Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Life right now

LIfe is interesting for me right now. I'm working 8 hours every day, newly married, and involved in ministry at church. I'm reading as much as I can, writing on a semi-regular basis, finding time to practice piano and study Greek from time to time. I'm busy, though hardly as busy as I could be. (That's intentional: Jaimie and I made a point to take the first year with a minimum of commitments so we can focus on learning to love each other well. It's a Biblical principle, in case you think I'm crazy.) It's an incredibly joyful season in my life. It's also proving to be a very challenging season.

Jaimie is going through a difficult season. I'm learning how to walk well with her in the midst of it. Marriage is, lest anyone deceive you into thinking otherwise, hard work. As men, we get to die for our wives as Christ died for the church. That's an every day task, sometimes an every hour task - not a when-I-feel-like-it task. It's certainly easy enough to say that I love Jaimie enough to die for her, but to actually do it every day takes the grace of God. It's more than I can do on my own. (I should note that I think she needs just as much of God's grace to walk through every day beside me!)

We've set up our house, and it's quickly become a home. More than merely a place to sleep, our apartment has become a place of rest. I can't express how much a blessing that is: I spent four years in the dorms at OU, and while they were fruitful and wonderful years, they were also long. OU was never home like this apartment is. There are a lot of reasons for that. My wife lives here with me, and a good family makes for a home very quickly indeed. It is ours; while we share walls with neighbors, we do not share bathrooms or living rooms or any personal space at all with them. We have spiritual authority here in a way that we did not in the dorms. So, we have a wonderful home.

I am learning a great deal right now. Much of God's sanctifying work in my life is through marriage and Jaimie; most of the rest is quiet, underlying growth I can feel the Spirit accomplishing. A little more each day, I learn to live with my eyes set on Christ and the gospel. He shows me my sin more clearly, and reminds me that He has delivered from darkness to His kingdom and His "redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Colossians 1:13-14). I get to listen to a sermon every day on the way to and from work, and I've learned a lot from Godly preachers like John Piper and Matt Chandler. I've learned as lot, too, from Bruce Hess and Mark Robinson, who teach at Wildwood, and Dick Stewart, one of the elders there. I thank God for His work in our church, as I do for faithful friends that He's surrounded us with.

My heart is joyful and hopeful in this season, though sometimes troubled and tired as well. No circumstances are more powerful or stronger than our mighty God, and it is on Him, His love, His grace, His salvation that I am learning to lean. My own strength fails, but His mercies are new every morning and His love is steadfast and sure.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Make yourselves a new heart..."

A few thoughts on a passage I read this morning in Ezekiel 18:
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?

“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
They called Him unjust for forgiving those who repented of evil and for condemning those who turned to evil. Why? I suspect because they thought works should ultimately count for something in the eyes of God - they forgot how filthy even our righteousness is. They believed that a good man's deeds should be his security and the wicked man's his permanent condemnation. Instead, God speaks of mercy for the repentant wicked and condemnation for the rebellious righteous man. It is an inversion of expectation, and one that we shouldn't take too lightly.

The last paragraph quoted above also stood out to me: in the midst of a call for repentance, God tells His people to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit. That's quite a task. In fact, given the testimony of the rest of Scripture, I'd say it's impossible: try as we might, we're unable to change our own hearts. Yet this passage calls for just that.

This leaves us asking how exactly God expected His chosen people to make for themselves heart and spirit. Frankly, if God never said anything else on the topic, we'd be throwing our hands up in the air and calling it quits. Thankfully, however, God did not cease His revelation, even to Ezekiel, at this point. Eighteen chapters later, God shows Ezekiel what He has planned for Israel:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel." [emphasis mine]
Striking, is it not? In chapter 18, God calls Israel to repentance, telling them that if they will forsake wickedness and make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, He will forgive their evil. Eighteen chapters later, He shows Ezekiel how this new heart will actually come into being. God is not a fool, and He is not insane: He knows that human ability will never accomplish the task. How then can He show mercy?

Where the efforts of man would always be destined to fail, God Himself promised to accomplish the work. He makes the new heart and implants His own spirit. He would take away a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. He would case them to follow Him wholeheartedly, as their own attempts could not.

Nor did He act because of the supreme worthiness of Israel. Quite the contrary: He acted in spite of Israel's sinfulness, wickedness and rebellion. He acted for the sake of His holy name, and to vindicate His holiness - not for their sake.

There's a lot in this passage, but a few more highlights are worth mentioning.

First, this is a picture of regeneration. When we are born again, God changes us - radically, completely, transformingly. I recently heard a pastor say, "There are people who get saved, and stay saved, and live like hell the rest of their lives." Nothing could be farther from the truth. When we have new life breathed into us - like the dead bones of Ezekiel's vision - we do not live like hell. We have new hearts, we are filled with His Spirit and we walk in His ways. We walk imperfectly, of course, but there is no staying in hell for those God has rescued.

Second, God explicitly refutes the idea that this coming regeneration has anything to do with the people being transformed. It has everything to do with His showing Himself holy and good. We dare not think that our salvation is of our own merit in any way -- not even taking credit for our choice to follow Christ. We could make no such choice without His grace opening our eyes to see Him and His Spirit breathing life into our dead bodies to walk after Him.

But praise be to God, who has done just that for all who believe!
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Five 100-word thoughts

Things that passed through my head today that I thought my be interesting:
  1. A snippet from the Today show this morning that I caught while waiting for new tires: a couple expecting a child... to be born from another couple. Both couples were using in vitro fertilization because they could not conceive naturally. The doctor made a mistake and implanted the wrong embryo. Now one couple is carrying the baby to term (praise God!) and giving it back to his parents. What exactly does that mean? It’s a confusing, painful mess for everyone involved. Situations like this make me question the wisdom of in vitro. There are no easy answers here.
  2. In a Christianity Today interview published last Friday, Kara Powell argued that the age of age segregated ministry is over, or should be. A few highlights from the interview, especially the last one:

    • Now we tend to think that we can outsource the care of our kids to... the youth and children's workers.
    • Teens should not only be the objects of ministry; they need to be the subjects of ministry as well.
    • Tenth graders study Shakespeare. What are we offering them at church? Nothing comparable...
    •'s also very important for parents to share about their own spiritual journeys with kids.

  3. God’s grace is a pretty stunning thing. As the author of Hebrews puts it: through death He overcame the one with the power of death (the devil) and delivers those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. That’s huge. I can’t conscience dropping penal substitutionary atonement in favor of Christus Victor, but we must remember: Christ’s life and death did more than eliminate sin’s penalty! We should revel in His victory, excited about His final triumph. Praise God: we’ve been saved from God’s wrath, death, fear, and Satan’s power, and to freedom, life everlasting, joy and love.
  4. Marriage is a delightful and painful treasure. Delightful, because every day is filled with companionship, love, and adventure. Painful, because I realize more every day how wicked I am:. Yes, wicked: I am self-absorbed, unkind, rude, thoughtless, harsh. Jaimie is a delight and a treasure to me, yet too often I do not show her the depths of my love. I am just beginning to grasp how immense a thing it is to die for her every day as Christ died for the church. I desperately need the Spirit’s help to love her well. On my own, I fail horribly.
  5. In a pair of sermons on Luke 18, Matt Chandler (lead pastor of The Village Church in Texas) absolutely hit the ball out of the park. He looked at the text hard. The result: a solid scriptural rebuke to our self-reliance and our love of anything other than Christ. Topics covered: A Pharisee with a theocentric prayer who missed justification because he thought his God-given works saved him. A rich man who was still looking for how he could find eternal life in religion. And God’s way. Give them a listen: May 28 and June 7.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Process Carefully, Joyfully: thoughts on reading well

Reading well is a skill, and it requires practice.

I've spent much of the last week thinking both about both the books I've read and the process of reading. In that time, I've read books ranging from Truth and Trolls to Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time and from The Shadow Rising (a fantasy novel) to Billy Graham's Angels. There's a lot of good material in every book I've read, but there's been a lot of bad material mixed in. Sorting it out requires attentive thought. I thought I might share some of my approach, in the hope that it'll help others. The following list is hardly comprehensive - and I'd love to hear any thoughts or suggestions, as well as references to similar lists! In no particular order (except for the first and last):

  • Nearly every book you will ever read has something you can learn. There may be a few exceptions out there, but I've yet to find one, and I've read some absolute duds - the sort that should never have made it to an editor's desk, much less off of it. The trick is recognizing which parts of the book you should walk away with. Our basic assumption should be that we can learn something from the book, so we should also be asking what as we read. That will look different with fiction than with nonfiction, of course, but it's applicable to either.

  • Read humbly. Don't think you know everything. You won't learn much otherwise. That means depending on the Holy Spirit to teach, no matter what you read. (This is a big one for me, and one that I'm learning a lot about right now. Human judgments are quick to err without His help.)

  • Deciding what to take away from any book requires thought. The amount of thought may vary, but there will be some no matter what. We have to decide what is valuable, what is not, and what is merely neutral. In some ways, the question is the hardest for the best and worst books. In the worst, the temptation is to simply dismiss everything the author says: when so much is obviously wrong, it's easy to think that everything is, but that's not necessarily true. The challenge with the best books is precisely the opposite: to carefully decide what is not good when so much is. No author's words are gospel. All books - good and bad, well-written and poorly alike - must be tested against Scripture.

  • Sometimes we learn negatives rather than positives: don't do this, avoid that, this is heresy and worth refuting. Even if that's all, you've still learned from what you've read. It wasn't necessarily a waste of time. (That being said, I don't advocate spending most of your time reading heresy!)

  • On that note, think about how you spend your time. You don't have much, so spend it carefully. Make good use of breaks and vacations.

  • Read widely. Don't limit yourself to one genre, or even one overarching category. Lovers of fiction, make yourself read some good non-fiction - and you non-fiction purists, make a point to pick up a novel on a regular basis. Our imaginations and our intellects both need training and sanctifying. Read yesterday's best-sellers as much (or more!) than today's - don't fall prey to temporal arrogance. Read old novels and new ones, church fathers alongside the current preachers. Two applications of this: I'd like to read more short stories, since basically all of my fiction reading has always been novels, and I want to start reading the church fathers at length.

  • Read with pleasure. Don't make yourself trudge through book after book you can't stand. There are certainly times when we should read books we don't particularly enjoy; it is good to challenge ourselves and expand our boundaries (see above). But reading should also be a source of joy and delight. Light, "popcorn" reading is sometimes a great help here, and I make a point to sprinkle light-hearted fiction in amongst my diet of Dostoevsky, Piper. etc. As much as I enjoy the heavy hitters, they can become tiring after a while. A good dose of Robert Jordan from time to time helps reinvigorate my desire to read harder things, as well as being fun in its own right.

  • Form and content don't always match up perfectly. I've read well-written books full of heresy and doctrinally sound books that should have been rewritten from scratch. I've read novels with well-written characters but terrible worldviews, and vice versa. (I'm sad to say I've found more Christian novels in the "good worldview, bad writing" category than not. If someone knows of any really good modern Christian novelists, I'd love to hear about them.) If we're going to be good readers, we need to be able to recognize the good parts of bad books, and vice versa. If the prose is bland but the story compelling, learn from the narrative and leave the prose behind. If the form is fantastic but the content heretical, recognize both for what they are. (This is another good place to practice discernment in how we spend our time.)

  • Read Christologically. Whether novel or theological treatise, whether Christian or pagan, look for the marks that God has left on the human heart. Look for Him in books on marriage and in mystery novels. Look for Him, and if you do not find Him, then you have real reason to criticize. You may be pleasantly surprised to find Him where you did not expect, though you may also be sad not to find Him where you did expect.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Trolls and Truth review

I just finished reading an interesting book called Trolls and Truth: 14 Realities About Today's Church that We Don't Want To See, by Jimmy Dorrell. Dorrell is the pastor of the Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas. The church meets literally under a bridge year round, and is home to many of the poorest in the city. I've heard a lot of good about the church from friends who've attended, so I looked forward to reading the book.

This one is a short read - for anyone, not just for me. It's 215 pages long, with very generous margins and equally large text size. The chapters are short and concise, and Dorrell's style lends itself to quick reading. It's light and conversational, without much fluff.

Each of the 14 truths presented is introduced through a story whose subject is a currently or formerly poverty-stricken individual, many of them mentally ill. Dorrell uses them and their stories to illustrate the Biblical principles he is trying to communicate, and to show how a church implementing those principles can transform a community. Dorrell's principles - from "Looks Don't Matter" to "Use Your Gifts," and from "Fight for the Least Ones" to "The Rich Need the Poor" - are all Biblical, and Dorrell frequently references the Old Testament prophets. That's hardly surprising since his message and Amos' are much the same.

Dorrell does an excellent and admirable job dealing with some difficult subjects. He confronts and condemns racism, American individualism, and other sins from elitism to vanity. It's clear he passionately hates these sins and the way they've influenced American evangelicalism. I often found myself agreeing with his analysis of American churchgoers' selfishness and egoism, and I strongly agreed with his call for the church to do Christlike work in the community. If the church were rightly discharging its responsibilities, many of the homeless, poverty-stricken, and mentally ill would find their lives significantly bettered. He accurately comments that the church has often failed to reach those people from discomfort or laziness. He also accurately analyses the other reason for that failure: a backlash against the social gospel and liberalism of the early twentieth century.

That reaction is one we find ourselves in danger of today, with many of the emergent crowd peddling the same social gospel. Dorrell's book isn't a social gospel book, but it addresses the same issues. Because of that, it would be easy to dismiss his message. Doing so would be a problem, though: he's right, by and large. The evangelical church very much needs to step up its interactions with the poor, and on more than a Thanksgiving-to-Christmas timescale or commitment level. Dorrell hits the nail right on the head when he notes that many American churches - with their multi-million dollar buildings but insufficient money for outreach to the poor - are frighteningly similar to ancient Israel. There are exceptions, of course: good churches doing good works. On the whole, however, self-proclaimed evangelicals are not generous with their time or money: they're still caught up in the lure of the American dream. So while there is a danger of tumbling down the slope of the social gospel, we need to make sure we don't minimize the importance of doing good works in love of God and men.

James reminds us that true religion is caring for orphans and widows. Paul gave detailed instructions to young pastors on care for the widows of the church. Old Testament prophet after Old Testament prophet proclaims God's coming justice on Israel and Judah for forsaking the destitute and abusing the helpless. The apostle John reminds us that "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3.36, emphasis mine). Those are significant commands to care for those in need. We should not ignore Dorrell (and Scripture!) because others have lost sight of Christ in their pursuit of good works. We should simply be wise.

Truth and Trolls did have a few problems, one relatively minor and the other two more significant. The minor issue is straightforward: in his passion for helping the poor and homeless, Dorrell seems to devalue other approaches and other areas of social engagement. He makes several comments about "outdated hymns" and standard modes of teaching, contrasting them with the (apparently) better practices at his own church. I don't have any problem with his approaches, but I do have a problem with his dismissal of others' approaches. He also rags a little on evangelicals' engagement in what he calls "extreme right-wing politics," by which he means "the fight against abortion and gay right" (p. 154). While I acknowledge that the church can sometimes get too caught up in those political battles, I also recognize their importance. Dorrell doesn't seem to.

His criticism of the battle against abortion confuses me. Truth and Trolls' theme is that "our ecclesiology must be upended by the 'least of these': the hungry, imprisoned, sick, and stranger' (p. 29). The unborn, most helpless of all, certainly deserve to be in that list. Unlike the sad but hopeful stories of his 'trolls,' aborted babies have no stories at all. I would have been a little disappointed if he had not brought the issue up, but I was actively bothered when he criticized the church's work there. It seems that, in his passion and desire to see the church Biblically ministering to the poor, Dorrell has minimized the importance of other battles. I hope that he comes to recognize that the fight for the unborn and caring for the poor are not mutually exclusive. They're complementary.

My second concern is with the book's handling of Scripture. In the introduction, for example, he quotes Isaiah 43:19a, "See, I am doing a new thing!" (p. 23) in reference to the Church Under the Bridge. (It's actually about God's provision for His people in spite of their sin.) Later, he quotes from Revelation 3:17, "Because you are warm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked'" (p. 32). He fails to note that the pressing concern for Christ in this passage was not wealth or poverty, but idolatry: the church had come to rely on its wealth instead of on God, leading them to be lukewarm. This doesn't hurt Dorrell's thesis, but it doesn't really support it, either. A few counterexamples sprinkle the text - he did well with Isaiah 58's call for a true fast that cares for the poor, for example - but his overall treatment of Scripture was lacking.

Finally, in a book that purports to depict how the church can transform lives and communities, especially of the downtrodden, I was astounded to find no clear declaration of the gospel or its importance. It's mentioned throughout the book - but the mentions are just that; there's no explanation of Christ's saving power or redeeming work. People's lives are transformed not by our good works on their behalf but by the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit. The body of Christ is certainly obligated by Scripture and the love that Christ has planted in our hearts to touch this fallen world. But it is dangerous to place too much emphasis on helping people in this world without doing all we can to win them to eternal life. People's deepest and most important need is Jesus Christ

I don't think Dorrell actually lives, believes, or even teaches that way. The references scattered throughout the book suggest that he and I are actually on the same page about a lot of things: easy-believism and conversionism, consumerism, and so on. Unfortunately, the book never deals straightforwardly with Jesus, the cross, or any of the direct implications on how we engage in serving the poor. That's too bad, because dealing with those topics would have made this decent book an excellent book.

The message the book offers is good and much-needed, but it's a bit incomplete. Dorrell's critiques are mostly accurate, with only a few missteps. He fails to consistently handle Scripture well, though, and he fails to communicate the centrality of the gospel in transforming lives: the most important part of our social engagement. He is certainly right that the church needs to engage in this area more effectively, and his analysis of ways that we can involve ourselves in serving the lowly and downtrodden is very helpful. The book is worth taking a look at if you haven't thought about these issues, but it must be complemented with a liberal dose of the Christ-centered gospel.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mundane divinity

I was thinking yesterday, as I drove home from spending the evening with some friends, on how easily we undervalue the mundane. I run in, and have run in, a lot of very "intentional" Christian circles. We all place a strong emphasis on intentionally seeking out and engaging with others for the gospel. We tend to think in terms of living with eternity in mind. We strive to use our time in spiritually significant ways. That's a good thing, on the whole. There is certainly no lack of laziness and apathy in the visible church in America, right now, so intentionality can be a healthy counter to it.

On the other hand, I spent most of last week working, both at work and at home. I spent a good deal of time investing in my relationship with my wife, and a little with church friends. On the whole, however, I don't think the week qualified for "spiritually significant investments," at least from the outside looking in. On Saturday alone, I spent nearly 11 hours working on a blog design template for a project a friend and I are looking to launch sometime in the next month or so. The rest of the week looked similar. As you can imagine, there wasn't much conversation there. Neither did work afford many opportunities for deep discussions this week.

In short, my days were thoroughly mundane.

So, riding home, I was thinking about how I spent my time. I could easily make an argument about how the project I was working on was directed at a good spiritual goal. That's true, and it's an argument that holds water, as far as I'm concerned. But what about the time that I spend that isn't on that project? What about the time I spend writing code at work? What about all the hours I sunk into physics homework during the four years I spent in college? Could I have made a bigger difference in people's lives with an easier major? Could I have at least had more time to spend with people with an easier major, and could I now without this project? The answer to both of those last two questions is almost certainly yes, in some sense.

All of that begins to miss the point, however. We are called to glorify God in all of our lives. There is no separation in the minds of Biblical authors between the spiritual and the mundane, no Platonic or gnostic schism between the world of the divine and our own. There is just as strong a call to honor God in our daily activities as in our ministry activities. We are certainly called to minister to those around us. The need for clear proclamation of the gospel could hardly be clearer and could not be deeper. Churches have many holes in ministry that could be filled.

Yet that is certainly no different than it was at any time in the past two millennia of Christian history, or indeed since the beginning of time. Nor is God's sovereignty lacking, nor His ability to communicate to us through Scripture.

Three points that bear consideration as we think about what to do here:
  1. Work was instituted before the fall. Adam was set to tend the Garden of Eden before the serpent ever tempted Eve.

  2. Nearly all believers in God throughout all of history have been ordinary working folk. Only a very small percentage have been called to vocational ministry.

  3. Jesus spend over a decade of his life working as a carpenter in a little village in the backwaters of a small Roman province. I've no doubt there were "spiritual" things in that time, but the Son of God did no public ministry until His late twenties or early thirties.

My conclusion? —that perhaps God does not make the distinction that we tend to between mundane and spiritual activities. He calls us to excellence in all things, whether working for a paycheck, serving those in need, or discipling a younger believer. All of these have value before Him. I do not think that it is of no eternal consequence to provide for my wife, do good work for my company, and demonstrate character and integrity in my work. The consequences are different than for leading a Bible study, certainly, and we cannot let the mundane overwhelm the spiritual. Neither, however, can we cause our valuing the spiritual diminish our joy in and valuing of the everyday. It is spiritually significant to do work well, to study well, to fold laundry well, to do whatever it is that God is calling you to in this moment well.

We are not called to all do the same one thing well. Rather, we are called to do whatever one thing God has set before us well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Two Scriptures

No, the topics here aren't related. I'm simply discussing two different passages that strongly caught my attention while reading tonight.
But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
say continually, "Great is the LORD!"
Psalm 40:16

That's a striking exhortation. David calls all those who seek God to rejoice in Him. He encourages everyone who is pursuing God to be glad in Him. He insists that we proclaim God's greatness. In short, he commends a life lived with joyful adoration of our King. Equally compelling is David's proclamation, earlier in the same psalm, that he delights to do God's will. Delight is a strong word - our hearts should leap to obey our Savior-King. That they do not simply reminds us that still the old man wars for dominion. Pick up your sword and fight, oh spiritual man. You will have the victory - and you will have true joy.
Then His mother and His brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And He was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see you." But he answered them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."
Luke 8:19-21

This passage is noteworthy in an entirely different way. It calls our attention to how radically different Jesus' loyalties are than our own. Over and over again throughout the gospels, Jesus made it clear that His first loyalty was not to His earthly family or any other human institution. Instead, He firmly fixed Himself on the will of His Father.

The words also hold out a promise for us: if we hear and obey the word of God, we have more right to be the "immediate family" of Christ than would His own mother if she did not. The Father has made us His children, joint heirs of the promise with Christ. How stunning!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Acts29 Church Planting Network

I just stumbled across the Acts 29 church planting network. I'm curious - I've heard them highly recommended by a couple of groups I trust. I can't wholeheartedly recommend them, as I've not done enough research. Their list of qualifications for church-planters is worth taking a good look at, regardless. It's thoroughly grounded in Scripture and quite practical.

One of the best chunks of the article:
In summary, only men of finest character are fit for leadership in God's church. What is not required according to the Bible is formal theological training, though such training can indeed be very beneficial. What is also not required is a salary, though an elder/pastor is worth an honorable wage (I Timothy 5:17-18). The issue of which men lead the church is of the utmost seriousness because the reputation of the gospel in the community and health of the church are contingent upon godly, qualified men who keep in step with Jesus and can lead the church to do likewise. In this way, the elders function as an accountable team much like Jesus first disciples and are therefore quite unlike secular notions of a business or non-profit organizational board. In addition to the qualifications of an elder, the Bible also provides the duties of elders/pastors.
  • Prayer & Scripture study (Acts 6:4)

  • Ruling/leading the church (I Timothy 5:17)

  • Managing the church (I Timothy 3:4-5)

  • Caring for people in the church (I Peter 5:2-5)

  • Giving account to God for the church (Hebrews 13:17)

  • Living exemplary lives (Hebrews 13:7)

  • Rightly using the authority God has given them (Acts 20:28)

  • Teaching the Bible correctly (Ephesians 4:11, I Timothy 3:2)

  • Preaching (I Timothy 5:17)

  • Praying for the sick (James 5:13-15)

  • Teaching sound doctrine & refuting false teachings (Titus 1:9)

  • Working hard (I Thessalonians 5:12)

  • Rightly using money & power (I Peter 5:1-3)

  • Protecting the church from false teachers (Acts 20:17-31)

  • Disciplining unrepentant Christians (Matthew 18:15-17).

I'd recommend you read the whole article. You might take a look around at the site, too, and let me know what you think.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The purpose of the Church

A brief quote from J. Gresham Machen, back in 1933, on why the church exists:
The responsibility of the church in the new age is the same as its responsibility in every age. It is to testify that this world is lost in sin; that the span of human life--no, all the length of human history--is an infinitesimal island in the awful depths of eternity; that there is a mysterious, holy, living God, Creator of all, Upholder of all, infinitely beyond all; that he has revealed himself to us in his Word and offered us communion with himself through Jesus Christ the Lord; that there is no other salvation, for individuals or for nations, save this, but that this salvation is full and free, and that whoever possesses it has for himself and for all others to whom he may be the instrument of bringing it a treasure compared with which all the kingdoms of the earth--no, all the wonders of the starry heavens--area as the dust of the street.

"An unpopular message it is--an impractical message, we are told. But it is the message of the Christian church. Neglect it, and you will have destruction; heed it, and you will have life." (From Selected Shorter Writings, edited by D.G. Hart, 376)

Reminds me of several things. First, that the purpose of the church is not to save children from AIDS or to end all poverty, or any other earth-oriented cause, however noble. It will do those things, but as a reflection of its real purpose, not as its actual purpose. That's where the social gospel goes wrong: it sees the church's task as the accomplishment of all good ends here and now. In reality, the church's goal must always be to make Christ known and to show how very deep our need for Him is. All those other things will come as part of that, but they are not it, and can never replace it. When they do, the church falters.

I'm also reminded of just how much I want to read some of J. Gresham Machen's writing; every time I run into it, I appreciate the things he has to say. Add one more to the already very long reading list. It keeps growing...

HT: Kevin DeYoung @ DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed: What Is the Responsibility of the Church?