But It’s Not Perfect

August 10, 2018

The local church is not heaven. Heaven will be a place of perfection. No sin. No problems. No conflicts. Although the church is made up of forgiven people, it is not made of perfect people. Regrettably, problems can arise, and these can even disturb the faith of some. We need to remind ourselves, that even in the New Testament we can read about people in the church attempting to resolve problems.

In Acts 6:1-7, the Hellenistic Jewish widows were being neglected. It involved the church’s ministry and matters had reached a crisis. The apostles commanded that seven men to be chosen, so they could be appointed over this need. Fairness was restored. Afterwards, the church grew even more.

In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas had a serious disagreement as to whether John Mark should be taken on the next missionary journey. It involved matters of judgment, but I bet it was a bit tense in the Antioch church until that matter was resolved, but good came out of it.

In Galatians 2:11-21, the apostle Paul opposed the apostle Peter because he was not eating with Gentiles for fear of the circumcision party. This was a matter of doctrine, and my guess is that it was difficult for the friends of Peter and Paul to see such a disagreement arise. Yet an important doctrinal point was made; Peter was prevented from going the wrong direction. Later in life, Peter was able to write commendably of Paul (see 2 Peter 3:14-16).

I have to admit there are probably times when all of us would like to quit. Working with people can seem so hard. Why can’t I just go out in the middle of a field and worship alone! The reason is simple. God has called me to be a part of an assembly of people—the church (Hebrews 10:23-25). God in His infinite wisdom knows I need others for the maturing process that goes on in Christian living. The process is sometimes painful, but I must trust the Potter as He molds me, His clay.

What do we do while we wait for the perfection of heaven? “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1–3, ESV).


A Spiritual Church

June 2, 2018

The church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) with the outpouring of the Spirit and the preaching of the gospel. The miraculous manifestations of the Spirit were to confirm the new revelation given by the Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Although I do not think we should expect to see in our lifetime the things that were marks of the Apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12), I believe we are to be a spiritual church.

We are to be a spiritual church because our faith is based on the inspired Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus told the Apostles: “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into al the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:12-13, NASB). Scripture comes to us because of “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21).
We are to be a spiritual church because Christians have received the indwelling Spirit when they were baptized (Acts 2:38-39, Acts 5:32). The Spirit is a motive for holiness (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit aids us in our struggle with sin (Romans 8:13). The Spirit is said to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

We are to be a spiritual church because of prayer. One of the hallmarks of the church in Acts is prayer (Acts 2:42, 3:1, 4:24, 6:4, 12:12, 13:3, 14:23, 20:36, 21:5).

What we should be and could be is not always what we are. Paul in addressing the problems in Corinth says that he ought to be speaking to spiritual people, but in reality, they were carnal (fleshly), still babes in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:1). May the word of Christ dwell in us richly, may we not grieve the Spirit but mature producing the fruit of the Spirit, and may we learn to pray without ceasing. These are the things that characterize a spiritual church.


How Does Your Garden Grow?

May 18, 2018

Imagine different gardeners and their plants.

In one case, there is but an overgrown pot. Everything is under control, but growth is stifled. The plant could be several times its current size, but that would mean being repotted or placed in the garden. It would mean having room to grow.

In another case, the garden is neglected. The plants are sickly. They need weeding and pruning. They need water and fertilizer. With attention, the garden could be lush and fruitful, but this garden has many a brown spot and plants that are about to die.

The third garden is hardly a garden. Dead plants really do not a garden make. It is evident that something toxic had been in this garden. Instead of water and fertilizer, these plants received poison.

The final case is a lush, green, and fruitful garden. It has received good care from the gardeners. Weeds have been pulled. Water and fertilizer have been applied, and the increase is great.

The story of the gardeners provides a lesson for the church. The selection of elders and deacons is a vitally important decision. As the work of gardeners affect the garden, so does the work of elders and deacons affect the church.

Overbearing leaders (see 1 Peter 5:3) can stifle the life of the church. The church can be like the pot bound plant—capable of great growth if given the chance but stifled instead.

Neglectful leaders fail to do the work that needs to be done. The church can become like the neglected garden in need of weeding, pruning, fertilizing, and watering.

Toxic leaders bring false teaching (see Titus 1:9-11) or emotional abuse. Instead of the sound doctrine that produces spiritual health. False teaching kills off the life of the church.

Finally, good leaders do the work that needs to be done in the church. The result is a healthy church. The members are equipped for service (Ephesians 4). The church grows and produces good fruit.

The health and growth of the church are dependent on the quality of leadership we have. May we choose wisely. Good leaders promote “sound (healthy) doctrine (teaching).” Along with equipping people for ministry, this should lead to a healthy church. Such a church needs to be biblical in its teaching, moral in its ethical life, and loving in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18). This love is demonstrated in service and ministry as we encourage one another and reach out to the world around us.


The Storyteller’s Parable

April 27, 2018

With a twinkle in his eye, the Storyteller began his tale:

“There were two families that were very much alike — parents, children, a house, and many material blessings, but there was one very big difference.

The first family was very close to one another. Since the time the children were very small, a concerted effort had been made for the family to have time together. Meal times were special as each shared their day. Family outing were always eagerly anticipated. Certainly, each family member had his or her own interests. No two family members were exactly alike, but they had learned to enjoy one another’s company.

As the children grew, the stresses of busy and competing schedules were felt, but the family was resolute in setting certain when all were together. Sacrifices were made so that the whole family could have that togetherness.

The second family was not very close. They had not seen the importance of time together. In fact, as they grew up they found it increasingly hard even to have a conversation with one another, and what was worse, when problems came, it was hard to share the burdens for feel real support.”

Pausing, the Storyteller asked, “To which kind of family would you want to belong?”

“The close one, of course,” I replied, hardly thinking that it was much of a question.

As the Storyteller turned to leave, he said softly, “Your spiritual family has set aside times to be together, and they’ve requested your presence. Which kind of family do you want it to be?”


Suggestions for Public Scripture Reading

February 23, 2018

The basis for the public reading of scripture in our assemblies can be found in the New Testament. Timothy, an evangelist in Ephesus, is instructed by Paul: “Until I come, continue to devote yourself to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Most modern translations render reading as public reading. Although the word can mean either private or public reading, the public nature of the other two items in the series, exhortation and teaching, would cause us to think of the assembly. Other passages also indicate a public reading of the word (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Revelation 1:3).

The public reading of God’s word underscores its authority. It also gives opportunity for us to hear the message of scripture. Yet it must be done well. If we do it poorly, the hidden message may be that this is unimportant–the exact opposite of what we want to convey. Let me make some suggestions for public reading to help us achieve excellence.

  • Select a unit of thought to be read. Remember chapter and verse numbers are the later addition of editors. They may not always help in selecting a unit of thought. The reader may need to give some context to help the listeners. The goal is that the scripture selected will convey the same message to the listeners as if they had read it in context for themselves. (Most of the time for us, the passage is selected to go with the preaching text. If you want to know the passage prior to Sunday, let me know.)
  • Check for pronunciation and words you may not understand. A Bible dictionary can aid you in the pronunciation of Bible names, so can the book, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names. The web sites, biblespeak.org and thebibleworkshop.com, provide audio pronunciations of some Bible names. An app called Biblical Pronunciation is also available for Android and iOS. Some Bible names have multiple acceptable pronunciations. But nothing hurts a public reading like stumbling over the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names.
  • Watch for problems that may arise in public reading that might confuse the sense. Failing to pause at the right place or pausing in the wrong place may confuse the listener. Consider the example Luke 2:16: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (NRSV). If the reader fails to pause at the comma, it will end up sounding as if all three — Mary, Joseph, and the child — are in the manger.
  • Find the author’s meaning, place the stress and emphasis on the main point.
  • Read more slowly than you might speak but be willing to vary the speed and pitch to fit the tone of the reading. I once heard a comparison of audio books made by Audible.com with amateur produced audio books. The speed and pitch of the Audible books were well modulated. The amateur books sounded flat in comparison. And this difference effects the listener’s ability to pay attention and comprehend. No, I’m not expecting us to become professional readers, but it is something at which most of us can do better.
  • Communicate the emotion and tone of the passage with your voice if possible. Is there joy? Is there anger? Is there sarcasm? Is there humor?
  • Practice reading the passage aloud.

The Meaning of Church

December 8, 2017

Our English word church translates the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία, G1577) in the New Testament. Ekklesia means assembly, so the emphasis of the word is on our regularly assembling together. Preachers have through the years also mentioned the etymology of the word which is “called out.” But as Everett Ferguson notes, “The popular etymology … is not supported by the actual usage of the word. The emphasis was on the concrete act of assembly, not a separation from others.”1

Our English word church derives from another Greek term kyriokos. This word is a Greek adjective mean “Lord’s.” The word does occur in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10 where they refer to “the Lord’s supper” and “the Lord’s Day.” However, in our word church, the phrase in its word history is kyriokon doma (Lord’s house). This word phrase led to Kirche in German, Kirk in Scotland, and church in English. So, the first definition in English is “a building set apart for public esp. Christian worship.”2 However, ekklesia is not talking about a building but an assembly of people. Because of this word history for our English word, we end up emphasizing that the New Testament meaning of church has to do with the people not a building.

Ekklesia was also used for other assemblies than what we think of with church. It is used for an assembly of citizens in Ephesus.

Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. (Acts 19:32, ESV)

But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly (ekklesia). (Acts 19:39, ESV)

It is also used of the assembly or congregation of God’s people in the Old Testament in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.

This is the one who was in the congregation (ekkesia) in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. (Acts 7:38 ESV)

The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word ekklesia 100 times in the Old Testament for such things as the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:2/23:1), the assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30), the assembly of the sons of Israel (Joshua 9:2/8:35), and the assembly of the people of God (Judges 20:2). This may give some force to Jesus’ words, “I will build my church.”

The word synagogue (Greek συναγωγή, sunagōgē, G4864 )is also used once of an assembly of Christians, although this gets obscured by translation.

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, (James 2:2, ESV)

I’ve heard people say, “You can’t go to church, because we are the church.” But the reality is you can go to an assembly. Unless age or health prevent it, to be a part of a church is to assemble regularly together.

1Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, p. 130.
2Merriam-Webster Third Unabridged Dictionary


The Meaning of Church

December 8, 2017

Our English word church translates the Greek word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία, G1577) in the New Testament. Ekklesia means assembly, so the emphasis of the word is on our regularly assembling together. Preachers have through the years also mentioned the etymology of the word which is “called out.” But as Everett Ferguson notes, “The popular etymology … is not supported by the actual usage of the word. The emphasis was on the concrete act of assembly, not a separation from others.”1

Our English word church derives from another Greek term kyriokos. This word is a Greek adjective mean “Lord’s.” The word does occur in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 11:20 and Revelation 1:10 where they refer to “the Lord’s supper” and “the Lord’s Day.” However, in our word church, the phrase in its word history is kyriokon doma (Lord’s house). This word phrase led to Kirche in German, Kirk in Scotland, and church in English. So, the first definition in English is “a building set apart for public esp. Christian worship.”2 However, ekklesia is not talking about a building but an assembly of people. Because of this word history for our English word, we end up emphasizing that the New Testament meaning of church has to do with the people not a building.

Ekklesia was also used for other assemblies than what we think of with church. It is used for an assembly of citizens in Ephesus.

Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly (ekklesia) was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. (Acts 19:32, ESV)

But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly (ekklesia). (Acts 19:39, ESV)

It is also used of the assembly or congregation of God’s people in the Old Testament in Stephen’s speech in Acts 7.

This is the one who was in the congregation (ekkesia) in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers. (Acts 7:38 ESV)

The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word ekklesia 100 times in the Old Testament for such things as the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:2/23:1), the assembly of Israel (Deuteronomy 31:30), the assembly of the sons of Israel (Joshua 9:2/8:35), and the assembly of the people of God (Judges 20:2). This may give some force to Jesus’ words, “I will build my church.”

The word synagogue (Greek συναγωγή, sunagōgē, G4864 )is also used once of an assembly of Christians, although this gets obscured by translation.

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, (James 2:2, ESV)

I’ve heard people say, “You can’t go to church, because we are the church.” But the reality is you can go to an assembly. Unless age or health prevent it, to be a part of a church is to assemble regularly together.

1Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, p. 130.
2Merriam-Webster Third Unabridged Dictionary