Church is Not a Spectator Sport

Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris

image“…When your heart begins to beat for God’s glory and God’s people and you begin to glimpse His longing to visit you, Sunday changes. Actually, it becomes something extraordinary. Something sacred. Something essential.”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front; this is a delightful gem of a book that belongs in the hands of every person sitting in the pews on Sunday. Distracted by something that happened at home. Bored by the preacher. Perturbed at the fact that the praise team went astray from the hymnal again. All of these feelings and more are brought into the church for the most important hours of the week, and we wonder why our body doesn’t seem to be more dynamic, activist or interesting.

Could it be us?

It is far too easy for modern Christians to view church from the perspective of a shopper or spectator says Joshua Harris. Our attitude is what can the church do for me or does this church serve my needs. With a little review of the Bible and our hearts, he says, we can ask different questions: what can I contribute to this church or for what purpose did God place me and my family in this church? In seven brief chapters, Harris provokes Christians to view the bride of Christ in a different light, understanding how important the privilege of worshipping and serving together is.

There are a number of volumes that delve into this same topic in much greater depth but that is not the purpose of this volume. Harris has written a conversational book, quick to read and digest that will get the reader thinking. If you don’t see yourself on one page, read a few more paragraphs and you will see something that reminds you of an attitude that may have flirted with. Pastor Harris is looking you in the eye and asking you to think differently. Think about what it means to be a part of a family where you are important, missed when you are absent and cared for when infirm.

I am grateful to Waterbrook Multnomah who provided this book for review.

Rumors of Faith

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Are we simply content to watch the American church limp into eternity? Are you ready to drift through the rest of your life, lulled and softened by our comfort and ease?

Darren Whitehead and Jon Tyson, the authors of Rumors of God, surveyed the landscape of the American church and pronounce it still alive beneath the surface. Finding niches of active faith in unexpected places, they see life where many say none exists.

Many have proclaimed the ‘Church’ in America dead or drifting. From some vantage points, this might be the perception that an observer would gather. But crawl under the hood, kick the worn tires and turn the key to the slow-revving starter and you gain a different view; the Church in His people is more than alive and well.

Whitehead and Tyson collect a series of illustrations together, finding signs of vigor in the individual faith of Christians across the Church. Separating these individuals from the Church in its catholic sense creates a false impression though. The heart of the Church, regardless of how we segregate into individual assemblies, is the movement of the Spirit within His people. Perhaps a perspective gained from churches not so far removed from the norm would present a more vibrant body of Christ.

I’m grateful to Thomas Nelson who provided this copy for review.

Learning to Kneel-One

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;*

imageIf you have ever paddled the quiet waters of a remote lake, gently placing the blades into the water so as not to churn the stillness around you…

If you have ever chanced upon the grandeur of a mountain vista or a verdant valley or the deep crimson of a desert sunset and found yourself quietly absorbing the beauty…

If you have ever held a newborn, warm and taking his first few breaths, and had no words to utter…

… you are familiar with the feelings that overtake you as you truly enter the presence of the Living God.

Many a sanctuary this coming Sunday will be filled, not with awful, prayerful silence overwhelmed by the presence of God, but the noise of a hundred casual conversations that grow slowly louder as more of the brethren enter the room. Bibles will remain closed, guitars will be tuned, and children will play.

As if God will appear at the appointed hour, like the train from Bakersfield, and all we need to do is to be there to meet Him.

Reverence is the first lesson in learning to kneel. This requires a change of attitude and a soul attuned to the Omnipresent God rather than the culturally popular Compartmentalized God. My next post will begin here, unpacking the twin threads of omnipresence and reverence and noting how a heightened awareness of both can radically change our times of worship. This coming Sunday however, enter your sanctuary or meeting room and try sitting quietly, making yourself aware of His enveloping presence. Pray for the service. Pray for the visiting family sitting behind you. Pray a Psalm. See if others follow your lead as the moments tick by toward the first notes of a song. See if your preparation hasn’t brought minutely closer to the throne.

Grace and peace to you.

*Psalm 95:6

image Joshua Conley

Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias

imageZacharias guides this apologetics compendium in a different direction from other, more cerebrally oriented works. Beyond Opinion approaches the defense of Christianity from a personal angle, saying that our lives, and the witness they present, are the strongest  apologetic argument that we can make in favor of the truth of Christianity. In this goal, Zacharias and his co-authors succeed wonderfully.

In any multi-author work, an inconsistency from chapter to chapter is the norm but not so in this volume. An expert editing touch makes the work flow across all of its 338 pages. Zacharias organizes the apologetic approaches by grouping different situations and challenges that the Christian faces. First, he touches on challenges that are voiced by different social and religious groups and the the answers that the reality of Christianity offers in response. The logical answers are provided, but the emphasis is on backing up the words with action.

The section devoted to making the apologetic answers personal by internalizing them is a challenge to read and apply. The theological and philosophical discussions are excellent but the addition of a few steps of down-to-earth application instruction would have gone far in making these chapters more approachable. Zacharias’ closing chapter on the work of the Church in strengthening the apologetic minds of her members is the strongest in the book. Moved to the front of the volume, it would serve better as a primer before jumping into the details of the following chapters.

Though it is wide ranging in its coverage, the book whets the appetite to explore the individual areas in greater detail. One would not be prepared to defend the faith against the challenges of Islam, for example, by consuming the chapter on the topic. You will, however, gain just enough knowledge to guide your study further in order to present the exclusivity of Christ in the best possible light. Your apologetics library benefits from the inclusion of this fine book, providing as it does the touch points needed to drive your study in many different directions.

I’m thankful to Thomas Nelson for providing this review copy.

Psalm 83 – That the Name of Israel Be Remembered No More

imageMay they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace.

Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord —

that you alone are the Most High over all the earth. (Ps 83:17-18)

An imprecatory psalm is not a rare find as you pore over the pages of the Psalter. Again and again, Israel cries out to Yahweh to destroy the enemies arrayed against her, for His own good! In 83 as elsewhere, the Israelites look out at their borders and see, what to them must have been, the entire world turn enemy. They find no hope within and raise prayers of violent redemption to God. Save us, they intone. Save us so that the world will see that You are God!

Wasn’t that supposed to be the witness of Israel herself?

In covenant relationship, Israel was to stand as an example of the good that comes from being the chosen of the Most High over all the earth. They’re repeated failures to do so are found in the same pages of the Old Testament that continue their pleas for the destruction of others. To read both Ezekiel and the Psalms at the same time is to read the same story from two different perspectives. The words of God who directs the punishment of Israel by her enemies go unheeded.

Is it possible we do the same today? Do we ask the Lord to remove the consequence of sin from our lives while continuing to ignore the demand for holiness that the Spirit reminds us of regularly? We fail to see the corrections that come into our lives as being delivered by the same One from whom we seek relief. We might do better to review the history before us in the pages of Scripture, and learn more about the way God works. Rather than prayers for relief, we should pray for insight into that in our lives that is displeasing to our Lord.

 

Grace and peace to you..

image by xdop

The Barnabas Calling

imageWhen he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. (Acts 11:23)

Barnabas, first introduced to us through his selfless charity in Acts 4:36-37, became a close companion and encourager of the Apostle Paul. We know him from this association and their joint ministries, and it is easy to overlook the fact that he was also an encourager of the Church and his brothers and sisters. It was a calling that he fulfilled to the utmost of his being.

This calling remains among us today. It may be lifetime tenure to be an encourager to those with whom you fellowship or it may be a special, more specific call to encourage. Called by God to preach the gospel, you may discover that the Spirit moves you to serve another pastor, to be a Barnabas to his Paul. For a season, you may be called to this support role in which you pray for, encourage, serve, and bear his shield as your way of serving the Lord above and beyond what the congregation is called to do.

Too many pastors are without this Barnabas, going it alone while being attacked from all sides. Many will fail because you or I did not respond to the Spirit’s movement and call to humility. To serve one another in love is our nature. To serve and support the pastor requires another level of selflessness. It cannot be done with the hope of return or in self-aggrandizement, or even in expectation of thanks. It is a calling that requires abiding love, trust in Christ, an expectation of holiness and a willingness to speak when that is absent. Just as one day in the Lord’s house is better than thousands elsewhere, one day called to service is better than a lifetime spent in worldly or personal pursuits.

Grace and peace to you.

Predestinarians Make Exceptions

imageFriends of irony: check out the discussion here as the Predestinarian Tribe talks about choosing a church. Hasn’t God already determined all actions that we will take? Why is the choice of a church somehow outside of this predestined course?

Note: notice that all of the requirements have to do with finding a church with the “proper” theological framework. Shouldn’t requirement number one be to find a church where God is present?

Ted Haggard (mis)Interprets James

imageAfter doing immeasurable harm to the brothers and sisters of New Life Church, the members of the National Association of Evangelicals, and to the Church of Jesus Christ at large, Ted Haggard is again placing himself into a leadership position as he plants the new St. James church in Colorado Springs. The new body draws its name from the Epistle of James from which Haggard quotes verse 2:17 “..faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” and witnesses to the number of times in the past three years that he and wife Gayle have been the recipients of love in action. This is a noble application of the verse Ted, but what is the definition of faith? Is it to sin boldly so as to receive more grace?

Apparently he didn’t read any further in the book. Verse 3:1 of this practical letter says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” There’s a higher standard Ted, a standard for those who influence the lives of so many others. “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) How true! None of us is sinless but we pursue holiness with a vigor that is unmatched.

And we do it every day to the furthest extent of our Spirit-led abilities so that when we step up to pulpit we have the integrity to look into the eyes of those that God has seated before us and to speak the Gospel into their lives…

…without having to worry about our hidden lives being revealed.

Are those who take to seats in St. James church going to know that Haggard has been pursuing holiness rather than drugs and sexual liaisons? What accountability will he have this time that he did not before? The nagging question that burns in the minds of many right now is whether or not the standards of holiness will be relaxed to accommodate the very behaviors that precipitated his previous fall. Will the standards be such that God will be present when the body is gathered?

As a brother in Christ I take seriously my responsibility to Ted. I love him and extend all measure of grace to him and his family and pray for nothing but redemption in his life. I believe that the Lord’s grace has blanketed and forgiven his sin and worked to knit together the Haggard family and make it whole. On the other hand, I don’t believe that he should be stepping back into the pulpit and leading a new body at this time. Had he placed himself under the leadership of another pastor and the accountability of another Elder board for some time to demonstrate a restored soul and measure of integrity this move would make sense but not this way. If God has called him back to the pulpit then I’m moving out of the way as fast as I can. If Ted has called himself back to preaching, it’s my responsibility to take his measure in accordance with the scriptures.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Theological Craftsmanship

imageWhen we last were together, we had worked through the distinction between our embedded and deliberative theological understandings. Though there’s nothing wrong with the embedded theological understandings that we carry around, a problem arises when life crises challenge these beliefs. We have second thoughts and sometimes, doubt about what we know. A new crisis of faith is added to our current troubles, burdening the believer rather than giving them the answers they seek. 

Crafting Theology

Before crisis arrives, all Christians should be involved in developing a foundation for their theological understandings. This does not mean that we start from scratch and create a new, personal set of theological tenets that the world has never seen. Theology is our calling to process all that we can gather about God and to craft a strong base of knowledge supporting our embedded beliefs. At the crucial moment when we are seeking to understand how God could allow a child to be taken from their parents a solid and unshakeable foundation is necessary. Those pillars are only built from a deliberate effort.

Theology is said to be crafted as it utilizes raw materials to fashion an end product. In the case of theology, the end product is a new or more substantial theological understanding and our raw materials are the scriptures and the thinking that has preceded our own efforts. These materials are subjected to a three step process of interpreting, correlating, and assessing an idea that stretches and works our theological muscles and, in the end, through this effort supplies us with a new, better, and stronger way of understanding our God and our relation to Him.

Interpretation

We interpret the meanings of things all day every day. Words, images, sounds are all interpreted by each of us and we all bring a unique perspective to the process. As our interpretations become relatively stable, they begin to form our views. Collected together, the views form a viewpoint that allows us to interpret things on a larger scale. For the Christian, interpretation is performed from the perspective of faith. God and our belief in and understanding of who He is influences our perspective on everything. For example, abortion viewed through a perspective that includes God as Creator is much different than a purely clinical view. Recognizing our perspective and its depth, or lack of depth, is the first step in crafting a theological viewpoint.

Correlation

Correlation is the act of discovering the relation between two things if it exists. If it does not, the word can take an active sense as well as we bring two things into relation. A Christian in the process of theological reflection will often be called into the give and take of correlation as he seeks to bring the perspective of God’s people into correlation with other perspectives. These might come from outside of the faith community or they might be an opposing point of view from within the larger Church that differs from your own.

This process is not without conflict. Ask yourself first if you are able to see things as others do. Are you able to fully understand their perspective? Responsible theology requires that you do so. This is a source of much strife within the Church as proponents of one theological view refuse to make the effort to understand how the views of another believer have come to be or why they are supported.

Assessment

When one of your Christian views or viewpoints becomes relatively stable in your mind as representative of truth, there is one final step that occurs in order to set it. An assessment of the position you have crafted pushes it through a series of filters so that you can judge it to be good or bad. The four most common questions asked are:

  • Is it valid?
  • Is it understandable?
  • Does it have moral integrity?
  • Is it appropriate from a Christian standpoint?

Each of these is not equally applicable. A Christian may not be in the position to state whether or not an idea is valid but the plethora of documented positions can certainly aid us in evaluating whether or not we are in the ballpark. Moral integrity, on the other hand, is easier to assign. If your proposed view dooms all babies to death, contrary to centuries of Christian belief, the morality of a god who makes this proclamation would certainly be in question. A view impeded by this filter would likely be a candidate for reformation or to be discarded.

Being a Craftsman

Reflecting on your faith and what you believe requires the same love and attention to detail that a craftsman applies to a piece of furniture that she creates. It requires the ability to examine a view from all perspectives and to have a framework to evaluate different aspects of the position. Experience and maturity round out process, resulting in a pronounced ability for the Christian to understand life and humanity in a way that honors and upholds God and their faith.

 

 

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