Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to Prepare an Expository Sermon

For the folks who have asked how I prepare a sermon, I am providing a simple step-by-step procedure I use for most every sermon. Any person familiar with modern preaching ideas will see I am greatly influenced by Haddon Robinson, Tim Keller, and Bryan Chapell.

Steps 1-6: Pray, asking God to speak through the Scriptures to the people of God, starting with yourself.
Step 2: Discover the Big Idea (through personal study)
Step 3: Craft a sermon
Step 4: Create an outline
Step 5: Write a manuscript
Step 6: Pray for your own heart and the people of God as you internalize the message

Each step is expanded on below:

STEP 1: Pray (begins days and weeks before preaching the sermon)
Ask the LORD to lead you and prepare you. Ask God to convict you of the truth of the text long before you preach this passage to others. Ask God to bring not merely information transfer but actual spiritual transformation through the Word of God rightly preached in the power of the Holy Spirit.

STEP 2: Discover the Big Idea (start work 10-14 days before preaching)
(1)   First, try and ascertain the exegetical idea of the passage. An exegetical idea summarizes the main thrust of the passage from the original hearers’ perspective, without much regard for other Biblical material. Basically, read and reread this single passage to get a sense on what you think this passage has to say.
(2)   Next, ask: what sin and/or improper belief could this chapter of Scripture be addressing?  That is, why is this passage here? What area of human disobedience or divine expectation for humans does this passage illuminate?
(3)   Does the passage before or after this passage have any connectors to this one?
(4)   What cross-references both in the Old and New Testament help me better understand this passage?
(5)   How does this passage point to Jesus? How does Jesus fulfill this passage? How does our worship of and belief in Jesus fulfill what we are to do according to this passage?
(6)   What ways do Christians fake obedience to this, but in reality are not fully transformed by the Gospel to obey fully? Also, what does application look like at the superficial level? What does application look like at the deep/soul level?
(7)   What doubts and concerns would immediately jump into the mind of an unbeliever? How would you answer them?
(8)   If you could summarize in one sentence what I must know from this passage what would you say?
(9)   If you could summarize what obedience to this passage would look like in one sentence, what would you say?
(10)           Write a big idea: In as few of words as possible, tell the modern listener what bearing and expectation this passage has on their life. It could be formed as a command. It could be formed as a powerful sentence. It could be worded in a crisp question that requires some sort of answer.

**It's at this point that I will take 2-4 hours to read commentaries, listen to sermons, or look for other relevant material that relates to my sermon. I try to not look at this stuff until I've first asked and answered all of the important questions on my own. Sometimes in reading commentaries and listening to other sermons, I will realize that my personal work wasn't sufficient and needs to be adjusted. Oftentimes, I find that my personal preparation has produced a deeper sense of the text than most commentators are willing to go.

STEP 3: Craft a sermon (usually 7-10 days before the sermon)
Once you have a big idea and the loads of information it took to discover it, decide how you’d like to walk through the passage.

            Will you share your big idea at the beginning of the sermon and then prove it or argue for it throughout the sermon? (deductive preaching)
            Will you walk through the text verse by verse and then show the congregation that these verses lead to your big idea? (inductive preaching)
            Will you have 2-4 main points? Unless the text demands it, it is usually hard to preach a 4 or more point sermon.
            Will you have one single application point at the end? Or will you sprinkle application throughout the sermon and then remind the people of your application points at the end?
            Are there any stories or illustrations from science, history, personal experience, etc. that would help make Biblical concepts more easily understood?

STEP 4: Make an outline (usually 7-10 days before the sermon)
I would recommend building an outline with a template something like this:
I.                   Introduction: Help me see and feel my need to hear this passage preached. Then explain how your passage just might lead me to believe and/or obey rightly for my joy, the Lord’s glory, etc.
II.                Main Points with illustrations/cross-references/etc.
III.             Application
IV.             Conclusion
Another helpful outline follows this pattern: hook, look, book, took
            HOOK: An opening question, paragraph, story or illustration that tries to hook your audience’s attention that directly relates to the main issue raised in the passage.
            LOOK: An invitation to look at the Bible passage as a way to deal with the concern raised in the opening hook section.
            BOOK: A thorough but concise walk through the Bible with explanation, illustration, and application of the text to move us toward your Big Idea.
            TOOK: The (re)presentation of your Big idea and your main application point(s) that all the hearers are supposed to take home.

STEP 5: Write a manuscript (usually 4-10 days before the sermon)
Go back and write out approximately how you’d like to articulate each of your main sections of your outline. This is the best preparation whether you preach with the manuscript, with a few notes, or with no notes at all.

STEP 6: Final Prep (day before and day of sermon delivery)
            I spend 1-3 hours the night before and 1-3 hours the morning of the sermon to prepare my heart and mind. I read and reread the sermon. Pray by name (if possible) for those to whom I’m preaching. And try to expose myself to other passages that stir my own soul to serve God faithfully (often 1 Corinthians 1-4). 

Often this kind of preparation allows me to preach with minimal reliance upon my notes during the actual sermon. I usually take a full manuscript into the pulpit, but look at it less than 20% of the sermon.

Estimated time line:
            Step 1: Start praying several days before you begin preparation. Total time: ??
            Step 2: Big Idea Study, 5-10 hours
            Step 3: Crafting, 1-2 hours
            Step 4: Outline, 1-2 hours.
            Step 5: Manuscript, 1-2 hours
            Step 6: Final prep - 2-5 hours

Total time: 10-20 hours (and on up from there)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Murder of the Innocents in Connecticut and our Response

20 children's lives were taken yesterday along with six adults in Newtown, CT--a massacre that leaves a nation asking why and dozens of families shattered. For the Christian, the sting is even more bitter as we ask how could God allow such a thing. How could a good and all-powerful God allow evil like this into our world?

Others wiser and more compassionate than I have attempted to answer this question (When God Weeps by long-time paralytic Joni Earekson-Tada is a good place to start). And yet, the best answer I see comes right out of the early chapters of the life of Jesus. The answer being: God doesn't let evil have the last word.

Matthew 2:16-18 records another massacre of the innocents. The power-hungry (and probably insane--albeit emotionally and physically disturbed) King Herod had heard that a new king had been born in Bethlehem. This was taken as a threat...a rival king just down the road. Being unsure of the exact arrival of the baby king, he sends a mob of soldiers to take the lives of all male children under the age of 2. In a small village like Bethlehem, the number was probably much like the 20 innocents lost yesterday in Connecticut. Jesus was the main target, but he had escaped.

Here's the message I'm telling myself today. Why have I escaped? Why was my elementary son spared yesterday? He went to school. I picked him up. He was safe...20 others were not.

Well, Jesus escaped because God was not going to let evil be the last word. Jesus was the prince of peace, the wonderful counselor, the mighty God. He was the Messiah (the king!) of a a new kind of people (us!). Through his life and teaching, we're saved from the evil in our hearts and the hell of our future. But our faith is not an escape to be taken lightly. We live to go forth as counselors, princes and princesses of peace, and servants of the mighty (and amazingly humble) God.

So today, let evil not be the last word.

Be a different kind of people: kind, givers of peace, compassionate, caring, honest, and mercifully just. We've escaped not for our glory, but to advance the glory of the humble king who came as a baby in a feeding trough, died as an innocent criminal on a Roman cross, and yet rose triumphant over evil, death, hell, and Satan.

This is the path to evil's end--a narrow road, but a road filled with hope.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A recommended reading list...

So, I've been working on a reading list that I would pass on to Christians and people interested in exploring Christianity. I didn't include all my favorite pieces of fiction or biography (which are many), but I did try to create a list that would be helpful.

Click here to see the list!!

I'd appreciate hearing what books you'd also recommend and what books you might push back on that I have included in my list.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Great Churches make Great Preachers

In a recent sermon I heard by Haddon Robinson, he remarked offhandedly  "It is commonly misconceived that great preachers make great churches, but it is the opposite that is true: great churches make great preachers."

I'd like to expound on what Haddon meant for he was absolutely right:

1) A great church hungers for God's Word. This inspires the preacher to labor faithfully to bring forth something that will satisfy that hunger.

2) A great church knows God's Word. The preacher would never bring a surface level, ad hoc "talk" before a people he knew were faithful students and practitioners of the Bible.

3) A great church prays. The greatest 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon was asked the secret to his success. He rightly responded, "My people pray for me."

4) A great church serves. A preacher knows he is only one servant among many, but because others are using their gifts as well, the church grows to maturity as each does its own work.

5) A great church proclaims the Gospel. The preacher may have the privilege of opening God's Word to feed the people on Sunday for 30-60 minutes, but in the remaining minutes of the week, God's people are heralding the truth of the Gospel in their own spheres of influence.

6) A great church bears with its pastor. A preacher who is given permission by his church to learn from mistakes, take risks, and to fail possesses a boldness and power that a preacher that lives under scrutiny does not.

7) A great church makes disciples. A great church receives the Great Commission of Jesus (Mt. 28:19-20) and accepts it as their own responsibility, not the responsibility of the pastor alone. And yet to serve a church on fire for the Great Commission is almost as inspiring as the Master's command itself.

8) A great church loves. A church that loves its pastor, it's community, and one another has the greatest power source in the world. Christ builds His church with love and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. A pastor that serves a loving church is serving a great church, and such a church inspires a preacher to become a greater one each day and year of his life.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Reclaimng the expression "Do Christmas" this year

Our household has been talking a bit about the common question, "When are you going to 'do Christmas' this year?" This expression can be translated, "When are you going to 'open presents and eat a bunch of food with your family' this year?" that what Christmas is about? Now, most folks know that Christmas is really a shortened form of Christ's Mass--the celebration of the Christ child. That's good, but I'd like to create a new definition to the expression "do Christmas."

My new definition of "do Christmas" is this: Incarnational, self-sacrifice, where we love neighbor and die for our enemy.

Each phrase in this definition is a more helpful way to respond appropriately to the Christ-child. For example,

"Incarnational" relates to the fact that the Holy and Infinite God took on human flesh (John 1:14) so that He might share life with humanity. Thus, we have a call to go to people who are seemingly different. We enter into the lives of the rich if we are poor and the poor if we are rich. We go to those who feel alone, broken, and different. We come and enter into their lives.

"Self-sacrifice" relates to the fact that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve and give his life away as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Likewise, Christians must live lives of self-sacrifice and service in the worlds we live in (see Mark 10:41-44 and Philippians 2:3-11).

"Love neighbor" is the second greatest command in Scripture (Matthew 22:37ff.). To be like Christ is to love like Christ--to love those in need, closest to us (regardless of their ethnicity, social class, or moral status).

"Die for our enemy" is the epitome of Christ's work on the cross of human sinners. While we were still sinners in enmity with God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). To do Christmas aright requires us to willingly lay down our lives for those who consciously or unconsciously oppose us.

So, when are you doing Christmas this year? When are you going to live a life of incarnational, self-sacrifice where you love neighbor and die for your enemy?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's NOT about about eternal security! Philippians 2:12-13

ESV  Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Can I lose my salvation? Am I supposed to work to keep my salvation after I have it? These are important questions, but far too often we go to Philippians 2:12-13 to find the answer. Unfortunately, this is not the best text for the answer.

Philippians 2:12-13 is one piece of a very long argument that probably goes all the way back to Philippians 1:27--the call to live a life worthy of the Gospel. This worthy life is to be marked by unselfish service and the denial of self for the good of others and the advancement of the gospel (2:3-4). The supreme act of such goodness is the incarnation  life, and death of Jesus Christ, the Son of God co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father (2:5-8). We know this is the good and godly life because God the Father placed His seal of approval on Jesus Christ for living in such a way (2:9-11).

When we come to v. 12, Paul is still calling the Philippians (and us) to live a worthy life of humble service. This is what we are saved for--to live a selfless life just like Jesus. This is the epitome of love and godliness. This is the life we have been given through union with Christ, love from the Father, and fellowship with the Spirit (2:1-2). In our salvation, we are now free and empowered to live like Christ, not grasping at status, power, or position (as Adam and Even did leading to death and destruction). Rather, we now can give our lives away. God is working in us to do this (2:13). He has done so in the lives of people like Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25ff.) and He can do it now in your life and mine.

Philippians 2:12-13 is a renewed call to die to self because the God-man died to save the selfish (you and me). He has saved us for this purpose. He is empowering us for this purpose. That we would be like the Son of God, serving and giving our lives away (Mark 10:41-45).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

While the world laughs...

While the world laughs, miracles are just around the corner. So goes the story of Jesus showing up to a house where a dead girl lies upstairs and the crowds are below. Jesus says, "She's just asleep." The crowds scorn the foolish rabbi. Moments later the girl awakes and takes nourishment (Luke 8:49-56).

Each day I'm confronted with opportunities to believe in the power of God to work in the seeming impossible moments of life. Each day others are watching and laughing that I believe the God of making all impossibilities possible exists.

Will I believe in the power and promises of the good God who gives good gifts to His children? Or will I act in such a way to make the laughing world quit laughing?

One response brings miracles just around the corner and extreme joy.

The other response avoids mockery but in the quiet approval of the world's opinion there remains no joy, no miracles, and the putrid smell of decaying flesh.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Charles Simeon on the joy of Christian service

Charles Simeon wrote of the joys of pastoral service in a personal letter to another laborer and described his work this way:

Surely this is happiness, to taste the love of God, to find delight in his service, and to see that we are in a measure instrumental to. the imparting of this happiness to others,—this I say is a felicity which nothing but heaven can exceed.

Simeon, Charles, 1759-1836; Carus, William, 1804-1891; McIlvaine, Charles Pettit, 1799-1873. Memoirs of the life of the Rev. Charles Simeon .. (Kindle Locations 2402-2404). New York, Pittsburgh, R. Carter.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How to Prepare Yourself for the Lord's Supper

1 Corinthians 11:28 says each person should examine themselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup at the Lord's Table. Here are the four bare minimum things that must be examined and obeyed before you should celebrate with fellow believers at the Lord's Table:

1. Believe solely on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. Only professed believers in Jesus Christ should take the Lord's Supper. This is a meal that reflects our communion with Jesus and with fellow Christians. No one who has not entered into a relationship with God and His church should celebrate this meal.

2. Understand the nature of this meal of remembrance. The bread symbolizes Christ's body given for His church on the Cross. The wine (or juice) symbolizes the shed blood of Christ to bring forgiveness of sins and to inaugurate a new covenant with the people of God.

3. Be in a right relationship with God. No person engaged in known and unrepentant sin should partake of the meal. If you are engaged in ongoing adultery, lying (deception, fraud, etc.), rebellion against authority and so on and so forth, you must not take this meal symbolizing fellowship with God. Your unrepentant sin must be confessed as sin and turned from in repentance in order to restore your relationship with God. And friends, fear not, God forgives us of all sin and unrighteousness when we confess (1 John 1:9).

4. Be in a right relationship with others. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that when we come to the place of worship and are made aware of a breach in fellowship with another, we must go and make things right with that person before continuing to worship God. I believe this verse applies to all aspects of corporate worship, but it certainly applies to the Lord's Table. First go and be reconciled, and then come and participate in this meal symbolizing communion with God and fellowship with other believers.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Pushing Thirty: Happy to be Humbled, Part 4

(Carrie’s final post on turning 30.)

Earlier this year, a friend from college tragically passed away.  He would have turned 30 next week.  My grandparents all have battled serious health issues at one time or another this year.  A friend recently lost his teenage brother in a car accident.  Life on this earth is finite – it has a starting point and an ending point.

My starting point was 30 years ago.  Only God knows my ending point.  In between those two points, I have an opportunity.  It is called life. 

Because I am blessed to be trusting in Christ for my life and my salvation, I have assurance that my life continues even after my death. And that life will be so fabulous I can’t even imagine it. (Better even than the chocolate truffle and cup of orange spice tea I’m about to enjoy.  Happy birthday to me.)  But until that time comes, there is a life to be lived.

This birthday, and the brevity of life which has been at the fore of my mind, have caused me to ask myself the question, “What have I been doing these thirty years?”  I mean, there’s something very humbling about the discovery that I am not invincible and that how I spend my life really does matter. Some people my age are doctors by now, some are still living in their parents’ house (which was me 2 years ago, so I’m OK with that!), some are living lives of leisure and money, some are raising families, some are knee-deep in education or high-powered careers, some are just scraping by.

I think for all the “achievements” I’ve had in my life (let’s be real, it’s a short list), none of them really compares to a few very treasured parts of my last 30 years.  First, my family.  My husband, whom I respect and love more than any other man on this earth, and my three boys make life fun, awe-inspiring, always a learning experience, and sometimes challenging.  Second, extended family and friends have all added something to my life just by being who they are and living life with me.  Third, the church is teaching me to look up in faith to the God who is always enough and to learn what it means to live in Biblical community with other Christians.  Fourth, even the losses in life, which at the time were heart-wrenching, have caused me to lean into the strong arms of a tender Father.

With my genes, I have a pretty decent shot at living past 90.  So it’s possible I’m at the one third mark in my life.  It’s a great place to stop and re-evaluate my life trajectory.  I find myself making a few adjustments.

I’d like to care less about my own image and more about Christ’s.  I’d like to prioritize my own comforts below the needs of the three little men I am raising.  I’d like to slow down on the to-do lists and enjoy the moments to invest in the people around me.  I’d like to spend more time willingly bowing before the throne of Grace in dress rehearsal for eternity.

I think this whole getting older thing has been surprisingly good for me.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to slow down, take stock of where I’ve been, and think more deliberately about where I’m going.  It’s been good to look back on the many blessings I’ve received.  And it has been humbling to look back and realize that God has sometimes even used me to be a blessing to others, often despite myself. 

And it’s fun getting flowers and chocolate, too.

Here’s to another 30, or 60, or however many years of really living.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Books finished in September 2012

Memoirs by Eugene Peterson (a delightful read of one pastor's journey from start to almost finish)

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (a fun tale that shows that you sometimes have to put trust in what is unseen because you see its impact around you)

Christian Beliefs by Wayne Grudem (short read on 10 important theological doctrines)

Improving Your Serve by Charles Swindoll (a sweet reminder of our calling as Christians to serve and give our lives away)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pushing Thirty: Happy to be Humbled, Part 3

(Carrie's third reflection on reaching the third decade of life:)

Aging.  The connotations are less than pretty. The appearance of gray hair, the few extra pounds hanging on, the wrinkles and bags and saggy skin.  And after three kids, suffice it to say that things just ain’t what they used to be in oh, so many ways.  It’s not as though I was ever a great beauty, primping and waxing and shopping my days away, but as I approach thirty I am faced head-on with the ugly reality that I have been vain. 

I have trusted in my youth, which is always accompanied by a kind of freshness and beauty even in the most homely of us.  I have valued my outer appearance over my inner appearance. I have compared my own appearance to those around me just to make sure that I’m not the most unattractive person in the room. 

The problem with vanity is that when the beauty (or perceived beauty) starts to decay, it feels like a betrayal.  My body is not supposed to do this to me!  And so the idol I’ve made of my own physical appearance comes crashing down, which leaves me in that place of humility again, realizing that the only One who will never disappoint, never betray, is the ever faithful God of the universe.

When I was in high school, a friend who treated me a like sister called me up one day.  He said, “Carrie, I was reading in Proverbs and I wanted to share this verse with you.  It says, ‘Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.’” (Proverbs 31:30)

It stuck with me.  And it is finally starting to make sense to me, which officially makes me a very slow learner. Here’s what I’m piecing together: If it is true that beauty will not last, then the pursuit of beauty is akin to the hamster running endlessly on that squeaky wheel – the pursuer never really arrives at any destination though he finds himself terribly worn out.

This could be dark and hopeless if not for the second part of that verse.  There is something of enduring value about the woman who fears the LORD.  Put another way:

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

All people are outwardly wasting away.  Those who have been graciously given the honor to be followers of Christ (because of God's love and favor, not because I am deserving), however, are being inwardly renewed daily.  The griefs that cause those wrinkles to form, the pain of childbearing which stretches the body all out of shape, the worries that spawn those gray hairs - they are all doing a good thing in the lives of sisters in Christ.  They are teaching us to live in awe of God, to rely on His grace and supply, and identify with the sufferings of Christ.  This is the reason I am happy to be humbled in the face of my own vanity.

Instead of making me more beautiful on the exterior, the process of aging and its accompanying wisdom is re-making me to look inwardly more like my Savior.  And that is a deeper, eternal kind of beauty which I am delighted to discover will never fade or disappoint.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

WAKE UP: We're at WAR!

More than ever in my life the stark reality of thousands of people groups unreached by a "peaceful" western church has been branded on my brain. More and more it troubles my heart. The logic of love is irresistible. If I love the lost, I will seek to save them from perishing. If I love the glory of God, I will work to overcome the worldwide ignorance and belittling of that glory. The blinders are beginning to fall off of my eyes and the bombshells of the unseen war are beginning to explode with terrible brightness all around me. I am coming to see the peacetime mentality that dominates our church and our conference as a tactical victory of Satan—the result of a kind of nerve gas from Satan's arsenal of chemical weaponry that gives the soldiers of Christ a kind of stupor in some and religious euphoria in others, and eventually puts them to sleep at the gates of the enemy, and makes them utterly oblivious to the cries of the P.O.W.'s behind the wall.
Who but Satan could devise a chemical weapon which when spread over the army of Christ would make them content simply to hold worship services and support groups at the door of Satan's dungeon? Picture the Allied troops landing in Germany, marching victoriously toward the smoke from the ovens of Dachau, and then stopping at the gates, setting up camp, and having a big Bavarian beer bust to celebrate while the Gestapo finishes murdering 5,000 Jews behind the gates. Satan is satisfied with all our religious activity as long as it does not move us to break down those gates to rescue the perishing.
Therefore, at the top of my agenda these days has been the question: how can I get myself and the church awake to a wartime mentality? Is there some way to break the spell? Picture a great army asleep with mighty weapons in their limp hands and armor in their tents. Picture them sleeping in the fields all around one of Satan's strongholds. Suddenly, an eyelid blinks, a head lifts and looks around. Then another and another. A strange awakening spreads through the field. Muscles are flexed. Armor fitted. Swords sharpened. Eyes meet with silent excitement. The light in the commander's tent goes on, the generals gather and the strategy for the attack is laid.
What has happened? The Holy Spirit has begun to move upon the armies of the Lord. "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light . . . Do not be drunk with Bavarian beer but be filled with the Holy Spirit . . . Put on the whole armor of God . . . and take the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God . . . Keep alert . . . and help each other be bold" (Ephesians 5:14186:1117–19). There is only one power that can break the spell of Satan, waken the armies of the Lord, and rout the god of this age—the power of the Holy Spirit.
From a sermon by John Piper, 1984
By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reflections on Family Ministry in the Church

These reflections come out of several years studying the family-integrated model of ministry, 5+ years of full-time youth ministry, and now 2+ years as a senior pastor. The key impetus for this post was reading Timothy Paul Jones' recent and well-written article: "Making Time for What Matters" (it might help you know where I am going to read his article first).

I've personally been thinking a lot about these concepts. The big issue is that the "problem" is so multi-layered that there is no quick fix. 

My first 3 reflections push against the family-integrated model:

First, the kind of model this guy wrote is the "ideal," and for most non-Christian families and baby Christians it will take years (think 5-10) before they can make a transition like this. Churches shouldn't expect families to jump on board with a plan like this right away. There needs to be a series of steps that get people there. If a church holds this model up as the minimum, the only people who will stay at the church will be fairly matured families. Thus, evangelism will get stunted.

Second, this ideal situation is not "the Gospel." The Gospel is the message of Christ's reconciling work on the Cross. Some churches/people I've read in the past year have made "good families" the goal of the Cross. This is not the goal of the cross. Though time management, setting priorities, redeeming the time, godly parenting, etc. are now more possible with the Spirit alive and at work, we must be careful to hold up any ideal that could be confused as Gospel.

Third, families cannot fully disciple their children. The local church is the necessary location where people are discipled. God has gifted the church with the gifts needed to bring people to maturity in Christ. No family has been endowed with all the spiritual gifts necessary to rear children to know, love, and serve the LORD. Yes, parents need to be engaging their children and obeying various commands in Scripture related to raising their children. And yet, the key responsibility I believe for parents is to be sure their families are fully-integrated into a church family. This is even more important for those who are baby Christians. They don't have the resources to help their children, but the church does. These parents need a place where they can grow, and a place where there kids can be fed before their parents can feed them spiritually. So too, these kids need to be exposed to those with the gift of teaching (many parents don't have this gift). These kids need to be exposed to those with the gift of mercy (many parents don't have this gift). These kids need to be exposed to gifts of giving, service, helps, etc.

Now, 3 ideas in favor of this concept:

First, my #1 responsibility as a father (not as a Christian) is to help my children fear and love the LORD God (Eph. 6:4). Their careers, success on the field or on the stage, or functioning "well" in society falls behind this #1 responsibility. The weekly calendar should be structured based first and foremost on this #1 responsibility. This means we will say no to lots of "good" things in order to focus time in God's Word, with God's people, and in service to the world (admittedly this is an abbreviated list).

Second, both kids and adults need to be exposed to all of God's people. Young and old need to interact together. Now, I don't mean all the time. But there needs to be venues, programs, informal gatherings, etc. that involve people of different ages, ethnicities, genders, etc. These settings will be a bit awkward at times, but God uses these awkward situations to teach us about the importance of loving those not like us. A church that has a million programs to keep people from having to interact with people not like them is going to have a tough time obeying lots of the commands about bearing with one another, loving the unlovely, etc.

Third, Satan is busy and he likes others to be busy too. One wise saint remarked that it isn't a good idea to follow the Enemy's example. Satan is prowling and working day in and day out. Let's not do the same. We need to rest. We need a weekly 24-hour Sabbath. Our family members (every one of them) need a break: a day with no competition, a day with no school work, a day with no expectation than simply to receive God's good gifts. We need to pray and play, rest and be refreshed. A day set aside as holy, a day for worship. I believe we will ultimately have a greater quality of life when we obey the Lord's commands to rest.

I hope it's apparent by the contrasting reflections that no church should quickly adopt any new method or overhaul existing methods and embrace another church's plan. Each church is different, with different people, different needs, and different resources. Each church needs to be who God has created them to be and who God has called them to be. Ministry will look different at each church, and we need to be careful to not quickly judge one church's ministry program.

Praise God the body of Christ shows up in various ways in various local churches.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Books Read August-ish 2012

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (short, classic book on what Christianity should look like)

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Scazzero (needed refreshment for my soul)

The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders (stellar book on the Trinity and how the Triune God shapes the church and the life of the Christian)

The Three Musketeers by Dumas (read aloud book with Carrie--not as good as I hoped)

Praying Circles Around Your Children by Mark Batterson (short and sweet read on praying bold prayers for your children)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Pushing Thirty: Happy to be Humbled, Part 2

"How was the 5k?” asks random person.

“I came in dead last, but it was still good,” I reply.

“You weren’t dead last; there were walkers behind you,” chimes in my dear husband. 

Thanks, honey. The only folks slower than me are the ones walking. And yet, this race I “ran” in (that might be a slight overstatement, perhaps “jogged” is more appropriate) a few weeks ago has been good. 

My husband, who is preparing to run a half marathon this weekend, wanted to run the 5k as a sprint run.  So I thought, what the heck, I’ll join him.  Just a few weeks of training and I’ll be ready.  Can I just say that running 3.1 miles on the road is to 20 minutes on the elliptical what a five-course meal is to frozen pizza?  So I had to work pretty hard in those weeks leading up to race day.

On race day, as I’m bringing up the rear around the first curve (somebody’s gotta do it!), I’m realizing that I have two options.  Give up or press on.  Normally, my instinct is to give up, hide, walk away from all things related to “personal failure”. That’s my fall-back.  Yet I didn’t really like that option. The problem was that I realized early on that I didn’t have the personal discipline it would take to press on.  So I started to pray.  Lord, help!  There’s no way I can do this thing without walking and within my goal time, but will you please just keep me from dying out here?  Oh, and maybe help me finish the race, too?

As I continued on that trail, something changed in my heart.  It was like a long-treasured possession was being pried out of my fingers. That nasty, life-killing little possession resembles pride, vanity, the need for personal glory.  And though I’ve clung to it for almost 30 years now, I am happy to say that it is finally beginning to make its exit.  (I say “beginning” because I think it will be a long road before it will be truly gone, and quite possibly not in this life.)  Instead of that destructive desire to compare myself with others, I began to be concerned with doing my best, using my physical exertion as an act of worship, and putting one foot in front of the other as an act of faith that the God who promises to make our feet like the feet of the deer would help carry me to the finish line. (Ps. 18:33)

In the end, I kind of liked the race.  It’s really good for me to do something at which, when viewed from the world’s concept of performance and success, I’m just plain terrible. It’s another step toward humility, which, I discovered at the finish line, brings freedom.  The first thought as I set foot across that line was that I had, miraculously, just jogged the whole thing.  And the first (very surprised) words out of my mouth to my sweaty husband were, “I made my goal!!”

Running has made very plain to me that I do not take a step down that trail by my strength alone, but by the strength God provides. This reality is seeping into other aspects of my life wherein I see the grace of God holding me up, putting breath into my lungs, moving those legs along in ways I’ve never noticed. Somehow, I always thought it was just me, super-talented and fantastic me, doing those things.  I’m happy to be humbled because it means I see more clearly on the day-to-day the hundreds of ways God Himself is working in, around, and through me to accomplish His purposes, which are, much to my delight, not always without pain but definitely always good.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Dogs at church?

So in the middle of my morning run an idea came into my head...The church is full of dogs. I'm not talking about canines by genetics, but canines by behavior.

Dogs are members of households. They get fed, watered, walked, and groomed. They perform tricks that please guests and occasionally will perform a service like bringing in the paper. But overall, they are receivers. They take and take. We enjoy their company, and they keep us from feeling alone.

Similarly, the church is full of people who are canines by behavior. We have people in the church who are members of the household. They get fed and watered from the church through its teaching, fellowship, and other blessings. They look good to guests and occasionally perform a service. But overall they are receivers. We enjoy their company, and they keep us from feeling alone.

Unfortunately, the church is not supposed to be full of dogs. The church is to be filled with brothers and sisters in Christ whose lives are to be marked by sacrificial service for one another. Certainly, family members are invited to feast at the table of God's Word and within the church's fellowship, but eventually, we ask our small children to grow up and take their plate to the kitchen, then they do the dishes, and eventually they take on more and more sacrificial responsibility. We certainly don't want our children to regress into to acting like dogs; we desire them to grow up, mature, and become life-giving participants in the family.

Jesus put it this way in John 13:12-17: When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13 "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (NIV, emphasis added)

Spoiler Alert:
Oh...and for those of us that think we are the "good kids" out-performing the dogs and less mature children, this is sin (pride, legalism, works of the flesh!). We don't "serve God" out of our goodness or our strength. Rather, God provides all that is necessary for Christian service, all that is necessary for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Every act of obedience puts us more in debt to God's grace. Every act of service is a testimony to God working in us to will and to act according to His purpose (Phil. 2:13). St. Peter put it well in 1 Peter 4:11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen (NIV, emphasis added).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pushing Thirty: Happy to be Humbled, Part 1

If you'll allow me, I'd like to temporarily hijack my dear husband's blog to spew a few of my own reflections on a topic often on my mind of late: turning 30.  With questions from my 5-year-old son like "Mom, are you a grandma yet?", I can't help but be often reminded of the fact that I am getting older. (Yes, he actually asked me that yesterday.)  And there is nothing like the thirtieth birthday to make a gal take stock of her life, asking questions such as "What does it mean to get older?" and "Is my life even heading in the right direction?"

I think I'll take some of my musings in small chunks, so this will be the first in a series of posts.  And the theme as I have watched it unfold seems to be that this has been a humbling year for me.  At this particular time and place in history, it seems that we don't really care to be humbled.  It is, in one sense, humiliating.  It reveals weakness and places us at the mercy of others.  And its opposite, pride, though classically thought of as a sin, is revered.  Phrases like "You should feel very proud of yourself" and "Stand tall, be proud" are common elements of pep talks on ball fields, in living rooms, and in classrooms.  I'm pushing 30, and I have had a humbling year.  I can say with all sincerity that I believe this to be a good thing, and in fact, maybe to be the best thing.

How can that be, you ask?  I think aging as I currently understand it has a lot to do with the loss of things formerly valued and with the increasing recognition of personal limits and inadequacies.  This either leads to humility or depression (or denial, in those strange cases of individuals who act like 20 at age, the midriff-baring shirt is not appropriate, grandma). I'll take humility over depression and denial any day, thanks.  Humility has a way of putting me in a place of dependence on God which leads to worship.  The way I picture it is that, as we age, we are gradually humbled before God. (He already knows our limits and our weakness, but we acknowledge them increasingly as we age.)  Little by little, we bow, then we kneel, then we lay - faces to the ground - before the strength and power of the great God of the universe.  And there we are, unencumbered by the illusion of our own competence, power, self-sufficiency, and we are able to worship Him.  We've finally forgotten ourselves.

This is the best place to be, because God is completely trustworthy and all my hopes and desires will certainly be satisfied in Him.  Not in myself.  And so I find myself happy to be humbled.  More snapshots of my humbling year to come...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

First day of school!!

Yesterday was Samuel's first day of school ever.  He's in a junior kindergarten class (formerly known as alternative kindergarten) which meets in the morning for 5 days a week.  Very exciting!  He's been really looking forward to school and we've loved seeing him grow in independence.  We're praying he'll be a light for Christ among his classmates.  And, no, I did not bawl my eyes out when I dropped him off. Got a little choked up, maybe, but no actual tears.  Caleb, on the other hand, was really distraught about leaving Samuel "alone" at school and thought maybe we should go to his classroom with him. The sadness wore off when he realized he could look forward to 3 hours of not sharing his toys with anyone!! :)

Here are a few pics from the morning...
He's a little giddy about going to school!

Indulging Mom with a "nice" photo

All three boys on the playground...Elias was apparently a bit distracted...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Food for Thought...the Christian Church Goes Back to Adam

It is a mistake to suppose that the Church thus instituted by Christ was a new Church. The Church of ancient Israel was a Christian Church. It had no reason for existence except in its loyalty to the expected Christ. 

Adam was a Christian; Abraham was a Christian; Moses was a Christian; David was a Christian ; all true Jews were Christians, because they cherished the Hope of Israel and were saved by faith in Christ, precisely as believers are saved in these days. The Jews were " chosen " to transmit the Messianic hope to succeeding ages. In the course of time, however, the great multitude, while keeping up the outward forms of devotion, so far lost the true conception of their Messiah that when He came they were ready to put Him to an ignominious death. But there was always " a remnant" that continued to cherish the Hope.... 

The purpose of Christ was now to reorganise and reanimate this remnant as the true Israel of God, He originated nothing on this occasion. The Christ who presided over this assembly was the Messiah of the Jews. No new creed was formulated, no new code of ethics ; no new plan of salvation ; nothing new. It was a revival of Judaism pure and simple; a renaissance of the Church as originally constituted, the Church of Messiah, the only-begotten Son of God.

From: Burrell, David James, 1844-1926. In the Upper Room : A Practical Exposition of John XIII-XVII 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Summer vacation

We went to Rapid City, SD, this month for a family vacation.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any pics of our day up at Mt. Rushmore (which happened to be on Samuel's birthday) or with extended family, or with me, for that matter.  But I'll share the best of what we did capture.

Dinosaur park - all four of the Proctor guys, although Elias is hiding. :)

Senior picture pose, three-year-old style.


Elias is travelling in style on this trip!

Riding the train at Storybook Island. Caleb enjoyed it more than it seems from this expression.

This picture captures the personality of these two perfectly.  Nuff said.

The Proctor boys turn 5, 3 and 1!

Caleb really liked the sticker book from Great-Grandma Betty. Need  I say more?

Elias' first dessert - lego cake before the attack of the one-year-old.

Hmm...what IS this?

I don't know if I like it...

Yep, this sugar stuff is awesome!!

Hats made by Mama Carrie, and Sam with his new yo-yo!

Who can resist that smile??

Monday, August 13, 2012

Things Learned By Year 2 of My Senior Pastorate

Top Ten Things I've Learned Since Becoming a Senior Pastor:

10) My preaching did not bring in all the people everyone else's preaching seemed to miss.

9) Being in a key position of leadership does not give me free reign to change "church" to match my preferences. Much of what occurs in churches (though seemingly traditional or useless or thoughtless) actually occurs because it is ministering to many. We must bear with one another. All good change usually comes slowly (despite professional critics demanding immediate change).

8) People do not want leaders; they want shepherds. Great shepherds know the Great Shepherd.

7) People really listen to what I say. A loose and thoughtless tongue has ramifications for many lives.

6) Rest, exercise, rhythm, and Sabbath enrich ministry. Working overtime, missing sleep, and neglecting personal well-bring wreaks havoc on ministry and family.

5) The priesthood of all believers is a doctrine to be believed and practiced. Decisions made and ministries conducted by the pastor alone or even an elder board alone, without congregation involvement, reject the efforts of the Protestant Reformation to release all God's people in Gospel ministry. (All that to say, God's people should submit to their leaders after giving input and follow willingly unless the leaders are acting ungodly.) So too, as a pastor I need priests in my life. I need brothers in Christ to walk with me, mentors to encourage me, friends to speak truth to me, and a flock to love me.

4) Criticism is normal. Pastors need thick skin, soft hearts, and discerning minds. Pastors need to be open to criticism. People who become professional critics, however, should not have easy access to the pastor. Pastors must set up their own safeguards, as well as, pray that other lay leaders stand up to help protect the pastor from constant criticism.

3) Any sermon that fails to proclaim Christ and make known the glorious Gospel of God the Son is worthy of the trash heap. Thus, sermon preparation needs to go deep so that sermon delivery doesn't skip off the surface of human souls. We must not neglect the ministry of the Word and Prayer...(see #2).

2) My greatest preparation for daily ministry and Sunday worship is found in personal prayer, corporate prayer, and in enlisting others to pray for me, my family, and Christ's flock.

1) I need the Gospel daily. I have failed and will fail as a pastor. I have sinned and will sin as a pastor. I am a saved sinner through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. I am forgiven, accepted, redeemed, and loved by God Most High. I am a son of the Father. I am a Spirit-filled servant of the King. My identity is based on Christ's life and work, not based on my life and work. Blessed am I because the LORD is my God.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Books Finished in July 2012

The Return of the King (Tolkien) - All is not right until the King defeats the enemies and rules from His throne. Sound familiar?
The Knowledge of the Holy (Tozer) - A short but powerful treatise on God's manifold perfections.

I'm in the middle of several long books that I'm having a tough time slogging through...
Atlas Shrugged (Rand)
The Deep Things of God (Sanders)
Praying Circles Around Your Children (Batterson)
A Queer Thing Happened to America (Brown)
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Scazzero)
The Three Musketeers (Dumas) - my read aloud book with Carrie

Saturday, July 28, 2012

God is pleased to give us the Kingdom!

In Luke 12:31, we read that Jesus commands his followers to “Seek his kingdom.” To seek Christ’s kingdom is to seek the rule and reign of God in all spheres of life. The kingdom of God is the blessed reign and presence of God in the universe, where sin, death and decay are pushed back and where light, love, truth, mercy and power are put on display. We are to seek this kingdom in our lives and in the world around us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to just get a small taste of a kingdom like this? But the very next verse (Luke 12:32) says something startling: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” O, the depth of joy that springs forth to know that God is pleased to bring His kingdom into our lives and world. We are not abandoned sheep but participants in God’s flock. Our heavenly Father loves us as His own, and He delights to give us His kingdom.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

John Paton through the eyes of a four year old...

John Paton was a Scottish missionary who risked his life to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the South Pacific in the late 19th and early 20th century. Paton's ministry was among a very violent, aggressive, and cannibalistic people. He loved these lost people and wanted them to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

And now the rest of the story...

Our oldest son heard about John Paton last week at his 5-Day Bible Club. Here are a few items that you might not have known (only through the lips of a 4-year old):

Dad: "Sam, tell us what happened today in the missionary story?"
Sam: "John was being attacked by a bunch of rich doctors, and these rich doctors went and found other rich doctors to get John."
Commentary: It appears that the The 1% also dwelt on the New Hebrides Islands long ago. These rich doctors also opposed the missionary efforts of John Patton. If only John Paton could have called on Occupy Wall Street so that his ministry could have flourished.
Solution: Or the "rich doctors" were actually "witch doctors" and the 4-year old needs to learn a new phrase.

A few days later...Dad overhearing the telling of the missionary story.
5-Day Leader: "And then John Paton was surrounded by natives who were wanting to kill him and eat him..." [Sam raising his hand]..."Yes Sam."
Sam: "I think John should stop and pray to God and ask Him to give him a gun to kill all the bad guys."
5-Day Leader: "Uh...well...uh...John loved these people so he didn't want to kill them."
Sam: "Oh."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Psalm 82: You are gods!

Due to time limitations, I will not have time to go into great detail on a difficult textual issue that arises in Psalm 82. But before we can understand the purpose of Psalm 82 we have to deal with a perplexing issue that comes up in v. 1, 5, and 6. The perplexing issue is in regards to the identity of “the gods.” 

NIV  Psalm 82:1 God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the "gods."
NIV  Psalm 82:5 "The 'gods' know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
NIV  Psalm 82:6 "I said, 'You are "gods"; you are all sons of the Most High.'

Who are the “gods” that the Psalmist has God address? The difficulty in making a decision is that the term "gods" comes from the Hebrew word elohim. The word elohim is almost always put in a plural form (the -im indicates a plural ending like the common addition of an "s" in English). But the term elohim can also refer to the singular God of the Old Testament. So you can have elohim gods or the elohim God. And yet there are a few different times in Scripture when elohim doesn't necessarily refer to pagan gods or the one true God at all. I think that is the situation we have here in Psalm 82. Let me explain.

There are 4 possibilities for the meaning of the gods. I’ll share these interpretations in the order from what I believe to be least likely to most likely:
1)      The first is that the “gods” are God’s angels. Psalm 8:5 says that humans were created just a bit below “the gods” (elohoim). Later Psalm 8:5 is quoted in Hebrews 2. Interestingly, the inspired New Testament author translates the Hebrew term “gods” into the Greek language with the term angels. Thus, it appears that the gods (elohim) of Psalm 8 were actually angels, and therefore, humans were created just a bit lower than the angelic host in some aspect of glory. With this interpretation for Psalm 82, however, you would have to think the Psalmist of chapter 82 believes the angelic beings were failing in their responsibilities as God’s servants and were soon to be judged. There is no place in Scripture to suggest God’s angels have ever failed.
2)      The second meaning suggested by some scholars is that “gods” could be the children of Israel. Verse 6 says that these gods are sons of the Most High and in Exodus 4:22 and a few other places in the Old Testament, Israel is referred to as God’s son. If you take this interpretation, the point is that Israel (God’s Son) is going to be held to account for how they govern and rule as God’s representative people. The problem is that v. 1 says that God is presiding in the great assembly. The great assembly is God’s gathered and worshipping community. It seems unlikely that the same assembly to receive God’s praise will at the same time receive his judgment.
3)      A third interpretation down the years is to see the term “gods” as referring to the heathen gods of the ancient near east. These gods (like Baal or Ashtoreth or Chemosh and later Zeus, Saturn, etc.) were impostor gods, leading people away from the true God. These gods (though demonically created) really were man-made statues, without knowledge or understanding. The main strength of this interpretation is that gods means gods and on several occasions in the Old Testament God (elohim) speaks to the supposed “gods” (elohim) of the nations. The weakness of the interpretation is understanding why gods that don’t really exist will ever face judgment. The OT spends a great deal of time speaking of the vanity of worshipping false gods, because they don’t really exist.
4)      The final interpretation is that the term “gods” refers to earthly rulers put in a place of high position and authority. The book of Exodus refers to its human judges as “gods” (Ex. 21:6; 22:8, 9, 28). These people are supposed to represent the true God in their words and actions. At a very real level, they hold the power of God on earth. This is why they will be held to severe judgment. To be put in a high place of privilege and power demands stricter expectations of impartiality and justice. The weakness of this interpretation is that humans are rarely equated with God in the Bible. The major strength of this interpretation is that it makes the most sense of an incident in the life of Jesus when he mentioned Psalm 82. Read John 10 below:

 NIV  John 10:31 Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, 32 but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" 33 "We are not stoning you for any good work," they replied, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God." 34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I have said you are "gods"'? 35 If he called them 'gods,' to whom the word of God came--and Scripture cannot be set aside-- 36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, 'I am God's Son'? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." 

Notice in verse 34, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6. Then he says, if humans (earthly judges and mighty rulers expected to govern according to God's Word) can be called gods because of their eminent position, so too can the Son of God. In fact, if those who exercise justice and perform great works can be called gods, how much more so can God’s Son be deserving of the title. Jesus is the true judge who judges rightly. Jesus is the true leader who acts without partiality. The reason is not that he’s like these “earthly gods” who hold a high earthly title, but He is God Himself. Clearly, Jesus thinks Ps. 82 was about human leaders, and that is why I will use that interpretation in my sermon on Psalm 82.

Additional note:
            There are a few cultic religious groups who have used the expression “you are gods” to justify belief in the idea that humans are or will one day be gods (this is the functional belief of the Church of Latter Day Saints, a.k.a. Mormons). This is the danger of reading the Bible too literally. We must interpret the Bible with the whole of Scripture. God says time and time again that He alone is the Divine God. No one else can share His glory. Holding to any erroneous idea that we are or will ever be divinity is to grossly misunderstand the creature/Creator distinction.
            In the Garden of Eden, Satan tempted Adam and Eve to take the fruit to be like God. Any religion that offers a similar temptation should be seen as demonic. There is One God and there is not and will never be any other.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Air Your Doubts Carefully -- Psalm 73:15

In my recent sermon from Psalm 73 ("Billboard Christianity"), I chose not to spend a great deal of time on verse 15. But it is worthy of comment here.

After a series of doubts and expressions of despair, the Psalmist writes, "If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children" (NIV).

If you read verse 1-14, verse 15 sounds like double talk. If you had spoken out like that???....YOU JUST DID! You just spent fourteen verses doubting whether the worship of God and the pursuit of holiness is worth our time and effort. So, what are you saying when you say "if I had"? Why even throw out a sentence like that? 

I believe the Psalmist lets us know that we need to be careful where and when, and with whom we share our doubts. The Psalmist knows that at the end of the day, each believer has a tremendous influence on other believers. The Psalmist knows that if s/he would have spoken too loudly of his/her doubts among the wrong people, s/he could have betrayed others and possibly encouraged them to leave the faith. 

Psalm 73 as a whole shows us that it is ok to have doubts. It is ok to question the ways of God (with humility). God can handle our spiritual interrogations. But that does not give us free reign to spew vitriol upon  the Divine. Young ears are listening. Weak hearts are weighing in. Please air your doubts. Please don't lock yourself up in turmoil. But be wise with whom you engage in such conversations. You just might betray the children of God.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Should you take communion if you are not a baptized believer?

(Note: this is the working out of my personal belief, not necessarily the expressed view of any local church I serve or have served.)

Should you take communion if you are not a baptized believer? Is it ok for parents/churches to allow their unbaptized but professing Christian children take communion?

My take: I think the Bible does not allow any unbaptized person to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

Here are my reasons:

1) Baptism is the sign of entering into the covenant community. Whereas under the Old Covenant circumcision was necessary to be marked as a covenant member, now the Bible expects believers to be marked by baptism when entering the Christian community (that is a believer's baptism after personal faith in Jesus).

Peter did not tell new converts to "believe and take communion," but rather "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..." (Acts 2:38). Baptism is the outward expression of an inward reality. So too, baptism is the mark of being a truly circumcised member (not of the flesh) of God's people of faith (see Deut. 30:6). Colossians 2:11-12 put it this way, "In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead" (NIV).

The New Testament has no concept of an unbaptized believer. Believers are to be baptized. In fact, if a believer refuses to be baptized, they are disobeying a command of God. And, if someone is knowingly disobeying any of God's commands, they shouldn't be allowed to take communion. We must examine ourselves in order to celebrate the Lord's Supper. If upon examining ourselves we realize we are ignoring any of God's commands, we must repent. This would include not obeying the Lord's command to be baptized.

2) The Lord's Supper/Communion is the covenant sign of ongoing participation in the covenant community. During the Jewish Passover meal on the night of his betrayal, Jesus explained the meal's deeper meaning. The Passover was a meal pointing ahead to the true Passover Lamb (Jesus Christ). The meal finds its fulfillment in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now, all who are members of the New Covenant People of God are supposed to regularly take this meal in remembrance of the Messiah who has come (Lk 22:19-20).

One of the main reasons I think communion should be for those marked by baptism is that the Old Testament Passover meal was reserved for those who had been marked by circumcision. I quote a large section from Exodus 12 for your meditation:

NIV Exodus 12:43 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "These are the regulations for the Passover meal: "No foreigner may eat it. 44 Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, 45 but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. 46 "It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. 47 The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. 48 "A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. 49 The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you."

3) One common and legitimate argument against this view would be something like this, "I think my child is too young to be baptized. I really want them to remember it. It is an important step, and I don't want them to be baptized without being ready." I think there is merit in this approach to baptism. It is good parenting and church shepherding to assess if there is a legitimate conversion before allowing anyone to be baptized. My only question then would be, "Is the taking of the Lord's Supper any less significant for your child?" Why would we let our children participate in the sacred ordinance of Communion and not be baptized? If a child is ready to take communion, I think they are ready to be baptized. If they are not ready to be baptized, they are not ready to take communion.

4) What should I do if I am out of line with this biblical model?

First, recognize that the Bible has separate categories for sins of omission (unintentional) and commission (intentional). Don't beat yourself up. If you understand the Gospel, you already knew you were more sinful than you could ever comprehend. There are layers and layers of sin in your life. God doesn't expose all of our sin to us at once. But as the Holy Spirit reveals sin, we repent and then press on in holiness. Christ's blood forgives both sins of omission and commission. Receive His grace.

Second, if you are personally guilty of taking the Lord's Supper without obeying the Lord's command to be baptized, repent. Go to your church leaders and request to be baptized as soon as possible. Until you are baptized, I would encourage you to not celebrate the Lord's Supper. Use the times in the worship service to pray, meditate, and look forward to the future times of celebrating this covenant meal. (Note: this is what I would encourage parents to do with their professing, but unbaptized children as well). If anyone asks why you are not taking the bread and wine, explain to them the importance of following Biblical precedent.

Third, if you are a parent, help guide your children in the ways of the LORD with the help of your local church. It is probably wise that there is no age restriction on being baptized or taking communion. For some 5 year olds, baptism and communion should not be withheld. For other five year olds, we may need to say no. And yet, churches and parents need to be careful in what they communicate to young children regarding the Gospel, conversion, and the Christian life. It is ok to faithfully test the professed faith of young children before allowing them to be baptized and celebrate the Lord's Supper. Those who believe in justification by faith don't think these practices are necessary for salvation. Your child will not go to hell if they have to wait 12-36 months before celebrating the ordinances.

All that to say, if your child has expressed faith and there are no doubts to true conversion, why withhold the ordinances? Worst case scenario is that the child and you are both wrong. At the point you think the conversion is not legitimate, you simply tell your child to quit taking communion and let them know that their "immersion into water" was not really a believer's baptism. Later, upon true conversion they should be baptized properly and begin taking communion as a believer in Christ.

I'm still working through these ideas. As such, comments, other Scripture references, and critiques would be warmly accepted.