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How We Turn Churches Into Clubs

How We Turn Churches Into Clubs

034C0905LLIn the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI sits a huge steam locomotive known as an “Allegheny Locomotive.”  It was an H-8 class built by the Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, OH specifically designed with big horsepower to haul heavy loads of coal through the Allegheny Mountains.  It weighed 771,000 pounds and was 125 feet long.  Only 60 of these locomotives were ever made (from 1941-1948) and just two exist today.  Shortly after production of the Allegheny Locomotive began, they were replaced by diesel engines.

I recently read an article about this locomotive that explained 96% of the energy it produced from the steam was used just to move the locomotive itself.  Only 4% was used to pull the load of freight.  As I read that, it occurred to me this locomotive is an illustration of many churches.  Often a church will have many more members who drain and absorb the resources of the church than it has members who give back through service, giving, and investment of time and giftedness.  If the number of members who help the church carry the load of its mission are greatly outnumbered by the members who do not, then that church is unhealthy and ineffective.

Thom Rainer, in his book I Am a Church Member, illustrates this idea of the “96% and 4%” by showing that many people view their membership in church as they would a membership to a country club.  People join a club because of the perks it brings.  They pay their dues, and this gives them the rights to demand certain services and privileges.  That’s how clubs operate, but it should’t be true of churches.  If church members throw some money in the offering plate and then expect to do nothing but receive services and ministries from the church, they have a skewed and unbiblical view of church membership.  Rainer notes that for people with this mindset “membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices.”

The Allegheny Locomotive

The Allegheny Locomotive

In 1 Cor. 12:12, Paul told the Corinthians that the church is one body made up of many members.  Each member/part of the body has certain functions/responsibilities.  Every church member needs to fulfill his or her responsibility in service to the church.  Thus, in the same chapter, Paul reminded the Corinthians that every follower of Christ has been given at least one gift by the Holy Spirit that is to be employed, not for selfish gain, but for the benefit of others (1 Cor. 12:11; 1 Pet. 4:10). Rainer writes, “With a country club membership you pay others to do the work for you. With church membership, everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet, ears, or eyes. We are all different, but we are necessary parts of the whole.”

If you are a member of a church, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I helping carry the load at my church through pursuing holiness in my personal life, my love toward others, and my service to the church?
  • Am I a part of the group that just drains the church or helps the church fulfill its mission?
  • What is your attitude toward church membership?  Is it a country club mentality?

Each of us who are part of a local body of believers need to examine our attitude and perspective in the role we play in the church and the importance of our membership in it.

 

What If We Got Upset at Sports Like We Get Upset at Church?

What If We Got Upset at Sports Like We Get Upset at Church?

wizfans21354025290What are the things that cause us to be disgruntled at church?  Take a moment and think about this question.  What has frustrated you about church in the past?  What are the top things that disgruntle people in general?  Yes, the church is far from perfect and there are indeed times when our criticisms and concerns are justified.  But have you ever noticed that all too often we hold the church to a standard of which we would never hold other things in our lives.  For example: sports.  As a result, we show that we are more committed to our favorite sports team than we are our own church.

Years ago I came across a tongue-in-cheek article highlighting the things we get disgruntled at in church, but quickly overlook when it comes to sports- particularly going to games.  Read these, note the similarities, and catch the point it makes.

I’ve decided to stop going to games because of the following:

  • Every time I went to a game, they asked me for money.
  • The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.
  • The seats were too hard and not at all comfortable.
  • I had to park too far away from the stadium.
  • I went to many games, but the coach never came to call on me.
  • The referee made a decision with which I did not agree.
  • I suspected that I was sitting with some hypocrites- they came
    to see their friends and what others were wearing rather than to see the game.
  • Some games went into overtime causing me to be late getting home.
  • The band played some songs that I had never heard before and did not like.
  • It seems that the games are scheduled when I want to do other things.
  • My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up so I don’t need to go to any more games now.
  • I don’t want to take my children to any games, because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Isn’t interesting what we get disgruntled at church for and what we overlook at games?  All of this is to say- yes, the church isn’t perfect, but the church is what God has created for Christians to have relationships with other Christians to help us on the journey of following Christ.  So, the church is very important as well as our commitment and involvement in it.  Rather than always grumbling at the church, why not cut it a little slack like you do your favorite sports team?  Instead of always focusing on and pointing out the problems in church, why not make the commitment and expend the energy to be part of the solution?  If every church member did this, I wonder what changes would happen at your church?

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

On Consumerism and Being Thankful

store-crowd-black-friday-blur-615cs112212I came across an insightful piece last week written by blogger Matt Walsh (read his post here). In it, he makes the distinction between capitalism (which he is for, and I am too) and consumerism. Capitalism doesn’t automatically mean consumerism. Sadly, our culture doesn’t understand this distinction. Walsh writes about the intersection of consumerism and the Thanksgiving holiday:

That’s our entire economic system: buy things. Everybody buy. It doesn’t matter what you buy. Just buy. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Just buy. Our entire civilization now rests on the assumption that, no matter what else happens, we will all continue to buy lots and lots of things. Buy, buy, buy. And then buy a little more. Don’t create, or produce, or discover- just buy. Never save, never invest, never cut back- just buy. Buy what you don’t need with money you don’t have. Buy when you’re happy. Buy when you’re sad. Buy when you’re hungry. Buy when you want to lose weight. Buy an iPhone. Six months have passed, here, buy another iPhone. Go online and buy things. Go to the mall and buy things. On your way, stop and buy some more things. Buy things for every occasion. Buy things to celebrate. Buy things to mourn. Buy things to keep up with the trends. Buy things while you’re buying things, and then buy a couple more things after you’re done buying things. If you want it- buy it. If you don’t want it- buy it. Don’t make it- buy it. Don’t grow it- buy it. Don’t cultivate it- buy it. If you are alive you must buy. Buy like you breathe, only more frequently.

How appropriate, then, that a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what they had, now morphs into a frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need. Our great grandparents enjoyed a meal and praised the Lord for the food on the table and the friends and family gathered around it. We, having slightly altered the tradition, instead elect to bum-rush elderly women and trample over children to get our hands on cheap TVs.

What he says here is sad, but true.  We have now expanded “Black Friday” to Thanksgiving day. Walsh continues:

For a while, Black Friday and Thanksgiving coexisted. We thanked God for His blessings on Thursday, and then jumped into the consumer mosh pit at Best Buy on Friday. But this Black Friday-Thanksgiving marriage was tenuous and rocky from the start. It was doomed to fail. Thanksgiving offers tradition, family and contentment; Black Friday offers smart phones at drastically reduced prices. In America, we all know who wins that battle. So Black Friday, like a black hole, violently expanded; it absorbed the light that surrounded it and sucked everything into its terrifying abyss, where all substance is torn to shreds and obliterated. Black Friday could not be contained to a mere 24 hours. It is Consumerism. It wants more. It always wants more. Nothing is sacred to it; nothing is valuable. So, now, Black Friday has eaten Thanksgiving alive. Thanksgiving let out a desperate cry as Black Friday devoured its soul, but we barely noticed. It’s hard to hear anything when you’re wrestling 4,000 other people for buy one get one free cargo shorts at Old Navy.

I think we should step back and really consider if shopping on Thanksgiving Day is what we should be doing. As Walsh notes in his post, if we are shopping on Thanksgiving then we are a part of the problem of consumerism.  I know I always want to be part of the solution to that problem.

I might add here that I see the problem of consumerism in our culture in general and even in the church.  Church, for more and more, is not about what I can give and how I can serve, but merely about what I can get from it.  Getting people to volunteer is a pandemic problem in the church today. Let’s avoid the consumerist mentality- at Thanksgiving and at all times.  Let’s live in wisdom and moderation seeking how we can give more than we take or get.  That is an attitude that places us in line with the heart/mind of God and causes us to truly be thankful and dependent on Him.

Philippians 2:5-8- “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Why I Won’t Be Asking Mother’s to Stand in Church This Mother’s Day

Why I Won’t Be Asking Mother’s to Stand in Church This Mother’s Day

12086328-mothers-day-coupon-codes-2013Mother’s Day is this Sunday and in church we will celebrate Moms as rightly we should.  It’s an amazing and ingenious thing how God created the institution of the family- a father and mother bringing their own respective personalities, temperaments, and gifts to bear on the raising of their children.  Being a mother is a high calling and one that comes with great responsibilities as well as blessings.

That said, I have always felt a bit uneasy with how our church, along with countless other churches, recognize Moms on Mother’s Day- we have them stand.  Again, nothing wrong in the slightest with recognizing Moms and honoring their impact in our lives, but in the last few years I’ve been wondering asking Moms to stand.

Why?  Because having Moms stand on Mother’s Day can be a painful experience for a number of women in the congregation.  I think of the women my wife and I have come to know the last few years who struggle with infertility and desperately want to have children, but have none.  Jamy and I were blessed to have two biological children, but then we were unable to have more children even though we wanted more.  I have often wondered how difficult it would be for us if we never were able to have kids.

God, in turn, put us on the path of adoption, which has been an indescribable blessing.  But then again, we have become acquainted with people whose adoptions fell through.  That is an unbelievably painful experience. What about the woman in the congregation who is unable to have children and attempts at adoption have failed?  How does she feel when the mothers stand on Mother’s Day?

So, you may ask, why have you kept asking the mothers to stand on Mother’s Day if this is the way you feel?  I guess because of tradition.  We’ve always done it that way before (which is generally a terrible reason to do something).  Today I read a blog post that a number of women in our church have posted to their walls on Facebook which finally made me realize we need to do things differently this year in our church on Mother’s Day.  I will not be asking the Moms to stand.  We will celebrate motherhood and dedicate babies this Sunday.  But we will avoid placing women (and their husbands) in an awkward and even painful situation.  I never want people who are hurting to be hurt further at church.  I want church to be a place that brings comfort, support, empathy, and presence of the Lord and others that brings encouragement.

I encourage you to take a moment and read the blog post I mentioned.  Find it here: An Open Letter to Pastors from a Non-Mom

This Mother’s Day let’s be sensitive to those for whom Mother’s Day may be a very difficult day.

Somebody’s Watching Me

Somebody’s Watching Me

UnknownYou might have read the title of this post and thought it would be a review of the song by Rockwell (I am, after all, a child of 80’s music!).  No, this post is about something different.  The other day I was studying 1 Peter 2:11-12 and was struck about the importance of a Christian’s conduct in a world that is clearly watching what Christians do.  I was reminded of a quote by the old Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren who rightly noted,

“The world takes its notions of God, most of all, from the people who say they belong to God’s family.  They read us a great deal more than they read the Bible.  They see us, they only hear about Jesus Christ.”

Peter reminds his readers that their conduct must be “excellent,” or honorable because the world is watching.  When the world observes our behavior that is rooted in love, grounded in truth, and marked by denying the “lusts of the flesh” it will make an impact on others.  In Peter’s words, the lost will “glorify God in the day of visitation.”  Whether this means the lost will come to Christ through the observance of a Christian’s behavior or acknowledge Christ is Lord on the Judgment Day and know at that time the behavior of Christians pointed to the truth is unsure.  Regardless, the behavior of genuine Christ followers will make an impact for the kingdom of God.

Some will be angered by the worldview Christians follow.  Some will merely want to scrutinize the behavior waiting for the Christian to make a mistake.  But others will observe the transformation Christ brings and the evidence of it in the way Christians live and ask, “Whatever it is you have, I want it!”

Thus, it is imperative that the conduct of Christians be anchored in the word of God and a genuine example of the transformation that comes about from following Christ.  All this means that Christians must live in a counter-cultural way.  They cannot live like the world.  Sadly, this is becoming less apparent in the church today.  David Wells notes,

“The church [must] form itself, by his grace and truth, into an outcropping of counter-cultural spirituality.  It must first recover the sense of antithesis between Christ and culture and then find ways to sustain that antithesis… It must give up self-cultivation for self-surrender, entertainment for worship, intuition for truth, slick marketing for authentic witness, success for faithfulness, power for humility, a God bought on cheap terms for the God who calls us to costly obedience.  It must, in short, be willing to do God’s business on God’s terms.”

Scot McKnight, in his commentary on 1 Peter 2:11-12, wrote that someone interviewed a well-known American preacher and contended that some of this preacher’s message was different than the message of the Bible, particularly about self-denial.  The preacher responded, “If I preached that, the people in my church would be mad as _____.”  The interviewer persisted and said the concept of denying yourself was still in the Bible.  The preacher’s response: “Just because it is in the Bible doesn’t mean I have to preach it.”  This is a classic example of the cultural-conditionedness of some churches and preaching today.  Little wonder so many that claim to be Christ followers do not live counter-culturally.

So, we must be diligent to live differently than the world.  We don’t need to be afraid of our culture, or hate it- we need to engage it with Christ’s love and truth through our actions, words, attitudes, etc.  We most likely have no idea who is watching us and the impact it is making in their lives.

Herb and Ruth Clingen and their young son were missionaries to Japan when WWII broke out.  The Clingens were sent to a POW camp in the Philippines where they were imprisoned for three years.  Herb’s diary told of how his family’s captors tortured, murdered, and starved to death many of the camp’s inmates.  The prisoners particularly hated and feared the camp commandant named Konishi.  Herb described one especially diabolical plan of Konishi forced on the Clingens and others near the end of the war:

“Konishi found an inventive way to abuse us even more.  He increased the food ration but gave us palay– unhusked rice.  Eating rice with its razor-sharp outer shell would cause intestinal bleeding that would kill us in hours.  We had no tools to remove the husks, and doing the job manually- by pounding the grain or rolling it with a heavy stick- consumed more calories than the rice would supply.  It was a death sentence for all internees.”

Through divine providence the Clingens were spared and liberated from their camp in February 1945 by Allied forces.  That prevented the final plan Konishi had drawn up- shooting and killing all survivors.  Years later the Clingens learned that Konishi had been found working as a grounds keeper at a golf course in Manilla.  He was put on trial for war crimes and hanged.  Just before his execution, Konishi professed conversion to Christianity, saying he had been deeply affected by the testimony of the Christian missionaries he had persecuted.

May we careful to be an example of Christ to the Konishis in our lives.

Magic Mike and the True Picture of Masculinity

Magic Mike and the True Picture of Masculinity

I have watched with some interest over the last few weeks the comments and opinions of many on blogs and websites concerning the movie Magic Mike.  What got my attention was the number of women (and some men) who are Christians who have gone to see the movie.  I have been surprised at how few female writers have brought up the glaring, horrific double standard in play regarding this film.  If a group of husbands went to see a movie about women working in a strip club, “the claws would come out” as one female blogger put it.

Christians seeing Magic Mike claim that those criticizing them for seeing the movie are being judgmental.  Perhaps that is true in some cases.  However, after reading reviews of the movie (which would make many people blush) and discovering that the film contains many explicit sexual scenes and over 150 uses of the “f” word, those who have cast judgment in an erroneous way have only done so in an attitudinal sense.

This by the way, is the very definition of being judgmental which is very different from making good judgments.  One of the fallacies of a secular worldview is that to tell anyone they are wrong automatically means you hate them.  That is untrue and certainly not part of a biblical worldview.  I can say that what you believe or what you have done is wrong and still love and care about you (we do this with our children all of the time).  That said, too many Christians do have a sanctimonious attitude in their conveyance of the judgments they make which leads them to the sin of being judgmental.

Yet, none of what I have just written is the main point of this post.  In reading reviews and comments about the movie, it saddens me that our culture’s idea of masculinity is a guy who can work at a strip club and has great sexual prowess.  Movies such as Magic Mike and Failure to Launch seem to communicate that the more a man can put off the responsibility of marriage, family, and career the more masculine he is.  To be married, to go to the kids’ recitals, and to go to a regular day-to-day job is being tied to the ball and chain and in effect emasculated.  In other words, responsibility is a bad thing.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran an article on men in their twenties and the growing epidemic of stretching adolescence well beyond the high school years.  This led Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll to note, “the world is full of boys who can shave.”  The result is that our culture is lauding an indefinite adolescence leaving us with, as again Driscoll stated, “a Peter Pan syndrome where men want to remain boys forever.”

Is being a boy, free from responsibilities and free to gratify any indulgence, the true picture of masculinity?  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 13:11- “When I was a boy, I talked like a boy, I thought like a boy, I reasoned like a boy. When I became a man, I put childish and boyish ways behind me.”  Males are supposed to move from boyhood to manhood.  So what does real masculinity look like?  Man is created in the “image” of God (Gen. 1:26; 1 Cor. 11:7).  This doesn’t mean we look like God the way we physically look like our parents.  It means we are conscious beings able to reflect the truth, love, compassion, and other attributes of God in the way we live our lives.  As a reflection of the image of God we are called to be creators and cultivators.  This is what God did.  He produced the universe and created a world splendidly designed and crafted for a variety of amazing life forms to exist.  Not only did He create everything, but He sustains and cultivates it as well (Col. 1:16-17).

The problem is that culture doesn’t necessarily view masculinity as creating and cultivating (marriages, families, and careers), but rather consuming everything you can to gratify yourself.  Consider this excerpt from the Driscoll post I mentioned earlier:

“The marketing sweet spot for many companies is young men ages eighteen to thirty-four. These guys don’t know what it means to be a man, and so marketers fill the void with products that define manhood by what you consume rather than what you produce.  The tough guys consume women, porn, alcohol, drugs, television, music, video games, toys, cars, sports, and fantasy leagues, as if being a man is defined by how much meat you can shove through your colon, how many beers you can pound, how fast you can drive, how stinky you can fart, how hard you can hit, how far you can spit, how loud you can belch, and how big your truck is.

The artsy, techie types consume clothes, decaf lattes, shoes, gadgets, cars (not trucks), furniture, hair products, and underwear with the names of very important people on the waistband. For them, manhood means being in touch with one’s feelings, wardrobe, and appearance.

A legion of moms and girlfriends enable these boys who can shave. They pay his bills, pick up his messes, loan him their car, and refill his sippy cup. Girls need to know this: you want a guy you can marry and have babies with. You don’t want to marry a guy who’s a baby.  Men are supposed to be producers, not just consumers. You’re defined by the legacy, the life, and the fruit that come out of you, not by what you take in. But most guys are just consumers.

I don’t care if you buy a truck or play some video games or rock out on your guitar. The problem is when those are prevalent and predominant in your life. Some guys would argue and say, “It’s not a sin.”  No, but sometimes it’s just dumb.  You got fired because you were up trying to get to the next level [on the video game]. That’s dumb.  You work one part-time job so you can play more guitar or Frisbee golf.  That’s dumb.  You spend all your money on a new car or truck, or toys, or gear, or clothes, or gambling, or fantasy football. Dumb. Some of you say, “Well, it’s not a sin.”  Neither is eating your lawnmower.  It’s just dumb.  There are a lot of things that Christian guys do that aren’t evil, they’re just dumb and childish.”

With the growing trend of masculinity being consumerism with no responsibility it’s difficult to find a man in his twenties at church.  The call to follow Christ and grow in discipleship is a call to sacrifice, selflessness, and responsibility.  Being a man is not about how much you can consume, but what you create and cultivate.  Being a man isn’t about sexual conquests, it’s about committing to one woman and loving her as Christ loves the church- for whom He loved so much He gave His life.  Being a man isn’t being a kid, but spending time with and nurturing your kids.  Being a man is about giving, not taking, and as Driscoll notes “that’s what Jesus, the real man, did.”

Read the Mark Driscoll post referenced in this article here: Driscoll Post in WP

Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation

Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation

As can be imagined, the debate is heating up regarding the issue I posted about yesterday concerning the very controversial sermon given by Andy Stanley.  I linked to an article by Al Mohler wherein he stated part of the problem with compromising the gospel/biblical doctrine and capitulating to the world’s agenda rested with the issue of the phenomenon of the megachurch.  Mohler did state that not all megachurches are abandoning the Bible, but the reality is that many are doing so in effort to sustain large crowds of attendees in the context of a culture growing more hostile to Christian doctrine.

Yesterday on Twitter, Rick Warren challenged Al Mohler claiming that perhaps his article, or at least its title, castigated all megachurches as compromising on truth.  Warren tweeted to Mohler, “Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”  He then asked Mohler to apologize to megachurch pastors for the inference.  Yes, there are many pastors of megachurches who are faithful to the Bible (as Mohler noted), but the reality is that there are many, not just one, who are not.  The pressures of the culture are making doctrinal faithfulness too challenging for many.  That was Mohler’s point- and one that should be well received.

Another response that I found fascinating was one Bart Barber posted on his blog in response to this controversy.  He claims that perhaps the issue is not the megachurch, but the mononchurch, that is the problem.  Monochurches are ones that have no denominational affiliation and are accountable to no one for the doctrine they proclaim.  Barber brings up some very interesting points in this debate and his article is worth reading.  Find it here:

http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/2012/05/monochurches-not-megachurches-are.html

The issue that Stanley’s sermon has arisen should not be forgotten in the midst of debating blog titles and what types of churches are foregoing biblical doctrine.  The key issue, which Mohler’s article addressed, is that there are a growing number of churches, and ones once considered doctrinally orthodox, that are altering or neglecting biblical truth to accomplish selfish agendas.  This is an issue the church must be aware of, address head on, and leaders of all churches must be sure not to replicate similar mistakes.

Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel

Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel

I have read two incredibly insightful articles today about the compromise of the gospel and biblical doctrine in the context of the megachurch.  In essence, these articles reveal the apparent necessity of megachurch leaders to dilute or ignore the clear teaching of Scripture in order to grow the church/ministry in light of the postmodern, post-Christian state of our society.

The first article was written by Al Mohler in response to a recent sermon by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley.  Stanley has built a reputation of being a proponent of conservative, conversionist theology faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus and the necessity of His death and resurrection for salvation.  However, in his sermon about balancing grace and truth, Stanley makes a clear divergence from biblical teaching in an apparent effort to harmonize a growing social dilemma the Christian church is being forced to address.

Mohler’s article gives an excellent summary on the history of the phenomenon known as “megachurches” and how in effort to sustain crowds or draw larger crowds these churches often feel compelled to capitulate to the sentiments of society rather than biblical doctrine.  The larger culture has grown increasingly hostile to exclusivist doctrine in the Bible (e.g. faith in Jesus as the only means of salvation) and teaching that is considered judgmental and archaic (e.g. biblical passages on divorce, complementarianism, etc). Because of this, megachurches are increasingly under pressure to side with the world instead of the Bible on key issues.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and read Mohler’s article- “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/

The second article I read was by Chris Lehmann published in Salon.  Lehmann recounts his recent experience attending a rally held in Washington D.C. in Nationals Stadium by megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.  The article is a thoughtful critique of the humanistic, self-help platform espoused by Osteen.  Lehmann summarizes the message, testimonies, and music of the event all placing man, not God, as the center of focus and that God’s plan for each person is to seize “destiny moments” in order to have personal, financial, and emotional success. So egregious was Osteen’s message that Lehmann referred to it as “talismanic faith” that was more akin to narcissistic personality disorder than Christianity.

Again, I highly encourage you to read this article as an example of how far the “church” can get away from biblical doctrine. Read the article, “Joel Osteen Worships Himself” here: http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/joel_osteen_worships_himself/

These articles reveal more and more how we have hijacked the gospel to suit our desires and the demands of our culture.  I certainly do not want to give the impression that I think all megachurches have compromised the gospel. That is not the case.  Yet, as Mohler noted, megachurches are often the institutions on the front line of difficult cultural issues the church must address.

I paused to reflect on Paul’s writings regarding the gospel, truth, and its role in the world and thought of Romans 1:1- we are “set apart for the gospel of God.”  The gospel is God’s gospel- not our gospel.  He accomplished and announced the gospel and has merely called us to proclaim and live it.  James Boice notes the grammatical structure of the phrase “of God” is subjective genitive rather than objective genitive. This means that God creates and announces the gospel rather than that he is the object of its proclamation.

This is important in that it illustrates how the gospel, not just being about God but initiated by Him, should never be altered by us.  The gospel isn’t ours to begin with- it’s God’s.  Thus we enter dangerous territory when we edit or truncate the gospel and biblical doctrine to suit our desires and agendas.  The world doesn’t like the gospel.  The gospel offends sinful nature and political correctness.  We live in days where there is great pressure and temptation to make the gospel what we want it to be.  In doing so, we abandon the truth and the power of God’s message of salvation. The church must never forget that in its handling of the gospel, it has been “set apart” (i.e. be different than the world) to engage culture in love and grace, while never abandoning the truth.

Should We Worship on Sunday or Saturday (or Maybe Even Both)?

Should We Worship on Sunday or Saturday (or Maybe Even Both)?

This Saturday our church launches a Saturday night worship service.  The reason for this is first and foremost a necessity of space. We have outgrown the three worship services we currently have on Sunday morning.  Additionally, we are hoping to reach new people with the gospel.  I must admit, when the idea of a Saturday worship service first came up, I had some hesitation.  Would such a service just be a convenience to people?  How do you plug folks into a small group and provide accountability and fellowship?  I think we have those matters settled, but the greater questions about a Saturday worship service involved the biblical perspective.

I have had a few people ask me questions regarding the proper day of the week in which Christians should participate in corporate worship.  Should the day of worship be Sunday only?  Is Saturday worship the “true” biblical day for worship?  Is Sunday worship even biblical- why aren’t we observing the Sabbath, commanded in the Old Testament, which is Saturday?  In this post, I want to try and address these questions.

Exod. 20:8-10 states, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work.”  In this verse God clearly commanded His people to set aside Saturday as a day of worship and rest from labor.  Why did God give this command in the first place?  After God finished creation, the Bible says that He rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3).  Notice that the text never says God was tired from His work of creation.  God, being omnipotent, doesn’t get tired.  “Rested” in this sense simply means he stopped His work of creation.   So, why is there the obvious connection of God “resting” on the seventh day with the command for man to rest on the seventh day?  Mark 2:27 provides the answer- “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  Thus, God established the Sabbath as a rest for His people, not because He needed to rest, but because we, being human, need a time of rest and a time of focused worship.

And so the Jews did just that. They devoutly honored and kept sacred the Sabbath.  In fact, some of the rules they came up with to keep the Sabbath became ridiculous (e.g. on the Sabbath you couldn’t spit on dirt because that would be cultivating soil and considered work).  Furthermore, Jesus went to the synagogue on Saturday to teach (Matt. 12:9), as did the apostle Paul (Acts 17:2; although he was also teaching Christians on Sundays).  So, the big question that arises is if the Old Testament commands us to keep the Sabbath and we see Jesus and Paul honoring that command, then why do we worship on Sunday and not Saturday?

Let’s start by understanding that the command to keep the Sabbath was part of the Old Testament system of Law.  For followers of God in the Old Testament (under the old covenant), keeping the requirements of the Law (obeying the commandments, making sacrifices, keeping the Sabbath, etc.) were necessary to satisfy God’s requirements for righteousness and forgiveness.  But upon the incarnation/death/resurrection of Jesus Christ (inaugurating the new covenant) Jesus perfectly satisfied the righteous demands of God.  As such, we now live under grace and no longer have to satisfy the demands of the Law (Rom. 6:14-15).  Thus, keeping the Sabbath is no longer a necessary requirement. If it were, we would still be under Law and not grace.

In the New Testament we see how the church lived out this principle.  They gathered to worship, not on Saturday, but on Sunday (most notably because this is the day of the week Jesus rose from the dead).  Acts 20:7 states, “And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.”  Here we see the church gathering for worship (breaking bread [i.e. observing the Lord’s Supper/communion] and hearing a message).  In addition, Paul instructed the church to gather on Sunday in 1 Cor. 16:1-2- “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.  On the first day of every week let each one of you put aside and save, as he may prosper, that no collections be made when I come.”  Implicit in this verse is that the act of giving was part of the weekly worship gathering of the church.

Just as important are the theological considerations given in the New Testament as to why observance of the Sabbath is no longer required.  Perhaps the most important passage demonstrating this is Col. 2:16-17- “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”  To me, this passage shows that Paul was also dealing with the issue of what is the proper day of worship with his readers.  He clearly states that we are not to judge one another regarding which day of the week we set aside for worship and rest.  Why?  Because adhering to a certain, fixed day was no longer required under the new covenant of grace.  Paul illustrates this by stating that past established days for festivals and worship (and diet as well) are only “shadows” compared to the substance of Christ.  In other words, the Old Testament Law was merely pointing the way to the new covenant that was to come and be inaugurated and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Our rest and worship is not bound to the observance of a certain day of the week, but in Christ Himself.

In addition, consider this passage from Rom. 14:5-6- “One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”  The day of the week that is set aside for rest and worship is up to the choice of the individual.  Again, why would Paul say this?  Because observance of the Sabbath is no longer required.

The biblical evidence, as I see it, clearly reveals that we are no longer required to worship on Saturday, nor is Sunday the only day of the week that is valid for a worship service.  We are free to choose whatever day we want (we are under grace, not Law) and no one should judge us for our decision.  That said, I believe the church should principally adhere to the example set out by the early church to worship corporately on Sunday.  However, if by necessity or ministry philosophy, a church feels led to conduct a Saturday worship service (or Thursday, etc.) is not violating any biblical principle.

Lessons from the Flood(s)

Lessons from the Flood(s)

Last week at church was one to remember. Somehow the hatch that accesses the roof came open in the blizzard. A large amount of snow blew in and collapsed the ceiling, which in turn broke the head on the sprinkler and flooded our worship center. The next day, a pipe burst in the nursery which flooded several rooms in the children’s wing and a few offices (including mine). Needless to say, the flood events made life very hectic. Lots of conversations with insurance agents, cleaning companies, carpet guys, roof guys, plumbers, etc. We had to rip the carpet out of the worship center. It was disheartening to see such a new building damaged so badly.

Things have been going really well at church, and many people feared these events would set us back. However, God has blessed us in so many ways through this crisis and has reminded us of some very important lessons.

First, God has used this to bring people together. In the days after the floods, I lost count of the people who came to the church to help. We posted on Facebook that help was needed and in minutes people started showing up- despite the snow and ice outside. We had church members cleaning, moving stuff, etc. who had never met each other. Each time we gathered at the church to work, the fellowship was incredibly great. The floods also allowed us to worship together at Raley Chapel on the campus of OBU. That is a rare treat we enjoy so much.

Second, God used the crisis to reveal the fruit of His redemption in the lives of people. Our church had many selfless, generous offers of help. The offers came from believers within and outside of our church. The number of messages I received of encouragement and people asking how they could help was staggering. The floods gave an opportunity to see the transformation God has made in the lives of people.

Third, the floods were a reminder that the church is not a building. The church is people. Our building was knocked out of commission by the floods, but not our church! We still worshipped together the Sunday after the floods. In the midst of it all, we served together and encouraged each other. The church is clearly not a building!

Fourth, the floods reminded us of God’s great provision. He has taken care of everything in terms of the finances with the damage and the huge amount of logistics involved. There are many people our church needs to thank in all of this, but most of all we need to thank the Lord.

I pray that when you experience “floods” in your own life, you can see the opportunities for growth and trust in God. When others around you are experiencing “floods,” be a source of help and encouragement in their lives. Floods can be damaging, distracting, even maddening. But they can also be great opportunities to remember the wonderful God we serve!