Stop Beating Up the Church

Boxing

The last few years have led to an explosion of a counter-church culture.  Book after book, article after article, blog after blog, and so on, were devoted to why people leave the church and the problems of the church. I don’t deny that there are problems in churches – even healthy churches are messy and full of fallen people on the road to holiness and redemption.  I also know that there are many churches that are missing the point of being a church. And there have been many valid points made by some of these books and articles.

But I want to provide an encouragement to you – stop beating up the church! 

Jesus’ words are haunting for those who are in the “I don’t like the church” camp.  In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Further, John targets the “leave the church because it’s jacked up” crowd.  1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.  Whoever does not love abides in death.”

Instead of beating up the church and leaving the church and slandering the church, let me offer you some exhortations and challenges to take on.

1. Learn to love the brothers

This isn’t easy.  And people hurt you.  And you hurt people.  But did you know that God in His Word assumes that the church will be messy and full of problems?  Read Matthew 18.  Read 1 Corinthians 1-9.  Read Galatians 6.  Read James 5.  Read Ephesians 4.  Read Revelation 2 & 3.

After you realize that God knows His people are jacked up, now read 1 Corinthians 13 – the “love” chapter.  Did you know that you’re required to love the church that way?  In fact, the testimony of the Bible is that if you don’t love the church, then you are bearing the fruit of an unbeliever, of one who “abides in death”.

Learn to love your brothers and sisters in Christ.  It takes work.  It takes patience.  It takes humility.  It takes submission.  It takes grace.  It isn’t for the faint of heart.  It isn’t for the unbeliever.  But if you are a believer, then you must learn to love the brothers.

2. Learn to be devoted to the brothers

You will either be devoted to the church and ultimately to Jesus, or you will be devoted to the way of the world and the pursuits of the culture at large.  But you can’t do both.

I wrote a blog post about being devoted to the church.  You should read it.

The grace of the Lord is such that He knows that we need each other.  In part, this is what it means to be human – that you need relationships!  When God created Adam, He said, “it is not good that the man should be alone…” (Genesis 2:18).  Over and over in Genesis we read that God created His image bearers male and female.

The point is that when God saved you, He saved you into His family – the Church.  Be devoted to it, unless you think you know better than God.

3. Learn to build up the brothers

When you talk, only say things “such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).  Learn to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Along with your words, let your actions serve to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).  Sometimes this means serving others regardless of whether or not it fits your job description.  Sometimes this means submitting to others even if you’re right.  Sometimes this means supporting others in their ministry endeavors.  But above all, “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).

Conclusion

I am glad for insightful people who point out glaring issues in the church.  The church needs to be in a constant state of evaluation – using the Bible as the mirror and measuring stick.

But let that propel you into deeper love, devotion, and growth instead of walking away from the church, slandering the church, and believing the church is without hope.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20-21

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When the Church is the Church

words words wordsRecently, I experienced a season of being fainthearted.  I was discouraged, and I wasn’t certain that there was hope.  Webster’s defines fainthearted as “lacking courage or resolution”.  In other words, being fainthearted means feeling a strong sense of discouragement, even being tempted with despair.

That was me.  I was experiencing spiritual warfare whereby I was being tempted to quit trusting that God is sovereign, in control, and that Romans 8:28 was holding true not only for me, but for His church.  Romans 8:28 says, “and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).  I was tempted to doubt that.

Yes (wait, was there a question?).  Yes.  Even pastors are tempted to despair and can become fainthearted.  And I succumbed.  I was fainthearted in the midst of looking at students in the face and preaching to them of the importance of trusting and believing Romans 8:28.  And there were a few close brothers and sisters in Christ who knew.  Instead of chastisement, instead of calling into question whether or not I should be pastoring, instead of condemning, these brothers and sisters (knowingly or not, but I like to think knowingly) encouraged me.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 says this, “and we urge you, brothers, encourage the fainthearted, be patient with them…” (ESV).  My dear brothers and sisters in Christ encouraged me.  They encouraged me by telling me that they were proud of me, that they appreciated me, and so forth.  But most of all, and most importantly, they encouraged me with Jesus.

It’s these conversations within the body of Christ that are meant to be, from God, a grace to those who hear.  The full verse of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “and we urge you, brothers, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (ESV).  This verse is a verse of grace for the church.

Often, we hear people say that “it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people”.  Which, yes, is true.  But what they mean is this, “therefore, I ought to not say a word to them and just sit back and do nothing”.  In that same vein, in order to be consistent, these same people would have to say that “it is the Holy Spirit’s job to encourage people, so I ought to not say a word to them and just sit back and do nothing”.

Man.  I am so glad these brothers and sisters understand that the means that the Holy Spirit uses to convict and to encourage are the words of truth that we speak to each other.  Along those lines, I want to give three ways that our words of truth are meant to be a grace of God to the church.

1. Admonish the unruly

What other types of words ought we to say to the unruly person living in sin?  Ought we to encourage the liar, “keep on, buddy, you’re doing great!”?  No!  That would absurd.  The appropriate words of truth that believers are to speak to these are words of admonishment.

Yes, words of admonishment ought to be done with graciousness, love, humility, and gentleness.  But, none the less, they need to be said to the unruly.

2. Encourage the fainthearted

These are types of words of truth that were spoken to me recently.  Generally, these types of words are shown at times of grief and celebration, but rarely are we so spiritually connected with one another that we recognize that sometimes people are simply fainthearted.

What other words would we speak to the fainthearted?  Words of admonishment?  Could you imagine?  “You are in despair, but shame on you!”  Again, how absurd!  The appropriate words of truth believers are to speak to these are words of encouragement

3. Help the weak

This category begins with words of truth, and I call these words of action.  Of course, they mean nothing if not put into practice.  So, for instance, if a sister in Christ is weak and is in need of a ramp built on the front of her house to get down off of her porch, the words of action become a physical help to her.  “I will build you a ramp to help you.”

But notice I said words of action.  That means we don’t just tell people we will help them, but we actually help them.  These people do not only need words of encouragement, and they certainly do not need words of admonishment.  These people need help.

Conclusion

The rest of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says “be patient with them all” (ESV).  When we experience unruly people, or fainthearted people, or weak people, we are exhorted to be patient with them.  We are the church, and we are called to faithfulness to the Lord and faithfulness to one another.  When the church is the church, the Lord honors and blesses the people.  I have been blessed by the church being the church.

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Sabbath, Work on Sunday’s, and the New Testament Rest in Christ

SabbathRecently, I read a transformative chapter in A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer on the Lord’s Day.  In particular, how the Puritans viewed the Lord’s Day.  Right off the bat, I know some may say of the Puritans, “LEGALISTS!”  Maybe at times this can appear to be a fair critique of the Puritans, although I think it is a gross misunderstanding of who they were and what they stood for.  I think Puritans held to a high view of personal holiness and corporate or community holiness, so much so that at times it appears (especially to our more post-modern, antinomian minds) to be that the Puritans were legalists.  This is an especially important point for the Fourth Commandment.  Let’s remind ourselves of the Fourth Commandment:

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.  (Exodus 20:8-11, English Standard Version)

Now, the Reformers and the Puritans generally agreed on much, but as far as the Sabbath, the Puritans (who came after the Reformers), had what Packer calls “a corrected view of the inconsistent view” that the Reformers held of the Sabbath.  Packer goes on to say,

They (Puritans) insisted, with virtual unanimity, that, although the Reformers were right to see a merely typical and temporary significance in certain of the detailed prescriptions of the Jewish Sabbath, yet the principle of one day’s rest for public and private worship of God at the end of each six days’ work was a law of creation, made for man as such, and therefore binding upon man as long as he lives in this world...In fact, they saw it (the Fourth Commandment) as integral to the first table of the law, which deals systematically with worship: ‘the first command fixes the object, the second the means, the third the manner, and the fourth the time.’ (A Quest for Godliness, page 237, emphasis my own)

The Puritans agreed with the Reformers that the Sabbath was and is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  This point rests in the fact that the Jewish work of keeping the sacrificial system (old covenant) is replaced and trumped by the “Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14) Jesus Christ, who became the sacrifice Himself (new covenant), and was accepted by God on behalf of, or for, His people.  Yes and amen!

But the Puritans pushed the Fourth Commandment further than only being a ceremonial law, and much of the emphasis came from the context of the other nine commands in the Decalogue – namely, that the other nine commandments are moral in nature and thus still binding on believers in the New Covenant.  The Puritans saw all ten of the commandments as binding – especially the fourth.  Packer says of them,

(The Puritans argued) that the seventh-day rest was more than a Jewish type; it was a memorial of creation, and a part of the moral law, and as such it was perpetually obligatory for all men.  So that when we find the New Testament telling us that Christians met for worship on the first day of the week (Acts 23:7; 41; 1 Cor. 16:1), and kept that day as ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev. 1:10), this can only mean one thing: that by apostolic precept, and probably in fact by dominical injunction during the forty days before the Ascension, this had been made the day on which men were henceforth to keep the Sabbath of rest which the Fourth Commandment prescribes. (A Quest for Godliness, page 238)

I think the wording of the Fourth Commandment in Exodus 20 is especially important for the New Testament believer in relation to purpose of the Sabbath and function of the Sabbath.

1. Purpose of the Sabbath – To keep it holy and to remember that which is holy

“The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God…”  On this day, there is a specialness that ought to invoke a remembrance, memorial, and worship which is different and of more importance than the other six days of work.  Now, make no mistake, I am not saying that our “normal labors” are not an act of worship – they certainly are – but only that they are a different kind of worship.  Our “normal labor” is done by those who were made to work and as those who are given the charge to work.  These six day serve the purpose of worship through obedience – both in obeying the command of the Lord to work and in fulfilling the imago dei in which God has made us to work.

But the Sabbath day, the seventh day, is a different kind of worship, a special worship, a worship in which we explicitly and purposefully set aside all other work to do.  This worship is for the purpose of magnifying Christ and serving as a community expression of the gospel – namely, that God has saved sinners and gathered them together, that they will be His people and He will be their God.  This is an “already” aspect of the already-not yet aspect of the eschatological (end times) people of God.  We are already the people of God and we have God as our God, but we await the day of the New Jerusalem, where it will only be God and His people.

There are some special things, then, to do on this Lord’s Day.  In the entirety of the Holy Scriptures, we time and time again read of God’s people gathering to hear the Word of God spoken to them.  This comes in various forms, granted, and today specifically and primarily through the preaching of the Holy Scriptures.  Throughout Scripture, it sometimes came as verbal, or from the mouth of God Himself.  Other times it came prophetically, or from God to His messenger (the prophet, such as Moses, Isaiah, etc.), and from His messenger to His people.  Other times it came expositorally, or from the written Holy Scriptures, to the apostles or pastors/elders, and then to God’s people (this is primarily the New Testament method).

This shows in form the purpose of the Sabbath – to learn “thus saith the Lord” – and as we hear what God has said to us as His people, we are formed, or shaped, by it.  This leads us to function of the Sabbath.

2. Function of the Sabbath – to be Shaped and Formed in community by God through the Word of 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…”  There is community language in the Fourth Commandment – clearly as written to the community head.  The head has the responsibility to see that no one in the household (in those days, it would have included servants, sojourners, children, etc.) does anything except that which is used by God to make them holy.

I agree with the Reformers that the Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ in ceremony, and thus He is our rest, and via union with Him, we (the church) are in His rest also.  In the Fourth Commandment, what was it that God was making to be holy?  It was the Sabbath – the rest.  In the New Covenant, what is it that God makes to be holy?  It is those inside of His Sabbath – those united with the fulfilled Sabbath, which is Christ.  So, Peter says to the church, “as obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV).

The Sabbath day is unlike the other six days.  What does this mean spiritually?  Those in the Sabbath – those in the rest that is Christ – are to be unlike those who are “conformed to the passions of ignorance”.  Those in Christ are to be holy, as our rest (CHRIST!) is holy.  The function, then, of the Sabbath, is to be the day that households gather together to meet with God, and are shaped and molded and formed by the Word of God to be made holy.

Conclusion

The Puritans understood this.  There was a ceremony, a specialness, a uniqueness to the Sabbath.  They approached the Sabbath expectantly.  They prepared for it on Saturday by praying and meditating on Scripture, and by going to bed early so that they would be in full faculty for their community worship gathering on Sunday.  They knew that this was a grace given by God to His people.  We don’t have to wonder when God is going to move – He is going to move in His people when they gather.

The Puritans not only approached Sunday differently than us, they treated Sunday differently than us.  After the service, the fathers would review their notes with their families to the point of meditation and memorization.  This would take place all day on Sunday, and Sunday dinner was spent discussing points of application from the sermon.  The pastor, later in the week, would visit different homes and quiz families on his sermon from earlier in the week.  This led to intense understanding and personal, as well as corporate, holiness, for the people of God were truly being shaped and formed by the Word of God.

What about you?  How do you view the Sabbath?  I welcome your comments in the comment section, and please share if you found this helpful.

 

 

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Olaf, The Transgender Phenomena, Fantasy, and Reality

olaf-the-snowman-from-disneys-frozen-sings-in-summer

In the movie Frozen, the cute, loveable snowman Olaf, sings a song about summer time.  Maybe you know the song?  “The hot and the cold are both so intense, put them together and it just makes sense!  Rata ta ta, dada, dada da da doo”…And then Olaf sings a line that anticipates another line – he sings “winter’s a good time to stay in and cuddle” – and he makes you think the last word of the next line will rhyme with “cuddle”.  The next line starts out like this, “but put me in summer and I’ll be a…” – and Olaf fools me, every time!  I belt out PUDDLE!  But instead, Olaf sings, “but put me in summer and I’ll be a happy snowman!”

After this song, Kristoff says, “Somebody’s gotta tell him.”

The thing about this song is it is a fantasy of Olaf’s.  It is *not* a reality.  In fact, later in the movie, Olaf is comforting Anna and he sits by a fire.  What happens to him?  He begins to melt.  Olaf is a snowman.  The nature of a snowman is such that if it gets near heat – fire, summer sun, etc. – it will melt.  Kristoff knows this is Olaf’s reality.

In the West, we have adopted a culture where fantasy is mixed with reality.  I remember having a conversation years ago with an old roommate of mine, and I was confronted with the idea of Santa Clause and whether I would, when I became a parent, allow my kids to celebrate/believe in Santa Clause.  There were several points about this debate, but the one that struck me most was that, in allowing my kids believe in something that is not real, I would in fact be lying to them by letting them believe he is real.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, I had to come to ethical terms with that.

But as a Western American, I was taken back that my roommate would make such ridiculous arguments against letting kids believe in Santa.  But he was right.  We live in a culture that can no longer differentiate between what is reality and what is fantasy.  Whether it be Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, video games (really, I know boys who have made video games their ultimate reality – any time they are away from their x-box’s, all they talk about are their games, all they pretend to do is re-enact their games, and so forth), or transgender behavior/activity.

The focus has become on what it means to be.  What something is.  We have so denied God in our culture that we no longer recognize the ultimate Being, we no longer accept objective reality.  We have accepted, and even encouraged in the name of creativity, new ways of defining reality and what it means to be.  There no longer are clear lines between fantasy and reality.  We have denied Creator-God, and thus denied objective function in creation.  When we deny Creator-God’s existence, we (mankind) get to believe we are the ones who determine what is and what it means to function in any state of being.

The question has been asked what would I do as a parent if my child began to express transgender feelings.  I have a few practical things, though not exhaustive, that I would do:

1. Unconditional Love

This phrase has even taken on new forms in Western ideologies.  Unconditional love has become equal to unconditional acceptance and tolerance.  So, let me clarify – that is not how I am using the phrase unconditional love.  I am using it in a redemptive-historical sense – the sense that is clear in the Bible of how God loves His own.

From Genesis to Revelation, (redemptive history) we see God pursuing His people and not allowing them to live in ways that are eternally bad for them.  We are even led to believe that there are times when God disciplines the entire nation of Israel so that they will turn back to Him.  There are temporary times when it seems they are doing bad for themselves, but later in the narrative we learn it was God’s sovereignty that allowed them to do so, because He knew that it would be the means by which they would come back to Him.

I would provide unconditional love to my child by providing discipline (temporary “badness”) with the hopes and design that there would not only be corrected behavior, but trusting obedience.  This is how God loves those who have faith in Him – a part of His discipline is corrective in order to change a bad behavior.  But another part of His discipline is meant to lead to a deeper and further trust later so that there would be obedience from that trust.  This is necessarily tied into the second point, for without the second point, we leave our children having to guess for themselves as to what is good for them in reality.

2. Speaking Truthfully about Reality

I think parents miss this.  I saw a meme on Facebook once that showed two pictures – the first picture was a teacher, parents, and a child in a classroom and it depicted the parents taking the teacher’s side.  The second picture had the same people in it, but the parents were taking the child’s side.  The caption read “the difference between when I was a kid and kids today”.

Parents – if you are not providing corrective discipline (which is an act of love), then you do not love your child (Proverbs 13:24).  As a parent, I have the responsibility to speak truthfully to my child – which bare minimum means I need to know what is true.  I have a responsibility to know what *is* reality and what *is not* reality, and to convey that to my child.

So, if I have my son come to me one day and say, “dad, I think I’m transgender, I think I’m really a girl”, it is my God-given responsibility by definition and by default of being his parent to speak to him what he is in reality – a boy.  I do not wish to over-simplify this point, and so suffice it to say that there would be a lot more I would do – such as patiently nurture reality vs. fantasy in him, read Scripture over him and with him, pray over him and with him, and continue to speak truth with him as I continue to love him unconditionally.

Conclusion

These are only a few practical things that we must accept and embrace as parents as our roles.  But they are not disconnected – there can be *no* unconditional love without a commitment to truthfulness and reality.

On a more philosophical note, I am afraid that as a culture we are no longer rightly able to divide delusion from reality.  When we act against or correctively towards someone we label as delusional, we are living – as a culture – hypocritically and inconsistently.  We must be beacons of truth with our children and establish firm grounds of what is really real and what is fantasy.  Olaf needed this from Kristoff, but he found out the hard way – he would melt in the summer sun because Olaf is a snowman.

 

 

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Embracing Jesus – Repentance and Joy

Repentance

I have been reading A Quest for Godliness by J. I. Packer.  In it, Packer lays out the faith of the Puritans and the way they conferred their beliefs to everyday living.  The things that the Puritans believed were not only abstract, “out there somewhere” ideas.  They were “on the ground”, in front of you, moment by moment beliefs.  Sure, a part of their theology was seemingly abstract and was very high intellectually.  But they didn’t stay there.  Their high-level thought led to high-level application.  One area I have been wrecked by reading on the Puritans is the area of personal holiness and repentance.

The Puritans have oft been charged as legalists, or, at least way too sensitive when it comes to sin.  We might ask them today why they are so uptight.  We may wonder why they are such fun-quenchers.  But I believe that they would respond with joy.  They would respond that holiness and repentance is joy for them.  And I think we can learn a great deal from the Puritans on this note.

Embracing Jesus – From Sin to Savior

I heard repentance described once as turning from our sin to our Savior.  Certainly, this is a simple (not easy) definition of repentance, but it is a great starting point.  Often, when we call people to believe in Jesus for salvation, we only emphasize that they must confess their sin and then believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord, and they will be saved.  I mean, doesn’t the bible teach this in 1 John 1:9, which says, “if we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (ESV)?  Well, yes, this is true.  I don’t deny this.  But we must be careful that we are not calling men to “easy-believism”.  What’s that?  “Easy-believism” is simply telling someone that in order to be in heaven forever instead of hell, all they must do is say a simple prayer.  Sometimes, if we are really pressed, we will say something like “and you really have to mean it.  If you don’t mean it, it isn’t real.”

What is the difference?  The difference is eternity.  Not only does 1 John 1:9 call men to confess our sin, but it also tells us what happens when we truly come to Jesus for salvation: God will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.  This happens in two parts: 1. We are declared righteous at the moment of conversion.  We are clothed in the righteous perfection and holiness that is Jesus Christ.  2. We are called into a life of repentance and turning away from sin and forsaking our former selves and into a life embracing Jesus as better than our sin and into a life of pursuing holiness and righteousness in practice.  The first part is positional cleansing – we have been cleansed and forgiven!  The second part is practical cleansing – we continue to become clean and must continue to seek God’s forgiveness which will continue to make us more and more holy, that is, more and more into the image of Christ.

Can Someone be Saved and Not Repent?

No.  But what I don’t mean to say is that repentance saves a man.  God alone saves a man by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (see Ephesians 2:8-9).  But what I am saying is that repentance is the fruit of faith which necessarily proceeds after trust is place in Jesus Christ.  J. I. Packer, in A Quest for Godliness, says, “When faith has primed the pump of the human heart, repentance is the way of living that results.”  In other words, what will happen to a man when his heart is fully given over to the Lord Jesus in faith?  Repentance.  The man will no longer want his sin, but will want his savior!

Packer continues, “your souls will never be drawn from sin, or driven into a course of repentance, until God becomes your dread.”  What’s his point here?  Isn’t God loving toward His own people?  Yes.  However, it is the wrath of the father which keeps a child from doing what he has been commanded not to do.  Likewise, Packer’s point is that not only is the love of the Lord Jesus as Savior reason to repent, but so is the wrath of the Father reason to repent.  Both God’s wrath and His love ought to keep a man in a habitual pattern of repentance – turning from his sin to his savior.  It is a gracious thing to turn to the Savior out of love and devotion.  It is a gracious thing, also, to turn to the Savior out of dread, knowing that God’s wrath burns hot against sin.  Repentance, therefore, comes from both a loving and devoted heart to the Lord Jesus as well as from a dread of God’s red-hot wrath against sin.

The good news is that Jesus took the wrath of God for sin, so that, in the Lord Jesus, I am freed from the constant fear and dread of God’s wrath.  I am not freed from the fear of God’s wrath if I am in sin, even if I think I am a believer.  It is only when I am repenting into Jesus Christ’s bosom that I am completely freed from the fear of the wrath of the Father. Praise be to God!

Conclusion

In Luke 14:25-33,  Jesus explains to the large crowds following Him that there is a steep cost to pay in following Him.  In fact, that cost is a complete forsaking of one’s self and one’s rights and submitting to Christ and His commands.  Jesus says it like this, “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”  When we are doing the task of sharing the gospel and making disciples, we need to not sugar coat what it means to come after Christ for salvation.  We ought to lift high Jesus as Savior, but also lift high Jesus as Lord.

Sometimes we think that in doing so, people will be turned off to Christ.  We think, “if they have to turn away from their sin, from what they love doing, then they will most certainly not turn to Christ.”  I would respond to say that if we have won them to Jesus as Savior, but not to Jesus as Lord, we have not won them to Jesus period.  And we ought to not look at repentance and obeying Jesus as Lord as a bad thing.  John says in 1 John 5:3, “for this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome (ESV).”  Paul says this in Philippians 3:8, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish (DUNG!), in order that I may gain Christ (ESV, emphasis my own).”

Will you embrace Jesus?  Will you turn from your sin and embrace the Savior?  His commands are not burdensome, but they are life-sustaining and joy-giving.  Where does your joy come from? Repent and embrace Jesus Christ.

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Not Neglecting to Meet Together

ChurchIn our communities, there are no lack of good things to participate in.  Churches experience this tension in their communities.  Often, Church is viewed as one activity among many activities.  There is a tendency to view participation in community activities by church members as missional living – the opportunity to evangelize and minister to the community.  I believe this is a good way of looking at community participation.

Even though there is a need to participate in our communities, and more specifically to evangelistically participate in our communities, we ought to not excuse our community participation for our absence from church participation.  I believe the best testimony for believers in the community is the priority of gathering as a local body to display the “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10).  In attempts to be evangelistic, church members have missed one of the major purposes of the gathering of the church community – the declaration of the greatness and glory of God which transcends every other gathering and community.

Therefore, in this post, I will provide a concise explanation of what Jesus requires from His people (the church) and why church attendance is important.

1. Jesus Calls His People to a Higher Calling – What does Jesus Require from His People?

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He is calling people into community with Himself and His people.  He uses word pictures like “the kingdom of God” and the “sheep fold of God”.  He refers to the establishment of the Church, which is the word ekklesia in Greek, and has the idea of a public gathering or community which gathers to worship God.  Jesus makes it clear that there is a distinct community and people of God.

Jesus teaches some important principles that ought to be applied to churches and church attendance.  I will share two:

  • 1. Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one  and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”

Admittedly, this verse specifically has to do with the pursuit of money and the impossibility of serving both the god of money and the God of the Bible.  But the application is larger than just that.  It is impossible to serve both any other false god and the God of the Bible.  Sometimes, we want to be so involved in everything going on in the community that we fail to heed the warning in Hebrews 10:24-25:  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).”  When we put Matthew 6:24 and Hebrews 10:24-25 together, it seems as though there is indeed a way to neglect gathering with the church because we are serving other activities in the community.  When we place other activities, even good ones, on or above the level of the gathering of the Church, I think we are coming dangerously close to trying to “serve two masters”.

  • 2. Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

We seek so much to get new people in our doors, even using methods that are borrowed from secular, unChristian ideologies, that we fail to properly disciple and develop the saints who dawn the doors every single Sunday.  Churches can be so focused on outward mission that they fail to produce disciples on the inside.  Instead, churches ought to exhibit Ephesians 4:11-16:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The “work of the ministry” is clearly intended as a focus of inward growth, or the discipleship and maturity of the saints already there.  Paul also says earlier in Ephesians 3:10 about the role of the church in relation to the secular culture around it: “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities…(ESV)”

What does that mean?  It means churches ought to ensure faithfulness in the little before she can expect to be given more to be faithful with.  However, I do not mean to say that faithfulness in little is separate from faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission.  Full faithfulness includes both faithfulness inwardly and faithfulness outwardly.  Diminishing either is unfaithfulness.

2. We need Jesus and His Body, not Just Jesus – Why Church Attendance is Important

As stated above, Hebrews 10:24-25 says,  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV).”  These verses provide insight into the importance of not only believing in Jesus, but also attending Church regularly.  The last phrase “the Day drawing near” provides the insight on the high level of importance of meeting together.  What are the things we ought to do according to these verses?

  • Consider – Consideration means thinking, and gospel-centered thinking requires that we transform our minds in order to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2).  We ought to think highly and reasonably when we gather together.  This will give us clarity and direction in how to engage in a lost and ungodly world.
  • Stir one another up to love – The love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 is the picture of corporate, public love to be displayed in and by the church.  When we think highly about the doctrines of God, that knowledge ought to stir us up to the highest standard of love.
  • Stir one another up to good works – The book of James is clear – faith without works is dead.  Does James differ from Paul?  No.  It is the other side of the same coin.  As we stir each other up to the highest standard of love, that then propels us to good works for each other (inward discipleship) and for our communities (outward mission).
  • Dedicating ourselves to our meeting – Consistency is the point here.  We ought to not define what is meant as in pure numbers, but a good rule is 10%.  I have seen people who consistently miss, and there is always a legitimate excuse.  Even though it is legitimate, however, it does not mean it is acceptable or encouraged.  What happens when we dedicate ourselves to each other?
  • Encouragement – What is the point of encouragement?  To build up the body of Christ so that the body of Christ (the Church) can make known the “manifold wisdom of God” to secular culture.

Not only that, but the book of Acts is the story of the people of God expanding by the church of God through discipleship and sending missionaries.  In Acts 2:42, we see the gathering being devoted to one another and the teaching, prayer, fellowship, and eating together.  What happens as a result?  In Acts 2:47, the “Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Conclusion

What’s my point?  The first step to becoming a Great Commission church is to become a devoted to one another church.  The greatest evangelistic tool, if evangelism is simply understood as pointing people to who God is, is the gathered body of believers known as the church, and to make this gathering the priority which trumps other priorities.

 

 

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Weekend Blog Review

blog review

 

Below are some important blogs from around the web that I found helpful reading over the weekend…

Guard and Guide Your Kids Online

In this post on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’s website, Candice Watters writes of the importance and necessity of monitoring and guarding your children while they participate in online activities.  She also gives some helpful and simple action steps to take which will help ensure a loving atmosphere that is less authoritarian and more caring and explanatory.  I found this paragraph and these questions from Watters to be riveting and helpful for perspective, especially in the type of culture of parenting in which parents just want to give everything they can to their children so that their children will love them and be happy:

What if your son or daughter wanted to buy a venomous snake for a pet? What if they had birthday money to pay for it? What if they wanted to let it sleep with them at night? At what point would you say no? If your son or daughter has a straight-up, unaltered wi-fi enabled iPad, iPhone, or similar device, they have the equivalent of a snake. The factory settings won’t protect them from online danger. What should parents do?

Should John 7:53-8:11 Be Moved to a Footnote?

Jim Hamilton, pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, and professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made a compelling argument as to why John 7:53-8:11 ought to not be included in our translations of the Bible.  Owen Strachan makes the suggestion that this passage ought to be included in a footnote in which it is explained that some early manuscripts added it in.

This sermon and then this blog post by Dr. Strachan is a good reminder that the work of Biblical exploration and criticism is not done, but needs to be ongoing as we can be continuing to fine-tune our translations of the Bible to ensure Biblical accuracy.

World Vision Returns to a Biblical Definition of Marriage

Denny Burk, professor at Boyce College in Louisville, KY, wrote a summary article on World Vision’s decision to reverse their decision to accept and hire people in same-sex marriages in their organization.  Dr. Burk says this about WV’s decision:

(World Vision’s statement) admits violating the authority of scripture and the Bible’s teaching on marriage. Signed by the President Richard Stearns, the letter expresses humble confession and repentance. It even asks for forgiveness from donors and other supporters. I was heartened and encouraged by what I read in the letter. I think this kind of public repentance is courageous, and I praise the Lord for it.

Is Church Membership Really Required

This is a great post about Church Membership and one that is full of wisdom as regards to how many believers and churches currently view Church Membership.  I often see where ex-church goers still claim to have Jesus, and they usually say something along these lines, “I don’t need to the church to have Jesus.”  This post is helpful for thinking these types of thoughts out.  One especially helpful paragraph was in response to the idea that Church Membership is not biblical.  The author, Ricky Jones, says this:

Every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. The letters themselves are addressed to local churches. They teach us how to get along with other members, how to encourage the weak within the church, how to conduct ourselves at church, and what to do with unrepentant sinners in the church. They command us to submit to our elders, and encourage us to go to our elders to pray. All these things are impossible if you aren’t a member of a local church. (See 1 and 2 Corinthians, James, Ephesians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and 1 Peter for references.)

 

Conclusion

There is much to be aware of in our culture today – both the Christian culture and in the overall culture of our age.  Reading good, clear articles is helpful and encouraging, while at the same time useful for people who may not have the time to sit down and read long books or who may even be discouraged by reading longer books.  Reading blogs online can help cultivate a desire to “take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5, also the reason for this blog-site)”.  Also, reading blogs online can help cultivate a culture of reading for individuals, which can further help create greater desires to get into longer books and discourses.  Grace and peace to you this week!

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