Monthly Archives: June 2012

Sweet Sixteen

Becky and I are grateful to God today to celebrate 16 years of marriage. June 29, 1996 we said “I do,” on the third anniversary of our first date. After now nineteen years as an “item,” sixteen in covenant together, I am bolstered in my belief in God’s persevering of the saints.

I tried to kill our marriage several times, steadily over the course of several years. Actually, I wasn’t really trying to; I just was. Marriage puts two sinners in close quarters under the commitment neither will try to escape. We trust each other and exchange expectations. Every day of marriage is like five minutes after the fall of mankind. The fruit’s been eaten, the nakedness and shame are revealed. Will we shift blame and self-justify? Usually. I got really good at it.

But something happens when “I do” becomes “I will.” God is in the mix. It’s a covenant, not a contract. The union can be upheld by one party if he or she desires. We are married today not because we were always promise-keepers, but because God was. And God is. And God will be. About seven years ago I underwent an experience I call gospel wakefulness. People don’t change, generally. But God can change people. And he did. It took Becky a long while to trust me. I had crushed her heart. But in the end, God awed her too.

I don’t wish my days of regret on any marriage. But I’ve been around long enough to know …

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10 Reasons to Underprogram Your Church

I’m a devotee the “simple church” concept, but I have experienced just how daunting a task it can be to lead the under-programming of my church. We are inundated constantly with opportunities for activity from other churches (which we don’t want to turn down lest we appear uncooperative and standoffish), advertised “movements” local and national (which are good at getting people excited and distracted), and “good ideas” from our own community (which we are reluctant to deny lest we break someone’s heart). But what all this so often amounts to is a church that is merely busy, and busy does not always equal diligent or faithful.

Here, then, are 10 reasons to under-program a church:

1. You can do a lot of things in a mediocre (or poor) way, or you can do a few things extremely well. Craig Groeschel has some good things to say about this subject. Also check out Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s Simple Church, a book not without its weaknesses but with a strong premise.

2. Over-programming creates an illusion of fruitfulness that may just be busy-ness. A bustling crowd may not be spiritually changed or engaged in mission at all. And as our flesh cries out for works, many times filling our programs with eager, even servant-minded people is a way to appeal to self-righteousness.

3. Over-programming is a detriment to single-mindedness in a community. If we’re all busy engaging our interests in and pursuits of different things, we will have a harder time enjoying the “one accord” …

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The Gospel Creates an Orderly Church

“In the beginning, Christianity was simply Gospel. Ecclesiastical organization was not the cause, but the effect of life. Churches were constituted by the spontaneous association of believers. Individuals and families, drawn toward each other by their common trust in Jesus the Christ, and their common interest in the good news concerning the kingdom of God, became a community united, not by external bonds, but by the vital force of distinctive ideas and principles. New affections became the bond of a new brotherhood, and the new brotherhood, with its mutual duties and united responsibilities, became an organized society. The ecclesiastical polity of the apostles was simple — a living growth, not an artificial construction.”

– Leonard Bacon, The Genesis of The New England Churches (1874), 17.

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Theology Threatens Faith

Good theology is essential to good faith, but theology, both good and bad, is a challenge to our faith. So Helmut Thielicke wisely warns in his invaluable booklet A Little Exercise for Young Theologians:

“[E]very theological idea which makes an impression upon you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith. Do not assume as a matter of course that you believe whatever impresses you theologically and enlightens you intellectually. Otherwise suddenly you are believing no longer in Jesus Christ, but in Luther, or in one of your other theological teachers.

“One of the most difficult experiences for a theological instructor to combat arises out of the fact that good, respectable theology — by no means only dissolute theology bristling with heresy — for the reasons I have mentioned, threatens our personal life of faith. Faith must mean more to us than a mere commodity stored in the tin cans of reflection or bottled in the lecture notebook, whence at any time it may be reproduced in the brain.” (31-32)

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What is Marriage, Then?

Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.
— Hebrews 13:4

One thing comments on my recent post 10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know revealed is that even people who identify as Christian or who respect “Christian values” generally think marriage is that thing when you find the person who’s going to complete you after making extra, extra sure they’re not too messed up or, you know, interested in their own stuff, or bad at sex, because that would be disastrous. In short, Christians like non-Christians don’t mind taking their cues for what marriage is from the world instead of the Bible.

So what is marriage, then? This is not an academic question in the day of so-called “gay marriage,” and it’s especially not for people interested in getting married someday and for ministers of the gospel who, like me, are repeatedly asked to officiate weddings for people who don’t worship God in the context of a covenant community and who see us ministers as mere providers of religious goods and services.

Mike Leake took a stab at a definition, and I think he’s done rather well:

Marriage is a binding covenant created by God between one man and one woman for our holiness, for our joy, as a picture of the gospel to spread the glory of God.

If I pick this definition apart I can come up with seven individual statements (and …

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If Christ is True, Boredom is a Sin

“If Christ is true, then boredom is a sin.

“Boredom is a sin so long as Christ is infinitely beautiful. Even the angels, for whom the gospel is that strange mystery purposed not for themselves, long to look into the deep, fascinating well of its revelation (1 Pet. 1:12). Because the good news proclaims the unsearchable riches of Christ, who opens the window looking out on the eternal mystery of the Trinity, it is endlessly absorbing, dazzlingly multifaceted. When we are bored, it can only be because we have stopped looking at Jesus. He can’t be boring. If we find him boring, it’s because we are boring. The deficiency is ours, not his.

“Boredom and his twin brother laziness are fundamentally theological failures, which is to say they are failures of belief, of worship. Thomas Aquinas wisely says, ‘Sloth is a kind of sadness.’ He has lifted the hood of the lazybones to peer at what’s beneath. ‘There’s your problem right there,’ he says, pointing. A worshipless heart. A joyless heart. The diagnosis is the same for the bored as for the lazy: a kind of sadness. And the prescription is the same for the bored as for the lazy: rejoice in the Lord.

“Laziness is not rest; this is why there is no joy in it. But when Jesus sets us free, he really sets us free—free to work, free to love, free to rest—with happiness and delight, awe and wonder, fulfillment and satisfaction.

“‘The soul has a palate and a throat, else …

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10 Things Young Singles in Romantic Relationships Ought to Know

1. It’s not bad to want to have sex with your significant other. It’d be another sort of worry if you didn’t. The key is to want to glorify Christ more than you want to have sex with each other.

2. The key to glorifying Christ more than you want to have sex with each other is that it is a decision to be made over and over again.

3. Persons in a dating or courting relationship are on their best behavior. So however they are now, you can expect, over time, for them to get “worse.” As familiarity grows, people let their guards down. Marriage does not fix bad behavior; it often gives it freer reign. Ladies, this means if your boyfriend is controlling, suspicious, verbally condescending or manipulative, he will get worse, not better the longer your relationship goes on. Whatever you are making excuses for or overlooking now, will get harder to ignore and more prominent the longer your relationship goes on. You can’t fix him, and marriage won’t straighten him out.

4. Nearly every Christian I know who is married to an unbeliever loves their spouse and does not necessarily regret marrying them, but has experienced deep pain and discontent in their marriage because of this unequal yoking and would now never advise a believer to marry an unbeliever.

5. Assuming you’re special and you’re different and their experiences won’t reflect yours is shortsighted, unwise, and arrogant. The people who love you and are warning/advising you against your relationship might

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Don’t Waste Your Exclamation Points

Generally speaking, a church will over time become affected by, influenced toward, and transferred into whatever her preacher is most excited about.

Pastor, our people don’t usually get excited about what we tell them to be excited about. Have you figured that out yet? Instead, they get excited about what they see actually excites us.

This means we ought to steward our exclamation points wisely. If you’re one of those rah-rah guys firing on all emotional cylinders for everything from bake sales and the book table to baptisms and baby dedications, you create an equality between minutiae and missional milestones that can be disorienting, and ultimately dulling. But more directly, just remember that if everything is exciting, nothing is.

Or if the real energy of your gatherings is reserved for knock-out musical productions and cool videos but your teaching is “low-key,” sit-on-a-stool, let’s chat about how to “let God be Lord” over your finances, you are cultivating dysfunctional discipleship. Check out Skye Jethani’s stuff on “experience-driven” worship in The Divine Commodity for some insight on this concept.

But we also have to be careful in our preaching about what we are most naturally reacting with awe to, driving home, and exulting in. If we are most excited about or most emphasize the biblical imperatives, we communicate that what’s really exciting about God’s Word is the Law. And there is certainly a way to delight in God’s commands! (Note that exclamation point.) But over time, we will impress upon our bodies that …

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The Shape of Gospel Astonishment in Psalm 24

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,2for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.

There is God. He existed before anything existed, for he has always existed and he will always exist. He created everything that exists outside of himself and therefore he owns it all, including mankind.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?

How can we enjoy fellowship with this awfully holy God? Who can justifiably enter his presence? The answer:

4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.5He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.6Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Sigh. I would love to enjoy fellowship with God, to receive his blessing and his righteousness. But I don’t have clean hands and a pure heart, and I have often lifted up my soul to falsehood and have sworn deceitfully. If that’s the standard for acceptance unto God’s favor I can only hang my head in shame and sorrow.

7 Lift …

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“He Died While Gathering into the Church the Precious Fruits of Revival” – Another Pastor I Admire: Henry Bigelow

You’ve never heard of him (more than likely), but the Rev. Henry Bigelow was the pastor of my church — Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont — from 1805 to 1832. I am intrigued greatly by the man and encouraged by his ministry, described in a historical artifact I found in our church archives today. This is from “A Historical Discourse delivered at the Centennial Celebration of the Congregational Church in Middletown, Vt, June 22, 1881 by Rev. Osborne Myrick, Pastor of the Church”:

Though the youthful pastor began his ministry under great misgivings, there were soon evident tokens of the Holy Spirit’s presence in awakening sinners under the pointed, faithful preaching of the gospel.

There were several seasons of deep religious interest, the most remarkable was in 1817, which extended to both churches, and pervaded the whole town, meetings being held in the schoolhouses. There were very few that were not the subjects of conviction or conversion . . . Large additions were made to both churches.

The spread of that revival is detailed by Joshua Taylor in his Accounts of Religious Revivals in Many Parts of the United States from 1815 to 1818, the pertinent portion of which I excerpted in this previous post.

Rev. Myrick goes on to detail the conversion of a prominent lady in the town whose descendants were presently in the church at his tenure, which I’m sure was a delight to hear about by the family at the time. He then goes on to …

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