some way what scripture teaches/shows us.

I've included a photo of the pope for a reason. The Roman Catholic tradition of having a pope flies in the face of all scriptural evidence. The bible nowhere at all in any way whatsoever suggests that one man is the head of the church (other than Jesus Christ of course). Nowhere in scripture is there any hint that the Bishop of Rome will be the leader of the church. There is no "Vicar of Christ." To suggest that the apostle Peter was the first pope strains biblical interpretation to an absurd degree.

I've met many Catholics in my life. Their thoughts about and attitudes toward the pope ran a wide spectrum. Regardless, they still admitted that he is the head of the church.

This is a tradition that plainly violates what we see in the bible. Scripture tells us that Christ is the head. We are all equals within his body. There is no hierarchy. Those who are elders are called upon to lead in living Christlike lives for all of us to emulate. To be great in the church is to be a servant.

Within Roman beliefs and practices, there are many that violate scripture. There is of course the pope. Other violations include the Mass/Eucharist, the Vatican, Cardinals, priests, nuns, monks, Lent, infant baptism, penance, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, confession to priests, veneration of the saints, praying to saints, and various beliefs about Mary such as her being the queen of heaven, a perpetual virgin, and the co-redemptress who ascended into heaven. Not all Catholics believe and/or practice all these things. However, they are very common within the Catholic church.

All of the above stem directly from allowing tradition to trump the bible in belief and practice.

My purpose in this post is not to bash Roman Catholicism. Rather, it is to focus on the danger of allowing our traditions to reign supreme in decision making. We would all do well to examine ourselves to see where our own traditions, whatever they may be, violate what God has shown us in the bible.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Thing I Respect About Roman Catholicism

In a word the one thing I respect about Roman Catholicism is honesty.

I'm referring specifically to honesty as it relates to sources of authority for both belief and practice. Roman Catholicism has, at least since the Council of Trent, made it clear that both scripture and non-written tradition are legitimate sources of authority in what to believe and how to live this out.

Roman Catholics are honest about this. They do some things according to the bible, and other things according to their traditions. I realize that I'm speaking in generalities, but overall what I've stated is true. It is up to Catholics to determine what aspects of tradition and what parts of scripture to follow. When the two come in conflict, I'm not sure how they determine what to do. The popes past and present have dealt with many of these types of issues. Regardless, in the end Roman Catholicism is consistent and honest: both tradition and scripture are authorities.

(As a brief aside, I'm not suggesting that I agree with Rome in this; I'm simply stating that that Rome practices what it preaches.)

Now we turn to the broad segment of Christianity known as Protestantism. That's a big tent to be sure. However, a few things bind Protestants together. One of these is the declaration, like the Reformers, that scripture will be the highest authority in belief and practice (Sola Scriptura!). Some today go so far as to say that the bible is the only authority, but that's not what the Reformers thought. The key is that scripture takes the highest spot.

This is where most Protestants simply aren't honest. I'm not suggesting that Protestants are purposely lying, but rather that they have largely deceived themselves into thinking that they actually treat the bible as their highest authority.

Part of the difficulty is that Protestants in general actually are biblical about beliefs related to salvation. The gospel of grace, as taught in scripture, is well beloved and embraced by the vast majority of Protestantism.

However, and this is a big however, most Protestants do not actually adhere to scripture as their authority when it comes to church life. A cursory glance around American evangelicalism makes this fairly obvious.

It's interesting to look at the church we see in scripture, the church we see in Reformation days, and the church we see today. If scripture was actually Protestants' highest authority, then today's churches would look more like the first century church than the church of Luther's and Calvin's time. However, that's not the case. Today's Protestant churches in this country look, with modernization, much like the church from 500 years ago. There is some resemblance, but only some, to the first century church.

Protestants would do well to do one of two things. Either they should embrace scripture as their highest authority for both salvation and the church, or they should be honest (like Rome is) and state that both bible and tradition determine why they do what they do. What we have today is a dishonest ignorance on the part of most Protestants.

Let's at least be honest. We all, even if we aren't part of the institutional church, still do many things because of man-created tradition. It's healthy to admit this. Then we have a decision to make. We can either change to conform to biblical teachings or we can stay as we are. Let's at least be honest and not delude ourselves.

Rome is honest about this issue. For this I respect them. What about the rest of us?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Church Anywhere, Anytime

There is a discussion/argument that some Christians have about what constitutes a church gathering. You've heard the question before: "If two Christians meet in a coffee shop, is that church?" The focus of the question is "what counts."

The problem with the above discussion is that it suggests that whether or not something is church depends on what we do. In other words, the specific activities determine if a church gathering is actually a church gathering. This is, in a word, preposterous. In scripture, the only determining factor for whether or not a gathering is a church gathering is who is there.

If those in Christ get together, it is a church meeting. This may look like a whole lot of different things, but in the end when Christians meet, it is a church meeting.

The church meets anywhere, anytime.

This is becoming more of a reality for me everyday. Since I work so much now, and in a secular environment, I cherish any conversation I can have with a fellow Christian. I wish they were more frequent. When we do get to talk, it's a meeting.

This issue comes back to the importance of accurate (re: biblical) definitions. The bible always describes the church as God's people, not as any sort of activity - even a meeting.

God has, in his grace, shown us why he wants us to gather (mutual edification leading to Christian maturity). He has also given us examples of things we can bring to gatherings that honor him (prayers, songs, testimonies, teachings, etc.). Although these things are important, they do not determine if a meeting is, in fact, a church meeting.

Ultimately it is God who determines if a church gathering occurs. He is the one who sovereignly saves; therefore, he determines who his children are. Whenever his children get together - anywhere, anytime - it is a church gathering.

In a way, this whole conversation is redundant. Asking if Christians getting together is really a church gathering is sort of like asking whether or not an apple is an apple. If Christians get together it is by default and definition a church gathering.

We can and should meet anywhere and anytime. God is pleased when we do. The actions don't determine whether or not it's church, God does.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Back to a Simple Blogger Template

I've made the executive decision to return to an older Blogger template. The reason for this is simple. The primary purpose of this blog is to have conversations about the Christian life. The new template was preventing some folks from commenting. I suppose it is another example of newer not necessarily being better. Anyway, my desire is that we will all be challenged and edified through mutual discussion. This, quite obviously, should include anyone who wants to leave a comment. My hope is that this simpler template will allow just that.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God's Work Provision

Most of you know that I used to work as a salaried pastor. Then I made the "mistake" of reading passages like this: 

Acts 20:32-35, "And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

As I was in the process of resigning I knew that God would have to provide some sort of work for me to do. A few months later the Lord gave me a job with JCB. I've mentioned it a few times before but not in much detail. I work in JCB's North American headquarters near Savannah. The factory produces skid steer loaders, which are one-man vehicles designed to serve many purposes around construction sites, manufacturing plants, etc.

After working in the assembly section for about six months, I was by the grace of God recently promoted to an inspector position in the Quality department. Now I inspect the vehicles after they come off the assembly line and then run them through a small obstacle course to ensure proper functioning.

Last week I worked 65 hours. Same for the week before that. I prayed for work and the Lord very much provided. What a wonderful God we serve. If you prayed for me and my family, I thank you.

As Paul worked with his hands, I now do so with mine. It truly is "more blessed to give than receive."

I've included a video to show what the skid steer looks like. Although it is a sales video, it's still interesting. BTW - no surprise here: Larry works in the sales dept.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Church Gatherings Fight Hunger

When the church gathers together, one of the main purposes is to eat together.

Acts 20:7 provides us with one of the clearest purpose statements for a church gathering in scripture. Luke writes, "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." Notice that the church got together "to break bread."

Numerous benefits come from eating together. One that we don't often think about is that the Lord's Supper provides everyone with a significant meal. It is a spiritual meal, but at the same time it is a real meal. The body gets to eat. This fights hunger.

Paul was greatly concerned that the Corinthian church was abusing the Lord's Supper. The apostle wrote in 11:20-21, "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." One of Paul's main frustrations was that some were going hungry.

We live in a country of plenty. Most of us rarely think abut truly feeling hungry. When our family had the privilege of living in India for a few months I was confronted for the first time with real poverty. We saw many people who, based on their ultra-thin appearance, usually had little to eat.

God is the provider of food for his people. When the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for forty years God provided manna and quail for them to eat. He then sent his son, Jesus Christ, to save us and feed us spiritually. Christ is in every way the bread of life. We read the following in John 6:32-35:

 "Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" 

God provides his church to one another for both spiritual and physical care. We feed on Christ together. We feed one another. Part of this is literally feeding each other. For some poor Christians around the globe the best meals they may get are the ones they take part in at church gatherings. I'm sure everyone tries to bring some food, but the wealthier would and should bring more.

When the church eats, people get fed. This fights hunger. We shouldn't discount the significance of this. Jesus took time to feed the 5000 and 4000. We must care for the well-being of others, too. We can relatively easily do this by eating a meal when we gather.

Tomorrow we'll be gathering with our church family.  The theme is Italian.  I can't wait.

This Might Not Work Out So Well...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Romans 14 - The Application

Here's the rub. How do we apply Romans chapter 14?

I've previously blogged about the Romans 14 issue, the Romans 14 context, and what Paul says in Romans 14. Now I'll tackle the place "where the rubber meets the road." What significance does it have for us?

I encourage you to again read Romans 14:1 - 15:13.

The key to understanding any passage is the context. We must remember that Paul was writing to a church that was likely a mix of Jewish and Gentile believers. There appears to have been some conflict within the body about how to deal correctly with the OT law. Specifically, how were they to handle various aspects of the ceremonial laws related to eating/drinking regulations and special days, especially the Sabbath?

The tensions arose over differing interpretations of how to live out what they read in their Hebrew bibles (translated into Greek) in light of what Christ had accomplished.

Paul tells the Roman church that each believer must be convinced in his own mind of what is right. They are not to pass judgment on each other about the conclusions they come to. Instead, they are to welcome one another in unity. Paul desires that they think of others before themselves so that they won't become stumbling blocks to one another. The Roman Christians are to do all for peace, following the example Christ had left them. All is to be done for the glory of God.

Let's return to the issue of context. This is critical for our accurate understanding. In this passage, Paul is specifically discussing how to interpret what has been written. He is pointing back to the scriptures that they already have. The issue is how to handle what they have read in the pages of the Old Testament. The context, then, is God's word.

 Since we now have the New Testament, this would fall within context.

If that is the context of this passage, what then falls outside of the context? What's outside is anything that scripture does not address. If it's not in the bible, then Paul's certainly not dealing with it in this particular passage.

This is important because Romans 14:1 - 15:13 is often used by some Christians to justify various church practices that have no biblical basis. The problem with this, as we have seen, is that Paul is not dealing with those sorts of practices in this passage. Therefore, Romans 14 is in no way a sort of "trump card" to allow us to do whatever we may think is right in the life of the church.

Paul is addressing something specific in Romans 14:1 - 15:13. In order to be fair to what Paul meant, we must be accurate in understanding what he was talking about. The issue was and still is what had already been written. Only when we apply Romans 14 to what has been written in the bible do we correctly apply it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

47 and Counting

I'm now up to 47 hours of work in four days. I'll probably hit 60-65 hours by the the time I finish on Saturday afternoon. This makes it a little easier to pay the bills, but much more difficult to see my family. Blogging has to take a back seat. I want to complete the Romans 14 series but will have to wait until Sunday to do that.

While at work, I keep mulling over a question that we all deal with: how can we at the same time both discuss important church issues and remain united as the body of Christ?

One way I've seen some folks do this is to focus almost completely on world missions. Missions does seem to be an issue of church life that is relatively easy to agree upon - at least at first. We all agree that everyone on the planet needs to hear the gospel in an understandable way. However, we don't all agree on the types/styles/forms of churches that should be planted. The issue remains. 

As children of Christ, we are one. John 17 makes this abundantly clear. This is Jesus' desire. So how do we go about living this out as the church while asking hard questions about the church? One step in the right direction is this: instead of focusing so much of our energy on being right, we should spend our time thinking about what would most benefit our brothers and sisters. We may end up coming to the same conclusions, but the path we take and the words we write/speak may be different.