Tag Archives: church

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.


Introverts in the Church

Recently, I read Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh, who has a related blog.  As an introvert, I had wanted to read it for some time.  All in all, I am glad that I did.  I have had several “personality” tests and the one area that I consistently nearly max out in is introversion.  Being an introvert carries several challenges but also several advantages.  That seems to be the point of McHugh’s book, but it is a point that can be easily lost if we take a “woe is me, I’m another victim” approach.  Clearly, McHugh did not want to go there; however, at times, his book could fuel the fire for someone who did.  It is worth the read, but as with all things, one should read with discernment.   The reader should approach it with an openness to grow instead of seeking of validation.

I was able to relate to many things in the book.  Nothing intimidates me as much about visiting a church or small group as the fear that they might say, “I see we have a visitor. Stand up and tell us about yourself.”  They may as well say, “Stand up and try to hide that you’re trembling while we all stare at you.”  It isn’t because I am afraid to speak to a crowd.  I can stand up and teach and enjoy that experience.  However, when I enter a new group I want some time to observe and figure things out.  I want to process what is happening and think about it.  I definitely don’t want to open my heart to strangers and I probably don’t even want to speak at all.  However, I have learned that saying hello will not kill me, though I might feel like it will at the moment.

I found some points of the book helpful.  Some suggestions on spiritual disciplines and being in leadership were helpful.  However, I had trouble relating to some things that he said about corporate worship and church.  I am much more comfortable in a “traditional” evangelical church than he is.  And it was at the point of being involved in church that I thought he missed an opportunity to make a stronger point than he did.

If an introvert approaches church life totally turned inward with a “let me stay anonymous” attitude, he has missed God’s purpose for being a part of church.  In an extrovert approaches church life with an attitude of “be quiet while I talk and get my kicks from being here with you people,” he has missed the point as well.  Church is a place where we are to give ourselves for others for the sake others.  It is the place where we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should and to put the good of others above our own. (Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 10:24) The church is the body of Christ, and each part is dependent upon the other.  Most of our problems are not issues of introversion or extraversion but of self-centeredness or selflessness.  Introverts and extroverts can both struggle with self-centeredness.  As we walk with Christ, take up our crosses and crucify self, we are better able to serve others with both the gifts and the personality that God has given us.

Looking for Men Who Set the Church Ablaze

I read a tweet from someone at a college football game this weekend.  It described a man who had spilled beer on the people in front of him and was staggering down the aisle.  The tweet said, “He smelled of beer, sweat and lifelong bachelorhood.”

It is wrong to lump all single men in this generality, but the truth is that too many men, single and married, are failing to be men in the way the Bible describes.  They are the type of irresponsible men that this tweet was about.  Biblical manhood is not defined by our culture.  One part of our culture defines men as either a weak, ignorant side-kicks to smart women or beer-drinking brawlers.  Biblical manhood is very different.  A Biblical is Christ-like. He is strong, but humble.  He is gentle and meek, yet bold in standing against wrong.  He is a servant seeking to meet the needs of others rather than demanding that others serve him.

E.M. Bounds in the last chapter of his book, Power through Prayer, described men who could set the church ablaze.  Such men need six qualities according to Bounds.

  1. Capacity for faith
  2. The ability to pray
  3. The power of thorough consecration
  4. The ability of self littleness
  5. An absolute losing of one’s self in God’s glory
  6. An insatiable yearning and seeking after all the fullness of God

Maturity to Speak

Just as we must learn to listen to the criticism, advice and teaching of others, we must also learn how to speak into the lives of others.  How we speak is as much an indication of maturity as how we listen.  The Bible gives very specific direction to those who speak into others lives whether it is teaching the Word or confronting sin.

Someone who speaks into the life of another person must be wise.   Proverbs 24:6 says, “For by wise guidance you shall wage war, and in the abundance of counselors there is victory.” [1]  Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”   Speaking into another’s life requires the credibility of wisdom.  God-fearing reverence and knowledge of God through His Word should characterize our lives.

When we are confronting others over sin, we must be very careful.  As Jesus pointed out, before we try to get the speck out of someone else’s eye, we need to make sure there isn’t a beam sticking out of our eye.  This does not mean, as some may suggest that we should never go after the speck.  It only means that we should take time to check our lives first.

Another thing that we have to guard against is pride.  Speaking into the life of another presumes a right to speak and knowledge that another does not have or at the very least is not aware of.  Therefore, we must be humble, and above all, we must have the good of the other person as our motive for speaking. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul admonished us, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

So, it is a good idea before we teach the Word of God, confront others about sin or seek to correct the doctrine of others that we take time to examine ourselves.  Are we walking in wisdom?  Are we covering sin in our own life?  Are we proud?  Do we have the edification of the other person as our goal?

[1] All references are from the New American Standard Bible.

Being Teachable as a Sign of Christian Maturity

In recent weeks, John MacArthur on his blog has given correction and advice to the Young, Restless and Reformed. (here, here, here and here)  The response is interesting.  Some have encouraged the YRRs to listen the advice, but many YRRs have responded negatively.  If you read through the comments on the Grace to You blog, you get a taste of the conversation.

My intention in writing is not to enter the discussion. After all, I no longer fit the young modifier, and I would really like to get more rest.  I do lean toward the Reformed side of things, but doubt that I would be considered a card-carrying member by those in the movement.  Rather than enter that discussion, I want to talk about a spiritual issue related to that.  How do we receive correction, advice and instruction?  How do we listen to those with whom we may disagree but who have something important to say to us?  In other words, how do we become teachable?

These are not issues confined to the YRRs.  We all struggle with these issues. While I would say, based on personal experience, that young adults struggle with this more, I have known some older ones that aren’t very receptive to the teaching, advice and correction of others either.  My own progress toward maturity has included going from defending myself against the slightest criticism to politely saying thank you while fuming inside to learning to take time to hear what the Lord is saying to me through the criticism or correction.  Often, I still slip into defensive mode.

At the heart of this defensiveness usually is not righteous indignation against injustice suffered.  Rather the heart of it is sin.  I get defensive because I feel insecure about what I am doing.  I don’t like my weaknesses being pointed out and I don’t want to feel shame.  I get defensive because I am full of pride.  I really don’t like being told I’m wrong, because I think I am right or mostly right.  I get defensive because I simply don’t like other people teaching me, advising me and correcting me.  They don’t have my credentials or my knowledge, and after all, they are always against me or just don’t understand me.  Besides, their theology and politics probably aren’t right, either.

In the center of every reaction above is me.  It is all about me.  I am protecting myself.  I am being self-defensive and selfish.  What is worse: I am dooming myself to failure and immaturity if I allow this to become the character of my life.  A key to success in any endeavor is to be teachable:  to learn to accept criticism and instruction, to apply it, and to grow.  An athlete who doesn’t listen to his coach will ride the bench.  A student who doesn’t learn from the professor will fail the class.  A business person who doesn’t take advice will go out of business.  A politician who doesn’t listen to the people will become a member of Congress, which is either the exception to the rule or its own worse punishment.  A Christian who fails to learn and to receive correction from others will stagnate in immaturity and not achieve the purpose for which God has called him or her heavenward in Christ Jesus.

So, how do we learn to be teachable?  How do I learn from others to grow in maturity as a follower of Christ?

Of first importance is to walk near to God (James 4:8).  By truly applying myself to be in prayer and in the Bible, and not just going through the motions of spiritual discipline, I am close enough to God to recognize when He is correcting me through others.  By knowing the Word of God, I know when what others say is in line with Scripture, and I know that I need to pay attention.  By being near to God, I recognize His voice.

I also must crucify myself daily (Luke 9:23 and Galatians 5:24)  Since self is the center of my rebellion and defensive, I must get self out of the way so that I can receive truth from others.  By crucifying the flesh, I mortify those sinful responses that I make to others.

I must learn to listen and be slow to speak (James 1:19-20).  The temptation is to respond and to defend one’s self.  The best response comes after understanding what the other person has said, and often that response turns out to be, “You’re right.” I must learn to receive anything that is true according to God’s Word and that helps me grow more holy and more able to glorify God.

Hopefully, this is helpful to many of you.  Perhaps, soon, I will write on how to become someone who can speak into the lives of others.

Seeing the Unseen

T.W. Hunt’s writings have had a profound influence in my life through the years.  His writings and teaching are the sort that have entered my life and have become a part of me.  Recently I ran across another short book by him called Seeing the Unseen: Cultivate a Faith That Unveils the Hidden Presence of God.

He identified seven factors that help us cultivate such faith.
1. “A strong sense of the Holy Spirit’s mediation to the Father in all that I pray.” (Ephesians 5:18)
2. “A commitment to praying in the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)
3. “A strong sense of progression, upward and forward.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
4. “A deep, strong desire to please the Father.” (John 8:29)
5. “A strong sense that nothing is impossible with omnipotence.” (Matthew 21:21)
6. “Thoughts concentrated entirely on God.” (Ephesians 4:6)
7. “A sincere desire for the will of God above personal whims.” (Matthew 6:10)

Hunt’s book is well worth reading. The only negative thing that I can say is that he begins by applying the Scripture through the filter of Greek philosophy. Beyond that minor point, the book is an excellent reminder of many things that we should practice in our devotional lives.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 1

In the next three posts, I will review and interact with the book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation by John Fea.  While there has been a great deal of buzz about the book, not much has been said about the author.  Fea is an associate professor of American History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where is also Chair of the History Department.  Messiah College states on its website that it is nonsectarian but “…highlights the specific emphases of the Anabaptist, Pietistic and Wesleyan traditions.”  Those who are familiar with those traditions recognize that they emphasize private piety, separation of church and state and in more recent history, social justice.  Anabaptists believe strongly in the separation of church and state and are pacifist.  They strongly oppose government coercion by force.  It would be interesting to know how much these views shape Fea’s perspective; however, those views are not obvious in his book.

Fea did not make his purpose clear in the book until the concluding chapter.  He intended to show that the answer to the question in the title is much more nuanced than those debating the issue on left and right tend to understand.  As you will see in my summary and interaction with the book, I think that he in large part succeeded in his intent.  Those on either side of the issue wishing to discredit the other by using this book will have a hard time, not that it will stop anyone from trying.  Fea’s main concern as a historian is that we approach the study of history correctly which means that we do not read our current cultural wars back into it.

Fea outlined how we should study history in the introduction by discussing things that historians must do—the five Cs.

  • They must “… see change over time.”
  • They must “…interpret the past in context.”
  • They “…are always interested in causality.”
  • They “…are concerned with contingency.”
  • They “…realize that the past is complex.”

Fea believes that many people involved in the debate over Christian origins of the nation ignore these principles.  While he accused both sides in his book of violating them, he seems more disturbed by Christian nationalist such as David Barton than those on the other side.  Barton uses facts as a lawyer would.  He tries to overwhelm the opposing viewpoint with evidence.  Fea does not believe that Barton is doing proper historical study.

To illustrate how complex the issue is, in Chapter 1, Fea began with the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli to end interference of American shipping by the Barbary pirates.  Article 11 of the treaty says, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

This may look like case closed, but according to Fea, it is not.  While no one in America appears to have debated the wording of the treaty, the press during the conflict spoke in very different terms.  They portrayed it as a conflict between Christians and Muslims.  Tales of American sailors being forced to become Muslims were common.   By media reports and the writings of citizens, it seemed clear that the American public saw itself as a Christian nation. As I read the narrative that Fea wrote, it struck me how eerily familiar it sounded with the political establishment saying that America was not a Christian nation while much of the public had a very different understanding.  To clarify what a Christian nation means, Fea also attempted to define Christianity in terms of orthodoxy (basic doctrines that Christian denominations such as the trinity, belief in the Bible, sin and conversion) and orthopraxy (right practice of Christ’s teachings.)

Fea outlined the history of the idea of America as a Christian nation.  I am not summarizing it in its entirety other than to highlight a couple of points.  Both conservative evangelicals and liberal Protestants have had versions of America as a Christian nation.  While many liberal Protestants act as if they have never put forth the idea, history shows that they have.  In my opinion, the Religious Left is still putting forth its ideas of what America as a Christian nation should be according to their understanding of Christianity.  Conservative evangelicals dropped off the radar from the 1920s-1970s, but they have always been a part of the debate in some way.  During their exile from the public square, they focused on evangelism and education, thus unintentionally preparing themselves for a return to the public square.

According to Fea, Americans between the time of the framing of the Constitution and the Civil War understood themselves as a Christian nation.  Fea wrote that America became the most evangelical country on the face of the earth.  Most early histories of the United States described it in terms of being a Christian nation.  Many biographers reframed the lives of the founders to make them sound like orthodox, evangelical Christians.  During the Civil War, both sides of the conflict framed their sides as carrying on the idea of America’s Christian heritage.  After the Civil War, evangelicals and liberals divided in their views of what America as a Christian nation meant, but both continued to speak of America as a Christian nation.  Liberals dominated the public square after 1925 until around 1980 when evangelicals returned.  Fea also briefly described the Roman Catholic view of America as a Christian nation.  From Fea’s book, one can see that there have been different versions of the idea of America as a Christian nation.   However, the prominent assumption of the American public appears to have been that it was Christian.  In fact, in 1885, in the case of Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the Supreme Court formally declared that the United States is a Christian nation.  Fea concluded this section about this court ruling, “While the United States should never be perceived of a “Christian nation” in any formal or official sense, it was certainly a “Christian nation” in terms of culture and history.”

In  Chapter Four, Fea discussed the modern proponents of the idea of America as a Christian nation characterized mostly as being social conservative, evangelical protestants.  He suggested that they have five central themes that he used as an outline for much of the rest of the book.

  1. “God is sovereign over history. God has acted providentially to shape the course of human affairs, and he has a special destiny for the United States that can be accurately discerned and explained by historians.”
  2. “The seventeenth-century settlement of the American colonies should be interpreted in light of the eighteenth-century American Revolution.”
  3. “Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the U.S. Constitution were men of deep Christian faith.”
  4. “The Constitution of the United States is a Christian document, rooted in biblical and theological truth.”
  5. “Historical revisionism, especially as it relates to school textbooks, is irresponsible and dangerous.  Revisionists, they argue, have removed Christianity from the stories of the nation’s past taught to Children in public schools.”

In part two, I will review the section of the book where Fea deals with these themes.  Part 2 will appear on Monday.  Part 3 will appear on Wednesday.

Something to think about this July 4th…

This afternoon, people will get home from work and the July 4th weekend will begin. As a nation, we will celebrate our independence and our liberties. In church on Sunday, there will be patriotic songs, prayers for our military and thanksgiving for freedom to worship.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ will have gathered in secret to worship where they have no freedom and liberty to do so. In the coming days, it is likely that a faithful believer will have been arrested, beaten, tortured and perhaps, killed. As we give thanks for our freedom to worship, others are giving their lives to worship. A few days ago, I read about the beheading of a believer in Afghanistan. The article is disturbing. If you want to read it, click here. John Piper recommended that we read about such things in this brief article. He wrote that we should read about it, “….Because we can’t get into the reality of most of the Bible without some real emotional connection with terror. Every book of the New Testament has terror in it, something like a beheading. The situation in the first century, when these books were written, was more like Afghanistan than America.”

As I connected this with the coming holiday, these thoughts came to my mind.
1. We thank God for the freedom to worship. How many people in our churches would worship if that freedom did not exists?  I think we should examine ourselves to see if we are willing to pay the ultimate price to follow Christ.
2. As we celebrate our freedom, we need to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. I hope many churches will take time to do this during worship services this weekend.
3. We should remember that the most important fronts of war are not the military ones but the spiritual ones.

Can a vision statement blind us?

Vision statements and mission statements have been standard for churches for many years now. When I was a seminary student in the nineties, the church growth movement was hitting full stride. An emphasis in the church growth movement was that a church needed to be focused. It needed to know who its target audience was and how it was going to reach them. Vision statements and mission statements were a standard tool for keeping the focus in the right place.

Interestingly, the primary target of many churches that followed church growth methodology became young urban professionals who were also economically upwardly mobile. There may have been a few exceptions of people of going to the economically down and out, but for the most part, these churches were planted and grew in the suburbs and in metropolitan areas.

During the years that I have been out of country, many people have become disenchanted by the church growth model. They began to discuss the need to be missional. They decided to start new kinds of churches with a different focus. However, I find it interesting that many, if not most, of these churches seem to be in areas and doing ministries in such a way that they reach young urban professionals who happen to be economically, upwardly mobile. There are more exceptions to that trend than there were with the church growth movement, and I don’t think it is intentional as it was in the nineties. Still, it is interesting.

Vision statements can help. They can keep us from flying off in different directions, but they can also be limiting. I wonder if our vision statements sometimes make us blind to the opportunities that God places in our path. Is there a danger that we assume that God’s direction is one way when really He wants to stretch us in a different direction? If an opportunity for ministry outside our vision statement arises, how can we know that God does not want to change our direction? I don’t believe that we should be so slavishly attached to our vision statements that we would miss that God desires to broaden or to change the vision.

Worship vs. the Experience of Worship

This happened at a church in North Carolina.  I won’t mention the name of the church.  Just google NC church and cerebral palsy, and you will find all of the details if you have some curiosity. It was Easter Sunday, and a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his mother were in the auditorium for the service.  Judging by the web site of the church, I assume that this church isn’t one of those stuffy churches, but one meant for the young and enthusiastic with an exciting worship service. After the opening part of the service, according to the mother, the boy said “Amen” in his own way.  A church volunteer came over and  took them to the foyer, because the boy was being a distraction. I assume there was some sort of big screen in the foyer so that they could watch the rest of the service. Needless to say, the mother was not left with a good feeling. Later, she contacted the church and offered to start a ministry for the disabled, but the church’s response was that THEY FOCUS ON WORSHIP NOT MINISTRIES.  Now, to be fair, the church later said to the news media, that everything that they do is ministry and that they focus on worship and children’s ministries. They partner with others to do other ministries which gives me the impression that they know to just what ministry to refer a disabled person.  They are also seeking training for their staff to deal with people with special needs.

There are so many things wrong in that incident. However, I want to key in on one thought. “THEY FOCUS ON WORSHIP NOT MINISTRIES.”  Granted they corrected that quote later, but there is a lot in that sentence that reflects the state of many churches and many believers.  Many people go to church for the experience of worship but not to really worship. I am not trying to criticize a particular style of worship.  I am talking about people who go to church to “enjoy” the service.  I have heard it described as a “concert going” mentality.  People want to experience church with a show that gives them the same emotional cartharsis as a concert.  They want to experience the worship music, the sights, the sounds, the collective movement of the audience, and the feeling that accompanies all of this.  However, this is not worship.

According to Romans 12, the logical response to all that God has done to save us is worship, but not the type of worship that we may experience on Sunday, though what we do on Sunday should flow out of it. The type of worship that we should all live out is the living sacrifice of all we are for the glory of God.  If you take time to read Romans 12, you will see that the result of our worship before God affects all the rest of life.  Our lives are transformed and worldliness disappears.  We see ourselves for who we are in relation to others.  We take our place in the body of Christ and use our spiritual gifts to MINISTER to others. Our love becomes genuine.

When some believers focus on worship and not ministry, then they are engaging in a poor substitute for worship. In my opinion, they are not worshipping at all.  Rather, they are just engaging in an activity that makes them feel good.

Real worship begins with laying our lives before God and yielding to Him. After we do that, we have His heart. We are able to minister to one another in the body of Christ and to “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in our church and in society. We will not make the terrible mistake of asking Jesus to wait in the foyer while we ‘worship’ in the auditorium.