RSS

Tag Archives: local church

STUCK! Chapter Six: Where Do I Start?

Let’s imagine that you’ve read this far in this book and come to realize, “Yes, I’m a bit stuck in my Christian life! Boy, am I glad I bought this book!” (or words to that effect). “But where do I start?”, you might ask. That’s where the so-called “spiritual disciplines” become very important.

Much has been written about the spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s work Celebration of Discipline is a classic in the field. We are really talking about developing holy habits which grow us in godliness. Some put the disciplines into categories like the following:

The Inward Disciplines:
MEDITATION
FASTING
STUDY
SIMPLICITY
SOLITUDE
SERVICE

The Corporate Disciplines:
CONFESSION
WORSHIP
GUIDANCE
CELEBRATION

Let’s think about each of these for a few moments. Concerning the “inward disciplines,” MEDITATION involves memorizing a passage of Scripture and thinking about it as much as you can. For example, one might memorize Nehemiah 8:10 where he says to the people of Israel, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now, you might memorize only the “do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” although some might focus on the first part of this verse! The point is that during the day (or during the hard night hours) you can say to yourself, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” You might consider reading up on the context of that challenge by Nehemiah to get some background, but the point is to meditate, ruminate, marinate in that verse!

A few words about FASTING. I don’t believe Scripture commands us to fast (that is to go without food for a particular period of time in order to focus upon the Lord). On the other hand, one might quote the Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 9, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (v. 15). The bridegroom has been taken from us. So voluntary fasting makes sense. Missing a meal to concentrate on God’s Word or to prostrate oneself before the Lord in prayer for a serious situation is quite counter-cultural in our frenetic, food-obsessed world, but spiritually healthy. Practicing this discipline is to be private. Jesus criticized the Jewish religious leaders who didn’t keep their fasting private. Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Mt. 6:16).

How about fasting from technology? We’ve become more and more dependent on our smart watches, iPhones, and video streaming services. Unplugging from those can do us a world of good in bringing us some quietness, solitude, and focus.

The spiritual discipline of STUDY is very close to my heart as a teacher. I was a lousy student in high school. And even worse when I went through my first year in Bible college. Then I met my wife to be — and all laziness and joy was gone. She looked at me and said, “You have a theology exam on Friday, right?” I knew it would be a mistake to lie, so I said, “Yes, Dear.” Then she said, “Listen, Buster.” (My name has never been ‘Buster.’ So I realized she was serious). “If you do not ace your theology exam on Friday, I will not date you on Saturday.” I aced the exam on Friday, got on the Dean’s list thereafter, and completed a Master’s and a Doctorate over the next few years. All because of religious blackmail.

Believers in Jesus — whether they recognize it or not — are life-long, even eternity-long students! We will forever be studying the character of our God. So let’s get started now. The unstuck believer is pursuing biblical subjects and learning what God wants them to learn.

Life can get quite complicating, can’t it? The spiritual discipline of SIMPLICITY involves the elements of creating margins in our lives, learning to say no when appropriate, and focusing our attention on the Lord instead of the things of this world. Creating some space for ourselves can be a challenge, but a healthy life needs alone time as well as interaction time with others. A great teacher of preachers once said, “Men, learning to say ‘no’ will do you more good than learning Latin!” Active, involved believers are often the first ones to be asked to get involved in a ministry or take on some additional church duties, etc. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is say, “No. I’m quite involved right now.”

Focusing on the Lord is the third element of SIMPLICITY. We speak with Him in prayer and He speaks to us through His Word. We realize that we are responsible for our thought lives and we ask for help in applying the challenge of Philippians 4 where the Apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (v. 8).

The simple practice of SOLITUDE is a piece of cake for an introvert like me. Introverts like to be alone. But biblical solitude is much more than aloneness. It is a concerted time with the Lord, an intentional distancing from others and the distractions of this world to simply spend time with the God who wants to spend time with us.

The great theologian Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody!” SERVICE is the practice of thinking of others before ourselves, asking how we might encourage another in their Christian life. Ephesians 2 says we’ve been “appointed to good works.” And those works are to be done for the sake of others.

The so-called corporate disciplines have to do with the Body of Christ, the church. We are to engage in CONFESSION as James says: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16, KJV)

Of course we are to give ourselves to WORSHIP and that should regularly happen with God’s people. GUIDANCE is often given by the Holy Spirit through God’s people. And we should all engage in CELEBRATION as we together praise the Lord and seek to serve Him.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read a book like Foster’s Celebration of Discipline or Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney and J.I. Packer. Discuss your book with another believer.

2. Find an accountability partner with whom you can work on a couple of the inward disciplines. Check up on each other’s progress and consistently pray for one another.

3. Discuss one of the corporate disciplines with some of the leaders in your local church. Ask how you can help them improve those disciplines among the people of God.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 14, 2022 in STUCK!

 

Tags: , , ,

STUCK! Chapter Five: Who Do I Need?

I’m an introvert. I’ve gone through the personality tests (Enneagram, Myers/Briggs, Briggs & Stratton, etc.) and I test out as an introvert. An “expressive” introvert. But an introvert nonetheless.

What that means is that people pretty much exhaust me. I force myself to go to parties and social gatherings, but only because my dear wife is an extrovert. She loves people. Me, not so much. I’m quite happy being by myself with occasional meetings with my wife and maybe a few grandkids.

I’m overstating this a bit, but introverts like me like quiet, peace, solitude. We spend a lot of time reflecting, listening to soft music (except for early Chicago), and avoiding crowds. My daughter, who is also an introvert, says she’s going to get us t-shirts that read, “INTROVERTS UNITE! BY YOURSELVES! IN YOUR OWN HOMES!”

I would be perfectly happy living in a cave (with good internet service, of course). But that’s not God’s best for me.

Just Jesus and Me!
One of the popular songs when I was a young believer was entitled “Just Jesus and Me.” It came at the height of the “Me” generation and fit in quite nicely with young adults who wanted to “do their own thing.” And we certainly didn’t need the stuffy environs of the church to pursue “our own thing.”

It seemed that the overemphasis on individuality and self-awareness quickly led to a kind of self-idolatry. And an ignorance of the Scriptures. Afterall, don’t we  read in Genesis 2 that Adam, before the fall and before the creation of Eve, was declared by God as “lonely?” What?! Wait a minute! He was in the Garden, which had not yet been affected by sin, and was in perfect fellowship with His Creator. And he was lonely?! Yes. And God saw that it was not good.

We need human relationships. And, therefore, we need the church. Now by “the church” I don’t mean the universal Body of Christ. Every believer belongs to that by conversion. I mean a local church, a group of believers to which one belongs and to which one contributes.

The Church — Why Bother?
Philip Yancey, who’s written more books than C.S. Lewis and Joel Osteen combined , wrote a small book years ago with the title The Church — Why Bother? It seems to me that there are four reasons to bother with a local church.

The first reason is that I want to join Jesus in His building project. He said that on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith in Him, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18). Now, one may argue that He was referring to the “universal” church, but how is the universal church seen in this world? Through imperfect, yet authentic, local churches.

The second reason I want to bother with the local church is that the overall tenor of the New Testament focuses on the community of God’s people as gathered in local places. They are certainly not without their problems, but we have the Corinthian church, the church in Ephesus, the church in Philadelphia, etc. Geographically planted local churches are encouraged, admonished, rebuked even by the New Testament writers. Much of the New Testament is useless if one remains outside Christ’s work in the local church.

I’ve heard Twenty-First Century Christians say, “Oh, that we were like the First Century Church!” But wait a minute! Do you mean like the Corinthian church (which was failing miserably in both discipleship and evangelism, see I Cor. 5)? Or the Galatian church (which had abandoned its freedom in Christ and was returning to an unbiblical Judaism)? Or the Ephesian church that had left its first love (Rev. 2:4)? Of course we should seek to emulate the very best of the early church and also recognize where it often went wrong. But we should be involved, connected, committed to what the Lord Jesus is doing in the local church.

The third reason I want to bother with the local church is that there is much work to be done in both growing believers in and winning unbelievers to the gospel. I’m not sure the local church should be a place of evangelism, although I’m convinced the gospel ought to be made clear whenever the Word is preached to God’s people. Evangelism is to happen outside the walls of the local church. And not just by paid staff! Every believer, the Apostle Peter tells us, is to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Pe. 3). The believer in Jesus who doesn’t give a whit about the lostness of others is in dire need of repentance!

And it is in the local church where we are to practice the ordinances (some churches call them “sacraments”) ordained by God’s Word: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptizing one’s self or taking communion at home in one’s pajamas isn’t the biblical pattern.

Discipleship must happen in the local church. We need intentional, risky relationships which we develop in order to build up God’s people and help one another grow in Christlikeness. Of course that is not confined to the four walls of a physical building we call the church. True discipleship happens through connections that believers pursue with the family of God.

The fourth reason I want to bother with the local church is that God has ordained spiritual leaders (elders and deacons) who are tasked with caring for my soul! If I’m disconnected from a local church, I’m removing myself from their encouragement, influence, and correction. Formal membership may not be outlined in the New Testament, but it is quite clear that every believer is to use his or her gifts to build up others, to pray for and submit to godly leaders, and to practice the priorities modeled for us by the early church. Those priorities are set forth in Acts 2:42 where we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

In short, we need truth, friendships, worship, and prayer to thrive in the Christian life. And that’s to be found in the local church.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read Yancey’s little book Church — Why Bother? Write out a one-page defense of the church after you’ve read his book.

2. Find a friend in your local church with whom you can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your church. Many today are staying away from the church because of what is called “church hurt.” Reach out to someone who is making that choice and seek to win them back to the local church. Pray with your friend for your church’s leaders and your church’s mission.

3. Adopt an elder or deacon in your church and covenant before the Lord to pray for him every day. Meet with that person and find out what some of their needs are.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 1, 2022 in STUCK!

 

Tags: , , ,

The Church as a Rusted-Out Bus? Some Thoughts on This Metaphor

Several days ago we posted the following picture of a rusted-out old bus and asked, What aspects or challenges of the local church  might be depicted in this picture?  Please be assured — I’m not picking on the local church or trying to be hyper-critical.  I thank God for the local church!  But there are always ways that we can improve our service for the Lord, especially in the local church.  Here are a few of my observations:


Windows are dirty & broken — Sometimes it’s hard for the church to see the needs of the hurting world around it.

No clear destination — Notice that there is nothing in the destination window (the small space above the front windshield) about where the church is going.

Of course there is no driver! This bus is lying dead in a lot. But who ought to be driving this bus?

There are, of course, some serious rust issues! Sometimes we get pretty settled in our ways, don’t we?

This bus is parked — it isn’t going anywhere! The leaders in the local church need to set a vision for the believers. They need to ponder where they have been — and where they are going, by God’s grace!

Of course, there are no passengers. Sometimes we minimize lower attendance numbers. And certainly God cares about the few. But He also cares about the MANY! We should not settle for a few souls, but go out into the highways and byways and compel the masses to come in!

By the way, did you notice that the door is still open? But very few would want to step foot inside this bus. There might be snakes in there! Much work needs to be done to attract others inside.

Your thoughts?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 28, 2018 in church health

 

Tags: , , , ,

Some Rantings and Ravings from Someone Who’s Been in Christian Ministry for a Long Time! (Part 2 of 2, I Promise!)

We’re ranting and raving here for a few minutes.  There are so many concerns screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-4-50-23-amthat I have, especially for the next generation.  I hope I don’t come across like the old curmudgeon to the right, but these are matters that are really critical.

What got me thinking about these issues is the conference I just attended.  I’m actually writing this before the conference, but, Lord willing, it will (did) take place and I will do (did) an okay job of speaking on the topic “Anti-Intellectualism Isn’t Spirituality.”  The conference took place at Emmaus Bible College February 6-7 and was called the “Christian Ministry Seminars.”

My last message in my four-part series expressed some of these concerns that I am summarizing here and in the earlier post of the same title (Feb. 18th).  Permit me to share just a few more of my “issues”:

(1)  I’m concerned that young believers get into the battle and do good work on an intellectual basis.  This means reading books that challenge the Christian faith (what I call “Boiling Books”, i.e. books that boil your blood before you get through the preface).  If we only read the books we agree with, we will not learn the questions and issues an unbelieving world has with the gospel.  “Doing good work” on anscreen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-37-06-am intellectual basis involves good study skills, critical thinking, and solid research.  Believers of the next generation need to work hard in what are called the “primary” sources, rather than get all their information from secondary sources.  Primary sources are the original documents of a writer or thinker, not what others have said or written about him or his position (secondary sources).  So, if one is going to challenge the abandonment of the gospel by someone like the late Chuck Templeton (at one time Billy Graham’s best friend and an evangelist), one needs to read Templeton!  His Farewell to God as well as his An Anecdotal Memoir would be the first place to start (before one reads Lee Strobel’s interview of Templeton in The Case for Christ).  Does that make sense?  Sometimes Evangelicals are guilty of reading only what others have said about a person’s beliefs — and not that person himself.

Suggestion:  Start small.  Begin a blog and take on some topic with which you want to engage.  Be positive toward the writer and gracious toward what they have written.  But point out the weaknesses in their argument or position as you formulate your response from a biblical perspective.

(2)  I’m also concerned with how many of us view life in general.  My generation frowned on such activities as going to the movies, roller skating (it was dancing on wheels, unless you fell a lot like me), and visiting museums (a waste of time — one ought to be reading his or her Bible).  Today’s generation, it seems to me, doesn’t give those issues a second thought (which is good), but doesn’t hesitate to go to (or download) just about any movie screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-40-12-am(some are downright diabolical), learn and sing the lyrics of just about any contemporary song (have you analyzed the words in songs by Lady Gaga or Beyonce?), or attend any play just because the critics said it was good.  If you’ve never been tempted to walk out of a movie theater, turn off your TV in disgust, or ask for your money back at a play, check your Christian pulse.  You might be dead.

Suggestion:  There’s a better way than the legalism of my generation and the libertarianism screen-shot-2017-01-30-at-8-52-13-amof today’s young people.  I believe Mike Witmer has articulated that better way in his book Becoming Worldly Saints.  Christians are to enjoy God’s good creation (I Tim. 6) and not become or be known as anti-world.  We should live in biblical freedom!

(3)  I’m also concerned with how many of us look at the local church.  It seems that for many today the local church is a big bother.  We go through the motions; we serve when we have to; we give when we must. Instead of seeing the church as the one thing that Jesus is presenting building, we tolerate it as our Sunday activity and as a gathering place with other Christians.  I’m not surprised that one of Philip Yancey’s books is entitled Church: Why Bother?  We must move from thinking of the local church as a place we must be to a place we get to be.

The church in Acts focused on four priorities, according to Acts 2:42 —  “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  Here’s my final list of questions:

1.  Are you truly “devoted to” the local church? How do you or I show that?

2.  How concerned are we about biblical doctrine/truth?  Do we see theology screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-5-41-09-pmonly as the domain of elbow-patched, sweater-wearing academics who debate how many angels can sit on the head of a pin?  Or are we committed to knowing, enjoying, and defending the truths of God’s Word?

3.  Do we really understand “fellowship”?  Perhaps we all need a primer on something as basic as FRIENDSHIP!

4.  We must constantly ask, are we truly worshiping the Lord?  Or are we just keeping the machinery going?

5.  I have so much to learn — and to practice — when it comes to the issue of prayer!  I commend you to my post back on January 9th when Dr. Roy King talked about the three prayers we all ought to pray everyday!

So much for my rantings and ravings.  Any you wish to comment on?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on February 20, 2017 in christian life

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Psalms of My Life (Psalm 122)

Psalm 122

A song of ascents. Of David.Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 5.31.56 AM

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built like a city
    that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
    the tribes of the Lord
to praise the name of the Lord
    according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
    and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your prosperity.Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 5.33.25 AM

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 21, 2015 in the book of Psalms

 

Tags: , , , ,