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).