Monday, September 24, 2012

The Smallest Church in America

Our family spent Saturday together on Jekyll Island, GA. On our way home we decided to stop off at what I'd heard was called The Smallest Church in America. I'd seen the name on a sign and figured it was referring to a really small building as opposed to a small group of some kind.

You can see the building in the photos above. It's a structure that seats about twelve people and is still used for weddings. When we arrived, no one was there but the door was unlocked. I couldn't resist getting behind the pulpit. Just like old times!

It turns out that this really isn't the smallest church in America. It's not a big disappointment; it's not as if we had anything emotionally invested in this short venture. We spent all of fifteen minutes there.

The building has morphed into what amounts to a shrine of some sort. Lots of Roman Catholic paraphernalia was spread about the inside. As a side note, it appears that Jesus in the stained glass window is blessing my efforts (sarcasm alert).

I post this as a reminder that buildings are just buildings. They matter not a bit in the Kingdom of God. The church is a wondrous thing created and sustained by God. It is His people.

A more accurate title for the above place would be The Nearly Smallest Church Building, Shrine, and Tourist Stop in America.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Not a Virgin?

I love it when God provides opportunities to testify about His truth.

This week a young man approached me at work to ask a question. I've talked with him previously, but never about matters of much substance. Out of the blue, he asked me what I thought about Jesus being born of a virgin. Another man in his specific work area had been saying that Jesus wasn't actually virgin-born because the word used in the OT just meant a young woman of marriageable age.

I was asked this question while on break, so we were able to talk for about ten minutes. I was able to explain several reasons for why I believe Mary was, in fact, a virgin. I'm thankful that this young man had already heard almost all of the arguments I made. Therefore, I wasn't really telling him anything new, but was rather helping cement what he already believed.

This was not a conversation I pursued in any way. God gave the opportunity, and I praise Him for it. Sometimes I go through the day wondering if I'll ever have chances to speak of Christ. Then I'm reminded by God that He provides the opportunities. We just have to be open to them.

I don't know what will come from this conversation I had. If I was able to help a brother a little bit then I'm pleased. Thank you Lord.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Missions in I Peter

The book of I Peter teaches us much about living as exiles in this world. Not surprisingly, the apostle deals with the theme of suffering several times in this epistle. What about missions? Does Peter write anything that will help us share the gospel more effectively? The answer is yes. Peter gives us valuable information to share about the church. Specifically, the church is a priesthood (to read the first post in this series, click here).

In order to fully share the good news of Jesus Christ, we must tell what the church is and does. Although this is secondary to what Christ has accomplished for us, it is still critical. The reason is that anyone who accepts Christ is also immediately ushered into the church. The new believer needs to know what this thing is that he is a part of.

Peter writes the following short but key passages:

"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." I Peter 2:4-5

"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

In these passages Peter says that the church is a "holy priesthood" and a "royal priesthood." We are told that we are able to "offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God" and "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

Priests have direct access to God. Priests have a relationship with Him. Priests are active. Priests offer acceptable sacrifices. New believers need to know that God expects them to be active in their relationship with Him, in their relationships with other believers, and in their proclamation of the gospel to the world.

A problem with much missions and evangelism today is that it offers no biblical definition of what the church should be and do. Instead, new Christians quickly learn through observation that they are expected to attend Sunday School, attend worship services, listen to sermons, join a church, put money in the offering plate, attend Wednesday evening activities, etc., etc., etc. These expectations create passive new believers.

Thanks to Peter we have a biblical way of teaching new Jesus-followers what it is to actively live for Jesus. Let's make sure that they understand that they are priests with all the responsibilities and privileges that carries.

To read any or all posts in this series on missions, click here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Missions in James

The book of James is a tough one. It's full of short sentences containing many commands. This epistle is sort of like taking an advanced class in sanctification. James shouts to his readers that true salvation in Christ shows evidence in godly living. In the midst of all this, what can we learn about missions? (For the first post in this series, click here).

The primary theme of James, that faith is accompanied by works, is extremely important for missions. The reason for this is simple: people generally believe what they see much more than what they simply hear. The gospel shared and lived is much more effective than just shared. The adage "I'll believe it when I see it holds true."

James tells us in 1:22, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." Later in 2:14-17, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

The world takes notice when the church does things such as taking care of the physical needs of the poor.

In James 1:27 we read, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." In general the church makes an attempt, to varying degrees, to live holy lives. However, we for the most part fail in doing things like visiting widows and orphans.

James teaches us that good works matter. They matter because they honor God. They matter because they prove that our salvation is real. They matter because they usually relieve suffering on someone else's part. Finally, as it pertains to missions, good works show that there is substance to Jesus-followers. When the world sees this substance, it takes notice. This, in turn, leads to more people being willing to hear about Jesus.

Let's live out our faith by showing the world our works.

To read any or all posts in this series, click here.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Biblical Evidence for Beards

A few examples of beards in scripture:

Leviticus 19:27, "You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard."

Leviticus 21:5, "They shall not make bald patches on their heads, nor shave off the edges of their beards, nor make any cuts on their body."

II Samuel 10:4-5, "So Hanun took David's servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away. When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, 'Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.'"

Psalm 133:2, "It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!"

Of course, the above verses in no way stipulate that all men must have beards. However, if you want to look manly you will probably do so.

Interestingly, there is infinitely more evidence for having a beard than there is for church buildings, salaried clergy, and worship services. Just thought I would point that out.

Finally, this is too good  not to post:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Done Arguing

That's not me in the photo. I just like the tape effect.

Anyway, I'm done arguing. Specifically, I'm done arguing about theology in general and the church specifically. I've had enough. It's pointless, goes nowhere, and accomplishes nothing. Like the guy in the photo, I'm not arguing (of course, he can't talk at all, but that's his problem).

I've managed to avoid arguing about the church in person for quite a while now. If people want to know what I think, I tell them. If they object, I just leave it at that. No more arguing. I have a young Christian co-worker who believes many things about the church that I do not. Fine. I've avoided arguing with him. "It takes two to tango," so to speak. I'm not tangoing on this topic.

I've decided to avoid all arguing on other websites. It's all too easy to go to blogs by men such as Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor and stir the pot. They are firmly entrenched inside the institution as are most of their commenters. I have attempted to argue on these types of blogs for biblical church principles. It is to no avail. Defenders of the institution, who wrongly think they are defending the church, will not listen and only become angry. Nothing good comes of it. I'm done.

I will continue to blog about (what I think are) important issues related to the church. I hope for engaging, lively debate and discussion here on this blog. It may border from time to time on argumentation, but that's as far as I'll let it go. No more arguing.

This is somewhat of a revelation and relief for me. You may have already reached this point. I hope so for your sake.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"We Ought to Support People Like These"

"Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." 3 John 5-8 (emphasis mine)

The letter of 3 John doesn't get much attention. However, we can learn a good deal about the importance of hospitality by reading through its fifteen verses. As our home fellowship recently was discussing this epistle, I noticed something I had not seen before. John makes a strong statement about Christians the church should support.

John specifically says, "we ought to support people like these." Who is the apostle talking about? The answer is those "who have gone out" and who are "on their journey." John is describing traveling Christian workers, probably apostles, prophets, and evangelists.

The recipients of this letter had already shown hospitality to these Christians. John is now calling upon them to support them. Since they receive no financial assistance from the Gentiles (non-Christians), John is exhorting those who received this epistle to help these folks.

Why did the traveling Christian workers, who we might call missionaries, need financial assistance? Since they traveled from place to place, they would have been unable to hold down a regular job. This would have made earning a regular income a difficult task.

We see the theme of financial support for traveling workers in a few other places in the NT. For example, in Philippians 4:10-20 we read Paul's commendation of the church in Philippi for the financial support they gave him. Paul was a traveling Christian worker.

Also, in I Corinthians 9:8-14 Paul writes, "In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." The context is strictly that of traveling Christian workers (note: not elders or pastors). Although Paul did not accept any financial support from the church in Corinth, this seems to have been due to the numerous problems there. Based on what we see in both 3 John and Philippians, it was generally a good thing for churches to financially support those who traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.

One additional note: while these passages speak of financial support, they say nothing of salaries. Most likely, these churches sent love gifts from time to time. The workers probably all had some sort of skill to help provide for their own needs (such as tentmaking).

We Christ-followers should be giving people. We must also be wise. The scriptures provide us with models for who needs financial help. We read repeatedly of the importance of helping the poor. We see that widows are generally worthy of our assistance. And, as we see in 3 John, we have a responsibility to help those who travel about spreading the gospel.

I'll admit that it is not always easy to know specifically who we should help and exactly how we should do so. Despite this, we can be sure that God is pleased when we give to those who go.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The 10 Commandments Tell How Long a Day Is

A final short note on creation:

Much of the debate in the church about the world's beginnings centers on how long a day is. Genesis chapters 1-2 use the word "day" repeatedly. A straightforward reading indicates that the author meant a 24 hour period. Despite this, some Christians claim that the days in Genesis actually refer to periods of millions of years. Which is it?

God has told us in Exodus how long a day is. In fact, He did so right in the middle of the 10 Commandments so that there would be absolutely no confusion about the issue. Exodus 20:8-11 says the following:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

The main focus of the above paragraph is obviously the Sabbath. However, look at what Moses writes in the next to last sentence. He says, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day." Right in the middle of the context of the Hebrew Sabbath, which was clearly a 24 hour period, Moses mentions the creation account. He describes the two as having a one-to-one correspondence. As God created in six days and rested the seventh, the Israelites were to do the same.

Interestingly, I never hear theistic evolutionists claim that the Sabbath language in Exodus 20 refers to millions of years. If that was the case, I suppose the Hebrews would still be resting somewhere in the desert in the Sinai Peninsula.

The same language for "day" is used in both Genesis 1-2 and Exodus 20. This, combined with the language of the Exodus 20 Sabbath paragraph, shows that God clearly meant a 24 hour period in Genesis 1-2.

No one is confused about the length of the OT Sabbath. As it was 24 hours in Exodus 20, it is also 24 hours in Genesis 1-2.  That's because a day is 24 hours.