Thursday, August 21, 2014

Handling disagreements in the church (Part 2)

My first post on handling disagreements within the church focused on two recommendations:

-- Make certain your differences count.

-- Think, listen, speak and act with humility.

You can read that post here.

Here are two more thoughts on how church members should handle disagreements with fellow believers in their fellowship:

3. Seek to understand the other Christian’s beliefs. Some disagreements are based at least in part on misunderstanding. It is both unsettling and unhelpful for a church member to accuse another of believing something that distorts what he truly believes. As Christians, we can become deeply invested emotionally in disapproval of a particular belief. As a result, we sometimes have a difficult time backing down and humbling ourselves when we find out we have falsely accused someone who is in covenant with us in the church. Too often, apologies and requests for forgiveness are not forthcoming. The fellowship between two or more Christians suffers as a result, and so does the church’s health. If we think we disagree with another disciple, we should make certain we understand what he or she actually believes before we go any further. We should go to that person in a non-confrontational, non-judgmental way and kindly ask for clarification, demonstrating we truly want to understand his position. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves,” (Phil. 2:3).

4. Think and speak charitably. Our attitude, words and behavior should be filled with grace and love while we discern if there is a legitimate disagreement, while we address any disagreement and while we determine what to do in light of a disagreement. Hopefully, we will be able to walk together afterward. Differences over non-essential doctrines should not divide and should be accompanied by a demonstration of one of the marks of true Christianity: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Differences over essential beliefs may require separation, but they also should be accompanied by love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Preaching: 'A picture of the gospel'

I am grateful as a pastor when writers communicate eloquently the significance of preaching in the life of a church. David Mathis, executive editor of Desiring God, posted Sunday a profound piece – titled “When Grace Is in the Pulpit” -- on the proclamation of God’s Word and the church’s response to it.

As Mathis points out, preaching is not all there is by any means to corporate worship, but it is a vital part. He writes, “The other elements of the gathering follow the rhythm of receiving from [God] and responding back to him, but in preaching we move into the posture of simply receiving, whether it’s a full half hour or just 15–20 minutes.” Our congregation would add, “Or 45-50 minutes.”

You can read all of the post here, but I have pulled out some of Mathis’ comments below I think might be particularly help for a congregation:
When we put ourselves under the preaching of God’s word, it is one of the precious few moments in life today when we close our mouths, and confront the temptation of responding right away, and focus our energy and attention to hearing with faith.

The act of preaching itself is a picture of the gospel. As the preacher stands behind the Book, doing his level best to re-reveal Jesus to his people, our Lord is put on display, not for give-and-take and the mingling of our efforts together in some mutual enterprise. Rather, we sit in the seat of weakness and desperation. What we need is not some boost from a trusted fellow to get us over the wall, but the rescue of the Savior for the utterly helpless.

The best of preaching serves the worshiper in the joy of self-forgetfulness, and preacher-forgetfulness. Preaching that goes on and on about the preacher himself, or is always angling at how the hearer should apply this or that to daily life, does so at the expense of tapping into the very power of preaching, namely, a preoccupation with Jesus. True Christian preaching swallows up the listener again and again, not with self or the speaker, but with Jesus and his manifold perfections.

The great goal of preaching, as well as the sacraments and the various other spiritual disciplines, is this: knowing and enjoying Jesus. The greatest incentive for attentive listening as we gather for corporate worship and sit under the preaching of God’s word is that we may know him (Philippians 3:10).

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are we remembering the persecuted saints?

As many as 40,000 of our fellow image-bearers remain stranded atop a mountain in northwest Iraq while we go about what can only be described by most of the world as comfortable, even luxurious, lives. If they remain on the mountain, they face death by dehydration. If they descend the mountain, they face death from Islamic militants.

Most of those stranded are Yazidis, a minority religious group in Iraq. Some reportedly are Christians. They fled to Mount Sinjar as the ruthless forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) neared their homes. Some children and adults already have died from thirst. Some men and women did not escape execution and rape by the extremists.

Tens of thousands of other Iraqis also have become refugees to avoid ISIS’ murderous campaign. The mass exodus of Christians from Iraq – which is more than a decade old -- may be near its end game. An estimated 1.2 million Christians lived in Iraq before Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in 2003. Now fewer than 200,000 remain. ISIS drove all Christians from Mosul, the country’s second largest city, a few weeks ago. The militants are determined to rid the entire land of Christians and other religious minorities.

This is only the latest example of a sobering reality for followers of Christ: To be identified with Jesus is to invite mistreatment, imprisonment, torture and execution. An average of 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their government or neighbors.

In response, we can feel powerless to help the people on Mount Sinjar or our fellow saints in not only Iraq but countries such as Iran, Pakistan, North Korea and Syria. We may viscerally react with grief and disgust at reports of atrocities, but we move on to more immediate concerns in our lives that we acknowledge pale in comparison. We may ask: What can we do?

Last Sunday, one of the young ladies in our church read aloud Heb. 13:3 before we prayed for persecuted Christians and others in need. That verse says, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.”

The context appears to indicate the writer is referring here to Christians who are imprisoned or mistreated. Certainly we should defend, care for and pray for any who are threatened or brutalized. But there is a special expectation that we, as followers of Christ, would remember our brothers and sisters in the faith.

How do we remember them? With the assistance of others, I offer these as some ways:

1. To remember a persecuted Christian is first to keep him or her in mind. The oppressed in other countries have testified one of their greatest burdens or fears is they would be forgotten during their suffering. We should not forget those who are enduring affliction on the basis of their identification with the same Savior with whom we are identified.

2. To remember a persecuted Christian is to identify with his or her suffering. Heb. 13:3 says we are to remember prisoners “as though in prison with them.” This verse seems to call for us to think about what it would be like to be a fellow prisoner with that saint. It also says we are to remember the mistreated since we also “are in the body.” That seems to mean we -- who also have a physical body and know something of what it means to be in pain – should identify in our bodies with the suffering of our brother or sister. We should take time to agonize with our fellow saint.

3. To remember a persecuted Christian implies we are to care for, help and tend to the needs of the one who is suffering. If we are near, it can mean visits to prison or caring for the family of the prisoner. If we are far away, it can mean writing or otherwise communicating with our fellow saint.

4. To remember a persecuted Christian is to pray for him or her. We remember that Christian to God. There is nothing greater we can do for a suffering saint than pray for God’s gracious provision in his or her life. We can pray for deliverance from persecution, as well as endurance during it. We can pray for a bold gospel witness by the persecuted and for the breaking up of the hard soil of the heart in the persecutor.

May we remember the persecuted, and may God prepare us for any persecution to come in our own lives.