Tend the Weeds

As I mentioned before, love is what makes a Christian community grow. Community is like a garden, and gardens contain many growing, beautiful things. But community is also the garden in which grumbles grow. Since the fall of Adam, there has never been a garden without weeds, and this is because our hearts are in such a condition that a garden without weeds would be terrible for us. If sinful men were given weedless gardens, this would simply prove that the garden had been entirely abandoned, and that they were the weeds. So when a Christian community is a growing and thriving place, grumbles will grow, depend upon it. Everything depends on how the grumbles are handled. In ancient Israel, the problem with grumbling ran much deeper, and it was sometimes met with severe judgments from God. But in the New Testament, as the new Israel was growing, complaints sprang up as to how some of the widows were being neglected in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1). They handled it properly, … [Read more...]

A Cabin by a Pristine Lake

Love is what makes a Christian community grow—people are attracted to it. They gravitate to the fellowship, to the teaching of the Word, to the worship of God, and to the community that all this necessarily engenders. But precisely because love makes a community grow, so also a community growing makes love harder. It is much easier to maintain tight communion in a church of 100 people than in a church of 800 people. And then if you go to two services, it is harder to do what used to be so easy to do. People are attracted to a good thing, which makes it harder to keep it a good thing. A cabin by a pristine lake is a good thing, and it would remain a good thing if there were a second cabin. The only trouble is, 150 people want to build the second cabin. As a church community grows, and loving one another gets more challenging, it is easy to assume the worst. Things aren’t what they used to be. But these challenges are not necessarily signs of love fading, but are rather signs that … [Read more...]

Loving the Truth in Person

Either you love God and His people, or you don’t love God and His people. There really is no third way. The two great commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor includes those who come to the Table with you here every week; it means loving your fellow church member. Now when bitterness or resentment creep in, or sometimes just simple dislike, very few people tell themselves that they are now “not loving their neighbor.” What we tend to do instead is give ourselves a pass because we are still committed to the principle or idea of loving our neighbor, or we consider ourselves compassionate toward people generally. We think we are compassionate generally because we tear up in the right parts of the movie. But there is a difference between being sentimental and being tenderhearted. Sentimentalism is disobedient, and full of resentments, and tenderheartedness is obedient, and filled with compassion. Drifting away from a congregation therefore … [Read more...]

Death as a Way of Life

When a person drifts in the context of a sound and healthy church—a church in which very many people are not drifting, but are being nourished and fed—the reason that person is drifting is the direct result of not dealing with sin. And in the Scriptures, dealing with sin is not the same thing as managing or controlling it, or keeping it somewhat subdued and out of sight. No, the scriptural response to sin is always death—mortification. You can live in the middle of a crowd of people who are mortifying their sins, and this unfortunately has no impact on your sins. If ten people sitting around you confess their sins heartily, and you do not, then you get no benefit from what they have done. There is no benefit unless and until you imitate them. And if you do this for any length of time, then outside pressures will ensure that you start to drift. When you start to drift, you will then start making excuses to cover for your drift. So guarding yourself begins with understanding … [Read more...]

When Sin Signs a Lease

Drifting away from soundness in the faith is always the result of a peace treaty of some sort. The Bible teaches us that in this world we must always deal with sin outside us in the world and sin within us. In that familiar triad that we call the world, the flesh, and the devil, the first and the third are external to us. The flesh is closer to home. We are tempted to drift in response to suggestions from the world and the devil when we have made some sort of peace treaty, some kind of accommodation with the remnants of sin that we find within us. Our fundamental orientation toward impulses, temptations, urges, or suggestions from within must be adversarial. If it is not adversarial, if you have let a particular sin sign a three-year lease in your heart, then that accommodation within will betray you, and you will find yourself drifting in response to external pressure from the world or the devil. No true Christian has to “deal with” reigning sin within him. To be a slave to sin, … [Read more...]

Faith as Screen

When Christians drift away from a sound understanding of the faith, it usually begins first with them drifting away from what counts as understanding anything at all. If you believed the earth was flat, that wouldn’t make it flat. More surprisingly perhaps, if you believe it to be round, that doesn’t make it round. If you believe that two and two make five, that doesn’t make it five. And if you believe the correct sum to be four, it is not four because you believed it. True belief is responsive to truth as it is without the belief. Belief does not create the object of its belief. Now in ordinary affairs, like math, normal people understand this. But for a very long time, in religious matters, people have believed that what they believe makes it so. This is the central religious frame of mind, the frame of mind that allows every man his own gods, his own truth, his own views. The Christian gospel always drives out this way of thinking, and the receding influence of the gospel in … [Read more...]

Coolshame

Archimedes famously once said “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” If the devil were to go in for such practical mechanics, where would he stand, what lever would he use, if he wanted to move a Christian? We are talking what it means to not pay close attention to what we have learned, and what it therefore means to moved slowly away from Christ. With many believers today that place to stand is the world and its ways, and the lever is the bar of coolshaming. The world offers us sweets, sure enough—the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes—but it also establishes and maintains a value system. That value system is called the pride of life. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15–16). This is the … [Read more...]

Lest We Drift

The church is a wooded island, and it produces three kinds of wood. The first would be the living grove, what makes the island an inviting place, lush and green. The second would be the dead wood, that which is not growing itself but remains in place, hindering the growth of the rest. And the third category would be that of drift wood, wood that is from the island but is not long for the island. So I want to give a series of exhortations about the dangers of drifting. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1, ESV). Just as growth in Christ is slow growth, so also the reverse sanctification of drifting is a slow process. No one lives a vibrant Christian life for years only to wake up one morning deciding to throw it all away in one go. No, this process happens by drifting, by means of a long series of miniscule choices that seem, each one in isolation, to be no big deal. But collectively these choices add up to a … [Read more...]

Slow Drift

As we have noted before, there is a distinct sociological difference between a sect and a church. Both a sect and a church can be orthodox and Christian, but they necessarily have different pastoral challenges. A sect has tighter discipline, and disciplines over more things, and is in the very nature of the case smaller and more defined. A church tends to take professing Christians as they come, and to work with them from there. It is important to note that I am not using either term in a pejorative way, and am assuming that both a church and a sect can be faithful Christian congregations. But neither one will be faithful unless they take note of their own particular temptations. Sects struggle with rigorism while the temptation faced by churches is that of a broadminded laxity. In case you were wondering, Christ Church has elements of both, but is more of a church than it is a sect. Because of how the Lord has blessed many of our ministries here on the Palouse, our reputation in … [Read more...]

A Mind To

We all know that character, and moods, and particular virtues and vices are characteristic of individuals. But they are also characteristic of groups of people—generations, tribes, nations, churches. You know what it is like to travel around our nation, finding that one part of the country is particularly friendly, while another is particularly industrious, and so on. People collectively have a personality. Different generations can have different personalities. There is therefore a possibility of change from one generation to the next. There can be decline or there can be improvement—if there is change. One generation might just duplicate what went before. Our desire should be to stay the course, remaining faithful where our fathers were faithful (2 Tim. 2:2). When our fathers were not faithful, it is our responsibility to turn away from their example, refusing to follow them in it (Ps. 78:8). In other cases, we are to build on the preparatory work done by those who went before. … [Read more...]

The Rock of Catastrophe

When Peter describes the church, he describes us as living stones, built up into a spiritual house (1 Pet. 2:5). This house is a holy priesthood, set apart to offer up spiritual sacrifices, sacrifices that are made acceptable to God through the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say that there is a basic distinction between people, between those who are living stones, built up upon the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, and those who treat the cornerstone as a stone of stumbling and rock of offense. So Jesus is either the living rock upon all other living rock derives its life, or Jesus is the rock of catastrophe for those who were appointed to their epic disobedience. When they stumble, the text says that they stumble at the Word. This Word is what we build upon, and this Word is what they stumble over. It is the same Word, with two different responses entirely. Now everything we do as a Christian church should be done in such a way as to testify to this glorious truth, … [Read more...]

A Time to Build

The preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. There is a time for birth and a time for dying. There is a time to mourn and a time to dance, and so on. Of interest to us here is that there is a time for tearing down and a time for building. When “the time” for something arrives, there is nothing whatever that can prevent it from occurring. This means that when it is time for building, all the apparent obstacles will be manifested as just that—apparent. They will look formidable when they first present themselves, but when approached by men and women of faith they will give way in a most natural fashion. Why? Because it is time to build. If it is not time, the most trivial things can prevent it from happening. When it is time, the most monumental obstacles will be overcome and it will seem to be the most natural thing in the world. So the challenge is to read the times correctly. What separates presumption and faith? It is the ability to read the … [Read more...]

Adorned Clean Through

The Bible teaches that the woman is the glory of the man. This is why she takes what the man provides and glorifies. She is a glory, and she is a glorifier. The man brings home a paycheck, and she turns it into a living room, or bacon and eggs in the morning. Adornment is not a mere add-on extra; adornment is what the universe is driving toward. The woman therefore is the crown of her husband (Prov. 12:4). But what about the Church? If this is true of wives generally, is it also true of the bride of Christ? It is true. The Church is described as the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way (Eph. 1:23). Christ fills the cosmos, and the Church fills Christ. Yes—just as women are called to adorn themselves, and not just externally, so also Christians are called to adorn the doctrine of the gospel (Tit. 2:10). The Church is a woman, and is called to adornment. But she is called to adorn herself the same way individual Christian women are called to adorn themselves—with a … [Read more...]

More Growth Problems

When real ministry is occurring, one of the things you can expect to see is something of a mess. “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: But much increase is by the strength of the ox” (Prov. 14:4). Dying churches are usually clean and tidy. Growing churches, flourishing churches, are characterized by “situations” that crop up, quite regularly. In the book of Acts, the church enjoyed a rapid explosion of growth. The result of this growth was a ball drop in their mercy ministries. The Hellenistic widows were overlooked in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1). When the problem was voiced, the church addressed it forthrightly, carefully, and scripturally, appointing seven godly men to oversee the distribution. What was the result of this godly response? Well, the result was more growth (Acts 6:7). In other words, if you address the problems caused by growth scripturally, the solution is going to be more problems caused by growth. Building a sanctuary can be seen in two ways. One … [Read more...]

The Barnacles of Devotion

We have noted that simplicity is an aesthetic value, and should not be regarded simply as a theological value. Too many times believers assume that if one’s good, then two’s better, and over the centuries the worship of God gets progressively encrusted with the barnacles of devotion. But it is not enough simply to develop an aesthetic sense in the abstract and then go build a building that is like that. This is because the sanctuary itself, once built, will have a didactic role. Once we have a church building, and we have a generation of children who grew up worshiping God in that building, we will discover that their aesthetic sense has been trained by their surroundings. The reason this is sometimes obscured is because of other factors. If you have an elegantly simple church structure, but the children growing up in it are surrounded by doctrinal and moral hypocrisies, those of them that still retain any genuine faith are going to want to get away from “all of that” as fast as … [Read more...]