Sunday Supper July 26, 2015

 In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

“The Bible gives us many motivations to do battle with sin and to persist in putting sin to death. We battle sin because of a newfound desire for righteousness. We battle sin out of love and loyalty to Christ. We battle sin out of hatred for the consequences of sin. But one reason Christians too often overlook is this: we battle sin as an expression of love for others.” – With Purity and Dignity

Prayer and the Ministry of the Word provides some excellent, biblical thoughts on the primary job description of the pastor.

“There are so many ways in which I feel my failure as a parent. There are so many things I hear other parents doing and find myself wishing that I was doing them as well. But in Paul’s words I am reminded that my primary task as a father is to simply expose my children to God’s Word.” – The One Thing That Matters Most

6 Things Christians Can Do About Same-Sex Marriage provides some wise encouragement on how Christians can show love while also making a difference in a social context.

Don Carson, Tim Keller, and John Piper offer some pastoral wisdom and biblical guidance about the believer’s relationship to history in this 6-minute video – Are we on the wrong side of history? The link also includes a transcript of their conversation.

10 Numbers You Should Know About Planned Parenthood is a statistical explanation of the Planned Parenthood organization as well as its work and impact.

“When we are filled with a personal joy, thanksgiving, and contentment directed toward Jesus Christ, then gratitude fills up all the available space in our souls, leaving no room for covetous cravings.”  – The Missing Ingredient for Sexual Purity specifically focuses on contentment and gratitude as the key to overcoming sexual sin; however, the principles given are relevant to anyone struggling to overcome any sin.

Theological Heroes and Villains reflects on the reality that even our greatest spiritual or theological heroes are flawed and often there is something to be learned from a theological villain.

Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.

On House-hunting and Pharisees

pretty houseMy wife and I have been house-hunting for several months now and one of the things we have noticed is how different the inside of a house can be from the outside. We have driven up to a house that looked so worn down on the outside that we questioned whether we should even go in, only to be impressed by the condition inside. One house seemed so beautiful from the outside that we couldn’t wait to look through it. It had new siding, a pretty yard and a general appearance that could only be described as impressive. Yet, when we walked through the inside we were overcome with disappointment because there was no comparison to the lovely exterior.

In thinking about that experience, the thought came to me that I know Christians that are like that. In fact, I have been that way myself from time to time. We put on the “good little Christian” face and go to church week after week. We look the part and sound the part and perhaps we are even a little impressive with our beautiful outward spirituality, but we know the truth. The truth is that the inside doesn’t match up. The inside is filled with bitterness, anger, hatred, fear, doubt, lust, pride, envy and a host of other hidden sins. We’ve worked so hard to cover them up, but they’re still there.

Though our image obsessed culture has certainly contributed to this phenomenon, it is not a new one. Jesus spoke to this problem even in His day. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus made this declaration: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Now if we want to learn from Jesus’ warning, we must understand the target of his condemnation.

He is not condemning the pursuit of holiness as Scripture is clear that we must walk in righteousness and strive for holiness. Likewise, He is not condemning the fight against sin and He certainly isn’t promoting a sinful lifestyle instead of their outward righteousness. He’s also not condemning the mere existence of sin. Make sure you understand me here. Yes, Jesus hates sin and condemns it. But, his harsh condemnation here is not because of their sinful condition. Jesus understood that men were innately sinful and he approached the sinful condition of man with forgiveness, compassion and general sadness.

Instead, His intense condemnation is directed at those who deny their sinfulness and claim a false righteousness that is merely superficial. These people have elevated outward morality and ritual righteousness above genuine godliness. They want everyone to see how good they are and they condemn all who don’t live up to their standards. This manifests a pride, arrogance, and self-reliance that is in direct opposition to the filling of the Spirit.

Though we all likely know someone who lives this way on a regular basis (a pharisee), we also all know that we each have a capacity for this that we must resist. The solution for the true pharisee is a genuine salvation experience, but every believer should be on guard against this temptation and take steps to combat it. These steps begin with admitting our sinfulness to God and confessing it to Him with true repentance. Additionally, James 5:16 says “confess your sins to one another.” A certain cure for phoniness (or Pharisaism) is regular confession to other believers. Also, intentionally develop spiritual friendships. Rather than encouraging mere outward conformity, these close spiritual relationships can lead to genuine spiritual growth that manifests itself in outward behavior.

Churches can help with this problem as well by intentionally creating an atmosphere of acceptance – not of sin, but of sinners. It should be well understood that church is a messy place filled with forgiven sinners who are struggling at varying levels of their Christian walk. Too many churches communicate (most likely unintentionally) that anyone with problems is unwelcome. Instead, the church should be communicating that we understand that genuine Christians struggle with sin and we want to help.

These are just a few ways that we can combat this temptation, but combat it we must. True vulnerability is a scary thing to consider, but it is absolutely necessary for a healthy spiritual life. Despite the initial discomfort, I would challenge you to take immediate action to be more honest about your sinfulness while also working to overcome it. Though we cannot hide our sin or fake a righteousness we don’t have, we do want to diligently pursue a genuine holiness that will produce an outward righteousness. This is a goal we must never lose sight of and should never give up pursuing in this life.

Sunday Supper July 19, 2015

 In a feature reminiscent of my childhood in which Sunday supper consisted of a smorgasbord of leftovers and a random assortment of other foods, I bring you an assortment of random items of interest from the past week.

“There’s lots of talk on the blogosphere about why people don’t sing in church like they used to. There are articles on every idea from song key and range to style, to music volume to congregational spiritual lethargy. But I think there’s one, large glaring elephant in the room for why people really don’t sing in church anymore.”

A cool article on the lighter side – Essay: How Pixar enchants us, and moves us, with close-up emotional magic. For a deeper look into their latest, check out Talking About “Inside Out”

H.B. Charles suggests 5 Questions to Ask of the Text when studying God’s Word.

Real Conversations with Dad – A great article about capturing those little moments with your kids.

Ask R.C.: What Are Some Concerns You Have With the Homeschooling Movement? Some wise words of caution from an avid supporter of homeschooling.

Enjoy this random collection of stuff and be sure to let me know what you’ve been reading or watching that is interesting, enjoyable or helpful.

Characteristics of a Healthy Church

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Frequently at my house I am accosted by a sobbing child demanding a band-aid. To my children, a band-aid is pretty much a cure-all for any physical pain they experience. They usually end up with their band-aid, but during that process it is my job to assess the reality of their overall health. Is it a minor cut that a hug, kiss and band-aid will take care of? Or, are we headed to the emergency room (again)? Usually, I can make that assessment very quickly because I know what a healthy child looks like. The more I understand health, the more quickly and accurately I can evaluate the health of my children.

The same principle is true of the church. While most of us are faithful and careful in evaluating our own health and the health of our children, I’m afraid that we’ve adopted a “just wing it” mentality when it comes to the health of our churches. I recently posted some Thoughts on the Healthy Church because I believe the biggest reason for this is that we do not understand what a healthy church looks like in a very practical way. To help remedy that, I’ve compiled some characteristics of a healthy church.

  • Authority of God’s Word – a healthy church holds to God’s Word as its ultimate authority. The issue here is really two-fold. First, God’s Word absolutely must be the final authority for faith and practice. Secondly is that this fact of Biblical authority must be clearly communicated and demonstrated in the church. Saying that the Bible is authoritative is not enough – it must be demonstrated in the actions of the church.
  • Love – as the Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” No church will do anything perfectly, but I think it is critical that a church demonstrates Christ’s love. This includes showing love to those outside the church and not just to those inside the church. We certainly don’t want to be a part of a church that is fighting among itself, but we also don’t want to associate ourselves with a local church that is known as hateful and antagonistic toward outsiders (whether that be unbelievers or Christians who are different than us). Healthy churches live the love of Jesus.
  • Great commission driven – A healthy church takes seriously the call to reach the nations. Some obvious indicators in this regard would be the missions budget, personal involvement of congregation in missions through trips or various means and evangelistic emphasis. However, some other key factors would be attitudes toward change, innovation in worship, awareness and accommodation of target audience, involvement in the community and interaction with culture.  Healthy churches are not driven by their preferences, desires or traditions, but by a desire to reach the community and the world with the message of the gospel.
  • Biblical decision making – This can be easy to miss, but it is critical. Here’s why – one cannot know every detail about a church before joining. It also isn’t possible to know everything they might do in the future. However, you can discover the process for making decisions and that will reveal a great deal. Churches should use the Bible for practical guidance in making decisions and beyond that should have a clearly spelled out vision or purpose to which they hold themselves accountable.

Remember that no church is perfect, but a healthy church will exhibit these characteristic as a normative part of their identity. As believers we must first recognize these characteristic principles and then we must prioritize and practice them. Let’s look past the band-aids and make an honest assessment of first our own hearts and then our churches.

Thoughts on the Healthy Church

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I often get asked about how to recognize a healthy church. Generally, it is in the context of looking for a church or trying to determine if it is appropriate to leave a church. There are lots of great resources in regard to this topic that have been produced by men far wiser and more capable than me, but this is a very important question that I have thought about a great deal.

My thoughts and research on this topic have led me to some considerations that are foundational to our understanding, even before we examine actual characteristics of a healthy church. Allow me to share with you some of my thoughts that should shape your understanding of a healthy church.

  • Health is not the same as perfection. There is no perfect church. There is also certainly not going to be a church that does everything exactly the way you like it. However, health is a matter of a general pattern of maintaining biblical standards.
  • Health always implies growth of some kind. This is not restricted to numerical growth (though numerical growth seems like a logical by-product of health) and encompasses other areas like change, ministry expansion, community impact, conversions, baptisms, volunteerism and increased participation of nominal attendees. Healthy churches are growing churches.
  • Health is not the same as doctrinal orthodoxy. It is good to begin by looking at doctrinal compatibility, but an evaluation of health cannot end there. Doctrine is important, but doctrinal orthodoxy does not guarantee that a church is healthy. Many churches hold to biblically sound doctrine, but in their practice and application of doctrine are extremely unhealthy.
  • Health is generally dictated by leadership. When evaluating a church’s health, it is vital to consider the leadership because those in power generally set the tone of a church. This leadership takes two forms and both must be considered. First is the formal (elected or appointed) leadership of the church such as pastoral staff, elders and deacons. The second form of leadership to be considered is unofficial leadership. There are always people who influence the direction of the church even when they are not in an official capacity, though these people will generally look for opportunities to have an official position.

In a later post I will offer some actual characteristics of a healthy church, but it is important that we first clarify these foundational considerations. I urge you to take this issue of church health seriously because God has designed you to need the church in order to achieve your full spiritual potential as a believer. If you are already a part of a local church, I challenge you to take steps to ensure you are contributing to its health.

 

Photo By Floyd Wilde from Cambridge, New Zealand (00027) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons