Thursday, August 21, 2014

False Gods, False Gods Everywhere

India is a fascinating land because the worship of false gods is so blatant.

During my two weeks here I’m staying in a hotel that is about a forty minute drive from where I’m working. As I make that exciting and frenetic voyage back and forth each day I pass many, many Hindu temples. While they vary somewhat in the details, the architecture is essentially the same. Just as a Baptist church building sits on every street corner in Texas, there’s a Hindu temple in every neighborhood in India. Additionally, Islamic mosques – easy to spot because of their distinctive minarets – are sprinkled here and there between the temples.

The facility where I’m working is similar to the JCB plant back home in Savannah. The heavy equipment, tools, machines, offices, and even building color schemes are the same. The one main difference is that small Hindu shrines sit inside each assembly area. If I want to cross from one side of the skid steer building to the other I have to walk past pictures of Krishna, Vishnu, and Shiva to do so.

Last night I had the privilege of visiting with a co-worker’s family. He is a very friendly Indian man who I just met two day ago. To use an expression from the American South, his family “put on the dog.” Not literally mind you. This means that they prepared much nice food. I was stuffed with all sorts of wonderful Indian cuisine by the time I left. The only sad part is the false god worship. Not long after I first entered his home, my co-worker pointed to a picture up on a wall and said, “This is our family god Krishna.”

India has 800 million Hindus and 200 million Muslims (other religions, including Christianity, make up small percentages). For comparison, the entire United States only has 300 million people. The Indian religious scene is refreshing in a sense in that the people are at least honest and up front about the false gods they worship. There’s no hiding it. Of course they do not think of it as idolatry, but that’s what it is nonetheless.

We residents of the United States know that the worship of false gods is alive and well in our country. Just as numerous false gods exist in India, there are many others in the USA. The difference is that those in America are a little more subtle. What are they? Let’s name a few: money, power, status, privilege, comfort, food, sports, sex, cars, clothing, technology in general, Facebook, smart phones, exercise, politics, vacations, movies, houses, and even pets. You could probably add many more to this list. The American false god smorgasbord is as thriving as it is varied. I’m not sure which is sadder: Indians intentionally worshiping false gods or Americans cluelessly doing the same.

I realize that I’m painting with broad strokes here. There are doubtlessly many Indians who worship from the American list above. Also, some Americans do worship the more traditional false gods; I can think of a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, and Buddhist place of worship in our relatively small city of Savannah.

My primary point in this post is that false gods take many forms. They are everywhere. We must all be vigilant to rid these from our own lives. Also, these realities should spur us to share the gospel widely and abundantly. While India has a vast population that needs the good news of Christ, let’s not forget about the need back in the USA.

As I write this post I can hear what sounds like some sort of Hindu chanting in the background. I’m not sure if it is coming from inside or outside the hotel. Regardless, someone is doing his morning puja (worship). We live in a world in desperate need of the only good news. Let’s be liberal sharers of the one message that can combat everpresent false gods.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Seven Marks of a New Testament Church"

I had more than a little time to read on my fifteen hour flight from Newark to Delhi. This provided an opportunity to read a book that I've been looking forward to for some time: Seven Marks of a New Testament Church.

The reality in the USA these days is that churches are all over the place in how they function. There's what amounts to an idea that "anything goes." This idea has led to the church in America being in a heap of trouble. While there is much good happening, there is also plenty of far-less-than-good. In light of this confusion, what can be done?

Dave Black provides a suggestion in Seven Marks. In looking specifically at the early chapters of the book of Acts, the author calls us back to seven specific attributes of the early church. In particular, Black points to Acts 2:37-47. The seven marks he discusses are:

1. Evangelistic Preaching
2. Christian Baptism
3. Apostolic Teaching
4. Genuine Relationships
5. Christ-Centered Gatherings
6. Fervent Prayer
7. Sacrificial Living

While Black does not tell us to be a New Testament church, he does strongly suggest that we can and must learn a great deal from the church we read about in Acts. He does an excellent job of both explaining how the church functioned and arguing for our doing the same.

The subtitle tells a great deal about this book: A Guide for Christians of All Ages. Black writes in a basic, straightforward manner that anyone can understand. Also, the book is only fifty pages long, which is ideal for even those who do not enjoy reading.

I agree with almost everything the author writes in this book. For example, he correctly shows that preaching is evangelistic in nature and occurs in the public sphere. He also states that gatherings should be for the purpose of mutual edification within the context of genuine relationships. Black also makes strong cases for prayer and sacrificial living being non-negotiable parts of the Christian life.

The one place where I disagree with the author is that I believe he overstates the importance of the Great Commission. Now, if you've read this blog for a while you know that I'm greatly in favor of evangelistic living. It is something sorely lacking in the church in this country. However, I do not believe it is more important than some other aspects of church life. It appears that the author of this book does in fact think the Great Commission is the most important thing. However, in light of what we read in the bulk of the New Testament epistles, I just do not see this being the case.

Regardless, this is an excellent little book. I encourage all Christians to read it and to purchase a few copies. It would be excellent to give to friends to generate discussion. We can all benefit from looking back to the scriptures to reorient us where we have deviated off course. This book helps with that process.


I also want to recommend the following books by Dave Black (and, yes, I've read them all): The Jesus Paradigm, The Myth of Adolescence (buy it used), and Why Four Gospels?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

India and Lostness

Please click on this link and then look at India on the map.

I'm not suggesting that any lost person in India is somehow more important than others apart from Christ around the globe. What I am suggesting is that India's need for the gospel is statistically speaking quite possibly the greatest in the world.

The Great Commission is something that we believers in Christ should be able to unite around. Yes, we likely have differences over other issues. Let's put those aside for the great cause of taking the gospel where it isn't - whether that be in India or elsewhere.

It Requires Everybody's Involvement, Simple Methods, and Perseverence


The above map clearly shows both where the people live and who's heard the good news. India has almost as many residents as China (at the current rate it will pass China later this century). Also, India is far less evangelized than China is. As someone once said, "India is the Mount Everest of the Great Commission."

How can we possibly tell all these people in India about Jesus? Three things come to mind:

First, this will require everybody being involved. Christians from around the globe must come together to make this happen. It CANNOT be left up to salaried missionaries. Not enough exist. Although the church within India probably needs to take the lead, we must all work together, putting aside denominational boundaries, and labor together to get the gospel out.

Second, this task must be attacked with simple methods. Too many people need to hear for us to spend time on complicated issues. For example, there is not enough money or space available to build special church buildings for all those in need of Christ. Therefore, believers need to gather simply, wherever they can. Additionally, leadership (servanthood) should come from the elders within the local bodies. While robust theology is important, specialized theological training is not.

Third, we must persevere in this endeavor. Spreading the gospel to hundreds of millions of people is not quick nor easy. It will require much effort, a decent amount of money, a significant amount of suffering, and a commitment to never give up.

My prayer is that we, Christ's church, will in fact commit and persevere to the end.

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Am Greatly Blessed

We all occasionally fall into the trap of feeling sorry for ourselves. I do this sometimes because my job usually requires me to work 60-65 hours per week. If I don't push back against it, these types of feelings can consume me.

I was reminded today just how blessed I am. This morning I spent a total of close to two hours being driven around Delhi. I saw numerous people living in wretched conditions. The poverty extends far beyond anything in the United States. Frankly, words can't accurately describe it. You literally have to be here to understand it.

Additionally, and more significantly, India is a country consumed with false religions. Today I saw multiple temples to various Hindu gods. I haven't seen many Muslims yet, but I know that over 200 million followers of Allah live in this country (compared to over 800 million Hindus). While there is a Christian presence here, it is extremely small in overall percentage.

Meanwhile, I have a job that pays the bills, no deep financial problems, a fantastic family, and - most importantly - know the Lord. I am blessed.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Safe Arrival

I've landed safely and made it to my hotel in New Delhi. After a very quick night's sleep, it's off to work for JCB. It should make for an interesting day. I don't really know what to expect. I appreciate your prayers for God to use me in some small way while here for two weeks.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Graphic Reminder for Missions


I may have previously shared this map, but because I'm in India for the next two weeks I want to post it again. The stunning amount of people in this part of the world is overwhelming. Let's keep this in mind when we think about global missions priorities.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Indian Color Theme


India is a country of many vibrant subcultures. The moment you step off the plane you are confronted with sights, sounds, and smells that almost take your breath away (not hyperbole). The other thing you see is people, people, people everywhere; India has more residents than all of North and South America combined.

Since I'll be in India for the next couple of weeks, and in light of India's vibrancy, I'm changing my blog color scheme to match that of the Indian flag. Much more importantly, I'm thankful to God for the opportunity to return to India for the first time in over seven years.

Off the Blogging Grid, On to India

I'm going to be off the grid for the next couple of weeks - off the blogging grid that is.

Tomorrow I fly to New Delhi, India for fourteen days. I'm traveling for work-related reasons. Many of you know that I'm employed in the Quality Department for JCB here in Savannah. The purpose of my trip to India is to assist a factory there with some quality issues.

I hope to have time to do some sightseeing while there. The Red Fort looks like a good choice. As for blogging while in India, that depends on time, work demands and internet connection. If anything interesting happens I'll try to blog about it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Being Church Nomads

My family and I are currently in a self-imposed, semi-nomadic stage of church life. A few months ago we sensed God leading us out of the little group we had been gathering with for a few years. We are all still friends. We also see each other occasionally; just this past Sunday I gathered with the group as we said good-bye to one family who is moving due to military duty.

As for our family, we aren't certain what God has for us. It's not as if we're wandering in some sort of spiritual wasteland. I suppose the term "nomads" is exaggerating the situation. Rather, we just don't have a group we are meeting with right now. I don't want to force the issue, but I also don't want to just sit around waiting for something to happen.

What we might do is simply start inviting some people over to our house and see what happens. I'd rather avoid Sunday mornings just because of all the expectations/trappings/traditions that are difficult to avoid on Sundays. Saturday nights sound good. It is fascinating to watch what happens when Christians get together to simply fellowship and eat. I look forward to seeing what the Holy Spirit will do with that.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Being the Church Instead of Doing Church

Christians who depart institutional Christianity usually have very good reasons for doing so. For many of these folks, the problem is that what they see in the life of the church doesn't correspond to what they see in scripture.

After leaving, there's a tendency to want to find a group of believers that have all their biblical ducks-in-a-row. For example, the group needs to gather in homes, have a plurality of elders, eat together frequently, include the children in almost everything, encourage everyone's active involvement, etc., etc.

These are all important things. However, there is also a subtle danger. Some Christians can become so obsessed in doing church the biblical way that they fail to just be the church. I've fallen into this trap in the past myself.

This really becomes a problem when discussions at church gatherings focus more on the way the church should gather/function than on the lives of the people there. This can quickly lead to simple church folks feeling really good about how their little group operates, but at the same time failing to truly edify one another.

I'm not trying to create some sort of false dichotomy. Church families can certainly meet according to biblical principles and edify one another. In fact, this is the best setting for edification to occur. We just need to make sure that when we come together it doesn't turn into some sort of "paralysis by analysis." In theory, a church body could meet exactly according to the New Testament model and still fail to grow spiritually.

As we come together, let's make sure that our purpose is actually edification. Discussion of church functioning is fine, but let's generally leave it in the background where it belongs.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Why I Resigned From Professional Pastoring - Four Years Later

It's difficult for me to believe that it has been almost four years since I resigned from professional pastoring. Although the past four years have in some ways been difficult, I'm more convinced than ever that I did the right thing in resigning.

All through my time in seminary (2002-2006) I had been taught to look to the bible as our authority in decision making. Sometime late in the year 2009, after I had been a salaried pastor for about a year and a half, I decided that I should apply what I had been taught to my position as a pastor.

I wanted to find out whether or not pastors in the bible received salaries. Well, I found a lot more than I was looking for. Not only did I find no evidence for salaried pastors, I didn't find any evidence for modern pastors at all. Beyond that, what I saw of the church in the New Testament was drastically different from the institutional churches of today. All these findings sent me into a bit of a crisis.

Back to the pastoral salary for a minute. After much research, I came to see that pastors receiving salaries is based in two things: applying Old Covenant ideas to the church and misinterpretation of New Testament passages. First, I'd been told repeatedly that since priests in the Old Testament received support from the people, then pastors should as well. The obvious problem with this is that on this side of the cross we live as part of the New Covenant. Those O.T. practices have no bearing on us. Second, passages such as I Corinthians 9 and I Timothy 5 actually do not indicate that pastors should be paid salaries. I Corinthians 9 deals with traveling evangelists. I Timothy 5 speaks of "double honor," but there is no indication that this means salaries.

The more I studied the New Testament, the more I saw that modern pastors have little in common with biblical elders. The elders we read of in the bible were part of the church body; they were not outsiders. They didn't have formal theological education. They didn't stand out from the body. They were simply mature believers. They were good at serving others. Meanwhile, modern pastors are (usually) brought in from the outside, have theology degrees, and do many things that are different from what most of the rest of the body does. They are the clergy, while the body is the laity. The difference between biblical elders and modern pastors is so stark that they truly are two completely different things.

The more I studied the issue of pastors, the more I began to see what the church in the New Testament looks like. It was simple. It was a family. It was a body. It met for edification. It shared possessions. It gathered (generally) in homes. It ate together. To use a popular term, it was organic. The pages of the New Testament show us a body of Christ that has none of the institutional trappings that have shackled the church today.

After seeing all this, I couldn't remain a salaried pastor. After several months of study, prayer, and struggle, I decided that I simply had to resign. I could not in good conscience continue to either receive a salary or continue to be a modern day pastor. There just isn't any biblical basis for either.

Every believer is a priest to God. This is the beauty of the priesthood of all believers. The modern pastorate stifles this priesthood. Although this is not the intent of the clergy, it nonetheless happens. It is the system that causes the problems. I cannot be a part of it.

I resigned in September 2010 from the Southern Baptist church I had pastored for a little over two years. The folks of the church were wonderful about the whole thing. I still have good relationships with them. They do not agree with me on this issue; not long after I departed they began their search for another professional pastor. I'm not surprised by this. It's what most churches do.

I have no regrets. If the bible is going to drive how we live as Christians, then we cannot pick and choose the passages that we like. The bible gives no indication whatsoever that the modern pastorate should exist in its current form. Therefore, I had to resign. There's no going back.

Five Excellent Church Sites

I haven't linked to any church-specific sites in a while, so here goes. Below are five that I believe are excellent resources for simple church life. I'm sure others exist, but these are five that I'm aware of. They are all unique in their own ways, but touch on many similar issues.

As a quick reminder, simple churches do not have to gather in houses. Houses are just one of many good options. Enjoy!

In alphabetical order:

Housechurch.org

Housechurchresource

House2House

New Testament Reformation Fellowship

SimpleChurch

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thanks for Praying! / "What We're For" Update

Over the past four days I have finished editing twenty-two chapters for What We're For. I also just completed writing my own two chapters - one on the topic of forgiveness and one on suffering. That makes twenty-four chapters down, and only two to go (I just have to receive them from the authors and finish a little editing).

Thank you so much for praying. I've felt mentally alert this week. Some of that has to do with getting enough sleep, but I'm sure it's also related to your prayers. I appreciate it a great deal.

Fairly soon I'll be sending the finished manuscript off to Jeremy Myers. At that point his work as publisher begins. We hope to have the book completed by sometime this autumn.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Editing "What We're For" / PLEASE PRAY

Back in January I announced that Jeremy Myers and I are working on a book entitled What We're For. This book stems from a blog post I wrote that simply lists twenty-five things I'm for in the life of the church. I'm the book's editor while Jeremy is the publisher.

Many of you know that my job requires me to work 60-70 hours most weeks. Because of this, I haven't had much time recently to work on the book. However, I have this next week off. Also, my entire family is in New York State on vacation. Therefore, I have a quiet house with not much to do for the next seven days except work on What We're For.

I have two primary tasks related to the book. First, I need to finish editing about twenty chapters. These are in various stages of readiness for publishing. Second, I need to write two chapters myself, one on forgiveness and one on suffering. While I've given these quite a bit of thought, I have yet to compose them.

Please pray for me that I will have clarity of thought and consistent motivation this week. I need both.

Thanks!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Excellent Response to Those Trying to Redefine Marriage

This short video offers an excellent response to secular culture's attempt to redefine marriage. Frankly, I'm not all that interested in the political and financial aspects. Rather, what I'm concerned about is the theological. I appreciate Ryan Anderson's statements about the clarity of the definition of marriage: one man and one woman in a permanent union. Also, note that the questioner has no clue how to answer Anderson's question.





Thursday, July 24, 2014

Questions About the Old and New Covenants

One massive problem within the church today is that many believers do not understand the significant differences between the Old and New Covenants. Many of these people incorrectly believe that numerous aspects of the Old Covenant still apply to us today. This has led to all sorts of errors within church life.

Keith Giles has written an excellent blog post dealing with this issue entitled Questions About the Old and New Covenant. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summary: Why Sermons Won't Go Away

The Sunday sermon is a fixture in the life of the church. This is the case almost everywhere around the globe. No matter where you look you see someone standing on an elevated platform giving a lecture to a passive church body. While the details differ, the general pattern is the same. This despite the fact that scripture provides no evidence for this practice in the life of the early church. We dissenters must continue to hope and pray that God brings about a change to something far better.

Read each post in this series by clicking on the links below. The final post is the most important:

Why Sermons Won't Go Away
1. Sermons Are Thought to be "Biblical"
2. Sermons Are Fun to Prepare
3. Sermons Are Fun to Preach
4. Sermons Earn the Pastor's Paycheck
5. Sermons Allow the People to Sit
A Much Better Alternative to Sermonizing

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Much Better Alternative to Sermonizing

Sermons dominate the American church landscape. Regardless of denomination, tradition, or style, the vast majority of churches employ professional pastors to deliver monologue lectures to silent audiences at least one time per week.

Is this as good as it gets? The answer is a resounding NO.

God has provided us with an alternative to modern-day preaching that is both much more edifying and more enjoyable.

First, let me provide an important definition. Preaching, as defined in scripture, is actually open air evangelism designed to call the lost to Christ. It is not what occurs when the church gathers. If you read through the book of Acts, you will find preaching always occurring within the context of the spread of the gospel.

Modern preaching has morphed into the ineffective thing we see today. God's alternative to this is teaching that takes place within the confines of Christian community. As the church gathers, whenever and wherever, teaching is one of the things that takes place. Teaching is a gift that some believers possess more than others, but we are all able to teach to one extent or another.

Colossians 3:16 is an extremely important verse. Paul writes to the entire Colossian church, saying in 3:16, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." Everyone in the body is to be teaching everyone else. This happens within the body of Christ as it lives life together. Some teaching is more in word while other is more in action. There is always a back-and-forth nature to it. Discussion is an important key.

Body life is exactly that. All parts of the body are necessary (see I Cor. 12). We all need each other to teach each other. The body benefits from this, encourages it, and even corrects it (if anything incorrect is taught). No one person is elevated more than any other.

Teaching is important to the life and health of the body. However, we need to take care that teaching is not thought of as better or more important than other gifts. A balanced perspective is key.

Teaching is to be a part of the multitude of one anothers that permeate body life. As we come together as brothers and sisters in Christ, teaching in all its wonderful forms is one of the things that happens. When we follow this scriptural pattern, the body grows and thrives. Following God's plans is always best for the church.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

5. Sermons Allow the People to Sit


The final reason why sermons won't go away any time soon is that sermons allow the people to sit.

It is currently Sunday morning. Literally millions of American Christians are preparing to "go to church." One thing most of them will do in a few hours is sit passively through some sort of religious ceremony. Most of these folks do this because it's what they've always done. They don't even think about it. They even believe it pleases God for them to sit through the sermon. While I'm certain that most have good intentions, the outcome is basically meaningless.

Where in the New Testament do we see a passive church sitting through a ceremony? It doesn't exist.

Many Christians have very busy lives. Because of this, they are tired. They see Sunday as some sort of Sabbath. Because of this, many are more than happy to sit in a padded seat while the "man of God brings the message from God." The people in the pews aren't going to fight the current system of clergy-led ceremonies because they enjoy the time of sitting. This arrangement also foists most of the responsibility onto the pastors up front.

What we have, then, is an entire process that elevates the clergy while stunting the laity. And everyone seems happy with this (except us trouble makers on the fringes of church life).

God's plan for his church is one of vitality and action. We edify one another, evangelize the lost, and sacrificially serve everybody. At least that's God's plan. Sitting in the pews has nothing to do with any of that.

For now at least the rampant pew sitting isn't going away. In a couple of hours millions of American believers will do what they believe is their duty by sitting and listening. Many of them will be happy to do so, allowing the pastor to earn his paycheck by preaching while they sit.

A much, much better way exists for church life that has nothing to do with all this sermonizing. I'll detail that in my next post.