Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.
– Ecclesiastes 5:1-3
Read today in church:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
– Hebrews 2:14-18 (ESV)
When I think of the Lord’s suffering, it’s common for me to concentrate on the last day of his life. This is what we call his Passion, when Christ endured the excruciating pain of torture, mockery, and execution for our sakes and for God’s glory.
I often forget that Christ’s entire life was part of his Passion. As the writer of Hebrews recounts above, Christ “suffered when tempted”, the only man who has ever resisted fully and completely the temptations common to us all.
C.S. Lewis has a great quote on this (and is there any quote from old Jack that isn’t great?); this was also shared from the pulpit today.
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness – they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”
– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
In contrast to this, I had a very weak day. Emotionally on edge, for reasons I’m not exactly sure of, I lashed out more than once today at those closest to me. I did a poor job of resisting the temptation to give into what my flesh was telling me to say. I’ve asked for and have received forgiveness, but the regret lives on.
Thank God that every new day is truly a “new day” when you’re in Christ. I’m going to bed tonight hoping to do better tomorrow, trusting in my great High Priest to continue molding me into the man he wants me to be.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35
These are words Jesus spoke to his disciples on the night before his torture and crucifixion. They amaze me. They cause me to bow in shame. They cause me to rejoice.
This passage has been simmering in me for quite some time. I have found it hard to tackle this core truth; this beautiful, beautiful diamond of a command that Jesus gave us his last night on earth pre-resurrection.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples . . .” – by what? By the fact that we have love for one another. I like the way the ESV (and NASB too) render that last phrase: “if you have love for one another”.
Do you know anyone who has love for you? I certainly hope so. I hope I’m not mangling this or reading too much into it – not all versions translate it that way – but I am caught by the subtle difference between “if you have love for one another” and “if you love one another”. Someone can love you and never show it, can’t they? Someone can say they love you, and not mean it. But if someone has love for you – the image I get is that they have love ready, available, on full display, kind of like a good meal, set out for you – now that’s quite another thing.
But be that as it may, it is definitely quite another thing, quite a different thing, quite an amazing thing, to love our brothers and sisters in Christ so that all the world can see it. That’s the beauty of the church. You see, loving people who are just like you is easy. But the church is diverse, different, full of many, many different kinds of people, spanning the globe and spanning history.
The love of Christ is the kind of love that can spring into full bloom between two people who’s only similarity is that they are in Christ. When the world sees that, they know it’s real. The love of Jesus, truly and freely given to our brothers and sisters in Christ, is the height of (to use a word very popular these days) authenticity.
It’s absolutely beautiful.
And this is one reason I am afraid. Not just because the church is divided; God’s love can span those divisions and has for millennia. But in our day, in this time, it seems our divisions are becoming more dumbed-down, and hence less hefty, and, therefore, far less excusable. It’s one thing to respectfully divide from a brother over the weightier matters of doctrine. It’s quite another to divide from him because he isn’t as relevant as you are, or because you want to be called “Christian” and he wants to be called “Christ-follower”, or because his suit irritates you, or . . . whatever. It’s one thing to disagree on the meaning of communion, quite another to bash your brother because you think ministering to people’s physical needs is primary and you’re embarrassed because he wants to give them a Bible.
It’s common to be embarrassed by our brothers and sisters in Christ, isn’t it? It’s so easy to have that thought slip into our minds: “They’re doing it wrong. They’re giving me a bad name.” When, God help us, by our rejection of our brother, we give Christ a bad name. I’ve written around this subject recently, and continue to think on it with Christ’s words in mind.
I read the passage at the top of this post and I want to sing and dance for joy, and I want to fall to the ground and hide from God’s wrath. I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that it means that Jesus wants us to have love for our Christian brothers and sisters. Full, unashamed, on-display, familial love. Not a love that sweeps aside true differences, but rather a love like that with which Christ loved, one that sharpens our brothers and sisters, speaks the truth in love, forgives, yields, shows mercy, gives others preference in honor, and stands beside them always.
“just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
If there was ever someone who Jesus could be embarrassed of, it’s me. It might be you too. Yet he loves me. And he loves you. And he wasn’t too embarrassed to be seen with us. In fact, he humbled himself beyond all imagining to come dwell among us so we could kill him.
In light of that, the least I can do is follow his example and love you.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7
Real skin in the game . . .
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Real joy . . .
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them
Real attention from Heaven . . .
and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
Real compassion . . .
When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”
Real freedom . . .
And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Real straightforward . . .
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
Real faith in God’s provision . . .
And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Real courage . . .
But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
This is what the world is looking for. It’s what I want in myself, and also what I fear.
. . . praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them . . .
All scripture above taken from Acts 16.
Scot McKnight, in his excellent blog Jesus Creed, is currently working on a series that will review Brian McLaren’s new book, Everything Must Change. As always, I am sure Scot will be fair, thoughtful, and thorough in this series, and I must say that his comments threads are some of the most civil in the blogosphere.
I haven’t read the book, and don’t know much about it beyond Dr. McKnight’s introductory remarks and this review by Tim Challies. But I did enjoy this comment, left by Robin Rhea in the thread on Dr. McKnight’s post. It’s a refreshing answer (albeit anecdotal) to some false dichotomies floating around out there.
I grew up Catholic, came to love Christ when I was 20, and have been in evangelical circles for the past 8 years, completely “conservative” and almost entirely Southern Baptist and Calvinist. The churches that I have been a part of have been heavily involved in medical, educational, and gospel outreaches to Uganda, Columbia, Cuba, The Dominican Republic, and Sudan, have operated numerous ministries to the homeless, medically needy, hungry, have cried with women considering abortion and offered them services regardless of the outcome of their choice, ministered to the hispanic community in a part of the country where they are not very popular, have numerous outreaches alternative lifestyle groups, I think so far I have covered about half of it. I submit that by far the most “popular” speaker in evangelical circles is probably John Piper who has made social justice a continued theme of his ministry for the past 20 years, especially racial justice and racial reconciliation. Others, who are theologically ultra-conservative include Tim Keller in Ney York, Mark Driscoll in Seattle, and Scotty Smith in Nashville, all of whom have tremendous “social justice” concerns …with all of that said, I get the feeling that MacLaren’s accusations that those of us that care deeply about theology and doctrine somehow have a flat theology that does not lead to social justice issues is false. Maybe it is true in the circles he encounters, but even a cursory look at church histroy would show that those that care about theology and doctrine the most tend to do a great deal to alleviate the sufferings of their fellow human beings. You could check out Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd, Adoniram Judson, William Carey, Jim Elliot, etc. for confirmation. It could be that the “progressive” wing of Christianity is much more compassionate, but I have a hard time believing it.
Now, let me say that the church is not the center of God’s plan. Jesus is. But, the church is central to God’s plan. Jesus places the church in a position of great importance…
If you claim to be a disciple of Jesus, then love his wife. Don’t be guilty of going to great lengths to show your love for Christ while ignoring, marginalizing, or attacking the Bride.
[Hat Tip: Provocations and Pantings]
The quote that makes up the subject of this post is not a verbatim quote. It is rather an amalgam of various similar quotes I’ve heard in church culture throughout the past decade or so.
As a great fan of discourse and dialog (for me, the comments threads on most blogs are often the most interesting parts of them), and as someone who enjoys a good discussion in the GAP on Sunday mornings, I somewhat understand the sentiment in the desire for “facilitators, not teachers”. In addition, I’ve seen facilitation work wonders, at times, in brain-storming and design sessions at work. And, finally, we’ve all been held a captive audience to teachers in the past who probably, um, shouldn’t be teachers.
All that being said . . .
The church needs gifted teachers. If gifted teachers are hard to find, the church must redouble its efforts to find or (preferably) train them. The intrusion in church teaching efforts by facilitat-y “there’s no such thing as a wrong answer” philosophies has been a bad thing.
And that’s all I’m going to say (for now) about that.
By the way, this post was inspired by Jared’s latest missive (and, yes, I’m an unashamed Jared Wilson fanboy. Can you tell?). Sample this:
. . . as a community of believers seeks reform, as we seek the face of God and push, urge, inspire, train each other to exalt Christ and focus on the Gospel, it has become more and more urgent that we not abandon the monologue sermon, but reform the monologue sermon to greater Gospel-centrism, to a greater submission on the part of the preacher (and by extension his community) to the authority of Scripture.
And none of this is to say the community should be passive receptors, containers to be filled with information. None of this is to say we shouldn’t test what we’ve been taught, talk it out, use the community as the context for “field testing” theology, work at iron sharpening iron, hold our teachers accountable, etc. It is only to say that the worship gathering is not the right forum for the discussion.
A bit later, Jared quotes from Mark Driscoll, who recounts the velvet way he dealt with the teaching paradigm conflicts at his church:
We continued to meet on Sunday nights until Christmas, when some of the arty types started complaining that there was a preaching monologue instead of an open dialogue, as would become popular with some emerging pastors a few years later. This forced me to think through my theology of preaching, spiritual authority, and the authority of Scripture. I did an intense study of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament commands regarding preaching and teaching. In the end, I decided not to back off from a preaching monologue but instead to work hard at becoming a solid long-winded, old school Bible preacher that focused on Jesus. My people needed to hear from God’s Word and not from each other in collective ignorance like some dumb chat room.
“Like some dumb chat room” . . . heh.
Update: Oddly enough, I just looked and the latest post on the GAP website that I linked to above is a Jared Wilson quote. And, yeah, I’m the one who posted it.
People are going to start talking . . .
I’ve got lots of post ideas. I just haven’t found the time (or the guts, frankly) to post them. But here are some thoughts and links while I while away my lunch hour.
Remember the old cliche’ “it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”? My candle is not that bright and I feel sometimes that I’m walking through the inky-black darkness of the blogosphere holding aloft one of those little sparklers you find on a cupcake. But, doggone it, I’m going to grit my teeth and continue to do so. Yes, we need our Jeremiah’s, our weeping prophets. And, of course, all is not well, in our country or in our churches.
But sometimes I think people can’t see the light of hope for the darkness they’ve chosen to focus on.
Maybe I’m wrong. But, for those of us living in the western world at least, we live in an age of unparalleled material blessing and freedom. Even our poorest are rich by history’s standards. And, if that wasn’t un-PC enough to say, though the church in America is badly in need of reform, discipline, and a re-focusing, it is also full of some very, very fine Christians and some brave, stalwart pastors and leaders. And many churches are holding onto the truth, while simultaneously doing honorable work among our poor and dispossessed.
Am I whistling through a graveyard? The Bride is beautiful. And much maligned, even by those who are part of her.
There’s a balance to be achieved. I’m not speaking against Godly criticism of our church culture. I have recommended (and heck, I will again) Gospel-Driven Church as an example of how to do this right. The Internet Monk is also a site I highly recommend, though he is no stranger to dark nights of the soul and confessional blogging (and getting mercilessly slammed for both). Yet he tenaciously holds on to the truth, to orthodoxy, and hope.
So I’m reading this passage in a new way today. Do you see it too?:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
– Romans 8:31-39
Also, apropos of (almost) nothing, check out this quote by J.D. Hatfield:
The New Testament is centered on Christ, and its exhortations on the holiness of believers. This is not a simple call to obedience, but to holiness. Holiness is not righteousness, righteousness flows from holiness. Holiness isn’t simply obedience; it is being set apart for God and depending on God by drawing your boundaries, as God would have them. Obedience flows from holiness, and holiness is cultivated by a right understanding of God and what He has done for us in Christ. To understand Christ more fully is to be made more holy in practice.
That’s something for me to chew on, definitely (HT Transforming Sermons).
Finally, from the aforementioned Gospel-Driven Church, It’s Not About Programming; It’s About Culture. The final few paragraphs are below:
It is wearying trying to sell our churches on the notion that what they’ve been selling for so long doesn’t work. It is difficult suggesting that the service-centered approach to reaching the lost has failed. It is a delicate thing to suggest that we have not exalted Christ and we have not glorified God and therefore we haven’t really served the people we’ve claimed to.
And yet for some of us inside this culture, slogging away at discipling the culture into a more vital discipleship, it is incumbent upon us to, in our hearts and minds, say “Here we stand. We can do no other.”
I rather like that, and I’m inspired by efforts to change the church that flow from sincere love and concern for the Bride and devotion to her Lord.
So I’m going to hold my candle aloft. And you can blow it out, but it’s the frustrating kind that bursts back into flame without having to be relit [Bill makes his “booyah” face].
And I’m also going to attempt to start policing what I read on the Blogosphere and who I link to in my Bloogroll.
It’s either that or Prozac . . .
Sorry for the long absence. Everything’s been very good, just busy.
A few quick notes:
What do you think of the new theme? It is a port of a WordPress theme called Red Train. I’ve been working on new Bloo themes lately. If you’re a Bloo blogger interested in spicing up your blog (or if you’re just interested in seeing the available themes), you should check out the Bloo Themes site.
Also – happy birthday Andrew!
And, finally, Jared suggests 11 church innovations:
1. Sing hymns.
2. Preach through a book of the Bible.
3. Talk about sin.
4. Celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently.
5. Have a Scripture reading in the service.
6. Transition creative content from aping popular commercials and other media to creating your own, wholly original content.
7. Read, study, and teach theology.
8. Put as much effort and resources into men’s ministry as you do women’s. On the flipside, pair up younger women with wise, older women in mentoring relationships with the same conviction you have about men being in accountability and mentoring partnerships.
9. Hire from within.
10. In promotional material, use actual photos of actual people in your community.
11. Preach the Gospel.