Meaty Teachers, Gospel Reachers

teacher_small groupI’ve been going through the book of Hebrews and it never ceases to amaze me with each reading, some new insight is gained (why repeated reading of the word is a lifetime exercise). So here’s something that struck me recently and was kind of enforced in our Sunday School class where we are going through the book of Galatians.

The writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians who were Jews and wanted to return to life under the law of Moses because Christian life was so challenging. He issues a series of warnings regarding those who shrink back and don’t mature in their Christian life.

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food if for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good and evil. (Heb. 5:11-14)

A few observations: 1) There are basic principles of Christianity to be believed that these people have heard repeatedly; 2) moving from milk to meat having the basics so down pact that you can teach others and 3) this is intrinsically related to putting the word into practice such that the basics are lived out.  And here is where I think a careful distinction should be made. Continue reading

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Refreshment for the Soul: What I Love about the Reformed Church

woman relaxing in fieldIf you were to tell me 10 years ago that I would be a member of a Presbyterian church and love it, I would have told you that you were nuts. Especially back in my Charismatic days, I drew the typical caricature of the “frozen chosen” as Presbyterians were commonly called – dry, non-spiritual, deadpan, etc.  Even my transition into the baptistic/Bible church circle in 2006, I still carried some of that unfortunate mischaracterization in my mind.

It was not until I started seminary in 2008 that my perspective began to change. One of the main questions I started asking early on is what is the church and what is her purpose. The more I dove into Scripture and historical theology to formulate an answer, the more I learned of the Reformed church and the more attractive it became. In the context of Jesus command to make disciples, I began to see how what we do internally is just as important, if not more important than what we do externally. What we do internally must forge our identity in Christ, provoke worship to him and remind us of our covenantal relationship to one another, as the body of Christ.  But most importantly, what we do corporately must remind us of our need for Him.

Carl Trueman has written a rather lengthy piece on First Things, A Church for Exiles. He indicates that Reformed worship is a good place to get grounded in Christ in recognition of the fact that Christians are sojourners and exiles in the world. While I disagree with him on some points related to the Reformed church having no engagement with the public square, I do agree with him on his main point. Much of what he writes related to church itself that resonates with me on why I find the Reformed church so refreshing. Continue reading

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You’re Not Suffering Unless I Say So

wagging_finger_cartoonOf course, many of us wouldn’t think to tell people this. We might actually consider uttering these words to another person rude and presumptuous. And yet, I find that this sentiment runs rampant in Christian circles. How? When we attempt to validate another person’s experience according to how we see it or what we think is a valid reason for suffering.

Just watch what happens when you encounter a person who equates suffering with something you don’t understand. We’ll minimize it and then do the comparison game. You know, that’s where we highlight the real sufferers. We’ll say things like, “well at least you’re not in situation X”. Or “I can’t believe that person is complaining about Z or Y”. What might have been more direct is to say “I don’t see how you think that is suffering.” Or we’ll invalidate their experience somehow through some trite cliche.

Or we’ll measure according to these pre-determined reasons. We’ll allow suffering for certain things, like death, but not for other things. We make the the determination what is valid or not.

Why is it incumbent on us to determine how another should feel about something? Where do we get the right to validate another’s experience? Because that’s precisely what we do when measure their suffering according to our own meter.

I don’t know why we do this. Perhaps it is pride, a lack of compassion or just disconnection from our own humanity. Actually, I think a lack of empathy might be at the core. Empathy recognizes that you may not be able to relate to another’s pain but have the ability to put yourselves in the other’s shoes. Empathy puts aside our own perspective according to our own experiences and recognizes that if someone hurts or feels shame, there is a reason for it. Continue reading

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Beyond Reformed: The Significance of Cross-Pollinated Dialogue

As was staying abreast of the happenings in the General Assembly of the PCA, I came across this article, PCA: Past, Present, and Future.

Bryan Chapell commented on the importance of this discussion for the future of the PCA:

My sense is that most teaching and ruling elders in the PCA are thankful and grateful for our standards, but often confused and bewildered by how ineffective we seem to be in reaching our culture with the gospel. Therefore, it’s very important to discern how we may maintain our standards while at the same time being an effective instrument of Christ in our current day.

Ron Taylor says, “I hope all will see that we can have cooperative ministry and we want to be able to work better together across generational lines, ethnic lines, sociological lines….In the last 40 years, our cultural context has changed considerably with significant transfer of the population from small, rural areas, to large, urban ones…We have to consider how we can better penetrate urban areas.”

church_hand shakingI have only been in the PCA for 2 years, though my formation of Reformed theology started way before then. I continue to be impressed by the tension of maintaining commitment to Reformed roots and adapting to a changing environment. Of course the commitment is to Scripture but there is also recognition that Presbyterianism is not the only game in town. It seems to me that what these speakers are pressing is the need be in dialogue with other Christian denominations and affiliations. Though I unapologetically classify myself as Reformed, my eclectic doctrinal journey cautions me against making Reformed the dogmatic standard of Christianity to which everyone else must bow. My theological convictions impress upon me Reformed doctrine as a result of wrestling with the biblical texts and arguments past and present. But if I lose sight that Christ’s body encompasses other members who hold the core beliefs but deviate on some secondary issues then, I lose sight of the beauty of what it means to be in Christ’s body. It’s why I try not to push Reformed doctrine in the sense of some kind of superiority kick, as I wrote here. Admittedly, sometimes I fail. But it helps to remember that the true body of Christ is pretty big and transcends denominational lines. Continue reading

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Happy (Kind Of) Independence Day

liberty bell w_fireworksWell, this is certainly a different kind of post for me. But this 4th of July celebration falls upon a week of much uproar over the Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. At the heart of the fall out is basically disagreement regarding individual rights and religious freedom. There have been plenty of posts dissecting, analyzing, supporting, castigating or otherwise blasting the decision. To be sure, there has been over-the-top fact-twisting rhetoric amid some calmer, knowledgeable and more insightful pieces on this decision. So much has been written so there is no need to add to that pot.

But the uproar over the case does make me reflect on what it says about where we are as a country. At the same time July 4th gives us opportunity to reflect on who we were established to be as a country. And I find the contrast kind of ironic.  Why do I say that? July 4th is a commemoration of colonists declaration of independence from Britain. It was a group of people who said no to government tyranny and its ability to rule over the conscience of the people.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

Continue reading

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