Exercise for a Healthy Body

1024px-saint_thomas_evangelical_lutheran_church_freedom_township_michigan

I recently read that almost half of Americans say they want to lose weight, but only about half of those people are actually making any attempt to do anything about it. While the lack of follow through is disturbing, I think this desire for physical health is great because God has given us these bodies and a healthy body is a good thing! However, of far more importance than a healthy physical body is a healthy spiritual body and far more disturbing than a lack of effort at physical health is a lack of effort at spiritual health.

THE CHURCH; THE BODY OF CHRIST

Interestingly enough, God frequently uses the physical human body as a metaphor for His body – the church. While this term can be accurately used to refer to both the universal church (the entirety of believers in all times and in all places) and the local church, the majority of the New Testament emphasis on the church is referring to individual local churches. That’s because the local church is of great importance to God. It is through the local church that He plans to spread His gospel. It is through the local church that He intends to cultivate mature believers. It is through the local church that He intends to provide accountability, support and opportunities for ministry. It is, in fact, the local church that He has chosen to represent Him in a world that has rejected Him. With this tremendous responsibility in mind, the health of the local church should be of great importance to each of us who claim to be followers of Christ. Since the church is made up of people, a healthy local church is really just believers living the way God expects – and a big part of that is how we get along with each other. Just as weight loss cannot take place without working at it, a healthy church won’t just happen without some intentional effort. So, here are three spiritual exercises that will lead to a healthy church body.

PURSUE UNITY

First is unity. In order to have healthy relationships with your church family, you must make unity a priority. I don’t mean unity as in everybody being the same and I certainly don’t promote a lack of diversity. Too many churches think that the fact that they look the same, like the same things and agree on everything is unity. That’s not unity – that’s laziness. Unity is being different and even having disagreements and still being able to have mutual love and respect because of Jesus. Unity is working through differences for the greater purpose of God’s Kingdom. Unity is the deep and genuine joining together of the hearts of believers to each other through a mutual pursuit of Christ. True unity is only achieved through pursuit of Christ above all. You must stop pursuing your ideas, your desires, your comfort, your convenience and start pursuing unity through Christ!

RESOLVE TO PRACTICE HUMILITY

That type of unity requires humility, a quality that is foreign to our natural selves and is only through achievable through God’s grace. As Paul points out in Philippians 2, practical humility is basically a selfless concern for others. We reject selfishness and pride. We do not strive for our own glory or positions of power. We do not try to manipulate to get our way because we truly believe that other people are more important than us. A healthy church consists of believers that live out the creed: “others matter to me more than I matter to me.” Too many churches are filled with believers who just care about themselves. We must renounce this kind of selfishness and embrace a Christ-like humility.

RESOLVE TO PARTICIPATE IN SERVICE

The final characteristic of healthy church relationships that I would like to mention is sacrificial service. Service costs something. It costs something in terms of effort, money or time. It might also cost in reputation. It certainly costs in pride. The cost might be different for each of us, but serving others will cost something – though in the long term those costs are meaningless. After all, what is money and time and energy other than currency to be spent for the kingdom?! When that is our mindset we realize that though there is a temporal cost to serving others, there is also an eternal reward. God honors His humble servants. Additionally, there is also a very real benefit here and now. When we commit to serving and caring for others we find ourselves cared for beyond our wildest imagination.

God’s plan for His church is designed to be best for all of us. His plan is that individual believers will function as a single local community that loves and cares for each other. This won’t happen if each of us is only concerned with what we can get out of church or how our interests can be served. It is time that we stop doing lip service to the idea of a healthy church and begin exercising the principles that will actually make it true.

 

Photo Credit Dwight Burdette. Original here.

Christ-follower or Blessing-follower?

christmas-present-1

“2016 – the year without presents on Christmas.” This (accompanied by a few masterfully timed sighs) was the dramatic exclamation of my ten year old a few days before Christmas. His over-the-top theatrical outburst was due to the fact that we decided to move our traditional family Christmas activities (including presents) to Monday and intentionally focus on celebrating Jesus on Christmas Day. In the interest of full disclosure, this was primarily due to the busy nature of a Sunday Christmas rather than any super-spiritual aspirations on our part. However, this decision has taught me at least one thing: regardless of my best efforts and intentions, to small children Christmas is about one thing – getting presents!

A Fatal Flaw

In children, this is generally cute and eventually outgrown along with many other childish attitudes and behaviors. However, it does reflect one universal and fatal flaw in the human condition – we make everything about us. This includes the gospel and salvation. A common focus of gospel presentations and personal testimonies is all of the good stuff we get from God. We get joy. We get peace. We get a savior. While each of these is good and true, this is essentially a reversal of emphasis between two aspects of a single truth. The truth: God sent Jesus to earth and provided a way of salvation for all mankind. Our distorted perspective focuses on the benefit we gain from receiving this gift, while the true emphasis is on an awesome God giving a gift that we need.

 

A Self-centered Gospel

This may seem like the proverbial splitting of hairs, but as we build upon this faulty foundation our faith can take a very self-centered turn that was never intended. If the focus of the gospel is all about us getting joy and peace and salvation rather than about a great God giving us those things, than our life of faith becomes all about what we can get from God. The Christian experience becomes all about personal needs and desires. Following Jesus becomes nothing more than a means of getting what I can from God, from faith, and from the church.

This type of self-centered faith is why there are so many professing Christians who seem to live like nothing more than moral unsaved people. You know the ones I’m talking about – the “Christian” who might cuss more mildly, drink a little less, and go to church several times a month. But when it comes right down to it, these professing Christians are just living for themselves and have found a way to add God into their life on their terms. They want the blessings of being a Christian without any of the personal sacrifice or inconvenience.

The Heart of the Gospel: Sacrificial Love

I am not denying the tremendous blessings that come as a result of salvation. I am simply saying that the American church tends to overemphasize the getting to the neglect of the giving. You see, at the very center of the gospel story is God Himself giving up His place at the right hand of the Father. God gave up His high position in heaven to become human in order to redeem us. The very heart of the gospel is that “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” The heart of the gospel is sacrificial love!

As we build upon this foundation, we will certainly receive blessings, but we will also live a life intentionally focused on imitating the kind of sacrificial love we see in Jesus. My faith becomes about responding in worship to a God to whom I am eternally grateful. My Christian experience becomes all about opportunities to sacrifice my wants and desires for the sake of serving Jesus through service to others.

A Practical Impact

This change of perspective will have tremendous practical impact on one’s daily life. You will be less offended when your rights are violated. You will be less hesitant to help someone in need. You will be more willing to go out of your way to serve someone. You will certainly be less concerned about getting your way all the time.

There will also be an impact on your attitude and behavior toward the local church. You will view church as an opportunity to use your gifts for the blessing of others. You will be more willing to sacrifice your preferences, like music, and decorations, and preaching styles. You will be less determined to make everyone cater to your comfort and desires. In short, you will desire to serve in the church rather than simply be served by the church.

Life as God Intended

I am not proposing that we do not receive blessings from God and I am certainly not saying that we shouldn’t enjoy them. They are a real and special and important part of what God has done for us. However, just like presents at Christmas, we cannot let these benefits and blessings become our primary focus. They are not the whole story. My prayer and desire for every true Christ-follower is that while enjoying the blessings of faith, you will live a life in passionate pursuit of the God of the blessings rather than the blessings themselves. That is living the way God intended; that is living in the manner that Christ lived. I challenge you to examine your own heart. Are you a Christ-follower or a blessing-follower? Prayerfully consider the answer and remember, it isn’t too late to make the change today!

Some Reasons to Go to Church on Christmas

church-669556_1920

Browsing the internet today, I was reminded of one of the more shocking and ironic practices in the Christian world. No, I’m not talking about some obscure ritual like snake handling or drinking poison. And I’m not talking about some strange, random practice by some small and insignificant group of nut jobs. I’m talking about the increasingly mainstream practice in some of the largest and most prominent evangelical churches in the country of canceling church on Christmas Sunday. For a variety of reasons I think this is ridiculous. I mean, seriously?! It’s Christmas. The day we celebrate Jesus’ birthday. And we think it’s a good idea to not go worship on that day? That baffles me.

Now, I feel that I must stop and acknowledge that many of these churches are wonderful, gospel preaching churches that love God and His people and want to do what is right. I am also aware that missing one Sunday of church is in all likelihood not going to send a church careening headlong into apostasy. I am not even saying that this decision is necessarily wrong and I have no desire to condemn the churches that are canceling their services this Christmas. I am simply saying that I don’t understand the reasoning behind it. In light of that fact, I want to offer some reasons why I think going to church on Christmas Sunday is a wonderful idea.

  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a great way to celebrate our Savior’s birth. Not to be too obvious, but it is Christmas. And Sunday. Seems like a good day for some church.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday affirms the belief that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Not that we cannot make Christ the center of Christmas from home, but it seems appropriate to set aside a little time to go to church if it’s really all about Him.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday is a testimony to what is most important to you. Like it or not, your actions do speak louder than words. By going to church, your actions loudly declare that church, worship, God’s Word, and other believers are important to you. More important than, say, presents or sleeping in.
  • Going to church on Christmas Sunday can be an act of sacrificial love toward God. There are things that are inconvenient about a Sunday Christmas, but we can sacrifice our conveniences out of love for God and appreciation for all He gave up for us.
  • Going to church on Christmas demonstrates a genuine understanding that church is about worship and not personal gratification. It really is all about Him, not me.
  • Going to church on Christmas is a proclamation that Christmas is not just a cultural celebration. It is a religious observance that commemorates the coming of a Savior, the forgiveness of sins, and redemption for all mankind.
  • Going to church on Christmas acknowledges the importance of the faith community in our individual lives. Though many churches cancel services to provide for family time at home, going to church affirms that our church family is equally important.
  • Going to church on Christmas can be an opportunity to serve. Many people will go to church on Sunday, some for the first time. When you show up ready and willing to serve, you can have an impact in their lives.
  • Going to church on Christmas can create a great foundation upon which to build the rest of your Holiday festivities. You don’t have to give up family time, special dinners, presents, or other traditions to go to church. You can go first and then enjoy a special day of celebrating that is truly focused on Jesus.

I know that we all celebrate in different ways, but I hope that you will consider joining many of us who will be at church Christmas morning. I personally can’t think of a more appropriate way to start the day than gathering in the name of Jesus with a group of his followers to praise Him on His special day. Merry Christmas!

Thoughts For My Fellow Christians on Election Day

prayer_for_usa

Today is an exciting and potentially historic day for our great nation. It is a day in which we once again have the privilege of exercising our right to vote and it is a day that many on both sides of the political aisle feel will have monumental impact on the direction of our nation. It is also a day that many believers have been anticipating with great fear and anxiety. While I have absolutely no idea what the outcome of this election will be today, I do know that God cares far more about how His people treat each other and represent Him than He does about a particular political party winning or losing. With that in mind, I have a few brief thoughts for my fellow believers that I hope will be considered on this election day.

You Are a Christian First

If you a follower of Christ, that identity supersedes all others. Before you are an American; before you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal; you are a Christian. You are a child of God and as such you are His representative. You a citizen of His kingdom with temporary citizenship here in this world. Your obligations are to him before they are to any political party or social cause. Many Christians are approaching this election with the claim that they are voting based on their faith and their beliefs, all the while acting in a manner that is absolutely contrary to Christian behavior. I urge you to consider not only the rightness of your stance (because you just might be right), but also the manner in which you are taking it. Christians cannot be mean-spirited, nasty, dishonest, fear mongers. It is sad to see so much hatred, ignorance and divisiveness among the body of Christ. Remember, today and every day, that if you bear the name of Christ than you must live in a way that honors him.

We Are All Americans

Somehow this particular election seems to have gotten even more divisive than usual. Those of us who are Christians must remember that while it has been a great privilege to live in a country that has largely supported our Christian values and lifestyle God has nowhere promised that it should be so. Being American is not about faith or specific political positions. In fact, the beauty of America is that we are a diverse people unified under the belief that we are all free to believe, like and live however we want. Those who stand across the political divide from you are just as American as you and likely love their nation just as much. Wherever we end up after this election, I can promise you that our nation will be much better off if we get over the “us and them” mentality that has dominated this election cycle and get back to being a unified nation of diverse beliefs and preferences.

God Is Still In Control

Regardless of who is our president or what political party is in power, God is still sovereign over this nation and His world. I want to urge my fellow believers to stop acting in fear as if God cannot handle it if certain people or parties are in power. God is in control, and the simple truth is that He might not want what you expect Him to want. There is no guarantee that he wants you to have religious liberty. There is no guarantee that He wants you to live in a nation that makes it easy to worship Him. There is no guarantee that he wants you safe or wealthy. We just don’t know. What we know is that He is in control and we must accept that His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Rest in Him.

Prayer Is Our Weapon of Choice

With many Christians taking to social media to fight it out over their political views, I think we need to be reminded that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places(Ephesians 6:12).” The way we fight that battle is not through clever arguments or nasty rants on the internet, but by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).” I urge you today to be in constant, persistent, selfless prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are voting and pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who never get to vote and are living in persecution for their faith. Pray for your current president as well as for the next one. Pray for your nation, communities and neighborhoods. Pray for your church family. Perhaps most importantly, pray also that God will give you a spirit that is in line with His; pray for a heart that sees this world and the people in it the way He does. Pray! Pray! Pray!

You Have Been Given Peace

Too many Christians are walking around these days worried and in a panic. They are troubled over the state of our nation and all worked up over who will be the next president. I can tell you this: if you as a believer do not have peace now, you will not have it when you get your preferred president either. That is because genuine peace cannot be dependent upon circumstances. Peace is an untroubled heart because of faith in Christ regardless of circumstances. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).” Peace is a gift from God, but we have to choose to experience it by trusting Him, refusing to dwell on the circumstances, and by being grateful for the blessings He has given us.

God is a Big God Who Deserves to Be Honored

My biggest concern is not for the outcome of this election, but for God to be glorified by His church regardless of what happens in the election. My heart’s greatest desire in all of this is that the church would stand up for what is right, while also acting right; that we would represent our Lord in a way that will make Him happy and not ashamed. While many people will be discussing the election and its potential outcomes and problems and so on throughout the day today, it is my desire to simply remind you that you serve a big God who is in total control. Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way 2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

 

Photo By Harley Pebley (Flickr: Prayer for USA) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Get Up, Get Up!

olympic-games-81849_1920

Earlier this week, the Olympics in Rio provided us with a tremendous example of sportsmanship and all that is good in the world. Runners Nikki Hamblin (NZ) and Abbey D’Agostino (USA) tripped and fell to the ground during their race. While Hamblin lay there, D’Agostino grabs her shoulder and urges her, “Get up, Get up! We have to finish. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.” She did get up and eventually both runners finished the race in what many are calling the “ultimate display of the Olympic spirit.” (You can read the full story here.)

Moments like this really are what the Olympics are all about and this certainly is a touching example of true sportsmanship. However, I also see this as a wonderful illustration of what the church should be. When I first saw this story, I immediately thought of Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” That is exactly what the American Olympian did for her fellow competitor. She spurred her on! She urged her toward a better finish. She compelled her to achieve what was good and pushed her to overcome her desire to give up. This is admirable in an athlete and even more so in a genuine Christ-follower.

Churches are filled with broken and hurting people who have fallen and are considering giving up in life. They are contemplating giving up on a relationship or giving up their faith or giving up their fight against an addiction or some other sin. Whatever it is specifically, they feel like they are down for the count. They have fallen for the last time. And far too often there is a multitude of people waiting to swarm and confirm their feelings of failure. We affirm their choice to give up with comments like, “You don’t have enough faith” or “They just aren’t serious enough about their faith.” We call them hypocrites, we call them unholy, we mock their failure and we avoid them so that their sinfulness doesn’t rub off on us. And this is precisely the worst, most unchristian response imaginable.

Indeed, the response of the church should be love and encouragement. We should be each other’s greatest cheerleaders. We should urge one another to get up! Genuine Christ-followers must spur one another on: “Don’t stay down! We can finish together. You can overcome!” This should be the anthem of the church. We must encourage one another to fight the good fight and to finish the race. Urge one another toward a better finish. We must compel our brothers and sisters to achieve what is good and holy and right. We must push them to overcome dangerous and sinful desires to give up. We must also run with them, showing them they are not alone.

I urge you to think right now about the broken people you know. How can you encourage them? You can pray for them, but better yet – pray with them. Call them up or seek them out and ask to pray with them. Send a card. Offer to help. Smile. Include them. Praise them for something that they’re getting right. Send them scripture in a text or an email. There are endless numbers of ways that we can encourage each other and I challenge you to pick even one and put it into practice in your church and community. Feel free to comment with your stories of encouraging or being encouraged. I’d love to hear how God is directing His followers to say “Get up, let’s finish strong together!”

Choose Wisely

away-1020284_1920

Frequently my children will respond to an instruction by saying, “But I don’t want to!” To which I respond in turn: “You don’t have to want to, you just have to do it.” Similarly they will protest the food on their plate by saying “I don’t like it” and I lovingly explain, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.” My goal is certainly not to be mean to them. In fact, I respond the way that I do because I love them so much. I love them enough to try to teach them that the wisest choices in life are not always made by considering what I like or what I want.

There are many ways that this proves true in life. Think about it. You don’t always want to eat what is healthiest for you. You don’t always like what is expected of you at work. You may not even want to get up in the morning. However, when you only do what you want and avoid what you dislike, you end up unhealthy and unemployed and unhappy. It is a foolish person indeed that uses their own desires and preferences as their only criteria for decision making.

This dangerous decision making model can also be found in many churches. Instead of thinking about what is best or healthiest, those in power simply consider what they like or want. Programs, initiatives, projects, service times, music styles, etc. are all determined simply on the basis of personal preference. Many times this seems to work out for awhile because those people making the decisions happen to want good things. However, when their desires conflict with what is best or right, their desires will still win out. This leads to a pattern of bad decisions that lead to long term spiritual bad health.

In both personal and ecclesiastical life, we must consider factors beyond our personal desires and preferences. The Bible instructs each of us to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).” We are also told to “prefer one another (Romans 12:10).” When we face decisions, we can’t think only about ourselves. We must also consider the kingdom. In fact, Jesus said to seek the kingdom of God first. We must place His plans and priorities and desires above our own. This type of decision making leads to wise and healthy individuals and churches.

Don’t fall into the trap of selfish decision making. When it comes to determining how you will make decisions, be sure to choose wisely!

Sunday Supper November 8, 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 a collection of random items of interest from the past week.

 

What Does Paul Mean by Baptism for the Dead? The Bible is quite clear in its core doctrines, and even little children can understand the gospel. However, there are also a great many difficult passages that lead to hard questions. Dan Doriani,  professor of theology at Covenant Seminary, deals with one such difficult question in this article on Paul’s reference to baptism for the dead.

 

Church, Stop Doing So Many Good Things! We’ve all heard that good is the enemy of great and that is certainly true in the Christian life and church. There are lots of good things that we could be involved in, but we must use God’s wisdom to determine which good things he wants us specifically involved in so that we can best serve him.

 

That Vital Moment in Every Preachers Week Some great thoughts for preachers on the importance of trusting God for the results of our labor.

 

How the Doctrine of Election Fueled Jesus’ Work An interesting look at how Jesus’ life and ministry manifested confidence in the doctrine of election.

 

My Spouse Is My Best Friend His perspective is certainly worth considering. His main point is basically this: “Men and women need best friends of the same-sex. I find it a real pity when the spouse takes the place of those necessary relationships.”

 

5 Things Every Small to Mid-Sized Church Struggles With This is some great insight into the problems that often prevent growth and effectiveness in a small church.

 

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.

Seeking the Kingdom

2504254022_b7160b3da9

Thanks to pod-casts available on my phone, I enjoy listening to a number of preachers that I would not ordinarily have the privilege of listening to. This became a habit while I was pastoring as a means of being fed myself and also sharpening my own skills. As most habits, though, it is sometimes just that. There are times that the sermon playing is merely a positive alternative to less constructive types of background noise I might otherwise make use of. However, as I was listening recently to a sermon by Charles Swindoll, he made a striking statement that grabbed my full attention with no less force than if someone had slapped me across the face. This is what he said: “A church that has greater memories than dreams will not make a difference…A church that makes a difference is a church that has an ever enlarging willingness to accept whatever challenge God brings.”

His statement struck me as it did because it elegantly summarizes one of the struggles I have had of late with the traditional, fundamental, American church. It saddens (and frustrates) me to see so many of them content to live in the past, attend to their own comforts and have zero impact on their community. Instead of a willingness to accept challenges, they busy themselves avoiding challenges at all costs.

These churches stand as a warning to the rest of us: we must be intentional about making a difference. The fact of the matter is that most of these churches do have great memories. They did have times of effective ministry. They were serving God and their community. This begs the questions: How do we avoid their fate? How do we continue to make a difference in our world?

The general answer is that we must be kingdom oriented. We begin to die spiritually the moment we begin to live for ourselves. Church is not about my comfort or my preference on music or service times. Church (and life in general) is about advancing the kingdom. Paul instructed believers to “set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth (Col 3:2).” Jesus referred to Peter as Satan and called him a stumbling block because he did “not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” If we want to make a difference, we must “seek first the kingdom of God… (Mat 6:33).” Here are some practical thoughts on how we might do this:

  • Engage in regular evangelism. Make it a goal to share your faith in some way each week or each day. This keeps you involved so that God always has current opportunities to use you. It also keeps you aware of what is important. If you are faithfully and regularly sharing the gospel, you are less likely to become consumed with yourself.
  • Engage in biblical decision making. Use the Bible to determine what to hold onto. We must differentiate between what God says must never change and what we are holding onto out of preference. For example – pastors must always preach Christ and that should never change. However, he might not always preach Christ while wearing a suit and tie. He might do it in jeans and a fedora. That’s cool. If we want to make a difference we have to be willing to let go of traditions and methods that are not mandated by Scripture – even if they used to be effective.
  • Engage in the process of change. There will come a time in your life or in the ministry of the church where change is necessary, but it is usually not easy. To be prepared for that time, practice change in smaller and less significant ways. Make change a regular part of your routine. Learn how to present it. Learn how to implement it. Practice the art of change.
  • Engage in meeting needs. The church must always be aware of the changing needs of the individuals and community around them. Many of Jesus’ miracles are introduced with this phrase: “He saw…” Jesus helped so many people because he saw the needs around him. A biblical church says, “How can we serve? What need can we meet?” That doesn’t mean that every church can meet every need, but it does mean we should be more concerned with meeting needs than with holding onto our programs at all cost.

These are just some of the practical ways that I believe we can keep a kingdom focus. If you want to make a difference in your world, join me in evaluating your own heart in regard to these issues and then determine to intentionally engage in practices that will direct your attention toward Jesus.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/22280677@N07/2504254022″>First Congregational Church of Brimfield</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Sunday Supper April 5, 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.

 

Because of Easter, we have a Monday morning edition of Sunday Supper today.

 

This week marked 20 years since ESPN launched espn.com. They did a total re-launch of the website and it looks pretty awesome. As part of their celebration, they compiled a list of the top 20 athletes from the last 20 years. It’s hard to narrow it down to top 20. I’m not sure how Bret Favre makes that list. He was exciting to watch, but was he ever even the top player in his game? No Randy Moss. No Mariano Rivera. No NASCAR at all. What do you think about this list?

 

Last week, Thom Rainer posted about mean churches, and this week he had another excellent post in a similar vein. It was called Nine Traits of Church Bullies and it was an excellent summary of the kind of folks in church who will do whatever it takes to get their own way. He also followed it up with this prescriptive post: Nine Ways to Deal With Church Bullies.

 

One of the greatest distractions in one’s spiritual life can be the myriad of voices calling out lies to us through culture, media, entertainment etc. I read an excellent article this week about countering those voices through the preaching of the Gospel to yourself. It’s called “Does the Devil Have Your Ear?” and I found it over on Tim Challies’ blog.

 

Being the parent of small children, I’m always looking for parenting tips or advice. I found a very helpful, though entirely unique, article this week entitled A Prison Pastor’s Advice for Parents. It begins with very brief stories of three different inmates and then moves on to tie their stories together with their common quest for identity and need for wisdom. You should read the whole thing (it’s not very long), but here’s one of my favorite excerpts: “Lady Wisdom cries out! In order to be heard above the hustle and bustle of daily life, she screams, shouts, begs, cautions, rebukes, reasons, threatens, and warns. All quite unladylike and unfashionable. But she cries out so that we won’t waste our life. Acceptance of wisdom is often equated with acceptance of God. As parents, we need to remember wisdom still calls and help our kids hear her voice.”

 

The Christian and secular communities are regularly at odds over all manner of issues. However, Dan Phillips over at Pyromaniacs sees the heart of the disagreement as starting with the most offensive verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1. Great read! You should check it out.

 

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.

Truth Divides

Recently I heard a well-meaning individual talking about the danger of false teachers in the church. As proof that false-teachers are active today, he cited the large number of church closings and church splits taking place in his community and in our nation. On the surface this seems logical, but as I considered his words I found myself disagreeing with the foundational assumption that would lead to this conclusion.

Now don’t get me wrong. I, of course, am also saddened by church conflict and very well aware that false teachers exist and are in the church today. However, I believe that the conclusion that churches in America today are splitting or closing because of false teachers is somewhat flawed. In order for this conclusion to be true, we have to make the following assumption: the churches in question are healthy, biblical churches to start with and then a false teacher enters its midst. Is this a safe assumption?

Certainly some churches face this tragic end. We know that the Bible warns that false teachers will enter in and seek to destroy God’s work in His body. However, I think that there is another biblical truth that we must consider as we observe many of these splits and closings: the truth also divides.

The same Jesus that said “I am the…truth… (John 14:6)” also asked, “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division (Luke 12:51).” We think of Jesus as promoting peace and unity, but those are things He offers to his followers. To the world in general, He brings division. This division might be best understood through the use of a biblical analogy – light.

Light was one of John’s favorite metaphors for Christ. He called Jesus “the true Light which…enlightens every man (John 1:9).” Jesus also used this metaphor when He said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world.” What we find is that these three – Jesus, truth and light – become this interchangeable concept that confronts evil, sin and darkness. In the same way that light and darkness are always divided from one another, so will truth and falsehood always be. When the light of truth is introduced into the darkness of sin, division takes place. Truth is either accepted and transforms the darkness into light; or it is rejected and the darkness retreats, but remains darkness. Either way, light and darkness help us understand our initial principle that truth divides.

The way this relates to the above mentioned issue of church splits and closings is in the understanding that the institutional church is not necessarily aligned with the light. This may sound shocking, but it is something that Jesus predicted and expected. His teachings on the kingdom, particularly in Matthew 13, indicate that the earthly representation of the kingdom – the church- would grow so large and extensive that it would no longer remain pure. There would be individuals in this institution that claimed the name of Christ but who are not true followers or believers.

We see this exemplified in Jesus’ own ministry through the fact that His chosen group of twelve includes one who turns out to be a traitor. It is also heard in Jesus prediction that “not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21).” In this passage He describes people who have claimed to minister in His name and verbally acknowledge Him as Lord who He will still reject, saying “I never knew you.” These statements make it clear that the institutional church is not always the true body of Christ.

With this in mind, we return to our initial question: is it safe to assume that most church splits in America are caused by false teachers infiltrating healthy, biblical churches? I think the scriptural principles we have examined prove that the answer is no. Rather, I would suggest that many churches are splitting and closing because they are spiritually dark and unhealthy already. When these churches are left to themselves, the darkness consumes them and the church dies, while those who are true followers leave for places of light. Some of these churches have the light of truth introduced into the darkness and it causes conflict and division because it opposes the man-made gospel of tradition they have embraced.

When the Word of God is presented to these churches that have become nothing more than a religious club, it demands a response. They can accept the truth, repent of their sin and change their ways or they can reject the truth and drive away any who seek to live it and proclaim it. I believe this is the fate of many American churches today. While it is certainly still true that we should beware of false teachers, I think it is equally important to beware of false churches that have a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). My prayer is that true believers will live out the truth of Christ in such a way that it shines a light in the darkness – whether that darkness be in the world or in the church.