Thursday, July 31, 2008

Seeking that Communion Again

One of my favorite books is A Passion for Prayer by Tom Elliff. At one point the book had great influence upon me and I am yearning to regain the intimacy that I once experienced with my Savior. This is one of my favorite passages from Tom's hand (p. 39-40):
Within the great panorama of the Bible, certain individuals stand out becasue of their exceptional influence and effectiveness. We are so taken with their public lives that we often overlook the depth of their private commitments. The longer I live, the more convinced I become that the greatest work of God takes place in the private arena--the quiet place, the quiet time. There God waits for us in order to have sweet communion, resolve anguishing conflict, and bring about a remarkable conformity to His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The brilliant light of a Roman candle streaks across the sky, evoking the pleasured exclamations of its audience. But it is quickly gone and forgotten, with no enduring impact. Will we settle for the applause of one great moment of public acclaim? Or will we seek the enduring influence that only comes when one is willing to develop the discipline of a quiet time and a quiet place--to regularly and consistently take time to sit at our Savior's feet to learn from Him?
I tend to be more like a Daniel, taking time throughout the day several times a day and praying at short intervals. Then at certain times during the week as I have time, I will retreat for time alone. I don't like the regimented, legalistic, check-off list style of the "quiet time" but prefer to be more casual and sometimes spontaneous--that works for me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What is the Purpose of the Church?

Some say it is for worship--but I can worship with my family or a group of friends. My entire life is to be characterized by worship.

Some say it is for evangelism and missions. Jesus did come to "seek and to save that which was lost" after all. But, we have so many other organizations that are so much better at doing this than the church.

Some say it is for fellowship--but I have much deeper fellowship with my family and with my tight circle of friends than I do in the broader congregation. There is a much deeper level of accountability and prayer support there as well.

Some say it is for discipleship. I'm not persuaded this happens very much at all, much less at church.

Perhaps the question goes much deeper than relevance.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Simple Post

Yet profound. My thought for the day.
We need each other.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Going "Hmmm..."

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture that you have read numerous times before yet a certain verse, phrase, or sentence catches you and you think, "Wow, I don't think I remember reading that before?" That happened to me early this morning. I am reading through Matthew again and these verses were the unlikely culprits.
But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. Matthew 12:36-37
Being a preacher, I understand the power of words and the necessity of choosing them carefully. However, do I apply this same principle in my own life, in the way I speak to family, friends, neighbors, the lost, and even on the blogs? Verse 36 is especially sobering; Jesus said we will give an accounting for EVERY word spoken. I'm not a fan of the "video-tape rollback" theory of how the judgment is going to be carried out, but if it has any merit, I will be watching with my head hung low, humiliated for a very long time.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thinking about Discipleship

As the title suggests, my thoughts have been continually turned to the topic of discipleship lately. As I read Scripture, a book I have been reading, and a discussion or two in the blogosphere has turned my attention to discipleship. I am thinking primarily along the lines of how well a maker of disciples I am and notice myself coming up short. Plus, I'm asking some questions, more basic and fundamental than anything relatively deep right now.
  • What is a disciple?
  • How do I make disciples?
  • What does the Scripture say about discipleship?
  • How important is discipleship?
  • How can I lead the folks in the church I serve to become disciple makers?
In my Bible reading today, I read from Matthew 10. Verse 24 was especially convicting.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.
This tied in really well with the slave/master thoughts I posted a few days ago to further lead my thinking. If I am going to make disciples, I myself need to be discipled.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Holy Club

"Church is a club."

I have heard that statement made numerous times and did not want to believe that it was true. The church often has a club mentality with dues, membership roster, roll call, taking of minutes, doing of "business," yet rarely a plenary session. The members are part of the club not for the benefit of the club itself but because of the vanity of its members. Being part of the club is something that looks good or makes the member of the club appealing because membership is based on what that club offers; this then becomes how the church also is evaluated.

The attitude of the Christians who are part of that church then becomes, "How do I make my church (club) appealing?" Hence, why many people will ride past eight to ten churches to get to the church that is "right" for them. I am not saying that it isn't right to find the church that fits. What I am saying is that this fosters an isolationist mentality that is neither healthy nor biblical.

Often clubs become an ideal place for bragging on one's accomplishments. Clubs can be mutual admiration societies, more concerned about how well one has done at a particular thing or preening over goals having been met. Rarely are struggles ever discussed because that would make one look ineffective or sub-standard--not worthy of the club. Struggles and pain are virtually non-existent in clubs, unless you're part of a club that celebrates failure.

I've never heard of one of those. Failure however is a very real part of life. I have failed on numerous occasions and I have also lived through making up for those failures. The fact is, the church isn't very welcoming to those who have failed. We need a Gospel that speaks to failure and a church willing to embrace people whose lives have been shattered by failure.

Lay down my life for someone else? Esteem someone better than me? Look out after another's interests rather than my own? Owe a debt of love to someone? Not in a club. The club is all about self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement. But the Christ that spent all calls us to spend all as well. That won't get us any accolades or pats on the back. Probably more suffering. Probably more heartache, and probably more tears.

Here is what is missing from churches: relationships. However, in our self-righteousness academies, we are too quick to point the fingers, assign blame, and start issuing the "bless his hearts" and allow the one who has failed to continue on in their failure--quite hypocritical. While we continue on, congratulating ourselves for how righteous we are and tickled that the "evil one has been purged from our midst."

One of the radical truths of the Gospel is that Christ is not so much a personal Savior, which we often emphasize (to the detriment of the Gospel itself), but a Savior of people. Individuals. With hopes, dreams, and failures. Placing the emphasis on Christ as a personal Savior leaves the potential believer with a sense of isolation--a sense of "what do I do next?" The marriage supper of the Lamb is not going to be a private affair.

But if we emphasize Christ as a Savior of people--real, live people, then the possibility of community exists--the possibility that someone will be with me in this. Someone who has failed cannot strike out on a new venture alone. They don't have the wherewithal. They need someone to commit to them in the same way Christ commits to them--sure, their eternity is secure, but what about the present? Not so much.

We all rejoice when the man who has failed miserably in life joins the church; when the mom who aborted her child makes a faith commitment to Christ; when the AIDS victim comes to the altar. Yet where are they in a few months? Christ is their portion, but no portion they have among the Body. The message that is often sent is one that Christ is your personal Savior and Christ can get dirty cleaning you up and fitting you for Body-life.

What then happens to that abandoned person when the time of testing and trial comes? Like the man who fell among thieves, he finds himself broken and bleeding hoping a Good Samaritan might come along.

My wife was in the hospital having had her third surgery in three months. Her back was sliced open, her kidney invaded, and an ultrasonic wand inserted to vibrate apart a stone the size of a quarter. But what a sad lesson we learned. Who from the church showed up to check on us? No one. Who followed up once we got home after two days of kidney spasms and muscle-relaxer induced stupor? Fixed a meal, offered to look after the kids? Not a soul.

We need each other. The Gospel is meant to be lived out in community. I want to conclude with this question: who out there is willing to walk with a heavily ladened, hurting person until healing comes in God's time? Who?

They will fall inevitably and we will lament, "Oh, what little faith so-and-so had!" "Oh, she must not have really been saved!" "How deceived the poor soul must have been!" "Bless her heart."

The question probably won't be, "Well, what did I do to keep this from happening?" That just demands too much.

What to do with Leftover Sunday School Literature

This is just too funny to pass up! Every pastor worth his salt has wondered what to do with the Sunday School literature once the quarter is over. I know most churches simply bunker the landfills with it though some are more conscientious--they take it to the local recycling center. However, here are a few good ideas, and #2 is JUST FUNNY!
2. Leave them in places where people read while they're doing something else. "Accidentally" leave a copy at the coffee shop. Leave copies on the magazine rack at the fitness center. In the seatback pocket on an airplane. Did I hear someone say the bathroom? Which reminds me of a story. One day, a group of Baptist women told me their husbands wouldn't read stuff from the church. I shared with them a wise truth: He'll read anything you leave in the bathroom.
Indeed!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Just Because I'm Seminary Educated...

...doesn't mean I am "in charge" of the church.

...doesn't mean I have the market cornered on truth.

...doesn't mean I am beyond sin.

...doesn't mean I have all things figured out.

...doesn't mean I am due any special privileges.

...doesn't mean I am above rebuke.

...doesn't mean I am led any differently than any other Spirit-filled believer.

...doesn't mean my opinion should be elevated above that of another believer.

...doesn't mean my opinion should be elevated above what the Bible actually says.

...doesn't mean I understand the Bible better.

...doesn't mean I deserve a title.

...doesn't mean my prayers are heard differently by God.

...doesn't mean I don't struggle.

...doesn't mean I cannot or will not stumble or fall.

...doesn't mean I shouldn't ask questions and work out my own salvation.

...doesn't mean my interpretations of the Bible are infallible.

...doesn't mean I should have a reserved parking space or be first in line.

...doesn't mean my wife should hold every capacity in the church that isn't filled.

...doesn't mean my children should be held to a higher standard than any other believing family's children.

...doesn't mean God favors me over anyone else.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An Interesting Perspective on the "Slavery" Passages

I have read the "slavery" passages numerous times in the New Testament and have always wondered just what to do with them. They are Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10, and 1 Peter 2:18-25.

I have been teaching through Titus during Wednesday evening Bible study and I came to 2:9-10 yesterday evening. After the first reading, I had initially relegated it to the "we'll give this a run-through" passage, kind of like an epistolary benediction or opening greeting. Of course, I then nearly concluded that, given that slavery is no longer a norm in American life, there is no real, ready application except in employee/employer relationships. That would be the natural place to go. However, as I really studied and prayed that God give me a fuller picture, this quote from a commentary caught my attention. And it changed my whole perspective on how to interpret these passages.
It is unfortunate that many teachers or preachers have applied Paul’s teaching on slavery in his epistles to the employer/employee relationship in modern economies. Such applications dilute the tremendous power of the Gospel as seen within the dark and unjust institution of slavery. The focus of Paul’s teaching with regard to Christian slaves must not be missed. Against the bleak hopelessness of this system of bondage, the Christian slave’s devotion to the Gospel and resulting godly attitudes and actions serve to make attractive in an unparalleled way the ultimate freedom that is only realized in Christ (Hayne, New American Commentary: 1,2 Timothy, Titus 308)
I taught Titus 2:9-10 completely different after reading and thinking through this quote and applied it to the sum total of the Christian experience; anywhere a Christian finds himself under authority. The slave-master relationship should characterize the Christian life and just as a Christian slave should yield unquestioning obedience to his master, so the Christian should yield unquestioning obedience to his Master, Jesus--and this characteristic will manifest itself in all relationships where a Christian is under authority--even to an unbeliever.

The Laughingstock of Waynesville

Well, maybe not the laughingstock, but this is still pretty funny. We have a large family compared to others and we have just simply outgrown our current mode of transportation. We had a Mercury Villager van and we were packed like sardines in a can. My oldest daughter was in the back seat between her sisters with both her hips touching her sisters' booster seats, not to mention sitting in only a lap belt.

I had to go back to Halifax County, VA for a funeral last week. The lady died suddenly and requested in her will that I officiate the funeral service. I took the whole family because we were all very close to her, spending the night in a motel. On the return trip, we passed through South Boston (VA, not MA) and my wife cried out, "Look!" On the used lot of Crowell Motor Company was a 2007 Ford Econoline E-350.

Yep; if you're thinking fifteen passenger, you would be right. We bought a fifteen passenger van. I originally wanted an eleven passenger, just because they are not quite so big and attention-grabbing. The equally funny part about the particular van we bought was that we were told that a church bought it originally, sold it back to the dealership and bought an eighteen passenger bus instead. The salesman could have kept that tidbit to himself, but I guess with a family my size and my being a pastor, he felt it was necessary. The salesman then suggested that we could even use the van for church functions. Sigh...

While living in VA, my wife's OB-GYN had seven kids and everyone made fun of them because they actually bought a used airport van. "Hey, look everyone, here come the Rosches!" Well, now I can hear everyone exclaiming, "Hey, look everyone, here come the Sisks!"It isn't that we didn't blend in well everywhere we went anyway, but now, we are plainly obvious to everyone. Oh well. I guess I have sacrificed image for safety and comfort.

(Our digital camera has been left in SC at our in-laws, so the picture is not our van; ours is a tan color, though the same body style.)