Fasting (Spiritual Disciplines Part 4)

You're not you when you're hungry. In 2010, Snickers began running a series of hilarious ads featuring notoriously grumpy celebrities like Betty White, Joe Pesci, Roseanne Barr, and Willem Dafoe in which the characters’ irritable disposition is remedied by eating a Snickers bar. In my house, we refer to this cantankerous mood as being “hangry,” a less than virtuous tendency that characterizes me more often than I’d like to admit, and also one that my children have apparently inherited.

What is it about the pangs of first world “hunger” that can cause us to behave in uncharacteristically unbecoming behavior? And can we use this tendency to reorient our desires toward the one who really satisfies us? The Bible actually prescribes the intentional short-term self-deprivation of food as an edifying spiritual discipline known as fasting:

"But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." 

-Matthew 6:17–18 (ESV)

Notice Jesus says “when you fast,” presuming this is a spiritual discipline believers are expected to do. But why? Well, in the same passage, Jesus tells us that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” showing an inexplicable link between fasting and finding our satisfaction in God. John Piper echoes this purpose:

“When you give a gift to Christ like [fasting], it's a way of saying, ‘The joy that I pursue is not the hope of getting rich with things from you...By giving to you what you do not need, and what I might enjoy, I am saying more earnestly and more authentically, 'You are my treasure, not these things.’’”

Jesus is the provider of all we need, and the satisfier of the longings of our souls. It can take a while to learn this, and honestly I’m still learning it. In 2015, when Lindsey and I were considering her quitting her full-time job as a teacher to stay home to teach our kids, I was really anxious about such a huge household pay cut. So I fasted and prayed, and God led me to Matthew 6 where Jesus says “look at the birds...do they worry about what they will eat? Look at the lilies...do they worry about what they will wear?” “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Through fasting and prayer, we remembered that God’s provision is good, and it is enough. As I have come to realize the sufficiency of God’s provision, my prayers have changed from “Give us this day our daily bread” to “God I know your provision is good and timely and perfect, so help me to trust in your provision, to believe that your grace is new every morning, and to have absolute faith that I can trust your provision.”

Fasting is meant to be a reorientation of our hungers that points us towards the kinds of desires that actually need satisfying. Ironically, fasting often feels more like slowing, because it gives us time to reflect upon and change our perspective on what we think we need. Something about the hungry feeling of temporarily low blood sugar can point us to the spiritual reality of being blood-bought by Christ, the only one who grants absolutely every provision.

This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder.

Studying Scripture (Spiritual Disciplines Part 3)

“If you find a professing Christian indifferent to his Bible, you may be sure that the very dust upon its cover will rise up in judgment against him.”

-Charles Spurgeon

At times this can seem overstated, like the only thing a pastor talks about is the importance of studying and knowing the Bible. I am sure that many in my church family have felt this way. I must confess that I am not going to bring you any new and startling revelation about the importance of God’s Word, but I would like to give you some practical thoughts on how God’s Word plays an immensely important role in the life of believers.

God’s Word Gives You A Foundation For Living

Some call this a worldview, personal perspective, or viewpoint. I call it a foundation for living because just as the foundation is the most important aspect of building a house, so treasuring God’s Word is for believers. I have witnessed countless people, young and old, who have started out like The Flash when it came to their faith, moving fast and lighting up the world around them at the speed of light. Then as time goes on, they end up fading out and fizzling away. The reason this occurs is because their intent was to do well, but they did not follow through with the proper and needed action to actually do well: a proper treatment of God’s Word.

How can a young man keep his way pure?

By guarding it according to your word.

With my whole heart I seek you;

let me not wander from your commandments!

I have stored up your word in my heart,

that I might not sin against you.

-Psalm 119:9-11 ESV

God’s Word Is A "Rosetta Stone" To Navigate Culture

Found in 1799, the Rosetta Stone is a large stone upon which was inscribed a royal decree (196 BC) written in three different languages: Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. This stone made it possible to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphic language for the first time since the days of the Romans. Today it is still the primary tool we use to translate hieroglyphics, the foundation of our understanding of that ancient language.

The Bible is like the Rosetta Stone because it is the believer’s primary way to interpret the world around us and how we relate to it. Without fail, I can look at what is happening in the world and almost always point back to something similar that I see in the word of God.

I can look at James 1 and find answers for handling suffering. I can look at the Psalms and see what I’m to do when under pressure from the world or personal enemies. Proverbs gives me all around answers to things like integrity, honesty, and pride. These are just a few of the countless examples I see in Scripture for how to navigate through difficult circumstances, how the gospel affects the people around me, and how I can respond to them like Jesus. Culture changes, but ultimately people are the same throughout history. The Bible gives us a road map in human sociology, psychology, and the human condition in general.

However, this is only true for the believer. Two people can look at the same verse and not be affected in the same way. The unbeliever is not affected at all, and the believer is affected because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit that comes through salvation.

Colossians 1 says, “… the Father… has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (12-14 ESV). Only those who belong to the kingdom of light (Christ) can have their eyes open to the light of Scripture.

God’s Word Gives You An Answer In Your Time Of Need

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."

-2 Timothy 2:15 ESV

Simply stated, the Bible allows us to have the right answers in the right times. The Bible is what gives Christians wisdom when discussing politics, when speaking to a young woman who has recently aborted her child, when counseling a friend who is fighting ungodly sexual urges, and even when dealing with the small day-to-day things of life.

The Bible gives the average Christian the ability to have above average wisdom. Often my favorite people to hear speak on the Word of God are not seminary professors or highly educated people, but they are the ones who confess “I am not very educated, and I don’t have a seminary degree, but….” Often is it those men and women who prove the grace of God is providing wisdom and an answer in our time of need through the Word of God.

God’s Word Makes Your Prayers Spirit-Led

There are a countless number of Christians in the world today longing for their prayers to be more spiritual and fruitful. We often pray by rambling about the same things for five minutes and then begin to daydream. It can seem somewhat trite to pray the same things over and over again, to the point where we convince ourselves that God doesn’t listen or that we are incapable of praying well.

To this I would say that the most spiritual prayers do not come through speaking in different tongues, using King James English, or spending hours rambling. The most spiritual prayers come through praying the Word of God. I have prayed the Word of God often and every time, whatever verse I am praying never fails to be practical, timely, or important. I highly recommend a book by Donald Whitney called Praying the Bible. Whitney’s book has been a valuable resource for me in understanding the multi-faceted importance of God’s Word in my everyday life.  

God’s Word Gives Life To The Soul

"The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple."

-Psalm 19:7 ESV

I don’t think this truth can be overstated. If there is to be hope, life, or light for our souls, it starts with genuine faith in Christ, and we know that that genuine faith is always rooted in the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Beyond the countless important and practical gleanings we receive from the Word of God, we also receive life and light. The life we receive is eternal and passed to us through the words contained within the texts of scripture and the light is our ability to then pass the word of God to the world. The only way to truly live a life like this is to spend more time in our Bible today and every day.

The Word of God forms the foundation of the life of the believer. It shapes our worldview, interprets the ever-changing culture around us, gives wisdom in every circumstance, shapes our prayer life, and fills the believer with eternal life.

Your pastor telling to read your Bible may come across as boring, causing a “we’re heard all this before” eyeroll. Don’t dismiss or ignore it just because you hear it often. The Word of God is the lifeblood of the believer, God’s gift to us, revealing who He is and who we are through the perfect inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In a world of constantly changing culture and pain, only the truth and power of Scripture remains the same. To love God is to love His Word. To love His Word is to study His Word. To study His Word is to have life.

This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder.

Prayer (Spiritual Disciplines Part 2)

 Photo:  Smabs Sputzer

Oh, the Olympics...a beloved tradition in my family.  It’s such a thrill to see competitors from ninety-plus nations in one place, to root for the good ole U. S. of A., and to watch athletes live the moments they’ve trained for their whole lives.  My favorite events involve balance (gymnastics, snowboarding, figure skating)...athletes pushing themselves to the very edge of control.  It’s intense to watch someone flipping and flying, almost losing it but somehow finding their center of gravity and making the seemingly impossible happen. 

Spiritual disciplines bring this kind of reorientation for the Christian.  They are signposts we build into our lives to remind us which way is up as life continually upends us.  Without them, we can lose control and find the landing to be painful.  

In part one, we discussed practicing solitude (creating space to be alone with God), and today we examine what we do with our solitude.  For the Christian, the goal is not to achieve some blissful state of nothingness.  Instead, our solitude should sensitize us to God’s presence and the unchanging truth of the Gospel.  We experience this primarily through prayer and the study of Scripture.

It’s easy for our prayers to become dominated by superstitious, please-oh-please-God petitions to a cosmic vending machine.  It’s our nature to be consumed with our desires, and our prayers often reflect this.  To combat this tendency, we must let God’s Word spur and shape the way we pray.   

The Bible contains several common prayer themes emulated by the church for millennia.  We see prayers of praise (for God’s character and works), confession (of sin and need for God), intercession (personally and for others), lament (over sin and trials), and yet more praise.  Jesus echoes these themes in his model prayer.  Meditating on and applying each line of this prayer to our lives is a great start to cultivating a biblically shaped prayer life.   

Our Father in heaven,  (How has he shown himself as Father?)

hallowed be your name.  (What sets God apart?)

Your kingdom come, your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.  (What circumstances are we surrendering to God’s will?)

Give us this day our daily bread,  (What do we need?)

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  (How have we sinned?  Whom should we forgive?)

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil. (What guidance and help do we need?  What evil do we face?).

Following a biblical pattern lifts our prayers from the fog of our immediate desires to a clear-eyed vision of Christ’s character (and our identity in him).  This is true of much of Scripture but is particularly applicable to the psalms.  The psalms provide language to pray about every part of life, no matter how dark, in contrast to the strictly “positive and encouraging” culture of our day.  This article, this plan, and this book/app are great resources for praying the psalms.

Another simple “reorienting” method is praying breath prayers.  Breath prayers are brief prayers (a Scripture verse or hymn lyric) than can be recited while taking a deep breath.  These prayers can happen any time (a pause during work, a restroom break, an elevator ride) to practically reawaken ourselves to God’s presence and work.  A prayer I often use comes from Psalm 33: “Let your steadfast love be upon us even as we hope in you.”  Other good ones are Romans 8:1, Psalm 46:1, or Revelation 5:12.  The purpose is to take a deep breath, pray, and be reminded of the Gospel in the midst of whatever you’re doing.  

Biblical prayer is inseparable from studying Scripture, so we’ll examine that in part three.  

This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder.

Solitude (Spiritual Disciplines Part 1)

 Photo:  klndonnelly
This series draws from Mike Cosper’s Recapturing the Wonder, which examines spiritual disciplines as pathways to reawakening our sense of awe in God’s work around us and His presence in us.

The trees along the Pearl River are still mostly bare in early March, but what beauty they lack in color is made up for by the stillness they guard.  I walked for a while one day, mandolin slung over my shoulder, along a trail that winds its way through puddles and fallen leaves to a tiny clearing at a bend in the river.  This little patch would be submerged later in the spring, but on this grey afternoon, it was the perfect spot for me to be alone and search for a song.  I strummed for a while at the water’s edge but found I didn’t have much to say, so I thumbed through my notebook to an old hymn text I’d scribbled down that morning.  As I sang that prayer over the water, the noise in my head quieted, and for a few minutes, my soul drank in the elusive joy of solitude.

Solitude is difficult to come by for me these days.  Between work and laundry and twin babies on the verge of toddlerhood (and...Netflix and Twitter), making time to be alone with God is a hard habit to cultivate.  Yet it’s something Jesus modeled for us time and again.  He’d teach and heal and give of himself and then quietly slip away from the bustle to be alone with his Father.  It was his way of reorienting himself, of calling to mind the reality that he was in the world but not of it.

In a world that is increasingly restless and constantly busy, Christians must create space daily for stillness with God.  Notice that I didn’t say “find time.”  Everyone is busy, and if we allow ourselves this excuse, we’ll never actually find time.  In Recapturing the Wonder, Mike Cosper recounts his experience on a retreat at a small monastery in Kentucky.  The monks there have built their daily life around times of prayer and worship, signaled by the ringing of bells throughout the day.  Similarly, our days (and weeks and years) should be intentionally framed by times of worship, not as a means of pleasing God but of resting in Christ’s work on our behalf.

Time alone with God should anchor our daily routine, and we don't have to take a monastic vow or a long walk in the woods to make it happen.  Some people wake early for half an hour of prayer and Scripture study.  Some use their lunch breaks, and some end the day with a time of quiet stillness.  It’s looked different for me in each season of life, but right now, my times of solitude revolve around my twins.  Every morning, I sit between them for 15-20 minutes to feed them their bottles, so I use this time to pray (with this great app as a purposeful, Scripture-soaked guide).  My evening prayer is similar.  This practice has been life-giving.  

Creating this kind of space isn’t just limited to 30 minutes of quiet.  Throughout the day, we can take moments to pause, say a brief prayer, or recite a verse of Scripture (more on this in part two!).  Mealtimes are perfect for this, as well as trips to the restroom and daily commutes.  A little intentionality goes a long way in reminding yourself of the reality of the Gospel.  The result of these “reorientations” is a heightened awareness of God’s presence in and purpose for our lives.

As our series continues, we’ll examine what we do with our solitude (prayer and Scripture study) as well as fasting, feasting, and generosity.  Stay tuned for part two!

 

He Has Come, The Christ of God

 Photo:  Joe O'Meara

For more Advent resources, check out our posts about celebrating Advent as a family and dealing with the problem of Santa.  

This summer, some good friends who live out of town came to visit us.  They’re the type of friends that you may only see every couple of years, but when you get together, it’s as if no time has passed.  The conversations are rich and lengthy, full of laughter, and in our case, usually enjoyed over styrofoam containers of the finest Chinese food a delivery man could offer.  

We started planning for our short time together weeks in advance, so when the day came, our anticipation level had reached its peak.  Our kids waited by the window, eyeing each passing car to see if it carried the faces of our friends.  And then finally, they were here.  Our visit was everything we expected and hoped for, and of course it was too short and we spoke of when we could get together again.  Then, they were gone.  

The Advent season is a lot like this for me, and I think it is a reflection of the anticipation God’s people (and even creation) felt in the time leading up to Christ’s birth.  Humanity longed for its Creator, for restoration, for rescue, for true life.  And then, he was here.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  His time here was more glorious than anyone could have dreamed, and He changed the course of human history forever.  And now, we once again wait for him to return...this time to stay.  

I recently heard a retuned version of a hymn by 19th-century minister and hymn-writer, Horatius Bonar, called “He Has Come, The Christ of God.”  As we celebrate Advent, may these words be a reminder to us of all that Christ accomplished in his coming and all that he will complete when he comes again.  

He has come, the Christ of God:
Left for us His glad abode;
Stooping from His throne of bliss
To this darksome wilderness.

He has come, the Prince of Peace:
Come to bid our sorrows cease;
Come to scatter with His light
All the shadows of our night.

He, the mighty King, has come,
Making this poor earth His home:
Come to bear our sin's sad load,
Son of David, Son of God.

He has come, whose Name of grace
Speaks deliverance to our race:
Left for us His glad abode,
Son of Mary, Son of God.

Unto us a Child is born:
Ne'er has earth beheld a morn
Among all the morns of time,
Half so glorious in its prime.

Unto us a Son is given:
He has come from God's own heaven,
Bringing with Him from above
Holy peace and holy love.

 

A Harvest of Righteousness

 

What does Thanksgiving bring to mind for you? Larger-than-life parade balloons? Turkey-induced, temporary comas? Football rivalries? Overly romanticized stories of pilgrims and Indians sharing a harvest feast? Whatever you associate with the celebration that kicks off the holiday season, for the Christian, thanksgiving is not merely a day or a season, but a spiritual posture. Of course, we are under no biblical obligation to express our thankfulness by filling our bellies with turkey and dressing, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie, but we are called to be a people defined by gratitude and generosity. Consider the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:6–11:

[6] The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. [7] Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. [8] And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. [9] As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
[10] He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. [11] You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.

Gratitude

Christians should primarily be a people of gratitude because of the great love God has shown us through Christ. “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15). A genuine understanding of what God has done for us in sending his Son to die in our place should produce a heart that never gets over the beauty of the Gospel and never ceases to be appreciative for it. If you find yourself lacking a heart of gratitude for the Gospel, passages like Ephesians 1 and Romans 8 are beautiful reminders that will make the redeemed heart sing.

When the foundation of our gratitude is our eternal adoption and the subsequent spiritual blessings we have in Christ, material blessings “grow strangely dim.” We are called to express our appreciation for these blessings frequently, not because God somehow needs our affirmation of his generosity, but because we need to be reminded that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Showing gratitude is an act of intentional humility, expressing our dependence on and satisfaction in our Greatest Treasure.

Contentment

One of the best ways we can show gratitude for all we have been given is by being satisfied with it. To be sure, contentment is difficult because it is staunchly at odds with our consumer-driven culture. Even popular, allegedly Christian teachings often elevate the pursuit of what we don’t yet have as somehow seeking a destiny of blessing. After all, doesn’t Psalm 37:4 teach you to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart"? Well, the beautiful paradox of this is that the more you delight yourself in the Lord, the more HE BECOMES the desire of your heart. As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:21, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And when Christ becomes our treasure, we find deep and lasting satisfaction in him. This is why the Psalmist can recount the joys of knowing the Good Shepherd and proclaim “I shall not want.” (Psalm 23:1). Does this mean we shouldn’t ever desire material blessings? After all, didn’t Jesus teach us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”? Sure he did. And God wants us to enjoy the things he has given us. But here’s the difference in sinful discontentment and sanctified ambition: eternal perspective. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?...But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25, 33).

Generosity

Overflowing generosity is the (super)natural byproduct of a thankful, content heart. Paul says that generosity proves that our love is genuine (2 Corinthians 8:8). To those whom so much has been given in Christ, we should not be able to keep ourselves from giving freely to others. Since God is the provider of all we have anyway, we should hold what we have in an open hand so that he can put in and take out as he sees fit. However, generosity is not only being willing to give, but taking practical steps to be able to give, which means being a good steward of what we have been given. God blesses you so that he can “supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10), not so we can hoard it up. God’s blessings are like garden fertilizer; if we pile them up they just stink and don’t do any good, but if we spread them around they produce a beautiful harvest.

When the Pilgrims finally reached North America in November 1620 after over 3 months of miserable life at sea, they joined together in singing Psalm 100, which calls us to:

[3] Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
[4] Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
[5] For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (ESV)

May this be the spirit of gratitude that defines us as followers of Christ, both as we begin the holiday season and year-round.

Reflecting on the Reformation

 Photo: Daniel Ferreira Balta

Photo: Daniel Ferreira Balta

Much has been written about the Protestant Reformation, especially as we approach the 500th anniversary of the catalyst of that movement: Martin Luther’s posting of his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg, Germany on October 31, 1517.  It began the eventual split between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church.  It was the beginning of a Gospel resurgence, but it was also the continuation of Jesus’ promise that not even the gates of hell would prevail against his church.

It’s a worthy pursuit to pause and thank God for this movement because, more than anything, it was a movement of God.  The notable names like Luther and Calvin were significant proponents for Christ-centered change whose bold acts and articulate writings continue to echo after half of a millennium.  But these men were human like anyone else.  They were sinners with skeletons in their closets that the Lord sovereignly used in spite of themselves, as he is prone to do (Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Paul, Peter, et al).

Circumstances in the church had reached a crisis point (not for the first time or the last), and the Lord used that crisis to bring a renewed focus on the explicit teachings of Scripture: that man is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  Through the great trials that the Reformation sparked, these truths took root in a fresh way in the hearts of God’s people, and we feel the effects every day.  Every time we read Scripture in our own language, sing together as a congregation, or pray directly to God himself with only Christ as our mediator, we are experiencing the ripples of the Reformation.  

Praise God that he sees fit to correct us in our misdirection that we might continually be brought back to a clear vision of his sovereign grace and perfect love.  Praise God that moments of crisis and suffering are not without hope.  May he always be reforming the hearts of his people.  May he continue to use broken vessels for his purpose.  May we ever seek to live for his glory alone.  

For more information about the people involved in the Reformation, check out this helpful series of short podcasts from Desiring God.  For information about the foundational truths of the Reformation, check out our sermon series on the 5 Solas of the Reformation.

Also, this is a great hymn by Bob Kauflin based on the 5 Solas:
 

The Broken Heart

"The Broken Heart"
Words and music by Stephen McNeill

I have walked under midnight shadows, 
My face numb from the wind
Straining under the weight of sorrow
With dark clouds rolling in

You are a faithful and true companion
You are a close and constant friend
When I am grieving alone, abandoned
The broken heart, you mend
The broken heart, you mend

I am free, I'm a new creation
A dead man made alive
But in the midst of a strong temptation,
I still believe the lie

You are a faithful and true companion
You are a close and constant friend
When I am guilty and empty-handed
The broken heart, you mend

Sorrow may last for the night, 
But oh, the morning! 
When darkness gives way to the light,
When dancing replaces mourning!

In the hearts of your sons and daughters
Abides a bounty unseen
An endless river of living water, 
An ever-swelling stream

You are a faithful and true companion
You are a close and constant friend
When I am ruined, I find compassion
The broken heart, you mend

The Christ-Centered Husband (Vintage Family: Part 2)

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭5:25-33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In recent years, there has been a cultural disdain for biblical manhood as well as the biblical family. Our culture works hard to emasculate men by neutralizing our role as the leader of the home. You can see that vividly in the portrayal of dads on television. In the early days of television, you had hard working men who looked forward to the dinner table and spending time with his wife and children. He would treasure the time around the table and invest in his family. One prime example would be Ward Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver. The wife was June, and of course, their children were Wally and the Beaver. Ward was gracious in his discipline and gave wisdom frequently. He was a great role model. Fast forward thirty years to an underachieving dad whose wife sat at home eating Bon-Bons while he worked his dead end job at a shoe store. His children were slackers and always tried to hit him up for cash and were at times sexually promiscuous with no future. This dad is Al Bundy from Married with Children. He liked to live in the past of being a high school football star and enjoy his man cave and the nudie bar. To bring pleasure to his wife was a chore he would try to avoid.

The TV dad is a picture of how our culture has diminished the role of a husband and father. It is a worldly mindset set against the things of God. Satan definitely has a foothold and is constantly attacking the framework of the family. Unfortunately, some men don't fight while their family suffers from his lack of leadership. Steve Farrar, in his book Point Man, warns men: "If men are passive and indifferent to the things of God and the spiritual leadership of the home, attack isn't necessary.  He is already neutralized." He goes on to reveal two strategies in foiling the progress of the biblical family:

Strategy 1: to effectively alienate and sever a husband's relationship with his wife

Strategy 2: to effectively alienate and sever a father's relationship with his children

 

Many men don't know what biblical marriage and fatherhood are simply because it was rarely, if ever, displayed to them. They may have only darkened the doors of a church building on Christmas and Easter. Growing up, I didn't have a biblical model of family or parents who walked with God. Though my mom and stepdad are pursuing Christ now, that was not always the case. God has been gracious, however, to put men in my life, past and present, that have modeled godliness in their family life. Though I don't always model their character, I aspire to. My father-in-law, David Shackelford, my former college pastor, David Anglin, and my former Sunday school teacher, Dennis Sanders, have been examples of this biblical leadership to me. These men have challenged me in three ways that I want to pass on:

1. Be a man who submits himself to the Scriptures.

You can't lead a family, especially spiritually, without being under the leadership of God and His Holy Spirit. If you are asking of your family to submit to your leadership, and you are not submitting to God's, that's hypocrisy. Not many wives will submit to a husband who will not submit to God. Not many children will respond to your admonition if you are not responding to the admonition of our Father in Heaven.

2. Be a man who loves his wife unconditionally and gently.

Scripture is clear in 1 Peter 3:7 to live with our lives in an understanding way. We are to honor our wives as the weaker vessel because they are co-partakers of life and grace with us. If you treat your wife harshly, your prayers are hindered. The best way to have an effective prayer life is to love your spouse with dignity because you love her as yourself. Even if you have a fight with your spouse, you have to learn to fight fairly and not shame her.

3. Be a man who disciplines his children with grace and truth.

This is not always easy because our children can easily frustrate us, but never discipline out of anger. It can lead to unnecessary harshness and exasperate your children. However, our children's sin needs to be disciplined and corrected with grace and truth. We will cover biblical discipline in a future blog post, but it needs to be mentioned here as well. Spanking is biblical and needed, but be mindful of how you spank and why you do. Also be sensitive to the type of discipline to which your child responds the best.  Let discipline be a reminder to them and to you that we need the gospel daily and that our loving Father disciplines us when we sin.

 

Men, if we don't assume our God-given responsibility to lead our families, the world will. The consequences are ours if we don't. When we, as men, don't lead well, our families and marriages suffer greatly. Remember what marriage is about, the picture of the glory of God in Christ redeeming His people. Think of the love shown to you in Christ. Imitate that love to your wife and children. Praise your wife in public as often as possible. Encourage your children always. Discipline if you must, but do it in love. Fight for your wife! She is worth the fight. Don't sit on the sidelines and be neutralized by your laziness or the world's mocking of you. Make your wife sad to see you leave and joyful to see you come home. Serve your wife. Do the dishes with her. Serenade her, even if your voice makes the dog howl. Most importantly, submit yourself under the lordship of Christ. You need His strength to lead your family.

Here are some resources to help you grow in being a godly husband and father:

1. Point Man- Steve Farrar

2. Disciplines of a Godly Man- R. Kent Hughes

3. Shepherding Your Child's Heart- Tedd Tripp

4. Family Driven Faith- Voddie Baucham, Jr.

 

Family Worship (Vintage Family Part 1)

 Photo by:  Dave Traynor

Photo by: Dave Traynor

This is the first in a series of posts on the Biblical family.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more.

The Bible strongly calls parents to teach and disciple their children but never really gives a specific guide as to what worship in the home should look like.  So, unfortunately, generic prayers at mealtime often make up the entirety of a family’s worship time together.  But if the Gospel is informing and shaping all aspects of our lives, transforming every moment into a continuous act of worship, shouldn’t we carefully consider how our families worship together?  

Since the birth of our oldest daughter, my wife and I have been blessed to know several families who set examples we could follow as we sought to cultivate worship in our home.  Over the years, we’ve implemented some of their ideas as well as some of our own.  What follows are a few things that work for our family.  Some of these might not apply to your family, and I’m quite sure that our own routine will change as our kids get older.  But the idea is that each of us must do something to pursue a family life consumed with Scripture, prayer, and reminders of our need for God’s grace in Christ.  

Bedtime Bible reading

Every night before bed, we sit down with our kids (ages 7 and 4) to read a Bible story.  We briefly discuss it and then pray together.  This usually takes ten minutes, at the most.  It requires no preparation time, eloquent speech, or special talent.  It just takes a little bit of time.  It’s a baby step that leaves a huge footprint.  Over time, these stories become ingrained, and the kids remember and relate them to situations in their lives.  

For our readings, we rotate through several age-appropriate, story Bibles: The Rhyme Bible (great for toddlers), The Beginner’s Bible (simple language, summarizes many key stories), The Jesus Storybook Bible (contains fewer stories but deeper and more beautiful language/art, points all of Scripture to Jesus), and the Seek and Find ESV Bible (includes the entire English Standard Version translation, illustrated summaries of a very wide selection of Bible stories, and discussion questions).

Prayer

After we read the Bible at bedtime, we spend a minute or two praying together about whatever may be going on that day.  The kids are welcome to pray aloud or silently if they want, but they don’t have to pray.  We just make them be still and quiet during prayer out of respect for those who are praying.  

To remind us to pray about a variety of things, we also follow a weekly prayer calendar.  Each day of the week, we pray for different people in our lives: family members, friends who don’t know Christ, missionaries we know or support, and others.  It reminds all of us that there is more to prayer than thanking God for our food, though we certainly do that too!  A brief prayer of thanksgiving before meal time is a great way to pause and remember the One from whom, to whom, and through whom all things exist.  We also try to be sensitive to stop and pray during special instances of need or praise as they arise.

Catechism and Scripture memory

A couple of years ago, we began learning A Catechism for Boys and Girls during our missional community gatherings, and it has become an integral part of our family life.  The catechism asks key questions like “Who made you?” (Answer: “God made me.”) and “Why did God make you and all things?” (Answer: “For His own glory.”).  As we memorize each question and answer, we examine Scriptures that illustrate each point and slowly learn the overarching themes of the Bible.  Learning the catechism continually brings about wonderful spiritual conversations with our kids and provokes them to ask important questions.  We often discuss the catechism over dinner together.  It has been just as beneficial for us as it has for them!

Our first exposure to this catechism was in the Truth and Grace Memory Books, which contain the catechism questions, as well as hymns and age-based lists of Bible verses that we memorize as a family.  The main way we memorize these verses is by making up silly but memorable tunes to go along with the words.  You don’t have to be very musically literate to do this.  Just take a portion of Scripture and try singing it to a tune.  It doesn’t have to be good, just memorable!  

Songs

Speaking of music, our kids enjoy a song at bedtime, so we often sing a verse of a hymn or part of a worship song that we know from our church.  For non-musical people, singing together can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.  Kids don’t care if you sing well, and it doesn’t have to be very formal.  Often, just including some quality worship music in the rotation during car rides or around the house will often bring it about organically.  Download some worship songs you enjoy from iTunes or make a Spotify playlist that you can use to sing along with your family.

Church worship gatherings

Gathering to worship with our church is an extension of the worship that takes place in our home.  For our kids, some parts of congregational worship are required: they must come with us,  and after a certain age, they must sit with us in the worship service.  They must be quiet and still (within reason, of course...they’re kids!) during prayer, preaching, communion, etc.  But some things aren’t required: we encourage them to pray, sing, and read along, but we don’t make them.  We also try to explain what is going on in worship to the kids on their level.  We seek to find the balance between modeling worship and requiring obedience without legalism.

Other thoughts

It has taken time for these things to become normal for us, and it’s still a work in progress.  Sometimes, we stay out late and don’t have time for our bedtime routine, or we go a long time between learning Scriptures.  But little by little, by experimenting to find what works, worship has become part of everything we do as a family.  As a result, we get to use the Scriptures we’ve memorized, catechism questions we’ve learned, and songs we’ve sung in “real life” situations.  When the girls are scared of the dark, we recite “When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”  When something wonderful happens, we sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”  When there is whining or complaining, we sing “Give thanks in all circumstances for the is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  When the kids are violent toward each other, we say, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”  It makes the discipline more meaningful, the blessings sweeter, and the fears and pains more bearable.  

Find what works for your family, and do it!

 

Flourishing Relationally (Vintage Values: Part 5)

 Photo by  Chris Ford

Photo by Chris Ford

This is the final post in our series on the core values of Vintage Church.  Check out parts one, two, three, and four.

The fourth and final core value of Vintage Church is to make authentic disciples who flourish relationally. Thriving relationships are important for us as a body of believers because while they are an overflow of living missionally, they are deeper and more distinctive. As Christians, we are called to cultivate genuine relationships with fellow Christians within the Church, and some of the ways we do that are by meeting together in corporate worship, sharing meals, discussing scripture, and sharing Gospel truth with one another in order to create an atmosphere of believers growing alongside other believers, However, we are also called to build relationships with those outside Vintage Church who are within our individual spheres of influence. Some practical ways we can do that are by being genuine people, being attentive listeners, and finding ways to serve one another.

One of the most cited criticisms of Christians in general, especially by unbelievers, is that they are “fake.” Unfortunately, this is often a valid critique, especially in the so-called “Bible belt,” where church folk are usually expected to offer a warm smile and act like everything is fine and dandy, regardless of whether or not it actually is. Or worse, we keep our struggles hidden from even those close to us, afraid that exposing any shortcoming will be perceived as a weakness or make us look like a bad Christian. At Vintage, we have no interest in your “Sunday face.” The truth is, we are a church of broken people who simply have found hope and restoration in Christ. We are not called to pretend that we have it all together when we don’t. When someone asks how you are doing, giving a Christian cliché response like “Blessed” or “Better than I deserve” might often be quite opposite of how you actually feel, and it doesn’t do your unbelieving friends any good to be dishonest. People can spot a fake a mile away, and nobody wants to have a relationship with someone who pretends like his or her life is perfect.

The first step to cultivating genuine relationships is being the same authentic person all the time, whether you are in a worship service, your workplace, your home, Target, the library, Shipley Donuts, or the ballfield. Be real...people want to know the real you, and they’ll be much more likely to listen to what you have to say when they get to know the real you.

In addition to being a genuine person, if you want to develop good relationships, you must be a good listener. Any marriage counselor would tell you this, but the value of listening cannot be understated. One of the problems I often run into when someone comes to me with a problem or concern is that I am always thinking about how I will respond instead of taking the time to pay close attention to what I’m hearing first. That is a sign of sinful pride, because it says to the person speaking that I care more about what I want to say than what they are saying. If someone opens up to you about something personal, it is a slap in the face to halfway pay attention and then immediately ramble off some Christianese jargon without taking the time to really understand what the person is telling you. Instead, stop whatever you are doing, look the person in the eye, take a few moments to think about your response. Attentive listening deepens relationships better than the best advice.

Lastly, healthy relationships are developed when we have an attitude of service toward those around us. This is not our natural disposition. Most people, myself included, spend the majority of their time figuring out how they can make time for everything they need to get done. How often do we think about making time to serve those around us? Of course, Christians know the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The problem is, most of us are really good at loving ourselves, and really bad at loving others with even a fraction of the energy we expend on ourselves. This is not a call to a religious obligation that we check off by simply doing regular service projects, as valuable as those can be. Serving others should be a daily, ordinary characteristic of Christ-followers. If we see the world through the lens of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to the many needs we encounter every day. Loving service is the mark of the true believer. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35 ESV).

Cultivating authentic relationships takes work, but it is paramount for Christians if we are to fulfill the Great Commission call to make disciples. We know based on the promise of Jesus that the Gospel that we are called to proclaim will be faced with rejection. May we be committed to living our lives in a way that the world will not reject us because of ungodly attitudes or behavior, but will instead embrace us as genuine people who both speak of the relentless love of God and showcase it through love for each other.

 

Living Missionally (Vintage Values: Part 4)

Photo by Shawn Hoke

This is the fourth post in a series on the core values of Vintage Church.  Be sure to check out part one, part two, and part three.

Anyone who knows me knows that I really don’t like buzzwords. You know what I mean: phrases like “do life,” or “do church,” or “relevant Christianity.” With that being said, I find it comical that I’m writing a post on “missional living.” However, I think this phrase is different. Though it's relatively new and catchy, it has a Biblical root and meaning.

In order to understand what it means to live missionally, we have to know what our mission is. Our mission in life is clearly stated in an important passage we all know as the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The call to evangelize and make disciples applies to every believer: man, woman, adult, child, pastor, or church member. The only difference is how that looks for each person.

If we are seeking to live missionally there are three things we must do:

1. We must know the Gospel we are called to share.

There are many different plans and techniques designed for easily sharing the Gospel. Whatever method you use, make sure that you know it well enough to be able to share it comfortably and consistently. Also, be able to share in casual conversation. This may cause you to stray away slightly from the method you’ve chosen to use. That’s why its more important to focus on the message rather than the method. Methods change with the time, and there are always new ways being made available to share, but the one thing that will never change is the Gospel. It is the story of God’s love for his sinful people--love so great that he gave up his Son, so that we can have life with the Father, sealed by the Holy Spirit for eternity. All of this is made available by repentance and faith in him. That is the message that should be at the heart of every method we use to share with people.  

2. We must be around people who don’t know Jesus.

It may seem silly for me to say this, but you may be surprised at the number of Christians who can go extended periods of time without having any conversation with a person who doesn’t know Jesus. So, what does it look like to be around people who don’t know Jesus? I can’t answer that for you, but I can gladly give you some pointers to let you know what that looks like in my life.

The main idea is that we must go where they are. Andy Mineo, a rapper who follows Jesus, has a song called “Wild Things.” In this song, he shares that he wants to go where the wild things are. That’s what it looks like to be around people who don’t know Jesus. If we are to reach people who don’t know Christ, we must step out of our comfort zone, and go to the places where they are.

If you’re as lucky as I am, the place where those people are often overlaps with the things you love. For instance, basketball is my second love. I can play and watch and just be around it all day. Anywhere there is a basketball court, there are people--people who need Jesus. God has already placed me around people who need him. So, now it’s up to me to take a step out of my comfort zone and share the message of redemption with the people around me.

3. We must live “on mission” wherever we are.

As a believer, your mission field is wherever you are currently living. God calls us to live on mission wherever we are. Your home, your job, your neighborhood, and your city will always be your mission field. That field is always subject to change, but we must understand that our mission is forever the same: to glorify the Lord by making disciples as described in Matthew 28.

Practice sharing the gospel with yourself and your friends. Look for those opportunities God has given you to share the Gospel, and then share the Gospel. We should always be on mission. Grace and Peace.

 

Thinking Biblically (Vintage Values: Part 3)

Photo by Olga Caprotti

This the third post in a series on the core values of Vintage Church.  Check out part one (by Nathan Applegate) and part two (by Stephen McNeill).

I am very grateful that our leadership team is spending time examining the values that we hold dear as a church body. These values will help us understand more deeply why we believe what we believe and do what we do. Both Nathan and Stephen have led us thus far to see who we strive to be as a local church and what it looks like to worship passionately. If you haven't read their posts yet, I hope you will do so soon.

This week, I want to help us understand the value of thinking Biblically and the means of doing so. A.W. Tozer rightly said, "What we think about God is the most important thought one could have." But how do we think about God? How can we know him more intimately?

To think Biblically, we must begin with the obvious: the Bible. It is God's Word about Himself.  It contains His promises and commands to His people, His warnings about sin, and ultimately His revelation to us of Jesus. Jesus is at the very core of the Word. The gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word and that the Word became flesh. This Word was the light of men. When we glorify God, we glorify Jesus, because He is God. At Vintage Church, we believe the Bible is the inerrant, inspired, true Word of God. Not only do we believe this, but we strive to practice this as we preach it. Our desire is much like the Apostle Paul's in Acts 20:27: to “not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

Our primary means of doing this is expository preaching during our Sunday morning meetings. This means that we examine the text that we preach each week, explain it to the hearers, and give practical application that we can all put to use in daily life. We examine the texts historically to give context into why the author of the passage said what he said under the unction of the Holy Spirit. Since the Bible was originally written in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, we also examine the grammar at times. Our modern-day English words don't always mean what they meant 2,000 years ago in another language. This is an important part of exposing the Scripture.

One pastor rightly said, "Spirit-empowered preaching and Spirit-helped listening are a major way God matures His people." The blazing center of our preaching is Christ, and we must have the Spirit to guide us into all truth. One of the benefits of expository preaching is that we get to see the grandeur of Jesus in the big picture of Scripture as we preach through major sections or books of the Bible. It also forces us to examine the tough words of Scripture that we may otherwise ignore. We may not always like to hear what is preached, but everything that is preached is necessary. You can trust that our leadership team strives to hear the Word of God by the Spirit of God so that we can deliver the Word of God for the glory of God.

Not only should we listen to expository preaching in a local setting on Sundays, but we need to study the Word this way as well. If you are getting good preaching but not feeding yourself each day, that Sunday morning meal won't be as enjoyable, and you will be malnourished. In his first epistle, Peter said, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow into salvation, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good." Our delight ought to be in the sweet honeycombs of the Word. When we delight in the Word of God, anything less is not fulfilling. Also, when others stray from the Word, we can give the Word as means of correction and healing.

The Word of God is sufficient for our life, not just our Sunday meetings and missional community gatherings. If we really want to know God, we need to know His Word. We need to help others know Him as well. Over the next couple of posts, we will hear from the Word why missions and relationships matter to God and ought to matter to us.

Much more could be said about thinking Biblically from men stronger in the Word than I, so here are a few resources to help strengthen your walk with God and give you a greater passion for God's Word.

The Bible- More important than any resource. Read it. Love it. Study it. Obey it.

Taking God at His Word- Kevin DeYoung

God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment- James M. Hamilton, Jr.

Systematic Theology- Wayne Grudem

 

Hope this helps you!

In Christ Alone,

Jarrod

 

Worshiping Passionately (Vintage Values: Part 2)

 Photo:  Vicki Wolkins

This is the second post in a series on the core values of Vintage Church.  You can read part one here.

It is impossible to talk about the Gospel too much, so let’s start by talking about the Gospel. I was dead in my sin, separated from God, under His wrath, and utterly without hope. This is the place all humanity exists apart from God’s intervention. But God is rich in merciful love, and because of His great love for us, He made a way for me to be saved: He sent His only Son as my substitute to take the full punishment for my sins that I might have an avenue of escape from sin and death. He gave me faith to believe and repent, and now I am His child and will be forever. He has raised me to live a new life with Him as my king. Hallelujah!

So, how do I respond to this glorious thing that has happened to me? How do I worship God for who He is and what He has done? What is Christian worship supposed to look like?

We generally describe worship as some sort of religious exercise: attending a church gathering, reading some sort of religious text, listening to someone preach, singing songs of worship, praying, or doing some faith-motivated act of service. The Bible clearly commands that these things should be a part of our worship, but is that all there is to it? Is worship relegated only to the most overtly religious compartments of life? Well, Romans 11:36-12:2  says this:

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

If this text is true (and it is), then it seems that Christian culture has somehow come to define Christian worship as something less than it is. Worship is not to be merely constrained to our religious acts. Because all things are from Christ and through Christ and to Christ, for His glory, our logical response should be to present ourselves to Him as living sacrifices. This is an act of worship that never ceases, that consumes every minuscule moment of our lives. All of life is an opportunity to worship Jesus because all of life belongs to Him. Drinking your morning coffee can be an act of worship. Responding to the jerk who cut you off in traffic can be an act of worship. Doing your work, arguing with your spouse, spending your money, grieving the death of a loved one, watching your favorite band perform, seeing your football team lose, paying your taxes, tweeting...every aspect of your life can and should be an act of worship to God.  

In order to pursue this kind of lifestyle, we must continually ask ourselves this question:

"In light of the Gospel, how should I live this moment?"

In light of the Gospel, we can face trials and suffering with joy, work our jobs for God’s glory, cope with disappointment, celebrate good things (regardless of their “Christianness” or lack thereof), and live with gratitude and contentment. True worship is not about making each moment a religious exercise. It springs forth from recognizing and leaning into the fact that Jesus is king of every aspect of your life, from the mundane to the extraordinary, the “most” spiritual moments to the “least.” If He is king of all, then every moment can be lived for His glory.

For Vintage Church, fostering this lifestyle of worship, both corporately and individually, is vital to our existence. The Lord is continuing to sanctify us and teach us in this area, but we press forward to make every part of life an act of worship. We do this in three ways we see outlined in Scripture:

  1. Personal worship- This includes private prayer and study of Scripture as well as honoring the Lord in the way we think, treat each other, and use our time and resources.

  2. Small group worship- This includes being a part of one of our missional community groups, in which we study Scripture, share meals, work together to reach our neighbors with the Gospel, hold each other accountable, and live life together (not just on Sundays).  

  3. Corporate worship- This includes our Sunday morning gathering and other gatherings that involve the church as a whole.  The Bible is preached, songs are sung, communion is taken, and prayers are said as a local body gathered in one place.

Every Sunday, we recite a prayer after we take communion, and I always think of it as a wonderful summary of what a lifestyle of worship looks like. So, I often pray:

Almighty God,

We thank you for the body and blood of Your Son, Jesus Christ.

Through Him, we offer you our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice.

Send us out, in the power of Your Spirit, to live and work to Your praise and glory.

Amen.

In light of the Gospel, may we present ourselves as living sacrifices--not being conformed to the world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds that we may discern the will of God in every moment of our lives.

 

We Are the Church (Vintage Values Part 1)

This is the first post in a series on the core values of Vintage Church.

Today “church," in the minds of many, has become a place or an event. The cause, I believe, is a combination of errors, fear and laziness. When we make the church a place, we remove ourselves from the demands of it.  Evangelism and teaching becomes the job of the pastors, leaders and staff. We can sit back comfortably, never having to put ourselves in an uncomfortable scenario of sharing our faith. Making church an event, we allow ourselves the ability to let others teach us and our families the truths of the Bible instead of fulfilling the mission of being the teachers. When church becomes an institution, it is no longer necessary to make personal sacrifices to help those in need.

How did we get this wrong? How have so many Christians come to misunderstand something as important as the true reason Christ gave up His life?  I know, for me, it was simply the way I was raised. I don’t think my parents ever intentionally taught me wrong, but sadly, I don’t think they knew the difference. My parents raised me in a Christian home. They taught me the gospel, and they took me to church gatherings. The only thing my parents never did was to differentiate between the gathering of the saints and the building in which we met. Sunday mornings meant that we got up early, showered, ate breakfast and hit the road.  We knew when we saw the steeple and all the cars that we had made it to “church”.  I know now that we were wrong. We had only come to a place where the church met. To get to the root of this misunderstanding, we must examine the Holy Scripture, which is our ultimate authority and defines for us what a church is.

Before we look at how the Bible defines the church, we need to have an understanding of the word that is translated as church - ekklésia. This word is a combination of two Greek terms - ek, “out,” and kaléō “called.” This term, before it was used to define the church, was often associated with elected or chosen individuals called to consider and conduct the official business of a government or group. We can easily see now how the term was then chosen to be associated with the church. We are called out by God to fulfill His purpose of spreading the gospel to the nations. Ekklésia appears 114 times in 106 verses of the New Testament.  Only 5 times in the NT is the word ekklésia used for a body or gathering other than a Christian one. Thus, the remaining 109 occurrences mentioned are specifically Christian assemblies. By examining these occurrences, we can gather, scripturally identify and define what it means to be a New Testament church.

By looking throughout Scripture at the remaining 109 times the word Ekklésia is used, we find that 90 of the occurrences are in reference to local or specific churches. An example of this usage would be Acts 20:17: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him...” This is clearly an example of the word “church” being used for a local church body. The other use of ekklésia, in the context of a Christian assembly, would be the universal church. Although a less common use, we are able to find 13 times it is used. One example of this use can be found in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. Ephesians 5:25 says, “ Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” It is a proof text used to show that the church expands throughout the world and includes Christians past, present and in the times to come.  These examples give us a clear picture that we cannot “go to church” because ekklésia is never used to describe a building. Scripture teaches us that we are the church, we are God’s called out ones, and our mission is to gather others into His church.

Another description we find in Scripture to define the church is that it is an assembly of regenerated, or saved, people. Too often today, church membership is as easy as walking an aisle or making an empty commitment. This can lead to blurry lines about who and what the church is. A group of people gathered in a building can be called a church, but those gathered that do not believe in Christ are not a part of the church. This does not mean we do not welcome them, but it does mean they are not brothers and sisters. These unbelievers are not part of the church. A church as defined in Scripture as those that gladly received His word (Acts 2:41), those that believe (Acts 2:44) and those who are saved (Acts 2:47).* Scripture is clear: a church is an assembly composed of only those who have been reconciled to God the Father, saved by the blood of Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  One God, in three persons, called out those He chose to assemble as the church--not a building but an assembly of believers to honor and glorify Him.

Scripture shows us that not only is the church an assembly of regenerate believers, but it is also a spiritual organism. This should all but eliminate our modern abstract thought that somehow the church is a building because a building is not a living organism with a mission to accomplish and actions to take. Scripture lays out very specific ministries that God has called his church out to complete. Although not an exhaustive list, some of the ministries a church is commanded to fulfill are teaching (Acts 2:42), fellowship (Acts 2:42), worship (Acts 2:46-47a), service to one another (Acts 2:44-45) and evangelism (Acts 2:47).

We strive to make these ministries the driving force behind everything Vintage Church does. Our desire is to lead our partners to observe and enact these ministries by encouraging believers to think biblically, worship passionately, live missionally, and flourish relationally.  If Vintage Church is to truly pursue the mission of a New Testament church, these must be criteria by which we live and work together as a local body of Christ. A building or event is incapable of thinking biblically, worshiping passionately, living missionally, or flourishing relationally. These are only things that a living organism, made up of people, can do. Bricks can’t sing praise to the Lord; events can’t meet the need of individuals. Only those called out by God, gathering together in service of Him are able to accomplish the mission God has set for the church.

Over the next several weeks, each member of our leadership team will be unpacking these four components of Vintage Church’s vision.  Stay tuned!

 

 

*Millikin, Jimmy A. "The Doctrine of the Church." Christian Doctrine for Everyman: An Introduction to Baptist Beliefs. Memphis: Millikin, 1976. 117. Print.

 

The Churchless Christian (Part 2)

 photo credit:  Keeva999

photo credit: Keeva999

In part one, Brice discussed some common objections put forth by Christians who think they no longer need the church.  In part two, he touches on some common problems within the church that may be feeding these objections.

I have often asked myself, “What happens to Christians to make them feel as if they don’t need the local church?” I am by no means implying that there is an exhaustive list of where we, as the church, have gone wrong, but maybe we can highlight some of the larger issues and objections.

The Bankrupt Church

In my opinion, the greatest problem facing the local Church is that she has lost too much equity with people--Christians and non-Christians alike. In our need to be relevant and fun, we have offered people a product that they can get anywhere in the world. We have pastors who are storytellers, but they are constantly being outdone by storytellers on TV and the internet. Often there is a faux rock scene in our church music that is much more corny and less “rockbandy” than what we would listen to on our radio. We offer our children video games, unhealthy food and an hour of laser lights, fog and self-help speeches. The local church is finding itself competing with a world that will always win when it comes to earthly affections.

If broken down to its essence, local churches often compete to keep people and in the end, they really don’t know why. It is a cycle where the church is always competing and never winning, where it becomes more about the chase than actually building the church. The Bankrupt Church is the church that fights the wrong battle for the affections of God’s people.

The Anti-Social Church

I believe this attitude stems from a long line of pastors who have built some pretty large temporary kingdoms on this earth. I am not against the “mega-church,” but I am against any church that does not have strong pockets of biblical community. The local church today is lacking so much in community that people feel more loved while watching Adrian Rogers’ rerun sermons, than by darkening the doors of our church buildings. If they ever do make it to a church service, the most community many will receive is a handshake or a nod during a two-minute visitation or an awkward walk to the car.

Once again, we are aiming at the wrong target when trying to produce biblical community. We try to plan for biblical community or we teach it in a classroom setting. But true biblical community can only be learned by doing; this type of community cannot be fabricated. Biblical community is learned by observing leaders in the church who are willing to open up their heart and their house to live life with their people. It is real affection, real love, and real involvement in someone’s life. Much like Acts 2:44 says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” This real community and love propelled those early believers to sell their possessions and distribute them as a need would arise. One of the greatest longings in all of the world is the desire to belong, and if a local church cannot fulfill that, then something or someone else will. If someone else doesn’t, the end result is a lonely and desperate life.

Another major issue with the “Anti-Social Church” is the great difficulty in bringing the gospel to the nations. If this kind of church struggles to meet the need of belonging that her members possess, how much more will she struggle to reach those of the lost world? The “Anti-Social Church” will never effectively reach the world, because it is too sanitized, too robotic, and no where near what it means to be incarnational.

The Leaderless Church

Another great issue that faces the local church is a lack of leadership. In the pursuit of larger churches and making budgets, many pastors have lost their spine. They make decisions based on pride, fear, or gut reactions. They allow things to go on in the church that should never be allowed. Gossips and those who slander are ignored, racism is overlooked, and many other sins are politely “dealt with” in a way that makes all parties happy or by a slap on the wrist. Church discipline has essentially become ignoring sin until it absolutely cannot go ignored any longer which usually results in people either leaving or doing major damage to the church. True church discipline, however, addresses sin before it goes beyond the point of reconciliation.

People can do without this kind of church, because most people who belong to her live like everyone else in the world (or worse). Why would they submit themselves to the authority of the local church? It just seems extraneous. The Leaderless Church becomes comical to the world and an unholy imitation of a community of believers. The Leaderless Church causes people to say things like, “Why would I go to church when there are so many hypocrites there?” The Leaderless Church is the antithesis of the church that we see in the Scriptures.

Ultimately, Christians must ask questions like these when considering their role in the local church:

-Is God a Holy God and does he require me, as a believer, to be obedient to His Word?

-Since his plan for me includes the local church, can I be obedient to Him and not be a part of the local church?

-What does a Biblical local Church look like?


Christian, the answer to the first two questions are yes and no respectively. A simple answer to the third question is this: a community of Christians who are under the authority of equipped, qualified and confirmed leaders, who meet together regularly, publicly reading Scriptures, singing Psalms and spiritual songs, encouraging one another to do the will of God and administering the ordinances (baptism and communion), who build community by social interaction and missions, and who seek to disciple believers and evangelize the lost. When you find a local church like that, you will begin to understand the value behind the local church and God will use that body to bring you to new heights in your walk with Him.

The Churchless Christian (Part 1)

 Photo credit:  Vinoth Chandar

Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar

Part 1: Does walking with Christ mean walking with a local church?

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV

One of the most common verses we hear when discussing the importance of the local church is part of or a variation of Hebrews 10:25’s exhortation to avoid “neglecting to meet together”. I have used this verse often when encouraging Christians young and old to actively partner with a local church. With such a clear command as we see in Hebrews, it would seem impossible for any Christian to deny the importance of belonging to a local church. Since the time of Jesus, all of Christendom has sought true love, friendship and community within the local church. The idea of a family sitting around, watching a preacher on TV and calling it “church” is a new concept. Christianity without connection to a local body of believers would have been a foreign idea throughout most of Christian history.

Some very common objections have arisen from professing Christians who think they no longer need the local church. I would like to briefly address two of these objections:

1. You don’t have to be a part of the local church to be a Christian.

This may be the biggest fallacy facing professing Christians. Simply put, you cannot be a thriving Christian without being a part of the local church. A Christian is one who has submitted to the authority of Christ, and the Scriptures command Christians to be a part of the local church. We cannot submit to God with our whole heart and disregard this truth. I can confidently say, based on Hebrews 10 and other verses, that a Christian’s desire will be for the local church, subsequently leading that person to connect to a local body of believers.

2. Meeting with other Christians, listening to sermons, reading my Bible and praying are the same as belonging to a church.

I know this makes many people feel good about what they are doing, but there are several problems with this way of thinking. Who are the leaders of the “church” with whom you are meeting? Are they called to be elders? Do they meet the qualifications of elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7)? We are called to live in submission to those who are called to be elders of the church (Hebrews 13:17).

It is neat to meet with friends, but meeting with other Christians doesn’t make you a local church. The local church includes the public reading of Scripture, exhortations, and teaching (1 Timothy 4:13), among other things. When we view the church in a biblical context we see that a church is a body of Christians, under submission to leaders who have been appointed by God, studying the Scriptures and living in community together to exhort each other, uplift each other and be on Gospel mission. You may be able to have one or a few of these, but you cannot have all of these without the local church.


I have often asked myself what happened to Christians to make them feel as if they didn’t need the local church.  In part two, I will share some of my thoughts on the subject.

The Subtlety of Temptation

Photo credit: Beshef

If you look at the news, it is easy to see that we live in a broken world.  Political corruption, adultery, murder, and many other “big” sins run rampant everywhere. But how do these things get to such a point? How do people progress into places of such sin that there seems to be no turning back?

Sin always starts small. Its power comes in its subtlety. Sin seeks to destroy lives, and it always starts with temptation. Everyone is tempted in their own way. The personal effects of temptation make no one immune from its power. Scripture gives example after example of people who were tempted--kings and servants, mothers and fathers, pagans and believers. All who have been tempted have sinned except Jesus. If even Jesus, our Lord, experienced temptation, who are we to be exempt from it?

If we want to walk by the Spirit and glorify God in our fight against sin, we must get to the root and understand how temptation progresses to sin. But there are a few things to consider when discussing the development of sin from temptation.

The God of the Scripture is a holy God who is unable to sin or tempt someone to sin. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” The holiness of God makes him an impossible candidate for sin. There has never been a time when God has tempted his people to sin. From the Garden of Eden, to the Israelites, to the church, God has tempted no one to sin.

The source of our temptation always comes from our own sinful desires, making temptation very personal and difficult to fight. According to James, we are tempted when we are lured by our own sinful desires. We will not be tempted by what doesn’t appeal to us. But one thing we can be sure of is that we will be tempted.  There will not be a day that goes by when we won’t be tempted to sin in some capacity. This should cause us to show empathy when we see our brothers and sisters fighting sin. When we remember that everyone is tempted by their own desires, unrighteous judgment becomes difficult because we understand that we are all equally in need of Christ’s redeeming blood to cover us and give us the power to fight temptation.

So how do we fight temptation? Temptation is not something we fight. Jesus says, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Scripture is full of exhortations against fighting temptation. Instead, we should flee from our temptation. Jesus tells us to pray that we wouldn’t enter into temptation. Paul warned the Corinthians to flee from temptation. It is arrogant to think that we can fight temptation and win.  Instead, 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that God always provides an escape from temptation.

We must guard against the arrogance that leads us to believe that we can resist temptation. Because of the weakness of our flesh, it is unwise to put ourselves in situations that we know will bring temptation. Instead, let us follow the words of Jesus and “pray that you may not enter into temptation.”