Proximity, Sprawl, and Being Joyfully Inconvenienced by Your Church

In my posts on proximity and sprawl (here and here), I argued that living close to your church is important. In fact, I believe that, ordinarily, one of the most impactful ways to love your fellow church members, to “consider others higher than yourselves,” and to “look to the interests of others,” is by seeking to live geographically close to your church.

Of course, one of the dangers of being so close to your church is that convenience could breed complacency. For those who live close to their church and misuse that proximity, and for those who currently live a distance from the church, here’s an encouraging blog on why being inconvenienced for your church is actually an opportunity for your faithfulness and joy to shine.

…Those who are hungry for Christ consider it their joy to be inconvenienced for the sake of His church.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to the way many people treat the church today. Countless multitudes attend church regularly, but view it as a commodity—a conveniently located provider of spiritual goods and services for which they make no real sacrifice…

Read the rest of the article here.

On Ball Becoming Baal

In two previous posts, we discussed how parents are often teaching our children to have the wrong priorities. In fact, this is sometimes because many adult believers have confused priorities as well. One of the common culprits is the role of sports in the life of the family. I recently read this article from For the Church, and thought it was worth sharing as a follow-up to that discussion.

Like “athlete’s foot” on the hygienically-challenged teenager, sports has taken over more and more of the life of believers. Almost overnight we have awakened to the sad fact that, in many communities, sports has even usurped the hours believers meet on the Lord’s Day. All too often members are saying to church leaders, “We’ll be gone next Sunday because of the soccer tournament.” In turn, leaders are supposed to acquiesce humbly. After all, we can’t afford to appear “legalistic;” everyone knows that the greatest crime a church can commit is to demand something of someone.

The author concludes with three principles that are well-worth implementing in your own family life. Read the rest of the article here.

How to Start Building Your Book Collection

So you want to start building your library, but you’re not sure where to start. I’ve often spoken with folks who wish to dig deeper into the Christian faith, but then find that there are just too many books to choose from—and it’s hard to tell what’s reliable anyway. The proverbial flooded market can certainly be overwhelming—especially when you want solid, trustworthy resources, not just whatever happens to be on TGC’s top 20 list.

So, here’s another list of recommended books!

I’ve started compiling a list of books that would serve well as a starting point for a basic Christian library. And as always, recommending a book does not mean that I necessarily agree with all of its content. Rather, I think these are books which are accessible, solid, and particularly beneficial in their various categories. If you’re interested in learning more and getting serious about the Christian faith and way of life, I recommend starting here. I’ll explain why I give these specific recommendations in another post.

I’d also love to hear about any other books you’ve found to be an essential introduction in a particular area.


Study Bibles

HCSB Study Bible

Ryrie Study Bible

How to Study the Bible

Grasping God’s Word, by Duvall and Hays

Basic Bible Interpretation, by Roy Zuck

An Introduction to Theology

Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, by Bruce Ware

Systematic Theology, by Norman Geisler

He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom, by Michael Vlach

Understanding End Times Prophecy, by Paul Benware

On Living the Christian Life

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, by Michael Horton

Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness, by Ed Welch

When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man, by Ed Welch

Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

Anger, Anxiety and Fear: A Biblical Perspective, by Stuart Scott

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace, by Heath Lambert

On Marriage and Family

Her Hand in Marriage: Biblical Courtship in the Modern World, by Douglas Wilson

Reforming Marriage, by Douglas Wilson

Building a Godly Home, by William Gouge

Why Children Matter, by Douglas and Nancy Wilson

Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants, by Douglas Wilson

For Men:

Federal Husband, by Douglas Wilson

Man of the House, by C.R. Wiley

The Exemplary Husband, by Stuart Scott

For Women:

Why Isn’t a Pretty Girl Like You Married? And Other Useful Comments, by Nancy Wilson

The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman, by Nancy Wilson

The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace

Praise Her in the Gates: The Calling of Christian Motherhood, by Nancy Wilson

The Silver Lining: A Practical Guide for Grandmothers, by Nancy Wilson

On Salvation

Free Grace Theology on Trial, by Anthony Badger

Freely by His Grace, by Hixson, Whitmire, and Zuck

Grace, Salvation, and Discipleship: How to Understand Some Difficult Bible Passages, by Charles Bing

On the Life of Christ

The Words and Works of Jesus Christ, by J. Dwight Pentecost

On the Holy Spirit

The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit, by Larry Pettegrew

Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, by John MacArthur

On the Church

Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever

Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman

Going Public, by Bobby Jamieson

On Ethics

An Introduction to Biblical Ethics, by Robertson McQuilkin and Paul Copan

Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, by Wayne Grudem

Devotionals

Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers from Banner of Truth

Morning and Evening, a devotional by Charles Spurgeon

The Puritans: Daily Readings edited by Randall Pederson

Psalms for Trials: Meditations on Praying the Psalms, by Lindsey Tollefson

Always in God’s Hands: Day by Day in the Company of Jonathan Edwards, by Owen Strachan

New Morning Mercies, by Paul David Tripp

Virtuous: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Learning Contentment: A Study for Ladies of Every Age, by Nancy Wilson

Hymns to the Living God

Hymns of Grace


 

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The Lord’s Supper Gone Sour

Imagine a first-century church (one of the churches Paul and Barnabas planted, for instance), and they’re arguing over the wine they use for the Lord’s Supper. Some people have complained, “why are we using this cheap wine, when we could just as easily get a nice cabernet?” Perhaps they were self-conscious when relatives would visit from Rome and the communion wine tasted like vinegar. But when they then switched to a better wine, some complained about the money they were spending on it; still others said that they couldn’t properly focus on the gravity of Christ’s death while they were enjoying a fine wine.

What do you think Paul would have said in a letter to this church? Would he have said something like, “haven’t I taught you anything about grace? Seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. Think of others more highly, and more often, than you think of yourself…” I bring this thought experiment up because I see many modern churches having similar arguments over the bread we use for communion.

But when Paul says “do all things without grumbling,” he means all things, and he means no complaining. When we have the capacity to complain and grumble about the culinary quality of the elements we use for Communion, we not only show that we have completely failed to internalize and apply the lessons about grace the Scripture teaches us, but we evidence a selfish, self-centered attitude that is in line with the attitude for which Paul rebuked the Corinthian church, saying that because of the way they were treating one another over the issue of Communion, they “make it not the Lord’s Supper.”

In other words, you’re missing the whole point. You’ve sat down at the table of fellowship only to flip over the table and spoil the Supper. This is a meal that proclaims and celebrates the fellowship we have with Christ, and because of our union with Christ then also the fellowship we have with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And we profane the very purpose of the communion meal when we can’t see past our own preferences and felt needs, and instead allow selfish and discontent thoughts into our hearts over the very practice that Christ instituted to be not only a remembrance of his death and resurrection, but a celebration of the new life in union with him and in fellowship with our new family that we now have.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. — 1 Corinthians 11:27-28


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On The Reading of Scripture

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. — Psalm 27:4

I think we’ve lost that fervor for time spent simply inquiring of the Lord, gazing upon his glory, contemplating who He is and what He’s done—learning from our Savior.

Remember the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10? Jesus and his disciples stop at the house of Martha in the village of Bethany. And we see Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his teaching, but Martha, Luke says, “was distracted with much serving.” She was preparing and tending to the meal, she gets frustrated with her sister for not helping, and she actually tells Jesus to rebuke Mary.

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” — Luke 10:40-42

In our churches today, I think we pay lip service to the devotion of Mary, but in reality have too many Marthas, anxious and flustered about so many other things in life. We often feel the need to stay busy, as though if we’re not doing something all the time then we’re not being useful; and then we can start to look down on others who do take the time to just sit at the feet of Christ and hear his instruction. People say “the times have changed; it’s different now; we don’t have time to just stop, and spend time in the Scriptures. There’s too much to be accomplished!”

But Jesus says this one thing is of lasting value—what Mary’s doing.

How can we then justify keeping ourselves so busy, and fretting over temporal matters so much, that we neglect the one thing that Jesus says is necessary—to sit at his feet and hear his instruction?

All throughout Scripture, this is the ultimate priority of the follower of God—to learn His Word. But we’ve lost that. We’ve left that commitment. Now, people are all about what we think, and what we feel about something. But what we think and feel just doesn’t matter if our thoughts and feelings and affections are not aligned with God’s thoughts and affections. So doesn’t it make sense then that we would want to turn to his Word—His revelation of Himself—that we might begin to better understand His thoughts, and His ways, knowing they are far superior to our own, and to allow Him then to mold us and conform us to His likeness by His Word working in us, as Paul says, to bring us to glorify God in our lives more and more?

It’s no wonder that we are easily overwhelmed by the worries of the world and the needs of our every-day life when we’ve unmoored ourselves from the unwavering truth of the Word of God. The psalmist says in Psalm 119:

The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” And, likewise, Solomon says, “The Lord gives wisdom; and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

See, the way to gain stability, wisdom, peace, contentment, and joy, is to devote yourself to the instruction of the Word of God. Psalm 1 says that to meditate on the instruction of the Lord makes someone like a tree planted by streams of water that produces abundant fruit, and whose leaf doesn’t wither, because it is rooted at a constant, consistent, source of life. And if we are planted at the life-giving water of the Word of God, we can then be fruitful, and we won’t have to fear the times of drought, as Jeremiah says, because we have sent out our roots to that living water—the Lord Himself. How can we neglect that? How did we drift so far from the commitment of God’s people throughout history—the overwhelming passion for this one thing: to listen to the teaching of the Lord!

 


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Prioritizing Family Over Ministry

Modern churchgoers have some messed up priorities. That’s my thesis. Sometimes we have no conscious priorities; sometimes we feel there is no flexibility in priorities where there should be; sometimes we’ve just never considered the fact that our priorities may be dangerously disordered. But thinking through what our priorities should be—and then consistently acting on it—can be very difficult.

In a recent series, we’ve been discussing the importance of the local church, the priority we place on it, and the appalling dismissal of the local church that is rampant in modern Christianity (under the guise of attending to the pressures and needs of modern life).

Maybe people could devote more time to their church family in the 1850’s, but we have more pressing matters at hand. I do love the church, I’m just so busy! I don’t have time! You don’t understand how busy my family is!

My main point? I just don’t buy it. People make time for what is most important to them. I think we simply have grossly misunderstood the value and import of the local church, and have given in to the habits, values, and worldview of the secular culture. Anyway, you can read those posts here, here, and here.

A follow-up objection to my general emphasis of the local church might be: What about putting my family first? We’re always told to do that.

Indeed we are… So I’m going to do some thought exercises here on the issue of prioritizing church over family, or family over church.

Church or Family?

First of all, it concerns me that we automatically, as a matter of axiomatic self-evidential fact, assume that us (Christians) investing in and prioritizing our family looks the same as when the world does that.

We’re often told that our priorities ought to go like this:

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Ministry
  4. Others

Or some variation of the above… Another way to word that would be,

  1. God
  2. My children
  3. God’s children
  4. Others

Do we get that from Scripture?

I’d like to challenge that. And I do so cautiously and conservatively, because I care a great deal about the natural family; yet I think even in our attempt to prioritize the family, we often do it a great disservice.

A better, but I think still insufficient, priority tier structure would be something like this:

  1. God and his family
  2. My family
  3. Others

Jim Daly talks about this priority hierarchy in this article. It’s encouraging, and worth the read. But I think we still need a little work on our priority pyramid.

I think that trying to conceptualize our priorities and responsibilities in chart or hierarchy form may inevitably have inherent weaknesses at various points. Also, I’m horrible with charts, so I couldn’t quite get something I’m happy with. But, with that caveat, I would recommend thinking about it a little more like this:

Screen Shot 2018-07-10 at 5.06.39 PM

Yes, it’s more complicated… quite so. But I think this helps in a couple of important ways. First, in this way, Christ is above all and defines all. When we become believers, our identity changes. Who we are in Christ shapes and defines everything about how we live in every facet of life.

Secondly, I don’t know that trying to put church or family, or God’s family or my family, or ministry or family, in a specific order is useful. There will always be tension, and there will always be conflicts at times. Within the overarching umbrella of our identity and commitment to Christ, we have certain responsibilities that we have to do the hard work of balancing. Christ has called us to be committed to our assembling with and encouraging the church community, raising and discipling our own family, and evangelizing the lost.

And yep, there’s tension and difficulty in trying to balance those. Having a hierarchy that tells me, well, whenever two seem to be in conflict at any given point, [this one] or [that one] must win out at every point, I think is less than helpful. Trying to put that tension to rest with a simple order of categorical priorities is problematic. We may need to attend to one or the other more urgently at times, and this takes wisdom, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes much sweat and tears.

Within the various spheres of responsibility that we have, however, I think we can identify from Scripture certain levels of priority given to certain functions within each domain.

For example, within our church family, our responsibilities include assembling together regularly for worship (Heb 10:25), encouraging one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24), and fencing the community—meaning being responsible for who is affirmed and who is expelled from the fellowship through membership and discipline (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5; Gal 1). Beyond those responsibilities, we are blessed to have various ministry opportunities available by which we can serve in different ways as we are led, as we are able, as time allows. But the clear hierarchy here is that the various ministries we can voluntarily commit to are subordinate to our scriptural responsibilities to assemble and disciple.

Within the sphere of the household, our main responsibilities are to our spouse, and to our children (1 Tim 5:8). Our relationship to our spouse is, in fact, primary, and children secondary. Our responsibilities to our children are, first and foremost, to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). If, and only if, we are properly instructing our children in their knowledge of the Lord, and discipling them to love and obey Him fully, we then have liberty to involve them and encourage them in various recreational activities. But recreation is clearly subordinate to our responsibility to disciple and discipline our children to develop godly and biblical beliefs, morals, and affections. I think this is the case both within the sphere of the church and within the home; and the current tendency of parents to outsource the discipleship of their children to the church is perhaps one of the leading reasons that children sniff out the hypocrisy of parents who say Christ is important, but don’t consistently live Christocentric lives.

In our relationship to others (those outside our local church) we have the responsibility to encourage, pray for, and support other believers, and to share the good news with unbelievers. Anything beyond that is subordinate to those responsibilities.

One clear implication of this structure is that it shows the deficiency of trying to put church or family above one another. Scripture clearly calls us to be devoted to our church family; and Scripture clearly calls us to provide and care for our physical family. The hard work of balancing those responsibilities is just that—hard work. It takes discipline, wisdom, and prayer—and leaning on the Holy Spirit and His church for guidance and aid in all of it.

It should be clear from this chart that our commitment to our local church takes priority over our children’s recreation. Not only that, but our responsibilities to our local church actually have priority over our relationships to believers outside our own church as well. And that’s an important principle that we’ve largely forgotten.

I’m not entirely happy with the chart. But the bottom line is this: I don’t like trying to simplify our priorities as God, then Family, then Ministry… or God, then Ministry, then Family… or even as God-and-His-Family, then Our Family, then Others. The fact of the matter is that our identity in Christ shapes and defines everything about every facet of our life, and Christ calls us to minister to both our church family, and our own family. At times there will be perceived tension, at times we will need to make the decision to put God’s family above our own, and at times we will have to radically alter our picture of what we think fulfilling our responsibilities to our family looks like. Why can’t you invest in your family by spending time with them serving the church together? Do you think that perhaps that may in fact be one of the best ways to teach your children (and yourself) the importance of serving God?

Why do we think that ministering to, discipling, and investing in our families will look the same for us as it does for the world?

Christ calls us—and our families—to live radically Christocentric lives. And that translates immediately into living church-centric lives; because those who love Christ, will love His church (2 John 1:1).


 

 

 

 

 

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