Hints for Harmony in the Home

Home life can be more stressful than life outside.  The people in the home know us so well, they can push our buttons, treat us with contempt, or even become enemies.  All this when the people in the home are those we should love the most.

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  • Communication

Some people don’t communicate.  They excuse it because of other virtues, like bringing money into the home or doing chores.  However, to be uncommunicative is not acceptable.  Households need to develop safety so the hard things can be said and processed together.

The members of the house also need to develop and maintain communication skills.  Schools might teach reading, writing and arithmetic, but they often rely on the  home to teach social skills like effective communication.  Taking turns in speaking, listening well, and accurately laying out emotions and opinions are essential skills for success in life.  There is no embarrassment, if the skills are lacking, to look them up and start at any age.  We can not expect progress if we do not know what we are aiming for.

  • Love

Loving each other does not mean doing activities together or eating at the same time.  It can include activities side-by-side, but it is more than that.  Love is sacrifice.  Love is giving of self for the development and good of another.

Gary Chapman has famously written of five ways people give and receive love.  The family might talk about ways they like to love and be loved.  The five ways Chapman lays out are quality time, acts of service, gifts, words of affirmation, and physical touch.  How do you show you love the other members of your household?

  • Respect

Sometimes we love people but we don’t respect them.  Within the household there is always a basis for respect based in human dignity.  Particularly low respect shows when name-calling begins.  Calling a person the names of animals like ‘dog’ or ‘cow’ shows we are in the process of dehumanizing them.

Constantly bringing to mind good conduct and mutual service in the past can help maintain healthy respect.  Celebrating achievements without making achievements the essence of a persona’ value is a worthwhile but tricky goal.  Everyone in the household has value.  When do they feel most valued?

  • Service

Leading the house in service, with no thought of reward is often the calling of parents.  Having the heart of a servant means having the heart of a leader.  Those who take the initiative to serve others in the home lead the home into mutual care-taking.  Sometimes acts of service need to be talked about and appreciated.  Catching children doing good encourages children to do more.  Be careful not to cheapen the good actions by rewards like candy or late bedtime.  The acts of kindness become self-serving in that environment.

Educate the children to understand and celebrate the internal satisfaction of serving others.  What motivates you to do the dishes?  Make a meal?  Take out the trash?  Communicate that to those who are learning from you.

***

These thoughts were taken from Colossians 3 where the home is centered around a strong father figure in Roman society.  Paul wants Christians to be an example of love and harmony to their neghbours, so he addresses areas where families struggle.

Note, the slaves were members of the household and Paul recommends orderly conduct for them.  He is not condoning slavery but recommending godly behavior in environments where household slaves are the norm.

Colossians 3:18-4:1

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,  since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

 

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How to Stand Firm in Your Convictions

It’s time for big transitions.  One big change is leaving home and going to a new town for work or college.  Starting new projects with new teams is another.  In these times of transition we need to engage with new ideas – to take on new perspectives.  However, taking on changes in convictions just to socially assimilate is unwise.  Unwittingly aligning with the majority view can often be costly.  So how do we stand firm in convictions which might already be wise?

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  • Do not take on the judgement of others

By judgement here, I mean contempt.  It is foolish not to let others judge us in terms of assessment and tests, but when they condemn us they have gone too far.  Growing up in a loving environment may not prepare some people to be condemned because of their views.  Republicans frequently have contempt for Democrats.  Democrats frequently condemn Republicans.  Atheists look down on people of faith.  The faithful write off those of little faith.

Receiving that judgement may be a shock and it may be devastating.  At the College of St. Mark and St. John, my professors mocked my views and obviously showed their lack of respect for me.  Our self-image, though, will be shaky if it is founded on how others feel about our views.   Sometimes we define who we are by the views we hold.

My undergraduate school professors praised and built up those who easily forsook their beliefs.  Which leads us to the next point.

  • Do not let others sideline your beliefs

To be intellectually authentic and healthy, work environments and colleges need to entertain multiple perspectives.  That means yours, too.  Colleges grow stale if they only entertain views they can already stomach.  Work places cease to innovate if they embrace the status quo.  Find an opportunity to colorfully present your opinion.  Let it be critiqued and compare and contrast your opinion with others in the room.  The discussion will frequently lead to mutual respect.  And when it doesn’t end well, the true hate and intolerance in the room might expose itself for what it is.

Some views will be hard to converse with.  You may need support.  Which leads to the next point.

  • Stay connected to the wise people whom you have respected

Before you arrive in a new location you have already been educated, socialized, and formed.  The people who have invested heavily in you are often as smart as the people you are about to work or study with.  Don’t let fancy titles or an extended list of qualifications fool you.  I am a college professor, and the more I study the more I realize my limitations.

Respect those in your new environment, but maintain the respect you have had for those in your old environment.  It is easy to stay in touch in these days of increased technology.  Text regularly.  Use FaceTime or Skype to talk face-to-face.  Share the new ideas you are encountering with old friends.  Let their wisdom boost your participation in the new environment.

  • Assess whether the new information you encounter is true

Truth is connected to reality.  To grow in truth is to grow in understanding reality.  There are many things that are real that each of us does not know yet.  However, there are many things we think are real that are not.  They are untrue.  In academic circles we invent new names for things so we can talk about them.  When we talk about them for a long time they slip into the common consciousness.  People then accept the unproven presuppositions in our conversations as real or true.  Test the presuppositions.

Science is not everything, but it is helpful.  Assessing with the senses and through common experience can be a first step.  The more people experience a phenomenon with their five senses the more likely it is true reality.  The more likely it can be counted upon.

However, there is knowledge beyond the senses.  There is reality that can not be proven in the lab.  True ideological foundations and beliefs are arrived at in philosophical and theological investigation.  Art and poetry are not really understood fully by science.  However, art and poetry communicate truth.  How do you discern truth in literature?  When do you accept an ideology has something true to say about reality?

  • Assess thoroughly why your behaviors are changing

In new environments our behaviors often change.  Old patterns and habits are not sustainable and new ones take their place.  Sometimes an emptiness creeps in because we have been too strongly shaped and formed by peers or parents.  At other times a suppressed desire to let loose comes out in wild partying and reckless behavior.  In most cases the patterns are less dramatic.  Maybe bedtime shifts. Maybe we start to skip breakfast and have a bigger lunch.  Why is that?

Looking at why we do what we do can often reveal our values.  Things we prioritize get done first, or for a long time.  Things that were important to our previous community, but we don’t really care about, get pushed to the side.  Be honest about what is going on.  Let it be part of your conversation and your habits will become more rewarding and meaningful.

***

In Colossae, the faith of the Colossian Christians was challenged by the religious philosophy of the majority.  The majority believed in following strict rules to earn acceptance from God.  They also believed in the occult and manipulating angelic beings to their own ends.  Paul calls them back to the faith they had in the beginning, which was faith in Christ.  He declares that good rule keeping is just a shadow of the life-giving relationship that can be found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-23

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

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Six Qualities of a Love-filled Life

Image result for heart flameTo be loving is the aspiration of many people across the world.  What markers show a person to be loving?  Here are six to begin with.  You can use them to evaluate the health of your own love.  You can also think about them as ways to improve the quality of your love for others.

  • Compassion

Compassion sees the state of another person and is moved to action.  Firstly, compassion is not possible in a fast-paced life.  We need to slow down and truly see each other, if we are to reach out and support each other.  Secondly, compassion is emotionally engaged.  It is not cold.  It is the warm embrace of those whose path is different or who are less fortunate than us.

  • Kindness

Kindness sacrifices self for the good of another.  Kind people are touched by another person’s story and bring good things to them so they prosper.  They say kind things and they do kind things with a genuine care.

  • Humility

Humility ends the battle in relationships to prove ourselves or to gain power.  Truly humble people are free from pride to wound.  They do not think of their own needs without thinking of how those needs can serve others.  When a task needs to be fulfilled, humble people do not assume they are the only people who can do it well.  They also do not feel  so especially unimportant that they should not do the job.  Humble people are truly free from thinking too much or too little of themselves, so they engage with a purity which comes from inner peace.

  • Gentleness

To be gentle makes allowance for others’ lack of strength.  Gentle people are willing to accommodate. People like this accommodate differences in strength and differences in opinion. Gentle people are reasonable.  Their voices are even and calm.  Their plans include others.

  • Patience

In any relationship a line will be crossed – it may be crossed multiple times.  Loving people do not strike back blow-for-blow or pound-for-pound.  Patient people do not fight every battle.  They know the truth that emotions ebb and flow and mistakes are made by everyone.  They endure.

  • Forgiveness

Patient, loving people forgive many times over.  The desire to maintain the relationship will see many do-overs or restarts.  Solid relationships are like havens where truth can be told without repercussions.  When there is repentance there is restoration.  When a person makes a mistake they do not fear rejection, they know that true love is not contingent on performance.  True love longs for fresh starts.  A lover chooses to forget.

Becoming a Better Lover

We all need to be better lovers.  Not only in the romantic sense, but in the human connections we all have in daily life.  There is enough love to go around, we need to stop fighting like we are competing for a scarce resource.  We need to see transformation, so we can love from the generous abundance of the resources we are given within.

***

These aspects of love are drawn from Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  He declared that love binds these six aspects together.  Love is a gift from God, and to truly love means to be united with God in His love.

Colossians 3:1-17

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Why Is the Phrase ‘In Christ’ Important?

Image result for in christIf we claim to be a Christian, we claim to be ‘in Christ.’  Our roots are in Christ and so we are built up and strengthened by him.  Jesus called us to be branches abiding in the vine – He is the vine and we are the branches.  People try to pull us out – isolate us.  Break us.  It used to happen particularly in colleges or universities.  A Christian disciple would meet all kinds of new ideas, and one idea or another would take them captive.  It didn’t have to be a new religion, it could just be the lust of a new romance, the promise of financial success, or the supposed wisdom of recent ‘thinkers.’   Now students have access to ideas from all over the globe from a very young age.  It’s hard to keep the faith – but those who are truly in Christ can develop resilience.

It is important to be strong and to be unafraid in the face of religious pluralism and postmodern ideas.  If Christianity is true, though, there are a number of things available ‘in Christ’ that are available nowhere else.

  • All the fullness of God is in Christ

God has made known to us His own nature.  There is nothing about God that can be known to us apart from Christ.  There is nothing about God that can not be known or experienced in Christ.  Because of this Christ is the center of our worship; He is our first love because there is no higher focus a person can have.

  • We are made full/complete in Christ

The aim of mankind’s development is in unity with another.  We have the fullness of God available to us in our intimate relationship with Christ.  Being inseparable from Jesus conforms us to him.  Moving around in His complete being completes us.

  • We are set apart as God’s people in Christ

Not everyone is in Christ.  Being in Christ makes a people distinct.  Just as Israel was marked as the distinct people of God by their circumcision, so Christ followers are marked by Jesus.  Jesus’ act of sacrifice on the cross allows his followers to be God’s people.

  • We are made alive in Christ

A new life becomes available to Christians.  However, this new life is in unity with Jesus.  A true self, previously unattainable, is the most Christ-like self.  We live a new life as the image of Jesus to our world.  We do what Jesus would do and we say what Jesus would say.  It is not a religion of works, as if we are trying to prove something to Jesus.  It is a faith where Jesus ministers to the world through his disciples in every age.

‘In Christ’ makes Christianity better than …

Because of the supremacy of Christ – because of his unity with his followers – Christianity is superior to other philosophical, political and religious systems.  Other systems do not know Jesus or are not centered on Jesus.  Because Jesus is superior, a way of life ‘in Jesus’ is superior.  This does not lead to pride because the believer in Jesus does not bring anything to Jesus he does not have in himself.  Jesus brings to the relationship everything lacking in the disciple.

***

John Piper has written about six things being in Christ means for the believer.  He draws mainly from passages other than Colossians.  The four facts listed above were all taken from Colossians 2:6-15.

Colossians 2:6-15

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

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How Can Suffering Be Good?

Many of us are ease and comfort junkies.  We want a little time on the recliner in front of the T.V.  Maybe it’s to watch World of Dance, or maybe it’s to see if Liverpool can topple Manchester City in the English Premier League.  We long for the children to be quiet, the house to be problem free, and a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit would be perfect.

How come we live in a world so full of suffering?  Some religions do not question suffering.  The goal is to accept that suffering simply is and then to detach from it through acceptance.  My understanding on suffering is a little different, and that understanding has matured through the years.

  • Suffering as Punishment

When I was young, I frequently asked myself what I must have done to experience any unpleasantness or suffering.  In fact, I’d think I must be suffering ‘for my sins.’  I would become frustrated trying to make sense of suffering in this way.  I would become self loathing, thinking I should be free from suffering if my performance was better.  I condemned others who suffered because their nature must be worse than mine.  In some cases, I would have an heir of superiority over people on welfare, those who got divorced, or even those who had trouble with their children.

As I have grown older this cause-and-effect connection between behavior and punishment has lessened.  I don’t believe karma-like retribution from the universe or God explains suffering well enough.  I also do not believe the Bible teaches this eye-for-an-eye system is part of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings.

  • Suffering as Discipline 

I believe that suffering is essential to growth.  I have joined the YMCA in order to use their gym.  Yesterday my wife hugged me and gave a very pleasant, “Oooh!”  She told me that my shoulders were shapely and hard.  Those results would not be possible if I had not suffered in the weights room in the gym.  Suffering strengthens us and makes us into better versions of ourselves.  This is true physically, but it is also true emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  The coddling we pursue for ourselves and our children is harmful to our families and our culture.  A few more bloodied knees and broken hearts might make us more resilient.

What is your goal in life?  If it is a worthy goal, it will take suffering to achieve it.  As the Marines say, “Pain is weakness leaving the body!”

  • Suffering Vicariously

The highest form of suffering is suffering we do not have to take on.  It is virtuous to choose suffering for the sake of another.  Those of us who have adopted a child know the truth of this.  I know many adoptions that are fraught with suffering because of the choices of the birth parents, the sickness of the child, or the emotional trauma associated with adoption.  Adoption often involves pain.  Parents are not forced to adopt.  Does that mean they should leave adoption alone?

Entering into suffering to redeem a person or situation is good, but it does not always FEEL good.  In a world defined by feeling, this is a hard truth to grasp.  Relationships are often evaluated by the warm fuzzies they bring, but that is not an accurate measure of their value.  The measure is whether I am causing a situation or a person to flourish.

Can Suffering Be Good?

The answer to the question is, “Yes.”  However, ease and comfort can also be a blessing for a time.  The way to evaluate suffering is to see if it serves a greater good.  Is it moving an individual, a family or even a culture toward something better.  Of course, this short evaluation does not cover earthquakes and volcanoes necessarily.  It does, though, help us to see what we are enduring in our own private world in a more positive light.  It helps us to train to be better people, and it helps us to sacrifice ourselves to create a better people.

***

Image result for suffering face

These thoughts were inspired by Colossians 1:24-2:5 where Paul tells the Colossians he has sacrificed himself for them.  His life is marked with suffering, toil and struggle, but it is for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul argues that he is a servant, even a slave, of Jesus and is compelled to live his whole life oriented around Christ.  If people find Christ, Paul reasons, it is worth the suffering.

Colossians 1:24-2:5

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom,so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.

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How Is Jesus Greater than Angels?

Image result for Colossians 1:15-23 In the ancient world people had a high regard for angels.  In the town of Colossae the regard for angels was particularly high.  Because Colossians looked to angels so much, their view of Jesus might have been obscured.  This led the apostle Paul to write a list of attributes of Christ which elevated Jesus and put the angels in their place.  Because of some of the amazing things Paul claimed to be true, some scholars claimed Paul created a ‘Christ’ who was quite different than the historical person Jesus.  Here is a list of things Paul claimed were true about Jesus Christ.

  • Christ is the image of God.
  • By Christ all things were created.
  • Christ exists before anything else.
  • Christ holds everything together.
  • Christ is the head of the church.
  • Christ rose from the dead.
  • Through Christ all things are reconciled to God.

Paul makes it clear, Christ is to have supremacy in all things.  Some people call this Christ the ‘Cosmic Christ’ because of the scope of these truth claims.  He definitely doesn’t look like any normal human being.  The church tries to get its head around these claims.  The church has always claimed two natures for Jesus – a human nature and a divine nature.  Jesus, the man, was born in Israel two thousand years ago.  Before that he preexisted in eternity past.  Theologians think it is Jesus who appears in the Old Testament to Abraham and stands with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace.  They say The Angel of the Lord who appears in the Old Testament is the preincarnate Jesus visiting Earth.  Bold claims.

If Jesus does have supremacy in all things, Christianity is a religion like no other.  No other religion has the Cosmic Christ.  However, if Jesus was just a moral teacher whose bones are somewhere in Palestine, Christianity is one more man-made myth among the many created through the ages.  As I get older, I am more convinced that Christianity is true and an exceptional being walked humbly among us.  I believe the Bible is true, so I believe Paul’s words are worth meditating upon.  If such a being exists, we have reason to turn away from angels, ouija boards, other religions, and self help-philosophies.  We need to look first of all to him and see where he leads us.  Then we follow the only one who is worthy of our everything.

Colossians 1:15-23

The Son [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

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How to Start Praying for Churches

Christians are meant to be continuously praying.  One subject on the prayer list is the local church.  Are you lifting up any churches to God regularly?  I know it is something I have struggled with.  Recently, I have started praying for Grace Community Bible Church (GCBC) and Underwood Chapel with more regularity.  GCBC is my home church in Grayslake, Illinois.  Underwood Chapel, Plympton, England, is the church that raised me and sent me out into the world.  We should all be connected to a church or two.  The early church met in each others’ houses every day.  We consider ourselves connected if we meet once a month.  Praying for the church might lead to a desire for more connection.

The first thing I have done is to get a paper and pen and put it in the book I use for my daily devotions.  Then I have written the names of the churches on the paper and a list of things to pray for.  Here are six areas of prayer we can all pray for with respect to our local churches.

Image result for praying for church

  1. That the church may know God’s will
  2. That the church will live a life worthy of their calling
  3. That the church would bear fruit
  4. That the church would know God
  5. That the church would be strengthened
  6. That the church would be thankful

That the church may know God’s will

God calls individuals for a purpose.  God has a plan he longs to execute: to do good in the world.  God also has a plan for groups of people working together.  We need to not think of a church as a local location or a building.  The church is a group of people who share a common purpose.  That purpose is to increase worship and the glorifying of God in the community.  The members of the church need to know how this mission is best worked out, then they need to execute the vision.

That the church will live a life worthy of their calling

Because it is God who has called the church, there must be something transcendent about the life Christians live.  If the life of individuals in the church is to be centered around God, the life of the whole church must reflect that.  This does not mean the local church has to run at about 20,000 members and have excellent light displays, and a cafe in the lobby.  There is nothing wrong with that, per se.  The measure of a church is shown in the character of their leadership.  The godly example of those in charge should permeate the membership.  If the leadership is not centered on God, there is no way the church will live a life centered on Him.

That the church will bear fruit

Churches need to be visible in their community and they need to be a blessing to their community.  The fruit of improving character, communion with God, and increased numbers can show God is at work.  Some churches defend their lack of growth because they lack self-awareness.  Some churches are unaware that they are toxic.  Churches need to be safe places to grow.  Of course we must speak truth, but the most winsome fruit of the Spirit is love.  If we grow in our love of God and our neighbor, other fruit will be added.

That the church will know God

Some people revel in ignorance in the church.  They know enough to cover ‘getting saved,’ but they have no desire to know more about their faith.  Some openly scoff at theologians as wasting their time.  I know churches that are anti-intellectual.

Part of every healthy relationship is increased knowledge.  If I knew nothing about my wife except that I had married her, you would be skeptical about the health of our relationship.  If I told you each new thing I was learning about her, you would be reassured.  Walking with God is like that.  We flourish and grow deeper through studying who He is and what He is doing in the world.  This is not the stale knowledge of some lifeless Bible studies.  We do not study to know about God but to know God in intimacy.

That the church will be strengthened

In the West, churches are being weakened and are losing members.  The church is only as strong as its members, and individuals are confused or only mildly convinced about their faith.  Churches need us to be members who are ‘all in’ and confident.  Doubts need to be talked about and addressed.  The church needs to be equipped for meaningful action.

Sermons are a good place to start.  If the sermons are weak, the people’s understanding of God will be weak.  Weak sermons focus on man and not God.  Weak sermons lack majesty and holiness.  Weak sermons lack the underpinning authority of The Word of God.  Weak sermons do not apply God’s Word to twenty-first century living.  Of course, the more of these weaknesses are addressed, the stronger the church will be.

Secondly, churches need members who are mature in the faith to take responsibility to pass that faith on.  This can be done in classes, mentoring, or in writing.  As you pray for the church to be strengthened, maybe you might consider whether you should be strengthening someone.

That the church should be thankful

To be thankful means to realise someone outside of ourselves has done something we could not do.  Of course, a group of people working together can achieve more than an individual.  This will lead to thankfulness to the members of the church.  God working through a group of people makes that exponentially true.  We will be thankful to God when we gain this perspective.  God has done more in and through us than we could possibly imagine.  Because the world is created by God, all good gifts find their origin in Him.

Aaron Buehrer, our worship leader at GCBC, leads us in worship and thanksgiving.  He has us focus on the good things God has done in the world around us.  In this way our worship is lifted to a higher plain.  We should not take the things around us for granted.  We need to pray for the church that its attitude of thanksgiving will be maintained.

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The Apostle Paul prayed these things for the church at Colossae.  It is not an exhaustive list of things to pray for a church, but it is a helpful start for people like me.  I have prayed too seldom for the churches I know.  This list will be a launch to bring to mind other areas where the church needs prayer.

Colossians 1:9-14

 For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

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Four Qualities to Be Thankful for in a Healthy Church

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To be in a healthy church is a blessing.  Beyond personal tastes in musical styles or forms of preaching, there are some qualities which are a bedrock of church health.  Here are four qualities to be thankful for, if you have them in abundance in your church.  Are you part of building a church that looks like this?

  • Faith

Churches are essentially a meeting of the faithful.  Faith goes beyond mere belief.  Belief is generally understood as intellectual assent to some statement or other.  James states, in his biblical book, that The Devil and his demons believe the truths of the Bible and shudder.  Obviously, their belief does not qualify as true faith.  True faith results in action.  True faith acts in accordance with what is believed.  James makes this point clear in his book also.

A church with faith is faithful in its weekly gatherings, it is faithful to its members, it is faithful in its service in the community.  This goes beyond a robust statement of faith left unseen on a website somewhere.  The statement of faith is regularly evaluated to see if it shows up in action, and it is a guide for all that is done.

  • Love

A misunderstanding of love has led many churches into trouble.  Love has been downgraded in the last century to a positive emotion.  It is now often confused with lust or infatuation.  Because the emotions ebb and flow, love has become unstable and so it ceases to provide security.

An enduring understanding of love needs rediscovering.  An enduring understanding of love chooses to serve another person for their own good.  This commitment is not easy.  There will be storms of negative emotion and disagreement to navigate.  There may be times when we choose to love people who do not love us in return.  Love sometimes makes hard decisions for the good of everyone involved.

A church that loves serves its members.  It pursues them when they are wandering.  It embraces them when they are suffering.  It disciplines them when they need to improve.  In a church that is loving, you do not need to feel lonely.

  • Hope

Disney encourages us to wish upon a star.  For many hope is just wishful thinking.  However, the hope that truly grounds us is hope in a certainty.  In wartime, we might live in hope of the war’s end.  The war will not last forever.  Those in college live in the hope of their eventual graduation.  The hope of the Bible is more in line with the word ‘expectation’ than it is with the word ‘wish.’

An old hymn states ‘my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.’  Christians live in expectation  of a positive end to the story.  In a limited sense Christians know whatever happens in this world they will endure.  Christians also have a hope that the end of mankind’s story will end in all things being made new.

Churches, therefore should be places of optimism, not despair.  Churches that despair at the loss of Christian influence in society should have more hope.  Churches that are melancholy at the loss of the good old days should look to their future.  Churches who see the reason for their hope are empowered to bring hope to their members and the neighborhoods where they live.

  • Truth

It is said we live in a post-truth culture.  When we become that culture, we embrace madness and anarchy.  Anarchy has been re-framed as something positive in popular movies by the Wachowski brothers, but really we will descend into a dystopian lawlessness.  In an anarchic society each person can have their own truth.

In academics we have ever been in the quest for true objectivity.  In the culture we are promoting ever more subjective perspectives.  We are really careful not to invalidate anyone’s point of view and definitely not their feelings.  As a human being I understand the need to develop understanding in both directions.  The human experience is complex and multifaceted.  The world is so immense, to try and be objective is a daunting task.

The boldness of the Christian faith is that it claims to be truth from God’s perspective.  This is both humbling and empowering.  It requires us to put aside our own perspective as having the power to explain everything.  It also puts in the hands of the church ‘true truth.’  Although the church must be kind and sensitive to other perspectives, ultimately those who proclaim the gospel can have confidence in the Word of God – truth that is universal in its application.

If you are looking for a healthy church which exhibits these properties, come to Grace Community Bible Church, 15 Commerce Dr #106, Grayslake.  We meet at 10 o’clock on a Sunday.

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In his letter to the Colossians Paul opens with giving thanks to God.  He thanks God for the qualities listed above.  He also wishes for them the peace of God and God’s grace.

Colossians 1:1-8

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

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7 Reasons 21st Century Christianity is Susceptible to Decline in the West

Last year I drafted a lot of reforms for local churches in the West.  I may post those reforms in detail at a future time.  However, no-one wants reform if there isn’t a problem.  Here are some problems churches face, which explain the lack of attendance and passion.

  • The gospel has been reduced to an inconsequential formula

The emotional rush to the front of church or camp to accept Christ has proven to be too superficial.

Firstly, the way we did camps (and church) led to emotional acceptance of a faith before the whole heart was engaged.  Secondly, we based salvation on neat formulas like ABC (Accept Believe Confess).  The term ‘accept,’ as A. W. Tozer has explained, describes an individual condescending to let a little god into his/her life on his/her own terms.  In contrast, the gospels describe repentant people as being in a position of total surrender (e.g. Luke 14).  The use of The Romans Road to promise that God has a wonderful plan for people’s lives led many to believe God would make all their own wildest dreams come true.  When he failed do deliver on the bargain (after all Jesus’ offer of salvation is ‘free’), they went shopping for another deal.  In our consumption driven society, the shopping could be quite literal retail therapy.

The New Testament takes 27 books to lay out aspects of the good news of the New Covenant.  Yes, Romans 10:9 and John 3:16 are wonderful verses to get people started, but the gospel is about the new life to be lived in Christ.  Many people who think they are saved don’t have ‘fruit in keeping with repentance.’  This might clue us in to the fact we have messed up the message somewhere.

  • Self-help fashions offer more immediate fixes than church

Our high tech culture promises faster and faster fixes.  I am glad the internet can give me answers to questions at the click of a button.  I am glad Siri can call people, give me directions to work, and tell me a story.  What Siri doesn’t do, Alexa takes care of. However, ‘impatient problem solving’ seeps into our desires for happiness, joy, peace, contentment, and the problem of life after death.  Contrary to quick-fixes, the Bible looks on growth as a life-long process.  Sometimes growth takes painful experience, periods of disappointment, or long times of reflection and prayer.

We have no time for that.  So we turn quickly to life hacks, entertainment systems, or fad diets.  We believe we are in control because we have self-medicated or numbed our pain.  However, the hard conversations still need to be had.  The long road to redemption often requires discipline and choices we would rather avoid.

  • Syncretism

Syncretism in religion occurs when a pure form of the religion is corrupted by the addition of critical modifications.  Recent generations  are sometimes called Mosaics as well as Millennials and Generation Z.  This is because practices and beliefs from many worldviews are placed together to form each person’s own unique perspective.  The accepted measure of truth is how this individualized system works for the individual, or even more these days, how my personal beliefs feel.

A problem is historically developed religious systems fail to function when elements are mixed together from various sources.  They seem to work from the individual’s small perspective as they solve life with limited goals.  However, most religious systems posit some kind of larger goal (or telos) for life.  The whole point of each religious system is then lost.  A New Age system results.  Its individualized goal becomes personal peace and happiness.

  • Jesus is reduced to a role model

In the last few decades there have been numerous quests for the historical Jesus.  Most of these pursuits throw Matthew, Mark, Luke and John out of the window as a precondition.  They don’t like the miracles, they don’t like the attitudes, and they don’t like the idea that Jesus is God.

However, the gospel accounts can be kept by these scholars as mythical stories, which give us an example of a noble teacher who told us to love each other and take care of the poor.  The scholars and skeptics who take this route often like to throw stones at the Religious Right for missing these glaringly obvious aspects of Jesus’ character.

Unfortunately, this mortal man, who lived in the backwaters of Palestine 2000 years ago, has even less power over modern America than Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Gandhi.  Unlike with Jesus, we can see newsreels of King, Mandela, and Gandhi living out their moral examples.  It’s harder to imagine Jesus without photographs, in-depth interviews, and film.  So, we give him a respectful nod and we pass on.

  • Apologetics and Polemics are weak in the church’s teaching

Children’s upbringing in the Christian faith often involves an hour of entertainment on a Sunday with a sliver of Bible teaching thrown in.  The Bible teaching often uses Bible characters as moral examples by chopping out the more unpleasant aspects of the script.  The results are children who are more conditioned by their peers, their media and their school than they are by their supposed faith.

Christians grow up unaware of the systems around them.  They are naive at best.  They don’t know their own faith very well and certainly can’t defend it.  This is why many young Christians are fish in a barrel for enthusiastic atheists, secularists, and people of other faiths at college.  We still educate quite thoroughly in mathematics, literature, and science, but education in the faith is insipid.

Not only do many Christians feel shaky when defending their own faith (apologetics), they also have no idea how to engage with other world systems (polemics).  Some of this is due to a comfort in being ‘the moral majority.’  In America, the evangelical Christian self-designation as ‘the moral majority’ is passed.  Christians need to know what others believe and many don’t.

  • The entirety of the Bible is not respected

Pastors inadvertently encourage  ignorance of the Bible in a number of ways.  Firstly, the Bible is no longer the source of the preaching in many churches.  The pastor does not dig into the text and try to understand how the Bible, in its entirety, is relevant to today.  The pastor looks at what topics are in vogue in the world and designs a sermon around those topics.  The Bible is then used to illustrate the pastors points rather than drive the sermon.

Secondly, preaching tends to draw from the New Testament and then often from 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 8, or Matthew 5-7.  Jude, Habakkuk, or Obadiah rarely find their way into a sermon and I am not sure I have ever heard anyone preach using those books as their foundation.

Thirdly, sermons and Bible studies often use verses from multiple locations to prove points in a sermon.  This is not wrong in itself.  However, over time, no understanding of the whole Bible develops in the minds of the congregation.  The practice results in biblical illiteracy.

Fourthly, Christians have a sneeking suspicion there are two Gods in the Bible.  There is the scary, vengeful, blood-thirsty God of the Old Testament and then there is my home-boy Jesus.  Jesus is loving, accessible, and helps me sleep at night.  Therefore, a lot of engagement with the Bible leaves the Old Testament alone.

Finally, those of us teaching at Moody Bible Institute have noticed a cultural shift.  Teens are not encouraged to study the Bible in depth before heading into their career.  In the past more people went to Bible College to dig deeper into scripture before they ventured into their career.  A focus on finances and efficiency has put a stop to that.

  • Christians live no differently from other people

“Salvation is not about works!”  The apostle Paul seemingly stresses this in his letters.  We are not saved by works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).  We do not develop our own righteousness to satisfy God (Philippians 3:9).  People who have been saved graciously by God are good to go.  Go to where?  To heaven!  So, no change is required to achieve the goal of salvation – to get to heaven.

In contrast, the Bible clearly lays out that we are saved to perform the good works God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).  There is a whole way of life Christians are meant to live out as a result of their salvation.  If the neighborhood is flush with people fervently following Jesus, it should be better.  Of course, Muslims, Jews and Atheists all have their own reasons for being good.  We can’t ignore that the Bible dedicates many pages to a way of living that should set Christians apart.  Statistics show that Christians don’t really live distinct lives.  They also show Christianity in the West is in decline.

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The apostle Paul saw many of the problems listed above in the church of Colossae.  His response was to write them a letter.  Having just finished Philippians, I will be writing reflections based on my observations from Colossians.

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Four Ways to Find Peace in a Consumer Society

We live in a consumer society.  Malls stand like cathedrals on the edge of cities, promising a deep religious experience to the faithful weekend worshipers.  We are encouraged to be consumers and our economy is based on production for increasing consumption.  The problem is that a consumer society consumes us.  It reduces us.  It manipulates us.  It persuades us to place value in money and possessions and these misplaced values sap our energy and corrode our joy.

Here are four ways to find peace in a culture of 24-7 production and consumption.

  • Contentment with Little

Rather than focusing on what we don’t have, it is good to take an inventory of what we do.  It is helpful to pause and show gratitude for our many blessings and comforts.

Simple Living has become a hot topic in communities which focus on wellness or wholeness.  The Hebrew term shalom refers to the peace associated with wellness and wholeness.  Simple Living encourages people to break with the ties to their many possessions and their large bank accounts.  Cars, TV’s, large houses, huge yards, and multiple investments all require servicing and management.  People with little can be joyful that they don’t have to maintain their boat, their snow-mobile, their lawn-tractor, and their cabin by the lake.

  • Contentment with Much

A compulsion to have nothing can be as damning as a compulsion to have it all.  Sometimes we are blessed with an inheritance of great wealth or a multitude of possessions.  It has been said many times that the average American is very wealthy when compared with the rest of the world.  Those of us who live in America have larger houses, some disposable income, and our own private modes of transportation.  We are so ignorant of the way the rest of the world lives that we consider our own standards of wealth as the norm.

Should we then heap shame and guilt on ourselves or on our neighbours?  That isn’t the path to freedom.  The path to freedom is to hold our wealth with an open hand.  We can share what we have with our family and communities.  Wealthy benefactors can host events, use their possessions to enrich the lives of the disabled, or employ maintenance staff and service staff.

In summary, there is peace in letting go of both the felt need to have more and the felt need to have less.

  • Gratitude for People

My son broke my 3-D Flat screen TV.  He threw a metal airplane into the sky and flew it into the screen.  It broke in many places.  The cost to replace it was prohibitive and so I lost my ability to play 3-D movies.  I simmered for a few days before a student, Jordan Grusy, called me to task for my attitude.  He asked me if my TV was more important than my son.  I had to admit I was behaving as if the TV was more important.  I went home with a changed heart and treated my son much better.

Are things more important than people?  Having small children will teach you not to get too attached to nice things.  Over the years we have had to choose loving the children over our love for antique plates, solid wood tables, glasses, and an heirloom desk from my Grandmother.

  • Redistributing the Wealth

Communism!  Isn’t the redistribution of wealth one of the basic tenets of communism?  Well, yes.  However, in communism the government decides what to take from the wealthy and redistributes it in ways that  they see fit.  Communist governments have been inefficient and corrupt, growing the bureaucracy to a monstrous size.   In too many cases the people have become indolent, expecting the government to pay them in spite of their inactivity.

The antidote to communism, capitalism, and any other man-made economic system, is developing a community which wisely and routinely gives money away.  In the context of this piece, we are not talking about how wisely the church, the government, local charity or a needy relative uses the money.  We are talking about the heart change necessary when a person gives away their hard-earned cash.  Money loses its power to control when it is just given away.  I can almost hear the dollar bills scream, “Hey!  What are you doing?  We were not made for this!  We are here for your new microwave, your sleeker car, or your dream vacation!  Give us away and you will never have those things!”

The generosity of the poor in Pakistan taught me a huge lesson in this area.  They lavished hospitality on me, as their guest, despite their lack of wealth.  I could see clearly the virtue in giving, especially when I saw the joy these people had in serving me.  I now feel compelled to literally pay it forward.

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These thoughts are pulled from the last chapter in the biblical book of Philippians.  Paul deals extensively with money in that chapter.  Even in the ancient world wealth was a major issue.  Some people have mis-read Paul in such a way that they believe Paul teaches a health and wealth gospel.  The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ mistakenly teaches that if you give a dollar to God he has promised to give you $100 in return.  The meaning of the passage is really one of giving up trying to establish your own security and God will provide what you need to endure the many hardships coming your way in life.

God is the ultimate value for the Christian and all resources come from God.  We accept God has given us just the right amount of resources to do whatever he has called us to do.  Money is not our God or our object of worship – that role is already filled.

Philippians 4:10-23

 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Greet all God’s people in Christ Jesus. The brothers and sisters who are with me send greetings. All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

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