If you’re undecided about how to read the Bible this year take a look at these eight Bible reading plans for the ESV. Each plan can be read on the web, received through RSS or email, or printed out for to carry in your own copy of God’s Word.
The last couple years I’ve made resolutions, posted them publicly, then reviewed my progress publicly as well. This is good accountability especially since there are some significant consequences of breaking resolutions even though it’s so easy to do.
We are always to be progressing in our devotion to Christ and good resolutions are made with that in mind. Spiritual transformation and progress is essential–not optional–for Christ followers. Therefore it is not only beneficial to consider our failures, weaknesses, and sin and address them, it is needful! And it is needful not only on a yearly basis, but on a weekly basis, a daily basis, and even an hourly or moment-by-moment basis. Examining our lives once a year is like examining our course from 30,000 feet–we get a good view but we’re too far away to change much. Of course from the five foot view we can deal with a lot of things but we can’t always recognize past patterns and potential pitfalls.
So a multi-prong, near and far examination is good, and the following is my bird’s eye, end of year assessment. I made five resolutions for 2007; here’s how I did.
- Less fiddling
My first resolution was also my most successful. My fingers have done minimal tweaking on my blog template or the one28 site. Almost all under the hood work on those sites was purposeful and productive. Likewise I have been employing a stable GTD set-up for more than the second half of the year. With the help of Google Calendar, Basecamp, and my iPhone I’ve actually done more working on my tasks than working on my task list.
- More (hand)writing
There were two parts to this resolution: writing more and writing more by hand. I definitely progressed in handwriting, using an Italian fountain pen on yellow legal pads or in a Moleskine notebook. Every sermon I’ve preached in the last few months was scribbled first on paper. The conentration and joy I get from the writing process (not the penmanship) is worth the extra time and something I plan to continue. As for actually writing more? There was nothing prolific so I’m headed back to the writing board.
- More (offline) reading
Book reading is back in a big way and my blog subscriptions are slipping in the right direction. Nevertheless I still find myself filling small banks of minutes with the banality of Google Reader or “opening all in tabs” instead of traversing another four pages of really beautiful or beneficial ground. Maybe some daily, personal internet protocol is in order for the new year.
- More (out-loud) praying
Spontaneous prayer has been strong in the last couple months of 2007, and I’ve especially embraced my role as “head” prayer at home for meals or bedtime. I also know that time with God in private whets my mind, calms my worries, and quickens my affections yet scheduled times of struggle and lingering are still lower than desired. All that to say, I made progress with spacious room for improvement.
- Be (radically) thankful
I have been thankful, and I’m thankful for that. I am both content with what I have and appreciative of an almost innumerable collection of tangible and intangible gifts from gracious people over the past year. As my kids grow and as my complete helplessness is further exposed, I’m thankful for God’s care. The repetition about the fear of God has not been in vain for me as I am really enjoying the process more (though not perfectly), whether traffic or interruptions or accidents as well as the obvious goods.
So overall there has been progress. I love my sheep, my family, and my Lord more than the same time last year. I think the increase in gray hair demonstrates that I’m (at least a little) wiser, not just older. I’m tired but eager to keep moving. I praise God for His strength behind my strides and blame my own sin for any and all steps back. Thank you, Lord, for being faithful to conform me into the image of Your Son; please don’t stop.
Prayer is a struggle for most men, and yet manliness and prayerfulness go together. So why is it so important for men to pray? Obviously it is necessary for both men and women to pray. But even though prayer is not exclusively manly, I think it is especially manly.
This past summer I taught a message titled Men at Work where I identified three things that distinguish a godly, manly servant. Godly, manly servants Take Initiative, they Take Responsibility, and they Make Sacrifices (easily remembered by the abbreviation I.R.S., though some suggest switching the order and using the acronym SIR). Prayer is the difference maker in each one of these assignments that we might be godly men. To be a godly man, prayer is necessary to:
1. Take Initiative for the Right Things
Men don’t wait around for someone else to tell them what to do. That’s part of what it means to be a man and not a child. Men don’t need to have their hand held. They do what needs to be done and look for more things to do. They don’t just react, they pro-act. A godly man-servant is aggressive and decisive. They start the ball rolling.
But how will you know if you are taking initiative in the right direction? That’s why prayer is so important. Scripture is littered with examples of men who did not seek direction from God before making decisions. I recently read this past week about the apostasy of God’s people in Hosea and one example was their self-initiative.
They made kings, but not through me. They set up princes, but I knew it not. (8:4)
Just the opposite was true of our ultimate example of manliness, Jesus. Before beginning His public ministry (and also immediately prior to the three temptations of Satan) Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days (see Matthew 4:1-11, especially verse 2). Just as significant, Luke 6:12-16 reveals that before choosing and calling disciples who would represent Him to the ends of the earth Jesus spent the whole night in prayer. He did not take initiative without seeking direction from His Father.
2. Take Responsibility in the Right Way
Godly men don’t make excuses. They do not blame other people for their problems or their mistakes. A godly man-servant doesn’t shirk responsibility, he shoulders it. They work hard for the sake of others.
But how will you have the strength to do that? Where will you get the wisdom to do that?
Over and over again in the gospels, before and after ministering to the crowds and healing sickness and preaching His kingdom message and training the Twelve, Jesus prayed. Even the Son of God depended on the Father as He bore responsibility.
3. Make Sacrifices for the Right Purpose
Men often indulge themselves. Too many times we try to see how much we can get someone to sacrifice for us. Instead our lives are to be spent for the sake of others. Men are called to give up their own lives, to spend themselves for their wives, their children, their disciples, and their friends. Often they must make tough choices, forsaking things that might be otherwise permissible for someone else’s benefit.
But how will you make sacrifices that show off God instead of yourself? The great danger is that we will make the sacrifice and then take the credit. In our pride we will be reluctant to direct the glory to God.
Again Jesus is our perfect example. Before His ultimate sacrifice we find Him praying (Matthew 26:36-46). He knew it was going to be difficult and painful, so much so that He requested three times that the cup might pass from Him. As He considered His coming death His soul was troubled.
Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name. (John 12:27-28)
Jesus’ concern was that His sacrifice be for the Father’s glory, not His own. Of course the Father glorified the Son as the Son glorified the Father. But prayer played a key part in the Son’s purpose and perspective.
So the timing of our initiative, the manner of our responsibility, and the purpose of our sacrifices depend on prayer. Not just the what that men do is important, but when we do it, how we do it, and why we do it. A man can’t be a godly man without prayer.
Yesterday I wrote that a man’s most difficult struggle is prayer. While prayer is a weakness for Christian men and women, at least three New Testament passage reveal a gender specific relationship between men and prayer.
Titus 2:6 (connected with 1 Peter 4:7)
When I addressed the ladies at the beginning of our Biblical Manhood/Womanhood series I went immediately to Titus 2. There Paul gives instructions through Titus to the various groups in the Cretan churches. I pointed out to the young women that all their various obligations center around the home.
But the younger men have one objective in verse 6 and it has no limitations or focus on a place. Instead it aims at a young man’s mind.
Urge younger men to be self-controlled.
Young men are to be self-controlled or “sober-minded.” The idea is to use one’s head with a focus on restraint, composure, and a practical kind of seriousness.
Probably more than anything else, young men today lack self-control. Instead they are lighthearted, careless, inattentive, concerned with the trivial, and self-indulgent. The requirement of self-control has benefits across the whole of a young man’s life, but we shouldn’t overlook the connection between self-control and praying. That link is made in 1 Peter 4:7.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
Self-control has benefits in all a man’s life, but self-control is especially important when it comes to prayer. Men must be self-controlled so they can pray. Prayer is that important for a man.
Obviously we had to take a logical step from Titus 2:6 to 1 Peter 4:7. But there are at least two more passages that reveal an explicit relationship between godly men and prayer.
1 Peter 3:7
Peter starts chapter 3 with some instructions for married people, for the women and for the men. He devoted the first six verses to the women and wrote just one to the men (perhaps that has something to do with our short attention span). Nevertheless his instruction to the men is short and sweet.
husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
This is amazing. Peter gives instruction to both the women and the men: women are to be submissive to their own husbands and men are to be thoughtful, appreciative, and considerate to their wives. And notice that both responsibilities have a purpose. In verse 1 women are to submit so that (the unbelieving husbands) may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives. That is powerful submission! God may use a woman’s submission to save her husband. So wouldn’t we expect something similar as a purpose for the man’s right treatment of his wife? Shouldn’t we read something like, “live with your wives in an understanding way so that she may be won by your considerate conduct”? But instead the purpose is so that your prayers may not be hindered.
A couple things stand out about this. First, Peter assumes that the men were already praying. He doesn’t say “so that you can start to pray” but that you can keep praying unhindered. Second, Peter implies that disrupted prayer is a tragedy, similar to the tragedy of an unbelieving life. On the other hand, unhindered prayer is (at least loosely) compared to salvation! Whether these unhindered prayers are the husbands personal prayers (which I tend to think) or family prayers the husband leads, prayer for men is a consummate work. Men must not let anything hinder their prayers–even the closest earthly relationship they have. That’s how significant prayer is for a man.
1 Timothy 2:8
One more passage demonstrates that men and prayer and inextricably linked. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul gave instructions for various groups in the church. After urging that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people” and fleshing that out in verses 1-7, he describes special duties for women and men in verse 8-15.
For sake of comparison we see that the women are supposed to adorn themselves with certain character traits and good works. This is no throw-away instruction. It drills to the core of what is important for a woman. Likewise, at the center of importance for men is the charge to pray.
The men were to pray in every place. This was the responsibility of men in each of the churches all across the region. Men must pray lifting up holy hands which is a reference not so much to the position or posture or prayer, but to their character, since “hands” was a way to talk about one’s life, the things one touches. So men are to pray with a holy life. And they are to pray without anger or quarreling. The bottom line is, godly men pray.
Manliness, prayerfulness, and godliness go together. And again, even though prayer is no less fundamental for biblical femininity, tomorrow we’ll consider why praying is especially essential for a man.
A man’s most difficult struggle is not dealing with a specific sin (like anger or lust or pride), though sin is a large part of what makes this struggle so hard.
Each and every godly man has this “struggle” in common. We read in Scripture that men like Abraham, Isaac, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, David, Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Jonah, the apostles, as well as Jesus Himself all worked through it, and most of them did it regularly.
Not only did it impact these well known Bible characters, men of every occupation in all kinds of situation did it. Kings, priests, prophets, farmers, and servants all did it. Men did it when they were building or battling, when they were mourning or doing ministry, when they were traveling, when they were tired, when they were tempted, when they were planning, when they needed provision, and when they needed protection. Godly men everywhere prayed!
There is maybe no more important, consistent characteristic of a godly man than prayer. That’s why I spent my one message in our biblical manhood series with the young men in our student ministry on prayer. Regardless of vocation, regardless of culture, regardless of spiritual giftedness, a man who is godly, a man who lives according to the Bible, prays.
Yet prayer is also probably the most difficult struggle a man has. Earlier this morning Joe Thorn posted about the difficulty of, and our weakness in, prayer. And there are at least a few reasons why I call prayer a “struggle.”
The biblical reason I call prayer is a struggle is found in Colossians 4:12. Paul wrote to the Colossian church instructing them about the preeminence of Christ so that they would become complete in Christ, spiritually mature, knowing God’s will and walking in a manner of life fully pleasing to God. Near the end of his letter Paul included greetings from Epaphras–one of Colosse’s own, apparently the one who started the church in Colosse, and the one who came to Paul for help. Paul told the Colossians that Epaphras was always struggling on your behalf in his prayers. That knocks my socks off every time I read it.
The word struggling is a term Paul frequently uses in reference to ministry; it is the Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι. It means “to struggle, to fight, to battle” for something. It is to give all you’ve got for a particular purpose. Prayer requires that kind of effort; it is that kind of fight; it is a struggle.
The theological reason I say prayer is a struggle is because everything about us men shouts pride. But prayer and pride do not fit together. Prayer says we’re needy, pride says we aren’t going to ask anybody for anything. Prayer says we’re weak, pride says me and my kid can beat up you and your honor roll kid. Prayer says I can’t figure it out on my own, pride says I don’t need your input. Prayer says God gets all the glory, pride says I’d like a little of the spotlight for myself. So our own hearts–full of man-pride–make prayer a struggle.
And doesn’t experience itself confirm that prayer is a struggle? We’d often rather sleep than pray. We’d rather play than pray. We’d rather work than pray, even when the work is the right thing, since after all, there’s a lot of important work to do. I love how Piper puts it,
Both our flesh and our culture scream against spending an hour on our knees beside a desk piled with papers. It is un-American (un-manly) to be so impractical as to devote oneself to prayer and meditation two hours a day. (Brothers, We are not Professionals, p.55)
But though prayer is a difficult struggle, it also carries tremendous significance for us as men. I want to illustrate from Scripture why I think prayer is an especially manly thing and tomorrow we’ll look at three passages that explicitly connect being a man of God with being a man of prayer. All that to say, prayer is the toughest and best struggle for a man.
Last Thursday night I was in a somewhat significant car accident. I was not injured and as far as I know neither was the other driver. But there were major consequences to the Fahrvergnügen.
God uses many things to make sure that He has our attention; traumatic crashes certainly count. Even though I avoided life-altering injury, death, or even a visit to the Emergency Room, when I replay it in my head I realize I did nothing to protect myself. Seconds and inches completely out of my control were the difference. If the crash had occurred moments earlier or later, if my head would have jerked just another inch into the driver side window, or a million other possibilities, things might be really different today.
The collision occurred as I was on my way to meet a friend to discuss the final few chapters of The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink. As my Passat was towed away the mom of the other driver saw the book and said, “That’s a good book.” Indeed.
My last few days (especially when driving) have been constantly consumed with thinking about moments and breath and providence. I’m thankful for big and small reminders to be God-conscious and I’m thankful for God’s gracious sovereignty over seconds and inches.
Or, Why Being a Youth Pastor is No Paradise.
Phil Johnson recently wrote a pungent post that smells like teen spirit on the dangers of dumbing down teaching to young people. He pointed out at least two problems with this minimalist approach to youth ministry.
First, most strategies intended to attract young people to the church are counterproductive. This is because you can’t win someone to spiritual, eternal realities when you focus on earthly, temporal activities. Why would they want to stick around for God when the pizza is gone?
Second, Phil stated,
Youth ministries…deliberately shield their young people from the hard truths and strong demands of Jesus. They tailor their worship so worldly youth can feel as comfortable in the church environment as possible. They squander the best opportunities of those formative student years by minimizing spiritual instruction while emphasizing fun and games. They let their teens live with the false notions that believing in Christ is easy, sanctification is optional, and religion is supposed to be fun and always suited to our liking.
In other words, dumbed down discipleship is not really discipleship to Christ at all. Not only do we fail to win their interest in church we lose their souls. Minimalist youth ministry actually keeps young people from Christ rather than attracting them to Him.
That’s not good.
Of course, that is the typical approach of most youth groups and that’s certainly how we youth pastors are perceived. Because of that it is not a good day to be a youth pastor. When I meet people at Starbucks (or on a plane or at Burger King or wherever) I often wince when they ask me what I do. How do you humbly say, “I’m a youth pastor, but probably not exactly like the ones you know”?
On the other hand, it is a great day to be a youth pastor. As Phil said, we have “the best opportunities of those most formative student years.” Young people make devoted disciples and fanatical worshipers. Biblical churches and pastors will charge their youth to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Young people will reap great spiritual rewards as they take responsibility in the Body and “when each part is working properly, [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” That is as close to heaven on earth as we get.
Drew said November 15, 2007 at 10:57 am:
Hey Sean, I know exactly what you mean about telling people you’re a youth pastor. I’ve actually had people ask me when I’m going to become a real pastor. It seems that the evangelical church’s opinion of youth ministry is at an all time low. In the context of my church, this has proven to be a real blessing b/c the contrast between a Purpose Driven Youth Ministry model and a biblical model of discipleship and sanctification could not be more stark. When parents see what it looks like to minister according to Colossians 1:28-29 they crave that kind of ministry, not just for their kids but for themselves as well.
Sarah said November 15, 2007 at 9:54 pm:
I am so thankful for the great, true, and solid “food” we get in One28.
In chapel this past week the speaker said just as one footnote about how youth pastors today are expected to be all fun and be jumping around crazy without being sensible. Thank you for the reminder, that helps me remember to be thankful.
Mijah said November 15, 2007 at 11:14 pm:
I totally agree that the church must see that souls are at stake in youth ministry.
P.S. – Second to last paragraph, last sentence: I think you wanted a “not” in that.
SKH said November 16, 2007 at 10:31 am:
Drew, it is one of the greatest joys of ministry when God vindicates His name and His ministry model. While part of His plan apparently includes not letting everyone “get it,” there’s nothing better as an under-shepherd than when He enables sheep to get it.
Sarah, thank you for the encouragement!
Mijah, it’s like we’re playing for keeps or something. And thanks for the typographical post script; changes have been made.
Dave Cleland said November 16, 2007 at 10:46 am:
“Why would they want to stick around for God when the pizza is gone?”
I had hoped Cat Tuesday would be the hook that kept ‘em coming after the last slice was gone. Alas, I was wrong.
Seriously though, even with all the statistics floating around out there about kids leaving church after high school most churches continue to look for answers in the wrong places. It just goes to show that all statistics can do is shock. Unless churches are providing a biblical alternative to popular youth ministry parents are still feeling around in the dark for a solution.
Pride is bad. What’s more, pride is sickeningly ugly. It is a frightful thing to find in the mirror and a hideous thing to see in someone else. It introduces itself in inopportune situations. It is no respecter of persons. It is enough to damn a man to everlasting wrath.
Pride also takes assorted shapes and sizes though some displays of pride are more familiar and others are often unexplored. The following quotes are from What Jesus Demands from the World and they expose two standard sorts of self-admiration with surgical accuracy.
Boasting is the response of pride to success. Self-pity is the response of pride to suffering. Boasting says, “I deserve admiration because I have achieved so much.” Self-pity says, “I deserve admiration because I have sacrificed so much.” …The reason self-pity does not look like pride is that it appears to be needy. But the need arises from a wounded ego, and the desire is not really for others to see them as helpless but as heroes. The need that self-pity feels does not come from a sense of unworthiness but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. It is the response of unapplauded pride.
And then just a little down the page,
A person can seem to feel unworthy by constantly depreciating himself in public, but all the while feel angry that others do not recognize this as a virtue. (p.126)
I have been both of those proud people and battle against them today by the Spirit and truth. I also know both types of proud people and struggle for them by prayer, preaching, and patience. But let us not be proud. If we boast, let it be in the Lord. If we pity, let it be those kept from salvation by their pride. If we are angry, let it be toward the flesh that blinds us to how unworthy we really are. And if our ego is wounded, let us put it out of its misery by putting it to death.
Series | ComMission
A loud voice continues to emerge in some parts of Christianity, with a heart for the spiritually lost, concerned that Christians are failing to fulfill our commission, afraid that our friends, family, and communities are going to hell, and confident that the church is to blame (at least in large part).
In classic American entrepreneurial spirit, many pastors and other church leaders have recognized the problem (namely, people don’t seem to be coming to Christ or to church), concluded that our formula for evangelism must be flawed or faulty, and then created new approaches, strategies, and programs. Well meaning sheep who also have a heart for the lost see flashes of success when all kinds of unbelievers flock to these fresh, imaginative, creative, emerging churches.
But just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is according to sound doctrine, and I wonder if we are discerning enough to suspect if what seems like success might actually be a spiritual wreck.
In fact, it is a wreck. And most of all this wreck has wrought significant damage to the preaching and pursuit of personal sanctification. Making disciples has been limited to conversion and building up the saints is apparently not only unnecessary, it is actually a hindrance to reaching unbelievers. Of course that approach tears down the church even if attendance numbers increase.
As I mentioned in the previous post our commission is not just conversion. The Great Commission is not fulfilled by making a great number of converts but disciples. Those who repent and believe must also be taught to observe everything that Christ commanded. That means God’s mission is broader than evangelism, it also requires edification and equipping, so God gave gifted men to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
Churches and ministries focused primarily on conversion may be strong on justification but are often silent when it comes to sanctification. This is visible both in the methodology of the leaders as well as the lifestyle of the flock. Herein pastors contextualize the gospel and rationalize every sort of flesh-pampering, sin-minimizing, cross-eclipsing outreach. The people are comfortable because the standards are low and the accountability absent.
I think at least four overlapping problems surface in these situations.
- Little to no emphasis on sanctification and obedience. However, sanctification is God’s will for every believer. As obedient children we must be holy as He is holy in all our conduct. Disciples must learn to obey all the Lord commands not merely confess Him as Lord.
- Lack of love for heaven and eternity. Yet those who have been raised with Christ are commanded to seek and set their minds on things above. We are to rest our hope fully on coming grace at the revelation of Christ and anticipate our final salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. We are merely exiles on earth; our citizenship is in heaven.
- Inability to recognize and repent from sin. But there is no knowledge of truth, no forgiveness of sins, no hope of eternal life, or salvation without repentance. Besides, Jesus did not come to make it possible for men to enjoy sin but to save sinners from it.
- Unwillingness to define and distinguish worldliness. Yet Jesus declared we are not of the world. Christians should be busy turning the world upside down not trying to adopt as much of it as we can get away with. We’re prohibited from loving the world or the things in the world because we know friendship with the world is enmity with God. Instead we are crucified to the world and should no longer live conformed to it.
And so any method of making disciples that does not emphasize increasing Christlike holiness is not following the Great Commission. Not only that, it is wrong to think that we will persuade men to love God by serving their idols. Let’s not be guilty of letting men think they can keep their life, gain the whole world, and still save their souls.
Series | ComMission
A few nights ago a friend forwarded an email from another friend with some quotes on the importance of being missional in our churches and in our lives. I read it on my way to bed which turned out to be a mistake since I was awake for another three hours or so thinking about it. More than anything I was filled with disappointment, and though I should have just gotten back out of bed and written my response, letting a little time pass has been profitable.
I did ask permission to post this response on my blog. It isn’t that I have something new or profound to add to the missional conversation, but people do ask me about it. And even though the quotes below are not exhaustive of the missional approach they do give a good feel for the mindset and I thought this might be a resource I could share in the future.
I also realize that this post is way too long. If you are a casual reader you are free to go and I promise not to take offense. My new fountain pen basically exploded over 11 pages of legal paper when I wrote the rough draft, though I have tried to clean it up as best I could. That said, it is still longer than the uninterested will care to cover.
The original email had three quotes and then a short exhortation based on those quotes. My plan is to give each quote a turn and then respond. I’ve also decided to add a constraint to myself, that is, I am only going to support my thoughts from the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 or the book of Acts. Since I assume most of the missional speak was generated in these sections of Scripture I want to interact on their ground. So here we go.
I asked a lady, “Would you come to church with me?” “Oh, no, Ms. Tillie. Isn’t church for people who have their lives together? I don’t have my life together yet. When I get my life together, I’ll come to church.” That is when I knew we must take church to the people. Our definition of church is what we do seven days a week, almost twenty-four hours a day, all year long! It is just who we are.
We immediately sense the sadness in this story. An invitation to church was turned down by a needy lady with a partial misunderstanding about the church. We naturally commiserate with Ms. Tillie because we too have interacted with neighbors and co-workers who are apparently uninterested because of a skewed perspective toward the church.
But before we re-define “church” we should make sure the real definition is clear. Besides, it doesn’t matter what “our definition of church is,” it matters how God defines it.
The church is the Body of Christ. Church is not something we do, nor is church “just who we are.” Yes, believers are part of the Body, but the whole Body does not go somewhere just because one of the members does. The church is a worldwide group that holds local meetings. So we don’t take “the church” to the people, we take the gospel of Christ to the people. We are to live as, and make disciples of, Christ seven days a week, every waking hour. But that is not the same thing as taking the church to the people.
Church is not for “the people,” church is for Christians. The church is comprised of believers and church meetings are for the saints. The church gathers for worship and teaching and fellowship and then individual Christians scatter for evangelism. Unbelievers may attend our services and often do. Obviously we should preach the gospel and pray for their salvation, but where did we get the idea to invite those with no spiritual taste-buds to our corporate feast?
And let’s go back to our lady’s partial misunderstanding that church is “for people who have their lives together.” We see the signs around town, “Such and Such Church: No perfect people allowed” (often with a word misspelled for emphasis). We get it. Someone had a bad experience with a (probably hypocritical) pietistic, proud, professing Christian with no joy and a chip on their shoulder. We don’t like the self-righteous either.
But righteousness is required in the church, it just isn’t our righteousness. Church isn’t for Christians who are better than non-Christians, it’s just that we don’t fear God’s wrath against our unrighteousness because the righteousness of Christ was credited to our account when we believed. But anyone who doesn’t have His righteousness is not safe. Unrighteous people should feel no more comfortable at church than darkness does with light. It should be no surprise if unbelievers want to stay as far away as they can.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira makes it clear: don’t mess around with the church–God takes His church seriously. In fact, God took the lies of Ananias and Sapphira so seriously that He killed them and “great fear came upon all who heard of it” (Acts 5:5, 11). Even though God doesn’t immediately kill hypocrites who come to church today, hypocrites should still be afraid.
The point is, yes we should make disciples and bring them to the church. We should purposefully live with love and speak with grace and tell the truth to unbelievers next door or across the hall or behind the checkout counter. But we should not expect those who are at enmity with God to want to worship Him in the splendor of His holiness. Redefining church won’t fix that.
Alright, quote #2:
We don’t care if you’re wearing a suit or a T-shirt and jeans. What we care about is the condition of the heart.
One thing I learned from my dad is that there are jerks everywhere. That includes the church. It is possible that some people care more about what you wear rather than the condition of your heart. But is it also possible that someone could care about the condition of your heart and what you’re wearing?
How about a hypothetical story…what do you care about more in a bride, her pure heart or her white dress? Obviously you care more about her heart. If her heart was chaste but all she had or could afford was a pair of capris from Old Navy and a nice tank top, would we say that she couldn’t get married? No. Would we say the marriage was in trouble? Probably not. But would we also conclude that her heart must be pure because at least she wasn’t trying to fake it with a white dress?
If the tank top is all she has, no argument. If the tank top is what she really, really, really prefers. OK. But just because another bride spent time and money on a nice dress does not equal that her insides are ugly, nor are we forced to conclude that a pastor or parents are superficial if they ask the first girl why she decided to go with short pants.
Instead, we understand that the bride’s dress is one way to reflect her heart. What she wears isn’t the only reflection, but it does communicate something. A wedding is a special occasion, a solemn, worshipful ceremony. It should be treated as such and what we wear is part of what makes it unique. Worshiping God when the church gathers, though more regular than our weddings, is also a special celebration. Sure, in different times and different cultures, different dress communicates thoughtfulness. And yes, we’re under grace, not law. I get it. But I also want to be sober-minded when dealing with serious things, inside and out. On top of that, Hawaiian shirts aren’t necessarily more spiritual than three piece suits.
And then third, this quote is so close to being good and yet is still so potentially misleading.
Truth is not a set of rules to be obeyed, mysteries to be known or evidences to be mastered, but Christ, by whom we know and are known. Truth is not discovered, it is revealed in relationship to both the head and the heart. Therefore, Truth is not something merely known or proclaimed but Someone experienced, tasted, and seen as the psalmist says, by grace, faith, and presence that not merely knows the Truth but loves Him.
“Truth is not a set of rules to be obeyed,” but truth does include God’s law that we are responsible to keep. “[Truth is not] mysteries to be known or evidence to be mastered,” but truth does explain mysteries and provide reason for faith. “Truth is not discovered, it is revealed in relationship to both the head and the heart.” That’s okay if the author meant to say that intellectual information alone is insufficient. But we do “discover,” or better yet, God reveals truth to us by illuminating Scripture as we read and study and meditate. It is not magical or mystical revelation that bypasses our brains.
Finally, “Truth is not something merely known or proclaimed but Someone experienced, tasted, and seen.” The key word is there but it is buried. It is the adverb “merely.” I agree that truth is not merely known, but to be of value it cannot be less than known. John Piper put it this way in a recent sermon I heard:
Knowing the person of Christ salvifically requires knowing propositions about Christ truly.
That is absolutely why the early church was consumed with the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). That’s why the Lord commanded the apostles to “speak to the people all the words (the facts) of this Life” (5:20) and why they were committed to preaching the word of God over performing (good) acts of service (6:2, 4). It was “the word of God” that kept increasing and multiplying (6:7; 12:24) as people received it (8:14; 11:1). Preaching the good news was of highest priority (8:12; 8;35; 10:36; 13:32; 14:15). With the unbelievers in Athens Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer” (17:2-3). With the believers in Ephesus Paul was concerned to proclaim the whole counsel of God (20:27). He was “occupied with the word” (18:5). His ministry partner Apollos was “competent in the Scriptures” (18:24) and “spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” (18:25), “powerfully refuting the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (18:28).
Knowing and proclaiming was apparently important in the mission of the early church, both publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20). That shouldn’t surprise us because we know it is the word of God which is able to build a person up (20:32).
If all that still isn’t convincing, consider the actual Commission Jesus gave in Matthew 28:18-20.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are responsible to do more than merely introduce others to Jesus. We urge them to identify with the Triune God in baptism that could cost them their lives. That’s not all. We also train them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” There are rules–Christ’s rules–that must be obeyed if we are going to be His followers. His rules are not burdensome, they are for our joy, and His Spirit enables us to obey them, but there is a way of life demanded of true disciples.
These standards for discipleship are truth, the kind of truth that sets us free. Truth must be “known and proclaimed” as well as “experienced, tasted, and seen.” But it starts with proclaiming accurately so that others might know precisely. Without building a solid foundation the building will not stand and eventually the “experience” of Jesus will be experience of another Jesus in whom there is no salvation.
About a year ago I wrote a couple posts connected to the idea of contextualization, incarnational ministry and being missional. [Those articles are Ashamed of the Gospel 2.0 and 4 Tools for Great ComMissional Disciple-Making.] In the meta of the first post a friend and Emergent-sympathizer expressed similar concern to the quotes above:
My argument would be that the vast majority of churches today are not on God’s mission but are most concerned with “building up the saints” (or at least maintaining them). When churches ignore their need to embrace their Great Commission calling as something that should impact everything about how they operate…they end up being social clubs that you can join if you want but you’ll have to walk, talk, and look like everyone else.
I think his point fits well in the context of this post, and my response to his comment still applies:
So God’s mission is conversion? Evangelism and spiritual rebirth is the completion of our Commission? That is not only narrow but unbiblical. The Great Commission does not exhort us to make great number of converts but disciples. Seeing people get saved (your description) is only part of our responsibility. After repentance and faith they must also be taught to observe everything that Christ commanded. God’s mission is more than just evangelism but also edification and equipping. “Building up the saints” is part of God’s mission for the church, hence why He gave leaders to do just that.
To say that some churches end up being “social clubs” is a straw man. What about the churches that end up being skate-parks or concert halls in their effort to contextualize and reach the lost?
[An insular church full of insular people is no good] but perhaps we should also be afraid of churches full of professing believers that in fact are not followers and lovers of Christ. Even more than that, perhaps we should be afraid that the Head of the Church will return to find us investing in someone else’s kingdom.
Our lives are about mission, the mission to praise God’s name above all others. Therefore, reaching the lost and making friends and building community is important in so far as it is consistent with the truth about God that He reveals in His Word. That means sometimes people won’t want to go to church and it isn’t a problem with church; they don’t like the God they meet there. It also means that wearing a t-shirt instead of a tie is not a certificate of authenticity that your heart is right. It also means that those who glorify God most passionately and make disciples most purposefully are those who know God most clearly and love Him most intimately.