Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Amputated Church

What is the Church of Jesus Christ? A body. A bride. A family. An army.

And where do we see this manifested?

In the local church.

It is in the local church where we exercise our gifts. (Rom. 12)

It is in the local church where our love for the saints is expressed. (John 13:34+35)

It is in the local church where church authority is exercised to punish sin and guard and lead the flock. (1 Cor. 5)

It is in the local church where we fill roles as members of the body of Christ. (1 Cor. 12)

It is in the local church where we celebrate the New Covenant Passover. (1 Cor. 11:23-27)

It is in the local church where we labor together for the cause of Christ and build the bonds of family-friendship. (1 Tim. 5:1-2)

It is in the local church where all the functions of the Church towards the believer and of the believer towards the Church become real and practical. The Bride of Christ is a global institution, but we cannot fulfill our Scriptural duties towards the global Church without fulfilling them at a local level.

So how we relate to the local church is very, very important; choosing a church, attending a church, tithing to a church, joining a church, being invested in a church, and leaving a church are all matters to be taken very seriously.

The Scriptural picture of church fellowship requires deep relationships, pastoral involvement, confession of sin, accountability, fellowship, hospitality, generosity, prayer, perseverance, humility, the pursuit of Christ, and lots and lots of love. Real love. A love that says and does the hard things when it needs to.

And this requires commitment. Hard-charging, long-term commitment to a local body.

Today, it seems that the church is not taken so seriously; choosing a church is a buffet-style proposition. A little of this, a little of that, go back for more of the one you like.

It is certainly appropriate to vet a church before becoming a member. We should indeed examine the doctrines taught, consider the practices modeled, and see living Christian love in the fellowship.

But the first and foremost question must be "where does The LORD want me to plug in?" The decisive question must not be one simply of preference or comfort but of submission to the will of Christ and a desire to be used by Him to fill a need in His bride. As in every area of the Christian walk, we should be driven by love for God and for others- not by self-focus.

That's all foundational to the title of this article- the amputated church. That's what happens when someone leaves a local body.

If we are all members of the local body- "individually members of one another"- what happens when one leaves? Pain. Loss. A hole in the fellowship and the efficacy of the church.

If it's easy to leave; if there is no pain; if nobody misses the family that stopped attending- these are signs that something was already awry in the bond of fellowship.

It should be hard to leave. This doesn't mean that it's never right to leave a church; there are very good and legitimate reasons for doing so. However, leaving a church should be done with the seriousness and formality of amputating a limb- not with the impulsive or emotion-based decisiveness (or indecisiveness) of no longer eating pizza on Friday nights.

Before an amputation, there is first and foremost a significant reason for making such a drastic decision. Leaving a church should be a matter of "doctor, I have leprosy spreading up my leg- I think we need to cut it off"- and not a matter of "hey doc, my elbow hurts a bit after yesterday's baseball game- would you do me a favor and pull out your bone saw?" There are valid reasons- and they are not limited to problems with the local church, either. God could be calling you elsewhere. Regardless the reason, there should be a reason for breaking the fellowship of the local body. Like the founding fathers declaring independence from England, a proper farewell to a local body involves a list- either of grievances or simply of rationale for why God is calling you elsewhere. It doesn't have to be a physical list, but there should be real reasons.

Sharing those reasons with the church, or at least with the elders of the church, not only clarifies why you are considering leaving the fellowship, but it gives them the opportunity to hold you accountable if your rationale is not Scriptural, to repent if they are convicted that you are right, to agree that what you are seeing is a problem that needs addressed, or maybe just to agree to disagree. Even in that last case, at least both parties know what they are disagreeing over!

An amputation is only done after much counsel has been sought and any other way to solve the problem has been considered. Doug Wilson, in his Practical Christian Living talks, points out that generally we are prone to see defects in the thing we are gifted in. Someone God has gifted with teaching will notice that the sermon wasn't very well organized. A servant will notice that nobody is doing the dishes after the potluck. An evangelist will wonder why the stack of Gospel tracts by the door always seems just as tall.

We are remarkably good at turning good things into reasons for pride. "I'm so good at expressing these difficult doctrines. Most of the people here just don't get it as clearly as I do." "No one notices just how often I serve everyone. People here just don't love others enough." "If the folks in this church really loved Jesus, they would be evangelizing more."

"I have the gift of humility and I'm proud of it."

Before leaving a church because of a deficiency in its battlefront, perhaps we might consider that God has put us in that body to fill that void. Maybe the church doesn't evangelize enough because they need someone passionate about evangelism to come in and start poking them. Maybe the music isn't very good because no trained musician has ever come in and said "hey, I can help y'all with that!"

Maybe you see that problem in the local fellowship because God sent you there to fix it. If the focus is not on ourselves but rather on the Kingdom of God and the brethren, will we not be hungry and eager to fill those very voids?

If the problem is not a deficiency but rather an issue of sin or conflict, then healing must be sought through the Biblical patterns of conflict resolution. Fleeing from a problem only causes it to fester, and it destroys the freedom and openness of fellowship that should happen between brothers and sisters in Christ.

Even doctrinal problems are opportunities. It is one thing to decline to join a church because of bad doctrine; it's another to leave a church because they are compromising. If you are a part of that family, maybe God has you there to strengthen the hands of your family in the faith against the lies that are deceiving them. Or maybe God is showing you something that they haven't seen yet- that is your chance to edify the brethren. But maybe you're wrong... and that's their chance to edify you. Regardless, Scripture encourages dealing with stuff. Sin stuff, doctrinal stuff, conflict stuff. Deal with the stuff- don't run from it.

There will be stuff everywhere we go.

An amputation is decisive. People know when it happens and why. So if there is a doctrinal issue that cannot be resolved; if the pastor will not confess his sin; if you've tried every means to "be at peace with all men" that you can, but the conflict is still destroying the fellowship; if The LORD is just calling you to go elsewhere- then do so decisively. Please don't fade away and leave the brethren to wonder what happened. Let them throw you a party and send you away with their blessing- or, if necessary, let them know that you feel you've done all you can and are leaving them and praying for God's mercy on them- something. But don't, please don't leave the limb half-amputated; those don't heal very well.

It leaves others behind hurting. Missing you. Wondering what happened and if they should hope to see you again... or if they should resign to an occasional chance encounter in a room featuring an elephant and a floor of eggshells.

And it cheapens and devalues the realness, the depth of intimate Christian fellowship- just as divorce cheapens marriage. Is it real? Will it last? Can I be so open and vulnerable to this family? Or will they leave too, and take a piece of my heart with them?

If The LORD does want you to leave a good church, and it's not because they are failing to be a faithful body, then don't worry- He will bring someone to fill the void you leave. And the tears of goodbye, like those shared by the pilgrims on the shores of the old country before they left for the new one- they will be sweet tears. And the reunions, the chance encounters, the wedding invitations and the Facebook pictures will be marked with the signs of Christian fellowship- love, joy, wholehearted openness, the good old honest pain that comes with missing a dear friend.

That kind of love for one another will proclaim to the world that we are truly disciples of Jesus Christ.

Those aren't amputations.

They're transplants.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Broken Chains

Imagine the tears. Friday night. Saturday. Empty days. The heartbroken, heartbreaking moans and sobs. Dead. The Man they had come to love- to be loved by- more than any other. Gone. Buried. Imprisoned in the iron coffin that binds every soul it receives.

They had hoped so much. Seen so much. Years of their lives were spent following this Man, believing His Word. "Where would we go, Lord? You have the words of life!"

And now... now where do they go? How can life ever be worth living again?

Maybe Peter tried to go fishing, one of those dark days. Maybe he looked at his empty nets and, try as he might, could only see them brimful and breaking with the fish summoned by their Maker.

Maybe John tried to comfort Mary... but couldn't convince himself that there was really any comfort to offer.

Did any of them expect it? Did any of them remember the promises of Christ- hear them faintly echoing, but echoing louder and louder as Sunday approached?

Did Pilate sleep soundly- did his washed hands make a washed conscience? Or did he dream of the Man Who had come to testify to the truth?

Did the leaders of Israel post guards to keep the disciples from stealing the body of Christ? Or did they, deep down, know that that was a pretense to try to prevent a greater deliverance?

Did Joseph of Arimathea think that he would go down in history as the man who gave the tomb that held the Messiah? Or did he have the faith to see that the tomb couldn't hold the Messiah?

There was the sting of death. There was the victory of the grave. And they were all burdened and bound under its awful conqueror's rule. Their King, their Hero, had fallen in the battle. All was lost.

Imagine the tears Saturday night.

But imagine the morning.

Oh, imagine the morning.

#HeIsRisen #FillTheEarth

"Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?"

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Happy Tears

If you've ever been to a wedding, you probably know the feeling. You can't help but smile, and you can't help but cry. It's so happy that it hurts. There's a deep, aching, longing, bittersweet joy that leaves everyone there inspired and almost depressed (in a happy sort of way). Hearts so light and so heavy all at once.

This feeling of bittersweetness happens at other times through life, though the occasions are rare. A perfectly golden autumn day lit by warm sun through cool, dappled shade. A funeral for a Christian warrior released to glory. The end of a movie where the hero has died and died well. A piece of music that somehow transcends simple audio enjoyment and etches a mark on our soul. A day of fellowship at church where the love and unity is so real that no one wants to leave until long after the daylight has.

What is it, exactly? Why do we get this feeling, and what does it mean?

I can't speak authoritatively to that, but I have a theory, and my theory is not without at least some Scriptural support.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in the heart of men. I suspect that maybe this feeling- the feeling of something so beautiful it is almost too beautiful, of something so bright it is blinding, something greater than our capacity for greatness, something so overwhelmingly, painfully good- maybe that feeling comes when events throughout our temporal life filter in and strike the chords of eternity which God has hidden in our hearts. Like sunbeams dancing through the suffocating dust of an attic and finding their way to grandpa's old prism, suddenly everything is light and beauty and it hurts not because it's too bad but because it's too good, hurts not because we want less of it but because we want more of it- and yet we couldn't handle it if it were given to us.

These moments throughout our lives- maybe they are pointing to something greater. Maybe they hurt because we can feel deep down that our eternity is calling; that we were made for something beyond, for a deeper satisfaction and a fuller joy than anything this world can offer- anything this sinful flesh could bear even if this world could offer it!

Maybe these moments are so overwhelming because they are little tastes of paradise, of the new heavens and the new earth, of the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Which brings me to a few things I can say confidently from Scripture.

Last weekend, my bride and I attended the Southwest Family Vision Conference. It was an enormous blessing; so rich and inspiring and convicting.

One of the themes that was really brought into crystalline focus for me was that earthly marriage between a man and a woman is a physical picture of the heavenly, eternal marriage between Christ and His Church. (Eph. 5:22-33)

The wisdom of God is truly so vast, so unfathomable, so unsearchable. He has spoken and woven into being a world full of foreshadows, of echoes, of tastes, of symbols. Everywhere we look there is a new illustration of Who He is and how He is. Leaven, fire, doors, bread and wine, water, rocks, lambs, lions, fruit, birth, death- it's constant. He has spoken and is speaking His glory all throughout the world around us. (Ps. 19)

And perhaps the greatest of all of His perfect metaphors is marriage.

A few things in particular struck me about the marriage analogy as I've rolled it around in my mind.

The first is the idea of the exuberance of the bridegroom. Every husband knows the feeling. It's finally the day, finally the hour, finally the minute, and then the moment- there she is. Beautiful. Breathless and breathtaking. He couldn't hold the corners of his mouth down if he tried. It's really happening.

All throughout Scripture is painted this picture of the joy of the wedding feast. (Rev. 19:7) Scripture says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).

Notice that in both Rev. 19:8 and Eph. 5:26 the Church is given the white garments; Christ sanctifies His bride. The Church is made up of sinful people- people who were the enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). Yet Christ makes her a perfect bride through His blood.

And then there's the wedding.

And all of creation explodes into celebration.

And God makes us- unworthy sinful dust-to-dust us- the bride in the nuptial consummation of the ages.

To think that we, somehow, get to be a bride who brings joy to her Husband- to imagine that maybe, just maybe, Jesus Christ will smile at the sight of His bride- we are not worthy. That the creation could somehow bring pleasure and glory to the Creator- what a story God has penned!

And of course it's never about us. It's about the Bridegroom. We are not worthy. He is. But the amazing thing is that He makes us worthy. He makes us clean. He makes us pleasing to Him. That we could be pleasing in the sight of God- this truth should at once humble and excite us!

But there's another thing about this truth which brings us full circle. If all of creation, all of history is the love story that God the Father wrote by and for His Son, then every wedding from the beginning of time to its end is a foreshadow. Every "I do," every first kiss, every cheer and clap and wedding cake and first dance- they are all testifying to something greater. Every bride is a picture of the perfected Bride. Every groom is a picture of the perfect Groom. It's like hearing an echo from a celebration miles away. It's a taste. A hint. A picture. The joy. The smiles. The beauty. The covenants. The love.

It's the greatest novel ever written.

We are living in God's love story.

And every wedding is a foreshadow of the triumphant conclusion.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Have Yourself a Pagan Little Holiday

Ah, Christmastime. A time for joy, eggnog, and controversy.

Last year, my wife and I celebrated our first Christmas as us. Part of being an us meant having to stand- if with all the confidence of Bambi on ice- on our own convictions.

I had seen my parents, and other families, go through it before- Saturnalia, druids, and evergreen idols. This year, though, God brought the issues into razor-sharp focus, as our entire church came face-to-face with this issue.

Is the tree really an idol? Is the Grinch really a reformer waging war on idolatry? Can I get some eggnog with a shot of paganism, please?

It's an emotional topic, because if the answer is "yes," then a lot of fun memories and happy traditions need to be torn down like so many asherim, burned with the yule log, and buried with a sprig of holly through their heart.

But we must be willing for the answer to be "yes," or there is no purpose in asking the question. As with any other question which we take to Scripture, a good first step would be an examining of our own hearts- are we really ready to follow wherever God calls us to go? If we aren't ready to submit to any answer, then why bother seeking an answer at all?

There are many Godly believers who celebrate Christmas, and many who do not; furthermore, there are many from either camp who could argue their position very convincingly.

But last year, as my wife and I wrestled through it, I felt like The Lord clearly and decisively answered my questions about Christmas. I'm writing it down here because I'm sure the discussion will come up again and I don't want to forget what I learned. I'm also hoping that it will be a blessing to others who are or will be wrestling with the same issues.

So, without further ado- is it permissible, let alone good, for Christians to celebrate Christmas?

The Christmas issue boiled down in my mind to a few doubts that hovered like the shadow of an enormous Ebenezer Scrooge over the lights and the trees and the stockings. I'm going to focus on those here.

What about the Jewish feasts?

I have in the past participated in "Passover" celebrations which served as a way to look back on Christ as the fulfillment thereof, and insofar as the Old Covenant feasts are enjoyed as educational and historical exercises which teach us about Christ they are wonderful opportunities.

But if God decreed these feasts- some of which He called perpetual, and commanded for generational observance- why are we not celebrating them yearly? Why are we not quite literally religious about them? Shouldn't we be celebrating the Jewish feasts as a matter of obedience to God's Word?

No. We should not. What's more, we cannot.

The feasts were part of the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant- laws which, unlike the moral and judicial laws, were abrogated in Christ, their Fulfillment. To which you say, "prove it, bub," and rightly so; we cannot just go cherry-picking through the Law of God, deciding which ones sound fun for us to keep and which ones are too old-fashioned. So is there a Biblical basis for calling some of God's Laws "ceremonial," and for saying that we are not obligated to keep them?

In Hebrews 9:8-11, we see that the laws regarding "food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body" are appointed until "a time of reformation," namely, "when Christ appeared." That verse succinctly clarifies what exactly the "ceremonial law" is. But noticeably absent from this list is any mention of feasts or festivals.

Hebrews 10:12, however, tells us that Christ was the final sacrifice. We are no longer supposed to follow the laws about sacrificing animals, because those laws pointed to Christ, and He has come and fulfilled them once for all. It is now not only unnecessary but actually blasphemous to sacrifice animals, because The Lamb has come, and we should not look to anything else for our atonement.

What does this have to do with the Jewish feasts? Many or all of them involved offering sacrifices. Most notably, Passover- the yearly passover lamb which pointed to the once-for-all Lamb to be slain for the sins of the world.

Since sacrifices are inherently woven into the feast and festival laws of the Old Covenant, and since the sacrifices are fulfilled in Christ, the feasts must also be fulfilled in Christ. We cannot keep the feasts for obedience, because we cannot actually follow the prescribed method for celebrating those feasts- through sacrificing animals!

One more note- our church celebrates the New Covenant passover every week, when we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb who delivered us from the Egypt of sin.

That's a New One

Fine, but we still have to answer- why Christmas?

Nowhere in Scripture does God command or even model the celebration of Christmas. So the question haunted my mind like Marley's ghost- do we have any Biblical precedent for creating new festivals like Christmas?

Yes. We do. In the book of Esther, after the Jews routed their enemies, Mordecai instituted the feast of Purim as a yearly holiday to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews. That's a new feast- a man-made holiday- commemorating an act of God in history. So there is Biblical precedent for making holidays of remembrance- and what better to remember than the advent (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter) of the Messiah?

Druids and Yule Logs and Solstice, Oh My!

That's all well and good, but isn't Christmas a pagan festival with Jesus sprinkled on top? Didn't the church just take idolatry and churchify it so that Christians could feel better about keeping right on sacrificing to the Baals?

This question is really twofold.

First, there is the question of whether the Christians stole a pagan holiday or the pagans stole a Christian holiday. The idea that the Christians began celebrating Christmas on their own is a very tenable position (an argument can even be made that the magi actually arrived in Bethlehem on December 25th- see this amazing film for more on that), but I do not have the historical knowledge to argue it here; for the moment it will suffice to say that it is at least debatable that Christmas actually does have pagan roots.

For a moment, though, let's give the Christmas critics a freebie. Let's assume for the sake of argument that Christmas is rooted in pagan celebrations full of dark deeds and idolatrous traditions.

If that is the case, then the church of Jesus Christ took a pagan celebration and transformed it into a yearly remembrance of the birth of Christ which is now celebrated worldwide.

I would call that a victory.

Why would we want to surrender such a glorious heritage- our Christian forefathers tearing December 25th out of the hands of the godless and claiming it for Christ? That it still proclaims like the herald angels the advent of our Lord is evidenced all around, from the stars and nativities to the carols and choruses to the very fact that the nations rage against the word "Christmas."

The Name of Christ is the Name seared into the season of Christmastime.

Rather than abandoning it to the pagans of today, it is for us as believers to take a cue from Saint Nicolas and take a stand for our King. (Next time Arius says "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings," he's in for it.)

The nations may rage, but He Who sits in the heavens laughs. And since He came down to earth and bought us with His blood, we should laugh too.


I can't wait for next year...

#JoyToTheWorld #TheLordIsCome

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sleeping in a Cradle

"I love Thee, Lord Jesus;
Look down from the sky,
And stay by my cradle,
'Til morning is nigh."

A lot of us sing this during the #Christmas season. At first glance, it looks to be a lullaby for a child. Maybe at one time it was.

But we are grown-ups. We don't sleep in cradles. Isn't a little silly to sing this every year?

When we think of a child sleeping in a cradle, we think of the serene face and tiny, rhythmic breathing of a miniature person undisturbed by financial stress or current events or family conflicts. Mommy and Daddy are right there by the cradle, so, as far as that baby is concerned, all is right with the world.

We have no more needs than that baby does (if anything, we have less). But we are burdened by those needs much more than the child is.

Yet we are called to have the faith of children. Our Heavenly Father watches over us even in our sleep (Psalm 127).

I want to sleep in a cradle- not with my body, but with my soul. And I want to lay there undisturbed, knowing that since Daddy is there all is right with the world.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015


The Darwinian worldview leads to euthanasia, abortion, sterilization, and genocide. If we assume the truth of Darwinian evolution, that is the simple and logical conclusion; as Hitler's propoganda stated, no good animal breeder allows the unhealthy or inferior animals in his care to breed. If we, too, are just animals, somewhere between apes and supermen, then why would we not want to assist the progress of the species by cutting out those who obviously will not be helping us toward the latter?
The Christian worldview stands in stark opposition. The Author of life claims responsibility for making the deaf and the blind. (Ex. 4:11)
In the Christian worldview, there is no such thing as a "defective" person. The child with Down Syndrome, the cross-eyed man, the woman lame from birth, the deformed, the mute, these people were not rejects from the celestial assembly line.
Certainly, there are natural factors that God uses to bring such things about- some of which we are responsible for.
But the basic Christian assumption is that God made you how He wants you. 
We are responsible for what we do with what He gives us; we are responsible to invest our talents wisely. But He is the One Who gives the talents as He sees fit. (Matt. 25:14-30) 
Sterilizing the "inferior", as America did in the early 1900s, or committing mass acts of genocide, as the Nazi regime did, or murdering the unwanted in the womb like we are doing by the thousands and ten thousands today in this country- this all makes sense if we are the judge of what is "viable," what is "superior," if we can control the factors and predict the results- and if we are not accountable to God for what we do with His souls.
But if God makes people individually by His hand, then it doesn't matter what the child's pedigree is. If God wants him blind, He'll make him blind. If He doesn't want him blind, then the child will not be blind. If the child is blind, there is no blame or shame. That was God's perfect will. That is just as much a person, a life, a soul, in the words of Lewis a "self." And if that child is chosen by God, then he is just as much a member of the Church-Bride of Jesus Christ. God wove that human tapestry and signed it with His image and bought it with His blood. There is no higher pedigree than that which is held by the child of God.
Blind or not, "normal" or not, we do not have the right to determine that life inferior. We can only judge things which are under us. Human creations, human actions. Life is a creation of God. He has the right to tell us when- and why- we may take it from another. 
We did not give it. It is not ours to take unless the One Who gave it tells us to.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Time to be Shocked

We are the nation where little babies, alive and wriggling, have their faces scissored in half so their brains can be harvested.

I generally don't like the shock-value technique.  But it's far past time for us to be shocked.

Examinations of the underbelly of the Planned Parenthood​ monster keep showing more and more festering infection.  The heartless perversion- this just makes me shudder.  We need to see this.  We need to shudder.  We need to show it to others so they can shudder too.

And we need to *repent.*  The only way hell can prevail and belch forth such wickedness is if the Church of Jesus Christ has not rolled over the gates of hell with the Word of God.

God will not be mocked, and a nation that does this and does not repent is a nation that will be broken- soon and hard.