Have You Noticed?

“OK, as we continue our discussion, someone says, “Maybe we should agree what Sunday worship looks like. For example, do we need music? How about Communion? Will there be a sermon or homily? Do we need prayer books? Will our worship be formal and traditional; that might be tough to pull off in that environment since we can’t have anything with an open flame (candles).”

OK colonists, this time you get to go first… What does corporate worship need to look like? Maybe we should take something with us after all…?”

Church Set Free, or Church As We Know It …

If you haven’t joined the conversation yet – why not head over to Don’s place and add your own thoughts?

Thanks –

Paul

(comments closed here)
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TLP

We’ve made it though our first question in organizing our new church in our Martian colony. I’d like to thank each and every one of you who responded and offered your thoughts about what we need to take with us so that we can have worship services on Sundays. Reading through your responses, I see a definite pattern: We don’t need anything special to worship together each week.

I must admit that I was a little surprised at that; has anyone noticed that if we don’t take anything with us for worship, we’ve chosen a ‘worship style’ by default?

One of you, my former neighbor Rob, asked if we need a clergyman or approval from a church body to establish a new church. A couple of you replied to Rob by saying essentially that we really don’t need any of that and even suggested that this would be an opportunity…

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The Hypothetical Revealed

“Last call for … a fresh look at what worship might or could be … “

And all you have to do is to click on the link to Don’s post.

What have you got to lose?

Paul

🙂

TLP

Thank you to everyone who “liked” or commented on yesterday’s introduction of our little experiment and grand adventure. Of the comments from yesterday that I have received so far, 2 liked the idea, two sort of liked the idea, and two didn’t like the idea. Assuming that all 25 “likes” were done after reading, “likes” fell off by about a third of what I normally have for a second post as of this writing, but more comments and likes will probably follow for the rest of today. Anyway, a special “thank you” to everyone who commented: I asked because I wanted to know, so to the ones who didn’t like the idea, an even bigger thank you!

I think there is enough interest to give this a try and the next step is to reveal the hypothetical…

Congratulations!

Out of more than a half-million applicants, you have been selected to…

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Something Different- Your Thoughts Please…

“Let’s set up a hypothetical: I’ll set the stage and then throw out some general thoughts and general questions, and you share your ideas with everyone else, and we’ll have a grand old ‘class discussion’ about worship− how does that sound? …

I think this could not only be a hoot, but very, very interesting because the readership here is quite diverse. We have Seminary professors, pastors/ministers/clergymen, seekers, housewives, professionals, retired, college students, many Christian backgrounds, and many nationalities and cultures represented, and my hope is that we all might pick up a thing or two we hadn’t thought about before.”

Don Merritt is doing discussion on a corporate worship scale.  Sounds like just the thing for “Church Set Free” readers!  🙂

An invitation –

“So… are you in, would you like to give this a try and chime in to the conversation??? If so, click the “like” or drop me a comment.”

If you are interested then head over to Don’s place and let him know.

Thank you –

Paul

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(as always – comments closed here, thank you)

TLP

Having completed our study of spiritual practices for now, it’s time for another topic to look at. I have been thinking of doing one on worship, more precisely, corporate worship; the worship assembly, Sunday worship… that sort of thing. Normally, I would put the verses of Scripture together, discuss them and the context in which they fall, and then tell you what I think about it.

But that’s what I always do. This time, I’d like you to tell me what you think.

Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun?

Let’s set up a hypothetical: I’ll set the stage and then throw out some general thoughts and general questions, and you share your ideas with everyone else, and we’ll have a grand old ‘class discussion’ about worship− how does that sound?

Most people who read this are themselves bloggers, so you’ll see right away that this is a…

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Saying Goodbye to a Dear Friend

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend, to a loving sister in Christ, and yet there are times when we must do just that. Like so many of you, I was shocked by the news that our sister and friend Susan Irene Fox passed away earlier this week; what does one say at such a time?

Susan’s writings here on WordPress were a blessing to all of us, both on her blog and on Church Set Free, and when you read those posts of hers it’s almost impossible to miss the love that fills each and every line. I recall when a group of us came together via Skype to discuss the establishment of the site, back in 2015. Susan was part of that group and more than anything else, she wanted it to be a place where anyone could go and experience the love of Christ without judgment or condemnation from any of us who participated. She wanted it to be a place where anyone could ask a question or post a comment without feeling out of place or inadequate; she wanted it to become a place where any Christian as well as any seeker could feel safe and secure.

In the months that followed, a bunch of us got together regularly on Skype to discuss not only the site, but life in general, and while I never met Susan face-to-face, I felt as though I got to know her. I’ll never forget her smile and her sense of humor, and her ability to treat everyone as an equal as a loved brother or sister.

It seems to me that Susan in so many ways personified what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Many who read this may have known her longer than I did; many may have known her better than I. Yet I will be eternally grateful for the time I had for her to touch my life. In the final analysis, I know only one thing: Heaven is a much richer place today because Susan Irene Fox has come to stay for all eternity, and one day we will all be reunited there in the loving arms of Lord.

Some homework … really???

“Here’s some homework: Reflect and pray on these verses, asking Him to reveal them in their fullness to you.”
Teach us to pray – The Life Project: Don Merritt

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“‘Father,
I remember with my Mum and Dad – they always were.  They always had been, they always were just “Mum and Dad”.  I was always loved – maybe not always in the way I wanted – but I was always loved.  They had created me.  They had grown me from a couple of cells.  They had fed me, watered, cared, clothed, taught – but always love.  Was my Dad better than my Mum?  No. They were different but the same.  They just “were”.

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hallowed be your name,
This name is not just any old name.  This name is the name of all that is – who I am, who I was, where I came from, where I was birthed – who I am.

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your kingdom come.
That promise. That sacred promise. A promise fulfilled then and now. And – even better – in my lifetime fulfilled in every second – every breath – every heartbeat – every moment of my living!

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Give us each day our daily bread.
What are my needs?  My needs are simple.  My “need” is life itself.  And that requires my body to function – to house my living – my soul.  In even this detail He cares for me.

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Forgive us our sins,
Am I a “sinner”?  NO!  I am His creation.  I am perfect.  Yet imperfect.  Always free to come thither and thither.  To speak this or that.  To think this or that.  To be this or that.  I will hurt myself, I will hurt others – can I hurt Him?  No.  I think not.  So maybe this forgiveness is only for me – so that I know I am loved (even when I think I should not be loved).  Am I “sinner” – no I am not.

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for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
A beautiful reminder: what is good for the goose is good for the gander!  This “being loved” even when I think I am not – THAT is for all – for each – for you (as well as me).  Am I to only “take” – am I to be more loved than you?  No I am not.  So how can I not love you as I am loved – even when we think we are not?  I cannot.  I must not.

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And lead us not into temptation.’”
Emphatically we have the choice to love and be loved, as well as the choice to be loved and NOT to love.  This is not “what about me” – this is “what about you” – this is “love your neighbour as yourself”.  This is Love always is – not just when it suits – nor just when it is easy – not about when there is return on my loving “investment”.  It is about the choice I make that will be imperfect.  It is about companionship.  It is about indwelling.  It is about “your kingdom come” right now, right here, right inside every cell of my body and soul.  It is about this second and the next.  It is about “real”.  And it is not about theory.  Not about “religion”.  This is about living right now.

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WOW!

Now I never knew all that dwelt within!  BIG thanks, Don!

Now …

How about you?

Paul

“This church isn’t loving enough!”

Why do you suppose it is that some churches are considered to be “loving” while others aren’t? Maybe a better question would be, “Why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?”

I remember one time several years ago when I received a phone call one Saturday evening from a very ticked off woman from church who spent at least 20 minutes yelling at me because someone else in our church had been rude to her: “What happened to the love in this church?” she demanded to know.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t exactly feeling the love in that moment either. She abruptly ended the call by telling me that unless I did something pretty darn quick that she was leaving for good.

So often I hear things like this…

Why are some churches “loving” and others aren’t  why is my local church more loving sometimes than it is other times?

I don’t know about anybody else, but I think the answer to these questions lies in the very nature of love itself. Perhaps we can find a clue in the great “Love Chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (13:4-7 emphasis added)

These are some of the most beautiful and familiar verses in all of Scripture, and I’m sure that if anyone reads these verses and then goes back to the little incident I just recounted, you’ll come up with a working theory on the questions I posed… I hope that before going further, everyone will read the entirety of the chapter for context… Of course, speaking of context, this chapter is in a larger section on spiritual gifts that runs from chapter 12-15 and thus love is a side note. Theologically speaking the real “Love Chapter” in the New Testament is 1 John 4, a very interesting bit of writing to say the least.

In verses 1-6 John is speaking about the spirit of antichrist which is afoot in this world and that may seem odd in a chapter about love, yet God’s love in us is the perfect antidote for the spirit of antichrist. John tells us that we have overcome that dark spirit already (4:4).

At first glance vv. 7 ff. appear to be redundant in the extreme. Yet upon closer examination this isn’t the case, for John in these verses is making the case for love itself, and he is doing so in a manner that is simplicity itself: God loved us and sent his Son to die for us, therefore we love Him. God loves our brothers and sisters, therefore so do we. Since all of this is true, anyone who does not love their brother and sister does not love God.

Notice how John links God’s love to us in 4:10 to Christ as “atoning sacrifice”, and recall that it is by his atoning sacrifice that our sins can be forgiven tying God’s love together with His forgiveness. Look carefully and you will see the same approach again in verse 14 where John tells us that by God’s love we have received the Holy spirit and give testimony that Jesus is Savior (by forgiveness of sins). Notice the same linkage in both verse 17 and verse 18 by making reference to the connection between love and forgiveness on the day of judgment. And then go back to the end of verse 17:

In this world we are like Jesus.

What was Jesus like? Jesus was the very embodiment of love in action who brought forgiveness into the world.

The chapter ends with this:

Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (4:21b)

We are commanded to love one another, and what is plain in 1 John 4 is that love is inexorably linked to forgiveness, and how many times should we forgive our brother, seven times?

Well, I think you already know the answer to that one.

Combine this with 1 Corinthians 13:5… love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love forgives first and foremost.

“Church” is not an institution. Rather it is a community of people who love Jesus Christ and wish to follow Him. Yet it is the human condition that as long as each of us is imperfect, we will all sooner or later say or do something that we shouldn’t have said or done. If anyone who reads this believes him or herself immune from error, please let us know in a comment so that we might recognize you for your achievement of perfection!

If on the other hand, you like I myself have not quite achieved such an exalted status just yet, them please understand that you will need forgiveness right along with everyone else at some point in time, and that all of us need to forgive if indeed we love one another, for there is no love without forgiveness. Since church is not an institution, but instead is a collection of believers in community, when someone stumbles, it is our place to love them, not to complain about them to others. If they have upset us, then it is our place to forgive them, not to condemn them, and if we feel that our local congregation is not loving enough, then it is for us to love more and forgive more, not for us to complain more and to become angry, for anger and complaining are not the actions of love.

Does that sound crazy to you?

If so, please remember this: You ARE the church; if you don’t love, then who will?

Who is Sacred, Who is Not

I wrote this post the other day for CSF. When I was finished writing it, I answered the phone, completed the call, and then posted it to the Life Project, and didn’t give it another thought until a few minutes ago… oops!

How would you approach such a quandary as a Christian? Would you approach it as a legalist and say that a person is sacred if they have behaved themselves and done certain other things that make them “cool” in the church? Perhaps one might say that a person who is a Christian is sacred, but that the lost are not, or maybe that people who are really good are sacred, while the rest are not. Some might suggest that a person is sacred if they are a member in good standing in their particular denomination, or even that no one is sacred until they die and go to heaven.

Yet, I wonder how God looks at this; would He see it the way we do?

Maybe God would say that a person whose sins are forgiven is sacred, and those who remain in their sins are unclean…

I wouldn’t presume to tell you that I am privy to all of God’s thoughts, but I can suggest that Scripture might give us some insight on this topic that can lead us to draw some conclusions.

As we have seen in a previous series of posts, all humans are created by God in His image, and yes, even after sin entered the world in Genesis 3, we still bear His image. With that being the case, and the image of God being in itself sacred, we all have an element of sacredness inherent in our beings; His image. Each of us was conceived in the mind of God and created in every detail with His intentional purpose in mind with talents and gifts, not to mention intelligence as God saw fit to give, and I doubt that God is in the habit of creating that which is unclean or inherently bad.

Yet in spite of this, we make choices as we walk through life, and sooner or later each one of us makes choices that are at odds with the ways of God; some really go out on a dark extreme and really make a mess of things. Yet even in such a dark place, distant and far from God’s presence and will, He still loved us:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Because of God’s amazing love, He sent His Son to die for each one of us, while humanity was still in its sinful rebellion. I don’t know about you, but offhand, I can’t think of any cases in Scripture when God was said to have loved that which was evil, bad or unclean. In fact, the second greatest commandment was that we love our neighbor as ourselves; He made no mention of our neighbor needing to be perfect first, did He?

In fact, which of the patriarchs was so perfect? How about the great Israelite kings David and Solomon; were they perfect? No, I didn’t think so.

I would maintain that every single human being is sacred in God’s sight, not because of the way we behave, but because we were created by God in His image with a purpose that transcends this world. Of course, there are many sacred ones out there who aren’t all that attractive, and some behave in really nasty ways, in rebellion against everything God is and stands for. Yet I really don’t believe for an instant that this sad state of affairs means that they aren’t sacred in God’s sight; can you guess why that is?

Two reasons: First, they are precisely the ones Jesus gave His life to save, and second, because God has gone to all of the trouble to put you and me in this world to take the good news to such people, that they might be brought into His light. Imagine for a moment how different this world might be if more of us saw such people through God’s eyes and took our commission more seriously.

Come to think of it, I have another question to ponder: Who grieves God’s heart more, the lost person who dwells in darkness and acts accordingly, or the Christian who dwells in the light with all of the riches of Christ at his or her disposal, but who is afraid to get their hands dirty taking the light to those dark places where so many need it so desperately?

Yes, I’ll need to ponder that one for some time…

I Don’t Know What to Say!

There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.

You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?

They ask you to come over… what will you say?

You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?

What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.

At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.

No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.

The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.

Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.

As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.

So, what will we say?

Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.

Making Your Point by Changing the Meaning of Words

I am taking the unusual step of re-blogging a post by Don Merritt (one of the movers and shakers behind Church Set Free) to Church Set Free.

Because this post – whilst not quoting any verses or chapters or books – is a post that is inextricably linked with our communication of those very verses and chapter and books making up the bible (and any other text we might discuss). It is inextricably linked with “communication” – and church is about relationships – and relationships work with good communication (and suffer with bad communication).

And then (heaven forbid!!) add our Father to that mix: how we talk to Him, and how we hear Him. This post is relevant to that as well.

I haven’t seen a post like this which transfers so directly into the conversation about – and within – church. I am so glad Don wrote this.

(as always – comments are disabled here, please pop across to Don’s place and join the conversation, thank you)

TLP

It is entirely normal for word usage to change over time as a language and culture evolves. This is one reason that most people today no longer use the older English translations of the Bible; they are written in a language nobody speaks in the 21st century. I mentioned in a post a few years ago that once upon a time I had a bunch of people in a Sunday School class who objected to the NIV being used in class, preferring instead the King James. I offered to teach the entire class from then on in King James English and we took a vote: King James English won the day, and the following week, I spoke only in 1611 English.

The people couldn’t follow very much, quickly became frustrated, and the point was made. A new vote was taken, and we returned to language they understood the next…

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