Friday, December 30, 2005

Considering Others

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 10:24).

This verse was on my mind today. My own personal experience tells me that the more I consider others the more beneficial I am to them. If I think about my fellow believers and pray for them... if they are in my thoughts often, then when I see them I can more effectively spur them on toward love and good works.

How often do we really consider our fellow believers? Do we realize that one of the reasons we exist is to help others conform to Christ?

"To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Col 1:29).

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Purpose of "Church"

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 3:10-11).

I was pondering Ephesians 3:10-11 this morning. I just have to say WOW! God is wonderful. Did you catch what the verse is saying? God has had a purpose for a long time: an "eternal purpose". The previous verse says that for "ages" the mystery of Christ had been hidden. At just the "right time" Christ came and died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). And there was an eternal purpose for it all.

His intent, or purpose, according to Ephesians 3:10-11 was to make known his wisdom to the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms". Perhaps the "rulers and authorities" are angels, perhaps angels and demons. Either way, the church is supposed to live in such a way that it makes God look very wise. When people, or angels, or demons see God's people, functioning as "one body" (Eph. 3:6) they will say, "wow, God's ways are best; he is all-wise!" This is God's intent.

Yes, God also wants people to recognize his glory as they observe the church. He hopes that men would see the love of the church and then come to him. But his plan, his purpose, his intent is even greater than this. There are other observers, "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms", who are looking on. And God has an eternal purpose that they will see his manifold wisdom through the church!

"To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Eph 3:21).

Right now, in this generation (and in all generations), there needs to be glory coming to God as a result of the church. How ought God's people to conduct themselves? How ought they to love one another, to sacrifice for one another, to lay down their very lives for one another? If God's people REALLY believe that eternity is more important than temporary things, how will they live?

Later in Ephesians, God has a wonderful description of the church. It says very clearly why Christ died and what kind of church he is building:

Eph 5:25-27 ...Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Is that your "church experience"? First of all, are you part of a "body"? Are you part of a "radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless? Literally. Practically. So that all the "rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" will not be able to do anything but cry out, "God is wise!".

What is commonly called "church" falls so far short of these things! It is not God's will that we fall short! His will is that we display his wisdom by being a radiant church! Praise God that there is a remnant. There are people on earth today who are bringing God glory like Ephesians 3:10-11 says. But there are very few (Luke 13:24, Matt 7:14). Few churches would fit the Biblical description of being part of the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).

If you're reading this, I guess that I'm hoping that you will not make excuses and say that all these things are impossible and that God is hoping for something that won't happen. No, Jesus died for these things. And Ephesians 3:11 says that not only did he purpose or intend to receive glory through the church, but he also made it possible--he "accomplished" it through Christ! May he receive what he died for.

Eph 4:1 I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received

Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Monday, December 19, 2005

When Will the Kingdom of God Appear?

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:20-21)

Someone quite angrily and rudely insisted to me that the "kingdom of God" is not now at all because it is only when Jesus comes and rules. So, I thought I'd write a little about my thoughts on "when" the kingdom of God is. I don't have many answers, so most of the time I'll just quote Jesus. :-)

Certainly, in the Bible there is a future sense in which the "kingdom of God" is used. Jesus talks of the 12 disciples sitting on 12 thrones. He talks of a big feast in the kingdom. These, and many other aspects of the kingdom, are obviously yet to come.

But there is also a present aspect of the kingdom of God. There is a sense in which it has begun already. Even as Luke 17:20-21 hints at (quoted above).

John the baptist hinted that the time was very near when he said, "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15). It was so near that Jesus could say, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1).

Jesus told many parables about the kingdom of God. One of them is as follows:
Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?' 28 "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'" (Matt 13:24-30 )

He explained the parable a few verses later:

He answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matt 13:37-43)

Please notice the present and future senses of the kingdom of God in the words of Jesus. The good seed is being sown and there are present-tense "sons of the kingdom". There are weeds, an enemy, and a looking forward to the harvest. Notice that when the harvest, or end of the age, comes the kingdom is already there. Yet, there is still a future shining like the sun in the kingdom. But there is a kingdom already established and the angels are sent to weed out all who do evil out of it. Obviously, we are in the "phase" of the kingdom where there is a lot of sowing of seed. The enemy is lurking. We are looking forward to the harvest.

Hopefully it is clear what I'm trying to say. This blog has been emphasizing the present sense of the kingdom. Even as Paul wrote that we are already in the kingdom: "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Col 1:13).

Well, there is much more to say, but hopefully everyone will get my point. And actually, what I am trying to write about on this blog isn't some theological treatise about what exactly the kingdom of God is and isn't and when and how.... There is MUCH that I don't understand. What I am trying to write about is how Christians are supposed to interact with one another right now.

Well, hope all that helps. Maybe I can refer you to all the parables in which Jesus describes the "kingdom of God". Come, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Why "Preaching" is Not Enough...

Most people realize that experience is more valuable than head-knowledge. If people want to become school teachers, they go to school to learn their subject matter AND they spend a lot of time visiting teachers’ classrooms. Before they graduate they must spend at least half of a year “student teaching” —- actually running a classroom under the close supervision of a teacher. It is during “student teaching” that every school teacher will tell you that he or she really learned how to teach. Sure, some of their university classes may have been helpful, but every teacher learns their “basic survival skills” during student teaching.

Someone who wants to be an engineer goes to a university to learn a lot of things, but when they are done if they want to get hired they had better have experience working as an engineer in the real world. If they are hired in as an engineer at, say, Ford Motor Company, they have a two year training program working side by side with other engineers to teach them how to be an engineer in the real world.

If someone wants to become a plumber, they do not even go to school for several years. Instead, they work side by side with a plumber for several years. Would you hire a plumber who had a four year “degree” in plumbing, but had never actually fixed a toilet?

Where am I going with all this? In the church world, it seems that many times we stop at the education phase. There’s lots of teaching a preaching; lots of books on almost every topic. People can become pastors with enough "education". It’s almost like we feel like we’ve done our job if we have taught people something. We feel like we’ve received what we needed from the church if we’ve received teaching from them. “Marriage counseling” has become a once a month “meeting” to discuss a few things. The person counseling has little knowledge of the couple’s real life and the couple has very little knowledge of what their “counselor’s” life is really like.

I have noticed that despite the increase in the amount of books and sermons on various topics, the quality of church life is not improving. Divorces continue in the churches. The youth in the “youth groups” continue to dress more and more according to the world’s pattern with shorter and shorter skirts, etc. Clearly, more books alone will not solve the problem. Teaching is good and necessary, but it is not the end all solution.

I have preached several times on topics such as child training and marriage and then in the days and weeks that follow, I have noticed that people’s lives do not change as much as I thought they would. There could be more than one reason for this, but one big reason is that teaching and preaching are not enough. What is more valuable -— hearing someone speaking about raising children or spending a weekend with someone who is very good at raising children?

If I teach something to the believers, I cannot simply conclude that the job is done. In essence, after speaking to them, I need to then walk with them in their lives side by side so that I can help them apply the teaching to their lives. After I receive instruction from others, I desire to have them help me apply what they have taught.

Jesus did the same thing. He said, “love one another as you have seen me loving you.” Paul often told his readers to remember is way of life, not just his words. Let’s help each other move beyond the “education phase” of life and get into the trenches together.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Seek First the Kingdom of God

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..."

About a year and a half ago in May of 2004, I bought 4.5 acres of land halfway between Grand Rapids (where the believers are) and where I work. I would have a 20 minute drive to work and "only" a 20 minute drive to see believers. I had talked everything over with several of the brothers here and instead of living right in the town where I work, I decided to "sacrifice" so that I could be close to believers. I was seeking first his kingdom...

The house that we built was the perfect house for us. It had open spaces to promote togetherness in our family. We designed it so that we could have lots of people over for fellowship and even put a large parking pad on the side of the driveway. (By large, I mean large enough to hold about 10 cars.) I had all kinds of ideas of how living in the country would be good for my children; from raising chickens to chopping wood, I was going to teach them responsibility. We were seeking first his kingdom...

By the time the house was ready, one year ago, in December of 2004..... God made it clear to us that we should SELL it! "Oh no", was my initial reaction. Furthermore, God made it clear that we should move the city of Grand Rapids to be very near the believers. "Oh no." I didn't like the city! And I certainly didn't want a 40 minute commute to work. It was as if God was saying, "Nice try; you were trying to seek first my kingdom, but since your heart is right I'm going to lead you in such a way that you can seek first my kingdom the way I want you to."

I learned quite a bit about seeking first God's kingdom. Even though I thought that I had God's best in mind, I didn't go far enough. By May of 2005 God brought us to where we currently live--right in the city of Grand Rapids, about 2 miles from downtown. This was the last place I wanted to live.

But by the end of the summer, God had moved upon the other believers here to want to live closer together. And now we all live within 3 or 4 blocks of each other. Close proximity has really helped us to carry out sharing life ("fellowship") with one another in real, practical ways (see "Practical Daily Life in the Kingdom" Part 1 and Part 2 for examples).

And now, I really enjoy living here in the city! Wow! I am so surprised. But I have this strange peace and joy. I really like this house! But I NEVER would have designed a house like this. This is NOT what I THOUGHT I would like. But God knows best, that's for sure.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" (Prov 3:5-6).

I had a lot to learn about what seeking first God's kingdom meant in that situation. And I suspect I have a lot more to learn!

Whoever is reading this, would you consider one thing? Do you go all out in pursuing the will of God? Empty yourself of your own thoughts and preferences and see if there's more for God to show you. You just might be surprised.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Contradictions in the Lives of "Christians"

“Not everyone who calls me, ‘Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father.”
--Jesus (Matthew 7:21)

Many people say that God is their first priority, but their lives testify otherwise. Jesus said that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter heaven. Doing God's will is the deciding factor. Let me jot down a few of the contradictions I've observed in peoples' lives. By the way, for the most part, I'm speaking from personal experience. All of the following things used to be true in my life. I thought I was following Christ, but he lovingly showed me I was not. Here goes...

Professing Christians claim that the Bible is the most important book in the world, but they spend more time watching TV than reading their Bibles.

Although the Bible says that complaining leads to destruction (1 Cor. 10:10), many people complain about their difficulties and even complain about the weather that God made.

Much of what entertains people on television is sin. In this world we will see sin occur around us, but should we deliberately put it in front of our eyes? Should we be entertained by it? Have you ever laughed at a sexually perverted comment that the movie calls "comedy"? God grieves and weeps at the sin, but many of his professed children laugh at it. Something is wrong!

Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10 to freely give since they had freely received. Do you think Jesus would have been pleased if his disciples wrote memoirs of their experiences with Jesus and then sold copies of them for $14.95???? Isn't this what happens in modern Christianity today?

Many people in churches speak of peoples’ faults behind their backs. The Bible clearly forbids this.

I wonder if people would be honest and if you asked them what they truly enjoyed more: their sporting events or spiritual things? Are they more alert and excited during the 4th quarter or during a sermon or prayer or opportunity to witness on the street...

Many people are ashamed to share their faith. They might be ashamed at work, at the supermarket, or any other time. Sure, some are not ashamed. But some definitely are. "If you are ashamed of me and my words, I'll be ashamed of you."

Well, that's all I'll say for now. I don't want to be too "negative", but the truth sometimes hurts. I know that not all of these things apply to everyone. But whoever reads this maybe it'll help you take a good, hard, honest look at how you live. Do you live what you say you believe?

If we really believe that our lives are a drop in the bucket compared to eternity, how will we live? If we really believe that only what is done for God will last, how will we live?

“Will you come to my house and say, ‘We are saved,’ and then continue to do these detestable things? I have seen it!”
--God (Jeremiah 7:10-11)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Are God's Commands Too Difficult?

Before you begin reading this, would you please grab a Bible and be ready to look up the Scriptures I refer to? Thanks!

Within the pages of the Bible are some pretty intense descriptions of people who choose to follow God. These include denying one's self (Matt. 16:24, Luke 14:27), loving God above anything else (Luke 14:26, 33; Matt 22:37), and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:39). If we have true faith in God, our faith causes changes in our lives. These changes are evidenced by what we do (James 2:14-16; Eph.2:8-10), what we think (Phil. 4:8; Col. 3:1-3; Eph. 5:23), what we say (Eph. 5:25, 29), and what we delight in or take pleasure in (Psalm 1:1-2; I Pet. 2:2, Matt 5:6). Through Christ we are dead to sin (Romans chapter 6) and our former way of life. By His grace, we are made free from sin (Rom. 6:18). Jesus is our example and we need to follow in his steps (I Pet. 2:21) and live like he lived (I John 2:6). Those who are in Christ are a new creation (II Cor 5:17) and we need to "...put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). In Christ Jesus, we are created by grace to be righteous and holy through faith in him. We are told to forsake our life of sin.

Is Jesus's call too difficult? Is it too hard? For just any human being, it is too difficult, but a Christian has the Spirit of God. God's power is at work in us (Eph. 3:20). Through Christ, we ARE dead to sin (Rom. 6) and we ARE crucified with Christ; He lives in us (Gal. 2:20). So, I ask you this: is obeying God and overcoming sin in our lives too hard for us IF we have faith in him and trust in him (not ourselves)? Let's see what the Bible says:

Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your sould. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:29-30). Would you agree that Jesus' yoke is easy and his burden ligh t? From a human standpoint it may not seem like his yoke is easy. But what is a yoke anyway? A yoke is a device that holds two oxen together to plow a field; it has two large holes--one for each ox. If we take the spiritual yoke upon us that has one h ole for Jesus' head and one for ours, we must let him lead and give up our will. If we rebel, the yoke will pull at our neck and then it will hurt; but if we let him lead, He will guide us through the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23). Don't get the wron g idea: just because Jesus said his yoke was easy doesn't mean we won't suffer persecution. In fact, Jesus said that WE WILL go through trials but we can have peace in Him (John 16:33). He even gives us joy that enables us to rejoice at being counted wo rthy to suffer for him (Acts 5:41). Also, trials serve to perfect us (James 1:2-4). If we rebel against God, we will find that Prov. 13:15 is true: "Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard." So, the way of a transgressor is hard, not the way of the righteous. Saul (later named Paul) found the way of a transgressor to be hard when Jesus appeared to him and said that it was hard for Saul to kick against the goads (Acts 26:14). (An ox kicking against the goads was a Greek proverb symbolizing useless resistance; eg- the ox was only hurting itself.) It is hard to rebel, but IF we surrender our will and die DAILY to ourselves, it is easy to let him lead. We must continue to serve him and deny ourselves (Matt. 16:24) or else we will find ourselves fighting God. We WILL fall if we rely on ourselves. "Where fore let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12).

God's commands are not a burden to us, but rather a joy. "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3). And it is possible to keep his commands because as the very next verse in I John 5 states: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (v.4). Have the faith to believe that his power works in us (Eph. 3:20) and you can and will overcome. "Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish ALL the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph. 6:16). "Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mark 9:23). "I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST which STRENGTHENETH me" (Phil 4:13). "No temptation has seized y ou except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it" (I Cor. 10:13).

Rely on God to help you take the way out of EVERY temptation. He is a faithful God. "May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and HE WILL DO IT." I Thess. 5:23-24

Please, don't accept less than what God has for you.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Big Tent Revival

A couple years ago I was at big tent revival meeting. Before the revival meetings actually began, people would gather and pray that God would use the meetings. We would pray early in the morning and then go back home. Then we would come early before the meeting and pray together some more. The atmosphere was very sober and we were waiting expectantly for God to use the meetings to accomplish Great things for his Kingdom.

Another time, I was at a church building and many of the men of the church were down in the basement praying together before the service. I remember taking particular note of the fervency of the prayers. Men were crying out to God that he would use the meeting that was ready to begin in a few minutes. “Lord, give the preacher words for us.” “Lord, please have your way with the service today.” Many heartfelt, sincere prayers went up to the Lord that day.

And then it hit me. Do I take spiritual matters this seriously only at times like these? How fervent are the prayers before we go off to work? Why don’t we ever get up early and pray with others before we begin our workday? How much to I look for and eagerly expect God to work in my day TODAY????

Yes, the revival meetings were special, but I couldn’t escape the reality that every day is an opportunity to glorify His name. God wants all of our time, all of our hearts, all of us. He wants to use us for his kingdom. He wants to use our “normal”, everyday lives. He wants our lives to be so full of him, that when the squeeze of everyday life hits us, Jesus comes out and others see it.

It’s fine to be excited about something “special” God may be doing, but let’s not forget the opportunity of everyday life. But this requires absolute surrender, complete dedication to doing God’s will and not our own. Let’s not forget that every single day we have an opportunity to be a testimony for Christ whether we testify to men or to principalities in the heavenly realms. More on this later…

“God’s intent is that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 3:10).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

In the Kingdom of God, We Need Each Other

"And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Cor. 12:21).

How much do you really need other believers that you know? How much do you really feel a NEED for your brothers and sisters in Christ? The Bible says very clearly that we cannot say that we don't need one another. Most people wouldn't say that with their lips, but they say it all the time in their hearts. In your heart, do you truly sense that you need your brothers and sisters? Your actions will reveal what you really believe. If you truly believe that you need your brothers and sisters, it will be demonstrated in your life. Should we need our brothers and sisters only for church meetings? Is that the only time we should need one another? Let us never say in our hearts, "I need you on Sunday and Wednesday, but not other days during the week!"

"But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13).

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Practical Daily Life in the Kingdom of God, PART 2

This is part 2 of what I wrote yesterday. If you haven’t read part one yet, I would encourage you to read that first. In fact, before reading part one, you may want to read “Daily Relationships With Purpose" and "Growing in the Kingdom of God" for a little background…

“…better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away” (Proverbs 27:10).

A dear Christian brother or sister who lives far away is sometimes less valuable than a next-door neighbor who isn’t even a believer. It’s true if your car breaks down, if you need to borrow a shovel, or if you need a couple eggs to complete a recipe. It’s also true in a multitude of other ways.

The believers in our fellowship have deliberately positioned themselves to be more valuable to each other by deciding to live close to each other. For some that meant selling their home and moving. For others it meant renting a place closer to other believers. Rather than a 15 or 20 minute drive separating us, we would much rather have a one and a half minute walk! (I would like to write a post for this blog soon to get my thoughts down about how God worked in my heart personally in deciding to move closer to believers, but I’ll save that for later.)

Again in response to an inquiry about how daily life relationships leads to building up believers in love and in faith, I’ll share the following examples. These examples are taken from the last three or four weeks. Some may be more profound than others....maybe you won't think any are "profound". :-) There are many more in addition to these, but I think you’ll get the picture… So, in the last three or four weeks…

In the past days and weeks believers have shown up at my door to borrow shovels, rakes, a wheelbarrow, and some other things that I can’t remember. How is that “spiritual”? Well, whenever two or three believers who are dedicated to conforming to Christ and helping each other conform to Christ…whenever such people can see each other or interact it is a great opportunity to share a Scripture, a thought, or a prayer… or even just share a shovel. Random acts of kindness have been known to increase love between people. When Jesus says to “love one another” and that “all men will know you are my disciples when they see you love each other” he was referring to everyday life. I don’t think he was meaning that unbelievers would say, “wow, look at how those Christians love each other by going to that building together every week!” So, as we look to increase in love for each other and to show the world, random acts of kindness toward one another is a big deal.

About a week ago, a neighbor who is not a part of our church called and asked if she could borrow some vanilla. We (the believers here) were right in the middle of sharing life together. My wife was attending to one of our children and I was in the middle of a conversation with a couple of brothers. A sister in the Lord was available and she brought the vanilla over to the neighbor’s house. What did this plant in the mind of my neighbor? It was unexpected that someone other than a member of my “family” would bring the vanilla over…but maybe it will help reveal what Spiritual Family is all about.

A couple weeks ago, a brother borrowed my car. (It was very handy since he lives a block and a half away!) He noticed that my oil needed to be changed probably because he saw the little reminder sticker that the oil change place put on the upper left corner of my window. He brought the car back with an oil change and some information about something that the mechanic said could be wrong. Another bonding experience from an “everyday” situation. It was more bonding that sitting in a church pew and looking at him across the room. :-) Other times, my car has been returned having been professionally vacuumed!

In the last few weeks several people have needed to use our washing machine for various reasons. These were great opportunities to share and also to be “inconvenienced” in a very minor way, learning to put others before ourselves.

One day our neighbors stopped by. (Different neighbors than those I mentioned earlier, but they aren’t a part of our church either.) When they showed up, someone from our church was just leaving. We talked with them for a few minutes and in walked a couple from the church. They asked if we could pray about a trip they were going to take to China. This made quite an impression on the neighbors who noticed that we do more than just “go to church” together… there is something happening that is unlike anything they’ve seen…

A couple days ago I was stapling up insulation in the walls of a bathroom we are adding to our home. (A brother had already framed the walls for me; another had done the plumbing; another had done the electric; and another had done the heating.) I ran out of staples. Just then a brother named Andy knocked on the door and asked to borrow our rake, but someone else had already borrowed it! So he left in search of another rake. Meanwhile I called a different brother named Ryan and asked if he had any staples for a staple gun. Ryan informed me that he had staples (but no gun) and that Andy had just shown up looking for a rake. Andy got several rakes and Ryan sent the staples with Andy, who hand-delivered them to me. My wife and children ended up going with Andy and helping with raking, while I finished my project.

The other day, I was getting my 2 year old in the car to go to Home Depot. I thought, “This would be a much nicer trip if I had someone to go with me.” So, I called a brother (who lives down the street) and he came over with his son and we all went to Home Depot. It allowed us to observe each others children and offer meaningful input into father-son relationships and child-training. We also opened our hearts to each other on some topics of concern. It was a good time.

A week and a half ago, I had a work-related conference to go to in Chicago, on a Friday. A brother, Joshua, who had the day off graciously volunteered to go with me to keep me company and to fellowship. Another brother, Scott, arranged so that he could have the day off! The day before we were to leave, a dear believer from Missouri called and asked us to come for the weekend: they needed some help with a very serious spiritual matter. God worked through several brothers (7 I think) to show us that Joshua shouldn’t go afterall, but that another brother named Chris should go. And all of us needed to take Monday off of work. So, we all spent the day driving about 3 and a half hours to Chicago. And then another 6 down to Missouri later that evening.

OK, this is getting a little long. Sprinkled in the midst of all this we have had prayer, Scriptures, a few songs, help with child-raising, etc, etc. The other believers would each have their own stories to tell. And if I sat here longer, I would have more to tell as well.

At the very least, strings of affection have been tied in each situation. In some situations, unbelievers have watched. In others, we got to speak truth and life into each other’s lives. We see each other interacting with spouses and children. We can offer advice and speak about things that we can see, but individuals may have missed. Whatever the case may be, may God receive glory in his Church.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Practical Daily Life in the Kingdom of God

I received a comment asking for some practical, real-life examples of this “daily life” I’ve been writing about on this blog. Well, I’ll share one example. It may seem trivial, but it is not. Before I share it though, let me provide a little framework…

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

It is true that one person sharpens another, not just because the Bible says so, but because it is reality! Think of how marriage is a sharpening experience. There is not a man I know who hasn’t become more considerate as a result of getting married! Before we are married we can study in our Bible and read about considering others first and denying ourselves. We can read about laying down our lives for others and putting their needs above our own. But when we get married, all these things we’ve read have a real life context. We really learn what it means to deny ourselves when we are married. We really learn about being married when we are married! Because we sharpen each other! But then, our first child arrives. Talk about denying ourselves! People learn what selfishness and selflessness really are when they have one child, then two, then three… And they either grow in the Lord or very obviously hold onto their own priorities and do what they want to do…. And their family will either prosper or suffer.

In “church life” it is the same thing. We can either attend events together and go home or we can be a part of each other's lives like the Bible says. We can either read and hear about how to be more Christ-like, or we can actually become more Christ-like. As I’ve shown from the Bible in the last few entries, real-life relationships are necessary for the kind of growth God wants.

Well, here’s that practical example I mentioned. Sure, I could offer other ones, but this very simple story will hopefully give you a glimpse into just a regular day in the kingdom of God… And it’s the kind of day that we are looking to have more of here in Grand Rapids. We are not looking to have more “revival services”; we are looking for more days like the one I’ll describe. I hope you can see why. :-)

One weekday while I was at work, a brother from our church who didn’t have to work was thinking of how he could enrich the lives of others. How could he “come along side” others and be an encouragement? He stopped by our home and asked my wife if he could take three of our children for a walk to the park. (He had already picked up a boy from another family’s home.) Talk about feeling loved! Our children knew they were thought of by others in the church. We all want our children to feel important in real ways and we all want them to grow up to love God and love God’s children. Investments into their lives like what this brother did are what will make it happen. My wife saw the care also! And besides she had a lot of work around the house that she wanted to catch up on.

Without delay, my wife began planning what she would do and how she would make good use of her freed up time. Knock, knock, knock… Someone was at the door. It was a sister from the church here. It was clear from the concerned look on her face that she was hoping to talk to my wife about something that was important to her. My wife immediately had a choice to make: care about a friend or have some “free time” to herself. And if you can imagine, such a decision can feel difficult for a mother with four small children. My wife chose what Jesus wanted her to choose and she spent the time investing in a dear sister. The housework would have to wait. In fact, God most likely arranged some “free time” not because my wife needed the time, but because someone else needed my wife to have some free time. Although seemingly simple, this situation not only was helpful to the lady who stopped by, but it was helpful to my wife. My wife became more Christ-like. She became better, more practiced at putting others before herself. Through many experiences like this, it will become more and more easy to do what Jesus would do.

We can hear sermons all day long about loving each other and denying ourselves. We can read in our Bibles about considering others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2). It is so often in the workings of daily life together that many of these theoretical concepts actually get put into practice. It happens in a husband-wife relationship. It happens in a parent-child relationship. Denying yourself on behalf of others in simple, un-profound ways builds love and affection that is hard to describe using words on a computer screen. Can you picture what would happen if interactions such as these occurred every day between believers? Wouldn’t it make us more like a family? Isn't that what a family is?

Hope that helps. Your comments are always welcome. :-)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Growing in the Kingdom of God

How does someone grow spiritually? Bible reading? Prayer? Of course, reading your Bible and praying are wonderful! But there is another tool to help you grow closer in your walk with God. And it is a tool that is under-utilized by most people. The tool about which I am speaking is relationships--real relationships--with other Christians.

…from whom (Christ) the whole body, joined and knit together by what EVERY joint supplies, according to the effective working by which EVERY part does its share, CAUSES GROWTH of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:16 NKJV)

Ephesians 4:16 tells us that the whole body (each person in the church) needs to be joined and "compacted" or "knit" together. Every joint in the body--each person--needs to be supplying something. Every part of the body needs to be working effectively and properly. Then the body grows!

One of the ways that the Scriptures speak of Christians helping each other grow is that we are told to "edify" one another. The word "edify" simply means to "build". So when we read of the need to edify one another, in plain words it means that we should build each other up in the faith. Christians should build up the faith of other Christians.

"Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another" (Rom 14:19). In this verse, the word for "follow after" in Greek means to "pursue". It means to pursue tirelessly and so it is also translated "persecute" in many verses (Matt. 10:23, Acts 9:4-5, Rom. 12:14, and many others). Christians ought to tirelessly pursue the building up of each other. Have you been making every effort to edify those you fellowship with?

It is time that people go far beyond merely attending one another's lives a couple times a week at "church". Instead, there is a great need that the people of God BE the Church. We need to BE to one another what God wants us to be. We need to help one another, building up faith in each other.

Could it be that many people are not growing in their faith because they are not closely connected with other believers that are determined to build God's household? I know people who may read their Bibles and pray and "go to church", but still they haven't grown much in many years. Why? It is time that we examine what we think "church" is all about. It is MUCH more than attending a weekly service, listening to a sermon, and singing a few songs. God's people are supposed to be actively and purposely building on one another every day! (I'm not talking about "hanging out" more or having more "social time", but considering how to spur one another on in the faith--Hebrews 10:24).

"But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost..." (Jude 20).

Friday, November 18, 2005

Major Problems With "Small Groups" in Churches

More and more churches are seeing a need to become more personal. They are recognizing the overwhelming failure to connect with people in intimate relationships. So, they try to solve the problem by starting “cell groups” or “small groups” or “discipleship groups”…or some other program with a different name. Although some relationships can form a little better in a “small group” than in a 1000 seat auditorium, the quality of the relationships is much less than the quality that we read of in Acts chapter 2:
“All the believers were TOGETHER and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. EVERY DAY they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate TOGETHER with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:44-46).
No matter how nice the “cell group” structure is in a church, I have not seen such a programmed existence lead to a description like that in Acts 2. Think about your church for a minute… If someone wrote a one paragraph description of your church, what would it include? How often would the word “together” appear? How often would it describe that people were actively engaged in building each other up in the faith? Or would the primary interactions occur only during a pre-arranged, church programmed event such as a "service" or "cell group"?

Let’s take a closer look at these “groups” and examine some of the things that make them not work very well. I’ll use the term “discipleship groups” to refer in general to “small group” program thing…

One of the problems with discipleship programs is that they are very mechanical and artificially removed from everyday life. Most discipleship programs include some instruction at some regular intervals, maybe once a week or once a month. Perhaps the instruction consists of a book to read, followed up by a discussion. Perhaps the instruction consists of a list of Bible verses to read and a follow-up discussion later. This is quite different from what Jesus did with his “small group” of disciples. To illustrate what I mean, let's look at how Jesus "discipled" the disciples. What did he do to teach those who wanted to learn from him. Obviously, he opened his mouth and taught them many things. This is an important part of discipleship and this is the most common element of a discipleship program at a church. But now let's consider what else, besides direct instruction, that Jesus did to "disciple" the disciples.

  • "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 13:15).
  • "…he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves… I am AMONG YOU as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued WITH ME in My trials." (Luke 22:26-28).
  • "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt 11:29).
  • "Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did" (1 John 2:6).

It is strikingly clear from the above Scriptures how important it is to frequently BE WITH whoever you are learning from. The disciples did not meet with Jesus once a week to receive their "discipleship discussion". No, Jesus lived among them and showed them what he meant by his life. He said, “love one another as you have seen me loving you.” Jesus spoke that the greatest man would be like a servant and then he, their Lord and Master, lived a servant's life right in front of them! The Apostle Paul believed that it was very important that people he was teaching also knew his lifestyle. Consider the following Scriptures:

  • "For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Cor 4:17)
  • "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance…" (2 Tim 3:10)
  • "Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Heb 13:7)
  • "You know how we lived among you for your sake" (1 Thess 1:5)
  • "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow" (2 Thess 3:7-9)

Please consider how shallow the following scenario is. In this hypothetical example, let's say that Doug is a teacher in a church and John is being "discipled" by Doug. Let's say that Doug and John are meeting for their regular Tuesday night discipleship time…

Doug: Last week you mentioned that you were struggling with impatience toward your wife and children. How is that going this week? (notice that Doug was not present in John's life to provide guidance as he saw real-life situations occur.)
John: Well, I think it is going a little better. (Notice that John is left to evaluate his progress all by himself.)
Doug: Is there any other thing that you are having difficult with this week? (notice that Doug wasn't involved in John's life so Doug cannot say something like, "John, I noticed you did such and such this week; it might be more helpful for you to do this instead…")

I hope from the above hypothetical conversation that you can realize that there is something sorely missing if people are not involved in one another's lives. “Small groups” and “discipleship groups” are not going deep enough. Let's go deeper. Let's get real. Don't settle for a "program" of discipleship. Rather, let discipleship be a way of life. Discipleship should happen almost automatically if there are people spending time together who live for the purpose of conforming to Christ and helping others conform to Christ. Let us examine ourselves: if we need a program for "discipleship" to happen, maybe our everyday lives are not what we think they are. Maybe we are not as serious about helping others grow in their faith as we think we are. Maybe we are not desiring to grow in our faith as much as we think we are. Let us examine ourselves. A tree is known, not by what it thinks or says, but by its fruit.

Maybe we are not committed to Christ whole-heartedly after all.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"We have a good pastor"...REALLY?

When I ask someone about his or her church, I often hear, "We have a really good pastor." So, allow me to take this opportunity to ask a question: What make a pastor good? After some people have told me that their pastor is really godly, I have asked them several questions:

  • How does he treat his wife at home, in regular every day life?
  • What is his wife like? Is she trustworthy and cheerful as she goes about her daily tasks?
  • What are his children like?
  • Is he a patient man, full of self-control as he goes about life on a day to day basis?
  • How does he spend his free time?
  • How often do you spend time with your pastor outside of the official church functions?

I have been alarmed to see that many people do not know the answers to many of the above questions. They do not know what their pastor is really like outside of the church building. But listen to what the Bible says about qualifications of leaders in God's church:

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church? (1 Tim 3:2-5 NIV)

In light of the Scriptures, how can someone know if his or her pastor is actually a "good pastor" if the pastor's daily life is unknown? Is your pastor really qualified to be a pastor? Going to seminary does not automatically qualify someone to be a pastor. Knowing Greek doesn't qualify someone as being a pastor. A good public speaker doesn't qualify. According to the Bible, being "able to teach" is one of many qualifications. Let's not hinge everything on that one quality. Think about how many "good pastors" have ended up falling into sin, sometimes horrible and vile sin! How many pastors are really accountable? How many pastors are truly godly men, qualified to be pastors?

By the way, a "pastor" is a gifting. For one to be a pastor, God must give him the spiritual gifts necessary to shepherd God's church. It is a GIFT that cannot be earned. God GIVES it. "It was he who GAVE some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11). It cannot be earned by going to seminary. Although, of course, a pastor will study the Bible, he cannot "earn" the gift of pastor by studying the Bible. It is a GIFT.

Hopefully this short writing has helped you to think about the disjointed church experience that is all too common these days. Allow me to make this simple appeal: "And we beseech you, brethren, to KNOW them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you" (1 Thess 5:12 KJV). We must know the lives of those who are leaders in God's church. We should know each other's lives too, but how much more the lives of a "pastor"!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Daily Relationships with Purpose

"But exhort one another daily, while it is called today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13).

Hebrews 3:13 is an excellent Biblical description of what it is like to recognize our need for one another. It says very plainly to exhort one another daily. The Greek word here for exhort is "parakaleo", which means to call near to one's side. We need to come alongside one another very frequently--even daily--so that we don't get deceived and hardened by sin! I am not advocating daily "church services". I am simply suggesting that brothers and sisters have a lifestyle that includes one another. I'm simply suggesting that we recognize our need for each other and live accordingly.

We should be coming alongside one another very frequently for the purpose of spurring each other on in the faith. Notice: if we are aware of the possibility of being hardened by sin's deceitfulness, we will come together for a specific purpose. Our purpose will be to help one another to become more and more like Christ. Our purpose will be to help one another to do God's will and to increase in love (Heb. 10:24-25). We won't merely be getting together like a social club, without a higher purpose. No, our mission is clear and we will have great determination.

Contrast what I have just said with the way that most Christians live. For example, most church-goers see each other only at "official" church functions such as worship services, prayer meetings, Bible studies, picnics, etc. There are some who may "get together" with church friends outside of church functions. But many times such "get-togethers" are not very focussed; maybe a lunch get-together or an evening out, there is not often a determination, a purpose of sharpening each other to become more like Jesus.

Ask yourself: do your relationships with your church friends center around a mutual desire to help each other become more like Christ? When you get together with friends from church, how deep does it really go?

Introduction: READ THIS FIRST

I've been wondering about starting a blog now for a while. I've asked some others from the church here about it and prayed about it and it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us to start a little web log...

The purpose of this blog is to hopefully engage in dialogue about really important things--eternal things. Things that last. Some topics may be controversial, but I hope that an environment will exist that will encourage honest and sincere questions.

So, please feel free to make comments and ask questions and either I or one of the believers here in Grand Rapids will get back to you.

May God bless you as you seek him with a sincere heart.

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt 6:33).