October 30, 2011

Warming Love

This dead feeling inside chills me to the bone 
Walking through this wilderness, my trek is made alone. 
There seems to be no one to stand by my side 
The voices in my head, do nothing but chide. 
Where are my friends who used to be 
All around, when my life had no responsibility? 
I relished that loose and carefree life 
But now circumstances, cut close bonds like a knife. 
People who were once counted on 
Are nowhere to be found, they are all gone. 
My soul is weary of these burdensome days 
Why does life so often seem like a maze? 
I wish I could find my way out 
Instead, so many days are filled with great doubt. 
But deep down in my soul I know 
That a peace from God will grow.  
Trusting in His perfect sovereignty 
I know He hears this sinners plea.  
He has pursued me when all others fail 
His grace it is violent, His love tears the veil. 
So when it seems that I walk all alone 
I can know He has cared, for my sins has atoned. 
I really deserve the separation I fear 
Yet instead of leaving, He wipes away tears. 
Indeed He has placed me, in His family 
And I know I'm secure for all eternity. 
So this dying inside, this abandonment felt 
Is not nearly as great as the grace He has dealt. 
Surely I am safe in His perfect arms 
Even this bone chilling cold, will do me no harm. 

Church isn't about you.

Consumer driven. Seeker sensitive.  Terms which, along with a myriad of others, describe much of the American evangelical landscape. The stereo typical poster child for this type of church is the booming mega church in the suburbs. But in all reality, even many small rural churches operate in such a way as to suggest that church is about the consumer. The consumer, of course, is not called by such a “worldly” name when it comes time for board meetings, talks among leadership, etc. Instead the more acceptable titles such as attendee or even member are in place. This makes our dialogue far more impressive and “Christian” sounding. We talk about needing to “meet people’s needs” or to “speak to them where they’re at.” Perhaps we even try to “help” the believers gathered. But are these things the point of church? Is church where I come to get my weekly “feeding” from the pastor? Is it where I come to have my emotions moved by the music? Do I attend church because I like the people there, or feel comfortable? I have not even begun to touch the many reasons people attend church or participate in a local body; neither have I hit on many of the reasons churches function in the way they do. I have attempted to throw out a wide sampling of rather common statements, because I imagine there will be one, or perhaps several things in there that either you personally identify with or have come into contact with in your church experience. My purpose in doing this, really, is to call them all into question. Is church a place where I go to be entertained? Is it where I go to be built up or encouraged? Is it where I go for spiritual food? Or is none of these the correct answer? I will address two people groups, the first being “lay people”, or attendees, or as I would think most accurate, consumers. The second group would be those of influence or leadership in the church who actually decides what a service looks like, how the budget is structured, where priorities are, what goals are, etc.
My question for the first group is really quite simple. Where does the Gospel figure into your attitude toward church?  If this seems an odd question, perhaps a bit of rephrasing would be of benefit. When I evaluate my reasons for going to church, how does my perception of Jesus’ life, work, and words affect that? Let’s break this down it logical order. First, for any of this to make sense you must be a believer in Jesus Christ. That is, not merely a believer that He existed and was a good guy. But rather, that He is who He said He was and is. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through Him (John 14:6). This is accomplished because Jesus, through His perfect life and divine being was the only sacrifice acceptable to God for the punishment of our sins. Jesus went to the cross and bore the wrath of God for us (1 Peter 2:24), and being raised to life on the third day, has given to those who believe the right to be reconciled to God and called children of God (John 1:12, Romans 5:10). So Jesus has reconciled us to God. Why has God done this? According to Ephesians 1:12,14 it is “to the praise of His glory.” God does this to bring Himself glory. We, who were enemies with God, have been saved by Him to bring Him glory-that is amazing! So how are we to live in light of this? Well first, we are to stop obeying the sinful desires that we used to be in bondage to; rather, we ought to present ourselves as slaves of God’s righteousness (Romans 6:12,13). We also are to walk in the good works that God has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10). But perhaps our greatest callings are wrapped up in two things that we often refer to as great-the great commandment and the great commission.
“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:37
Jesus here is quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5. This command, along with the command to love our neighbor as ourselves, sums up all of God’s law! How is this possible? Because if we are constantly giving our all to loving our God and treating others properly, then we will have given sin no foothold.
Jesus’ giving of the great commission is but a few chapters later, and here Jesus says,
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18b-20
So we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Furthermore, we are to make disciples of all the nations teaching them to obey Jesus’ commands and baptize them in the name of our Trinitarian God. You might call this our purpose and our mission. Our purpose is to love God, and our mission is to make disciples. Everything we do ought to be run through these filters. Does it help me love God? Does this demonstrate a love for God? Does this make disciples? Am I in a position to teach others about, or point them to, Jesus?
Now to bring this back around to my attitude about church. If I am to be loving God and others, and making disciples…how in the world can I follow this thought process and end up in a place where I am looking for a church to meet my needs or find a place where I am moved or uplifted? When did the focus shift to me? So God chooses to save me for His glory, gives me a mission to reach others that is rooted in a love for Him and for those in need of reaching, and somehow church is about me? How does that work? It doesn’t. Why would you look for a church that makes you comfortable? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26 that all things in relation to our dealings with the body of Christ, including it’s corporate meeting,  are to “be done for edification.” Not the glory of me. Not the comfort of me. The good of others. Paul in this spot is coming off of three chapters of teaching the Corinthian church about spiritual gifts and reminding them that they are all part of one body, and that each of them has a responsibility and an obligation to use their spiritual gifts for others good and God’s glory. It really is selfish robbery of me to walk into church week after week, “be fed”, and leave without doing anything to build up and edify the other parts body. If your right hand decided to call in sick to work one day it would be a very inconvenient day for you. If it quit working entirely you would be at a place where you might be better off to have it amputated and have a prosthetic put on in it’s place, rather than continuing to nourish it by allowing it to still be attached. Are you a lively hand, or a dead one? Do I go to church in order to meet with others and praise God, with the intention of using my gifts to aid the body, or simply to get my weekly feeding or emotional high so that I can leave?
Secondly, to those who put a service together…this part will be shorter. But are people challenged to use their gifts? Is there opportunity in the church for the exercise of people’s gifts, or is there an “in” crowd who gets called upon for all the work?
Furthermore, is the service structured and oriented in such a way as to point the people to God, or does it focus on them? To be sure, our response to God needs to be addressed, but our response will not be right or proper if there is not due attention given to the character and nature of our Lord.

All of this is said in realization that church is more than a weekly service. There are many places to exercise one’s gifting outside the walls of the church. Not all search for comfort is evil; it might even be okay to have an espresso machine on the back wall. This rambling post is merely meant to pose a question. Where is our focus? Do we come to church to be entertained, to feel comfortable, to be moved, to be fed? We shouldn’t. We should be gathering to join with other believers in focusing on our God. To worship him for who He is. In this our hope ought to be that He is glorified, and that others are edified. Church isn’t a place where I go to get satisfied by God-being the church is something we do because we are satisfied in God!

October 17, 2011

Fat Christians

Let me open with this disclaimer-I am in no way referring to the physical fitness (or obvious lack thereof) of many Christians. That’s another blog for another day. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get to that one, I’ll have to be getting pretty low on subjects to write about.
So, if I use the term “Fat Christians,” what am I talking about? Well, if I were clever like Pastor Todd over in Harrison, I’d turn it into an acronym…however, I am not so clever, and am terrible with acronyms. I am speaking rather to the tendency many Christians have to spend all week gorging themselves on “Spiritual food,” and spend no time exercising any of it. I must admit here to a bit of cynicism on my part that really is probably unhealthy and possibly sinful. I find it very easy to poke holes in most anything churches do. The old joke is that Christian firing squads are usually aligned in circles, and the last thing I want to do is be a part of that. I really do have a love both for my home church and for the church in general, and want it to thrive, to grow, and to be an accurate and genuine reflection of Christ to this world. That being said…
As “good” (good being in quotation marks because, 1-we/they aren’t actually better people…2-I am not including meaning the casual church attendee; I mean to talk more specifically to those who might be deemed “core,” “active,” or “genuine” believer…3- those, and honestly, I just like quotation marks) Christians, we attend church, go to a Bible study (or three), and if we’re super spiritual we might even invite over another family from church for dinner occasionally. Am I about to tell you to quit going to church? No. That would be in direct contradiction with Hebrews 10:25. Arguing against the Bible seems like a bad idea. Nor do I even want to begin to suggest that having Christians over for dinner or studying the Bible are bad things. To the contrary. Far from it. These are all good things, Biblical things, things worth doing.
However-since when are any of these things the marks of being a “good Christian”? Okay, before we go any further, I need to do two things. One, I apologize for my ADD writing today. If you can follow this successfully, you either have a highly functioning brain or an attention disorder. Two, where did the term “good Christian” come from? I started this blog using it because it’s common. But in addition to being common, it really is idiotic. The terms “good” and “Christian” are antithetical. The whole point of the Gospel, Christianity’s central message, is that I am not good. Because I am not good, I offend God. Because I offend God, I cannot have a relationship with Him. Jesus comes and because He, unlike the rest of humanity, was in fact good, He through His substitutionary death can pay for my offense. He then also, because of his resurrection from the dead, can impute to me His righteousness, His goodness. I have no goodness of my own. God accepts me not because I am good, but because Jesus is good. That being said, let us continue.
What, Biblically is to mark the life of a believer? Well in Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,  and self-control; against such things there is no law.” (yet another side note: this is not the “to-do” list you learned it was in Sunday school. It’s a fruit list. Pear trees don’t decide to grow pears, they just grow pears. And you can tell when you see pears hanging from it that it’s a pear tree. Anyhow.) So a Christian is going to exude things like love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Self Control. Interesting.

If I have an unbelieving friend, neighbor, or family member and all they see of my “Christian life” is me running 800 different directions to stay busy, is that something attractive that points them to Jesus and makes them want to follow?
When a room full of Christians sit around with open Bibles and ask each other what this text means to them or how it makes them feel, does that encourage the body to embrace the objective truth and beauty of God’s Word and allow us to more deeply know and love our Savior?
Jesus lived a life both with religious people, teaching them, answering questions, and going to their homes, and with sinners, hanging out with them, teaching them, feeding them, and going to their parties. Why do we always try to make it one or the other?
I know this has been much meandering, but my point mainly is this: there is absolutely no point in knowing what the Bible says if we don’t intend to take it seriously and live it. We will be merely hearers, and so deceive ourselves, as James so nicely put it. So I think it’s time we take a long hard look at a lot of what we do, why we do it, how we do it, and if we really ought to do it. We need to quit making our programs, meetings, rituals, etc so sacred to us. Having your weekly Bible study isn’t life and death. Sharing Christ with someone going to Hell is. Going to Sunday School isn’t life and death. Mentoring a younger believer very well could be. We need to focus less on the stuff we do, and better understand why we do it. Because that will both help us improve what we ought to do, and eliminate what we ought to eliminate. Or to say it as I did at the start, we need to watch what we eat, eat a lot of healthy food, and exercise regularly. Don’t waste time with garbage, and get off the couch! End rant.

Okay, maybe not end. I may have more later when my brain is operational. (temporarily) end rant.

October 15, 2011

Thinking...first of a few posts on the subject.

So. It has been several months since my last blog post, a fact for which I feel I must apologize. I could throw out several excuses such as the busyness of getting married, a new school year, ministry, etc. However, I do not believe any of these is a sufficient reason for me to not be writing. I have been very convicted of late by my laziness and selfishness. If I am a member of the body of Christ, and writing is a gift He has given me (I assume it is, given past responses), then am I not obligated as a member of the body to use my gifting for the benefit of others? I most certainly am (see 1 Corinthians 12:7). So my lack of effort in this area appears to me to quite obviously be sin (James 4:17). I have not made a point of sharing the truth that God has shown me through His word, I have made little effort in this area of writing, or my life in general, of encouraging others and proclaiming the beauty of Christ and His Gospel. So this is my apology, and I intend to labor more earnestly in this area in the future. Please call me on it if I don’t.
To shift gears slightly, as you will see above, the name of this blog is Stopping to Think. Even the url cdubthinking.blogspot.com, contains a mention of that word Think. I have been, if you will allow the phrase, thinking much about thinking lately. Much of this has been spurred by my reading of John Piper’s book entitled, “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.” So before I continue, much of what I am about to say is in Piper’s book. I am inclined to word things differently, so I will probably quote little or none of it directly here, but many of the ideas are in fact borrowed.
In Christianity today, and I suppose at other times throughout history, there has been much “kick-back” against the place of thinking in our faith. We see faith and loving God as something that takes place merely in our heart, or our emotions, or our soul. But to bring in the realm of the mind, well, now you’ve just killed the whole premise of faith and love, right? Not quite. You see, we often look at faith and love as things which are entirely abstract, having no real grounding in this world of reality in which we live. Love is a mere emotion which comes and goes. Faith is an idea which makes us feel more secure either in our place here on earth, or in our eternal destiny. They are very fluid words in our culture, and have very little in the way of accepted and objective meaning. I can just as easily say I love my dog or have faith in the Seahawks as I can say that I love my wife or have faith that the airplane I’m riding in won’t fly apart 30,000 feet up. Same words; very different meaning. The problem we then encounter is we take our fluid interpretation of these words and attempt to apply them to Scripture. So, for example, when I am told to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I can come at it with any of my various meanings for the word “faith.” Or if I am told to love the Lord my God, I have several different definitions of love from which to draw from. The problem when we do this is that we rip any objective meaning from the Scriptures and have begun the process of removing objective truth. Reading the Scriptures in this fashion makes understanding the true meaning absolutely impossible. And this is the problem many people will point out with the Bible-there are so many interpretations, who’s to know what’s right and what’s wrong?
But let us examine our idea here in a hypothetical conversation between my wife and I:

Andie: Will, please wash the dishes.
Will: What do you mean by the word, “wash”?
Andie: You know what I mean by the word wash, it means the same thing now as the last thirty times I used it saying I was going to wash the dishes!
Will: That’s all fine and wonderful dear, but while for you the word wash means to clean them thoroughly with soap and water and rinse them with clean water and then proceed to dry them to put them away; as you do regularly; my interpretation of that word means that if I place them outside and let the dog lick them and let the rain rinse them off that I have sufficiently executed my duties.

Now, if I do the dishes my way, have I done as I was asked? No, because Andie was the one asking. Therefore, she determines both the terms used and the meaning of those terms. My interpretation is of no value if it does not agree with her intended meaning.
So if I go to Scripture and read that I am to love the Lord my God; does my 21st Century interpretation of the word “love” affect what is meant by the writer of that verse? No. Rather, in order to understand the writer correctly, I need to attempt and understand what the original intent of the writer was. Scripture interprets Scripture, as Calvin would have it. So the question is this-do we read the Bible in order to understand what it means? So often I hear people say that we are to read the Bible because it is God’s roadmap for life, or an instruction book, or in a more secular sense, full of good teachings and sayings. However, Scripture itself attests to the fact that it is God’s inspired revelation of Himself. Is it useful for my life? Absolutely; in 2 Timothy the Apostle Paul makes that very clear. He also makes clear the point of the Scripture-to reveal to us Jesus Christ. The point of the Bible, God’s written Word,  is to turn our eyes to Jesus, the Word become flesh (John 1). So when we look at the Scripture we have to ask ourselves some questions as we wrestle through a text. We have to engage our brain. What is the first and greatest commandment? Matthew 22:37, “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’” Heart. Soul. Mind. Not one of the above. All of them. And all of them, in their entirety. All your heart, all your soul, all your mind. I will write soon about some specific ways to do this, but this is my challenge to you as you read the Word-think about it!
Psalm 119:15, “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.”

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).