Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My blog has moved!

Just a quick note to let you know I have relocated my blog to Please follow me there! -jim

Monday, November 16, 2009

Is a community of believers the answer we should seek?

One of the challenges many church leaders face is developing communities of believers within our churches. It is the topic of many discussions. In fact, just this morning I had a conversation revolving around this topic. We talked about a couple of books that discuss doing church as described in the book of Acts. As I continued to ponder this throughout the day, something came to mind. Is it possible to do church in the same fashion as it was in the first century? Since there are a few modern-day examples, I used to think so; but it does not seem to be the norm. Now I am beginning to question this idea.

In today’s society, people are busy. Some would say that we are too busy. We spend a great deal of time away from home working at our jobs. Add the fact that many people commute 50 or more miles to work each day, and the workday can be 12 hours or more. When we get home, many of us spend our evenings chauffeuring our children around to different activities such as soccer practice, baseball practice, youth group, scout meetings, and other similar activities. By the time we get home from all of this, it’s time to retire for the evening so we will be ready to begin again the next day.

In my neighborhood it is not uncommon to see people drive down the street toward their homes, watch the garage door open as they pull into their driveways, and then close once they are in the garage. I never see the person. I would be challenged to recognize many of my neighbors if they were to walk up to me and say hello. I used to frown on this when thinking about how churches can reach people in our neighborhoods. After reflecting on it a bit more, it is easy to understand why churches struggle with building communities when people find it a challenge just to spend time with their immediate family. Many people simply do not have the time to be a part of a faith community, much less doing so in a similar manner as described in the book of Acts.

When describing most churches, we see people gathering for an hour to an hour and a half every Sunday morning. They arrive at church and greet one another as they find a place to sit. During the worship service, it may be customary to have a time when everyone stands to say hello to those sitting near them. After the service, they may have a couple of brief conversations as they leave the church to return home. All in all, many people spend only a few minutes actually interacting with other people, yet we expect to create communities of believers under these circumstances. Is it any wonder people feel uncomfortable when placed in small groups where the only thing they have in common is the initial of their last name or the zip code in which they live?

When we look at the community as described in Acts, we see the people of the church eating together and spending time in fellowship. In the first century, people lived, recreated, and worshipped within walking distance of their home. Everything was located nearby, and people rarely ventured more than a mile from our home. It was much easier, and some would say necessary, to be a part of such a fellowship. People today no longer live in organic communities as the people did in the first century.

So what is the answer to building a community of believers? I am beginning to wonder if we are seeking the wrong answer. Perhaps the answer is not to build (dare I say) artificial communities of believers within our churches. After all, they barely know one another. Perhaps the answer is equipping and encouraging the people of our churches to bring their faith and beliefs outside of the church into the community in which they are already a natural part. Hmm, sounds like discipleship is the answer we should be seeking.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Do you understand the secret to the kingdom of heaven?

This morning I am continuing my reading through the Gospels. I am reading them as I continue to ponder discipleship and what it means to our churches. This morning a couple of things seem relevant.

In chapter four, we read of the purpose of the parables. Beginning in verse 10, those that were around him asked about the parables. It is interesting to note that there were more than just the twelve apostles. Jesus answered them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.” Later, in verse 34 it says, “He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

Two things come to mind as I reflect on these passages. First, there were more than just the twelve apostles with Jesus at this time. Many followed him, but some may have done so out of curiosity. Jesus says that the secret of the kingdom of heaven has been given to them, but perhaps they did not all accept it. Perhaps, the better way to state it would be that not all of them had the faith to accept it. Jesus goes on to explain the parable of the sower. It would seem many of those that followed him fit into the illustration other than that given in verse 20.

The second thing that comes to mind is from verse 33 and 34. Mark writes that Jesus continued to speak in parables, but then “privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” This shows that even though Jesus called his twelve disciples, and that they were given the secret to the kingdom of heaven, they must continue to be taught to understand the parables.

In our churches today, many Christians have received the gift of salvation; yet, they do not pursue Jesus as a disciple by studying the scriptures. If Jesus had to teach the apostles that he called to understand the secret of the kingdom of heaven, does it not make sense that we need to be diligent to seek the wisdom as taught in scriptures all the more? We should not take for granted our salvation, treating it as nothing more than a get-out-of-jail-free card. Jesus called us to be his disciples; and as such, we should purposely pursue the secrets of the kingdom of heaven through prayer, study, and teaching.

Something to ponder today…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Army of Spears

Last Sunday, our pastor spoke of the origin of his last name. My wife did a little research and found the origins of our last name on It is English from a Norman personal name composed of the Germanic elements hari, heri ‘army’ + gar, ger ‘spear’, ‘lance’. In other words, we are an army of spears, only our spears are the word of God!

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword” Hebrews 4:12 (New International Version).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just Do It!

Continuing with our look at Spiritual Discipleship

The second chapter in Sander’s book is “Conditions of Discipleship.”

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” Luke 14:27 (ESV)

Oswald opens this chapter discussing how Jesus seems to be “intent on alienating [the crowd’s] interest and actually discouraging them from following him.” He goes on to say, “The line Jesus took with the impressionable crowd was the exact opposite of much evangelism today.” Rather than focusing on the benefits of following him as a disciple, he spoke of the “difficulties and dangers” and “sacrifices.” Jesus was not interested in the number of people who followed him; he was interested in the quality of those who chose to make the necessary sacrifice to be disciples (pp. 19-21).

We must challenge not only ourselves, but also those around us to “bear [our] own cross” and be true disciples of Jesus Christ. It will be difficult. It may be dangerous. It will definitely demand sacrifice. However, as Oswald writes, “following Christ is not a joyless experience” (p. 24). True joy and happiness come to those who follow Jesus Christ. And if that is not incentive enough, try following the popular directive, “Just do it!”

Holy Bible. (2001). English standard version. Wheaton, IL: Standard Bible Society.

Sanders, J. O. (1990). Spiritual discipleship: Principles of following Christ for every believer. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The “Rest” of the Story

Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Heb 4:11-13 (New International Version)

As with many books of the Bible, Hebrews is one I have read many times, yet each time I read it I glean more knowledge and insight. This morning is no exception.

My daily reading led me to chapter 4. I have been reading from different translations over the past few days, and this morning I read from the NIV Study Bible. The wording and study notes helped me understand what it means to enter into the rest of God, and how our faith determines our ability to do so. As I often do, I pulled out another translation to compare.

This morning I reached for the ESV Study Bible and read the same verses and accompanying study notes. The ESV study notes are a bit more cumbersome to read and understand, but well worth the time and effort to work through. This morning, however, it was not so much the study notes that sparked the “ah-huh” moment for me as it was the grammatical structure of the text.

In the NIV (and several other translations), the paragraph on God’s rest ends with verse 11, and a new paragraph begins with verse 12. In the ESV (and the NASB), the paragraph ends with verse 10, and a new paragraph begins with verse 11. You may be asking, “So, what’s the big deal?” Well, the fact that the paragraph in the ESV begins with verse 11 ties that particular verse in with 12 & 13; and in so doing helped me to understand the context of verses 12 & 13 in relation to verse 11.

In other words, there is more to entering the rest of God than simply taking a day of rest; we must also be faithfully obedient. Moreover, we cannot fool God if we try to deceive ourselves by our actions. “The word of God is living and active…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” Hebrews 4:12 (ESV). God knows if we are living our lives in faith or not; we cannot fool him. In order to enter the rest of God, we must strive to live our lives in faith and obedience to God. We must understand and accept what Jesus Christ did for us, and place our trust in Him. Only then are we truly able to enter into the rest of God.

Holy Bible. (2008). The ESV study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Holy Bible. (2002). Zondervan NIV study Bible (Fully Revised). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blessed are the Merciful…

Continuing with our look at Spiritual Discipleship, J. Oswald Sanders discusses the Beatitudes in the chapter, The Ideal Disciple.

He begins the chapter with the statement,

The Old Covenant of law could pronounce only a curse on those who failed to fulfill its demands. The New Covenant, which was sealed with Christ’s blood, does not reduce the law’s demands but imparts the desire and the dynamic to fulfill them. The “thou shalt, thou shalt not” of the Old is replace by the “I will, I will” of the New. (p. 11)

What a great way to put it. Rather than being a list of rules to follow, the New Testament is an inspiration to follow the example of Jesus Christ.

Sanders goes on to outline the Beatitudes into eight conditions of life. The first four are passive personal qualities: spiritual inadequacy, spiritual contrition, spiritual humility, and spiritual aspiration. The next four are active social qualities: compassionate in spirit, pure in heart, conciliatory in spirit, and unswerving in loyalty.

The quality that strikes a chord with me is compassionate in spirit. Sanders writes, “It is possible to have a passion for righteousness and yet lack compassion and mercy for those who have failed to attain it” (p. 15). He goes on to write, “To become mercy, [pity] must graduate from mere emotion to compassionate action.” In other words, to be merciful, we must be willing to do more than just feel pity; we must be willing to do something. More than that, we must be willing to encourage those who have fallen into sin to turn away from sin and turn to Christ. Perhaps if we were less inclined to judge, and more inclined to show mercy we would see more come to know Christ. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” Matthew 5:7 (English Standard Version).

Sanders, J. O. (1990). Spiritual discipleship: Principles of following Christ for every believer. Chicago: The Moody Bible Institute.