Monday, April 30, 2012

Why Are Campouts Great? Community

Last weekend we had the opportunity to go on a campout with a group of other Christian families. Some we know pretty well, while others were new to us. We all have daughters in the American Heritage Girls.

The campout took place at beautiful Magnolia Springs State Park, which is about two hours from here. We all stayed at a pioneer campsite, which means sleeping in tents, cooking over outdoor stoves, sitting around the fire, and using a scary outhouse. It was real camping (as opposed to staying in some sort of cottage with electricity. O.K. I admit to having done that before).

We enjoyed fishing, going on hikes through the woods, playing games, eating lots of good food, watching the animals, etc. Personally, it was great just to breathe in a lot of fresh air (I work in a construction equipment factory with less than the best air quality).

As I think back on the campout, it is clear what made it great. It was the community. Campouts like this provide the rare opportunity to spend many hours with friends away from the distractions of everyday life. While group camping, all the tents are within a few feet of each other. Most electronic distractions are a non-issue. There isn't much to do but hang out and talk. This may involve taking hikes and playing games, or it might just mean sitting in chairs in a circle. Regardless, it provides something that is difficult to come by most of the time: a lot of time to talk and simply be together.

It strikes me that the church would benefit from functioning much like folks at a campout. We would spend a lot of time together, hanging out, eating, playing games, and talking a lot. We would share our lives together for bulks of time (this, of course, is not all the church would do.)

We can learn a lot from campouts. I hope we are able to go on another one soon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Missions in Philippians

When it comes to world missions, what is the key passage in Philippians? I believe it comes in Philippians 1:18, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” (For the first post in this series, click here.)

This is a fascinating verse. We see very clearly that Paul’s goal is the proclamation of Christ crucified, regardless of motivation.

When writing this letter, Paul was most likely under some sort of house arrest in Rome. His imprisonment had brought about a wonderful result: other Christians in the Roman church had become more courageous in sharing the gospel. Some people within the imperial guard had even heard the good news of Christ.

In 1:15 Paul writes a verse that seems a bit odd at first, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” At this point we might expect Paul to rebuke those who preach “from envy and rivalry.” Instead, the apostle writes verse 18. Paul is simply thrilled that the gospel is being proclaimed in Rome in various ways by various Christians with varying motivations to various unbelievers.

This broad preaching of the gospel brings one emotion from Paul: rejoicing. He mentions this twice for emphasis.

What can we learn from this? The key is that the gospel is proclaimed.

There are undoubtedly many Christians who preach the good news to the lost for various reasons. Different methods are used. Various denominations are involved. Sending agencies abound. The motivations of some are probably even different.

As long as the gospel being proclaimed is the biblical gospel, we must rejoice in this. The good news being proclaimed is indeed good news!

If we follow Paul’s example, then we should not spend our time being upset that others preach the gospel for different reasons than we might. Rather, let us rejoice that the gospel is being heralded in many ways by many different people.

Gospel proclamation supersedes different motivations.

(To read any or all the posts in this series, please click here.)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Willing to be One Anothered

The multiple "one another" commands that we see throughout the pages of the New Testament provide for us a picture of body life. We do for others, and they do for us. We treat others in a certain manner, and they treat us the same. We care for others, and they care for us.

In talking about the one anothers, most of the focus usually falls on what we should do for others. I suppose this makes sense. However, we also need to realize that we must allow others to do for us. The one anothering is a two way street.

I'm not suggesting that we treat others well because they treat us well. We carry out the one anothers out of joyful obedience to Christ. However, we also need to be willing to accept one anothering from our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we accept their one anothering of us, we do them a service. It provides them with the opportunity to joyfully obey Christ.

These is a sort of reciprocal nature to all this. We all grow up together in Christ as we serve one another. We help others grow by one anothering together. This involves both giving and receiving. If we only focus on the giving, we end up inadvertently hurting both ourselves and others.

One anothering is critical to the life of the church. We all need to be involved in it. When we share with each other in this way, God is honored and we all grow closer to him.

For much more on one anothering, take a look at what Jon is writing about.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

An Example To Imitate

"For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." II Thess. 3:7-10

This is one of those passages in the bible that is extremely clear. There is no need for a lot of explanation. We can plainly read what Paul is saying and easily comprehend it.

Paul expects the Thessalonians to work and work hard. While with them, Paul provided an example for them. We can surmise that he spent a good deal of his time making tents. Paul did not want to be a financial burden to the Christians in Thessalonica. Interestingly, he had the right to financial support (as a traveling apostolic worker), but freely gave up this right because it provided them with the example they needed. Paul goes so far that if someone is unwilling to work he better stop eating as well.

Work is a good thing. Anyone in the church who has a capacity to do so should do so. This can be inside or outside the home; regardless, God expects us to be industrious. He expects us to work in order to provide food for ourselves and our dependents. God does not want anyone who can work to be a financial drain upon the church.

Who, then, should the church support financially? Only those who need the help because they cannot work.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

My Rapper Moment

Yesterday I tweeted the following:

"Able to teach" does not equal "monologue preach."

I was thinking, of course, about the I Timothy 3 passage dealing with characteristics of overseers. Little did I realize that my tweet rhymes. My brother-in-law commented that I'm a house church rapper. I kind of like that. Although, since I have little rhythm, my rapping would probably look something like the dude at the left.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Priestly Serving Together

We live in such an individual-driven society that it is sometimes difficult to accurately understand what the apostolic writers are telling us. We are further hampered by the English language. Specifically, singular commands and plural commands often sound the same; the word “you” can be singular or plural.

Since we are Western, we often fall into the trap of reading commands as singular when they are actually plural. Romans 12:9-21 is a passage where this can easily happen. In these verses, Paul gives short command after command, and almost all are plural.

Paul is telling us that we serve as priests together:

“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

This sounds sort of like a laundry list to our ears. How in the world can we obey all these commands? We can’t if we try to do it alone.

Paul, to our benefit, isn’t thinking about us living up to these standards alone. Instead, the apostle is thinking about body life. Three times in these verses Paul uses the expression “one another.” His thought process is that we will carry out our priestly service right alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. We will live according to these high standards by helping one another do so.

By the power of the Holy Spirit and with the help of the church family, we can live in a manner that pleases God. This is what priests do. We offer sacrifices of praise in accordance with God’s standards. We do it together.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I Love This Verse!

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Colossians 3:16

If we take scripture seriously, then this verse has uber-significant application for various reasons. I'll briefly focus on one. It is not only our joy, but also our responsibility to teach and admonish others and also accept teaching and admonishing from others.

Paul has an expectation of action on our part. We are not to sit back and wait for others to do this, but instead we are to engage in teaching and admonishing the church. Since this letter is written to the entire body (note: not just some), this applies to all Christians. This is a key aspect to the priesthood of all believers.

In order for the church to be healthy, we must live this out.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Using Priestly Gifts for the Good of the Body

We’ve previously seen that Paul calls upon all of us in the church to live as the priests we already are. In doing this, the apostle tells us that we can actually know the will of God.

Paul continues in Romans 12 with the exhortation that we priests must all use our gifts for the good of the body. Paul informs us in verses 3-8, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

The body needs all its members. All the priests need each other.

Keeping an accurate and humble view of self, we are to all serve the body with whatever gifts God has given us. This is critical because, as Paul writes, “…the members do not all have the same function.” This is why all are necessary. If all don’t function, then the body will have significant weaknesses.

In God’s kingdom we are not individuals, at least not in the ultra-individualistic, modern, Western sense. Instead, we are all parts of one functioning body. Every part is necessary. Paul says we are, “individually members one of another.” I’m part of you and you are part of me. It may at first sound odd to us, but if we are part of the same body this must be the case.

In the midst of body life we must not be passive. Rather, let us all use our gifts to serve in the family in whatever manner we can. When all parts function, then the body becomes vibrant. All needs are met and the body is healthy.

We priests offer acceptable sacrifices to God when we actively serve the body using the gifts he has granted us. God desires and commands this, and we all benefit from it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

An Excellent Biblical Definition of the Church

On Sunday our church family was studying through I Peter chapter two. Not surprisingly, verses five and nine generated a good bit of discussion concerning the church. As I read verse nine several times, I was struck that it is an excellent definition of the church.

I Peter 2:9 in a few different translations:

"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." (ESV)

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." (HCSB)

"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." (KJV)

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (NIV)

Sometimes we make life too complicated. In attempting to define things such as the church, let's simply let scripture speak whenever it provides definitions. I Peter 2:9 is the best I've ever seen for the church.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Elders/Overseers Are Important But Not That Important

In the life of Christ's church it is important that we we keep a biblical perspective on the role of elders/overseers (I'm using these two terms interchangeably in this post). It is far to easy to go to one of two extremes. On the one side, within the institutional framework elders/overseers (usually referred to as "pastors") are treated as far more important than they are. On the other side, many within simple church life act as if elders carry little to no importance at all. Neither of these extremes is biblical.

When we look in scripture, we see that elders/overseers are important but not that important. In other words, they are significant to the life of the church, but in a limited capacity. There are a few passages that speak to the importance of elders. Acts 20 and I Peter 5 are examples of these.

The reality is, however, that there are few passages that deal with elders/overseers. When compared to the amount of information directed to the church as a whole, the total written to/about elders and overseers is very small. For example, many of the NT letters do not even mention elders/overseers. If they were extremely important to the life of the church, then more attention would be given to them.

Where can we find a proper perspective on the importance of elders/overseers? Paul helps us with this in his opening to the church in Philippi. He writes the following:

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

In the very first verse of this epistle we see Paul's perspective on the relative importance of elders/overseers. Paul mentions them, but they have only secondary importance. As with most of Paul's other letters, he addresses the entire church in the city. His intent is for the application to be to all the saints. When Paul uses the word "saints," he is referring to all the saved within Philippi. Notice that Paul does not view the elders/overseers as more saintly than anyone else.

Paul sees the elders/overseers as being with the church. They are a part of the body. They are not above the body, but with the body. They are not outsiders, but rather a component of the church family.

We must note, however, that Paul does take the time to mention the overseers specifically. He would not do this if they did not have an important role to play. While they are less important than the church as a whole, their role is nonetheless significant. It is to be exercised within the body life of the entire church.

This one little verse helps us understand and keep a biblical perspective on the relative importance that elders/overseers play within the body. The challenge to all of us is to hold this perspective.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Never Going Back There

I'm never going back to the shadows. I hope you aren't either. Why would we? Jesus Christ is so much better!

"They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, 'See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.'" Hebrews 8:5

"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near." Hebrews 10:1

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Excellent Article by John Zens

Yesterday I came upon an excellent blog post written by Jon Zens. It's actually a guest piece on Frank Viola's site. Zens' article is entitled The New Testament is Plural Not Singular. Enjoy.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Acts 20:7 and the First Day of the Week

“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.” Acts 20:7 

The context of the above familiar verse is Paul’s third missionary journey. Paul and his companions have arrived in Troas, where they stayed for seven days. 

In 20:7-12 we read about a gathering of the church in Troas. We’re told that they came together on the first day of the week (Sunday). The gathering was for the purpose of sharing the Lord’s Supper meal together. During this occasion, Paul talked with them for quite a while.

What we see here is a church coming together to eat together. Paul was in town, and they wanted to spend a lot of time with him. They ate, talked, ate, and talked. Eventually someone fell asleep, fell, died, and was raised. That makes for quite a memorable evening together no doubt. I love the fact that after the miracle, they went back to doing what they were doing before: eating and conversing.

Here’s what struck me as I read through this passage today: there is no indication that the church in Troas made a normal pattern of getting together on Sundays. All Luke tells us is that on this one occasion they assembled on a Sunday. It could just have easily been a Tuesday or Friday. However, as Paul was going to be departing soon, they wanted to get together as a body to eat and talk. Sunday happened to be the day. 

Luke describes for us what occurred on a particular day in Troas. There is not even a hint that this is a pattern that they followed or that we should have to follow. We’ve all heard it said that we should get together as the church on Sundays because that’s what the early church did. I’m not convinced. Additionally, since we’re no longer bound by the O. T. Sabbath (Jesus is our Sabbath), there is no reason to make Sunday into one.

We are free to gather when we want and whenever we want. No one day is any holier than any other. The reality is that due to job schedules, Sundays are normally the easiest day to gather with church families (this is what we normally do). However, we don’t have to.

What we can learn from Acts 20:7 is that it is good to gather together to eat and talk. We see in other passages that this should happen for mutual edification. However, it does not matter at all on what day or days this occurs.

Sunday is just another day. All days are holy in Christ.

Assemble whenever and wherever, but by all means do assemble.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fools' Day and the Book of Proverbs

The book of Proverbs uses the word "fool" forty-three different times. This is by far the most in the bible (the book of Ecclesiastes comes in a distant second place with thirteen uses). On this April Fools' Day, Proverbs gives us many healthy reminders that living for God is wise, while rejection of him for the things of the world is foolish.

Some of the forty-three excerpts from Proverbs:

"The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin." Proverbs 10:8

"Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding." 10:23

"A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool." 17:10

"A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." 18:2

"Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly." 26:11

"A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back." 29:11

I encourage you to read them all.