Monday, July 27, 2015

One Bad Thing about Christian Homeschoolers

Hey, it's pretty obvious that I love homeschooling, that I am greatly appreciative of being homeschooled both because it enabled me to be better educated and that it allowed my character to develop much better than it would have in a school setting.

But there is one thing about Christian homeschoolers that I have a hard time with. We are great kids, and we know it, but that doesn't bother me quite as much. What bothers me is that in secular settings, we are so quick to credit our behavior to homeschooling.

I will admit that I think I am more mature going through homeschooling than if I was in a Christian or public school when I was growing up. If people notice I seem more mature than my counterparts in church, I will credit homeschooling.

But if in a secular workforce or anywhere else, I seem more mature and less interested in partying than any peers my age, I hope my first thought would be to explain how that's the power of Christ in my life, and not talk about homeschooling.

Because what is the main difference between me and a public schooled kid who is involved in drugs, alcohol, and sex. It's not that I was homeschooled. Put me in a public school and I think I would still not be involved in drugs, alcohol, and sex.

The difference is that I am a Christian. The difference is that I have Christ to fulfill the hole that the other kid is filling with partying. The difference is that I have a reason to live uprightly - to serve the one who died for me.

So why is it that we as Christian homeschoolers are so willing to credit the latter part of that title with why we are different more than the former? Why do we not take the opportunity given to us to witness and share about Christ?

It's simple - we've gotten (legitimately) fired up about our form of schooling, and we want to promote it. And our actions are indicating that we want to promote it more than we wish to promote God Himself.

I hate to say it, but it seems that for many of us, we have made homeschooling an idol. Let's try to remove it from that pedestal and return it to its proper place as a means of training children in service to the Lord.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Need Rest Now

Sometimes, getting home and surviving then can be the hardest part. I apologize in advance for what amounts to a lackluster blog post.

So that's how I feel now as I recover from a great time if service and fellowship on my Singles Missions Trip to Philadelphia and New York City. 

Right now, I miss the days where when I got back from a trip u could just vegetate for a day or two. I guess adulthood kicked in on that one.

But somehow I've survived the week
 Must be about the strength of God or something. But at this point, one thing u still need is sleep. 

So I'm going to do that now. Need to prepare for a day of maintenance at my church internship tomorrow. 

Hey, my wonderful readers, doing ever be afraid to get some sleep.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Human Scavengers. Worse than Believed

I can't seem to get away from this topic because it just keeps getting worse. This blog started as a result of a poorly-run campaign against the use of aborted fetal cells in testing products. Over time, the main companies that we as a consumer could do things about stopped using the cells for their products.

But profiting from the body parts from unborn murder victims continue, and now we have it in a completely different and even more heinous direction. Planned Parenthood has admitted to selling body parts from aborted babies. But what makes this even worse is that to do this one has to make sure the baby dies outside of the body, which is a legally questionable area.

It further creates the manipulation I feared where people go out of their way to utilize resources from these victims. That's kinda scary.

While I value and appreciate resourcefulness, I think that line is drawn when it comes to the sanctity of human life and the remains of human babies. I think that this is heinous and unacceptable. But then there are hardly any arguments about that.

The question is, how do we respond? What avenues are available for us here? While a legal option is necessary and beneficial for this, I don't think we should let this opportunity go unused. We have common ground with abortion advocates right now, who for the most part are equally disturbed by this situation.

That common ground could be a helpful starting point for discussion about abortion in general, as well as for the reason why we hold that abortion is murder. It hasn't to do with science, but God. This could be a prime opportunity to touch people's minds and hearts not just in the "political" views of abortion, but also in the gospel.

But more importantly, we must pray. That is the best thing we can do about this situation. Yes, we must be able to push for policy, but the battle will not be from our hands, but from the Lord. Let's pray that He will fight for us in this abortion tragedy.

Friday, July 17, 2015

3 Keys to Solid Christian Living

Readers, I just wanted to let you all know that I haven't forgotten that the New Testament existed. Today, we are going to look at the book of II Corinthians in particular 4:7-5:21.

What we would like to look at it that passage that is often quoted from, II Corinthians 4:8-9
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;"

Now this doesn't make much sense, given that when we find ourselves in trouble, we become distressed, and when we are perplexed, we're in despair, persecution leads to feeling forsaken, and cast down is basically synonymous with destroyed, right? What even is the apostle Paul saying here?

Well, he's saying that that's not true in his life. I guess an evaluation on how it could not be true in Paul's life is in order.

Well, let's start with the very beginning. When you want to study out a passage, you must look at context. The first context we must look at is the context of the book. When reading the book of II Corinthians, you wouldn't be surprised to find a lot of reference to service. More references are to service, it would seem than to anything else.

In addition, it is often mentioned as a part of the service question the subject of grace, both as a motivation for  the service, as well as a supplier of strength for that service. Thus, the book of Corinthians deals with service of the Lord, specifically as it pertains to the grace of God.

This is confirmed when we examine the beginning of the book, where immediately upon giving his salutations, Paul writes in II Corinthians 1:3-6,
"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation."

Thus then begins out answer. The grace of God is prevalent in the suffering and trouble of the apostle Paul, so that he can say that he is not distressed because he is comforted of God and may comfort others.

II Corinthians 4:7 introduces these verses further by expressing truths about the power of God, further showing that the power of God is at stake here.
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." 

So the power of God and His comfort allows Paul to see his suffering solely as good for those around him. But wait, there's more. When examining all the verses following II Corinthians 4:8-9, we see a detailed outline of three reasons why Paul is able to manage his trouble without distress. Further, these three reasons provide three key perspectives that Christians should have if they desire to live victoriously.  So let's take a look.

1. Strengthened to serve others by the power of God

II Corinthians 4:10-12 states,
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you."

The first thing to notice in the text is that the suffering isn't just "light" from our perspective. Paul is living in constant danger of his own death. Further, the suffering itself is strong, so that physically, He is bearing the marks of Jesus' suffering in his own body.

Look at a listing of some of the suffering that Paul has gone through at the time of this writing in II Corinthians 11:24-27, 
"Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness."
That's quite an impressive resume, don't you think? Paul suffered greatly, but note the last phrase of verse 12. "But life in you." Paul has death and suffering working in him, but because of that, the Corinthians have life.

Whether it is meant by that, prosperity and protection from suffering (seems likely due to the parallelism with death), or something more of an eternal nature is not the point. The point is that Paul suffers so that others may benefit.

And how is all of this possible? How can he say those words? Well, let's look at II Corinthians 4:13-16, 
"We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
So what does Paul mean in verse 13, where he says the "same spirit of faith." It certainly conveys that he has a faith and trust in (presumably) God, but what spirit does he refer? I guess the words it is written convey a quotation from the Old Testament that the Corinthians would have access to. Well, let's look at that passage, Psalm 116,
"1 I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. 2 Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. 3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. 4 Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. 5 Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. 6 The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. 7 Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. 8 For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. 9 I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. 10 I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: 11 I said in my haste, All men are liars. 12 What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? 13 I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. 14 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. 15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. 16 O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. 17 I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. 18 I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. 19 In the courts of the Lord's house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord."

There are a lot of parallels between this psalm and the passage in II Corinthians. It makes sense why Paul would want the Corinthians and indeed us to think about it. Unfortunately, time does not permit me to show you all of these parallels. So let's just focus on the big picture.

This psalm is a psalm of gratitude and obligation for the Lord because of what He did for the psalmist in a time of trouble. The psalmist praises the Lord, and says that he will now walk before the Lord as His servant.

That is the context when the psalmist pens, "I believed, therefore have I spoken." The idea is that because he trusted God in his trouble, he is able to speak now about service to the Lord.

So, how is that Paul is able to talk about serving God and others? It is because he trusted in the Lord's power when he underwent his suffering and persecution. That's how he can say that he is not distressed in the midst of his trouble.

And what a power of God it is! II Corinthians 4:14 reminds us that this power is one that is not just any old power, but the power that raised Christ from the dead! Any suffering that Paul or any of us go through will pale in comparison to the scale of unlikelihood to the resurrection of the dead.

No wonder Paul is ok with his suffering and able to see it as a benefit for others. But even further, the power of God is a very personal force. Verse 16 reminds us that "though our outward man perish, yet our inward man is renewed day by day."

Day by day, our soul is strengthened. Constantly, the Lord is right there to strengthen us, as He will never leave us, nor forsake us. Trials are typically seasonal, but God will always be there to pick you up if you should fall!

2. Not worried about temporal state because focus is on eternity

The second key is one that has been close to my heart for a little while. One that I have even shortened to two words so that I could use it to sign letters and emails. We must all live for eternity. However, I must say that the words, "For eternity," are not actually a good way to end a email to a member of the opposite sex. Talk about the wrong messages...

This key is introduced first in II Corinthians 4:17, 
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;"

Now, we've already made a discussion above about how Paul's suffering was hardly "light." But here he calls it light. How can that be so? This wording is as confusing and strange as the wording of verse 8-9. Troubled, but not distressed? Light affliction? I don't know, fellows, I just don't know.

But Paul's perspective is seen pretty clearly when we see the final phrase of the verse, "A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." The affairs of this world, and our position within them should matter less to us because eternity if truly our goal.

It's as Dr. Jason Lee, dean of the School of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University, explained in a class lecture. The end of the Christian life is eternity. By this, he means both that the final outcome and resting place for a Christian is heaven and that the goal of the Christian life is to further the cause of Christ in eternity. That's all there is to it.

Continuing in our text, we find II Corinthians 4:18-5:4,
 "While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. or we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life."

This verse expresses more of the idea that we should focus our eyes upon heaven. This is seen very clearly in verse 18 as it directs us to look at what is not seen, as that is what is truly important.

Now we've all heard the typical rhetoric on this. Governments and regimes fall, families break apart, and our favorite televisions series get cancelled! (wait, that's not right), but God remains forever. And the work you do for God will also remain forever. Consider the words of II Timothy 1:12,
"For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day."

Why focus on our outward temporal condition and let our troubles cause us distress when there is a war to be won which has eternal consequences for all the participants?

Paul uses the illustration of our bodies as seen in temple/tabernacle imagery. Right now, our bodies are temporary. When these forms die, we will receive new bodies in heaven which will last for eternity.

And we should yearn for those eternal bodies, and we should not be so wrapped up in our temporal bodies, that we fail to provide clothing for our eternal bodies in the first place.

Now I don't want to give you the impression that we stop taking care of our earthly bodies, or stop caring about life on this earth altogether. It is still important, and we have a role to serve now for the cause of eternity. Let's not get too heavenly minded that we're no earthly good. Look at the words of Philippians 1:21-26,
 "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again."

With that established, let's continue in our text to see what might be the most important thing we should look for in heaven, which also supplies our meaning, confidence, and satisfaction here on earth. II Corinthians 5:5-8 explain,
"Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord."

The earnest of the Spirit. It's an interesting term. One of my current internship mentor's favorite biblical phrases. With that in mind, I think it would be remiss not to pause on it for a little bit.

We all know that we have the Holy Spirit in our lives. We all know that we can have fellowship with the Lord now through the Holy Spirit. But what does this term "earnest" mean?

Now maybe you are all more savvy at financial terms than I am, but I had to learn this term. Earnest money tends to be given as a pledge. You give a portion of the money on your house, which is to show your interest in paying the rest.

The earnest of the Spirit. Hmm... Are we then given by the Lord a little fellowship with Him as a promise and commitment to an even greater fellowship with Him when we make it to eternity? I think yes.

And I think that that can indeed gives us confidence as Paul expressed here, knowing that we are absent from the Lord now, but we are still going to be present with Him in the future, and you know what? That pure fellowship with the Father is what we should yearn for.

3. Whether in the body or absent from the body, goal is to please the Lord. 

Continuing in the text, we find the absolute most important key for Christian living. One that solidifies why OUR condition wouldn't lead us to distress. And that key is that we are all about being accepted of the Lord. II Corinthians 5:9 explains,
"Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him."

The main thing that should be accepted here is not so much that we are striving to be accepted of the Lord. The idea of pleasing or being accepted of the Lord is something that we've heard enough that it is ingrained in our very identity.

No, the point that should be seen is that we are striving or labouring to be accepted of the Lord. Being accepted of the Lord is not something that will just come to us. We can't magically expect all things to work out beautifully for us if we don't put in the effort.

Obviously, we need to remember that acceptance of God at salvation is by faith alone and no labor is required, but as Paul writes this passage to Christians, his focus and idea is that to please the Lord after salvation, we must work. But why would we bother? II Corinthians 5:10-13 explain,
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. For we commend not ourselves again unto you, but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart. For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause."

We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. That provides us with a terror, knowing that the truly eternal actions that we committed whether we were storing up treasures in heaven, or treasures here are going to come back and haunt us.

We don't want to glory in just the appearance we can show off to other Christians because that won't truly serve us when we get to heaven and the Lord who knows our hearts is there to judge us for our wrongdoing. Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul is so interested in serving the Lord and others with his life.

Or maybe it goes deeper. Maybe the real reason why we should be ok with suffering for Christ's sake is what he has done for us. II Corinthians 5:14-17,
"For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."

When we become in Christ (another of my mentor's favorite biblical phrases), we become a new creature. We are called into living a different life. Paul described this in verse 15 above that we are not to "henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again."

The love of Christ in out lives constrain us. We know that we were all once dead. That no matter how many good deeds we did (or how rich we were), we were dead in our trespasses and sins, and needed the Lord to do something miraculous.

And He did. He owed is nothing, but He loved us so that He came down in human form to die for our sins. And when we accept Him, we are repenting of our sin. We are to stop serving ourselves and commit to serving God. We are to live, as Psalm 116 expresses, in complete obligation and thanksgiving to the Lord.

You all have heard before how at a competition for preaching, singing, and my personal favorite, Bible Quizzing, there was a banner that read,
"He died for me; the least I could do was live for Him." 

You also might remember my Iron Man illustration. Quoting from the post, "Internet, Iron Man, and Indebtedness," 
"In the movie Iron Man. Mr. Stark is fatally injured and should very well die. Through the surgery of one Yinsen, Tony's life has been saved. Stark and Yinsen plan a daring escape from their imprisonment (by the way, they've been imprisoned), and in the process, Yinsen dies. His last words to Tony are simple.
          'Don't waste it. Don't waste your life.' 
Tony's life has been spared twice by the man Yinsen, and the last words seem to have an effect on Tony. He understands that he is greatly blessed, and responds accordingly. In an important point of the film, he tells Pepper simply,
          'I shouldn't be alive... I'm not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know what I have to do.           And I know in my heart that it's right.'
I know the deepness of what I'm about to say is going to blow your mind, but here goes anyway. Jesus gave Himself to give us a blessing far greater than Tony's. Instead of having a chance at happiness in temporal life, Jesus died to give us guaranteed happiness for all eternity.
Tony responded to his blessing with a changed outlook and different behavior choices to pass on a better world to those around him. We as Christians should respond to our blessings with a different focus in life, and a strong desire and great boldness to better people's eternal (and temporal) situations."

We are indebted to Christ, and we ought to labor for the sake of being pleasing to the Lord. And we ought not to think it too big a deal to do so. We ought to be willing to bend over backwards to be accepted of the Lord. To quote Psalm 116:12,
"What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?"

I'm glad you asked. The Lord doesn't leave us hanging on what specifically would be pleasing to Him. Obviously, there would be a large part of the Bible, revealing God's character, and what would thus please Him. But our text has an answer for that as well. In what I promise to be the last part of our text today (thank you for reading this far; I am kinda impressed), let's look at II Corinthians 5:18-21, 
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

Ministers of reconciliation, ambassadors of Christ, evangelists fulfilling the Great Commission. I guess that's how we are able to please the Lord. And with that mission, I guess we can look at trouble, and see it as a benefit for others because we are living our live to please God by serving others.
 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Church, According to the Scriptures

In the much talk about revitalizing churches today in order to remain relevant to the culture, there seems to be little in the likes of a comprehensive analysis of what the Bible says church should look like. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that it would require a lifetime’s worth of study of the Bible to even begin to comprehend what the Bible has to say about church. 

This essay will thus only scratch the surface of this important topic, but what I aim to do is give a biblical foundation for church found by looking comprehensively at Paul’s admonitions to the young pastors Timothy and Titus, as well as examining the example set out by the apostles in the book of Acts. In so doing, I discovered what I call the three S’s of church management – sound doctrine, structure, and service.

Sound Doctrine

As I read through the pastoral epistles, I was immediately taken aback by the amount of times that Paul mentions and expounds upon sound doctrine. To him, it seems one of the primary roles of the church is to expound upon and share sound doctrine to the members of the congregation. 

From the beginning to end of Paul’s three epistles to these gentlemen he documents the importance of teaching sound doctrine because if they don’t, many will fall to fables. For instance, in I Timothy 4:6-16, Paul instructs Timothy,
“If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”


In the book of Titus, Paul expresses more of the same, as he writes
“Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.”

It is then important for the church to be a place where sound doctrine is taught. But what exactly does that look like? Well, one obvious starting point is that sound doctrine begins and ends with the Gospel and the rest of Scriptures. But even then, that doesn’t specifically guarantee that sound doctrine is being taught in the church and received by the congregation. 

Luckily, the Bible gives clearer guidelines for the pastor in this area. As the Bible says in II Timothy 2:14-16
“Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness.” 

Here Timothy as a pastor is asked to study the Word of God day in and day out so that he can rightly divide it. But more than that, he is supposed to study the Word, so as to avoid the profane and vain babblings that are fruitless and even harmful. 

Careful and Spirit-led study of the Bible should prevent the pastor from teaching false doctrine. If you need further evidence on this, just look at the apostles, and their ability to preach the entire redemption story through referencing and quoting many Old Testament passages by heart.

Structure

As we move through into next big area of the biblical church, we begin to take a look at structure. 
Structure in general is not given out in quite as much detail as one might expect given the very uniform structure of churches across the United States and even around the world. Yet there is still somewhat to be gained from an analysis of the structure mentioned within the Bible itself.


The structure of the leadership is described probably most detailed of all. The first thing to notice is that local leadership is key. Paul started a lot of churches in his missionary journeys, but he held no authority over those churches after he moved on. 

Instead, as Acts 14:21-23 states, 
“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.” 

Indeed, the very existence of the pastoral epistles goes to show that Paul was entrusting the care of the churches he planted to other men and not trying to run them via proxy. The significance of this is that the service which the church is supposed to do together (which we will discuss later) is hard to manage from a distant location.

But the leaders themselves have a little bit of a job to do. They are of course requested to teach sound doctrine, but they are also expected to live up to a considerable amount of character qualities. 

These pastoral requirements are documented in I Timothy 2:11-3:7 and Titus 1:7-13, and include: man, blameless, husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, apt to teach, not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, patient, not a brawler, not covetous, one that rules well his own house, one with experience, not self-willed, not soon angry, a lover of good men, just, holy, temperate, one who holds fast to sound doctrine, and a good report of the unbeliever. 

That is quite a hefty obligation! But according to I Timothy, this is because it is “a good work.” The pastor’s actual work involves of course, expounding sound doctrine, but it also extends to nurturing and shepherding the flock of God as they need it.

Before we leave the structure of the leadership within the local church, it is important to discuss the deacons. ITimothy 3:8-13 documents a list about as exhaustive as the list of character traits for pastors for deacons, but little is given in that passage as to what the deacons actually do. 

What seems to be clearer about different functions of different leaders within the church is Acts 6:1-2. Here we read that the twelve apostles (that were serving as pastors) were supposed to be primarily focused with studying the Bible and declaring the sound doctrine of the Gospel. But the church still had other functions with which to participate in. Thus, we read, 
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.” 

Thus, it would seem that the other leaders in the church are supposed to primarily be concerned with ministering unto the needs of the church congregation, while the pastor(s) focus on spreading the good news. However, this does not preclude the pastor from ever ministering to the sick, nor the other leaders from declaring the Gospel – just pay attention to the life of Stephen!

There are two other important points about structure of the church that I would like to make really quick. First, note that membership within the church wasn’t added until after people accepted Christ and then were baptized as an outward sign of the inward regeneration of the Spirit. Acts 2:41 declares, 
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” 

Thus, while church is certainly a place where all are welcome (Jesus came for the sinners right?), membership is reserved solely for the baptized believer. 

Second, there is precious little in the Bible about the structure of a church service. Indeed, Acts 2:46-47 indicates that the early church would come together daily in the temple or just in breaking bread from house to house. The only thing listed as happening when they met together is that they praised God continually. 

Thus, the Bible seems to be ok with a more informal church fellowship rather than just the service we consider the assembly of believers today. While the structure of the days we currently live demand that we have an opportunity for a structured church service, maybe we as Christians shouldn’t be so quick to apply the teachings of Hebrews 10:25 to describe as heathens anyone who missed a church service. That doesn’t seem to be its original context. We should only treat as sin that which is forsaking the formal or informal assembly of believers altogether.

Service

The main attention and purpose of the church should be service. Now by service I do not refer to the meeting time every Sunday that I just finished discussing, but rather the idea of meeting the needs of the believers, or the community, or just so much as obeying God. No matter the area in which this service is conducted, it all must be motivated from love and driven by the Gospel.

The early church clearly modelled that we should serve other believers within our community. It all begins with the example of material provision granted in Acts 2:45, where we are told the early church, “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” But material provision is only the start of it. 

What is more important is that the spiritual welfare of those around them. II Timothy 2:1-2 explains the function of discipleship in the church, 
“Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

Here is the directive which shows that all Christians are called to a discipleship mechanism. This discipleship mechanism is something that can be done through a formula or a curriculum, but is much more likely to occur by simple one-on-one informal training. I

t takes noticing the potential of an individual and training him to grow in the Lord. In Acts18:25-27, Aquila and Priscilla model this form of discipleship quite well, 
“This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace.” 

And of course it would be remiss not to speak to how Jesus did not run through a program to train His twelve disciples, but instead served with them, spent time with him, and ultimately gave them the opportunity to serve alone.

But the church also has a function in serving the needs of the community. Little is given in the needs of the church to supply these needs, whether they be spiritual or physical. It is quite possible that these needs are to be met not by the church collectively, but the believer individually, and the church serves as support or maybe even a collaborative effort to fulfill that endeavor. 

Thus, the church will run ministries like the food pantry to help their members serve the community, but ultimately it is not the church (structured) but the church (body of believers) that are committed to evangelizing and supplying physical need. 

Nevertheless, the act of sending out missionaries with prayer and monetary support seems to be supported by the sending forth of Barnabus first, and then Barnabus and Paul, and then also including Silas and Mark. World evangelism is something that not every Christian can handle on their own. It often takes the pooling together of resources within a church to fulfill that function.

Furthermore, the primary duty of the church had to do with serving God corporately. In II Timothy 2:22, we hear the principle, “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” We are called to serve God, but we are also called to do so collectively. 

In the book of Acts, we see this readily on display. In Acts 2:46-47, we read, 
“And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” 

It is then a primary function of the church to allow opportunities for fellowship and opportunities for support meetings. The church should be a place where people come to be encouraged and challenged in their walk with God. But more than any of that, it should be a place where they come to praise the Lord for the goodness He has wrought in their lives.


Conclusion

So there you have it, the beginnings of what a church looks like, according to the Scriptures. Certainly, it seems that not much time has thus far been spent on such a summary and I hope that in the future more study will be done. If nothing else, I will provide a more complete summary of the subject over time and begin on my life-long quest of what a biblical church actually looks like. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Crash Course in How not to Respond to God

Poor Israelites. You can't help but feel bad for them. Not because they went into Babylonian captivity around the time of the events we will talk about today, but because that which they did to force God to send them there will always be a crash course in how not to live when met with God's grace.

Today, we examine a few things that happened after the Babylonians came into Jerusalem. The remnant are left of the Israelites staying in Israel. And then they stop ignoring the prophet Jeremiah for just a little bit. I guess they figured that his preaching of the impending captivity didn't seem so far-fetched anymore.

So they come to him, and ask him to beseech the Lord on their behalf. Finally, they are willing to serve the LORD! After all this time, they are prepared to make sacrifices. See what they ask Jeremiah in Jeremiah 42:1-6,
"Then all the captains of the forces, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people from the least even unto the greatest, came near, And said unto Jeremiah the prophet, Let, we beseech thee, our supplication be accepted before thee, and pray for us unto the Lord thy God, even for all this remnant; (for we are left but a few of many, as thine eyes do behold us:) That the Lord thy God may shew us the way wherein we may walk, and the thing that we may do. Then Jeremiah the prophet said unto them, I have heard you; behold, I will pray unto the Lord your God according to your words; and it shall come to pass, that whatsoever thing the Lord shall answer you, I will declare it unto you; I will keep nothing back from you Then they said to Jeremiah, The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the Lord thy God shall send thee to us Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the Lord our God."

I bet you're not surprised to learn that they don't actually obey the voice of the Lord. They want to head to Egypt, but the Lord tells Jeremiah that they shouldn't go to Egypt because they will die there, but the Lord would protect them if they remained in Jerusalem.

So, naturally, the Israelites would say that Jeremiah who hadn't steered them wrong yet, was obviously making this up and didn't actually hear any of this from the Lord. Yeah, that seems really smart.

So because the direction seemed outrageous, the Israelites rationalized that it wasn't from God. Just ridiculous. Well, the laugh is on them. The Lord obviously was telling the truth and they die in Egypt.

Let's try not to be messed up with the ridiculousness of a command that we refuse to accept that it is a command from the Lord. There will always be commands that seem ridiculous, but Isaiah 55:8-9 proclaims,
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Monday, July 6, 2015

That One Thing

I am still a little less than amused about the church's seemingly changed purpose around patriotic holidays to go from praising God to praising a nation. Sorry. I guess that's a little bit of a bitter exaggeration, but not really. But that's not what I'm going to be posting about today. I just thought you might be interested.

In today's devotional post, we are going to see something which seems to be everywhere in the Old Testament.

God returns to His people, to keep covenant and mercy. Despite all the sinfulness of the people, He is always ready to bless His people.

It's in the book of Nehemiah, Esther, even the book of Ruth, the point always seems to be that even when it doesn't seem like it, God is working things out for His people. Maybe that doesn't mean the best of circumstances. But it always means that we have something to be excited about.

So maybe it's that God really does care about His people. Crazy thing, right?

So don't give up on Him whatever your life may look like.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Let Freedom Ring

So today is July 3. The day that sirens really started needing things up on Independence Day.

What? You had more serious thoughts about today. Fine.

So as of tomorrow, America had been free from Britain and its heavy tax on breakfast beverage for 239 years. That is quite a lot!

And on that day, there was an underlying principle at place in what we thought about our actions- freedom, and more specifically representation.

As Abraham Lincoln would explain four score and seven years later, it was too create a government, "of the people, for the people, and by the people."

And that's pretty special. We have a republic, if we can keep it.

This week's devotional post will be seen on Monday. Thanks for your patience.

Also I apologize for Monday's delayed post. I guess it didn't post as I scheduled it to. #imnotgoodwithtechnology

Monday, June 29, 2015

Supreme Court Overreach

Two important cases hit the Supreme Court this week (and we will discuss each of them in this post), but honestly, the wrong one is receiving the attention.

Don't get me wrong - homosexuality is a sin. But I don't see that the Supreme Court decision is that big of a deal from the standpoint of Christian ethics. From the way people are talking, this signifies that Christians have lost the battle on marriage and that this redefinition will corrupt society.

While marriage is incredibly important, and its redefinition will has corrupted society.

The reason why this decision is no big deal is that Christians lost the battle on marriage back some, I don't know, years and years ago when it was still shameful in our culture to be homosexual. We lost the battle on marriage when it was redefined to only mean a union based on the love of two people, and their desire for commitment.

Marriage has never been solely about people. It's been about God. It's been a covenant before God that reflects God's relationship with His people. In the Old Testament, that meant the Israelites; in the New Testament and now, that means the church. At the point where we lost that in heterosexual relationships, the battle on marriage was already lost.

Once marriage is redefined as only the celebration of love between two people (we are not talking about sex here), can you really argue with homosexual marriage? I mean, it certainly seems offensive and nonsensical to say that heterosexual love is somehow more worthy to be celebrated than homosexual love.

But once marriage was redefined by the way our culture framed it, that's what we would be left arguing. But in the grand scheme of things, this court decision matters little from the standpoint of the sanctity of marriage because marriage had already been corrupted long ago. This is simply a manifestation of that.

From a political standpoint, things do prove to be a bit more interesting. It would seem to me that this whole homosexual marriage decision should never have been made by a court. The Supreme Court's role is to interpret the Constitution, and the way that they managed to work that into this decision is a little questionable.

To say that the right to marriage is included under the fourteenth amendment's protection is just flat out ridiculous. There is very little referenced in the text about the dignity that Justice Kennedy sees as paramount to this position. Additionally, you could question, why marriage ever had anything to do with the government in the first place? Oh, right, taxes.

But why even on a broader level is this a federal issue? The fourteenth amendment is the catch-all for applying the Constitution to the states and those claims are very dubious indeed.

Determining what marriage should look like in each state is something that should probably be decided by people in that state, not bureaucrats in robes sitting behind a bench. But I have shown a little too much of my libertarianism in this post.

I guess we should look at the other important Supreme Court decision now. I haven't heard as many opinions on this that I disagree with, so I won't spend as much time on it. But I wonder how many of you immediately know what I'm talking about when I mention the other decision.

The Affordable Care Act was being challenged, but not so as if to repeal it or take it off the books. No, this challenge said that the text of the law did not allow federal power where the federal government wanted power.

The question was about in places where states do not want to establish exchanges. The federal government does not have the authority to force states to comply with this part of the law, and that the Court did not contest. Instead, in these places, the federal government simply runs the exchange.

The question before the court was if the federal government, by the text of the law, would be able to enforce subsidies themselves in this situation. As Dr. Marc Clauson reports,
"The issue in this case is whether the Act’s tax credits are available in States that have a Federal Exchange rather than a State Exchange. The Act initially provides that tax credits 'shall be allowed' for any 'applicable taxpayer.' 26 U. S. C. §36B(a). The Act then provides that the amount of the tax credit depends in part on whether the taxpayer has enrolled in an insurance plan through 'an Exchange established by the State under section 1311 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.'" 

It would seem rather problematic for the law that can be stifled by a state who does not want to set up an exchange. In that situation, there seems to be no reason to assume that the subsidy program of Affordable Care Act can apply, unless you take the meaning of state to mean government, rather than one of the 50 states.

Which I suppose is possible, but making that clarification of a vague law is hardly the role of the Supreme Court. Clarifying the law in this way is the spot of the legislative branch itself. Allowing the Court to do this is an open door for them "clarifying" many laws now and in the future.

But the clarification even now still doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As Dr. Clauson wrote,
"The Court apparently wanted to save Obamacare.  So it said essentially that the term “state” the language above meant either a state or the Federal government.  This meant that it had to interpret the word state as “the state,” some government, any government, to get to the point of including the Federal government.  Roberts seemed to realize this, since he said it was not a natural interpretation.  But that didn’t stop him or the majority."
Thus, the Court saves Obamacare instead of letting it go through the normal legislative procedures. And you know, that is a scary precedent to set.

So, from the standpoint of the Court doing what it's supposed to do, it was a pretty bad week in both of these cases as both represent overreach.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Going Deeper in the Book of Nehemiah

I'm guessing you've gathered from my rather brilliant title that we are going deeper into the book of Nehemiah today. You should pat yourself on the back for your accomplishment.

But yes, that book which I and every one else loves to discuss and share truths from is exactly where we'll be going once more. Hopefully, you haven't grown bored of a wonderful part of the Word of God yet!

So we all are pretty familiar with the events of the book. The Israelites are in bad shape - they are poor because of a famine, their rulers are exploiting their poverty, simply making it worse, they are selling their children into slavery because things are just that bad. And then just to top it off, their wall's been torn down.

Now the wall wouldn't have just looked cool for the Israelites! Rather, it would have been protection from outside forces. Thus, the Israelites were vulnerable to attacks from Sanballat and Tobiah and the lesser-known Geshem the Arabian.

But we know that Nehemiah enters the story and suddenly all else is good in the world. Nehemiah's life can teach us many great lessons, like how to properly handle burdens, how to be a good leader, and how to keep from getting ambushed in the wilderness (the answer is of course, don't go because you are too involved in the work of the Lord).

But you know what in all of these things we seem to be missing one largely important thing - why was the book written in the first place? Why did Nehemiah pen these words? Better yet, why did the Holy Spirit direct Nehemiah to write this book?

Pulling in all our lessons are not necessarily wrong, but we should dig a little deeper to find out why it was written.

And of course, to do that, it would be necessary to take ourselves back to the time in which it was written.

The time is after the 70 years predicted by Jeremiah that the captivity would last. The Temple has been rebuilt, and the people have returned to Jerusalem. At that time, everyone thought that this was it. That Zerubbabel, the son of David, would rise to the throne, and Israel would be restored.

But no throne for poor Zerubbabel, and David's line had still not returned to the throne of Israel. God didn't seem to be keeping His promises anymore. Indeed, the fact that there was a famine and that everything seemed stacked against the Israelites might have led many to wonder - does God even care?

Then comes Nehemiah. When he hears of the destruction of the wall, he is distraught, but he does one thing at the very beginning of the book. He prays. And in that prayer, he confirms that God is not the kind of being that turns His back on His people. Instead in Nehemiah 1:5, we read,
"And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:"

 God keeps covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments. Hmmm... I guess that means God still cares for His people right?

Further, it is seen that this word for mercy, is the covenantal word hּׅesed which could be translated loyal love or lovingkindness, but actually means a lot more. It is a word linked to the covenants of God. The covenant this one seems to link to would be the conditional mosaic covenant. If the Israelites hold up their end of the bargain, God will hold up His. 

Thus, Nehemiah seeks to show that God still cares for His people and those that love Him. It signifies this theme by showing God's provision through the person of Nehemiah, as well as showing the Israelites grow to observe more of God's commandments. 

So, does God still care, according to Nehemiah, it's against his nature not to. And where do we find this proclamation? Well, right at the beginning, where you would expect to find a thesis statement! 

And that's not all. If you were writing  story, you'd want your theme to be explicit from the start, but you would also want to repeat it from time to time. Observe, how this operates in the book of Nehemiah, 
"Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people." ~Nehemiah 5:19 
"My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear." ~Nehemiah 6:14 
"And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good." ~Nehemiah 13:31  

It's easy to just read past these words, but when you examine this based on the purpose behind the book itself, you notice that these are actually super important textual clues that point to a unified part of the book.

And you should pay special attention to what shows up in Nehemiah 13:32.


For those of you who actually follow all my Bible links, I'm sorry. There is not Nehemiah 13:32, and there isn't a Nehemiah 14 either. The book ends with Nehemiah asking the Lord, "Remember me, O my God, for good."

That is not a coincidence. Because when you are writing anything, you try to make sure your point is near the beginning of the book, near the end of the book, and interspersed throughout the book, and that's exactly what Nehemiah has done here.

So what does it all mean? It means that God does not abandon His people. He didn't abandon Israel, and He won't abandon us. Indeed, if it seems that you are having difficulty in your relationship with the Lord, it can only be because you have sin that is driving you away from the Lord.

The good news, the Lord will still extend care and provision and His unconditional promises, like salvation to those who have accepted Him no matter what. Also, He is always willing to restore fellowship with those who want to love Him and observe His commandments once more.

 Read within this light, those stories certainly do hold a lot more weight than some moral we apply to them, don't they?