They Like Jesus… But Not His Church

jesus-church

Picking up on some themes from my last post, I’ve been thinking about the idea of “lone wolf” Christians; folks who live the “it’s just me and Jesus” mantra.

The folks who like Jesus—but they don’t like His Church.

In thinking about it, I see the appeal to some degree.

I’m not someone who particularly enjoys spending a great deal of time in groups of people. I get drained easily. I get frustrated with other people when they don’t get it, whatever “it” happens to be.

But I look at it and what really tempts me most about it is…

It appeals to my sense of pride.

Something I’ve been continuing to learn about me is that I’m an extremely prideful person. I generally prefer to think that I’m the smartest kid on the block, and am tempted to think that I don’t need to listen to the counsel of others.

And every time I start getting into those patterns, I get a swift kick in the behind.

That is why I believe Jesus calls all of His people to be a part of His Church. From my own experience, when I’m disconnected from others, I begin acting as though the world revolves around me and I become my own functional savior.

And it’s ridiculous when I do this, because I’m a laughable “god.”

Being part of the local expression of His church, flaws and all, reminds me that it’s not just about me and my “needs” (which usually are just preferences). That there are men who are much wiser and more mature in the faith than I, to whom I would do well to listen. Indeed, Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” That there are also people who can benefit from the few experiences I’ve had as a believer, as I humble myself to actually serve them and not see them as a source of frustration.

But if I were to go it alone, I’d miss out on a crucial part of the Christian life.

And that, to me, is tragic.


Questions to consider:

If you are one who prefers to go it alone—if you like Jesus, but not His Church—how has this impacted your spiritual life? In lone-wolfing it, in what ways have you grown more like Christ?

What prevents you from joyfully being a part of a local church?

A Preview of Heaven

hebrews

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic in the Armstrong house. A very enjoyable trip to Grand Bend with my in-laws over the Labor Day weekend, followed by a visit to my Dad the following Sunday for our annual family birthday (my Dad, sister, niece and I have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other—it can make celebrating a bit overwhelming).

Because of all the traveling, there was one thing we were unable to do: Go to our local church and worship together with the people there. As much fun and valuable as our time with our relatives was, we were missing a very important part of our lives.

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

Hebrews 10:24-25

This time reminded us just how much we love going to church (the institution) to be part of the church (the body of Christ). I know that there’s a lot of folks out there who might lose their minds even reading that statement, but we have to remember: The church is both Christ’s body and Christ’s institution.

He will build the institution who is His body and His bride.

So we, the body of believers, come together to worship God the Father through God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit, through the reading of Scripture, the preaching of the Bible (by a biblically-qualified male elder), the singing of songs…

There’s something incredibly powerful in it, if you’re a Christian. Something beautiful, even.

And it’s something completely different from any other interaction and activity in our lives. It’s not something that happens when I’m at the office of my Christian workplace talking about Jesus with my coworkers. It’s not something that happens when I’m having lunch or coffee with one of the guys I mentor.

It’s something that only happens when the larger congregation comes together, to worship God together.

It’s a preview of heaven.

And why would anyone who is a Christian want to neglect that?

Why would any of us willingly desire to disconnect ourselves from the very thing that is meant to stir us to love and good works? To encourage each other as we wait patiently for Christ’s return—when the preview ends and the new heaven and the new earth begin and we join the wedding supper of the Lamb?

I look forward to that day.

In the meantime, I will enjoy the preview.

The 30 Minute Challenge: Redux

30-minute

Last week, I issued a challenge to all of you: Set aside 30 minutes every day for the next week to read. What you read was entirely up to you—all you needed to do was give it a shot.

Well, it’s been a week… How did it go?

Were you successful in finding 30 minutes a day?

If so, how did you like it? What did you read?

If not, what did you find was the thing that got in the way?

This week, in some ways, was really challenging for me to get my time in. After Saturday and Sunday, I rarely got it in a full sitting, but rather read for a few minutes here and there throughout the day. I finished one book, Donald Miller’s new one, in a matter of hours (the review will be posted September 29—there may even be a contest involved). I started reading two other books, How Does a Good God Let Bad Things Happen by Mark Tabb and another one that I don’t want to mention right now. That gives you an indication of how much I’m enjoying it (it’s review deadline is more pressing than Tabb’s book, which is why I’m reading it).

But despite the challenges that came along this week and reading a book I’m not particularly enjoying right now (but I hope will not completely stink), I’ve still found my reading helpful. It’s still (mostly) relaxing. And that’s a great gift indeed.

So here’s my next question for you:

Will you try it again this week?

I hope you will. Looking forward to reading about your experience.

Happy Saturday!

Saturday is for Sabbath (2)

Today is Saturday, and it’s been an incredibly stressful week.

A wise man, when talking about stress, service and responsibility, once said, “Know the size of your plate.” To continue with this analogy, if the amount of stuff I could comfortably handle could fit on a dinner plate, the amount I’ve got would fit on a buffet table.

But I continue to try to Sabbath and learn to deal with what I can as God enables me.

Today’s agenda is pretty simple:

Pray and read my Bible.

Read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Go for a family walk and/or Daddy-Daughter date

Write a letter to one of my oldest friends, Scott, and his new bride, Brittany (they’re getting married today!).

And, maybe have a nap.

That should be a pretty full day.


How are you spending your Saturday?

The 30 Minute Challenge

30-minute

When I was a kid, I always loved to read. In reading, I found some of my moments of greatest joy.

And honestly, I was, and continue to be a voracious reader.

This weekend while we were in Grand Bend with my in-laws, we were talking about books. Emily had mentioned that while I was away I had something like four or five show up in the mail from blogger review programs and contests. My mother-in-law, Mary, asked a great question:

How on earth do you actually find the time to read as much as you do?

I love the questions my mother-in-law asks. They always get me to think, and I greatly appreciate that.

Here’s the answer: I try to set aside at least 30-45 minutes a day to read.

The average person reads between 250 and 300 words per minute (although figures vary), which works out to roughly 3/4 to one page each minute. That said, I don’t (usually) keep track of the number of pages read, just my time. I do have a lot of things on the go with family, work, writing, and study, that it can be overwhelming to try to add anything into my days. [Read more…]

Recharging

recharging

You know what’s the best thing about a long weekend (and, in my case, an extra long one at that)?

Getting a chance to recharge.

My in-laws kindly invited us up for another weekend in Grand Bend (which we gratefully accepted). Although I’m not a beach guy, it’s really nice to get away from the regular routine. It’s funny, the last vacation I had (our attempt at a “stay-cation” in August), was actually one of the most stressful weeks Emily and I had all summer. Because there’s always stuff to do, time commitments, plus quality time with Abigail and Emily, sometimes things just get put off. And so that week was spent frantically playing catch up (got most of it done, in case you were wondering).

So this weekend has been much appreciated.

We were at the beach on Sunday morning, and my mother-in-law commented on the almost hypnotic quality of the ripples of the water. I looked and honestly, all I could see was the evidence of God’s grace. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually quite pleasant to look at.

I’ve gone out for a couple of walks along Ontario Street (Highway 21), which is also very pleasant, despite the stream of traffic trying to go to the beach. I’ve had a couple of opportunities to just sit and read…

And it’s nice.

I kind of feel like I’m able to breathe a bit easier.

I’m still struggling to effectively deal with stress. I don’t like having more on my plate than I can possibly address. Nor do I like having actually found my limit for how much I can actually do (for what might be the first time).

All that adds stress.

But what adds more stress is not taking the time I need to actually function like a human being. To be, as a friend recently told me, needlessly absolute and negative in my language.

So I think I’ll be able to go back to the regular day-to-day with a bit of a clear head. I’m hoping it lasts longer than a couple days.

And if it doesn’t… well, I guess I’ll look forward to the next opportunity to recharge.

A Marriage Worth Working On

marriage

Sunday has been a day all about marriage.

At Harvest, the sermon was on the first sin (from Genesis 3:7-13), and it’s destructive effect on relationships with each other (including marriage) and with God. It was a very challenging look at how we sinfully fight and try to control and manipulate each other, rather than submit to God and one another in humility and repentance.

Later, we, along with more than 50 others, spent the afternoon celebrating the 25th wedding anniversary of Chris & Kimberly, a wonderful couple who invest so much of themselves in other people. They have a passion for discipling others and seeing them grow in holiness.

I could go on about them ad nauseum, but I think the best thing I could say is that they’re awesome people and we want to be like them when we grow up.

When I wasn’t toddler-wrangling at the party, I found it really interesting listening to the way people spoke of them in little speeches and toasts, particularly what their children said. Listening to them share how much they love and respect their parents and how their faith has been affected by them is really encouraging. I see these things, and I hear these things, and I can’t help but think, “I really hope my kids will be able to say things like that when Emily and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary.” Not due to any sort of need to be lauded, but really, because I want my children to be positively impacted by my faith. That Emily and I both can say to Abigail and our future kids, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).

Emily and I love to read a book together. It’s part of how we encourage each other to grow, spiritually (aside from my regularly asking, “So what’d you read in your Bible today?”). [Read more…]

What are you reading?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you have probably guessed that I really like books. My tendency is to read one-two a week, as my life permits. Because I am an introvert (to a frightening degree), it really is the best way for me to recharge and relax. Reading my Bible, reading good books by men like Packer, Piper, Bridges and more authors than is necessary for me to list, fills me with wonder and awe at the greatness of Jesus. (I’m kind of a “love the Lord your God with all your mind” kind of guy.)

And because I love books, I’m curious—What was the last great book that you read?

What are you currently reading?

What’s on your “to read” pile?

Looking forward to learning what you’re reading. Hope you enjoy the day with a good book and some good company.

On Commenting and Watch Blogging

I’ve been thinking about the subject of comment moderation and why I, in general, don’t use it. The big reason I tend to not moderate comments is I find it can (it doesn’t always) hinder conversation. But there are times when moderation is a good thing.

Occasionally, I get some feedback from what is generally referred to as a “watch blogger.” A watch blogger tends to dedicate their efforts to shooting those they don’t agree with, like a Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, John MacArthur, Andy Stanley (I’m sure there’s at least one hater out there), Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball, or…

You get the idea.

I generally try to be sensitive to those kinds of things because:

  1. I tend to be hyper-critical by nature; and
  2. I don’t want to ever be known for what I’m against rather than what I am for.

Sometimes, folks labeled as watch bloggers aren’t. Sometimes they’re folks who have something legitimate to say, but are maybe not using the wisest choice of medium to get their message across. Perhaps they’re people who have been genuinely hurt by something a church, pastor or speaker has done, but don’t know the most appropriate way to address the situation. Perhaps their choice of words is lacking or rabid, undiscerning defenders of whoever they’re speaking against decide to make war in defense of their idol.

But there are other times when I get the impression that, in reality, those who are watch blogging are contentious people who may have experienced church discipline and rather than humbly repenting of their sin, have gone to war and are trying to build an army of supporters to do… well, I don’t know what exactly. [Read more…]

Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words?

ET-preach-gospel-always

Some of our Christian clichés are fairly innocuous. Many, though are quite contentious. This is one of the worst:

Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.

This is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who, born in 1181/1182 (sources vary) was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks. However, while it appears that he never actually said this, it does correspond with much of this Roman Catholic Saint’s theology. So here’s the big question… is it true?

Maybe. Kind of.

Not really.

Two views

Consider two basic perspectives on our cliché. Some would call it gospel truth. After all, all we need is love. Remember, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), and Paul said the whole law was summed up in this one phrase (Galatians 5:14). Thus, what really matters is how we live—our acts of kindness, our compassion for those in needs. And our deeds will be the thing that make people turn to Christ.

Others would look at St. Francis’ words and call them bunk.Sure, Paul says the whole law is summed up in loving our neighbors, but he also says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:14, emphasis mine). Without someone telling them the message of Jesus, people aren’t going to be saved.

Though these two rough sketches undoubtedly don’t give credit to all the various nuances of both sides of the argument, I trust you get the point: People tend to set up words against deeds. The reality, though, is more complicated. It’s actually kind of both. We must proclaim Christ with our mouths and our lives tell people whether or not we’re telling the truth about what we believe.

Living and proclaiming Christ

This is really the point of the Bible’s repeated commands to love one another. This is central to all of the Christian’s life because it is a critical indicator of the legitimacy of one’s profession of faith. After all, as John wrote, “if anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar… whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). James, likewise, wrote extensively about this in his letter to the churches in exile.

He tells his readers, that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

But that’s just the start. He continues:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:14-18)

So James makes the following conclusion inescapable: If you say you have faith, your life will bear it out. Otherwise, your profession of faith is utterly bankrupt. But our works, James says, are an evidence of, or witness to, our faith (v. 18).

And these actions, our works, give us an opportunity to verbally speak the truth, Peter tells us.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:13-16)

Peter wants his readers—and us today—to press on in doing good, even as they face suffering and opposition. We are to live a life honoring to Christ, so that we will have an opportunity to make a defense—to share the gospel with our words, and our good behavior in Christ will shame those who are against us. And he is not alone. Paul told Timothy (and still tells us today) to preach, in season and out of season. To always be fulfilling his ministry as a minister of the gospel—not just as his calling as an elder, but in all of his life (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

Not only when asked, or when it’s convenient. We are to live Christ through our deeds, and we are to proclaim Christ with our mouths. That is the call of every believer, in every circumstance. When the Lord gives us an opportunity, we are to tell people about Jesus.

Do not be ashamed—and do not be afraid

But too often, when people say, “preach the gospel always, if necessary use words,” it’s actually an excuse to not proclaim the gospel. Perhaps it’s insecurity, being uncertain of what to say. Maybe it’s fear of a negative response. But some, I fear, do so because they actually don’t want to talk about Jesus at all. They are ashamed of him. But those who know Christ should never be ashamed of him.

But do not be mistaken—doing good deeds, living an impeccable life, but never speaking of Jesus means we’re just going to be seen as really nice people. And being a really nice person never saved anyone from the wrath of God. Our deeds show the love of Christ working itself out in our lives, but our words proclaim him so others may know him, too. Words and deeds always go together, just as loving the Lord with all of our being will always work itself out in how we love others. They are inseparable. So do not be ashamed, and do not be afraid. Preach the gospel always—and always use words.

A Living Sacrifice

We are loaded down with too many good things, more than we can need. The good things we cling to are more than money. We hoard our resources, our gifts, our time, our families, our friends. As we begin to practice regular giving, we begin to see how ludicrous it is to hold on to the abundance God has given us and merely repeat the words, “Thank you.”

Francis Chan, Crazy Love

I’m listening to Francis Chan’s Crazy Love while I’m writing this. This is a very challenging and convicting book, to be sure. It’s about taking the words of the Bible seriously. About living like Jesus really matters to you.

As I’ve been listening to Chan speak, I am reminded of Paul’s words, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1), and I find myself asking, “What am I holding back?”

A question that’s been on my mind today has been, “How much of myself should I be giving away here, on a blog, for anyone to see? How much of myself should I share with those around me?”

And the answer I keep coming to is, “All of me.”

If my life is not my own, how can I not share who I am & what God is teaching me with others, not just here, but with those closest to me?

If my life is not my own, what risks am I willing to take for the sake of the gospel?

Big questions with answers that have some scary implications.

So here’s my question for you, dear reader; do see your life as not your own?

If so, what risk are you willing to take for the sake of the gospel today?

Book Review: The Noticer

Title: The Noticer
Author: Andy Andrews
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Recommended: The Noticer offers a little perspective and hope that greater things are still to come.

It’s all about perspective. Whether you see your life as being the worst it can possibly be, if you see your influence as tiny or insignificant, it all depends on your perspective.

That, in a nutshell, is the heart of The Noticer by Andy Andrews.

I’ll be honest, I was nervous about reading this book. I don’t much care for Christian/inspirational fiction, in large part because it can too easily go off the rails theologically.

Fortunately, this book doesn’t do that.

The Noticer is a deceptively easy read. It’s prose is pleasant and fast-paced; a book you can blast through in one sitting (about two hours).  And while it’s a fast and easy read, it’s impact is anything but. The book repeatedly asks the question: Are you seeing your life with the right perspective? The vignettes that make up the book’s 10 chapters implicitly demand that readers’ examine themselves and understand that as long as they have breath, there is hope, and there is work to be done.

However, The Noticer’s greatest strength is also it’s greatest weakness. Because it’s written as a series of vignettes connected by a loose narrative involving the enigmatic Jones (just Jones, no “Mister”), it gets a little repetitive. Whether that’s a problem depends on your perspective, I suppose.

The Noticer is a great book, although the cover blurb stating that it’s the best book Nancy Lopez has ever read might be overstating it’s quality. It’s message definitely warrants careful consideration, reflection, and action.

God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

This gets thrown around a lot. And I do mean a lot.

Many people use this line to try to encourage a friend or family member whenever times are tough. And while it’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to build up and encourage people who are experiencing trials and adversity, we need to make sure that what we encourage them with is the truth.

While this phrase sounds very positive and affirming, you will not find “God won’t give you more than you can handle” anywhere within the pages of the Bible. It simply doesn’t exist.

What you will find is the verse that it appears to be a misquotation of, 1 Cor 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (emphasis mine)

Not Being Tempted Beyond Our Ability

It’s very important to understand a couple of things: God does not tempt anyone. James 1:13 emphatically states, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” While God does not tempt us, He does, in his sovereignty, permit us to be tempted.

This is to grow us in holiness.

When Paul writes that God will not tempt us beyond our ability, he means that we are never in a situation where have no other choice but to sin. In a situation where telling the truth will damage your reputation, for example, it’s much easier to give in to the temptation to protect how people see you and lie, rather than do the right thing, which is tell the truth. That’s why there’s no such thing as a “white lie”—one that you tell to protect the feelings of someone else. We never lie to make someone else feel better, only to avoid discomfort ourselves. It’s just easier to lie and not deal with the consequences of telling the truth.

But, easy rarely equals right. We always have the option of doing the right thing, that which is honoring to God, but it will often cost us—whether that cost is reputation, position, relationship, or money, there will be a cost. But it’s always worth it to do the right thing.

So it’s true that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to do what is right, He will almost always give us more than we can handle on our own.

Giving Us More Than We Can Handle

Over and over again in the Bible, we see men and women who are given far more than they can handle. The prophet Jeremiah is a great example; he was charged with preaching repentance to the people of Israel, a calling that caused him to be beaten, plotted against and rejected by everyone, even his own family. Emotionally, that was far more than he could handle (as we see in his many laments).

The ministry of the Apostle Paul is probably one of the most powerful examples of this truth found in Scripture. In 2 Cor. 11:21-30, he tells us the following:

But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Paul doesn’t tell us these things to boast in how he took all this suffering and adversity like a man—he does it so that we might know that God will always give us more than we can handle. He “boasts of the things that show my weakness” (v. 30) because those things show his (and our) dependency on the power and mercy of God.

Earlier in this letter to the Corinthian church, Paul exhorts his readers with the following:

For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:8,9, emphasis mine).

What he tells them is this: “We were so afflicted that we thought we were going to die! We were burdened beyond our ability, and we could not handle it—But God gave us this adversity and burden so that we would rely on Him who can!”

God is making it clear that we are not self-sufficient. We cannot just hunker down and power through every situation. And we cannot white-knuckle our way to holiness. We need Him.

So maybe we need to stop seeing the trials and adversity in our lives as a burden, as an indication that God doesn’t love us. Maybe we need to start seeing them as proof that God indeed loves us very much—so much so that He will not let us try to rely on our own strength, but continue to show us that we must rely on Him to endure suffering and persevere until the end.

Saturdays are great for Sabbath

Saturdays are a lot of fun at the Armstrong house. We have been trying to have pretty agenda-free Saturdays to encourage relaxation, and family time.

They’re also a day that we’re trying to use for Sabbath—to put aside things that distract us from God and enjoy Him.

Historically, this is something I’ve been terrible at, both in the sense that I am terrible at resting, and that I don’t always take the time to enjoy God, to be reminded, as John Piper would say, “that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”

All too often, I find the distractions of life pulling my attention away. There’s dishes to be done. A lawn to be mowed. Groceries to be purchased. Freelance work to be completed.

And all of these are important. We need food, a tidy kitchen, our lawn to not look like a jungle… and the extra money from freelance work is very helpful. But they’re not the most important thing.

Jesus is.

In Exodus 20:8, we’re commanded to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy,” because, Jesus tells us, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). We’re told these things because one of the most important ways to worship God is to enjoy the great gift He’s given us—Himself, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

Spending one day enjoying Him, is definitely not a lot to ask, and God is a gift too important to ignore.

So let me ask you, dear reader: Do you Sabbath? How will you use your Sabbath day to enjoy Him?