Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Muse Intentionally

Dear children,

I couldn’t decide between think and meditate in the header for this letter. But then I thought that muse kind of landed between them both, because as you know, to muse is to think, and to meditate is to think, and to think about things is to meditate, and so on.

When I was a new Christian I began to think about what my mind was up to. I know you’re very familiar with my command to you to think about what you think about. And so I wanted to expand on that a little bit and give you some pointers on how to meditate, or to muse, intentionally.

First, realize that you’re never not thinking about something and that it is possible to arrest your meandering mind and give it direction for periods of time. In fact, I think the more you do that, the longer you can do it, and the more natural the harnessing of your thoughts is, as you become accustomed to it. But I don’t know that for sure. It seems to be the case with me. when you’re in control of your thoughts, and you’re thinking about what you’re intending to think about, then I would call that meditation. Meditation is intentional thinking. We can see an example of this in Psalm 119 wherein over and over David extols meditation on God’s law. Right away in verse 4, for example, he tells us, ”

When you’re in control of your thoughts, and you’re thinking about what you’re intending to think about, then I would call that meditation. Meditation is intentional thinking. We can see an example of this in Psalm 119 wherein over and over David extols meditation on God’s law. Right away in verse 4, for example, he tells us, “you have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently.”  At a glance, this might appear to mean that we should obey His precepts diligently. But I think it goes much deeper than that and involves meditation. We are to keep His precepts in our heart in the same way we would keep a treasure in a safe. And while we might lock a valuable thing away in order to protect it, keeping something in our heart is different. It is not locked away and protected until we need it. No, we keep something in our heart not by locking it away so much is by meditating on it. So by “keeping” his precepts we put them in our hearts, and then we bring them up often and we muse over them. We can see that 119 is not a Psalm about meandering thoughts. No, in this Psalm we see intentional thinking extolled.

Second, we meditate by memorizing scripture for a basis of meditation. One of my favorite analogies for meditation is the cow chewing its cud. The cow chews and swallows his food and later he regurgitates that same food and chews it again and again. To memorize scripture is to take food into our minds like food into our stomachs. Later, when we’re driving, or waiting in a line, or accomplishing a mundane task, we pull that scripture to the forefront of our thoughts, we recite it, and think about it means. Some of my best times of meditation are while ironing clothes. But remember, being able to recite a scripture to yourself is not meditating on it. No, to meditate involves inquiry, which brings me to my next point.

Third, to regurgitate scripture and chew on it involves asking yourself questions. If I asked you what scripture your father chews on perhaps more than any other, you probably would tell me “…for those who are according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit, and those who are according to the flesh are according to the flesh“. So my meditating on this passage might look something like this:

Am I according to the flesh or according to the spirit? What about my decisions today? Were they according to the flesh or the spirit, and which ones were which?  Did I say that thing I said earlier because I wanted to impress my friends concerning my knowledge of the Bible?  I think perhaps I did. I wonder how much of what I do is based on pleasing and impressing man, and how much of it is based on pleasing God? I can see how I’m very much according to the flesh, even though from the outside I might appear spiritual. How important is it to me that I appear spiritual to others. What can I do to become more “according to the spirit”? Think differently? What were some of my thoughts then that lead up to my decision to impress? Could I have arrested them and not followed through? Is it possible to arrest such actions? Oh my LORD, please help me to be according to the spirit. Please show me how I am living in self-deception, and therefore am really living according to the flesh and thinking that I am according to the spirit.

Of course, this is a condensed version. And the more scripture you know the more your meditation can expand. For example in the meditation above, if I have it memorized, Romans 12:2 might come to mind:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, (and desire to impress others) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

And all of this while ironing my shirts? Yes, and a lot of other things as well. There you are meditating on God’s Word, and “keeping it”  in the midst of life.  And keep in mind also that you’re not just limited to a specific word for word memorization, although I think that’s the best. Sometimes your meditations will lead you to other passages that you have a general memory of . And often you will get into the Word and find that passage so that you can see if your general understanding is what it actually says. I have many times looked up passages and discovered treasures that I’d not seen when I read it the first time. And many times this led to my desire to memorize those portions for further meditation.

And forth is the reward. Memorizing and meditating on scripture makes you hungry for more. There is no end to the questions that I have. And often is the case that I don’t have answers for those questions. And often there don’t seem to be any answers in the Bible either. But this is old news to me now because I’ve lived with unanswered questions before and have had some of them answered from scripture. I’ve spent years on some questions, like questions concerning God’s law, and does it still apply to us. Or, what is a Biblical understanding of the word love? I’m right now, as I write this, asking the question, what is faith? And I’m learning that I’m eaten up with faithlessness and also that faithlessness is a predominant problem in the Western Church. I’m amazed at how something so central to our “faith” can be so misunderstood, or passed over, or not even there.

So in conclusion, remember that it’s normal to have unanswered questions. Ignorance will be an ongoing fact of life for you and everyone you meet. The humble person realizes this, and so should you. No one has all the answers. But it’s also normal to get answers too. But, my main point here is that, in the end, meditation leads, not only to wisdom and understanding but also more hunger for God’s Word as questions are satisfied in your heart with Biblical answers, and that that very hunger is a reward all its own as we begin to imbibe the reality that scripture is trustworthy, and good for instruction, and is food for our souls.

As your father, I pray that your life would be a life of meditation on God’s word as you read, memorize, study and meditate on it. It is a trustworthy lamp unto our unsteady feet and you are living in dark times and will be traversing a rough path.  Don’t stumble. Know his Word, and then build your life, including your thought life, on it, and it will keep you from many a snare.

Your father

 

If You Don’t Get Into The Pot You Won’t Get Cooked

Dear Children

I’ve told you of the analogy of the frog being cooked in the pot. The main point is that man can handle small changes that span generations, but he can’t handle large and sudden changes. It wasn’t that long ago that I can remember people shaking their heads and saying that “gay marriage” would never happen. Today it’s man’s law in this land and many of those who said it would never happen have embraced it. Why? Because they were living in the pot, not outside of it. Yes, they gave in to the zeitgeist, but they didn’t give in all at once, but little by little. So this brings us to a question that you need to understand the answer to. Do you live in the pot, and how does one live outside of it?

As always, the best way to answer such questions is to go to the scriptures which contain truth for all time, which is another way of saying that they contain the truths which have existed outside the pot for time immortal. And even though you will watch your friends and relatives have their religion boiled out of them time and again in the pot that is this world’s ways and thinking, if you remain in the truths of God’s Word you will be able to, yourself, hold onto your faith in your Lord and Savior.  You will see and understand things differently, and have confidence in what you know, and understand what you observe in this evil world.

Looking to the scriptures we see things like, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”  Jesus is giving us an analogy here comparing the one who is basing his worldview and life’s decisions on what the ever changing word of man says, and what the the non changing Word of God says. It’s easy to live in the pot. All you have to do is allow this world to program your thinking by uncritically accepting every message and premise it transmits to you in its music, its entertainment, its news media and its institutions of education. I can promise you that if you do that your opinions will drift from this to that, always aligning, as if magically, with what this world want’s you to think. The 2nd chapter of Hebrews also warns us  with this admonition: “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” God knows that man doesn’t change drastically. He drifts. He fades like a bright colored garment left in the sun. And all the while he is unaware, sure that he’s being steadfast until he begins to read his Bible and finds problems with what it says rather than allow it to find problems in his heart.

The purpose of the pot is to cook food.  Flesh is put into a pot and boiled to prepare it for consumption. In the same way, this world is in the business of preparing you for consumption. It does so by making you comfortable with ever more vile sins, until you have lost your bearings and have gotten to the point of not having the strength to resist the will of this world.

We also get insight on this in Ephesians chapter two: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  The Bible is crystal clear on this. Either we follow the “course of this world”, or “the wide path which leads to destruction”, or “mammon”, or “the way that seems right to a man but leads to death”, or, we follow Jesus, whom this world hates. Nothing unifies the world in a single cause like the name of Jesus. The world wars constantly with itself, for that is its way. But it will unify in its rebellion against God Almighty every time, because it lives in the pot. It is being prepared for destruction.

So in the end your life will be marked by war no matter which way you go. If you hop happily into the pot you will be at war with God. If you follow Jesus, you will be at war with your own flesh, this world and the prince of this world, Satan. The first will promise peace, peace, peace… always out there, always achievable some day, once you’ve gained enough understanding, acceptance, kindness, beauty, education, money, respect, possessions, security, power and love. It will ever be out there in the future as you rise every day to chase the sun.

Not so with following Jesus. To be reconciled with God is peace that surpasses this world’s understanding. To not owe the creator of the universe a debt that you can never repay is true peace. To not hate God because you are his debtor is peace this world cannot understand. To love God because he paid that debt is a love this world will not comprehend. It is this love that will give you the strength you will need to follow Him; to not only hear His words but to do them, and to endure the hardships that will surly be coming your way because of your life outside the pot.

As this world grows darker at an increasingly rapid rate, it will be ever more difficult for one to live in the cauldron while attempting to look like he is at peace with God. The days of living in lukewarmness are coming to an end. It will be difficult, and you will be sifted, as will I. I pray that your faith is true and sure, and that it will endure. I pray that God will remain faithful to you as you remain faithful to Him in His strength.  I pray that you will stand, and after you have done everything, that you will remain standing to the end, as I pray the same for your mother and myself.  God is able, this I know, to keep you.

Your father

The Joy And Value Of The Kingdom Of God

Dear children,

Jesus gives us two examples of what the kingdom of heaven is like in Matthew 13.  In one He says that it’s like a great treasure which is found by a man, and in the other he says it’s like a man who finds a great treasure.  In one of these instances there’s a sense that the treasure was found by accident, while in the other it seems that the man had been searching for something he knew existed, but didn’t know exactly what, nor where it was.  And that’s the way it goes.  Some people are not looking for Jesus, but they stumble over Him and find great joy.  Others search for a great thing and they discover Jesus.  The result is the same.

Notice how each of the men respond to their finds.  One of them has great joy over what he found, while the other values his new-found treasure.  I, your father, relate with the one who finds the great value.  I was searching for something, something that would make sense in this world which seemed to be descending into chaos around me.  Jesus became the treasure of treasures in my sight.  There was no turning back.

I think Jesus gave us these two examples–and he gave more–to help us, as brothers and sisters in Him, to understand each other better.  And while I am not without joy in Him, it is the value of the treasure in Him that appeals to me above all.  I find joy in knowing the truth.

But the truth can be harsh.  Reality, in fact, is harsh.  You are going to die.  Death will overtake you, and even though that seems like it is a million years away right now, it is much closer than you think.  This is reality, and all the diversions and fun you can muster up will only succeed in masking it.  This is depressing for many, and we don’t really like to think about it.  But I do, because it’s reality, and I want to live in reality.

 

When I was about seven I went to the front of the little Baptist Church and said the little prayer with the preacher. A little later I got baptised. I lived as a Christian for a few years after that, and had great joy. But as I got older everything changed; the world around me, my family, and even I myself changed. In time I began to fade away until I knew I was no Christian. I believed the lies of this world and I strove to have all this world had to offer. But when I got it, it didn’t deliver in happiness; only misery, hurt and pain.

I had become what I call a “flesh machine”. A flesh machine is someone who simply does everything their flesh tells them to do, to satisfy its immediate cravings. My entire life was centered on those cravings. It became the self-centered purpose for my existence. I could have said that, “I exist to please my fleshy desires, the lust of the flesh, the lust of my eyes and the pride of my life, and it would have been a true statement. But it’s a funny thing about your body as a “machine”, it only craves; it is never satisfied. It never has enough, and worse, it has no purpose to guide it as it is void of the Spirit. The scripture defines such a state as being “dead”.

But Jesus spoke of being born of “the Spirit”. He spoke of being born again. He spoke of picking up our cross and following him, which is a picture of killing the flesh and living according to the Spirit… which is life and peace.

Dear children, I gave myself over to the flesh for much of my young life, and in so doing wasted much of it living like a moron and being a fool. You have purpose dear children. You were created to bow before and worship your creator, and there is everlasting joy and rest in serving and submitting to your King and Master, Jesus, in His Kingdom. I have lived that truth out before you as best I can. And I pray that you would humble yourselves also before your creator, bow before Him and serve Him, and be wise, and not waste your life serving your flesh, which I can attest is a very cruel master.

Your father

The Centrality Of The Gospel

Dear children,

You will have ample opportunity to sit through many a teaching during your lives here in the western hemisphere.  You will hear teachers and salespeople go on about this and that and all the while you’ll be eagerly waiting for them to get to the main thing, that one thing that matters the most. And you’ll wonder why they’re taking such a long route around to get there.  I’m sure they have their reasons.  There’s lots of research that goes into how to hook someone into buying something long before that someone has any idea of the cost; which is generally that main thing that they’re taking the long way round to get to.

Well make no mistake my children that in this thing called Christianity, the Gospel is the main thing. And that fact will be underestimated by you and all you come in contact with for pretty much all of your life. Our problem as humans is that we have a hard time grasping the main elements of the Gospel. One of those elements is the depth of our despair; the totality of the wrath of an angry God, and the absoluteness of our wickedness in the hot light of God’s holiness. I am convinced that if we understood that one thing alone it would change everything. Indeed I hope you will spend a life time endeavoring to grasp it. The more you’re able to do that, the more you will find that your circumstances will not dictate your joy.

Another element is the cost of the Gospel. This is probably the most difficult to understand, and the fact that God’s holiness is woven into it makes it all the more difficult grasp. Jesus was holy. That, my children, is no small thing. He was perfect and righteous and in pure fellowship with the trinity, un marred by sin. And yet He took our sin on Himself. I’m sure that it’s beyond our human ability to grasp the cost involved when such holiness takes on sin in order to bring about this gift offered to man.

And another element is the love that was expressed for those who are His when He sent His son to die on the cross for sinners. If we understood the condition of the man that God paid such a high price to redeem, at that point when he paid the price to redeem it, we would be undone. We talk about love. But I’m sure that our words are rendered bankrupt in their attempts to express the totality of the Gospel. We were saved from God’s wrath, at a priceless price, into His love, by absolutely no merit of our own. There is simply nothing to compare to that. And in the same way that man seems to ever be discovering the secrets of the universe, I am convinced that His children will ever be discovering the awesome wonders of this thing call the Gospel; the “good news”. For indeed it was the best news any of us could have ever gotten.

I pray dear children that you would spend your lives digging ever deeper into the miracles of the Gospel, and that you would increasingly become undone by the magnificent, wondrous, awe-inspiring, boundless, transcendent beauty of Christ, and Him crucified.

Your father.

 

God’s Word, The Beacon Of Truth

Dear children,

The Bible is not a book suitable for fools, for it is the fool who approaches this work of works with the premise already set in his heart that the claimed author doesn’t exist. You must make up your mind about this your own self, but as you make up your mind, do so only after you’ve made up your mind about your own existence.

For one, you exist in time. One of the most profound passages in the Bible is God answering the question put to Him by Moses, “Who shall I say sent me”? The two words “I Am” was his answer, and this is our creator’s signature to His magnificent work. I was told of this passage before I read it, and it put me into an immediate state of awe and wonder. “I am” speaks of existence, but not only of existence, but an existence as it relates to time and space, or perhaps better put, to an existence from the perspective that is outside of both.

It is difficult to think outside of one’s own perspective. I am a westerner now living in the early twenty first century. My mind interprets all things from that perspective. And while I might manage to capture and confine a few of the influences bearing on me from the perspective of my 21st century western experience, I’m convinced that it is a hopeless endeavor to escape the myriad influences sufficiently to evaluate myself and my world from any other perspective. I can never say, “I am”. I can only say that “I am here and now”. Indeed my own history as late as yesterday is already fading from my grasp, and tomorrow is completely unknown.

Yet still, I am aware of a history that preceded even my own existence, but even the study of that is limited by my perspective and made more hazy by the perspectives of those who witnessed it and played their part in conducting it to the present. It is clear to me that man can never “be” in the same sense that the “I am” is. Man is a blind fool wandering around in the annuls of time, seeing his own short history of existence in the light of a dim flickering lamp that creates long shadows which hide truths. And he is completely blind as it regards his future. He is led about by a ring in his nose, that ring being his fleshy desires.

As a result of such contemplations of “time” you will inevitably be led to your origins. On this matter the Bible and your culture are not compatible. Pay no mind to anyone who attempts to reconcile evolution and scripture. If it be concluded for you that your existence is the result of evolution, then reject God and accept the consequences of that faith. But if it be concluded in your heart that the faith required to be an evolutionist is beyond your ability to reason, then reject it. Your father lacks the required faith to believe the tenets of evolution. It is an easier task for this feeble mind to see the “I Am” as the author of man’s existence, and so by extension your father’s existence. Still, I understand those who put their faith in a system of knowledge that denies the a coming day of judgement wherein an account will be required. Man generally prefers to see the world as he wishes it to be rather than how it really is. But know this, in the whole of it reality dangles precariously for any of us on the tiny thread of that portion of the total of truth which we hold to be true.

On the second matter, you exist in space. That is to say that you exist on a slab of land on a planet in a gravitational relationship with two heavenly bodies, all three of which are spinning and churning through the cold nothingness we call space. But more importantly than this, you exist in another sort of place that is multifaceted. You live in a family, a community, a region, a culture and a nation. And just as well, if you are in Christ, and He is in you, you live within a global community of believers who together make up the body of Christ. It is these facets that exert themselves onto your existence. They pull and push you this way and that. In fact the Bible calls it being “blown this way and that by every wind of doctrine.” Without some sort of stabilizing force in your life you will have no recourse but to look inwardly for direction, and in so doing subjecting yourself to feelings and the prevailing thought patterns in which you find yourself emmersed.

God’s word is the only answer for such chronological and spatial disorientation. It is a beacon on the horizon by which you can fix your position in time and space according to the great “I Am”. You will not be lost, your direction and purpose will be sure, and you will endure the course set before you, which, though not beaten, certainly not untrodden by former witnesses either.

I pray that God’s Word would become a lamp unto your feet, a beacon of hope, and a comfort in your trials.  I pray that you would hear and trust the promises of God and that you would set your face like flint in the direction that God has marked for you to go. I pray that you would not falter, that you would rise up as a mighty warrior in Christ’s army, and that where I have failed and fallen, you will succeed. May you in the end hear those blessed words, “Well done my good and faithful servant”. I desire nothing for you more than this.

Your father.

Forsaking The Body (part III)

(Dear reader,  This is part III of the previous post which has been edited to include the text below. If you’re interested in reading it in its entirety click here.)

Conclusion

Now, with all this said, please don’t think I’m telling you to never leave a church. I would not ever tell anyone in an age when churches are abandoning the Truth of God’s Word in droves to stay in a church come whatever. But it’s also not as easy as it may seem. Church leadership can ride the ragged edge of apostasy and you may find it difficult to know for sure if it’s time to abandon that local body in favor of a more solid and healthy fellowship. Add to this that the relationships you will have formed over the years in your church, and it becomes even more difficult to make these decisions; because if you’re doing church right, you will be leaving deep relationships behind.  Much prayer, counsel and discernment will be require. The American church would be much healthier today if more Christians would take their commitment to their church seriously, and would not abandon their local bodies so readily.

But I can tell you with all confidence to never abandon God’s Church altogether. We are meant to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. And just so you know, sitting through sermons once a week doesn’t qualify as fellowship by the way. We refer to our brothers and sisters in Christ as brother and sister for a reason. We are family. And that family is not so different than the one you share your house with. There is anger, flare ups, grudges, forgiveness, moodiness and failure. But there is also happiness, joy, laughter, celebration and relationship. You get the whole gamut with both your family at home and at Church. So we don’t cut and run from our family, and we don’t cut and run from our fellowship in unhappy times. That’s just how it goes.

So dear children I pray that you will have discernment in your relationship with your local fellowship. It actually is a beautiful thing, and God will use it to mature and complete you as He uses uses you to do the same for others. Church is God’s doing. Don’t ever think you’re too good for it, of not good enough. I pray that your relationship with your local body will be rich and rewarding.

Your father.

Forsaking The Body (Part II)

(Dear reader,  This is part II of the previous post which has been edited to include the text below. If you’re interested in reading it in its entirety click here.)

Loaners and Hyper Spiritualists

In my judgement this probably describes the lady we met in the parking lot, though in our short encounter I can’t be certain. Nevertheless, we need to understand the truth about who we are as human beings so that we might ward off some of the setbacks that come with being such beings. One truth is that it’s in our very nature to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  In addition, and just as importantly, we tend to see our own failures in a more favorable light than we do the failures of others. These two truths work together to the detriment of our relationship with other believers in the Church.

It has been my experience that I tend to judge myself more according to my intentions and desires while at the same time judging those around me according to their actions. And it’s not just their actions, it’s their actions compared to my standards. Such tendencies also have a way of leading anyone who does it to a sort of spiritual snobbery, and indeed it has with me.

But it’s far more complicated than just that. I’ve given you a couple of factors but there are more. Consider, for example, that we all naturally see and experience things differently. So we can tend to hold everyone else to standards that we like, because of the gifts God has given us, but at the same time give ourselves a pass on other standards. And sometimes when the rest of our congregation doesn’t snap-to in a way that we think they ought, why we up and leave because who wants to “worship” with a bunch of spiritual failures who aren’t serious about God… or so we might just as well think?

I suspect that these negative mentalities toward “the church” might find their root in another tendency we all have, that of thinking of our congregation in a general sense.  This “sense” could be derived from our negative experiences and judgements concerning specific individuals which our minds eventually simply conflate into “the church”.

But if you work at thinking of your brothers and sisters as individuals, not as “the church” in general, you may be able to ward off this mentality. Still, I think we all are prone to thinking this way.   But when we think of the Body as individuals that might just lead us to keep our our own failings in the forefront of our thoughts too.  It’s my opinion that perhaps loaners and hyper spiritualists have a difficult time of differentiating between their vision for His Bride, and the many individual realities that those who make that church up are going through; all of which are His doing anyhow.  And then they have difficulty being a part of something that they see as lacking, or committing to a thing in which they are not the beginning and the end of (See Parachurch). Many of these will transition through the next group before vacating the visible church.

Church hoppers

I’ve done no research on this.  I can’t say whether “church hopping” has ever been as prevalent as it is now, but I don’t think it has. Church is in many ways like marriage. A friend told me before I married your mom to keep both eyes wide open and then after the wedding close one.  A prospective local body should be approached in the same way before you sign on with it.  And once you do, I promise you that you will find plenty of reasons to keep that one eye closed.  But your church is also like your wife or husband in that you don’t just up and leave because of a little problem.  It really is a part of your larger family, and if your blood relatives are not believers, then the Church is actually more your family than your kin.

Think of our own family. Think of our worst times, or our worst days as a family. They were really bad weren’t they? And you know when I say really bad, I mean really bad. But did anyone throw up their hands and go join another family down the street, as if that family had it all together? Of course not. That would be unrealistic. I can tell you now that you will get angry with your brothers and sisters in church. So there, I’ve told you, so don’t be all shocked and surprised when it happens. Bad things are going to happen in all families and they’re going to happen in all churches. It’s just the nature of family. If you up and leave too quickly I believe you will find one of two things. Either you will church hop until you discover that the whole idea of “church” is futile, then become a loaner. Or you will mature, settle down, and learn to navigate the bumps, twists and turns of family life. My experience has been that I’ve had horrible experiences in our church, and I’ve been the horrible experience for others. I think that I might just have been the horrible experience more than I experienced it.

We’ve been with our current church for 17 years and in those 17 years I’ve seen a lot, and not all of it good. But God is not shocked or surprised by that. In fact the whole thing is His doing. He created it. We are all rubbing against each other and are being formed into building stones that actually fit quite well together, which is biblical. We are learning to love, and forgive as we grow in grace together, and that’s something you just won’t get as a church hopper.

(to be continued)

Forsaking The Body (part I and II)

Dear children,

A couple of years before you were born your mother and I happend to follow a minivan into a grocery store parking lot.  The words “Praise The Lord” were splayed in large letters across its back window accompanied by various Christian symbols and stickers here and there. So we were both excited to speak to the lady driver.  It wasn’t long before your mom asked where she fellowshipped.  The lady responded in the strangest way.  With noticeable disappointment she said, “Oh.  So ya’ll are still doing that?”  The “that” she was referring to was attending church, and yes, we still were; and still are.

Since that time I’ve seen quite a bit of this sort of thing among professing believers, and I think they are in error. You can’t leave the Church and still be the Church.  My hand in the other room does me no good.  It must be attached to my body or it is useless to me.  Besides, it needs my heart to keep revitalizing blood pumping through it whether I’m using it or not, or it will simply rot. And when I see some attempt to remove their gifts from service to the Body, it seems a little rotten to me.

In contrast I can also remember visiting a little Baptist church in Georgia on a Thursday evening not long after surrendering my life to Jesus. They were assembling to go out visiting people. While I was there I can remember speaking to an older gentleman who said he’d been a part of that church for 40 years. I now know with all confidence that that man had been through a lot with that little fellowship of believers for the same reason I knew he’d been through a lot with his blood kin; because in the end there’s really very little difference. It’s because that’s how things are. It’s reality.

I’ll never forget either of these two people. They both, little did they know, left a lasting impression.  I would rather be the latter than the former, and I’d rather you be as well. So let’s discuss a few things to be on the lookout for and to expect when it comes to the fellowship of the brethren.  I’ll discuss some things I’ve seen and perhaps some things to look for as you guard your relationships with your church family.

The Parachurch Ministry

Church is hard work, especially for the pastor.  Don’t ever forget that. Preaching on Sunday morning is but a fraction of his job, and probably the easiest and most rewarding part. For the rest of the week he’s holding together a congregation of sinners who all have their hobby horses to ride, axes to grind, pet doctrines to push, scandals, pregnant daughters, wayward sons, men and women abandoning their families, drug, alcohol and money issues, illnesses, deaths, births and lots more I’m sure. And if that’s not enough there are building issues, money woes, payroll and state bureaucracies to contend with.  But sure enough, on Sunday morning there are three or four hundred ears gathered to hear a message.

But there are those who see this as a ready made audience, just waiting to hear their important messages; and who knows, they might even throw a little cash their way to, you know, “support the ministry”.  And without any of the work it takes to manage the storm that is the week in a pastor’s life, or without shedding any of the tears through the night with any of the congregants, and bearing any of the burdens of the flock, there are those who are desiring access to that flock… through the back door so to speak.

“Para” means beside, and as such parachurch is an apt description of these ministries. They are headed up by folks who are walking alongside the Church. And while some of these ministries are worth their salt, perhaps most even, some are nothing more than parasites. They exist off the hard work of other people. They are not themselves in a church, but rather can be best described as functioning beside the Church. They bounce here and there, never really being part of a local Body, not really being accountable to anyone, but always kind of… nearby, as if feeding off of the true Body. Beware of these. Approach them, participate with them with extreme caution. God is preparing a Bride for His Son, and I am confident that there won’t be any “best men” to stand “beside” that bride at the great wedding.

House Churches

House Churches have always had a special appeal to me, and I don’t think there’s any question that these churches were the norm in the early Church. And I see no scriptural basis to make the case against the “house church” today, if it’s really a church; which is to say that if it’s living out the biblical mandate of coming together as a body of believers and functioning as the Body of Christ. I would be the last to say that house churches are of the Devil. But like anything else, beware. It might well be that there has been so much division and inability to get along with the rest of the body that a very small group has retreated into a living room somewhere and finally able to be of one accord with one or two other families; until, that is, it all explodes. A good house Church will probably outgrow the house at some point, so it will probably either go very well there, or very wrong, but for sure it’s going to go somewhere. If you find yourself in a house church, make sure there is love for Christ’s Body found in it, and not just criticism of it. Make sure that there’s love of Christ there, and not just love of His doctrine. And make sure that the Word is preached, and there is communion. In other words, just as I said, make sure that it functions like any other healthy Body, or at least as healthy as any Body can be expected to be.

Loaners and Hyper Spiritualists

In my judgement this probably describes the lady we met in the parking lot, though in our short encounter I can’t be certain. Nevertheless, we need to understand the truth about who we are as human beings so that we might ward off some of the setbacks that come with such beings. One truth is that it’s in our very nature to think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  In addition, and just as importantly, we tend to see our own failures in a more favorable light than we do the failures of others. These two truths work together for the detriment of the Church.

It has been my experience that I tend to judge myself more according to my intentions and desires than my actions. at the same time I tend to judge those around me according to their actions. Such tendencies also have a tendency to lead to spiritual snobbery, and indeed it has with me. But it’s far more complicated than just that. I’ve given a couple of factors. There are more. So let me add another one. We all, being just one part of Jesus’ Body, naturally see and experience things differently. So we can tend to hold everyone else to standards that we like, because of the gifts God has given us, while at the same time giving ourselves a pass on other important things. And sometimes when the rest of our congregation doesn’t snap-to in a way that we think they ought, why we up and leave because who wants to “worship” with a bunch of spiritual failures who aren’t serious about God?

I think that some negative mentalities toward church might be rooted in our tendency to think of the congregation in a general sense.  This “sense” might be derived from our negative experiences and judgements concerning individuals which our minds eventually develop into a singular amalgamation that we see as our local Body. Having developed that picture we then wrongly apply it to everyone individually, and at the same time, no one in particular.

If you work at thinking of your brothers and sisters as individuals, not as “the Church” in general, you may be able to ward off such a deceptive and destructive mentality. Still, I think we are all prone to such thinking, especially when we’re walking along the spiritual peaks; probably not so much while we’re in the valleys.  It’s actually much easier to get on our high horse then, and to not think in terms of fellow individuals and their struggles.  But when we do think of the Body as individuals that might just lead us to think of ourselves in context also, which, as difficult as it is, is an excellent start down the road of considering our own failings.  Ultimately loaners and hyper spiritualists, I think, have a difficult time of differentiating between their desires for the Church, and the many individual realities that those who make that church up are going through.  And then they have difficulty being a part of something that they see as lacking, or committing to a thing in which they are not the beginning and the end of (See Parachurch). Many of these will transition through the next group before vacating the visible church.

Church hoppers

I’ve done no research on this.  I can’t say whether “church hopping” has ever been as prevalent as it is now, but I don’t think it has. Church is in many ways like marriage. A friend told me before I married your mom to keep both eyes wide open. And then he said that once I married her to close one. A prospective local body should be approached in the same way before you sign on with it.  And once you do, I promise you that you will find plenty of reasons to keep that one eye closed.  But your church is also like your wife or husband in that you don’t just up and leave because of a little problem.  It really is a part of your larger family, and if your blood relatives are not believers, then the Church is actually more your family than your kin.

Think of our own family. Think of our worst times, or our worst days as a family. They were really bad weren’t they? And you know when I say really bad, I mean really bad. But did anyone throw up their hands and go join another family down the street, as if that family had it all together? Of course not. That would be unrealistic. I can tell you now that you will get angry with your brothers and sisters in church. So there, I’ve told you, so don’t be all shocked and surprised when it happens. Bad things are going to happen in all families and they’re going to happen in all churches. It’s just the nature of family. If you up and leave too quickly I believe you will find one of two things. Either you will church hop until you discover that the whole idea of “church” is futile, then become a loaner. Or you will mature, settle down, and learn to navigate the bumps, twists and turns of family life. My experience has been that I’ve had horrible experiences in our church, and I’ve been the horrible experience for others. I think that I might just have been the horrible experience more than I experienced it.

We’ve been with our current church for 17 years, and in those 17 years I’ve seen a lot, and not all of it good. But God is not shocked or surprised. In fact the whole thing is His doing. He created it. We are all rubbing against each other and being formed into building stones that actually fit quite well together, which is biblical. We are learning to love, and forgive as we grow in grace together, and that’s something you just can’t get as a church hopper.

Conclusion

Now, with all this said, please don’t think I’m telling you to never leave a church. I would not ever tell anyone in an age when churches are abandoning the Truth of God’s Word in droves to stay in a church come whatever. But it’s also not as easy as it may seem. Church leadership can ride the ragged edge of apostasy and you may find it difficult to know for sure if it’s time to abandon that local body in favor of a more solid and healthy fellowship. Add to this that the relationships you will have formed over the years in your church, and it becomes even more difficult to make these decisions; because if you’re doing church right, you will be leaving deep relationships behind.  Much prayer, counsel and discernment will be require. The American church would be much healthier today if more Christians would take their commitment to their church seriously, and would not abandon their local bodies so readily.

But I can tell you with all confidence to never abandon God’s Church altogether. We are meant to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. And just so you know, sitting through sermons once a week doesn’t qualify as fellowship by the way. We refer to our brothers and sisters in Christ as brother and sister for a reason. We are family. And that family is not so different than the one you share your house with. There is anger, flare ups, grudges, forgiveness, moodiness and failure. But there is also happiness, joy, laughter, celebration and relationship. You get the whole gamut with both your family at home and at Church. So we don’t cut and run from our family, and we don’t cut and run from our fellowship in unhappy times. That’s just how it goes.

So dear children I pray that you will have discernment in your relationship with your local fellowship. It actually is a beautiful thing, and God will use it to mature and complete you as He uses uses you to do the same for others. Church is God’s doing. Don’t ever think you’re too good for it, of not good enough. I pray that your relationship with your local body will be rich and rewarding.

Your father.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says The Teacher. “Utterly Meaningless! Everything Is Meaningless.”

Dear children,

There was a popular bumper sticker for a while that said, “excrement happens”.   Of course it used a much more colorful word than “excrement”, but I hope you get the drift.  It conveyed the notion that life comes at us by random chance, and that some of that random chance is not so good, and it just “happens” without any reason or purpose, it just happens.  That sticker reveals a worldview that is inconsistent with the view that I hope you adopt in your short lives.

Of course things do happen to everyone in life.  So when things happen to you, the question you will need to ask is, how will I respond?  And how you respond will depend on your basic philosophy of life which will revolve around a sense of purpose.  The temporariness of our lives attempts to steal purpose.  If this life you are living right now, residing your bodies, was eternal it would change everything.  But that body will pass away, and so these few hours, days and years you spend occupying it will be spent by you like so much money in your pocket; and then it will be gone like the billions of bodies that have come before it.

Some will spend their “money” simply reacting to circumstances.  Every decision they make in life will be in reaction to external forces guided by internal desires.  For others their purpose will be to experience thrills, sex and adventures. And still others will start a career, get married, buy a house and raise a family.  But in the end they all will have one thing in common.  They will die.  They will have spent their “money”, and it will all be over.

But I pray that you will embrace the only purpose that makes sense of it all.  I pray that purpose would undergird whatever kind of life you live. You must understand that the only way you can grasp this is to know that you are not merely flesh but instead that you are flesh and spirit.  While your bodies will be wasting away, you can know that inwardly you will be being renewed day by day in your spirit.  Your eyes will not be fixed on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.  Your purpose will not be to breath air and obey the whims of your flesh but rather your purpose will be to do the work which God has prepared in advance for you to do.  Your goal and purpose will not be to simply enjoy life but rather to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant” in the everlasting.

As I enter the autumn of my life I understand the book of Ecclesiastes more and more which says that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  And no matter what path you choose, you can know that as the end draws near it will all be meaningless unless you have grabbed onto the eternal purpose that can only be found in Jesus the Christ.

I pray that at an early age you will commit to doing just that, grabbing onto Jesus with all of your might.  I pray that you will be able to defend the few hours that have been allotted you from the attack of meaninglessness that comes in the form of promises to the flesh.  I pray that as your life comes to an end you will be able to say, “I served my Lord” as your ready yourself to meet Him, and not, “I had a lot of ultimately meaningless fun”.   May our Lord grant you the ability to serve Him with steady devotion.  Amen

Your father

Read:

Eclesiastes 1

Ephesians 2

2 Corinthians 4

 

 

 

Be An Encourager

Dear children

When I was about fifteen or so two of my friends called me while the other listened to our conversation on the extension.  One called and the other listened as I talked him down.  Then the other called and I did the same thing.  I’ll never forget that.  But worse, even though life went on with these guys, that is to say that their knowledge of how I talked about them in their absence, didn’t seem to phase them.  Nothing changed, as far as I could tell, between us.  I’m not sure whether that would have been the case had the tables been turned.  That’s because they were better people than I was.  I wish I’d known that then.  The Bible tells us to let nothing be done through strife or vaneglory but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.  (Phil 2:3)  This is not a command for church life, but a command for life in general and you would do well to make every effort to live it out even though it goes against our sinful nature.

When I was young and even when I was much older you see, I was like a black hole.  My entire worth, life’s meaning, and all my effort in life revolved around the gaining of praise and appreciation from my fellow man.  That was sad, but worse, it was a one way street.  Not only would it have never occurred to me that others might have had to some degree the same feelings, if I had seen some reason to praise someone else, I wouldn’t have.  I saw the success or abilities of others as a threat to my own place in this world, and the last thing I would have done would be to point them out.  I found it to be strangely comforting to hear negative things about people in general, and my friends in particular. Everything in life, you see, was on a scale.  And so it was my mission to bring everyone down to my own level.  I can tell you dear children that a mentality like that will bring you pain and hardship, and worse, it will bring those around you pain and hardship too.  Not only will you not ever really like yourself that much, you won’t be able to like anyone else either.  And it will cut you off from some of the most valuable life’s lessons that you could ever learn in how to be a decent human being.  But worse than that, it will cut you off from learning how to love and be loved.

I somehow reasoned then that if I was better at everything, or could hide it when I wasn’t, then I would be more liked by others.  I would have worth.  It was of course nonsense, yet I lived by it.  I had no one to help me work through these deficiencies in life-skills.  I didn’t even actually know I had any deficiencies, and I’m sure if I had known I would have worked tirelessly to hide them.  Looking back however, I now realize that they were like neon signs to the world around me.  So if I have anything to do with it you will not suffer the pain and sorrow that I did because of this warped view of yourself among the people of this world, and reality.  So here are a few pointers:

First, you have your own gifts and strengths that were given to you from God.  As life goes on it will become ever more clear what your particular strengths and abilities are.  And God didn’t put those gifts in you just for your own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.  People around you need what God has given you.  As you discover the gifts that God has given you then it’s up to you to develop them.  It’s also up to you to redeem them so that they will be put to use in God’s kingdom and not Satan’s.

Second, others will have like gifts as you, and some will be better at exercising them than you will be, and other will not.  That’s a fact of life.  If you have a gift in music, and you decide to exercise that gift on the piano, know that there will always be a better piano player out there somewhere.  Let that person inspire you.  He is not a threat.  If that person happens to be your friend, then esteem him as the better player.  Be delighted in your heart for your friend when he excels.  You do have control over such things.  It’s fine to be challenged by your friend to be better yourself, for the purpose of developing your gift.  Avoid however pride and competition with your friend.  Such will not work righteousness in your heart, and it will not develop the depth of your friendship.

I can remember when I was young I raced motorcycles.  On one particular day a friend of mine was in first place and I was in second, and he fell in a hairpin turn.  But he was far enough in front of me that he had time to almost get up and get going again before I could pass him.  So when I approached him I didn’t go around him like I should have, rather I purposely ran into him in order to knock him back down.  I couldn’t have my friend, of all people, beating me in a race.  That’s the kind of guy I was.  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you what a black hole I was.

Third, help your friends discover and develop their God-given gifts.  Lood for people’s strengths and point them out.  Build them up at every opportunity.  Help them in their weaknesses too.  But train yourself in sincerity.  Flattery is ugly and it has no place in you.  Always check your motivations in everything you do.  Never lie to a person about their abilities in order to gain their favor.  It is my hope that you will have the confidence in yourself, and your own gifts, enough to not seek or need to use such trickery to get someone else to approve of you.

Forth, not everyone is going to be your best friend forever.  I can even guarantee you that there will be some out there that might not like you that much, even though they don’t really even have a reason.  They may not even know themselves why.  And you might feel the same way about someone else too.  This is life.  Accept it without malice.  Decide to love that person anyway doing nothing in retribution for a feeling they may have about you that they cannot even help themselves.  You will not win everyone you meet as a true friend and that’s okay.  That’s just the way it is.

Fifth, and mostly, encourage all at every opportunity.  Some are gifted by God as encouragers.  For others it takes work and we never get that good at it.  But nevertheless, be on the lookout for things to encourage others about.  And remember, do it with sincerity. Not only does everyone like being encouraged, they need it, just as you do.  Expect nothing in return for your encouragement.  I’m sure that there are others out there like me who couldn’t give an encouraging word if their life depended on it.  They need it more than anyone else I think.

Finally, beyond God, people are everything.  They, like you, bear God’s image.  Your relationship with people will be a big determiner of whether or not you will live in joy.  Boasting and showcasing your gifts, which God gave you, will not bring you joy, only pride masquerading as joy.  Be joyful when you see what God has given to someone, or what God is doing in another’s life.  Be satisfied with what God has given you.  Life is very momentary.  The pride of life and the lust of the flesh lie to us.  They promise a joy that materializes.  They are like the thirsty man drinking saltwater.  It only makes him want more and more until it literally kills him.

I pray that you, dear children, will be humble of heart.  I pray that you would work hard at developing the gifts that God has given you, and that you will be generous with your gifts, and most of all that you would be generous at building others up.

Your father.

 

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