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.

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.  

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. 

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. 

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 and Church Leadership

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.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Family's Real Jewelry Box

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.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Questions and My Faith

The questions hung in the air.  Why was God allowing this?  Job’s children had died.  He had lost all his wealth.  He had sores that left him in pain every hour of every day.  He had lost the respect of those around him.  He believed God was real.  He believed he had been faithful.  Yet he was hurting beyond belief.  Job had a lot of questions.  But no answers.

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If you remember the story of Job in the Bible, then you know more than Job knew.  You know that Satan came before God accusing Job of not really loving God.  You know Satan said that Job would curse God to His face if God took away his blessings.  You know that Job would eventually be blessed again.  You know that thousands upon thousands of people in history have been able to stay strong in difficult times because of Job’s example. 

But Job never knew that. 

And that may be what amazes me most about the life of Job.  He had no answers to his questions, and – though he bordered on disrespect by implying God was not treating him fairly – he never considered turning away from God. 

God shows up and speaks to Job starting in Job chapter 38, but God never explains why everything happened as it did.  God didn’t tell Job about Satan’s challenge.  He didn’t tell Job that he would be wealthy again.  He didn’t tell Job that he would help so many people be faithful because of his example. 

God’s answer (in my paraphrase) was simply: “Trust Me, I have a perspective you don’t have.”
In his lifetime, Job never knew why those terrible things happened.  And yet he still had faith.

Our Questions

You probably have questions.  I know I do.  Why did God let that happen?  Or why doesn’t God stop more of the evil in the world?  Or why did God act in this instance but not in that instance?   Why, why, why.  Given time to sit under the stars and think out loud, our list could go on and on. 
The Bible is very up front that there will be things we don’t understand.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says “the secret things belong to the Lord our God,” and that our job is to observe the things that have been revealed to us.  Romans 11:33 says that the depth of God’s judgments and wisdom will be “unsearchable” and “unfathomable” from our limited perspective.

So questions will be part of our existence.  But hopefully we don’t stop at questions… 

Our Faith

Even though I have questions, I also have faith. 

I have faith that even though I don’t fully understand things, I serve a God who has shown Himself trustworthy.  The Bible tells us of people who had questions – just like us – but who eventually came to see that God knew what He was doing all along. 

Joseph must have asked questions at every step along an unfair prime of his life.  But by the end of his life, he is able to say that he saw how God had been working through his life, even in the bad parts (Gen. 50:20).

You have probably had some of those “Joseph Moments” already yourself.  Moments where you looked back and realized that God was doing good things all along, even though you didn’t see it at the time. 

I’ve had enough of those moments to trust that God will continue to act in the best ways at the best times.  To trust that the things I don’t understand will eventually become clear with a longer perspective.  

Our Challenge

In spite of life’s unanswerable questions, let’s strive to have Job’s steadfast faith.  To quiet our souls, and to be at peace: we are walking with God, and everything will be OK.  God has shown Himself worthy of trust, and there is enough evidence to believe He knows what He’s doing, even if we haven’t seen the ‘answers’ yet.   

Like Job, we will certainly have questions.  And like Job, I hope we also have faith.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

3 Types of Love in Marriage

                Marriage relationships don’t grow on their own.  If we’re not careful, we fall into the trap of thinking that our marriage will grow stronger by simply being in the same house year after year.  The years together will indeed deepen our relationship – but it takes some intention to make sure our years are truly “together,” rather than just “in the same house” or “with the same kids.” 

                In a section called “Your Marriage Needs Three Types of Love,” one pre-marital counseling workbook1 encourages couples to think about 3 different Greek words for love, and to make a plan for helping each type of love grow in our marriages. 

                What are the 3 types of love we need to be working on?

 1)  Friendship Love – The Greek word “philia” is often used to describe a friendship love.  This is the idea of companionship, communication, and cooperation.  We see the concept in passages like Genesis 2:18, where God creates Eve for Adam because Adam lacked a life companion/helper 
  • What will we do to keep friendship love growing in our marriages?  Some ideas from other couples: We will have a set time each day to talk about our day.  We will have a TV show we enjoy watching together.  We will find an activity to regularly do together, like reading the same book or taking walks or growing a garden.  We will show interest in what the other cares about.
2)  Romantic Love – The Greek word “eros” is often used to describe romantic, physical love.  This is the idea of physical attraction and the sexual relationship.  We see the concept in passages like 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, where Paul encourages couples to keep their sexual relationship strong 

  • What will we do to keep romantic love growing in our marriages?  Some ideas from other couples: We will hold hands.  We will hug often.  We will kiss each other good-bye when we go to work.  We will say “I love you” often, including when saying good-bye.  We will keep communication open on our physical relationship, with the goal of keeping it strong. 

3)  Sacrificial Love – The Greek word “agape” is often used to describe a self-giving, committed love.  This is the idea of putting the other person ahead of yourself, or treating them with love even when we don’t “feel it.”  We see the concept in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, the famous description of how love treats others in ways that rise above our natural selfishness (“Love is patient, love is kind…”). 

  • What will we do to keep agape love growing in our marriages?  Some ideas from other couples: We will say “I’m sorry.”  We will forgive without continually bringing it up.  We will put the relationship above our own personal goals.  We will be sensitive to the other’s feelings, even when we don’t understand them.  We will strive to argue or discuss differences in a Christ-like tone.  We will endure difficult times until things get better for us. 

 Our marriage relationship will affect us more than any other earthly relationship – it is worth our effort.  Which of these do you need to get more intentional about?  Let’s make a plan to work on all 3 types of love in our marriages…


1Before You Say “I Do” by H. Norman Wright and Wes Roberts, (Harvest House Publishers, 1997), p. 22-23.