Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why You Will Join the Wrong Church

by Sam Emadi


I guess I really don’t understand fully what a covenant is…versus a contract. The idea of a covenant, originated by Yahweh, is that it is a pledge that mutually binds the individuals involved to the commitment of future everlasting love especially when the chips are down. I feel like the point is, that fire will come. And the positive side of the argument here is equally poignant: “While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade.”

Enough said…here’s Sam:
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“The most read New York Times article from 2016 had nothing to do with politics, culture wars, or comic book movies. Instead, the most-read article of 2016 was all about commitment.

The piece, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person,” was written by Alain de Botton. In it, de Botton takes shots at our culture’s idea that the ultimate foundation for commitment in marriage is romantic affection, that feeling of compatibility that means the other person will finally fulfill my needs and make me truly happy.

We all know this is misguided, so much so that de Botton predicts every married person will eventually find inadequacies so severe in their spouse that it will prompt them to ask, “Did I marry the wrong person?” He humorously notes, the relational arc of a marriage leans away from idealistic romantic sizzle as “maddening children . . . kill the passion from which they emerged.”

CHURCH AND OUR CULTURE
As I read de Botton’s article, I couldn’t help but see how much of our culture’s view of love and commitment mirrors how many Christians view church membership. Many Christians’ broken relationships with their churches resemble patterns of the divorce culture and its attendant assumptions about authority, love, and compatibility.

Almost every Christian knows what it’s like to question whether they joined the “right church.” After an initial “honeymoon stage,” we begin to see our church’s problems with greater clarity than we see its strengths. The sermons start to seem too intellectual, or not intellectual enough. The church begins budgeting for ministries that don’t seem deserving of the dollar figure on the spreadsheet. The small groups don’t meet our needs in the ways we’d hoped.

More personally, the needs of other church members begin to encroach increasingly on our own personal freedoms. Some members sin against us—even without knowing just how deeply we’ve been wounded. Without even realizing it’s happening, we begin to wonder whether our local assembly is the “right” place for us. Of course, we remind ourselves that there’s no such thing as a perfect church—something we’ve even told our fellow church members. And yet, we can’t help but grapple with the nagging question: “Did I join the wrong church?”

“DID I JOIN THE WRONG CHURCH?”
The problem with this question is that it assumes church life shouldn’t be hard. It assumes the “honeymoon stage” should continue in perpetuity or that something has gone awry if we experience significant disappointment or hurt from our relationships with other members or the church’s leadership.

But these assumptions reveal a deep and unthinking commitment to consumerism: only if the perks of membership outweigh its inconveniences will we think it’s worth it to stick it out. Regrettably, many Christians seem trapped in a perpetual cycle of this type of cost-benefit analysis.

I’ve found that Christians most often push eject on their membership not because they’re upset at the church’s budget or because they disagree on matters of polity. Instead, Christians leave their churches for the same reason people leave their marriages: a lack of relational depth and affection. In other words, many Christians leave their churches because they just don’t seem compatible with the church or because the relationships leave them feeling a little dry.

Personal relationships, however, were never meant to serve as the foundation for our sense of church commitment. If we pursue relationships as the foundation of our belonging, we’re more likely to be inescapably trapped in the consumerism and “met-needs” mentality at the heart of our divorce culture. However, instead of valuing consumerism, the Bible roots our membership in the idea of a covenant, which offers an infinitely superior alternative.

COVENANT PRECEDES COMMUNITY
Tim Keller notes in his book on marriage that a covenant “creates a particular kind of bond . . . a relationship far more intimate and personal than a merely legal, business relationship. Yet at the same time, it is far more durable, binding, and unconditional than one based on mere feeling and affection. A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.”

When the Bible speaks about the church, it refers to it as a covenant community. Church members aren’t just part of a shared interest group. They’re covenanted to one another by a sacred promise to oversee one another’s membership in the kingdom and faithfulness to King Jesus (Matt. 18:15–20). The New Testament unfolds the details of that sacred promise: We regularly gather together (Heb. 10:24–25), bear one another’s burdens and sorrows (Gal. 6:2), encourage one another (Heb. 3:12–14), pray for one another (Jas. 5:16), and forgive one another (Col. 3:13). Many churches helpfully formalize these biblical instructions into a church covenant, a set of promises members make to one another when they enter into membership.
These covenant obligations are the foundations of our church commitment and should function as the backbone to church life. Covenant precedes community. We might even say covenant creates community. The covenant promises members make to one another blossom into the life-giving relationships our hearts crave.

Rooting commitment in our covenant promises doesn’t mean that church relationships are nothing but soulless duty. Instead, covenant commitments are the food that nourishes our relationships with other members. The more we hold ourselves to our covenant promises, the more our relationships blossom and endure through seasons of difficulty. Again, as de Botton perceptively notes in his article, “Compatibility is an achievement of love, it must not be its precondition.” The world argues that affection is pre-requisite to commitment. But the biblical picture is actually quite the opposite: commitment and service create affection.

I’m amazed at how this principle works out even in my own life. A few years ago, after a couple in our church had a baby, my wife and I signed up through the church’s member care ministry to bring them a meal. Our act of service, however, wasn’t rooted in a pre-existing relationship with this couple. In fact, we barely knew them. We simply wanted to be faithful to our covenant promises to “bear one another’s burdens.” Yet that service, rooted in our covenant commitment, ultimately blossomed into a sweet friendship between our two families. We weren’t expecting a relationship to bloom, but that’s what happens when you hold yourself to covenant promises, even with people you barely know.

COVENANTS CARRY YOU THROUGH SUFFERING
The reason God roots the most important relationships in the world—like marriage and church membership—in covenants is to ensure they endure through fire. Have you ever noticed how traditional marriage vows were designed to ensure couples prepare to love one another well in the midst of suffering? Couples pledge themselves to one another even in “poverty” and “sickness” until parted by death.

This same expectation of future trials also marks the promises church members make to one another. We pledge to “bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal. 6:2) and patiently bear with and forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters who wrong us (Col. 3:13; Eph. 4:32). If we make our covenant commitments the ground of our life and relationships in the church, we come to expect the rough patches and prepare to face them with godliness.

While our affections for our church and its members can be fickle, easily dissipating as soon as circumstances shift unfavorably, our covenant commitments never fade. As Keller notes, covenants are by their very nature oriented toward the future. They “are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.” In some sense, the whole point of a covenant is to pledge our love and fidelity for the rough times ahead. Thus, covenants carry us through suffering. Once more, de Botton incisively notes, “Choosing whom to commit ourselves to is merely a case of identifying which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for.”

FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, STICK WITH THE “WRONG” CHURCH
Joining a church, like seeking a spouse, is daunting. Loving others makes us vulnerable and committing ourselves to a church immerses us in the needs of other sinners. Eventually, every congregation will find a way to get under our skin, frustrate us, or even wound us—and we will do the same to them.

Our relationships will ebb and flow, as will our affection for the church. But the solution is not always looking for a better fit. Instead, we renew our passion and reignite our sense of belonging by holding ourselves to our membership covenant—sacred promises that bind even the “wrong” people together.”



Samuel Emadi is a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky and a PhD candidate in biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as the director of theological research for the president of the Southern Seminary. You can find him on Twitter at @scemadi.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Change!

When it comes to Christian ministry, it's important to stay on top of the times. Things are changing and we need to adjust our methods accordingly. The thrust of adjusting to change is learning how to prepare for a successful handover to the next generations. The death of any organization or movement is due almost in full part to the failure to adequately prepare for and make appropriate provisions for change. Here's a helpful lecture on how to understand, cope with, and implement change, by Dr. Joyce Baker of Dallas Theological Seminary.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Satan Eats Faith for Breakfast

by John Piper

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers." (Luke 22:31-32)



"John Piper talks about the epic daily warfare for your faith. Satan wants to devour you, but the risen Jesus promises to pray for you. With Satan against you, and temptation around every corner, how do you know you will be a believer tomorrow morning? Piper reminds us from 1 Peter about the seriousness of Satan’s desire for you and the absolute security we have in Christ."

Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/satan-eats-faith-for-breakfast

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What Not to Ask Someone Suffering

by Nancy Guthrie


“People ask me all the time what to say and what to do for people who are grieving the death of someone they love. And I’m glad they ask. I’m glad they want to know what is really helpful and meaningful, and what is completely unhelpful and actually hurtful. And I wish I could tell you that I always know myself what to say. But sometimes words fail me. And I wish I could tell you that I never say the wrong thing. But I do. In fact, a few days ago, I made the mistake I often tell other people not to make.
The minute I said it I wished I hadn’t. I should know better. But it’s just what came out. Maybe it’s what comes out when you talk to grieving people too. Here’s what I said. Or more accurately, what I asked:

How are you?

It doesn’t seem so wrong, does it? It’s a question that reveals that we care. It lets the person know we haven’t forgotten about their loss. Really it is an invitation for the grieving person to talk about their loss. But many grieving people say they simply hate the question. They feel put on the spot to report on their job performance in this task they’ve been given — continuing to live when their loved one has died — a task for which they had no training and for which they seem to have no resources. It’s a question they don’t know how to answer. “I’m fine” isn’t quite right. They may be functioning, and perhaps even feeling better, but they know they’re not “fine.” “I’m terrible” seems whiney. “I’m angry!” seems unacceptable. “I’m crying all the time” seems pathetic. 

Something Is Wrong
“How are you?” is one of those questions that always bothered my husband, David, in those days after our daughter, and later our son, died. He always felt like he was supposed to quantify his progress back toward normalcy. In our book When Your Family’s Lost a Loved One, he wrote, “In the midst of my own pain and confusion, I suddenly also felt responsible to others to give an account for my progress. As the words of my reply came measured through my lips, I wondered if my report would be acceptable.”
The grieving person knows what the questioner most likely wants to hear — that everything is getting better, the world is getting brighter, the darkness is lifting, and the tears are subsiding. But oftentimes that just isn’t the way it is, and it is awkward to be honest about the confusion, listlessness, and loneliness of grief. The reality of grief is that sometimes right after the loss we feel strong, but as time passes, and the reality of life without that person settles in, we feel weak and weepy. And it’s awkward to talk about.
We’re afraid that if we tell you how sad we are, you might think there is something “wrong” with the way we’re doing this grief thing. We’re afraid you will assume we should be on a steady upward path toward normalcy and that we’re going in the wrong direction. Sometimes we want to scream that we will never be “normal” again. And sometimes we just want to say, “How am I? I’m sad. And I wish the world — including you — would simply give me some time and space to simply be sad. This person I loved has died and I miss him. He mattered to me and therefore it makes sense that I would not get over his absence easily or quickly.”

What Should You Say?
So, as you interact with someone going through the lonely adjustment of grief, what should you ask in place of “How are you?” Here are some ideas:

What is your grief like these days? This question assumes that it makes sense that the person is sad and gives him the opportunity to talk about it.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be to face these days without (name of person who died). Are there particular times of day or days of the week you’re finding especially hard? Keep on saying the name of the person who died. It is music to the grieving person’s ears.

I find myself really missing (name of person who died) when I . . . It is a great comfort for the grieving person to know that he or she is not the only one who misses the person who died.

I often think of you when I’m (gardening/driving by your house/going for a walk/getting up in the morning/etc.) and whisper a prayer for you to experience God’s comfort. Are there particular things I could be praying for you as you go through this time of grief?

I know that (name of the person who died)’s birthday/deathday is coming up and it must be so very hard to anticipate that day without him/her here. What are you thinking about that day? Is there anything we could do to help you get through that day?

I know the holidays/mother’s day/father’s day/your anniversary is coming up. I will be especially thinking of you and praying for you as that approaches. We would love to have you over. Would you join us?

            In a sense, all of these questions are asking, “How are you?” but somehow they express a desire to enter into the sorrow of another instead of merely getting a report on their sorrow. In this way we come alongside to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

Nancy Guthrie offers companionship and biblical insight to the grieving through Respite Retreats that she and her husband, David, host for couples who have faced the death of a child, through the GriefShare video series, and through books such as What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts). 

Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-not-to-ask-someone-suffering

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Patton Oswalt Explains How Pop Culture Gets Grieving All Wrong

"So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." ~ Colossians 3:12

Compassion, sympathy, and empathy. Do you remember the difference? This one is from NPR and is definitely worth keeping.

Source: http://www.npr.org/2017/03/10/519223604/patton-oswalt-explains-how-pop-culture-gets-grieving-all-wrong

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Pelagianism


Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam's sinoriginal sintotal depravity, and substitutionary atonement. It simultaneously views man as fundamentally good and in possession of libertarian free will. With regards to salvation, it teaches that man has the ability in and of himself (apart from divine aid) to obey God and earn eternal salvation. Pelagianism is overwhelmingly incompatible with the Bible and was historically opposed by Augustine (354-430), Bishop of Hippo, leading to its condemnation as a heresy at Council of Carthage in 418 A.D. These condemnations were summarily ratified at the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431).

Discussion

Pelagius was a monk from Britain, whose reputation and theology came into prominence after he went to Rome sometime in the 380's A.D. The historic Pelagian theological controversy involved the nature of man and the doctrine of original sin.
Pelagius believed that the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin (the Fall) were restricted to themselves only; and thereby denied the belief that original sin was passed on (or transferred) to the children of Adam and thus to the human race. Adam's sin merely "set a bad example" for his progeny and Jesus "set a good example" for mankind (thus counteracting Adam's bad example). Pelagianism teaches that human beings are born in a state of innocence with a nature that is as pure as that which Adam was given at his creation.
As a result of his basic assumption, Pelagius taught that man has an unimpaired moral ability to choose that which is spiritually good and possesses the free will, ability, and capacity to do that which is spiritually good. This resulted in a gospel of salvation based on human works. Man could choose to follow the precepts of God and then follow those precepts because he had the power within himself to do so.
The controversy came to a head when Pelagian teaching came into contact with Augustine. Augustine did not deny that man had a will and that he could make choices. But, Augustine recognized that man did not have a free will in moral issues related to God, asserting that the effects original sin were passed to the children of Adam and Eve and that mankind’s nature was thereby corrupted. Man could choose what he desired, but those desires were influenced by his sinful nature and he was unable to refrain from sinning.
Pelagius cleared himself of charges, primarily by hiding his real beliefs; however, at the Council of Carthage in 418 A.D., his teachings were branded as heresy. The Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., again condemned Pelagian doctrine and it was banished in the Greek portion of the church. However, in the West, the teachings held on, primarily in Britain and Gaul.
Pelagian teaching was replaced with Semi-Pelagianism which sought a middle ground between Pelagianism and Augustinianism, but it too was condemned at the Second Synod of Orange in 529 A.D. However, elements of Semi-Pelagianism continued in the Western (Roman) church. It emerged again after the Reformation in modified form in Arminianism which was rejected by the Reformed churches at the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619 A.D.

 Source: http://www.theopedia.com/pelagianism

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