Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ten Things That Matter

We Christian bloggers, myself included, talk a lot about a lot of different things. This is a quick reminder of the things of utmost significance.

1. God exists.

2. God exists as the Trinity.

3. God created the universe, but does not need it.

4. Jesus Christ became human, lived a sinless life, died a substitutionary death, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven.

5. The Holy Spirit lives with and empowers us today.

6. The Bible is true and must be understood as God wants it understood.

7. The Gospel of grace, as described in the Bible, is true.

8. We must love one another.

9. We must proclaim the Gospel.

10. We must care for those in need.

I do not intend this post to be exhaustive. We could clearly expand on any number of these (especially number four) or add to the list. My point is simply that we do well to ponder, dwell upon, and take joy in the truths of most importance.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Positive Acts - Now That's How To Do It!

While he's in Athens Paul shows us how it's done.

In particular, Paul provides us with an excellent example of how to speak to unbelievers about Jesus Christ. Please click here to read the passage and then return.

This is master evangelism.

First, Paul makes a connection with those listening (17:22-23).
Second, Paul describes who God is and what He has done (17:24-29).
Third, Paul calls for repentance (17:30).
Fourth, Paul tells of Jesus Christ and His resurrection (17:31).

Paul understands that he must start at the beginning; he is not dealing with listeners who understand the Old Testament (as they would, for example, in a synagogue). The apostle proceeds to inform the men of Athens about the glorious nature of the God of the bible. Without using harsh words, Paul shows that God is far greater than anything the people of Greece had conceived. Simply put, God as revealed in Jesus Christ is superior. In light of what Christ has done, everyone has the responsibility to repent. Paul, as always, mentions the resurrection (this is critical).

Take note that Paul did not make this overly complicated. He also didn't need to speak for thirty minutes to explain the basics. He just started where his listeners were and went from there. As is usual, some of the people mocked, some believed, and some wanted to hear more.

Sometimes we make sharing Christ into a burden by thinking of it as much more complex than it is. If we will follow Paul's model we can avoid this. We make a connection, tell how great and wonderful God is, tell what He has done in Christ, and make a call for repentance and faith. This is not a rote formula to be memorized. Rather, it is simply a helpful guide to us. Let's use it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Linking: The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music

I have no interest in the ongoing evangelical "worship wars." However, the older I get the more I prefer the great hymns of the faith to modern praise and worship choruses. While the hymns generally have both beautiful tunes and theological depth, the choruses seem designed to whip the audience into some sort of warm fuzzy through repetition. This difference does not always hold true; I'm speaking in generalities. Churches ought to sing a variety of songs of differing styles, all with sound theology.

The church would do well to reconsider its current love affair with praise and worship choruses. Frankly, it may just be the latest fad. Twenty years from now most of today's popular choruses will be long forgotten.

About a year ago T. David Gordon wrote an interesting piece entitled The Imminent Decline of Contemporary Worship Music: Eight Reasons. Gordon offers some solid insights into why modern worship music is already fading. While I don't agree with some of his views on church life, I do believe this article is worth reading.

Speaking of music, a few years ago I wrote a post named (not too creatively) My Top Ten Favorite Hymns. While I do not know whether or not all the links still function correctly, the hymns I've listed remain my favorites.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Place of Work: JCB North American Headquarters

One of the advantages of finally getting a smart phone is the awesome camera. Today I took these photos of where I spend much of my time - at JCB North American Headquarters. While I actually work in the factory that makes up the rear 80% of the building, these two pics are from the more picturesque front areas.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Church Can Learn a Lot From Running Clubs

I love running. That may seem like crazy talk to some of you. I fully admit that I do not completely understand it myself. As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm training to run in the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll Marathon which takes place in about seven weeks.

I've been running for both exercise and enjoyment for the past twenty years. While doing this, I've always been somewhat envious of folks who are part of specific running clubs (like this one in Savannah). If I'm ever able to transition to a job within JCB that allows me to work a more reasonable schedule I'm going to join.

Why would I join a running club? The reason is simple: encouragement. In fact, the church could learn a great deal from running clubs for just this reason.

Running clubs unite a group of people around one thing: running. The folks in the club enjoy discussing running, challenging one another, and encouraging each other through injuries, trials, and successes. Most of the people genuinely like to help others, giving all sorts of solid advice. The more experienced runners in particular assist the newbies, whether it be in what running shoes to wear, what to eat before a run, or where to train.

Not only do the members talk about running, but they also run together. They foster a family atmosphere and truly enjoy being together. Groups of this type almost always have a good amount of diversity. What unites them is running. The people want others to join the group and often almost proselytize about it. Frankly, they think running is just the greatest.

If you take what I've just described and substitute Jesus Christ for running, you have what the church should and can look like. While I'm not encouraging the unbiblical practice of "local church membership," I am suggesting that local bodies have the capacity to be sources of great encouragement to one another as they unite around the person of Jesus Christ. According to scripture, the church meets for the purpose of edification. What does this look like? Well, it appears much like a family gathering (because churches should be families). The people like to be together, help one another, think Jesus is the greatest, and desire to share him with others. Or, at least this is how it should be.

The church can learn a lot from running clubs. Let's hope it does.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Positive Acts - Mission Matters, Race Doesn't

"Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off." (Acts 13:1-3, ESV)

I despise political correctness. Among other things, the politically correct thought police in our country have developed specific things you can say and cannot say when it comes to race. Actual meaningful dialogue regarding race relations has, quite sadly, become a near impossibility. I fear that in our secular society we will have racial problems until Christ returns.

If there is one place where people of different races should be able to be united it is within the body of Christ. This is because Jesus Christ is in the business of changing hearts from stone to flesh. It is also because in the church it is not race that unites people, but Christ Himself. How I wish Sunday mornings in this country were not so segregated!

When we look in Acts 13 we read something beautiful. Luke describes a group of men of varying backgrounds and races. These men appear, based on the small amount of data we have here, united around the person of Christ. They are worshiping and fasting. I'm not sure exactly what this means, but later in the paragraph we see that prayer was involved. Whatever they were specifically doing, it must have pleased God. Something extraordinary happened. The Holy Spirit spoke to them. Whether or not this was audible is not particularly important. The key is that they were in agreement about what the Spirit said. The men then obeyed.

These men, who could have been divided because of their differences, were instead united around Christ and his gospel. They understood that Christ's mission is what matters, not their variety of races. The unity they had in Jesus trumped all their differences.

Acts 13:1-3 is a short but powerful passage that speaks to the unity we can and should have in Christ. Nothing, not something even as significant as race, ought to be able to separate us from one another. It is Christ and his mission that matter.

Not a Bad Idea...

Um...could I have Channel 3 please?

Friday, September 18, 2015

My Favorite Recent Pic

I have little explanation for the above recent, silly photo. For some strange reason I was wearing my daughter Mary's Chick-fil-A chef's hat. I decided to take a selfie because I wanted to try out my new smart phone (yes, I've finally moved into the 21st century). As I was doing this, my wife Alice photobombed me. There you have it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Positive Acts - For Gentiles, Too!

I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. I'm also a Gentile. Because of these things I love Acts chapters ten and eleven.

In these two chapters we see God announce that He is doing something that the first Christians did not expect: He is saving Gentiles, too.

Please read Acts 10-11:18 and then return to this post.

The first Christ-followers were Jews. Jesus challenged the way they thought about a great many things. Christ was a revolutionary. When we arrive at Acts chapter ten we see our Lord announce something that the early Jewish Christians had not anticipated; God was about to knock down once and for all the dividing line between Jew and Gentile. The good news of Christ-crucified was now applicable to those outside the physical line of Abraham. How would the early believers handle this paradigm-shifting turn of events?

We receive an answer to this question in 11:18. Luke writes, "When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, 'Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.'"

The early church responded to God's saving the Gentiles by accepting it and by glorifying God.

We can learn much from this. In our individual lives and in our church lives God may challenge us in ways we do not anticipate. In fact, there's a good chance He will do so. The question is: how will we respond? In Acts 10-11 we see that the appropriate thing is for us to accept it and glorify God in the process.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Positive Acts - It Pleased the Whole Gathering

How many times have you seen church leaders make significant decisions without communicating with the church body?

We've probably all seen it.

We also know that wise leaders of any type and in any situation get the group involved. Not only does this give the leadership much valuable information, but it also helps the group feel invested in the decision.

When we look in the book of Acts, chapter six shows us a potentially dangerous situation to the unity of the church. Some of the Gentiles were complaining about how food was being handed out to the Gentile widows. Verses 1-7 show us that the apostles made a wise decision that averted any sort of split within this early church body. We also see that the entire church was a part of it and bought into it.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:1-7, ESV, emphasis mine).

Interestingly, we never hear about this potentially problematic situation again in the New Testament. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the solution had staying power. Not only was it wise, but it also involved the whole body. Luke tells us specifically that "...what they said pleased the whole gathering." Although we do not have all the small details of the decision making process, we do know that the body was involved and pleased.

We as the church today can and should learn much from this passage about how to go about making critical decisions. Get everybody involved and invested!

Monday, September 14, 2015

What I'm Reading and Will Be Reading

I'm currently working my way through two very different books. The first, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, is Urban Legends of the New Testament. The book deals quite a bit with interpretive issues, in particular the critical importance of context.

I've also begun reading George Orwell's classic 1984. Somehow I've never read this one. In light of our current age, filled with political correctness and thought police, it seemed appropriate.

I'll post about each book when I finish them, but since I work a lot, run almost every day, and read slowly it will be a while before I conclude either one.

Additionally, I've ordered two books that will be arriving within the next few weeks: Unoffendable and Christ Alone: Five Challenges Every Group Will Face.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

You Don't Need...

You don't need a worship leader, a worship center, or a worship service to worship Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Positive Acts - Not A Needy Person Among Them

Acts 4:32-37 is a passage that often makes us American capitalists uneasy:

"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:32-37).

"Whoa! That smacks of socialism!" some Christians might think and maybe even say.

Actually it does not indicate socialistic tendencies in any way, shape, or form. While socialism forces some people to surrender some of their possessions to others, the above Acts passage does not do that at all. Rather, the early believers wanted to give to one another. They did so willingly and generously (for a current example of socialism click here).

These early followers of Christ were living out the New Covenant principle for giving that Paul wrote about later in II Corinthians 9:6-7, "The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

In Acts 4 we read of believers seeing needs and meeting them by deciding in their hearts to give up some of their own stuff in order to meet the needs of others. This was so much the case that Luke tells us, "...there was not a needy person among them." This is stunning. It is generosity that challenges us. It is something that, quite frankly, we do not see much of today.

I have a difficult time making this passage compute in my mind. I understand at a cognitive level what it says. However, I've never experienced anything like it. However, we know that the Holy Spirit does amazing things. This must have been one of those things. That said, the Spirit is the same today as back then. Maybe He wants us to give like the early believers gave.

May God create in our hearts a desire to give of our own possessions to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Positive Acts - Praying With the Right Priorities

What do your prayers consist of?

Far too often my prayers amount to little more than a quick "Thank you" to God and then a laundry list of requests to make my day go more smoothly. While there is nothing wrong with bringing our personal petitions to God, it is problematic if this is far and away our main focus. When we look at the early church, we see a different set of priorities. In particular, when the church is gathered in Acts chapter 4, we read of them praying for something that we often lack: boldness.

In the beginning of Acts 4 Peter and John are taken before the religious leaders in Jerusalem. The goons in charge command the apostles to stop preaching Christ or else. Peter and John in essence reply that they are going to continue proclaiming Jesus no matter what the leaders say. After additional threats, Peter and John are released; they return to meet with the church body.

Then we come upon Acts 4:23-31 (please click on the link, read the passage, and then come back here).

We learn a great deal from both what the believers do pray for and what they do not. Please note that they do not, at least in these verses, ask for protection from persecution. Frankly, if I found myself in this situation most of my thoughts would dwell on how to avoid pain and suffering. Not so these Christ-followers in Acts 4. They had their priorities straight. Self-preservation was not the priority. Something else mattered more to them.

What did they pray for? In 4:29 we read the following, "And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus." They request two specific things. The first is for continued boldness in gospel proclamation. The second is that God would perform signs and wonders.


I have to confess that I basically never pray for these things. That's got to change. I suppose one of the reasons we see so few people come to Christ in this country is that we fail to pray for the boldness we need. Additionally, many of us evangelicals act as if God is no longer in the miracle business.

Moving forward I plan to begin praying like the early believers. I desperately need boldness to proclaim Christ. My job has me right in the middle of a bunch of people who need Christ. I have the opportunity, but need boldness. It would also be wonderful if God would perform signs and wonders. Maybe He hasn't because I haven't asked. I intend to start.

Will you join me in praying for both boldness and miracles?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Positive Acts - Some Sweet Fellowship

I try not to get jealous. Really, I do.

I try not to get jealous when I read Acts 2:42-47. However, the picture that Luke paints of the sweet fellowship in the early church is almost irresistible. Quite frankly, it is exactly what I want but cannot seem to find.

The early church had its problems (see here for example). Despite those difficulties, the believers managed to spend a great deal of time together as a large family. We see this:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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 (Acts 2:42-47, ESV).

What a beautiful portrait of what church life can be!

When I read this passage several things jump out at me:

1. The church gathered simply. They got together, learned from and with the apostles, ate meals, and prayed.
2. The church met frequently.
3. The church experienced signs and wonders.
4. The church gladly shared all they had with each other.
5. The church was viewed positively by those around them.
6. The church grew significantly.

When I take all this in one more thing strikes me: there is nothing in scripture to suggest that this same thing cannot happen today. The only difference is that we do not have the apostles with us. However, this does not matter because we have the Holy Spirit to empower us and the scriptures to instruct us. Each and every aspect of this fabulous passage in Acts 2 is a possibility today. We can experience this!

Instead of moping around feeling jealous of the early church, I am more determined than ever to do two things. First, I'm going to pray that God will use me to edify other believers whenever and wherever. Second, I'll be praying more earnestly than ever that God will bless me to be part of a fellowship something like what we see in Acts 2. I encourage you to do the same.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

September Will Now Be Deemed "Every Christian Who Is Not A Pastor Appreciation Month"

Clergy elevation is a massive, ubiquitous, and damaging problem within the church as a whole. For some reason that I do not comprehend, pastors are generally thought of as extremely hard working folks who have very difficult jobs and receive little praise or recognition (nothing could be farther from the truth). In part because of this line of thinking, someone came up with the idea of "Pastor Appreciation Month."

Each October many institutional churches, at least in the USA, go out of their way to tell and show their pastors how much they love them. Now, nothing is inherently wrong with this; however, it often acts to further draw the distinction between clergy and laity and also elevates the clergy even farther than they already are.

Everyone else within the church is just as important as pastors. I Corinthians chapter twelve makes it abundantly clear that every single person within the church is critical to the healthy functioning of the church. Therefore, let's do something to recognize all believers. Therefore, the month of September will now be a time to encourage, elevate, and champion everybody except pastors within the church. This will be deemed "Every Christian Who Is Not A Pastor Appreciation Month." Feel free to tell your friends.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Positive Acts - Wham!

Acts chapter 2 is amazing. I don't pretend to understand all of it, but I love it. It's difficult for me to comprehend "divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them," but I know it means that the Holy Spirit showed up. He came powerfully and forcefully. Wham! And when the Spirit arrived, Christ's followers changed. They transformed from fearful folks cowering in the shadows to bold witnesses for our Lord. Peter is a wonderful example. From denying Jesus to proclaiming him, Peter changed radically.

These changes in Christ's followers are all due to the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christians did not do this on their own. Rather, God kept his promise to send his Spirit. And send he did. The world has never been the same since.

Immediately after that first Gospel proclamation at Pentecost the crowd was stunned and convicted. We see the power of the Spirit in their response. Luke writes in 2:37-41:

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Three thousand!

The truly exciting part of this for us today is that this same Holy Spirit resides within us. We have access to this same power. I wonder sometimes if I have any clue just how powerfully the Spirit would like to live through me. Most days, I generally stumble along just trying to get basic tasks done. I think I need to begin praying for the Spirit to wake me up spiritually to see what he wants to do with me. Maybe you need to do the same.

The encouraging thing is that the Holy Spirit of Acts 2 is the same Spirit today. We have not been left on our own. We simply need to joyfully follow his leading.