Thursday, March 10, 2016

Be Courageous!

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
-God speaking to Joshua, in Joshua 1:9

Could Joshua Really Do This?

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Moses had died, and now Joshua was beginning his leadership of God’s people.  But how do you follow Moses?  Moses was a legend in his own time, and his legacy as an all-time great leader would only grow through the years.  Joshua had to be at least a little afraid of failure, trying to stand in Moses’ shoes.

What’s more, how was Joshua supposed to lead the Israelites in taking the promised land?  Joshua had always been a good military leader (that’s how we first meet him in Exodus 17:9), but conquering the stronger, entrenched nations of Canaan?  There’s a reason the Israelites had been too scared to try about 40 years earlier. 

Yet God’s command to Joshua is given repeatedly in Deuteronomy chapter 31 and Joshua chapter 1: Be strong and courageous! 

How Do You Build Courage?

I have often thought about what a strange command this is.  If I am afraid, how can I just “be courageous?!”  How do I stop being afraid?  Fears are real, and oftentimes they really do hold us back.  It seems strange to just tell someone to stop being afraid and start being courageous.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Simplicity on the Musical Instrument Question

Picture by Kelly Ginn, Great Oaks Church of Christ
Great Oaks got a new website earlier this year, so we had to make decisions about what needed to go on the site and how it could to best be communicated.  To help that process, we spent time checking out other church websites, to see how churches communicate who they are and what they do.  This was encouraging for us,  not only to see how churches communicate, but also to see the many good ministries and outreach efforts going on in other places.  

As a result, I still occasionally glance through websites of congregations I’m not real familiar with, seeing how other places do things and keeping my eyes open for things that might help our own communication and/or ministries.  A few months ago, I stumbled over this simple but effective paragraph explaining why the Smyrna Church of Christ (TN) sings acapella in their worship:

Based upon our understanding of N.T. scripture, God does not desire musical instruments in Worship. Whether or not God regards the use of instruments in worship as a "salvation issue" is His call and is not our decision to make (Romans 14:1-4; 9-12). However, we should be certain who we are trying to please. If we love Jesus we will keep his commandments (John 14:15), and do that to the best of our ability. Based upon the N.T. we can know that God is pleased if we sing during our worship, but we can't know He is pleased if we play instruments. No scripture authorizes instrumental music in worship today; it cannot be found. The confidence that God is pleased if we sing during our worship is very important to us.
Matt. 26:30; Acts 16:25; Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13

Here’s a couple things I appreciate about that simple explanation:

1)      First, I appreciate that the key question is NOT “is this a salvation issue?”  Trying to argue whether instruments in worship is a salvation issue is a distraction from the real question of whether God wants them or not.  And if we’re trying to please God only on what we decide are “salvation issues,” aren’t we missing the idea of giving our entire lives – big, small, and in between – to God?  Wouldn’t we really be saying, “I just want to give God the minimum amount required for me to get into heaven, and then I want to do the rest my way regardless of how God feels about it?”  It seems to me the person of faith always asks first, “what best honors and pleases God?” and then proceeds to act on the biblical answer, in trust that God knows what He’s talking about.  Let God decide in eternity what is or isn’t a salvation issue.  For now, let’s try to give Him what He wants in every way possible.

2)      Second, I appreciate that they clearly state what I believe is one of the trump cards in the musical instrument discussions: “Based upon the N.T. [New Testament] we can know that God is pleased if we sing during our worship, but we can't know He is pleased if we play instruments.”  That simple statement is awfully difficult to argue with.  We can know God is pleased with singing because we repeatedly see Jesus and the apostles singing and teaching churches to sing in the New Testament.  We cannot know God is pleased with instruments in worship because we do not see Christians using them or being taught to use them in worship in the New Testament. 
Almost everyone agrees that we only see acapella singing in Christian worship in the New Testament and for several hundred years afterwards.  The question becomes ‘what do we do with that information?’  I believe a partial answer is that simple common sense statement: we know that God is pleased with singing, but we don’t know if He is pleased with instruments.  And if that’s true, then when I add musical instruments to my worship I am necessarily saying, “I don’t know if God is pleased with this, but I want it, so I’m going to do it.”  That’s a step I personally can’t take in good conscience, on any issue.

Who is the Gift For?

I once heard a preacher describe it like a husband getting his wife a Christmas gift.  She gave him a list of things she would like: a certain type of shirt, a romantic-comedy movie she really liked, and some shoes.  On Christmas morning, the husband was excited as his wife began to unwrap her gifts.  She unwrapped the boxes, only to find a men’s basketball jersey of her husband’s favorite player, a basketball video celebrating last year’s NBA champions, and some new men’s basketball shoes in her husband’s size.  His wife gives him a confused look.  “Honey, I appreciate you wanting to give me some Christmas presents; but these are gifts for you, not for me.”  “But dear,” the husband replies, “I couldn’t give you that girly stuff with a heart that was really into it, and you don’t want me to give you something halfheartedly do you?  So I gave you something I could really be excited about.” 

Do you think that conversation would go well for him?  Why not?  Because if you are giving a gift to someone you really care about, you make an effort to give a gift they will be happy with.  That’s the first priority.  And your heart will be happy just by knowing you gave a gift that pleased them, and by knowing that the gift-giving will deepen your relationship.  If we love God, why would we bring Him a worship ‘gift’ that is really for us more than Him? Hasn’t He shown us what He wants?

Deep Debates, Simple Answer?

Several times during my formative-faith years in high school and college, I spent time digging into why we sang without instruments in churches of Christ.  I read many books during those times of digging and questioning, hearing the back and forth, some of which (from both sides) seemed much more complex than it needed to be, and some of which (from both sides) included arguments that were very unconvincing.  But I came to believe that the “singing only” position did indeed have the stronger biblical argument.  I still haven't come across a convincing reason to do it differently than they did in the New Testament, and to add musical instruments to worship – every reason I’ve ever heard has a response that is better grounded in Scripture. 

There are some good discussions to have in those back and forth’s – about Old and New Testament worship forms, the meaning of the Greek word ‘psallo,’ the idea of the silence and authority of Scripture, whether the apostles’ practices were meant to be a pattern for us, what worship is and isn’t, whether you can trust God-given forms of worship to reach people, etc.  If someone wants to dig that deep, I think they’ll benefit from the journey.

But in some ways, a much simpler, big picture view goes back to the simple explanation on that website.  It’s about the heart and purpose of worship.  A love for God that wants to please Him above all else.  

Jesus and His apostles and the Christians they taught just sang, without instruments, and God was pleased with it.  If I want to show my love to God through worship, why would I start giving Him other things just because I want them, not knowing (or caring?) whether He is pleased with it or not?    

Friday, June 26, 2015

Thoughts On The Day Same-Sex Marriage Became Legal

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My phone made its familiar sound that told me there was a news update, so I glanced down to see what was going on.  “Supreme Court Declares Same-Sex Marriages Legal in All 50 States.”  I didn’t really have a reaction, just setting the phone back down and getting back to work.  Given our cultural and political climate, I don’t think many people are surprised.  More than anything, I just thought about enduring another day of people in the media shouting about it.

 Later, I began to wonder how other believers in God were feeling about the news, and so I paused to write out a few things I hope we will remember on a day that I’m sure some people will feel like we have somehow “lost”…

First, I hope we remember that “legal” and “right” are not the same thing.  The American government is not the judge of what is morally right (though people sometimes act like they think it is).  Adultery is sinful before God, but it is legal.  Abortion is sinful before God, but it is legal.  Getting drunk is sinful, but it is legal.  Lying is sinful, but it is in most cases legal.  We could go on and on.  There are many things that are legal, but they’re not right in God’s eyes.   God’s truth has not changed today.  Today just adds one more item to the list of issues where we must show people that God’s truth is wiser than what our culture says is OK.  

Second , I hope we remember that we must treat all people with the love and patience of Christ, even if they are celebrating sexual sin.  I’m sure many will celebrate today that somehow a great wrong has ended in our country.  Much of the celebration will be taunting people of faith.  We will be tempted to forget who we are and shout back with an un-Christ-like attitude.  It’s probably a good day to remember that Jesus was mocked and reviled, and yet He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth;” He “did not revile in return,” but “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.”  (1 Peter 2:21-23).  God sees the celebration as well; if you must speak, speak kindly, and trust the God who judges righteously to act in His time. 

       Third, I hope we remember that Christians have been here before, and the gospel flourished anyway.  The first-century Roman empire of Jesus and Paul celebrated homosexuality far more even than our own culture does, and yet Jesus and Paul and other believers still taught the truth boldly and lovingly about God’s design for marriage and sexuality.  The Roman government certainly didn’t line up with Christian teaching in many ways, and yet the church grew and flourished anyway.  God is still alive and working, and so we will keep teaching what the Bible says whether it is popular or not, and hopefully we will teach it in a way that helps others see God’s goodness. 

Fourth, I hope we will notice that not much has really changed today in the big picture.  Same-sex relationships were already legal, and people could already choose how they wanted to act sexually.  God gave us all the freedom of choice to make those decisions.  Yes, same-sex marriages can now receive the same marriage certificates and tax breaks that husbands and wives receive.  It is a small victory for sin, because the government’s approval encourages people to accept it as a valid moral choice for themselves, but that message of cultural approval has already been going on in media outlets for years now.  And so our responsibility before God certainly hasn’t changed today: to keep living for God and keep encouraging a sinful world to come back to Him.  Tomorrow, we will wake up in the same world we’ve always been in: people making their own spiritual choices, and God’s people trying to shine His light.

  Fifth, I hope we remember that Christians never really “lose.”  We have a deeper hope in Christ, much deeper than just trying to get our government to line up with God on every issue.  We are part of something far more important.  That’s why Paul could write in Romans chapter 8 about persecution and difficulty (v. 18,35-36), and yet be filled with a deep sense of victory: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (v. 37).  “What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who is against us?” (v. 31).  I suppose every time a soul (or a country) rejects God, you could say that the truth “lost” that time.  But in the big picture, we are promised that God wins, and so His people win with Him.  Today is just another day to remind us that God’s kingdom and the kingdoms of the world are not the same, and that this world is not our home. 

I understand why some Christians would feel upset today.  I agree that the national conversation on homosexuality has been a little silly and one-sided, but that’s the way the world goes sometimes.  To say sexual desires and actions are the same as being born black or white is simply not true.  To say that Christians are “hateful” for teaching that there is a proper way to conduct ourselves sexually is dishonestly representing Christianity.  Those conversations will continue, and I’m hopeful the world will calm down and look at those issues a little more honestly than they have the last few years.  Who knows, maybe today’s ruling will even allow those conversations to take place in a better tone.

So while I understand feeling upset, my first reaction is that we have bigger things to do than stay that way.  I hope we’ll see the bigger picture we are part of.  Let’s read the headline, let's reflect on the world we are in, and then let’s get back to work…


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Faith on Vacation

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Several years ago, we sat in the auditorium at the Myrtle Beach Church of Christ.  We were on summer vacation, and our family felt fortunate to find a spot to sit in the full Sunday morning auditorium.  The worship was meaningful, the sermon was very well-presented, but something in the announcements is what has always stuck with me.  The man giving the announcements asked the Myrtle Beach members to stand, and only about one-fourth of that full auditorium stood up!  We all laughed as we realized that most of us were out-of-town visitors.  I think part of our laughter was appreciation, an appreciation that so many families from all over the country had made it a priority to worship God with a local church family, even on vacation.  Knowing there was so much commitment to God in that room was really encouraging. 

On another beach vacation just a few weeks ago, I walked our 6 year old into his Wednesday night Bible class, where 5 other kids already were getting seated, chattering and laughing around the table.  “This is Riley,” I told the teacher.  We were visiting, so Riley walked in tentatively.  “Hello, Riley,” the teacher said. “Come on in, these boys are all visitors too.” 

It made me smile.  Here we were in a small town near the beach, at a midweek Bible study, and there were at least 4 other visiting kids in the 6-year old class alone.  It made me appreciate these other young families that had stepped away from the beach for an hour to have their weekly time in Bible study with a church family. 

Sunday morning, I smiled again as we walked into the same building for worship, only to find the auditorium overflowing.  Many (most?) of the people there were visitors like us, enjoying the beach, but still wanting to start our week with God’s people.  As I looked around the room from the back row, I thanked God for all the visiting young adults and young families that were there.  Worn-out kids singing while leaning on their moms.  A group of sunburned college-aged kids.  Teenagers taking sermon notes next to their parents.  God came first, even on vacation.

I long ago became thankful for how my parents handled worship services while we were on vacations growing up.  We were still going to worship God and have Bible study time as if we were at home.  I don’t remember us complaining about it, but I’m sure there must have been some times when my sisters and I would have preferred to sleep in or spend a couple extra hours riding the rides.  Subconsciously, we were learning a valuable lesson from our parents: we are Christians no matter where we are at.  Taking a vacation doesn’t mean a vacation from putting God first. 

So this summer I’m thankful for all the Christians who make sure God stays first, even when they’re out of town.  Whether they know it or not, those families are teaching a valuable lesson about faith to the next generation, and they’re encouraging everyone who sees them.  If you’re going to Gulf Shores, Myrtle Beach, or Disney World, make sure you take time out to keep God first.  I think you’ll be encouraged to see how many people do the same.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Richest Man in History, Against All Odds

In recent years I have become a fan of biographies, and this past week I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the life of John D. Rockefeller, who became the richest person in history in the early 1900’s (and adjusting for inflation, I understand that still today no one has yet surpassed the wealth he accumulated).  Rockefeller was very religious (a devoted Baptist), and he was extremely generous, founding universities, helping church ministries, funding medical research, and basically creating the type of intentional philanthropy we see today in people like Bill and Melinda Gates.  

One thing that has amazed me so far about Rockefeller is that his father was – how to say it? – an absolutely horrible person.  He was a fraud, literally, claiming to be a medical doctor (often under a false name), traveling around the countryside and using his charm to convince people to pay ridiculous prices for fake medicines that pretended to cure cancer, among other things.  He was a fraud of a family man, also, disappearing for months at a time, cheating on his wife repeatedly, and eventually even marrying another woman in Canada without bothering to tell either wife about the other.  After being hurt by his father’s actions over and over, eventually John came to realize that he was ashamed of his father – a realization that must have been painful.

Despite such an embarrassing and disastrous father, John Rockefeller not only did well in life, but his work in the oil industry revolutionized business and brought him to unparalleled levels of both worldly success and generosity. 

And that realization hits you while listening to his biography: John D. Rockefeller had every reason to just pout his way through life and never become respectable, much less successful.  He could’ve wallowed around, blaming his dad, blaming the world, cursing chance for giving him such unfair circumstances. 

Instead, Rockefeller got to work.  He committed himself to doing well, to doing what he felt was right in life, and he never stopped.  No one else’s failures were going to hold him back.  That attitude became a habit, and his life was changed forever.

Looking For a Way Out

 You can’t help but admire Rockefeller’s inner drive.  It’s motivating to see someone who wouldn’t allow himself to make excuses.

And that attitude makes me ask myself, from a faith perspective: what are my excuses?  What are yours? 

Too often, we are content to look for excuses why we aren’t as faithful to God as we should be.  I’m too stressed over all the demands at work.  People, maybe even church people, have mistreated me, scarring me.  I’ve just got to get some things settled in my life for myself, and then once that’s done I’ll really serve God. 

Excuses, excuses, excuses. 

I wonder how often God feels as if you and I are just like Moses standing before the burning bush.  God appears and tells Moses to go back to Egypt, to talk with Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of bondage.  You remember Moses’ reaction?  Excuses.  I’m not a good speaker.  What if they don’t believe me?  Please just send someone else. 

And let’s be honest, we can understand where Moses was coming from.  He had been gone 40 years.  He had settled down now.  God should’ve asked him when he was young in Egypt and ready to lead.  We might have patted Moses on the back and said, “Moses, we understand you’ve faced some tough life challenges, and if you don’t think this is your talent, don’t worry about it, we’ll get someone else to go talk to Pharaoh.”

But God would have none of the excuses: Moses, I will be with you.  Go, talk to Pharaoh.

And when Moses dropped the excuses, God did great things through him.  He became the leader he didn’t think he could be. 

Against Our Own Odds

Perhaps you and I are still standing in front of that burning bush, making excuses.  Muttering something to God about why a truly committed life for Him is just too much to ask of us. 

And at some point, maybe today, we need to stop looking for reasons ‘why not,’ and begin allowing God’s way to be our way.  Not just sort of, but in everything. 

Sound like too high a standard?  I don’t pretend it will happen overnight, or perhaps even over many nights, but the path of being more Christ-like isn’t paved with excuses.  That path is traveled by those who decide they will not let themselves settle, and they begin taking one ‘no-excuses’ step at a time.  Eventually, it becomes a habit, and our life changes forever. 

God gives us incredible riches in Christ, much more valuable than any bank account or business venture can offer.  His strength and His plan are waiting.

What are your excuses right now? 

I bet God can help us get past them…      

“…let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” –Hebrews 12:1

Friday, February 20, 2015

Scripture, or just What People Say About It?

Dan loves to dig into faith issues.  He listens to several podcasts each week from his favorite
speakers.  He just started the newest religious book that everyone is talking about online.  He checks in regularly with popular blogs.  Twitter points him to great articles about the new ideas in biblical scholarship and what the younger generation wants from churches.   He can tell you all about the latest doctrinal issue that’s splitting American churches and about mission trends in Africa and about whatever N.T. Wright just wrote and about the newest “we got big quick” church.  

We would love Dan’s enthusiasm, and we would hopefully share his zeal in seeking to understand our religious context.

But there is one problem with Dan’s faith, and it’s a big one: he has left Scripture behind. 

It’s not that Dan doesn’t believe in the Bible.  He read through the New Testament (more than once!) years ago, and he even made it through the Old Testament one time.  Dan believes in Scripture; the problem is that he hasn’t been spending much time with it lately.  Scripture has faded into the background, and he now fills his mind and heart with the voices of people talking about Scripture.  Those voices are often helpful, but they are most certainly not the same. 

3 quick reasons why we need to make sure we keep spending time with Scripture and not just be experts in ‘what others say about Scripture.’

       1)      God’s word is where the true spiritual power is.  It is only God’s word that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).  It is only Scripture that is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).  It is only the word of God that gives life (John 6:63).  It is only the word of God that is the Spirit’s sword (Eph. 6:17).  If I want true spiritual life, shaping my soul in the way God wants it shaped, I need a lot of time alone with God’s word.

        2)      Every human voice is slanted, intentionally or not.  We all have blind spots.  We are all still in the learning process.  I suspect we are all influenced by the world’s ideas more than we realize.  So when people put together books and blogs and sermons, we have limitations.  The tone may not be right.  The idea may not present a fully-balanced view of Scripture.  It is not enough to just hear others talk about faith ideas; by itself, that will result in a people-slanted version of Christianity.  We need to hear Scripture itself on these issues to get a more well-rounded perspective of what’s important, what’s true, and what’s just trendy. 

        3)      There is a personality within Scripture that we need in our life.  If you’re a reader, you know the experience of reading an author long enough that you find yourself thinking or talking in the author’s writing style.  Similarly, as we spend time with Scripture, we find its personality sinking into our mindset.  And we need that! 
          We need to not only hear people tell us what Jesus was like, we need to actually read the gospels and see Jesus the full range of Jesus’ teaching and talking to people.  We need to spend time hearing David’s love for God in the Psalms.  We need to feel Paul’s passion for truth, for saving souls, and for avoiding false religious ideas.  The best way to really let God shape us is to spend enough time with His word that its personality becomes part of our own.

We are blessed with so many wonderful faith resources today.  Personally, I could spend half a day just looking through the religion section at Barnes and Noble, reading back covers and tables of contents.  I could easily spend the other half-day exploring the internet to hear great speakers and to learn how other churches start effective outreach ministries. 

So if you love to look into religious ideas, I’m right there with you.  I hope you keep using those resources to grow in your faith.  But make sure you don’t just become an expert in ‘what other people say about Scripture.’  That’s leaving the real foundation behind.   God is real, and He has spoken.  To know Him, I need to get deeper than the human voices can go.  I need to make sure God’s word has the loudest voice in my faith.   

Spend time with God’s word today!  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why He Didn’t Give Up On The Church

“One woman at church said something critical and rude to me…I will never go back to a church again.”

“I knew too many of those guys, and I knew some of them were complete hypocrites.  If that’s what Christians are, I don’t want anything to do with it.  You won’t see me in a church ever again.”

“I used to go to church.  I watched a church split over personality issues.  It was the biggest mess you’ve ever seen; people yelling, gossiping, lying.  I promised myself I would never set foot in a church again.”

 You’ve heard stories like this, haven’t you? 

From Barna Group's 2014 Book Churchless
There are at least 2 reasons stories like this are so common:
  1. First, the church is made up of people.  People will eventually fail us, because they are all sinful.  So if you are in church long enough, you will see people do things that are against the spirit of Christianity.  They will disappoint you, and you will be tempted to give up on church altogether.
2. Second, we hear these stories so often because 1 in 3 Americans are now “de-churched,” according to a Barna Research study released in November 2014 (see graphic on right).  For every 3 people you pass in the grocery aisle, 1 of them used to be actively involved in church before deciding to just stop going.  Something happened, and they quit church.  If that survey is right, there are well over 100 million “de-churched” people in America.  No wonder we all know people who tell these types of “why I quit the church” stories. 

If Anyone Should’ve Quit Church…

But if anyone had a reason to hate the church, it was Paul.  He could’ve told his own stories:

“When I went to church in Jerusalem, no one would even talk to me.  They all whispered behind my back that they didn’t believe I was a real Christian.  All they could talk about was my past.”  
(Acts 9:26)

“I helped start the church in Corinth.  Now all they do is criticize me when I’m not around.  I’m just trying to follow Jesus and help others, but they keep badmouthing me.  They say I’m weak.  They criticize my speaking ability.  They say I’m not trustworthy, and that I’m not even a real apostle.”  
(2 Cor. 10:1,10)

If Paul were like most people, he would’ve followed those stories by saying: “so I will never go back to church again.” 

But instead, do you know who absolutely loved the church?  Same guy.  Paul.  How?

If you look in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, you see Paul speaking about the church in majestic terms.  The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23).  The church is the place where God lives (Eph. 2:19-22).  The church is God’s voice in the world to proclaim His wisdom (Eph. 3:10).  The church is the bride of Christ, who Jesus was willing to die for (Eph. 5:25-27,32). 

And in those descriptions we find the secret to Paul’s love for the church…

The Connection That We Often Miss

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In all of those passages, Paul connects his high view of the church to his high view of Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t say he loves the church because the people are always polite and the preacher is always excellent and the worship is an entertaining experience.  It’s not human perfection that made the church special.

Paul loved the church because he loved Jesus Christ.  And since Jesus Christ loved the church, Paul wasn’t going to quit on it, in spite of the imperfect – and sometimes downright mean – people he found there. 

It reminds me of what Jesus said to Peter.  In John 21:15-17, the resurrected Jesus is getting Peter back to the mission of being an apostle.  Jesus asks 3 times if Peter loves Him.  All 3 times Peter says yes.  And all 3 times Jesus replies: then feed My sheep.  Who are His sheep?  His people.  His church. 

Notice the train of thought: Peter, if you love Me, then join My mission to help My church. 

“But Jesus, they were hypocrites!” we might say.   “Yes, but you’ve been a hypocrite at times also, and I still love you.  If you love Me, feed My sheep.”

“But Jesus, didn’t you hear what they said to me?!”  “Yes, but I’ve heard you say some pretty mean things too, and I still love you.  If you love Me, feed My sheep.” 

A Deeper Foundation for Loving the Church

If you and I truly love Jesus, we will look at the church differently.  Loving the church because of the people will only go so far.  We must go deeper than that. 

If we love Jesus, we will feed His sheep.  We will join Jesus in pouring out our lives to help make His church a little more like the majestic bride He wants it to be. 

Christ’s church needs you.  It needs you not to give up on its failures.  It needs you to show others what it means to love Jesus.  It needs you to help it serve and grow.  Paul believed in that mission, because his Savior believed in that mission.

Do you love Jesus?  If so, don’t ignore what He calls us to do: let’s keep loving His church. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Rapid Response: Women’s Roles

Image from: timedotcom
Rapid Response is intended to be a brief Q and A on a debated topic.  Rapid Response articles reflect my best current understanding on the issue, held hopefully with the spirit of honest truth-seeking. 
This time: 13 questions on women’s roles in God’s church…

1)      What is the Bible’s view of male and female roles?  The Bible teaches that men and women are equal in value, equal in salvation, different in roles.  Among those different roles: God expects men to be the spiritual leaders, in the church and in worship.

2)      If God chooses men to have a leadership role, is God saying that they are better in value, talents, or superiority?  Not at all – God’s leadership choices do not imply superiority judgments.  God chose Moses to lead the Israelites.  God chose the tribe of Levi to be priests.  Jesus chose the apostles.  God gives characteristics for elders and deacons.  None of these leadership choices had anything to do with talents or superiority.  If we don’t understand this principle, it warps how we view this issue and tempts us to desire that biblical teachings be different than they are.

3)      But is it fair for someone to not even have a chance to lead in a position they want to lead in?  God expects us to trust Him enough to serve within the parameters He has given us.  In the Bible, when others wanted to have the leadership position that God had given someone else, God is offended that they did not trust His choice of leadership.  Examples: Korah in Numbers 16:1-3…was it unfair that God chose Moses and not Korah?  2 Chronicles 26:16-20…was it unfair that King Uzziah wanted to offer sacrifices but wasn’t born a Levite?  Is it fair that I’m not qualified to be an elder?  We are supposed to trust God’s choice of leadership and serve within our own opportunities.

4)      What are some major passages that teach male spiritual leadership in church and worship? 
·         1 Timothy 2:11-12 – “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”   
·         1 Corinthians 14:34-35 – “The women should keep silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” 
·         1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 teach that elders and deacons are to be the “husband” of one wife.

5)      Couldn’t these passages just be cultural?  There are certainly some cultural applications in the Bible.  But in 1 Timothy 2, for example, male leadership is founded not in culture, but in creation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve;” (v. 13).  Culture changes, creation doesn’t.  Male leadership is based in honoring God’s creation, not culture’s shifting opinions.

6)      But I heard someone say that 1 Corinthians 14 is just about wives interrupting their husbands in the services?  The major problem with this theory is that Paul’s wording suggests a general Christian principle, not just for certain women in a certain place.  He gives the very broad explanation in 1 Cor. 14:35: “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”  “A woman,” not “the wives,” or “the women causing problems.”  Any woman speaking in church would be shameful by dishonoring God’s plan.  And in verse 34 he says the women were to keep silent in the “churches.”  This was a teaching for every church, not just trying to stop a strange problem at one rebellious location.  The wording gives a broad Christian principle for all churches, not a unique situation.
Another problem with this theory is that the context simply doesn’t mention the invented scenario. 
7)      But would being “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 mean women can’t even sing or say ‘amen’?  No.  In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, “silent” means silent in regards to public speaking and praying, as seen in verses 28 and 30.  Women can sing, women can say amen, but God expects them to be silent in the area of leading prayers and speaking God’s word in mixed worship assemblies.

8)      What if a man gives a woman the authority to speak in church – would she still be “exercising authority over a man?”  I’m sure God could have given us this procedure if He wanted it.  God didn’t say “as long as men give them the authority women can speak.”  Only God gives the authority to speak in worship, and 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 both say women are not to speak in worship.  God expects men to lead mixed assemblies before His throne in worship, not ‘pass their authority’ to those whom God has asked to be listeners rather than speakers. 

9)      Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 mean that women were leading in public worship, since they were praying or prophesying in public?  This passage says that women prayed and prophesied, but it does not say they prayed and prophesied in church assemblies, or that they led men in worship.  There are certainly prophetesses in the Bible (such as Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:8-9), but being a prophetess simply meant God spoke through a woman, it didn’t mean she would violate God’s plan for male spiritual leadership. 
This question reflects an incomplete understanding of prayer and prophecy in the Bible, which could be done publicly without any sort of worship leadership element.  For example, praying aloud in public was common, when others would hear you but not be worshiping along with you (Matt. 6:5).  Thus, we see the prophetess Anna worshiping and giving thanks to God publicly in the temple in Luke 2:36-38, without any worship leadership role suggested.  We also see Hezekiah’s men go ask the prophetess Huldah for the word of the Lord in 2 Chronicles 34:21-24.  She gives them a prophecy (message) from God, but there is no worship leading here.  This is similar to a man asking a mature Christian woman in the church lobby for her thoughts on a biblical passage.  Her answer would be explaining the word of God to him, but not leading him in worship.  Men and women may share thoughts on Scripture with the intent of study and not worship (such as many of our adult Bible class discussions, where the only one taking a church “authoritative role” is the class teacher).
 So women in Corinth could certainly pray or prophesy in public settings without violating the clear teaching to remain silent in combined worship settings (only 3 chapters later!) in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.  There is no doubt that 1 Corinthians 14 is about the worship assembly; 1 Corinthians 11 could be referring to several other contexts for prayer and prophecy without forcing it to violate 1 Corinthians 14.

10)   Doesn’t Galatians 3:28-29 (“there is no male and female” in Christ) imply that men and women are equal before God?  Yes, it does.  But equal before God doesn’t mean there are no longer different roles within God’s church.  There are still elders with certain qualifications who have a unique role of leadership.  Men also have a unique leadership role.  Scripture teaches that men and women are equal in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that there are no longer different roles.

11)   What if a woman has a special talent for preaching?  Shouldn’t she be allowed to preach?  Talents alone do not define what God wants.  What if – even though I don’t meet God’s qualifications for being an elder/shepherd – I decide I have a talent for shepherding souls, and so therefore the church should let me be an elder/ shepherd?  I hope someone would tell me: I’m sorry, but we’re going to trust God’s choice of leadership as outlined in the Bible, and we pray you will have the faith and humility to serve within the parameters God has called you to serve that are consistent with inspired Scripture.
God’s choice of leadership has nothing to do with talents.  There are many women who could ‘preach better’ than us men.  God never said “I want the most talented ones to lead in worship.”  There are contexts where women should use their teaching talents, but violating God’s plan by leading men in worship would be a dishonor to the God who gave those talents to be used in their proper contexts.

12)   If God gives men the responsibility to serve in these roles, does that mean there's no place for women to serve in Christ's church?  If God has given women special privileges when it comes to bringing children into the world, does that mean there's no place for men to serve in the family?  Of course not.  Different places in life give us different roles.  And if we have led people to believe that leading in worship is the only way to serve God (or even the best way), then we have failed miserably.  I know in our church family, our ministries would fall apart quickly if our ladies weren't actively serving God in hundreds of ways.  And every church I know of has the strong voice of ladies in its midst: from children's Bible school teachers to innumerable cards and words of encouragement; from adult Bible class discussions to the wives who are a constant part of every elder's life.  Let's not pretend that our ladies don't have a crucial place in congregations that follow the Bible's teaching on male spiritual leadership.  For the body of Christ to function as God wants, every part of the body must be doing its job (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

13)  But won’t this teaching upset people and keep them from obeying the gospel?  Sadly, every culture will have ways that it will be offended by the gospel and believe that its own wisdom is better than God’s.  This issue is one of our culture’s pride spots, and many of us have been trained by our culture to think that it is morally wrong for men to be given a responsibility that women are not given.  My prayer is that we will have the faith to trust God - and encourage others to do the same - even when our culture doesn’t like His choices.  We can affirm the equal value and talents of men and women while also affirming God’s choice of male spiritual leadership. 

I have personally been disappointed in the logic from those attempting to re-define the Bible passages that discuss this issue.  It seems to me that if we can explain these verses away – verses which seem about as clear as they could possibly be – what passages can be allowed to actually mean what they say?  I worry we are letting popular worldly wisdom tell us what God should and shouldn’t do. 

Keep praying about it and thinking about it, and I will too.

Added: for a deeper, more scholarly discussion of this issue, here's a link to a writing from Dr. Everett Ferguson, one of the leading scholars of Early Christianity:

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Family’s Real Jewelry Box

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                Johnny’s mom had a jewelry box.  It sat by the sink in his parents’ bathroom, next to where   That box was filled with earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, accumulated over the years through Valentine’s Days, birthdays, and Christmas.  No doubt each one had a story behind it, some more meaningful than others.  But those same earrings that mom wore to work would occasionally get toothpaste splashed on them.  The bracelets that mom wore to church would sometimes be found under the living room couch, the result of a Saturday afternoon of the kids playing ‘grown-up.’  Why didn’t mom just hide her jewelry box?  The jewelry was valuable, but not valuable enough to protect from the everyday chaos of life.
Johnny and his sisters brushed their teeth for many years.

                Years later, Johnny found out that his mom had another jewelry box.  A secret one, hidden away in the closet above dad’s ties.  High enough that water wouldn’t splash on its contents.  Hidden enough that little hands wouldn’t have a chance to play with what was inside.   This box held more valuable things.  The special anniversary earrings that cost more than they usually would have spent.  The ring that was passed down from mom’s grandmother.  This wasn’t just a jewelry box.  It was the one dad would’ve grabbed if the house were on fire.  This was the jewelry box for the family’s real valuables.  And it was kept in a special place.

                I believe our life has both a jewelry box and a real jewelry box.  The regular jewelry box contains things that are important to us in some way.  The house we were so excited to move into.  The degree we worked so hard for.  Our favorite hobbies.  Our favorite sports teams.  Our best outfit.  Vacations.  The bank account we try to keep afloat. 

But hopefully some things are even more valuable to us than those are.  Hopefully we have a real jewelry box, one we keep back in the closet of our heart, reserved for the things that go even deeper.  Here we find the types of things worth living for, and even worth dying for.   What should go in that real jewelry box? 

In the letters of First and Second Peter, the apostle Peter mentions five things that he calls “precious,” in contrast with things that perish. 

And I suggest that Peter is someone worth listening to on the subject of what has value.  For all his flaws, Peter was a man who walked away from his fishing business to follow Jesus long before Jesus became well-known.  The rich young ruler wasn’t willing to give up his wealth to follow Jesus, but Peter was.  Peter had the ability to see what was truly worth living and dying for. 

Writing years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to heaven, here are 5 things that Peter calls “precious,” deserving of a special place in our hearts and lives:

1)      Precious Faith“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:7)
2)      Precious Blood“knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life…but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
3)      Precious Savior “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, …this precious value, then, is for you who believe…” (1 Peter 2:4-8)
4)      Precious Heart“Your adornment must not be merely external…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
5)      Precious Promises“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”  (2 Peter 1:4)

I think you’d agree those are things that aren’t just left out next to the kitchen sink.  These good things – godly things – should be kept in a place in our hearts where the world can’t contaminate them.  We hold them close.  No matter what life throws at us, these valuables are non-negotiable.  Burn the house down if you will, even if it takes everything in our regular jewelry box – but these true spiritual valuables are staying with us no matter what.

This week let’s be reminded what is truly valuable in life.  And let’s make sure we give those real valuables the priority they truly deserve. 

God has blessed us with some things that have eternal value.  They are truly precious.  Let’s hold them close.