Thursday, May 26, 2011

When conflict arises . . .

Conflict is part of life. We will have conflicts in our homes, marriages, workplaces, and in our churches. Conflict is not an evil in itself (and can actually bring about great good), unfortunately we often turn  ugly on each other. I'm as guilty of this as anyone since I'm still trying to learn that most (most!) of the great answers are not in my head. Here are 8 Biblical lessons Gordon and Gail MacDonald draw out in their book If Those Who Reach Could Touch on how to deal with conflict (slightly reworded for clarity and with some explanation):

1) Each side must genuinely respect the opinions and judgments of the other. Not because the opinion or judgment may be brilliant, but because the people who hold them are valuable to God.
2) Relationships are more important than victory in a conflict. The constant need to be "right" can end up being very destructive to those around us.
3) Compromise should be on the table (at least at first). A few issues in the world fall into the non-negotiable category. Many are negotiable and it is only in our shortsightedness and arrogance that we refuse to budge, claiming, "It's the principle of the matter." Don't fear compromise.
4) Unresolved conflicts will fall into the wrong hands. In other words, if conflict is not resolved, it usually spreads . . . sometimes spreading to those who will be hurt or hurt others far more than those originally in the conflict. Pursue reconciliation to avoid the spreading of poison among relationship circles.
5) Anger has no place in conflict except to provide energy toward finding truth. Anger is often a key motivating to pursuing truth and righteousness, but it needs to be controlled and directed at the solution and not toward a person.
6) There is a kernel of truth in virtually every point made in conflict. I'm finding this to be more and more true, especially if I'm willing to listen to people's emotions as well as the informational content.
7) Confession and forgiveness are an indispensable part of the resolution of conflicts. I often refuse to confess or seek forgiveness because I'm afraid of looking like a loser.
8) When conflict is handled properly, everyone grows. If we handle conflict well, everyone involved grows. We will know each other better. We will understand the conflict and related issues better. It also is very self-revealing, for we find the things we care most about and the areas where we are most vulnerable.

So let the conflict begin (for in fact bottling up emotions and frustrations is quite deadly), but let Christ's love reign.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Church Membership: Biblical and Practical

In preparation for my sermon on Matthew 28:16-20, I came across a sermon by Dick Lucas (St. Helen's, London) that argues baptism into the holy Trinity (the outward expression of an inward reality) also involves an intentional belonging to the body of Christ (uniting to a local assembly which is a part of the universal church). I think Dick Lucas is on to something profound. Baptism (like most commands) is not just an individual choice, separated from corporate responsibility. Christ died for individual sinners, but he also died to create His church. Our baptism symbolizes are connection to Christ and His Church. We dishonor Christ when we fail to join a local assembly, not just for worship and edification, but also to be under the authority of shepherds who exist to help us grow spiritually and protect us from evil (Acts 20:28; Heb. 13:7).

But is church membership Biblical?

Matt Chandler (a short article here) argues that the New Testament seems to suggest some known local body of members were present even in the 1st century. Here a few of Chandler's observations and few I've added: Who was in an individual church was known (Rom. 16). People had identified leaders who had been selected by a known Christian community (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7). These leaders had specific responsibilities over a specific group under their care (1 Peter 5:1-5). People were removed from the fellowship of a local body through church discipline by a known church body (Mt. 18; 1 Cor. 5). Local congregations voted for leaders (Acts 6), sent out missionaries (Acts 13), and made pronouncements on theology and ministry practice (Acts 15). All of these actions seem to suggest that a recognized body had been established to make the decisions. They may not have had "membership classes" per se, but there certainly were procedures set up to make sure someone did not become a member who did not hold to certain Christian beliefs and were willing to submit to certain Christian practices.

Another article I read this week (http://www.batteredsheep.com/biblical_church_membership.html) argues strongly that church membership is unbiblical. The author, James Sorrells, makes a strong case that membership seems to be an added concept to the Scriptures. All believers are a part of Christ's church, so why would there ever be an added step of a formal membership process? Sorrells point is taken and in a perfect world this might work. And maybe this idea did work in the early church when the church was quite small comparably, and when the church had a purer system of apostolic doctrine and leadership in place. But I don't think this is possible for the 21st century (nor the expectation from sacred Scripture), and I'd like to suggest some practical reasons for church membership.

1) Saving faith should be investigated: On a number of occasions in Acts the apostles were following up on people who thought they were "disciples" (Acts 19:1), only to find out they had believed in something that was not sufficient for salvation (Acts 19:2-7). Thus, one important role shepherds often do in a local church is help people make sure their assurance of salvation is in Jesus Christ alone. A membership process works both, Lord willing, to finish the work of evangelism and to start on the work of formal discipleship. To skip a membership process could end up giving people false hope, thinking that being in the church makes them a Christian. Another practical note on this is regard to the 21st century phenomenon of mobility. People move every 7 years or so. Unlike a 1st century world where most people never traveled more than 50 miles in a lifetime, we have a world of coming and going. Local churches need to have systems to screen potential members to make sure they know the Lord (and aren't just assuming salvation because they "attended 1st Church back home").
2) Doctrinal agreement is necessary: In a world where even the smallest towns have 3 or 4 "Christian" churches, it is important to make sure all the people in a local assembly are in agreement on doctrine. Churches that fail to make sure those who are in their flock are in agreement will end up (re)fighting theological battles that have gone on before. Also, when my church meets to make decisions, I want to know that those voting have agreed on the major issues of the faith.
3) Agreement on church governance is necessary: Whether a church believes in a an episcopate, a presbytery, or a local plurality of male elders, makes a difference in how vision is set and discipline is conducted. Membership allows and invites Christians of differing perspectives to find a church home that they willingly submit to the leadership God has put in place.
4) The church needs to be wise in a dangerous world: One of the most demanding practical reasons for church membership today is for protection. It is difficult to conduct church discipline without subsequent legal action unless an individual has verbally and/or in writing submitted to a church's position on theology, Christian practice, governance, etc. (and even then you cannot be protected 100%). Some might think that this is the church being conformed by the world, but it comes off to me as wisdom, pure and simple. As long as we do not have someone sign something that isn't already in the Scriptures, I am not adding one bit to the Bible. Rather, I am asking people to uphold and submit to Scripture.

All this to say, the local body is strengthened and the Gospel advances when believers covenant together to fulfill the Great Commission. I believe membership is both biblical and practical, and I hope you are blessed to be a member of a local church (knowing full well that there is no perfect church; we are all just a bunch of recovering sinners, longing for the return of our King).

* John MacArthur's church has a nice write up on church membership here: http://www.gty.org/media/pdf/Church_Membership.pdf
* Tim Keller's church also had a useful explanation for a formal membership process: http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/membership/biblical_basis_for_membership.pdf
*Here is another longer and a bit more feisty article that argues not only that membership is Biblical, but that it is not optional (http://www.reformed.com/publications/ischurchmembershipoptional.php). I don't go everywhere this guy is going, but the article made me think.

Interesting Study on Homosexuality

An article today in USA Today documents a recent study showing that 1.7% of Americans are homosexual (far less than the 10% that has been popularized over the years). In many ways this study also suggests that the term "orientation" may be not an accurate title for much of the "homosexual community" since "the minority who may have experimented with gay relationships at some juncture in their lives, well over 80% explicitly renounced homosexual (or even bisexual) self-identification by age of 35. For the clear majority of males (as well as women) who report gay encounters, homosexual activity appears to represent a passing phase, or even a fleeting episode, rather than an unshakable, genetically pre-determined orientation."
The whole USA Today article is online here: http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/forum/2011-05-23-Sex-survey-revelations-on-gay-identity_n.htm It will be interesting how legislatures looking for a Marriage Amendment will use these new findings.



Monday, May 23, 2011

Is "Days of Elijah" a Biblical Song?

This past Sunday my church sang the song, "Days of Elijah." No one has offered any commentary one way or another before, during, or after the song. But it made me think of a number of conversations I've had, particularly other pastors who consider themselves "biblical." Whenever I get into a conversation regarding the need for songs to be Biblical, the first song that is immediately thrown out as an example of misusing Scripture is "Days of Elijah." You can find these ideas on the web too (like here).


I would like to take a few moments and go verse by verse (lyrics in italics) arguing for the song to have Biblical warrant (albeit there may be better songs to sing or other reasons not to sing this song in your local church).


These are the days of Elijah declaring the Word of the Lord. To be fair, I believe this is the biggest stretch the song writer takes. Particularly because the Old Testament prophesies (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; 4:5) are trying to point to John the Baptist being the Elijah to come (cf. Matthew 3; 17:10-12). And yet, a key verse from scripture that could justify this line (as well as all the rest) comes from 1 Corinthians 10:11 "Now these things [a particular Old Testament story] happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (ESV). Like in the days of Elijah when evil was opposed and prophets of truth were necessary, so too at the fulfillment of the ages (i.e. after Christ's life, death, and resurrection) we must declare the Word of the Lord. If you look for deeper meaning other than in this being the age of all ages, you could misuse this song's opening line and think prophetic powers now stream from every believer. But if the song draws a person into seeing the fulfillment of all Old Testament hope being in the One who has come to save people from sin and the One who will come again to judge the living and the dead, I think you can sing this line with integrity. If I had one pet-peeve of the song, it would be entitling the song with the one line that has least Biblical support. Why not entitle the song, "There is no god like Jehovah"?

And these are the days of his servant, Moses, righteousness being restored. This verse has a lot of merit since much of Matthew's Gospel (particularly the 5 teaching segments, and 5:17-18 in particular) suggests that Jesus is the better Moses (cf. Deut. 18). Jesus is the better prophet to come after Moses who would bring about the righteousness and blessing that the Old Covenant couldn't achieve (cf. much of the book of Hebrews; esp. 8:13). All that Moses longed for and hoped for are now possible through Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 8:1-3, the law fulfilled in us).

And these are the days of great trial; Of famine and darkness and sword. (No one, I don't think would question these verses, cf. Hebrews 11:32ff.).  


So we are the voice in the desert crying, prepare ye the way of the Lord. Since these verses relate to the same problems indicated under the line "These are the days of Elijah," I'll point you back there. And yet, I'd add that this message from Isaiah 40 speaks of messengers needing to preach hope to a broken and forgiven people. There was one particular desert preacher (John the Baptist) that deserves to be noted. But there will need to be many like him preparing the world for the Lord's Second Coming who speak of the comfort Christ's brings to all who will believe.

Behold he comes; Riding on a cloud Shining like the sun; At the trumpet's call; Lift your voice; It's the year of jubilee; Out of Zion's hill salvation comes. Again, I don't think there's much debate on these lines. If anyone doubts that we are not in the year of jubilee, I think you need to look again at how Jesus explains the Isaiah scroll (Isaiah 61) in his synagogue visit in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). Also, I love a song that actually longs for Jesus' return both in the song's lyrics and in the exciting nature of the music.

And these are the days of Ezekiel; the dry bones becoming as flesh. As this relates to Ezekiel's prophecy in Ezekiel 37, and as this prophecy points to the end of the exile, I believe in light of Matthew 1:17, we should see the arrival of Christ as the exile's end. Hence, these are the days of Ezekiel's dry bones becoming flesh. This is the era of victory and new life, most profoundly demonstrated on Resurrection Sunday.


And these are the days of his servant, David, building the temple of praise. Jesus is the great Son of David (Mt. 1:1) who created a temple in the hearts of men and women (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and created the temple of Christ's Church (1 Corinthians 3; 1 Peter 2:4-5).


And these are the days of the harvest, the fields are all white in your world. (no debate, I hope)
And we are the laborers that are in your vineyard; declaring the word of the Lord. (no debate, I hope)

There is no God like Jehovah (repeated several times). By far the bridge of the song is beyond question the central message of the song and for that I can find few songs with better messages. There is an issue with using the term Jehovah vs. Yahweh (click here for details), but it's not a big issue.


Conclusion: Overall, I would commend fighting over different things in a local assembly than whether this song should or should not be sung on Sunday mornings.

RECENTLY ADDED: If anyone's interested, Robin Mark (the song writer) has his own little story of how the song came to be here (http://gabaptist.org/FAITHNETWORK_UserFileStore/fileCabinet/ministries/237e6518-ae1d-4db3-844a-2959aa6966fc/mw_days_of_elijah_explanation_of_themes.pdf)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jesus' resurrection makes every day worth living...

I came across an except from Tim Keller's new book "King's Cross" in preparation for my sermon tomorrow on the resurrection of Jesus Christ (read the whole excerpt here: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/deeper-walk/features/25243-a-case-for-resurrection)

I love the closing 2 paragraphs:

Jesus had risen, just as He told them He would. After a criminal does his time in jail and fully satisfies the sentence, the law has no more claim on him and he walks out free. Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for our sins. That was an infinite sentence, but He must have satisfied it fully, because on Easter Sunday He walked out free. The resurrection was God’s way of stamping PAID IN FULL right across history so that nobody could miss it.
On the Day of the Lord—the day that God makes everything right, the day that everything sad comes untrue—on that day the same thing will happen to your own hurts and sadness. You will find that the worst things that have ever happened to you will in the end only enhance your eternal delight. On that day, all of it will be turned inside out and you will know joy beyond the walls of the world. The joy of your glory will be that much greater for every scar you bear. So live in the light of the resurrection and renewal of this world, and of yourself, in a glorious, never-ending, joyful dance of grace.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting the Right (Wright?) Answers to the Big Questions

On page 275 of N.T. Wright's small tract The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 3),  Wright (former Anglican Bishop of Durham, not North Carolina) gives a nice summary of the Apostle Paul's thoughts on key questions related to the world, life, history etc. I love (love!) his number 4.

(i) Who are we? We [Christians] are 'in the Messiah,' identified solely by our confession and faith in him as the risen lord; we are the new-covenant people, the Torah-fulfilling people, the world-wide family promised to Abraham by the one true God.
(ii) Where are we? In the good creation of the good God; creation is still groaning in travail, awaiting its own liberation from decay, but is already under the lordship of the risen and ascended Messiah.
(iii) What's wrong? The world, and we ourselves, are not yet redeemed as we shall be. Most people in the world, pagans and Jews alike, remain ignorant of what Israel's God has done in Jesus the Messiah. In particular, the present world rulers (Caesar and the rest, and the dark 'spiritual' powers that stand behind them) are at best a parody, and at worst a monstrous and blasphemous distortion, of the true justice and peace the one God intends for his world. Because sin still has idolatrous humankind in its grip, death still acts as a tyrant.
(iv) What's the solution? In the long term, the creator's great act of new creation, through which the cosmos itself will be liberated, true justice and peace will triumph over all enemies, all the righteous will be raised from the dead, and believers alive at the time will be transformed. In the short term, the gospel must be announced to the world, doing its own powerful work of challenging, transforming, healing and rescuing, and thus creating 'resurrection' people in the metaphorical sense. (underline added)
(v) What time is it? The 'age to come' has been inaugurated, but the 'present age' still continues. We live between resurrection and resurrection, that of Jesus and that of ourselves; between the victory over death at Easter and the final victory when Jesus 'appears' again. This now/not yet tension runs right through Paul's vision of the Christian life, under-girding his view of (for instance) suffering and prayer.

Come this week to hear the second to last message from the Gospel of Matthew at Cornerstone Church, where I preach on Jesus' world-changing, universe-altering resurrection.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Discerning Church Growth/Decline (better questions)

Kevin DeYoung offers some good counsel (in "It's probably not the worship style") when asking why a church is growing or declining. He feels the best question to ask is NOT "Is our worship style attractive?"

Kevin offers a few better questions to ask if your church is declining or plateaued (I've added a few Scripture references and links to Kevin's questions):

Is the gospel faithful preached? (click here for a good definition of the gospel)
Is the Bible taught with clarity and passion?
Are the sermons manifestly rooted in a text of Scripture?
Do the elders/pastors and deacons meet the qualifications for church office laid out in the New Testament (see 1 Tim. 3)?
Are the sacraments faithfully administered and protected?
Is church discipline practiced (see Mt. 18)?
Do the elders exercise personal care over the flock (see 1 Peter 5)?
Are there good relationships among the staff and other leaders?
Is the worship service put together thoughtfully and carried out with undistracting excellence (as much as possible).
Do the people in the congregation sing the songs with gusto or are they going through the motions?
Is a high bar set for church membership?
Are the people of the church engaged in personal ministry?
Is the congregation marked by increasing prayer and evangelism?
Do the pastors believe in the complete trustworthiness of all of Scripture (see 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1)?
Do they take adequate time for study and preparation?
Do they truly believe and eagerly rejoice in their church’s/denomination’s statement of faith, creeds, and confessions (see the EFCA's Statement of Faith)?
Are their lives examples of personal holiness?

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Openly Shallow Small Group

Satire has its place. Sadly, our groups look like this without the satire. O Lord, draw your people together.



http://youtu.be/NMyTMTmJU6E

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

One activity of the Holy Spirit: Convicting the World of Sin

On the night Jesus was betrayed, he spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit, "And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment..."(John 16:8, ESV)

Kevin DeYoung explains what this activity of the Holy Spirit looks like:
The Holy Spirit acts like a giant searchlight, exposing the world's wickedness and calling people everywhere to repentance. It's as if the world is having a nice romantic candlelight dinner, thinking everything is sirloin and roses, and then voila! The Spirit flips on the lights to expose cockroaches scurrying up the walls and garbage strewn about the floor. We are not as good as we imagine, and the Spirit can prove it to us.

In the Gospel Coalition pamphlet, "The Holy Spirit"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lying pastors?? - I only wish this was an oxymoron

A recent MSNBC story relates how a pastor who has claimed for years to be a Vietnam Veteran and former Navy SEAL has recently admitted both stories were fabrications (click link for story). There is a great deal of pressure on pastors to grow churches, wow congregations, and be a winsome magnet for visitors. But as Jesus taught us our "yes must be yes" and our "no must be no." We must not equivocate or fudge on the truth. Every time we lie we expose what we really trust. Every lie tells God that truth has no place in our lives. Every lie is a vote of no-confidence in Truth. Lying says truth and the God of truth are overrated. This is why lying is so heinous. This is why liars deserve eternal punishment, for it is an offense against an eternal God. And yet, this truth-telling God sent His truth-telling Son (Jesus) to die for liars. God was faithful to His promise. Jesus was faithful to His Word. And in so doing, Jesus dies so that liars can find forgiveness and redemption out of lies and deception. The truth can set us free!

Application.
1) Confess sin. I too have embellished stories in small and large group contexts. O God, forgive me for not just speaking plain truth. God sent Jesus to save sinners. To admit our lies and deceptions opens us to receive the forgiveness and cleansing we need.
2) Believe that God will bless the speaking of the truth. Even if the truth exposes other sin and failure, God will take care of us.
3) Forgive other liars. Forgive us Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Those who have tasted forgiveness forgive. Those who do not forgive, don't know God's forgiveness. If you are holding a grudge against someone who has lied to you previously and you are unwilling to forgive, you are no partaker of the forgiveness that has been offered through Christ's death and resurrection.
4) Be bold with truth. In a world of liars, truth tellers are not only tempted to lie, but to be silent with regard to truth. We embellish, coverup, and even mask truth because the naked truth is shocking to a world that loves masks. But we must "go tell it on the mountain, over the hill and every where." There is no greater truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Let us proclaim that truth with fresh boldness while refusing at all cost to think the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs any human embellishment to get the job done.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Mother's Day - The Other Side

Mother's Day is either the greatest day or the worst day in a woman's year.

For instance, one new mother connected to our church is celebrating this year with her new adopted daughter, and at the same time she is praying for the mother who made the difficult decision to give her daughter into the hands of another. She writes, "Last week I [adopted mom] created a special mother's day card for her [biological mom] on Shutterfly, using recent pictures of Lydia and writing a little note that was "from Lydia". We included a short greeting as well, thanking her for the gift she's given us and admiring her for her strength, once again.... If you think of it, would you mind offering up a prayer for her? Just that Sunday would be a special day, and that it wouldn't be filled with sadness, but rather assurance that she's done the right thing, and that her daughter is in good hands." Read the whole post here: http://lizzier.blogspot.com/2011/05/mothers-day.html

Another good read comes from professor and pastor Russell Moore on signaling to infertile couples and mothers (and single ladies) that Christ's grace can meet their deepest needs on such a hard holiday.  Moore also calls the church to be sensitive not just on Mother's Day but throughout the year for these aching souls.
http://www.russellmoore.com/2011/05/05/remember-the-infertile-on-mothers-day/

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Abortion bill to go to Iowa Senate floor...

The Des Moines Register reports:

A bill banning most late-term abortions in Iowa was sent to the  Senate floor today after lawmakers invoked a rarely-used legislative rule to force the measure out of a Senate committee.
Twenty-six lawmakers – a majority of the Iowa Senate – signed a so-called “discharge petition” to force House File 657 out of the Iowa Senate Government Oversight Committee, where it had been considered dead....
The bill,  approved earlier this session by the Iowa House, would limit abortions after the 20th week to situations where the mother’s life is in “immediate danger.” Gov. Terry Branstad has indicated his support for the legislation.
The proposal is aimed at stopping Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a Nebraska physician, from following through with his plans to open a late-term abortion clinic in Council Bluffs.

Whole article here: http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2011/05/03/rare-manuever-forces-bill-banning-late-term-abortions-to-iowa-senate-floor/