Monthly Archives: September 2013

Do Better Buildings Make Better Churches?

Fellow Christian, how would you feel if you knew that your church would be best remembered, not for its spiritual impact, but for its building?

This is the current state of affairs for the historic church in Europe.  On Saturday, along with a colleague, I visited the eighth most popular tourist site in France (according to Wikipedia) – Mont St. Michel. Occupying a 47-acre land mass, Mont St. Michel houses an abbey, church building, and a surrounding community.  Although it still functions as a religious site, Mont St. Michel is a classic example of the transformation of a building’s predominant purpose from “church” to “museum”.

The general story surrounding the founding of a chapel at Mont St. Michel goes back more than a millennium. Aubert of Avranches was a bishop in the 8th century who was reputed to have received a vision from the Michael the Archangel, instructing him to build the chapel on the tidal island at the mouth of the Couesnon River.

France today is a highly secularized country.  It is reported that only 4-5% of the population attend church services at least weekly (down from 27% in a 1952 survey).  I read of a survey that only 26% of Catholic Christians (accounts for almost all Christians in France) have read a Bible in their home.

Upon reflection, I ask this question: what perception of the Christian faith might one get from a visit to Mont Saint Michel? Continue reading Do Better Buildings Make Better Churches?

Exercising Self-Control in a Culture That Values the Unleashed Self

We glorify the uninhibited self in popular culture today.  The culture says that the one who advocates limits is not “with it”, reactionary, and irrelevant.  How stark is the contrast one gets when reading the Bible, though.  My heart’s desire is that God’s people would find joy in God’s limits, given for our own good.  Today, I’d like to extract a few principles on self-control from a single proverb (Proverbs 25:28), presenting a brief commentary in note form:

He whose spirit is without restraint Is like a city that is broken down and without walls.

Principle 1: Self-control is the best kind of control to have.

There is a contrast drawn between the military victor and the one who controls his anger.  Note that the writer is not saying that military conquest is necessarily bad; only that self-control is better.  Essentially, if you fail to do one of these two things, it is better to fail as a military man.

Why is this principle true?

1. The most important struggles in life are spiritual, not physical (Eph 6.12, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”)

2. God’s intention for man is to exercise dominion over creation; to whom much is given, much is required; how can one exercise dominion over creation and not have dominion over himself?

3. Jesus refrained from controlling others (seeking political advance), but did make it his objective to control himself (for example, he endured temptation)

4. Key question to ask: am I more concerned with making others do what I want than making myself do what I should?

5. The fruit of the Spirit consists of self-control, not other-control; self-judgment before judgment of others (note the log in your own eye)

6. Application questions:

6a. Marriage: Is it better to have control over your emotions when your spouse makes you angry than to put on a nice show as a happily married couple?

6b. Family: Is it better to have control over your emotions if your kids disappoint you than to have stellar kids that regularly suffer under your angry outbursts?

6c. Work: Is it better to have emotional control during difficult situations at work and get laid off than to advance to the highest rung in your career while being abusive to others?

6d. School: Is it better to have control over your emotions when you get an F than to be a star pupil who stabs other students in the back?

6e. Self: Is it better to be an unmarried, never-been-on-a-date kind of person with physical and moral purity than to be popular with the opposite sex while having an addiction to pornography?

Continue reading Exercising Self-Control in a Culture That Values the Unleashed Self

The “Caravan Church” Paradigm: Yet One Thing Matters Most

In the initial post for this blog, I called for the church to “be herself”, to resist pressures to conform to any other purpose for her than Christ’s.  I also called this process of “becoming herself” a great struggle.  And I do believe it is.  At the same time, another perspective simplifies matters.  Sometimes we are so immersed in the details of decision-making and wisdom for that “next step” that we lose sight of the overarching motivation that should shape and drive us.

Is there truly one motive that should reign in our lives?  I think so.  One suggestion is this: the Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of the chief end of man being “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  This is a twofold purpose which has a wonderful unity.  Certainly, one cannot exist without the other.  We don’t enjoy God apart from a pursuit of His glory.  Moreover, there is no way we can glorify God without also being drawn into deep joy.

This simplifies matters for us.  By being drawn into His glory and joy, the smaller issues are revealed for what they are: small.  What is the next step that we should take as a church?  What is best for our marriages?  Should I take this job?  Should I take that job?  Certainly God is glorified through details, but in the light of God’s glory, smaller issues are subsumed into a major narrative.  And this should be freeing to us.  It should free us from the burden of (dare I say it?) “being God”, i.e. directing the course of our lives.

There is a prayer that was credited to Blaise Pascal that, to me, illustrates these matters better than most anything else I have come across.  I would urge you to think on these things upon which Pascal touches:

I ask You neither for health nor for sickness, for life nor for death;

But that You may dispose of my health and my sickness,

My life and my death for Your glory…

You alone know what is expedient for me; You are the sovereign master;

Do with me according to Your will.

Give to me or take away from me, only conform my will to Yours.

 

I know but one thing Lord, that it is good to follow You,

And bad to offend You.

Apart from that, I know not what is good or bad in anything.

I know not what is most profitable to me,

Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor anything else in the world.

 

That discernment is beyond the power of men or angels

And is hidden among the secrets of Your providence,

Which I adore, but do not seek to fathom.

The Value of Leadership to the Local Church

Because the leaders took the lead in Israel, because the people offered themselves willingly, bless Yahweh!       – Judges 5:2

Some brief thoughts today on leadership in the local church:

(1) what it is,

(2) how it benefits the church, and

(3) what is lost when it isn’t properly exerted.

How do you define Christian leadership in the local church?

Nothing especially inspired here, but this is my attempt at a definition of leadership in the New Testament assembly: Taking the initiative to influence the local congregation toward personal spiritual maturity in Christ.

Let me break it down with the aid of some Scriptures:

Biblical leadership in the local assembly:

  1. is a lifestyle:  1 Th 2.7-9 We were well pleased to impart unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls,
  2. of taking the initiative: Phil 2.5-7 Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus… taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;
  3. to influence: Gal. 4:19 My little children, of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you
  4. the local congregation: 1Pet. 5:2 Tend the flock of God which is among you.
  5. toward personal spiritual maturity in Christ: Col. 1:28-29 whom we proclaim, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.

What is gained when leadership when it is properly exerted in the local assembly?

  1. Leaders model the Christian life for others to follow; 1Pet. 5:3 not lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock.
  2. Leaders feed the saints spiritual food from God’s Word: Acts 20:28 Take heed … to feed the church of God.
  3. Leaders take responsibility for effective oversight of the assembly: 1 Tim 3:1 Faithful is the saying, he who desires to be an overseer, desires a good work.
  4. Leaders take ultimate responsibility for promoting the purity of the Body through discipline;   1Cor. 5:7 Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened.

What is lost when leadership is not properly exerted in the assembly?

  1. Believers are not strategically and intentionally discipled in the faith; Matt. 28:19 Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations
  2. Saints are spiritually malnourished when they are not fed a balanced diet from God’s Word; Acts 20.27 For I shrank not from declaring unto you the whole counsel of God.
  3. Spiritual and financial needs may go unmet through lack of involvement and oversight; Acts 6:1,3 In those days, as the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebraic Jews that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution…Therefore, brothers, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty.
  4. Gifts to the Lord may not be spent in God’s way without leaders attentive to God’s direction 1Cor. 16:1,2 Now about the collection for the saints: You should do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches…On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come.
  5. Outreach and evangelism may wane; 1Th. 1:8 For from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything.

The Most Basic Question about Life

Here is the most basic question about life: what is its significance?  Look around you.  History is filled with one vast mass of humanity, each one faceless and nameless to perhaps all but a few.  Do people really matter?  Is there an overriding purpose beyond the 70-80 year window of time we call “life”? 

The book of Ecclesiastes is a unique assortment of thinking on ultimate issues of life significance.  The work itself is a serious account of one’s frustrating attempt to reconcile life as experienced with life as hoped for.

The nature of the book’s message has provoked a significant amount of controversy.  Because the book’s positive conclusion, namely, the command to fear and obey God, appears to be eclipsed by the overwhelmingly negative flavor of the bulk of the book, many students of Ecclesiastes have attributed to it an essentially negative view of life.  However, the book’s ultimate message is a positive one, although incomplete in some respects.  Continue reading The Most Basic Question about Life

The Church and Substantial Healing

In his book, True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer, the renowned missionary and author, wrote of the confidence that people can find “substantial healing” through union with Christ.  What can this mean in a context  where all people, without exception, remain “appointed to die”, i.e. where the curse of death has not been lifted?

While we are tempered by the continuing reality of sin and death, we are to be a people driven by God’s promises.  Second Peter 1:4 (NIV) declares that it is through God’s promises that we “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”  Notice that it does not say “reception of God’s promises”, but simply “promises”.  While “promises” may be signifying that which is promised, nonetheless the emphasis is still on expectation, not fruition.  We are people compelled by a promise – to trust.  And trust in God, while it sometimes confounds, will not disappoint in the end.  So, it is in the same vein that we seek substantial personal healing in this life – physical healing as a testimony of God’s power given as He chooses, and spiritual healing that is real and substantial.  So the church is merely a collection of folks who are driven by the hope of substantial healing (in this life and beyond) and who are delighted by the confirmations all around us that this hope is surely not in vain. Continue reading The Church and Substantial Healing

Better Counseling through Job the Patriarch (Part 3)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a sermon on Psalm 63:3 (“Your steadfast love is better than life”) paraphrased God’s posture toward the psalmist: “If you want my mercy, then let me gain the victory over you; if you want my life, than let me hate and destroy that which is evil in you; if you want my goodness, then let me take your life.”  These words lay before the saint a radical paradigm shift to make.  For good to come, the child of God must find his way to God’s perspective – even in the midst of suffering.  The final lesson on counseling we can glean from Job concerns our attitude toward God in the midst of suffering.  Over the course of the narrative, Job’s attitude toward God undergoes dynamic change, from an initial refusal to blame God (Job 1:22) to a growing suspicion of God’s injustice (Job 9:22b), culminating with a final capitulation in humble awe (Job 40:4).  Though Job’s character evolves, a recurring theme in the book is the vital importance of correct thinking about God in the midst of suffering, all which lead us to our final principle on counseling from Job:

Principle #3: Good Counselors Encourage Right Thinking about God in the Midst of Suffering

Although the conversation between Job and his friends constitutes the vast majority of the book, one must consider the fallibility of each character’s verbal testimony.  The development of the book points to the final reply by God as the infallible climax of the story, the testimony that judges all that has been previously said.

With this truth in mind, Job’s initial response to the loss of his children and all he possessed is instructive.  Immediately after the occurrence of the tragedy, Job assumes a posture of humble shame and worships God (Job 1:20).  In the midst of his loss, the central importance of his relationship with God is not forgotten. Continue reading Better Counseling through Job the Patriarch (Part 3)

Better Counseling Through Job the Patriarch (Part 2)

We’re taking a little break from the sacraments and looking at the subject of counseling others.  What do you look for in a good counselor?

In the last post, we uncovered the following principle of counseling from the book of Job:

Principle #1: Good Counselors Refrain from Simplistic Diagnoses of Problems

There’s more where that came from! Continue reading Better Counseling Through Job the Patriarch (Part 2)

Better Counseling through Job the Patriarch (Part 1)

OK, reader.  We’ll take a brief respite from the sacraments and take a few posts to look at the subject of counseling others.  To me, counseling is simply providing guidance to another person who may be confronting a decision, a crisis, a perplexing life situation.  Maybe you find yourself counseling others on a regular basis in your church, in your family, etc.  Could be that you shy away from it because you think you are not good enough to do it.  Perhaps you’re afraid you’ll say something wrong.  On the other hand, maybe you’re needing personal help right now and you don’t know how to seek out the best counsel.  What do you look for in a good counselor?  Follow me over the next few entries to discover some principles on counseling from the biblical story of Job. Continue reading Better Counseling through Job the Patriarch (Part 1)

Final Thoughts (for now) on Baptism

I’d like to finish this series on baptism by making some observations that I think are worth considering:

  • Water baptism is God’s normal means by which faith in Christ should be expressed by a new believer. It is properly understood as the normal completing event in coming to Christ.  Thus, water baptism, not praying the “sinner’s prayer” nor raising a hand in an evangelistic meeting, should properly be emphasized as the way in which one comes to Christ according to God’s will.
  • Water baptism is a normative component in one’s “salvation story”.  Acts 2.38 lists several concepts that are all tied together in an individual’s salvation story: repentance, baptism, forgiveness, gift of the Holy Spirit.  Where one has been experienced, necessarily and logically, the rest should accompany it.  In Acts 2.38, the reception of the Spirit is an experience subsequent to baptism; in Acts 10.47 (the Cornelius account), the reception of the Spirit precedes water baptism.  There is no mechanistic order in the salvation experience.  What is common to both texts is the occurrence of the reception of the Spirit and water baptism. Continue reading Final Thoughts (for now) on Baptism