Posts filed under ‘Religion’

Acting Our Way Into Feelings In Worship

a-long-obedience-in-the-same-directionI recently picked up Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction at a used book store (I love the title). I have always found Peterson’s writing soul stirring. In this book Peterson offers an honest and reflective journey through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Consider this thought on worship based on Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (ESV)

But very often we don’t feel like [worshiping], and so we say, “It would be dishonest for me to go to a place of worship and praise God when I don’t feel like it. I would be a hypocrite.” The Psalm says, I don’t care whether you feel like it or not: as was decreed, “give thanks to the name of God.”

I have put great emphasis on the fact that Christians worship because they want to, not because they are forced to. But I have never said that we worship because we feel like it. Feelings are great liars. If Christians worshiped only when they felt like it, there would be precious little worship. Feelings are important in many areas but completely unreliable in matters of faith. Paul Scherer is laconic: “The Bible wastes very little time on the way we feel.”

We live in what one writer has called “the age of sensation.” We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.

May 19, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Our Words Will Be Thunder When Our Life Is Like Lightning

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This was originally posted at For The Church, a great resource for pastors and Christians from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. 

The Bishop Basil of Caesarea is well known in church history for being one of the most influential theologians of the early church.  Basil was a stout theologian who supported the Nicene Creed and opposed the heresies of the early church. At the same time, Basil was also known for his care of the hurting and neglected. It was once said of Basil that “his words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.” This is powerful imagery for pastoral ministry, imagery that connects our pastoral calling with our Christian character.

When one examines the character qualifications for pastors in the New Testament, especially in the Pastoral Epistles, it becomes clear that there is a standard for spiritual and moral maturity (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9). In short, pastoral character is vital for faithful ministry. Don Carson has said on many occasions that what is most remarkable about the qualifications for a pastor is that they are so unremarkable. In other words, the quality of character called for in pastors can be found mandated for all Christians in other parts of God’s word.

So, while the pastor is not expected to be the ideal of perfection, pastors are to be mature exemplars of the character demanded of all Christians. One way to think of it is that pastors lead with a limp. While not perfect, pastors are to set an example in Christian character (1 Peter 5:3). This has several implications for pastoral character, and for the development of Christian character within the congregation.

First, as pastors, we must apply God’s word to our own lives as we call the congregation to do the same. The unique element found in the qualifications for pastors, other than being a recent convert, is that a pastor is to be set apart for the teaching of the word. As we know, the teaching of the whole counsel of God includes how to live a God honoring life (1 Timothy 4:16). Pastors must submit their lives to the word they proclaim. For example, it is hard for us to call the church to care for the hurting and neglected, unless we too are committed to the same.

Second, pastors are to lead in repentance. Philosopher Charles Taylor has described our secular age as “the age of authenticity”. Taylor’s analysis is helpful in showing us that confession of weakness and repentance can actually help to endear us to our people. Our people need to see that the character in the Christian life isn’t marked by the sinless life; it’s marked by the repentant life (1 John 1:9). Christ is the only sinless shepherd. We cannot call people to repentance when we are not repenting ourselves. In many ways, the bedrock of pastoral character is a willingness to repent (Ephesians 2:8).

Third, pastors are to commit themselves to the community of faith in which they serve. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone, even for pastors (Hebrews 10:25). The church community is the primary context where Christians are called to work out the application of God’s word. Moreover, the church community is the place where your need for the gospel is powerfully revealed. This is why it is important for the pastors to be deeply invested in the community of the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). God uses those around us to reveal our sin and encourage us to godliness.

I think all of us want churches full of people with honorable Christian character. This starts with the hard work of developing character within our own lives. Too often pastors want the rain of God’s blessing in their ministry without passing through both thunder and lightning. Pastor, we are expected to lead the congregation not just with the words of our lips, but by the fruit in our life. Our words will be thunder when our life is like lightning.

May 16, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

3 Deadly Turns From The Gospel

CCEGalatiansThis post is excerpted and adapted from the Christ-centered Exposition Commentary on Galatians (1:6-7). You can get the whole set in WordSearch right now for $69.95. Here are three important truths accompany a person’s tragic turn from the gospel, by Tony Merida.

When you turn from the gospel, you turn from God Himself

Paul says that the Galatians are turning away from “Him,” not merely from a set of principles. When you turn from the gospel, you are turning from the God of all grace. You are turning from the Christ “who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age”. Paul says he is amazed that the Galatians are turning from their Redeemer, the fountain of all grace. When you turn from the gospel, you turn from God Himself. Disbelieving the gospel is no small error. If you miss Christ, you will lose everything.

When you turn from the gospel, you turn from the grace of Christ

“The grace of Christ” is a synonym for the gospel (cf. 5:4). Remember, the Judaizers believed salvation was Jesus + circumcision and the requirements of the OT law. But salvation is not Jesus + anything. Why? Because salvation is by grace alone through faith in Christ alone. Notice how the words “called” and “grace” are together in Galatians 1:6 and in verse 15. The Galatians were called by grace, and they were called into the realm of grace. This type of call denotes God’s sovereign action and believers’ experience. When God calls you to Christ, you sense His power. You sense God dealing with you. Just as He called Abraham, Moses, and Paul, He calls sinners to Himself today. He calls us not because of any good in us but because of His grace.

When you turn from the gospel, you have nowhere else to go

Paul tells the Galatians that they are “turning to a different gospel,” but adds, “not that there is another gospel”. In other words, Paul says the false teachers’ message is no gospel at all. There is only one gospel. In all likelihood the false teachers were saying that their gospel was not different from what Paul taught. But Paul says, “Yes, it is.” There is nothing else like the gospel of Christ. Unfortunately, false teachers have been using the same “Oh, we believe in Jesus, too” line for centuries. But when you go deeper into the teachings of any cult, you realize that it presents a [another] gospel (cf. 2 Cor 11:3-4).

The point is that there is no other way to be right with God, to experience forgiveness of sin, apart from the gospel of Christ Jesus (see John 14:6-7). It is difficult for people to embrace the exclusiveness of the gospel when they swim in a sea of religious pluralism and philosophical relativism. We often hear, “All religions are equally valid, and there is no one truth.” But finding right relationship with God is not like selecting a deodorant. You may choose any of a number of antiperspirants to keep you fresh, but that is not the case when it comes to securing eternal life. Only one path to God will do: Jesus. He has no equal. He is not one among many religious leaders. He is the one and only Messiah.

May 13, 2015 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

Abraham: A Story of God’s Provision

We are blessed by God to be a blessing to others.

April 28, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

A Fellowshipping People

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This was origionally posted at The Gospel Project blog.

In the Book of Genesis, we read that after God created everything on earth He declared that it was good. However, after God created Adam, He declared that it was not good for man to be alone. This break in the pattern of the creation narrative indicates something significant. Each and every one of us was made for fellowship. While Genesis 2:18 refers specifically to the marriage relationship between Adam and Eve, I think we can infer that all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve were created for relationships beyond ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we are all created in the image of the Trinitarian God, a relational God, who exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) who are in perfect fellowship with one another. At our very core, we are relational beings. We were created for fellowship. It is not good for us to be alone. This explains why each and every one of us desires fellowship.

The word fellowship literally means “sharing in a common life.”  As Christians, we understand that the Christian community offers a “common life” much deeper than that of any other type of communal association on earth. For example, the car club may gather and fellowship around their mutual love of the automobile, but in most cases that is about as far as it goes. When Christians gather, their basis of fellowship reaches into every aspect of their lives. Fellowship centered on one’s love for cars might never get beyond what sits in their garage. Two individuals whose fellowship is centered on Christ are able to apply the gospel to every area of their lives—to their friendships, marriages, work, family, and even to their own individual struggles. What’s even more unique about Christian fellowship is that two Christians from very different background, ethnicities, and social status are able to experience the deepest of fellowship solely based on the work of Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, Christian fellowship “…is not something that we must realize, it is a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” (Life Together).

In Christ we are able to enter fellowship with other Christians just as we are because our fellowship is based on our connection through Christ, not on anything else. There is a freedom in Christian fellowship that does not exist in any other type of community. We are free to be who we are, even in our brokenness, because we are accepted by God in Christ, and thus also accepted in the Christian community. Not only does fellowship around Christ add more freedom and depth to our relationships, it also makes Christian fellowship more lasting than any other type of fellowship in this world. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that together, the people of God long for a better country—a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). The apostle Paul speaks of joining other believers who have fallen asleep before him when Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:13-14). The Bible indicates that we will not only be with God in eternity, we will also be with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

While other relationships, associations, and communities will pass away, our Christian fellowship lasts for eternity. Our deep, free, and lasting fellowship is more central to the Christian life than we might have previously imagined. Consider the quality of fellowship in the life of the church. Some of the most formative, meaningful, and memorable Christian fellowship in this life is experienced when we mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice. Some of the most fruitful fellowship is experienced when we use our individual spiritual gifts to contribute to the life of the community. Our fellowship as the body of Christ not only has a sanctifying purpose for us as we move toward our heavenly home, it also has a missional purpose for the world around us. Our quality of fellowship can be a means for gospel demonstration when we display the beauty of Christian fellowship to the world in our love for one another. It should be no surprise that the early church in Acts 2 is described as devoted to fellowship.

As we have already seen, the church has a distinctive form of fellowship when compared to the “fellowship” the world offers. In fact, one could argue that the experience of fellowship as God intended it is impossible in this fallen world without the power of the Holy Spirit. How else would the biblical writers expect us to live out the more than thirty one “one another” passages we find in the New Testament, if not by the power of the Spirit? So, the type of fellowship mentioned above must be grounded in the gospel and lived out among the people of God. Our fellowship is not only important for our Christian life together, it can also be a means to God’s mission in the world. We were created for fellowship. The church is a fellowshipping people, from now into eternity.

March 11, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

The Gospel Project Chronological

This fall, The Gospel Project will begin a new chronological, Christ-centered Bible study plan for all ages—babies through adults. With the new plan comes a new website, and today, I want to invite you to the all-new gospelproject.com!

  • Promote Gospel Transformation, Not Behavior Modification. Every session points participants to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the source of life-transformation and the foundation for spiritual growth.
  • See How the Whole Bible Fits Together. From Genesis to Revelation, understand how the entire Bible reveals God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.
  • Unite Every Age in Christ-centered Study. For churches that wish to align all ages, The Gospel Project provides Christ-centered study for babies through adults.
  • Compel Men and Women to Live on Mission. Every session challenges participants to consider how the gospel compels them to live on mission every day.
  • Understand the Key Themes of Christianity. Helps men and women identify and understand the 99 essential theological doctrines of the Christian faith as they are found throughout the Bible.

You can download a full month of The Gospel Project free at gospelproject.com!

March 6, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Reading The Bible In Community

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This blog was first posted at Facts and Trends.

The availability of the Bible for Christians in the West is a blessing.

Most of us have Bibles in various translations at our disposal, ensuring God’s transformative Word is always within arm’s reach. This affords us the ability to read the Bible any time we choose.

While this personal reading is essential for Christian formation, the practice of individual Bible study in the modern church may have eclipsed the historic practice of reading the Bible in community with other Christians.

Think about it: Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, few Christians had access to personal copies of the Scriptures. One could argue it wasn’t until the revolution of mass printing that personal quiet times were even possible for the majority of Christians.

Before that time, God’s Word was almost always studied in the context of community—primarily as part of a corporate gathering (Deuteronomy 31:12; Nehemiah 8:1; Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:44). While most of us have the benefit and blessing of reading the Bible personally on a regular basis, we may be downplaying the transformative power of studying the Bible in Christian community.

For the most part, the modern world has exchanged information for intimacy. In our world, relationships are increasingly built through technology like phone calls, video chats, and social media, rather than face-to-face encounters. Yet, we were created for intimate community and fellowship (Genesis 2:18), which take place best when we are together with other people. “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together.

The church has a unique opportunity to hold up intimate community and face-to-face fellowship as a value that meets the deepest needs of humanity. Something absolutely beautiful, transforming, and miraculous happens as God’s children gather to study God’s Word.

The Apostle Paul proclaims in Colossians 3:16 we are to “teach and admonish one another.” It’s hard to do this when we’re not together with other members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Christian sanctification is as much a group project as it is an individual pursuit. Community Bible study guards and guides our beliefs and feelings about God as we hold each other accountable and challenge one another with God’s Word.

In community study, we also benefit from the insight, wisdom, and perspective of others. We’re able to hear from those who are at different life stages, enabling us to see through the rich prism of the experience of others.

“When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell other people,” Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together. “God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them”

As we study in community, our understanding of God’s Word progresses as we grow together. And studying in a group may also improve our personal quiet time.

A recent study, published in the book Transformational Groups, found that 42 percent of Protestant churchgoers who are actively involved in a small group say they also regularly study and reflect on God’s Word on their own throughout the week. That drops to 10 percent for those who aren’t part of a small group.

The Bible is clear: none of us lives to himself (Romans 14:7). We are living stones being built up together (Ephesians 2:20, 22). We are to speak the truth in love to one another, as the body of Christ, being conformed to Christ together (Ephesians 4:15-16).

At the center of the biblical picture of spiritual growth is the study of God’s Word in the context of community. As J.I. Packer argues in his book Grounded in the Gospel, “The church is to be a learning-and-teaching fellowship in which the passing on of what we learn becomes a regular part of the service we render to one another.”

God designed us for community and fellowship. And God gave us His Word as the foundation for our community life. Like jagged rocks thrown into the rock tumbler of community, as we study God’s Word together, we will work out the rough edges of our life, and end up as beautiful, smooth stones reflecting the image of His Son.

March 4, 2015 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

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