What I DO Like About Church


Church_ServiceI’ve said more than once that I’ve been spoiled. I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life in one Bible-believing church. Without a doubt, the teaching I received there and what I’ve learned from regular time in God’s word are the causes for any spiritual growth in my life. From what my church has done right and also from what it has neglected, I have developed a few items on my “this is what I like” list.

First, Biblical, expository preaching. Many preachers use the Bible as their text. I’ve heard preachers who primarily retell the Biblical passage they’ve chosen, putting it in their own words and perhaps giving it a contemporary slant. I’ve heard other preachers who take the main topic of a text and discuss it, using all kinds of research and examples from literature or history or psychology or whatever. I’ve also heard preachers who take a topic and then find verses in the Bible to support what they want to say about that subject.

None of these are necessarily wrong. They might provide the congregation with helpful knowledge and might facilitate their spiritual growth. But from my thinking, there’s a better way.

A pastor, as I see it, should not pick and choose what parts of the Bible his congregation needs. In reality, we need the entire Bible, even the hard parts. Some hard parts, to be sure, might not seem to yield “good sermon material,” so a pastor needs to decide how to handle those sections of Scripture. I’m thinking, for example, of passages in Numbers discussing the dimensions of the tabernacle or the laws intended for the Jewish people or 1 Chronicles genealogies or even the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and in Luke. There are lessons to be gleaned from each of those, and a pastor may want to address those in a different way than he would a New Testament letter or a study of a book of prophecy or of history.

But the point here is this: expository preaching intends to explain or describe a Biblical passage, going into some depth, and generally working through a section from start to finish.

Expository preaching still uses cross references and still looks into the historical background of the text. But the primary element of expository preaching is to let God say what He said. Consequently we don’t dodge hard verses that say things that don’t square with our theology or that clash with our cultural proclivities. Expository preaching doesn’t chase trends in the church. It doesn’t camp on one topic and hit congregants over the head with the same “thou shalt” week after week after week. The Spirit of God might want to get someone’s attention that way, but the Bible has such variety, written from the perspective of so many different writers, it’s really hard to work through a passage of Scripture and not find something new and diverse.

Second, singing that’s congregation oriented. I’m of the mindset that corporate worship should be different from a concert. Corporate worship is participatory. We should be engaged during sermons, checking the Scriptures to see if the things we’re being taught are true. We should also be engaged in any singing. Yes, there might be times when our engagement is within as it is when we listen to sermons, but I believe in congregational singing. Jesus sang a hymn with His followers the night before He was arrested, so we have His example.

Paul says we are to teach and admonition one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). That idea leads to a second point of emphasis: the purpose of the congregation-oriented music is that we might have doctrine reinforced. Yes, singing should also be for worship, but again this is a corporate activity, so we as a congregation should do this together—praising God for who He is, for what He’s done, for the beauty of His person, for the perfection of His plan, for His creation. In other words, praise should be focused on God, not on how I feel about God.

A third point here is that congregational singing should actually be intended for a congregation, not for a small group or soloist. So I really like congregational music when I don’t have to change keys to keep on singing or to stay quiet until the music comes back into my range.

What else do I like about church? I like groups of people from our church working to serve others. We once had a vibrant ministry to prisons. I don’t hear about that any more, but maybe we still do it. We also used to participate in a program that provided prisoners gifts for their children at Christmas time. I like missions and short term mission opportunities. I like various activities and services for the poor and needy. Big churches, of course, can offer more varied ways of serving, but I like whatever effort a church makes to serve at home or abroad.

Along with that, though, I like to see people speaking out boldly about Jesus Christ. Anyone can do a good deed. I think it’s important for others to know we love and go and work and serve because Jesus first loved us. We’re not trying to earn church brownie points or, worse, heaven brownie points.

One last area I’ll mention today. I like churches that take care of one another. Churches are filled with people, and God designed us to pray for one another and to help one another and to comfort one another and to serve one another. In short, I like churches with people who develop relationships with one another—not always easy to do in big metropolitan areas in the fast pace of today’s society. But all the more necessary because of the disconnect we can easily feel away from family.

God identifies His Church using a variety of metaphors. One is that we are His children, which makes us all brothers and sisters. That’s something vital I think the church must not lose. No one needs another bureaucratic entity in our lives just because. But we need the church, mostly because we ARE the Church. We need to be with like-minded people, not so that we can settle, but so that we can be empowered to go out and serve and preach and love those around us.

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:1-8)

Published in: on May 5, 2016 at 6:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What I Don’t Like Regarding Church


Mars_Hill_Church,_Ballard_location,_worship_band_stageChurches are nothing but a collection of people—sinners saved by grace who sometimes listen to God and follow Him, but who sometimes rebel and go their own way, though they may repent and come back to a place of obedience. Sometimes, without realizing it, we let stuff creep into our churches that is really harmful, stuff that acts like a little leaven. Sometimes we let in wolves that masquerade like shepherds. Sometimes we tolerate what amounts to cotton candy.

When I was in Tanzania, the average person lived hand to mouth. One of the staples in their diet was ugali, a dough-like substance made from the cassava plant. Cassava is a root, similar to the potato. In Tanzania, the farming techniques at that time often depleted the soil of nutrients. Hence, cassava, and ultimately ugali, had little nutritional value. People could eat their meals which would assuage their appetite, but they were not receiving the vitamins and minerals they needed.

Some churches can be like ugali, or like cotton candy—on the surface it seems as if the people are being fed, but they end up nearly starving.

I don’t like the things that hurt our churches!

Here, in no specific order, are some of the things I think hurt our churches:

Copying. Or jumping on bandwagons, if you will. We seem too eager, in my opinion, to jump to the next trend, as if church is all about keeping up with the trendy, the pacesetters, the megachurches who seem to have find the right formula to bring people in.

Jesus attracted big crowds, so there’s obviously nothing inherently wrong with a large congregation. But Jesus didn’t do market studies to see how to bring people in. His crowds also included a group out to catch Him in some kind of error—either morally or theologically.

The crowds also included those who were there just for a free lunch or to be wowed by the next dead-man-walking event. Some may have been there for the cool stories.

But at one point, Jesus laid out what He expected of people who followed Him, and the crowds dissipated. Rapidly. Jesus didn’t revamp His style or technique. He didn’t soften His message or steer away from the truth. He didn’t open up coffee shops or promise to provide lunch from only ONE loaf of bread if they’d just come back next week.

Which brings me to the second thing I think hurts churches: counting the number of people who attend. We’ve got this idea that more is better.

More can be exciting and encouraging when a ministry starts out. That people come to a house church in the Arab world at peril of their lives is an awesome sign that God is moving. But here in the western world? The biggest crowds are in sports arenas. In other words, great numbers aren’t necessarily a sign of great spirituality. So why do we count?

Maybe the leadership needs to know attendance as part of their planning, but a fixation on numbers can derail a ministry in short order. We start relying on the techniques of the world, we start taking credit for the “success” of a large congregation. We stop trusting God to bring the people He wants to come.

A third thing that hurts churches is performance. Ministers perform more than they preach.

They’re preceded by the opening act—the worship band. Lights go dim in the “house” as spotlights illuminate the performers. Sound equipment is turned up to loud or loudest so all that the people in the “audience” hear is the lead and backup singers and instruments. Some churches include special effects.

The point of all this performing is to entertain the people to keep them coming back. If they get an emotional kick from the concert or from the speaker, then church has been “worshipful.”

Well, no it hasn’t. Such a service puts the focus first on the performers and then on the people in the audience who are responding emotionally. Where is the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting the spotlight on Him is worship!

Number four naturally follows. Churches are hurt—crippled, really—when ministers preach the topics of their choice rather than what the Bible says. Oh, sure, lots of ministers who pick their topic use the Bible, but it’s more by way of reinforcing the point they already want to make.

How about if we opened up the Bible and looked at a passage, verse by verse and chapter by chapter, to see what it says? In other words, how about having a minister preach from the Bible—whether it addresses one of the hot, trendy topics, or something really uncomfortable—as opposed to using the Bible for our own purposes.

The thing is, some pastors who use the Bible are in sync with it, but the model of preaching that way is flawed. Therefore, someone can come along behind them who is not Biblically minded and follow the “use the Bible” model, only to lead the congregants away from the truth.

The health-and-wealth preachers fall into this latter category. Those who want to “name it and claim it” use the Bible to reinforce their beliefs about God’s blessing and prosperity while ignoring passage after passage after passage that talks about suffering and being in need and sacrificing.

I haven’t exhausted the things I don’t like, but I’m going to stop. I’ll end with this short video of a musician who understands about worship. It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who are working to enhance corporate worship. It gives me hope.

My Cry Ascends | Greg Wilbur from Compass Cinema on Vimeo.

Published in: on May 3, 2016 at 6:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Thing About Household Chores


I’m not big on household chores. They’re just so daily! Dishes you washed yesterday are dirty again today. You no more than finish vacuuming the floor than some new piece of lint finds it’s way onto the carpet. The trash cans never stay emptied. And don’t get me started about dust!

It’s never ending. The laundry needs washing, the plants need watering, the mail needs dumping reading filing. Then there is grocery shopping and getting gas and answering email and … well, to be fair not all these things are daily, but they are repetitious. They raise their heads over and over and over again. There is no chance of stamping the job with a finished sign, and if you cross it off the “To Do” list, you just have to put it back on in a matter of days or hours.

So why do we do it? Why do we keep chugging away at the same jobs over and over? In the end, we do chores because we like life better that way. We prefer clean clothes and clean floors and clean dishes. We operate better with gas in the tank and food in the refrigerator. In other words, we’re willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result.

I wonder if the same is true about “spiritual chores.” Are we willing to put in the time to get a known and desired result when it comes to spiritual things?

I suppose first we have to determine if the result is desired. I mean how important is it that I dust the bookcase? If I’m having company, the importance increases ten-fold, so some days it’s very important, but on others — not so much. Is that the way things are spiritually? Are Sundays “spiritual days” and the rest of the week, not so much? Or are spiritual results important 24/7?

And if they are, is there actually a known result of doing “spiritual chores”? What particularly are spiritual chores? I suggest they are things we can point to in Scripture that have been commanded or modeled for us, involving our relationship with God. I’d put things like reading God’s Word in the list of “spiritual chores.” Praying would be there too, and church attendance, Bible memorization, praising God, tithing.

But that brings me back to the “known result.” Do these spiritual chores have a known result? Yes and no. There is no extrinsic reward — no “Best Church Member” sticker or “Faithful Bible Reader” club. There’s not even a promise of health and wealth if we just do our part. But there’s a definite intrinsic result. As with anyone else, the more time we spend with God — in His book or in His house or talking to Him about stuff that’s on our mind — the better we get to know Him. The next thing we know, our spiritual life is showing all kinds of signs of fruitfulness, the most easily spotted one being that the spiritual chores no longer feel like chores.

I actually have a friend who likes to clean. Seriously! She does it to relax. I’m not there, but I can imagine that the routine of doing spiritual things and seeing the desired and known results flourish can transform us into people like my friend — we no longer look at “chores” or “duties” or “responsibilities” but at the best part of the day when I get to

The thing about household chores, they are so daily. But maybe that’s exactly the way to turn them from chores to challenges to cherished moments. Some day. But honestly, I hold out more hope for the spiritual chores than I do for the household ones.😉

This post was first published here in January 2012.

Published in: on April 6, 2016 at 5:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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Good Men Don’t Need A Savior


church2Easter, which is the day Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is just ahead. Historically people who rarely go to church will make the effort to attend this coming Sunday. Many will hear Scripture read and sermons preached, all illuminating Jesus, alive from the dead.

Some smaller number will tie the resurrection to Jesus’s mission on earth—His sacrifice, His shouldering the burden of sin and dying that those who believe on His name might be saved.

The problem is, in western culture, most people don’t think they need to be saved. Trapped miners need to be saved. Kidnap victims need to be saved. Hostages in a botched bank holdup need to be saved.Puppies that fall into sewer pipes need to be saved. But the average, everyday person, living his life—going to work, coming home, watching a preseason baseball game on TV, having dinner, helping the kids with homework, turning in after the Late Show—the average, everyday person doesn’t need a savior, does he?

Actually, he does.

Because of the nature of time—a second ticking off without us really being aware of it, and us growing older without feeling all that different, until one day we start seeing the gray hair and feeling the stiff joints—because of the invisible eating away of our lives, we don’t realize we are in need of rescue.

Death is winning, though we try to ignore it or pretend it isn’t so. The irrevocable truth remains the same as the day Adam and Eve disobeyed God: the wages of sin is death.

Unless we’re rescued.

But who could save us from the certainty of death? How about Someone who already went through it and came out the other side with a new, glorified body?

Jesus, the resurrected Son of God can save us! Not from physical death—that’s a consequence that remains in place—but from spiritual death. From the grip of sin. From the strictures of the Law. From the accusations of guilt.

He can save us not only from, but to: to the hope of heaven, to a new and glorified body like Jesus’s, to life everlasting without the sadness and sighing we experience here and now.

There’s just one problem. Good men don’t qualify for rescue. Jesus came to rescue sinners.

The real problem, of course, is that there is no such person as a good man. Or a good woman. We are all sinners, but not everyone recognizes that fact. Some admit that they don’t do everything they should or that they did things they should have avoided. Their answer, though, it to simply try harder.

They determine, for example, to learn from their mistakes. And to make up for them. They might decide to donate money to a good cause or volunteer at a community center or even at a church. The problem is, good things cannot wipe out the immoral acts or wrong doing of our past. Or of our future.

The truth is, we were made for relationship—with God and with others. But sin bent that purpose. After they sinned, Adam and Eve hid from God. When He confronted them, Adam blamed Eve, and indirectly blamed God for giving her to him. Eve blamed the serpent.

What they didn’t do was fall on their face and say, I’ve sinned in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your child. They blamed and excused and tried to come off as if they were the injured party, not the one who was wrong.

Not much has changed. Come Sunday, I suspect a good many of the once-a-year churchgoers will walk to their cars after the service still wiggling and squirming out of the clear fact that they are sinners, not good men or good women. Who knows but a good many of the regular attenders will do the same thing. After all, they go to church every Sunday! That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

Well, no, actually it doesn’t. The good that we do can’t undo the wrong. Adam and Eve could have worked all day in the garden to cultivate it—a good thing. They’d be taking care of their environment. Oh, but wait. That’s the job God gave them to do.

But Eve could have accepted Adam’s authority and he could have loved her and clung to her and . . . and that’s also what God had told them to do. Every good thing was already normative behavior. There is no good thing that is above and beyond that can make up for a failing.

And of course we now have our sin nature to deal with as well, so the Bible now categorizes our righteousness, the rightness of our lives morally, as nothing but despicably filthy rags.

So we are left with two choices: confession or continued cover up. We can stop pretending that we’ll ever balance our wrongdoing with our good behavior, admit that we are sinners, and that we need a Savior. Or we can continue to try what has not worked in the past or pretend that the wrong we do isn’t really wrong at all. It’s society or our parents or our spouse or the police or the government or the church or . . . or . . . anybody but me, because I’m good and I don’t need a savior.

The sad thing is, God gives them what they want. They don’t want a savior, then they won’t have a savior. He’s not going to force anyone into His kingdom. He’s all about rescuing those who want out of the kingdom of darkness. Those who sit in the dark and call it light, who look at their evil thoughts and intentions and selfish, prideful actions and say, I’m good—well, there’s no rescue for them.

Published in: on March 22, 2016 at 7:04 pm  Comments (3)  
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Friends with the World – A Reprise


Sower_oilSome years ago I did a little blog surfing starting with an article published in Church Salt: “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline. Unfortunately, a group self-identifying as Progressives have seemed to take their place.

Whether emergents are a growing or shrinking number, or whether Progressives are the new emergents, isn’t the issue, however. The thinking of both or either group—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside”— is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius. Sadly, this thinking has seeped into the Church.

One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

“Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with but have not come to a consensus about. The New King James says it this way:

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

The ESV is a little different, but I think the intent is the same:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In the context of “adultresses” in the previous verse, these translations seems to me to make James’s intent clearer. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary, “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church/Progressives have introduced. Here are a few: God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. The Bible is mostly a myth. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

It doesn’t take much to find article after article after article by people professing to be Christians who espouse these “progressive” views.

Of course many claim that thinking in a fresh way about their spirituality or about God or about their religion has revitalized their spiritual life.

So … can thinking that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

Yes, lies. The world says humans are good, not sinners in need of a Savior. The world sees Jesus as just a man, not God in the flesh. The world looks at the Bible as a bunch of man-contrived rules, not the very word of God. Whenever the views of someone professing to be a Christian align more closely with what the world says than what God says, there’s reason to believe that the thinking of the world may be killing off true faith.

In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold. So, too, with pretend Christians who deny that God is a righteous Judge, the Sovereign who does what is right.

An older version of this post first appeared here in February 2010.

Jesus And The Dirty Dozen


During Jesus’s early ministry, He took a lot of criticism from the Pharisees, particularly about the company He kept—sinners and prostitutes and tax collectors. Today those who like to criticize the church, some inside the church and some without, seem to relish this accusation, repeating it as if Christ’s interaction with the non-religious of His day is a blueprint for how Christians today are to live.

Go out and find some sinners to eat with, the critics seem to say. If Jesus were here today, you wouldn’t find him hanging out in some stuffy old church. He’d be in the gay bars, in brothels, maybe in porn studios—wherever he could find sinners to hang with.

Except, when you read the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus wasn’t hanging out with sinners the way today’s church-critics think. The sinners were actually hanging out with Him.

Jesus’s normal modus operandi was to show up in the tabernacle on the Sabbath and teach or heal. In fact, when the Pharisees came to arrest Him, He said, “Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me” (Matt. 26:55b).

Of course, there were days He taught in houses or on hills or even from a boat. He healed in a variety of places too—on streets, near the city gate, in houses.

Interestingly, He got invited to a lot of places by “unsavory characters.” Right before His final Passover meal, for example, He ate at the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6). But, you see, Simon couldn’t still be a leper or no one eating with him would have been clean and therefore qualified to eat the Passover.

And was Mary Magdalene still a prostitute or still demon possessed? Was Simon the Zealot still a terrorist? Was Matthew still a tax collector, for that matter?

Seems in the Bible, a person’s sinful reputation stayed with them. James, for example, refers to “Rahab the harlot” in chapter five of his letter, when he could just as easily have called her King David’s great-grandmother, or the converted Canaanite, or the brave woman who hid the messengers.

So these sinners that Jesus was eating with—were they still living the lifestyle of sinners? Or were they people who came to Him to find cleansing and healing and forgiveness? People like Nicodemus and Mark and Barnabas and Timothy?

Matthew the tax-collector-turned-disciple invited his friends over to eat with Jesus. In context it seems unlikely that they were hatching devious money-thieving plots over their meal while they cracked jokes about sticking it to the Pharisees. Matthew was a different man now, one of the dirty dozen who had experienced Jesus’s cleansing grace.

Demon-free Mary was different, too. Now she wanted only to sit at Jesus’s feet. Leprosy-free Simon was most definitely different—he was hosting a party!

The image the gospels paint of Jesus is not the one the church-critics try to conjure up. Sinners came to Him in droves. They’d come to John the Baptist, too, and repented of their sins. Now they came to Jesus, and the cleansing they received wasn’t a momentary thing. They became new creatures. Old things passed away, replaced by the new.

Sure we still call them sinners because that’s what they were, in the same way that “sinner” identifies me. The Pharisees used the term differently, however. They put themselves in opposition to the sinners. So in the blue corner, Pharisees. In the red corner, sinners. And how dare Jesus side with the sinners!

The sinners He sided with were those who stood before God beating their breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13b).

They were broken, humbled, redeemed. A lot like the people in churches today who know Jesus.

This article first appeared here in June 2011.

Published in: on February 15, 2016 at 5:31 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Church’s One Foundation


Baptist_Temple_cornerstone“The Church’s One Foundation” is an old hymn of the Christian faith penned by Samuel John Stone.

Written specifically to counter a false teaching that was creating schisms in the church in South Africa, this and a series of eleven others were designed to reinforce the Apostle’s Creed. The opening lines of this hymn are as follows

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord

It is this foundation I want to focus on in light of my recent posts about the Church. As it turns out, I wrote a post entitled “Jesus Christ Is Lord” some years ago, and I don’t think I have much to add. So without further preamble, here is a reposting of that article.

The Bible reveals Jesus as many things—the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, but it seems that the one thing God will make clear to all people at some point is that He is Lord.

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)

When I think of “Lord” I think of authority. Interestingly, it was Jesus’s authority that caught people’s attention early on. The gospels record that people questioned the authority with which He taught, they wondered about (and some doubted) His authority over unclean spirits. And His disciples were especially amazed at His authority over elements in nature.

I’m also curious about the way that Satan interacted with Jesus in the three temptations recorded in the book of Matthew. One was a concession that Jesus was master over physical elements, acknowledging that He could turn stones into bread if He wanted. Another was a concession that He, or at least His Father, was master over the angelic host.

The third is the one that seems different. In the temptation involving who would rule the kingdoms of the world, Satan seems to be saying, in his offer to trade, that he had the power but God had the authority.

Jesus being God would then have that same authority.

Sadly, people in today’s western culture seem eager to bring Jesus down. For some time, other religions have acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and it seems that view of Him is flooding into our Christianized societies. Hence, to many He is little more than a guru.

Even professing Christians belittle Him by limiting His work on earth to a “this is how it’s done” example for us to emulate. Given that Jesus lived a sinless life, we can undoubtedly learn by studying what He did and said. But Jesus as example should not supplant Jesus as Lord.

What Jesus said wasn’t just good thinking, wise advice, logical, helpful, and moral. It was right. It was true.

He spoke as the one person who knew the Father and who could reveal Him. He spoke from a position of omniscience, without any misconceptions or delusions. No one else could speak this way. Only Jesus. Only the One who is over all.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority (Col 2:9-10, emphasis added)

I find it especially interesting that Jesus’s half brother James started his letter “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ …” Here’s a man who could have claimed a special relationship with Jesus on a human level but chose instead to identify himself as a servant for life to the Lord. Essentially he took his right to say what he was about to say from his relationship with Jesus as Lord.

When I think about the fact that those words were inspired by the Holy Spirit, I get a picture of how God wants us to view Jesus.

Church And Edification


St-Damase-Eglise_churchA primary function of the assembly of the Church is to edify believers. But what does “edification” mean? The basic definition is “the act of building or building up.” In relation to the church, the meaning expands a bit: “the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness” (Strong’s Lexicon).

So when Christians gather together, one of our primary functions is to promote the spiritual growth of others.

Paul said this to the believers in Corinth:

When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:26a-33)

I understand that some people believe speaking in tongues, interpreting them, and prophesying were gifts that have ceased, but setting aside that controversial aspect of this passage, there are some very clear principles. The main point seems to be this: When you assemble as the Church, everything should be done for the purpose of edification.

In the book of Romans, Paul talks about edification in a different context, but he uses it in juxtaposition with pleasing our neighbor and doing good for him instead of pleasing ourselves.

I’ve heard a number of sermons about church not being about me “getting something out of it,” but about giving. I understand that, especially in light of this idea that all is to be done for edification. That means my participation is to be done for the edification of others. I’m not sure non-participation can be edifying to others.

At the same time, however, what did Paul mean when he said, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment”? Isn’t the idea of “passing judgment” connected with determining the truthfulness and the value of what was spoken? In other words, we who listen need to do so actively, testing the spirits, judging whether we’re being taught aright.

We aren’t to judge whether the speaker was entertaining, however. We’re to judge whether what he said exhorted us to godly living, to following Christ more consistently, more correctly.

There’s one way a preacher can be sure to exhort the Church: preach the gospel—that is, the good news about Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus begins in Genesis and continues throughout the entire Bible to the last verse in the book of Revelation.

It’s the story of God’s reconciliation with fallen humans and how the restored relationship with God turns our lives right-side up. When a preacher opens God’s word and explains it more fully, he is giving the Church the exhortation we need.

Honestly, we don’t need a pep talk. We don’t need pats on the back. And we don’t need to be accused or condemned. The Holy Spirit can incite and encourage and convict of sin, all through the teaching of God’s word.

I guess there’s a fine line between a pastor’s manipulative prodding and his faithful instruction and exhortation. I guess that’s why I believe in expository preaching.

When a pastor is working his way through a book of the Bible, he addresses the topics that the next passage up brings. A pastor who teaches topically, on the other hand, may never get to some very needed subjects, while he may brow-beat his congregation with the topics he thinks they most need to hear.

Still, what Paul said to the Corinthian church makes it clear that edification is really the responsibility of all of us. We aren’t to assemble ourselves together and then behave selfishly. It’s not about me; it’s about us.

Of course church is also about worship. That’s another one of the main functions of our gathering. But I think corporate worship is different from private worship. The Corinthian passage seems to say as much.

Paul tells those believers that some of them needed to exercise self-control—a nice way to say, shut up and sit down, it’s someone else’s turn to talk. They were not to talk over one another. They were to listen to each other so they could learn from one another. They weren’t to be in their own private world of ecstatic worship that ignored everyone else. When they were together, they were to do what would edify others.

I’m thinking that a part of worship in many evangelical churches might be leaning toward the “private” instead of the “corporate” when it comes to worship. Of course, I’m not in other people’s churches, so I don’t really know. But churches seem to fall into trends. I don’t know if worship leaders and pastors are watching videos and copying each other or going to conferences or what, but it does seem as if there’s a lot of keeping up with the Joneses. And Sometimes I think the Joneses just might be heading off to left field.

I’d rather see a church follow the instruction of Scripture instead of the latest fad.

Published in: on January 11, 2016 at 6:46 pm  Comments (8)  
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Church: How?


St._Paul's_Baptist_-_west_sideHow do we conduct church in the twenty-first century?

Above all, I think we should look to the Bible to show us what we are to do. Sadly, in western society, our church services are too often run as if they were a slick entertainment-style program. Everything is planned out ahead of time and fit into a slot, and horrors if someone should run over or go off script.

And yet, our former pastor said repeatedly that his sermon wasn’t entertainment, that we weren’t an audience sitting back and determining whether we’d been properly entertained. We were participants, he said, active agents in the process, not passive judges.

So which is it? A slick program or a vibrant interaction, believers with each other and with God?

I don’t think the Bible indicates anywhere that Christians assembling together should be a slick program. There isn’t support for such a notion in Scripture.

We are to do things orderly, but even in giving that admonition, the Apostle Paul left room for the spontaneous.

I am a teacher though, and spent the majority of my working life in a classroom. To be an effective teacher, a person needs to prepare, so the idea of just showing up and letting the Spirit move, which denominations like the Quakers once upon a time believed, doesn’t seem wise.

Perhaps, like so many other things, we’ve become so dependent upon our own abilities or ideas or inventions, we no longer see the wisdom in trusting God. Be that as it may, I don’t see churches going back to a “no pastor” system where they meet together and wait quietly for someone in their midst to receive a stirring of the Spirit and share what God has “laid on their heart.”

I can’t say that I’d want to return to that type of church service either. I believe we are to love God with all of our mind, as well as with all of our heart and all of our body. I see great value in learning from a teacher who has done his homework, who has studied and prepared.

Our interaction, then, is with the content the preacher presents. We should not be caught up in whether he’s told us a good joke or a touching story, whether he has a good video clip to support his point or includes information flashed on the screen via his PowerPoint.

None of those things is wrong, just like it’s not wrong to quote a passage from a novel or include a short drama. These are methods, they are not content. The method should not be The Thing.

What church needs to do is involve people. The assembling of ourselves together should be for edification—that is, “the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually” (Oxford American Dictionary). Paul spent long hours instructing believers on his way from church to church. See for example Acts 20:7b—“Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”

In that instance, of course, the young man Eutychus wasn’t as involved in the teaching as he should have been because he fell asleep. But the point here is, Paul wasn’t prepared with his thirty minute talk that he’d polished to a well-rehearsed shine. He was teaching what the people in Berea and Troas and Thessalonica and Colossae and Philippi needed to hear.

This instruction actually follows the model Jesus gave to his disciples after his resurrection. He spent chunks of time opening up Scripture to them about Himself.

The issue of the edification of believers becomes clear not only by example but by instruction. In one of his letters to the church in Corinth, Paul addressed the topic of using gifts in the church. He included what many today call the ecstatic gifts—prophesying, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, healing. Whether a Christian believes those gifts came to an end after the first century or where he believes they are on going, is immaterial for this discussion. The point here is what Paul says about preaching, or instructing the body of Christ:

For you are giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not edified. I thank God, I speak in tongues more than you all; however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Cor. 14:7-9)

The priority, in other words, was to be the people in the congregation learning from the teacher—whether that was instruction in the word of God or praise and thanks. None of it was to be a solo effort. All was to be done for the edification of the others.

Church also fulfilled other important functions, not the least of which was to provide communion—the remembrance of Christ’s death by the breaking of bread and drinking from the cup. Jesus had commanded His disciples before His crucifixion to “do this in remembrance” because our relationship with God the Father hinges on our relationship with the Son.

What He did at the cross is central to the Christian faith. Without an understanding of His death as an atonement for our sins, Christianity is an empty religion, not a means of rescue from the kingdom of darkness.

The Church is tasked to pass on from person to person and generation to generation the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection. This too, of course, is interactive, as is all of church—at least, as it played out in the first century.

No slick programs. Just preaching and taking communion, helping the needy and singing.

Yes, the church also took care of the poor in their midst. I don’t see them giving to the poor outside their fellowship. though perhaps they did, and undoubtedly individuals did. But the church itself set up a plan and a program to take care of the needy, particularly the needy widows who had no other means of survival.

In their day, they were at the mercy of others. There were no pensions or social security, and an elderly woman without a husband had no means to provide for herself. God in His great love for the least directed the church to care for them.

Another “how did they do church”—they sang. I’ll need to elaborate on singing in the church another day because it’s become a much more complex issue than . . . well, I suspect than any in the first 1900 years of the church ever dreamed it would be.

Suffice it to say, that first and foremost the church is to edify believers. That’s pretty much a non-negotiable.

Published in: on December 30, 2015 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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Church: What And Why?


St-Damase-Eglise_churchMy church is in transition, which is a nice way to say, we are foundering. We are a church that had, for fifty years, been known for the teaching of the word of God. We conducted what would be considered a traditional worship service. We prayed, read Scripture, passed the offering plate, sang—some hymns, some choruses, some contemporary songs—but mostly we listened to expository preaching.

From the instruction of God’s word, we slowly began to reach out. As long as I’ve been at that church, we’ve been actively supporting missionaries, but we also began to involve ourselves more directly with the community. We do various things for the homeless. We’ve started a tutoring program in a nearby school which ended up leading to a church plant. We’ve had a prison ministry and involvement with international students at a local university. We have participated in programs for unwed mothers and have a vibrant ministry for the disabled.

In short, God’s word faithfully preached has spilled out of the church building and become active, alive.

Some years ago, however, a new “movement” started in America, a type of push back against the traditional Church. As so often happens, the movement itself faded from prominence, but some of the ideas remained and even began to be incorporated within churches at large, our own included.

Meanwhile, there was the megachurch phenomenon that offered another model for churches to follow, and suddenly “church” in America seems to be more about style and keeping up with the Joneses than it is about doing what the Bible sets down for people who believe in Jesus should do.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the subject. First, what is the Church? It’s not an institution set up by humankind, though we operated as if it were. We choose leaders and have boards (or teams) pay bills and build buildings and hire people and act in many ways like a business put together by a group of people.

In fact, the Church is the body of Christ, who is our head. The Church is Christ’s bride. The Church is the family of God. All these metaphors portray the close relationship the Church has to God. He is the leader, we are His servants, His functionaries, His intimate partner.

But that’s the Church, not a church. A local church is part of that Body, part of that Church universal.

The local church exists as an arm (or a hand or a foot or a liver) of the Church universal, though many denominations make up that Body. And believers as we assemble ourselves together, in obedience to Scripture, are unique parts of the local body—the fingers, the toes, the nose.

Our coming together is an act of obedience, but it is also an act of need. It is in church that we both receive and give. We receive encouragement and instruction in the word of God so that we can go out into the world and serve. We also give according to the giftedness God has equipped us with, so that the entire body grows. Those who are equipped to teach, do that. Those who serve, find places where they can serve in the church, and so on.

But God set this all up, not people.

Our challenge today is to ignore the whims of society and the cool new trends in order to be what God intends the Church to be. I don’t think a church should lose sight of what the Church is supposed to be and do.

If the local church doesn’t equip the saints to be people who live out the word of God, where else will believers receive such instruction? From Scripture, true. But I don’t know about other people, I first heard I was should regularly read God’s word from someone in church.

Churches aren’t perfect—that should be a given since they are made up of sinful people, redeemed though we are. Nevertheless, they serve as the gathering place for believers. This false teaching that has been introduced about “seeker friendly” churches needs to be held up to the light of Scripture.

Clearly no one should be turned away from church. Everyone is welcome. But churches don’t exist to evangelize. They exist, or ought to, in order to equip believers. If nonbelievers want to come and learn what believers are learning, it’s possible God will use His word to open the eyes of their heart. Praise God if that happens.

But the purpose of church is preparation for those who already believe. It’s not up to the “professional class of ministers” to give the gospel to “seekers.” It’s up to our teachers to prepare us to serve God day in and day out. We who believe need to go out into the world and share Christ, love our neighbor, love our enemy, do good to those in our world. Church prepares us to do what we’ve been called to do. Or it should.

Published in: on December 29, 2015 at 7:06 pm  Comments (5)  
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