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Archive for March, 2018

WHILE IT IS CALLED TODAY

If you are reading this, you are in a little 24-hour-period we call “today.” I know, today is not as glorious as yesterday, or last year, or whenever you were the popularity king/queen in school. Today also is not as promising as tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you will “arrive” in life by getting that dream job, marrying that perfect person, or finally making enough money to get beyond the hand-to-mouth existence that you are currently stuck in. But let’s talk about today, because today is all we have, and we may not have even that.

Every day I encounter someone who seems intent on alternating between nostalgia for the past and expectancy for the future. That someone is me. Yet I rarely travel this path alone. Together with family, friends, and coworkers, I reminisce about good times gone by and laugh over stories of that “most embarrassing moment.” From there, we pivot seamlessly to our weekend plans to career goals to retirement options. Oh sure, sometimes today gets special attention because of some momentous event like a job interview, marriage, or a birth of a child. Of course, the many life activities that fill up our todays—work projects, homework, meals—all receive their due attention in the moment. Yet rarely does the eternal significance of today sink in and change our hearts and our conduct. This is a mistake, and potentially one with tragic and eternally significant consequences.

There are two important things to remember about this little 24-hour period that we are living in: (1) A person’s life is the sum of his or her todays, and (2) there is no guarantee that tomorrow will become today for any of us. Hebrews 3:13 touches on both of these facts when it tells Christians to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The hardening effect of sin occurs when we permit its leavening influence to remain in our lives by our day-to-day toleration of the same. Today, if we do not root out sin through confession, repentance, and gospel exhortation, we leave ourselves exposed to its corrosive deceptiveness.

Sin is not just a mistake in our past or a dark cloud on the horizon of our future. The reason that Christians are called to exhort one another “every day” is because sin is daily crouching at the door of our hearts. Sin’s presence in the believer’s life is a sad reality (I John 1:8), and it must be recognized and dealt with as the serious soul-danger that it is. The porn viewer becomes an addict by failing to address today the strengthening chains of lust. The foodie becomes a glutton because tomorrow is when the idolatry of food will be addressed. The busybody becomes a gossip because the days of sharing “one more juicy little story” stack up until character is formed, integrity is lost, and sinful hardness settles into the soul. But no worries; tomorrow is wide open for repentance . . . right?

The writer of Hebrews calls for confrontation of sin “while it is called ‘today.’” Not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Why? Is it because you might die in a car wreck later today as evangelists like to portend? Perhaps. After all, none of us knows what a day will bring forth (Prov. 27:1). The Scripture also speaks of Christ’s return coming with unexpected suddenness, “like a thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:2). Yet for the writer of Hebrews, the threat in Chapter 3 seems to be not so much the loss of life or Christ’s return, but rather sin’s deceptive hardening of the heart to the point that repentance becomes effectively impossible. Here is Hebrews 3:13 in its surrounding context:

12 Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

As believers, we should not smugly presume that WE would never fall away from our profession of faith or forsake our original confidence in Christ. Jesus’s Parable of the Sower should shatter any illusion that a promising start ensures a race run well to the end. In the Scripture, we indeed read of God’s sovereign, unconditional grace in salvation and of his preservation of believers until the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). But we also read words of woe and warning to those who would live in unchecked sin (I Cor. 6:9-10), and each one of us is called to take an active role in putting to death the sin that would have mastery over us (Col. 3:5).

If we believe that we can thoughtlessly entertain sin before repenting at our leisure, then we grossly overestimate our hearts’ own willingness and ability to turn from sin. Such presumption also ignores the gracious and necessary prompting of the Holy Spirit that calls us back to repentance. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews urges each of us as believers to exhort and be exhorted in the gospel today, while the Spirit still calls to us, so that sin does not take us to the perilous point of no return. If perhaps you are struggling with sin, be encouraged by the struggle. Your striving against sin is a testament to your pursuit of the truth. Be encouraged and be exhorted to press on in Christ’s power in this struggle. Find that brother or sister in whom you can confide, recognizing that it is through fellow believers’ exhortation that all of us are encouraged to carry on in the fight against the deceitfulness of our own besetting sin.

 

Stephen Freeland is a member of FCC. He and his wife, Kate, have three young children.

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For the Purpose of Godliness

This is the phrase that is included in each chapter title of Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  I can almost hear mouse clicks all over the city as readers of this blog attempt to exit out after reading the word “discipline” – the “D word.” For some reason, we Reformed believers can mistakenly equate discipline with legalism. In his book, Whitney shows how the spiritual disciplines are far from being legalistic, restrictive or binding, but rather the means to unparalleled spiritual liberty. If you will think about the excitement of achieving a difficult goal, whether becoming proficient on a musical instrument, losing weight, running a marathon, or – you fill in the blank – you know that it took discipline to achieve that goal.

If you are a new believer seeking guidance in your new walk with Christ, or a seasoned saint feeling a little stale in your pilgrimage,  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life can be a means of grace in your life to give you direction and refreshment in your journey with your Lord and Savior.

Donald Whitney’s key verse for Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is 1 Timothy 4:7, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” This verse is the theme of the entire book. In other words, the spiritual disciplines are means, not ends. The end – that is, the purpose of practicing the disciplines – is godliness. Whitney defines godliness as both closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ, a conformity that is both inward and outward, a growing conformity to both the heart of Christ and the life of Christ.

Whitney assures us that we stand before God only in the righteousness that has been bought by another: Jesus Christ. All who come to God trusting in the Person and work of Jesus Christ to make them right with God are given the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom He resides to have new, holy hungers they never had before. They hunger, for example, for the Word of God, which before salvation may have seemed boring or irrelevant. Perhaps for that reason, Bible Intake is the first of the spiritual disciplines exposited by Dr. Whitney in his book.

Whitney limits himself to those disciplines that are Biblical, that is, to practices taught or modeled in the Bible. He skillfully unpacks ten spiritual disciplines, where they can be found in the Scriptures, and how they can be practiced experientially for the purpose of godliness.

I will confess that I am currently NOT practicing all ten of the disciplines as outlined by Donald Whitney, but I found the book very helpful in reminding me of the benefits of spiritual disciplines and redirecting my focus to my purpose in life until He comes or I go home.

My prayer for myself and for my brothers and sisters at Faith Community Church is that we will discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness for HIS glory and HIS alone. Amen.

 

Tina Bush

Posted in: Bible study, Book Review, Christian Living

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God’s Will: Our Sanctification

by Reese Hammond

After hearing Pastor Tim preach at the Jesus Church International building on God’s will and trusting God as our Good Shepherd, I couldn’t help but begin to think about my family’s current situation. Last year was a major year in our lives. In May I graduated from seminary, in July we had our son Malachi, in August I started a new job, and at the end of December I began looking for full-time ministry work. Overall, our year has been fast and furious. Now that we’re almost finished with March I can’t help but feel the weight of some of our pending life decisions. We haven’t found any ministry work despite praying and searching diligently. Our lease is soon to be up and we need to make a decision on whether to re-sign or not. We’re currently contemplating a possible career in the military and my current job is needing an answer to whether or not I’m coming back at the end of May. It can feel a little overwhelming at times.

Now, the blessing of being reminded that God is truly a Good Shepherd naturally confronts us with two things: First, that God is truly the Sovereign leader. As a shepherd leads his sheep, God lovingly and sovereignly leads His people. As Tim said, “God doesn’t consult the sheep.” God leads them where they are to go and He does so in perfect, sovereign power. Scripture affirms this in the 32nd Psalm when God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” He is truly our Good, Sovereign Shepherd and we must remember that.

Secondly, and much more important to the purpose of this article, is that because God is the Good Shepherd, I MUST trust Him in His leading. This is the hardest part in the Christian life, especially when God’s plans don’t seem to be meshing with ours. This is where faith truly works itself out. I MUST trust Him. I work and strive and pursue trusting God with my whole heart as Proverbs 3:5 tells me. Trust is not an optional thing in the Scriptures. Trust, in God’s eyes, is of primary concern.

Scripture constantly reminds us that our trust in God is of major importance. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” This verse is most powerful because God is telling us that it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him without faith. That is because trusting God has everything to do with what we believe about Him. As Christians, it is sin NOT to trust God. Not trusting God reveals that we truly don’t believe what He has told us about Himself in His Word. This is a hard saying but I want the truth about the character and person of God to refresh us and help us trust Him more fully. When we don’t trust God, we are inherently saying to ourselves and to others that God isn’t good and that He isn’t trustworthy or powerful enough to trust. This does not, and cannot, please God. When we are afraid things won’t work out, doubt that God can provide, or despise our circumstances, we are stealing from ourselves the peace of God that can only be found in trusting Him and His character.

Now, as I say these things, I am also compelled to give comfort to all of us after the cut from God’s Word. As we strive to trust God for our future, whether at home or at FCC, we must be reminded and comforted that it is because of what Christ has done for us in the gospel that we can even trust God in the first place. He has given us a new heart and mind that is now able to seek Him. He has forgiven all our sins so that we can now come to God boldly through Christ’s shed bled. He has justified us, is sanctifying us, and will glorify us. And as we go through this life striving to grow in trust, be reminded that He is constantly working in us to accomplish this very thing. As Paul says in 1st Thessalonians, “…this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

Reese Hammond is a member of Faith Community Church and a recent graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to the beautiful Lisa Hammond and is the proud father of Malachi. 

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Some Thoughts About Purpose in Life

Atop the kitchen cabinet over the sink in my little cottage sits a basket filled with sprays of artificial ivy.  The high hip ceiling in the main living area allows me, from my living room lounge chair, to occasionally look at this piece of decoration that I do enjoy.  I wonder where it resided in times past.  Was this “vessel” used in a very practical way by its original creator or someone in her family or tribe?  I imagine her sitting on a Native American rug deftly weaving the olla to its twelve-inch height.  Did she collect the materials that she used?  Did she herself dye the darker fibers woven into the design?  Was the pattern preplanned or traditional?  Or had she woven so many baskets that she could create an original design as she went along?

This certainly is not a basket you would find at the many places throughout New Mexico or Arizona where Native Americans hawk to tourists their wares made for decorative use.  My ancient basket had a more functional purpose where it sat on the hearth of the floor-to-ceiling flagstone fireplace in my in-laws’ lovely Southwestern décor beamed living room in their home, which was situated on a hillside. Their wide picture window looked across at Mt. Helix where stood a large white cross, lit at night, that could be seen from any vantage point for miles around.

Mom was born in Arizona and treasured Indian things.  I know she valued the basket, but she was a down-to-earth practical person whose tendencies leaned toward a simple lifestyle.  So the basket served as a trash container for paper and such in the living room.

My in-laws’ very best friends from college days—educators like themselves who lived nearby—were driven to distraction by the “misuse” of the Indian basket.  They spent their vacation times traveling the world bringing back native artifacts and curios that were displayed with exquisiteness in their beautiful home.

Finally, after years of urging, my folks did take the basket, as well as a number of smaller Indian baskets, to have them appraised.  The large basket was estimated to be worth a considerable sum.

Would or should the basket, created to be used for a purpose, be more valuable when prized as a lovely work of art?

The Psalmist says, “Certainly you made my mind and heart; you wove me together in my mother’s womb… All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came in existence” (Psalm 139).  God, the Creator, told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb I chose you.  Before you were born I set you apart.  I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

In the ninth chapter of Acts Luke tells of Ananias, whom the Lord told to go to a certain street and house to look for Saul—the man who the early church feared because he persecuted believers.  The Lord calmed Ananias’ dread by saying, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument [some translations say ‘vessel’] to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

Saul, now Paul, affirms that calling in his first letter of instruction to young Timothy.  In his second letter, Paul speaks of “vessels,” teaching Timothy of the importance of spiritual discipline to be a “clean vessel,” in verse 2:21b, “a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

When set aside by illness for several months it was impressed on me how important it is to have a purpose in life.  I visit rest homes and see elderly people, who no longer find a purpose for living.  Some are just warehoused and waiting to die.  Life without purpose has little or no meaning.  And it’s not just the elderly.  There are others who find little reason to get out of bed in the morning or feel a sense of achievement at the end of the day.  This causes depression and desire for a way to escape real life.  How grateful we should be that our Creator God designed us individually for a particular purpose that gives the most meaning to life—“practical vessels” relaying or displaying, in His love, the meaning behind that cross that sits atop Mt. Helix.  We were made to glorify and enjoy the one who is our Creator (Revelation 4:11).

 

Margi is a widowed octogenarian, graduate of a Christian University with a degree in Art Ed and a great lover of history, blessed to have been a stay-at-home wife and mom with a career of serving the Lord in whatever way He has directed in the various places I have lived in this wonderful country.

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Even Thunder Ice

There is nothing like being awed by the beautiful magnificence of God’s creation.  I want to use this post to share my joy in our Creator and my awe at God’s handiwork with you for His praise. May these reflections spur you on as you remember how God has shown Himself an awesome God!

Over the years, I have seen stunning sunrises and sunsets.  I’ve been blessed to be able to visit Almeria, Spain.  It is on the coast of southern Spain between the Alboran Sea and the Sierras of Almeria. I was staying with a missionary when I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. She had set a deck up for her children to play on since there were very few yards in her city.  Looking out over the deck wall, high on the third floor, the sunset was breathtaking. The brilliant rays were shining off the water with the view of the mountains on the other side of the deck wall. I had gotten up early, didn’t have a smartphone then, and my camera was in with the sleeping team. Though I don’t have a photograph to remind me of it, the image is locked forever in my mind.

Another sunset I remember (also before the age of smartphones) was in Oahu, Hawaii.  I’m pretty sure the palm trees and beach had something to do with the gorgeous image I saw.  No matter your vantage point, the beauty of a sunset or sunrise cannot be matched by any electronic light show, man-made kaleidoscope, Pixar art, or even any artist’s rendition.  God’s creation just cannot be reproduced. He is such an artist!  Such a creator!

John and I visited La Libertad, El Salvador a few years ago and I was able to compare oceans.  The Pacific Ocean in El Salvador is completely different than the Pacific Ocean on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii. The sand in El Salvador was a darker sand than I was used to seeing, almost black, as we walked out to the surf.  In contrast, in Waikiki it’s absolutely beautiful white sand, but historic reports from the 1920s and 1930s reveal that sand was brought in from Manhattan Beach, California, via ship and barge, to Waikiki Beach.[1] Although the beaches were interesting, they didn’t catch my attention nearly as much as God’s ocean. The Lord’s ocean is SO beautiful! Now that statement just doesn’t even begin to do the beauty of God’s ocean justice. When I was on both beaches, I had the same feeling of awe.  The powerful sound of crashing waves reminded me of several passages of Scripture:

  • Revelation 14:2 “And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder…”
  • Ezekiel 43:2 “And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory.”
  • Psalm 29:3-4 “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty”
  • Psalm 104:25-26 “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.”

Words just cannot describe the ocean fully.  To sit and watch it wave after wave… To hear that sound!  I was in a state of awe, in awe of God’s creation!

Another awe that God blessed me with is the thunderstorm. When I was little, of course the thunder was scary to me, but I was curious to see what in the world was going on out there.  I was drawn to look out and look up.  My grandmother always said, “Darla, get away from that window!”  When I was older, I would go out on the porch during a storm and wonder at the science lessons that told me different things about lightning.  Part of it comes down, but when it hits the positive charge on the ground, we actually see that part the most in a series of spurts. It is just so cool what God has created in thunder and lightning! Now does that lightning scare me?  Well, yes.  I have jumped 3 feet off the ground before.  NO exaggeration.  I was nine months pregnant with my second son and a lightning bolt hit the tree in our yard: a huge 30-foot wild cherry tree.  The lightning not only split the tree in two, it also hit the roof of our doghouse, which was under the tree.  (The dog wasn’t in it!)  It was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard.  When it hit, I was standing in my kitchen and literally jumped up in the air!  I was told it was comical.  It was not that comical to me!  That was when hard labor began.  It was not the easy little contractions that gently make you feel like “Oh, I think my labor has started,” but it was the end-of-the-pregnancy labor that makes you scream.  It was a scene from a very dramatic saga–a pregnant woman doubled over screaming, “I’m in labor!!!” It was a week earlier than my due date.  We lived 45 minutes away from the hospital, so we got a bag together and headed up there.  Every bump and curve coincided with a new scream.  When we arrived, they told me we weren’t even going to see the labor room–the baby was coming and he was coming NOW!  We were only there for 15 minutes and our son was born! THAT’S how powerful lightning and thunder can be!

Mountains are another of God’s creation that have literally taken my breath away. The first time I went to Colorado I remember seeing the mountains in the distance and it was so exciting.  But it took hours of driving after that first sighting to actually arrive in the mountains.  We went to the Rocky Mountain State Park and I was taking in all the views as we drove along.  We drove by very pretty wildflowers, pretty hills and valleys….until we came to this pass.  Our truck came around the bend and it was THE most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen in my life.  WOW!  The vast landscape was so amazing!  Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” was playing in my headphones, and, I am not kidding–I began to weep.  It was so majestic and so beautiful that it brought my emotions to the surface.  I’ll never ever forget it.  No camera can ever capture the mountains as they are in real life.  It’s no wonder that the Lord used a mountain when He spoke to His servant Moses or that mountains are referred to as “high” and “great” (Revelation 21:10, Isaiah 2:2).

Just the other day we had another of God’s incredible creations:  thunder ice.  It was a rain/sleet mixture turning into ice, creating slick and slushy streets, but it was thundering as it rained the ice. This doesn’t happen very often.  It was so cool!  Then I glanced out the window and the tiny droplets of water freezing on my weeping willow tree in the backyard made a beautiful icy scene before my eyes.  The book of Job came to mind, Job 37:6 and 10, and also Job 38:22 to be exact.  Verse 6 in Chapter 37 says, “For to the snow He says, ‘Fall on the earth,’ And to the downpour and the rain, ‘Be strong.’” And Verse 10 says, “From the breath of God ice is made, And the expanse of the waters is frozen.” Then Verse 22 of Chapter 38 says: “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, Or have you seen the storehouses of the hail”…it is God’s sovereignty.  He controls everything!  Read Job 37 and 38. It’s all there.  Thunder, lightning, snow, rain, beasts, storms, cold, ice, clouds, hot, darkness, light…but Job 37:10 tells it all:  “Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen” (italics are mine).

There are so many other things in God’s creation that I could mention.  (I’m thinking of animals, plants, and insects, just to name a few.) These are just part of our wonderful and marvelous Lord’s creation!  Don’t buy into the world’s “Mother Nature” myth!  That is the enemy trying to take credit for God’s mighty and miraculous wonders.  He is awesome and mighty and greatly to be praised!

“ For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power
and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since
the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
So they are without excuse.”
Romans 1:20

 

[1] “Where’s the beach? Seeking the origins of Waikiki sand.” by Chris Bailey, Hawaii’I Magazine, February 20, 2009.

 

 

Darla Phillips is a member of FCC. She and her husband, John, are active in many ministries at FCC.

Posted in: Christian Living, Worship

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Three Guiding Truths for Interactions with Unbelievers

Who knew writing a blog post could be so hard? Every time I researched a topic I hit the same walls. How could I say it any better? Do I actually have enough knowledge to speak to this? Instead of tackling some theological debate or major life issue, I have chosen to share something I’ve been facing in my own life.

Until recently, my employment had only involved interaction with believers, which I am very thankful for. Being immersed into the realm of retail last fall was a new experience. My exposure to the world and unbelievers reached a new level as I entered that environment as a minority, my faith being what set me apart. I’ve had to wrestle through what being a Christian looks like in a new way. For the first time I’ve had to come to terms with the possibility of my belief having a negative effect on my job.

Honestly, for being in a worldly environment, it’s less hostile than many workplaces. But naturally, when your boss doesn’t serve the same Master, it’s not going to be perfect. I’m constantly given opportunities to take the high road. For example, there are times when I have the opportunity to speak truth in a personal conversation with my boss, a decision to be made when a coworker suggests we take the easy way when nobody’s looking, a loneliness in choosing to obey a rule that nobody else does. Doing the right thing in these situations could have a negative result, whether in my relationships with my coworkers or my standing with my boss. The hard part isn’t knowing what the right course of action is, it’s taking the action itself. For these moments, I have created three statements of truth that I repeat to myself (Psalm 15:2).

  1. “I may be the only Bible these people ever read.” According to Christianity Today, one in five North Americans don’t know a believer. Many of the people I pass on any given day don’t even know who Jesus is. When I interact with coworkers and customers, my life may well be the only testimony to Christ they encounter. Am I living up to that? The way we live shows people who we are serving as our Master (Matthew 5:16).
  1. “Will my silence speak truth?” When those around me are speaking untruth about life or morality, are having conversations that are not honorable, or verbally contemplate doing something that defies their Creator, how do I react? Even though I may not participate, I can do more. They won’t know the truth if I sit there passively. Though not every situation requires the same measure of boldness, it’s often needed more than our fear of man tells us it is. Ephesians 5:16 reminds us to be “making the most of every opportunity” in our lives here on earth. What are we here for? To bring God glory, and spreading truth is a vital way of doing that (Ephesians 4:29, Acts22:15).
  1. “Who actually gave me this job?” This last one has been the most impactful for me. It’s easy to fear my boss. She herself has advised us to remember that we owe her our jobs. It’s easy to pour my energy into a task to receive her approval. Though we are commanded to submit to authority and to perform our work to the best of our ability, what is the reason? The answer to this can produce joy and a sense of accomplishment in our work, regardless of who our boss is. Why do we submit? God has placed those people in authority. Even when I don’t think my boss deserves my respect, my responsibility doesn’t change. God has placed me under her authority, so in honoring her I am honoring Him. Romans 13:1-7 says “Every person is to be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” When my boss gives me a task, I have two options. I can do just enough to suffice, or I can go the extra mile. Of course, the second choice is the right one, but there are two different possible motives behind it. If pleasing and getting praise is the motive, then pride is really the reason. But if doing my work “unto the Lord” and pleasing Him is the motive, that is honorable (Colossians 3:23). The result of the first motive is unreliable. A boss may not give praise or even notice. The result of the second is sure: the Lord always notices. But even if I bring glory to Him in my work, that doesn’t mean my job will always be secure. Even though my boss holds the power to fire me if she feels like it, nothing is outside of God’s control. He gave me this job, and if it is taken away, He can provide another. The only reason I am able to work is because of the ability He gave me. So I respect and obey my boss, but in the end I know God is in control of the situation.

I still fail in these every day, but repeating the truth to myself is great encouragement and motivation. Though I’ve applied these truths toward my workplace, they are applicable to any position, role, or stage of life. No matter what we’re doing or where we are, our identity as a Christian doesn’t change. Whether it’s our interaction with a family member, another mom at the Y, or a fellow classmate – we are Christ’s representatives here on Earth. We may be met with opposition now, but our reward is in the life to come.

Haven Bush, a member of FCC for the past ten years, serves in Awana, children’s Sunday school, and nursery. She is part of the Kevin Bush family and is engaged to Jonathan Minner.

Posted in: Christian Living, Evangelism

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Authority to Judge Sin

There was a time when, especially in the church, the idea of “don’t judge me” was extremely prevalent: “God is love, so we should be too.” Today, most Christians I know don’t say things like that. I have seen an effort to reconcile both judgment and love in the church. I have seen us push this “don’t judge me” movement out of the church and balance the scales of how Christians should live with one another.

Yet, I think we haven’t pushed this movement out of our churches enough. I think if we were honest with ourselves, when the “don’t judge me” movement crept into the church, it caused significantly more damage than we are comfortable admitting. Specifically, this ideology has undercut the holiness of the church because we have lost sight of our God-given authority and responsibility to judge our fellow church members.

Let me make one thing clear: this article is specifically talking about how we interact with other members of our own local church. The scope of this doesn’t include a license to judge the outside world’s sin, or even the sin of people in other churches. The scope of this is to help us better understand how we deal with sin in our own local church.

My question to you is this: Are you, as a member of your church, calling out sin in the other members and are you allowing other members of your church call out sin in you?

My goal is that we would answer this question. My fear is that we think we already know the answer. Can you honestly answer that question in the affirmative? How seriously do you take your own sin and the sin of others in the church?

With this in mind, I think the problem is two-fold and therefore it will be dealt with in a two-part series. First, the reason we shy away from judging sin in the church is because we don’t understand our authority as fellow church members. Secondly, we shy away from judging sin in the church because we don’t understand our responsibility as church members.

“Who am I/Who are you to say anything?” = Misunderstanding of Authority

How many times have you said, or heard someone say, “Who am I to say anything? I don’t have the right…”? I do believe that this can be spoken from a pure heart and sometimes it is needed, so don’t get me wrong. There are times in which you need to deal with your own garbage before others’ (Matt. 7:5). But, if we are being honest, this is usually motivated by fear rather than humility. I don’t want to call you out because I am afraid of what may happen if I do.

On the other side, how many times have you thought, “Who are you to say anything to me?” Again, sometimes people should probably not say anything. However, this statement usually doesn’t come from a position of true righteousness, but pride. The basic idea behind these words are: “You do not have the right to call out my sin.”

I can guarantee most of us have thought both of these things at one point in our church-life. I know I have. But what these statements show is something deeply wrong with our understanding of the church and our understanding of membership. Ultimately it shows that we have a misunderstanding of each individual member’s authority over the other members of the church.

This recently hit home for me. Not long ago I asked a dear brother in Christ if we could get together. There were possible sin issues going on that I had to bring up to him. As we were meeting I said something that caused me to stop, “Listen, I know I don’t have the authority to say this….” Right after I said it, it struck me. I don’t have the authority to call out his sin? Is that what I really think? The more I look back on that meeting, the more I realize I said it because I didn’t want to confront this brother in the first place.

Ephesians 5:18-21 gives the church clear instructions on how it is to relate to one another:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Submission and Authority

This brings up a very important question: what does submission mean? I have yet to find a place in Scripture where submission does not have the connotation of “being subject, under, subordinate” to an “authority.” Here is a list of all the ways this word is used: Creation has been made subject to Jesus (1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22); we used to be subject to sin (Gal. 5:13); children are to be subject to their parents (Lk. 2:51); we are to be subject to secular authorities (Rom. 13:1); we are to be subject to our church leaders (1 Pt. 5:5); wives are to be subject to their husbands (Eph. 5:22; Col. 3:18; 1 Pt. 3:1); and most importantly, we are to be subject to Christ (Eph. 5:24).

Each of those instances speak about us willingly being in submission to some sort of authority; no one is arguing against that. The word implies an authority structure over the one who is subject. This is the main reason why I don’t think Paul is telling the Ephesian church to be in submission to every Christian, because submission doesn’t mean “have respect for one another.” Submission implies an actual authority structure over us.

This brings up another important question: who are we supposed to willingly allow to have authority over our lives? If submission implies authority, then who do you and I have authority over and who has authority over us? Everyone?

Submit to whom?

What does “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ actually mean? Now, someone could argue that this is how all Christians are to act toward one another. All Christians are to submit to all other Christians. The problem with this interpretation, though, is that by making it so abstract we lose most of the meaning from this text.  This would require interpreting “submit” as “respect.” If that is the case, then yes! All Christians are to have mutual respect for one another. However, that is not what “submit” means, especially in this context. Further, It doesn’t line up with real life. Am I supposed to submit to some random guy who calls himself a Christian? Even if he knows nothing about me? What would that even look like? Do I address every Christian I see in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs? Who, specifically do I submit to? Who is Paul talking about? I think a loose analogy can be made with the following verses.

Wives are supposed to submit to their husbands. They don’t submit to every man nor every man who calls himself a “husband.” They are to submit to their “own” husbands. Although not as explicit as in the passage about wives submitting, local church membership does seem implicit throughout the book of Ephesians. Just as I would never expect my wife to submit to others in the same authoritative way she would submit to me, I do not expect Christians in our local church body to submit to Christians of other churches (in the same authoritative way they should submit to one another).

I think it works like this: in marriage the person a wife submits to is specifically the man she has covenanted to before God in marriage. In the same way, you are called to submit to those who have covenanted themselves with you, and you with them. Paul was writing to a local church in a specific context. The analogy isn’t a 1-1 ratio, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any connection between the two. My point is that we miss the importance of his message if we make this too broad because we miss what church membership is in its simplest form: A Christian submitting to other local Christians in a covenanting relationship.

What Does it Mean?

This shows us that saying “I don’t have the right to call out your sin,” or, “you don’t have the right to call out my sin,” was a foreign concept to Paul. If you are a member of a local church, that means you have willingly submitted yourself to the authority of the other members of that church. And, equally as important, you have entered into relationships with people who have willing submitted themselves to you.

I want to be as clear as possible: if you are a member of a local church, that necessarily means you have asked other Christians to be an authority over your life. You have given them the authority to call out your sin. It also means that you have been given the authority to do the same.

Be Careful

Before I end this section, I want to give a warning. Be careful. I don’t want to create a group of people who are arrogantly throwing down the “authority” card toward every single person they can find. When another person has placed this type of trust in your hands, it should never be used for personal gain. Instead, this type of authority should only be used in prayer and love. Just as a husband doesn’t lord authority over the wife who has submitted to him, but lovingly leads her into the glory of Christ, so each church member should lovingly use this authority over other brothers and sisters only for the purpose of making other members more like Jesus.

While a little fearful that some people may misuse this article, I will stop here. Next time we will turn to the responsibility each member has in regards to the use of this authority.

 

  Marty Beamer is the Assistant Pastor at FCC and teaches Rhetoric and Worldview at Faith Christian Academy. He graduated with a Masters of Divinity from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December of 2017. He is married to Jessica and they have one son, Oliver.

 

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