Category Archives: Church Life

Why I Love the Church: The Stabilizing Power of Normalcy

Every so often there is a dust-up over why younger people, specifically Millennials, are (or maybe are not) leaving the church. (You can read all about the latest one here, here, and here). It’s not my intent to interact with those articles, but they got me thinking of the reasons I love the church and would never leave. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be explaining that in a series “Why I Love the Church.”

But, before I get going, let me define what I mean here by “church.” By “church” I do not mean the universal church, the cosmic body of Christ made up of all believers from all time. As a Christian there is no leaving that, and there is no way in except by faith in Jesus through the gospel. I instead have in mind the local church: a group of believers in Jesus who meet regularly for worship, prayer, Bible teaching, and the receiving of the ordinances of baptism and communion. So, keep in mind this series of posts is about why I love the local church, and why I would never stop being a part of local assembly of followers of Jesus.

First Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” In the past I read these verses and thought, “That’s nice, somewhere in the world someone else knows what this temptation I am going through feels like.” I knew I  was supposed to be encouraged by that, I knew it was supposed to help me in my walk with Christ, I even intellectually acknowledged the truth of the verse. But, the problem was none of that ever provided any power for every day living. The reason was that while I believed the verse, I was not living it.

Then, a few years ago, I realized how to put this verse into action, not just accepting its truth, but allowing that truth to transform my life. The answer is simple: if there are indeed others going through what I am experiencing, then the way for that to benefit me is to become a part of that “brotherhood,” as Peter says. How do we do that? Through the local church. It is in a local body of believers that we are connected to others who are experiencing “the same kind of sufferings.” It is in community with other believers that transformation happens.

Being committed to a local body of believers brings about what I like to call “the stabilizing power of normalcy.” This is how 1 Peter 5:9 came alive to me. In the church we see firsthand that we aren’t actually the only one going through our particular trials. This allows us to be encouraged by others and encourage them. In the church we find those who have gone through our same struggles and by God’s grace overcome. These dear saints can testify to having tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness and call us to press on.

Along with this, when we realize others have been where we are, or are there now with us, our problems don’t seem as insurmountable. The dizziness slows and the fog lifts; by God’s grace we gain perspective. Then 1 Peter 5:9 becomes effective, because the “brotherhood” is no longer “out there,” but surrounding us, loving us, speaking into our lives. And this gives us strength to press on, to fight the good fight, to continue trusting Christ, to keep relying on the Spirit’s strength. This leads neatly into the next reason I love the church: we don’t have to bear our burdens alone. But more on that next time.

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It “All” Matters

“And Paul entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks,” (Acts 19:8-10, ESV)

“All.” It’s a pretty simple word, but one that carries a pretty big meaning, yet it is easy to rush by. The verses above are Luke’s summary of Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus, and the “all” matters. The book of Acts tells us and history agrees that Ephesus was a bit of a world city, exerting a large amount of influence in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). So, it is not surprising that Paul would dedicate a good amount of time to plant a church there.

What is striking, however, is that Luke tells us that after two years of faithful ministry “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord,” (v. 10). That’s right “all”. Don’t skip that. “All.” Let that sink in a minute. And not just all the residents of Ephesus, but all the residents in the entire province of Asia. Luke’s statement raises three questions in my mind: what does he mean here by “all,” how did Paul accomplish this, and what does that mean for us today?

As to what Luke meant by “all”, we have a few basic choices. 1) By “all” Luke meant every single person, without exception, in Asia heard the gospel. While possible, I am not sure this is the most probable choice. 2) Luke was using hyperbole; a pretty big number of people heard the gospel, and to really make a point Luke just said “all.” This is the least likely possibility in my mind, because it borders very close to being dishonest, and I don’t think the Biblical narratives work that way. 3) Luke meant “all types of residents”, referring to socio-economic and ethnic groups. Luke’s explanatory phrase “both Jew and Greek” at the end of the verse gives this view considerable weight. 4) Enough of the population heard the gospel that they were representative of the whole. We talk this way sometimes “all of our workers embrace this new policy” even when two or three may not, but enough people do we can speak for the whole.

My sense is that by “all” Luke is using a combination of numbers 3 and 4 above. In other words, Luke is saying, “As a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, so many people, from every social category, heard the gospel that there was no place in Asia you could go where people had not heard the message of Jesus.” Not that all who heard the word believed, but the gospel spread far and wide. (Interestingly, Paul claims this same comprehensive sharing of the gospel while in Ephesus in Acts 20:26-27). And that fact is breath-taking.

How then did the gospel spread so broadly in Ephesus and Asia? The answer is found in 19:8-9. There we see that Paul spoke the gospel boldly and daily, and in Acts 20:20 we learn that Paul did this both in public and from “house to house.” In other words, the gospel spread so effectively because Paul and the other believers simply shared the message of Christ in their daily life, wherever they went. As a result, all heard the gospel.

Oh that this would be said of my church, of my neighborhood, of my town (or is it a city?)! And, in fact, it can. How? In the same way it happened for Paul in Ephesus: we face down our fears, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, and boldly, daily speak of Christ, wherever we find ourselves. May we -may I- be so gripped by the greatness of the gospel that it can be said of our places of influence “all the residents heard the word of God,” because, really, they all matter.

 

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August 6, 2013 · 2:36 pm

Easter: More than Cadbury Eggs and Bunnies, it’s Hope

Today, I attended the funeral of a dear follower of Jesus, who recently passed away after  a long battle with cancer.  Going to a funeral this close to Easter was a pretty unique experience for me, and it brought the practical realities of Jesus Christ’s resurrection into sharp focus.  The effects and implications of Christ’s death on the cross for our sin and His subsequent resurrection are incredibly numerous, but here are a few apects that have really stuck out to me as I and my church family have mourned the loss of a fellow Christ-follower.

First, Jesus’ resurrection brings hope in the face of death.  Death is unnatural.  It is the result and penalty of human sin, our rebellion against God.  Death also brings hurt and grief when it comes to those we love, and it often rouses fear when we face it ourselves.  But, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection is that He has conquered death.  This means that death does not have the final word, it is not the end.  So, while it is fitting to mourn the death of those we love (as even Jesus wept at the death of a close friend), for those who follow Jesus, we mourn with hope.  We mourn with hope knowing that those who have trusted Christ in this life, when they die they are present with Him, and that His resurrection guarantees that when Jesus returns their bodies will be raised to new life to dwell with Him for eternity.  So, Jesus’ resurrection gives hope to death, because it demonstrates that there is life in Christ after death.

Second, Jesus resurrection gives hope in our suffering.  Let’s be honest, life is at times very hard.  We go through trials and experience pains and sorrows that are often deep and heavy.  Jesus’ death and resurrection show us that God, Himself, identifies with our sufferings, trials, pains, and sorrows because He experienced all of those things Himself, when He became a man in the person of Jesus Christ.  So, we don’t suffer alone, Jesus walks with us through our suffering, encouraging and caring for us, because He has been there.  The sweet lady whose funeral I attended lived the last eight years of her life in terrible pain from her cancer and treatments, as many others also have.  But, since she trusted in Christ’s resurrection, she was able to suffer well, never allowing her trials to consume her, though they were difficult for her.  Instead, she used her suffering to glorify Christ, by sharing His love and joy to others, despite her pain.  So, Christ’s resurrection lets us know we don’t suffer aimlessly, and that we have a God who can identify with our sufferings and so bring us great comfort.

Lastly, Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope for this life.  On the one hand, the resurrection signals that sin and death are defeated; our penalty for sin has been paid by Christ, we have forgiveness!  This means that those who trust in Christ as their Lord and Savior are able to live as they were created: to love, worship, and obey God.  So, the resurrection of Christ brings meaning to life.  On the other hand, Christ’s resurrections shows us that there is more to our existence than simply breathing, accumulating stuff, and dying and that life in this sinful, broken world with all of its hurts and sorrows is not all there is.  The resurrection allows us to live with radical passion for Christ, worshiping and serving Him now, with the assurance that whenever our life on this earth ends, there is life on the other side with Him.  So then, the resurrection allows us to live with hope because it gives purpose and meaning to this life, as well hope for a life come.

Easter, then is about more than lilies, chocolate bunnies, Peeps, and delicious cream filled eggs; it is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Easter doesn’t just signal the arrival of Spring, it signals hope for all people, because Jesus died, and is alive, calling everyone to leave sin, love and treasure Him, and so truly live.  This is the gospel, that we have hope in one savior, Jesus Christ.  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

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I Never Had an Easter Basket Like This…But I Guess Everything is Bigger in Texas

This morning I read an article about a give-away that a church in Texas is doing to attract people to their Easter services this weekend.  Basically they are giving away gift bags, bikes, flat-screen TV’s and 15 cars, in hopes that people will come, and then learn from the stuff they win that Christ is a way better treasure.  I encourage to read the whole article here.  Now, while I not questioning the hearts and motives of this church (I hope they genuinely want people to come to know Christ), I do question the legitimacy and effectiveness of this type of “outreach”.  When I read the article, it really made my heart ache, for a lot of reasons but here are three big ones:

1. This type of thing obscures the gospel, because it takes the focus off of Jesus and puts it on stuff.  In other words, the draw is not the message about Christ, but the stuff you can get for showing up (or from another angle it isn’t about what Christ has done for you but what cool things Jesus can give you).  Once during His ministry on earth Jesus rebuked the crowds that came to Him for just this sort of thing.  The people came to Jesus because the day before He had fed them through a miracle.  Jesus rebuked them because they weren’t seeking Him in order to worship, serve, love, and obey Him, but rather to get another free meal.  I fear events like the one in this article encourage people to make that same mistake; the gospel gets lost in stuff.

2. This type of event devalues the gospel of Jesus.  When you begin trying to draw people in by giving them stuff, you are implying that you don’t believe the gospel is compelling enough on its own to attract hearers.  So, you have to sweeten the deal by offering TV’s, cars, and goody bags.  Maybe if the world doesn’t find the gospel compelling it is the fault of the messengers and not the message.  As followers of Jesus (and I include myself here) we need to remember that the gospel itself is compelling.  What is dull about the fact that the creator God became a man, lived a perfect life, died on cross in our place, to pay the price for our sins, and rose again 3 days later so that we can live as we were created: to love, worship, and obey Him?  If you don’t believe that this message is still compelling on its own, watch the History Channel this week and see all the specials where people will try to explain away this message. People want to understand this message about Jesus, it compels them to listen and find answers.

3. Events like this promote misguided generosity.  While the people who gave money and goods to this event were certainly being generous, I think it is a bit misguided.  Instead asking people to give sacrificially with no promise of getting something back, they give with hopes of seeing more people at church, and the possibility of winning something themselves. Perhaps a better use of the funds would have been to buy some cars or other goods, find individuals and families in the community who really need them, and then the church simply give them to those people, no strings attached, just to show the radical, generous love Christ. Moreover, giving away TV’s and the like does more to fuel consumerism than it does to meet practical needs, in my opinion.  So, while people give money, and people get things, are needs really being met by such generosity?

In the end, I think the majority of people leave events like this satisfied in the stuff they get and not in Jesus, and it brings them back hoping for more stuff, not for more of Jesus.  Let me be clear, I think as Christians we ought to be wildly generous with our resources, and sacrifice far more than we often do to advance the gospel and meet real needs and address real injustice for the cause of Christ.  But we also must avoid replacing the gospel with gimmicks and the compelling nature of the Christ with the contentment of stuff.  My prayer this Easter is that in all churches (even the one in the article!) and in lives of individual Christians that the risen Jesus would be glorified as the only Savior, the only thing that can satisfy, the One who is more than enough.

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Perhaps My Least Favorite Billboard

BillboardDriving in NC you see some pretty amusing billboards.  Some of my favorites are the ones for JR, some discount store that claims they have the best and cheapest selection of every item in the world.  Then there are the signs for the pride of SC, South of the Boarder, which begin on I-95 just south of VA and culminate just across the NC/SC line.  If you’ve never done it, take an afternoon and drive that wonderful route of tackiness.

East of Raleigh, somewhere on I-40 you’ll see this billboard, and it bugs me every time I see it.   It’s hard to miss, I mean the ominous hand pointing at me in the shape of a gun, as if  getting ready to zap my tires and cause a catastrophic blow-out at 70 mph’s makes me want to repent of everything I’ve ever done.  But before I go into what I dislike about this sign, let me make a few things clear.

Do I believe that all people are sinners by nature and by choice and need to repent of that, turn to Jesus in faith and accept His work on the cross for their salvation?  Yes.  Do I believe that anyone who doesn’t repent  and trust in Jesus in this life will suffer eternity in the torments of hell?  Yes.  Do I think there are times we need to be direct with people in confronting them with their sinfulness, the need to repent now and embrace God’s grace?  Yes.  Do I believe one day Jesus will triumphantly return in victory for the church and judgment and wrath for the rest of the world?  Yes.  Do I think God can use even this sign to draw people to Jesus?  Yes.  But, my problem with this sign is it doesn’t tell the whole story, and so ends up misrepresenting Jesus, and ultimately, may make people cold to Christ.

The big issue for me is that this sign presents Jesus as a wrathful, vindictive guy off in the colds somewhere, waiting for you and me to mess up, so he can get his ultimate joy in frying us with lightning from his finger.  In other words, this billboard assumes that people can be scared into repenting from something.  The problem is, this sign doesn’t tell viewers what to repent of and who to turn to after repenting.

In contrast to this, Scripture tells us that it isn’t being freaked out that God will zap us that leads to salvation, but that God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4-5).  Now, these verses speak of God’s wrath, but it notes that it is stored up because people don’t respond to God’s kindness (displayed on the cross of Christ) in repentance.  A little later, Paul says that it is the love of Christ that compels him to plead with people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

So, it comes down to this: fellow disciples of Jesus, are we proclaiming the Gospel of Christ’s love?  Are we calling people to turn from sin (repent) and turn to live for their created purpose: to worship and obey God?  Are we living, speaking, and serving in ways that say to people “Christ loves you” or instead “watch out before you get what you deserve, sinner”?

If you are reading this and aren’t a follower of  Jesus, please hear my heart.  The Bible is clear that everyone, me included, are sinners and so deserve only God’s judgment and wrath (Rom. 3:23).  But, because God loves us, He sent Jesus to die for our sins, so we can turn from them and live for Jesus, not having to fear punishment and wrath (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:9-10).  I pray that you will read these passages, and that Jesus will reveal Himself and His love to you, and you can turn to Him in faith and repentance and escape the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).

This sign, though I dislike it, is a reminder to tell the whole message of the Gospel.  God is in His great love and grace is calling out for us to escape wrath and condemnation by trusting in Jesus for our salvation (Jn. 3:17).  Is the wrath of God coming?  Yes.  But thanks be to God that we don’t have to fear it, if we place our faith in completed work of Jesus on the cross!

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