Can your kids understand how to apply the most important teachings of Jesus?

We have made an intentional effort to pass along the two most important things in this world to our kids… To Love God and Love Others.  We review it daily on the way to school.  While rote memory has a vital role in the life of kids, it started to become too routine.  So I added another element to this question.

How?

How do we love God?  How do we love others?

This is coming directly from Jesus’s mouth in Matt 22:36-40.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So how do we do that?  To help my kids understand this key teaching of the Christian faith I boiled it down to two simple answers.

We love God by being obedient.

We love Others by being kind.

As we are obedient to God we must also obedient to the authorities in our life.  For my kids that means teachers, parents, rules, and so on.  I want them to understand that as they obey in these different arenas, they are loving God.  John 14:15, Jesus says if you love me, you will obey my commands.

As we are kind to others we show them the love that God showed us.  We are kind to our peers, those not like us, even the bullies at school.  We show kindness because we have received the ultimate kindness from God through His Son Jesus.  John 15:12 says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.”

So let this be a reminder to you today to love God and love others by being obedient and kind in your daily life.

When Liberal Theology Invades

church-of-scotland-authorizes-same-sex-marriage-days-of-lot-933x445The Episcopal Church released its 2016 denominational statistics recently.  In it researchers found decline of 34,179 in membership. This was an improvement from the decline of 37,669 in 2015.  To see the hard data click the 2016 Parochial Report.

Why the hard decline in the US Episcopal Church? I am sure there are a variety of reasons, as it is a complicated issue.  But one contributing factor, in my opinion, is their shift toward a liberal interpretation of marriage and sexuality.  In 2003 the Episcopal church ordained their first openly gay bishop, Rev. Gene Robinson.  It is a dangerous gamble for any church to redefine what God has established in regarding to sexuality which Christianity has been unanimous on for thousands of years.  If the things of this world creep into an individual’s, or an institution’s, priorities, you might find yourself at odds with God.

1 John2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

To be fair, Southern Baptists have their own issues. I admit they too have declined. But the data suggests mainline denominations are declining at a higher rate. (2016: Episcopal – lost 35,000 of 1 million membership = approximately 2%, SBC – lost 77,000 of 15 million membership = approximately .5%)  In the article “FactChecker: Are All Christian Denominations in Decline?” the author shows a clear distinction between theologically liberal and conservative denominations.  He says, “While conservative churches aren’t growing as quickly as they once were, mainline churches are on a path toward extinction. The mainline churches are finding that as they move further away from Biblical Christianity, the closer they get to their inevitable demise.”

Powerful words.

And a powerful reminder that faithfulness to sound doctrine is a key ingredient in the health and mission of the church.  Let this be an encouragement for biblically faithful doctrine personally, as well as in the leadership of the church you attended.  I did not say “your church” because it is not yours, it is the Bride of Christ, bought with His blood, and His alone.

Is It Ever Right to Question God?

Questioning GodI was in a conversation with some theologically astute friends and the concept of questioning God came up. On one side a friend said most assuredly that it was OK to question God and seek affirmation.  On the other side another friend said it is never right to question God because of His holiness. With two opposing viewpoints, what are we to do?

As the conversation was not heated and turned nonchalantly to other topics, the question lingered in my mind.

“Is it ever right to question God?”

How you answer this question has drastic implications on your spiritual life and understanding of reality.

So what did I do? I did what what I teach. Before searching google, before consulting my favorite authors, before getting man’s opinion, I turned to God’s Word for guidance and asked God for wisdom. And I’m glad I did. The journey is just as important as the destination. As I surveyed the many texts that illustrate this question, I found some surprising insights.

There are multiple cases in the Bible that explicitly say “Don’t test God” AND “Do test God”!

What am I to do with that!

I firmly believe in the unity of Scripture, so how do these narratives and principles work together? This was my task. Here is some of the data I sifted through.

Text that say or illustrate, “Don’t Test God”

  • Duet. 6:16 clearly says, in the context of the one of the greatest OT texts which all Jewish boys would have memorized, ““You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”
  • Matt 4:7 and Luke 4:12 both use Jesus’s own words.  “Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  But note that the qualifier “as you tested him at Massah” is not tacked on like in the original reference. hmmmm. Interesting
  • So what is with the Massah case? Here in Exodus 17 the Israelites were free from Egypt yet due to their thirst they were asking “Is the Lord among us or not?”  They grumbled that Egypt would have been better than God’s plan. God commanded Moses to bring water from the rock for the people. This event was one of distrust and exemplified why that generation had to die off before proceeding into the Promised land. Ergo, testing/questioning God was very bad.
  • Another instance of testing God that ended badly is in Acts 5:9.  Annias and Saphira attempted to lie about their generosity. “Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” We know how that ended for them. Both dead. They toyed with God, questioning whether he would really notice, He did.
  • The Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign to know he was really the Messiah. He refused to allow himself and God to be questioned in this manner. In Matt 12:38 Jesus gives a major dis to the Pharisees and says “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” So, short of the resurrection, Jesus wasn’t giving any help to them.
  • A heavy hitter, a righteous man, Job, questions all his troubles in life. When God responds to the “questioning” He never addresses the question, rather He sets Job in his place. He reminds Job of who he is addressing. Job’s response is classic as well as something that some people should imitate more often. In Job 40, Job realizes what he has done, and puts his hand over his mouth. I imagine a gasp emanates from Job as God speaks “out of the whirlwind”. Needless to say, Job stopped questioning.
  • Isaiah 7:10-14  Evil King Ahaz did not want to test God even with a clear invitation to do so!

Texts that say or illustrate, “Do test God”

  • Here we are challenged to test God’s willingness to bless obedience. Mal. 3:10 – “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
  • 1 John 4:1 says we are to test spiritual things to determine if they are in line with God or not. – “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
  • We are to test what God’s will is Rom 12:2  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
  • God’s willingness to forgive is couched in a “discussion” or opportunity to question with God.  Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
    though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
    though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.
  • Psalm 34:8 is a invitation to test God out, to experience Him, to “taste” Him to truly understand that He is good. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
  • Gideon’s Fleeces are clear examples of testing that was allowed by God. – Judges 6:37 “behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.”
  • And perhaps my favorite example of testing, John the Baptist doubted if Jesus was really the Messiah.  So what did he do? He asked. – Matthew 11:2,3  “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Should we not question? Should we question? Ultimately, I believe this all boils down to a matter of the heart. God refuses to be mocked. He is holy and perfect in a way that demands our respect. He will not be questioned when it comes from a prideful, rebellious heart. Yet, God is a good Father. He knows what is in the heart of man and when we come with humility, admitting we don’t know all the answers, He welcomes us to find the answers in Him that we cannot find anywhere else. When it comes to questioning God, we must closely examine the condition of our heart.

Psalm 24 reminds us “Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…”

I am reminded of Chris Rice’s song “Big Enough” from decades ago. He put into lyric a humble heart crying for answers, and confessing that God is big enough to handle his uncertianty.  One line that may resound with you is:

When I imagine the size of the universe, and I wonder what’s out past the edges.
Then I discover inside me a space as big, and believe that I’m meant to be filled up with more than just questions.

Celebrating Reformation Day in Style

Tonight my church is celebrating Reformation Day. My good friend at TheWardrobeDoor.com posted some graphics that should be spread like wildfire through social media on Oct. 31st!  One of my favorites: When did your blog post earn a Papal rebuttal?

Enjoy!

kickin-it-old-school70 the-church-door84 imgsize 894905 indulgences reformation-day 4333157 reformation-day52 87181801 reformation-day71 the-church-door reformation-day-party 7155219

Raising the Next Generation – Proverbs 22:6

1410655386Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Familiar words but a heavy implication. Are we training the next generation in the truth and passing on our faith? I was able to preach on just this issue to our congregation.

Listen to it here.  .

We must pass along something solid. The bedrock of our faith is: 1.) Who God is, and 2.) What He has said:

  • In a generation losing its grip on right and wrong we must train them in morality, because God is Good.
  • In a generation accepting relativism we must train them in absolutes, because God is unchanging.
  • In a generation rejecting the Bible as authoritative we must train them in Truth, because God has spoken honestly.
  • In a generation slipping into desperation we must train them in Hope, because God has sent Jesus Christ.

Who are you training up? Are you passing along bedrock? Remember the next generation needs us to put Proverbs 22:6 into action.

Run with Passion, Purpose, and Perspective

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“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
—Hebrews 12: 1–3

Run with Passion, Purpose, and Perspective

Hebrews 12 develops the theme of endurance. The first three verses teach us that the key to persistence is passion.

All the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11 “made it” because they felt passionate about their cause. The writer compares our lives to a race and tries to convince us that we must run with endurance if we plan to finish well.

The text also suggests that if the key to persistence is passion, then the key to passion is purpose. We must run with purpose, not aimlessly.

And the key to purpose? Perspective. The writer of Hebrews admonishes us to consider three things that will help us to finish well:

1. Consider them (12:1)
Since a great cloud of witnesses has gone before us, we must get serious about finishing well.

2. Consider ourselves (12:1)
It is now our turn to run the race and watch for pitfalls. We must lay aside every encumbrance that would prevent us from finishing well.

3. Consider Jesus (12:2–3)
Jesus ran His own race and endured hardship by fixing his eyes on the rewards; we must follow His example.

Drawn from an article in The Maxwell Leadership Bible.

Mission Trips and other Humbling Experiences

Each year I lead a High School Senior International mission trip over spring break. I am always captured by the personal and group growth that takes place during these weeks. I am humbled by God.

  • That we can serve Him
  • That the Gospel has reached me and reaches around the globe
  • That we live with so much blessing without saying thank you often enough
  • That those with so little can love so much
  • That God is the God, and He moves when, where, and in whom, as He sees fit

This year we are going to Belize.  Here is a quick video of the people and places we will encounter.

I am blessed to have met and worked with this pastor before. Pastor Mark is a man of God, full of grace, passion, and a big smile.

Me and Pastor Mark

 

I encourage you to go on mission trips and engage in other experiences that remind us of the truth of scripture, that we are all equal before the cross, that God does not show partiality, that we are brothers in sisters in christ.

In a different cultural environment we get to see a new perspective, yet the same God. He is at work all around us. Let’s join Him as He offers hope through Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:35 “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Philippine 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Matt 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

A Response to “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group”

A title like “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group” is nothing more than Christian click-baiting. For this assistant pastor to make this nearsighted-misleading remark is ridiculous, meant for nothing more than shock value. It’s equivalent to a blog/sermon title of “Why Men are Better than Women”. The more I read it the more ridiculous it sounds.

I am a fan of Gospel Coalition, but I think “Worship is More Important than Your Small Group” missed the mark.

This blog seems to drive a wedge between two things the bible doesn’t separate. Yes, we need corporate worship. I fully agree with this. But just as essential to the Christian life as corporate worship is the need for real relationships. The bible does not place a value scale on these things, they are both essential in their own way. Just because corporate worship is unique (Heading 1) does not equate it being more intrinsically valuable. I’ve heard a pastor in my own church say, and rightly so, “people may come because of the preaching, but they stay because of relationships.”

If the author says several times throughout his blog, “But as much as you and I may love small groups…” “I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me…” I take note. If you don’t want to be misunderstood, then say clearly what you mean. And here is an idea, don’t title your article something you aren’t trying to say.

No church is perfect, but to value corporate worship more than personal worship or real relationships, or vice versa, neglects the full counsel of God. When all the emphasis centers on one aspect of worship, you are missing the fullness of the Church the way God intended. If you only engage in small groups to the neglect of corporate worship, you are wrong. If you only engage in corporate worship to the neglect of small groups, you are wrong.  

The church is community, both in its corporate setting and in its relational setting. It is the Body of Christ with multiple pieces and functions. Each piece needs to work the way it was intended, without saying this function is more important than that function. Eph 4:15-16 “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

In this blog, Jason Helopoulos addresses four problems with corporate worship services, not four legitimate reasons why worship is “more important” than small groups. His title is misleading and of an arrogant tone.

Lets look at his four “points” in support for the greater value of Corporate Worship. (please re-read the original points as I am dealing directly with their content.)

Too “pastor-centric” – This point seems to imply that God speaks only in the corporate context! God speaks in many ways, one of those being in the corporate worship setting, but there are many other ways! YES we need to listen. That happens in my private worship time, my small group time, and my corporate worship time! Since when did Job’s hand over his mouth in 40:6 refer to being attentive to the public sermon of a pastor? Wasn’t this a private encounter between God and Job? And to use the NT reference of Mary as choosing the best thing in Luke 10:38-42 as a support for corporate worship being more important than small groups is preposterous. The article says, “Mary was commended by the Lord because she chose what was best. She knew that when the Lord speaks, we are to listen, absorb, and delight in hearing His voice.” Umm, wasn’t this a small group meeting in Mary’s house, of Jesus teaching to believers? Seems pretty clear that God does speak in small group setting just as easily as the corporate setting. God speaks when He wants, we need to listen. WE NEED BOTH ENVIRONMENTS!

Too Passive/ Too Boring – These points are basic Discipleship 101, not support for corporate worships being of greater value than small groups.  In any setting – my personal bible study, my small group, my corporate worship experience – if I come to the table passive and bored, it is my sin problem. It is not the problem of the environment. What about the environments Helopoulos uses as examples? Is there a corporate emphasis in Romans 12:1-2? No, in fact it the pronouns are pretty personal: “present your bodies” “your spiritual act worship, “renew your mind” “that you may discern what God’s will is”. In Hebrew 4:12 is “our soul pierced” expressly in a corporate setting? NO, it is a general statement about the active nature of God’s word in ANY setting. Was Isaiah’s experience in a corporate setting in Isaiah 6? NO. Was John’s experience in a corporate setting in Revelation 1? NO, he was under house arrest on an island. Are any of these references lending support to the arrogant claim that “Corporate Worship is More Important than Your Small Group”??? Give me a break, NO.

Too Impersonal – The author points to the communal prayer, singing and participation in the sacraments as aspects of real fellowship within a corporate context. Has anyone said it is not? Do vibrant small groups somehow diminish these? Fellowship happens in a variety of contexts and modes. Is one form of fellowship more valuable and one less valuable?

What about the Lord’s Supper? Didn’t the early church do this in homes? Wasn’t it based around a real meal, aka the love feast? How are these first century house churches not more akin to our small groups of the modern age than the modern corporate worship service? Helopoulos says, “And nothing declares that louder than our partaking of the Lord’s Table together in worship” – This is one piece of the puzzle, yes. But a very biblical idea is not how often you receive the elements but rather as Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” When Jesus had his small group in the upper room and ordained the Lord’s Supper, he did so with acts of service within intimate relationships. How well does that characterize our corporate worship services today?

I’m not calling any church out, but I am calling for a holistic well-rounded view of the Christian life, one in which the corporate worship experience is just as vital to the growing Christian as the intimate relationships within small groups.

Here comes the big bait and switch. The main point of the title is directly changed in his closing paragraph. Helopoulos says, “I love small groups. Don’t misunderstand me. They serve a real purpose in most churches, but their importance cannot and does not supersede our gathering together in corporate worship.”  So all of a sudden this article is about small groups superseding corporate worship? It sure seems that the title and opening lines say clearly this article is about how the importance of corporate worship supersedes small groups.

The title is not even really discussed in this article. As a whole it represents a shortsighted view to its readers about what the Body of Christ look like in a modern American, context.  To pit the two environments against each other is not healthy, as both are integral to Christian development.  Why this author feels the need to make such superficial claims is probably an extreme reaction to an equally extreme position, namely “my small group is more important than your worship service”. In trying combat the error he errors in the same manner. I believe he is does a disservice to a generation that is seeking Truth in the context of authentic community.

My prayer is the Church would see the need for both sides of the coin; engaged corporate worship and intimate Christian relationships. One is not “more important”, both are essential.

*** side note: I am sure Jason Helopoulos is a great guy and if we were able to hang out we would have tons in common. My blog is addressing the ideas (both stated and implied) within his content. Grace and peace to you Jason and may your ministry be fruitful.***

Discipleship Over Coffee

Discipleship is the key to the Christian life. One of the best “disciplers” I know and look up to is my friend and co-worker, Duane Geib. He has an undeniable passion for connecting people to Jesus, for the long haul, not just for a moment. If you are looking for a good blog that will challenge you to take that next step in your faith, and probably a few laughs along the way, check out Let’s Do Coffee.

coffee