It has been a while since I updated this blog and I thought I should post a note giving a status. Especially in light of the Church Hunting post that was my last post.
My wife and I have found a wonderful church that is the perfect combination of not too big and not too small. And more importantly, it has solid biblical preaching without all the “extra” stuff that isn’t really biblical but rather preference. Grace Community Church seems to be what we were looking for. It was a long and frustrating search, but it was worth it.
What is wrong with churches these days? Why is it so hard to find a church where the word of God is preached? Has it always been this hard?
Lately I’ve been doing some church shopping with my wife. The reason being that my church isn’t a good fit for both of us. Not because of it’s doctrine or beliefs, but rather because the culture of the church doesn’t quite fit with me and my wife. So we have been shopping around for a church that would be a better fit for both of us. And you would think that the Pensacola area would be a good place to look. It seems like there is a church on every corner.
As we have been searching around I’ve been struck by how little of the Bible is actually preached in most of these churches. It seems like the majority of time preachers are pushing tradition, the latest semi-Christian psychology, or random political hobby horses. Some preachers use the Bible kind of like a good luck charm attached to the message. They read a verse at the beginning and one at the end. Maybe blessing is a better term than “Good Luck Charm,” but the usage is the same. Other preachers barely use the Bible at all. They all use the term “the Bible says” a lot, but they rarely show you where it says it.
I am so frustrated with the whole thing. How can I trust a pastor who preaches that going against church traditions (that is American church traditions) is sin? How can I trust a pastor who preaches that using a non KJV bible is sin? How can I trust a pastor who preaches that a particular music style is sin? There may be good reasons to avoid certain musicians, or to use certain Bible translations. There even are good arguments for preserving certain church traditions. The problem is that most of those arguments are based on opinion. Not on the Bible.
The Bible doesn’t single out any particular translation as being required. How could it single out a specific English translation when English didn’t even exist at the time the Bible was written? And it is totally silent on the issue of music styles. So you can’t make a case for a particular style being sinful if all you are using is the Bible. And when it comes to American church traditions, such as the Altar Call, they were all established within the last 200 years and none of them are commanded in the Bible. So any pastor that preaches these issues, without making it very clear that they are his opinion only, loses all credibility in my eyes.
But it goes even farther than that. Why don’t pastors use the Bible in their messages to back up the sermon points? How can I trust a Pastor who doesn’t? If he doesn’t use the Bible to back up each and every one of his points, how do I know for sure they are true?
I know a lot about the Bible. I grew up in a Christian home, went to a Christian college, and regularly read the Bible. But I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know everything. So if a Pastor slips something into his message that isn’t in the Bible, I may not catch it. It’s not enough for him to say “the Bible says.” He needs to show me where in the text the content comes from. So that I can see the truth for myself in the context it was written in. Otherwise, the Pastor’s message is no better than that of a motivational speaker at a conference.
And I don’t mean read a verse at the beginning and preach for a half an hour on that one verse. If you can preach for a half hour without using the Bible more than once, then you are NOT preaching from the Bible.
I guess what I’m saying is that I am very frustrated and upset by the way so many churches simply let this stuff slide by. It’s like they don’t care about truth as long as the pastor is an entertaining speaker, or as long as he backs the traditions they like, or as long as the church has all of the programs they want.
So let me tell you what I want.
I want a church that preaches and teaches from the Bible.
I want a pastor that backs up every point using verses from the Bible and takes the time to actually read them. That way I can see them for myself.
I want a pastor that reads the context of the verse so I don’t have to guess or try to quickly skim the passage to know if the verse is being taken out of context.
If the pastor is an entertaining and engaging speaker, that is a bonus, but not strictly necessary. And if the church has a lot of programs, that is also nice. But again, not strictly necessary.
Really, how hard can it be to find a church and other Christians who care about this stuff?
My pastor, Josh Lipscomb, preached a very good sermon this past weekend, and I thought I would post the main theme here. I’ll start off with the main passage that the pastor used.
To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph.
1 I cried out to God with my voice—
To God with my voice;
And He gave ear to me.
2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord;
My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing;
My soul refused to be comforted.
3 I remembered God, and was troubled;
I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah
4 You hold my eyelids open;
I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5 I have considered the days of old,
The years of ancient times.
6 I call to remembrance my song in the night;
I meditate within my heart,
And my spirit makes diligent search.
7 Will the Lord cast off forever?
And will He be favorable no more?
8 Has His mercy ceased forever?
Has His promise failed forevermore?
9 Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah
10 And I said, “This is my anguish;
But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
11 I will remember the works of the LORD;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
12 I will also meditate on all Your work,
And talk of Your deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary;
Who is so great a God as our God?
14 You are the God who does wonders;
You have declared Your strength among the peoples.
15 You have with Your arm redeemed Your people,
The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
When things are darkest, and when the future looks bleakest, remember what God has already done for you. And trust that if he did that for you, he will be faithful to you in the future. Be grateful for everything he has already done. Believe that he will guide and protect you as he has done in the past.
Too often we (me included) forget to be grateful for what we have already been given. And we don’t trust God to bring us what is best for us.
We get depressed when things don’t go the way we think they should. A depression that, as the author of the psalm says, can bring us sleepless nights and crushing worry. But like the author, we can look at the wonders that God has already done and know that he can and will provide in the future.
I read a rather interesting article on the blog, Stuff Christians Like. It was kind of tongue in cheek, but also serious at the the same time.
How often are we just listening to a sermon so that we can find ways to critique it? So that we can find “Spiritual” things to say about the sermon to our friends later?
The article listed a bunch of common phrases people use to criticize a sermon, along with a rather sarcastic definition of what the phrase means.
- I’m just not being fed.
What a fantastic way to look as if you’re more spiritual than the pastor himself.
- That message was not meant for me.
You are so generous to have sat there patiently while someone else that needed that sermon was able to receive it. What kindness.
- That didn’t feel like church.
What a perfect smokescreen of vagueness. How can anyone argue with your feeling? What does that even mean? More organ? Less organ? Better lasers? No lasers?
- There wasn’t enough Bible in that for me. That felt like a business leadership book.
What’s enough? No one knows, which is why this is such a gem.
- I’m not sure that sermon works in a postmodern world.
I’m not even sure I know what the word “postmodern” means, but it’s fun to say. Few things make you look smarter than repeating this word. Repeatedly.
From the article: Critiquing the sermon at lunch.
by Prodigal John
The truth is that I’ve heard almost all of these phrases before, and sadly I think I may have even used one or two. Which made me think about how often I’ve criticized a sermon for no real reason other than that it made me sound more knowledgeable or more spiritual.
There is always a need for examining what is said and studying it for yourself. And you should never just assume that because the pastor said it, it has to be true. But if you are just critiquing and criticizing so that you can avoid having to deal with your own issues, or so that you can appear more spiritual than others, you need to get a handle on why you are in church in the first place.
We don’t go to church to look good, or to make ourselves feel good. We go to church to worship God and to learn about Him what He would have us do.
I believe strongly that church attendance is an important and necessary part of being a Christian. Without the accountability and family relationships that come with your church family, you are alone and can easily fall into sin. Furthermore, you will never develop and mature as a Christian without the support and encouragement of your fellow church members. That isn’t to say that I think missing church occasionally is a sin. Rather that being a member of a church family and getting involved with that church family is extremely important to your growth as a Christian.
So anyway, I was having a discussion with someone the other day who was displeased with the church he was in. He made the point that, in his church, the legalism and obsession with outward appearances meant that no one in the church really knew each other or even liked each other. Everyone constantly wore a mask to keep from being judged. Any slips or cracks in that mask simply exposed that church member to the disdain and criticism of those around him. Which in effect mean that most of the members of the church never did anything together outside of church that wasn’t directly church related.
Now, I’m familiar with the church he was referring to and could definitely sympathize. The church he attends is exactly that way. Which is one (aside from it being in a different city) of the reasons I would never attend there.
So I told him I thought he should try another church rather than keep staying at a church that doesn’t like him and that he doesn’t like either. His answer was that there were no other good churches in the area. My response to that was to point to some that I had visited in the past. He said none of those churches were acceptable and listed each the of minor belief or tradition differences that were his reason why they weren’t acceptable.
At this point, not wanting to offend him I left the subject alone. Clearly the minor doctrinal points and traditions were more important in his eyes than having a real church family. But it got me thinking.
What weight should we assign the church family aspect when we are evaluating a church? The New Testament is full of references to the importance of fellowship and communion with believers, and yet I think most of us don’t even consider that when we are trying to choose a church. When did what hymns the church sings and what fellow church members wear become the main criteria when evaluating a church?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look for churches that believe what we believe. Or that finding one that worships in the manner we are most comfortable in isn’t important. It absolutely is! But we need to realize that having a church family is at least as important as finding a church who’s traditions we feel comfortable with. Because without placing an importance on the church family, we are likely to get stuck attending places like my friend’s church.
My friend’s church may believe all the right things, but it provides him no true accountability and no real fellowship. There is no family to support him in his personal growth or to help him through his struggles. Because for him to admit to having those struggles exposes him to being judged and ostracized. For him, church becomes just a place he attends every Sunday to hear preaching. And that isn’t a real church.
Darrell Dow pointed me at an article on the history of Altar calls. I knew it was a recent(Relative to the history of Christianity) practice, but had no idea how it got started.
My church does not do altar calls, but I’ve attended many that have in the past. I personally do not like altar calls because I feel it is an attempt to pressure someone into making what should be a well thought out and considered decision. When you are making the most important decision in your life, it shouldn’t be made because someone pressured you into making it.
But given how prevalent the practice is, it can be interesting to read up on how it all got started. The Story Behind – Walk the Aisle
What happened to church? When did church become a chore? When did it become a duty rather than a joy? For many people, church is just that. A place where people go because they have to, rather than because they want to. I don’t mean they don’t want to go. They do, but not because they like it. Rather they want to go because they feel like it is the right thing to do.
But it shouldn’t be that way. Church should be a place we want to be. Attending church should be the highlight of the week. That’s the way it was for the early church. Acts is full of stories about the new believers. And it’s clear that they enjoyed getting together. They didn’t see it as a duty or a chore. They gladly attended every service they could. Thousands would show up to hear the apostles speak and to have fellowship with each other. And it wasn’t about the the facilities, the comfortable seats, or the entertainment. The early churches were meeting in homes and outdoor fields. And yet they clearly had great joy and happiness. Everyone, no matter what their station or class was welcome. It didn’t matter who or what they had done. All that mattered was that they had accepted Jesus. Jesus loved them, and that meant they were family. And all of them enjoyed getting together to worship and enjoy Jesus. So what happened?
Why isn’t it that way today. We sing songs of worship, but we don’t think about what we are saying. The way we sing them is empty and meaningless. It’s just ritual and tradition. Where did the joy go? We fellowship with people at church, but we keep our guard up. We have to make sure we always keep our church face on. Not because our real face is wrong, but because our real face is different. And different people aren’t welcome. Only people who fit the traditional mold are welcome. So church rather than being a place of joy and a family, has become a place of meaningless ritual, tension, and rejection.
I’m not saying all churches are like that. There are exceptions, the one I attend being one of them, but the majority of churches aren’t the happy family they should be. They are judgmental, ritualistic, and depressing. And it shouldn’t be that way.
Recently I’ve been overseas working at my new job. (By the way, the new job is for a governent contractor doing IT work) I’ve been over here for about a month now, and I have about two months to go before I get back home.
For the most part I haven’t minded being over here. There isn’t all that much to do, but while I’m here I work 12-14 hour days 7 days a week. So I really don’t have time to get bored or homesick. Even better is that I don’t have time to spend any of the money I’m making. And with my living expenses paid for by the company, I can save all the money I make.
About the only thing I really miss is regular church attendance. You wouldn’t think that church attendance would be the one thing that I would miss the most. After all I’m missing almost everything else that I have made a regular part of my life. But other than my church, most of the other stuff I hardly think about.
I tried to find a church around here, but I couldn’t really find anything except a Catholic Mass. There was a Protestant service, but it was basically a Unitarian service. So since I’m not Catholic, and Unitarian services are really nothing more than feel good clubs, I’m stuck with nothing in terms of church.
So anyway, when I get home I’ll be pretty excited to be back at my church.
(My church does have a podcast of it’s messages, but the Internet access here is pretty slow and blocks downloads. So I wasn’t able to download any of the messages. I’ll be sure to catch up on them when I get back though)
Sunday at my church the pastor preached a message on knowing God’s will for our lives. One of the points of the message that really hit me, was, focus. He said we need to focus on using the specific gifts God gave us to further his kingdom, rather than worry about what God’s plan for our lives will be. In doing so, we will naturally fall into God’s will for us. He also said we shouldn’t assume that the plans we want for our lives are God’s plans for our lives.
That really got me thinking about where my focus should be. I’ve been really depressed lately. Well, to be honest, I’ve actually been pretty depressed for several years. I have ups and downs, but lately I’ve been in a down spiral. For years now I’ve felt like I was running in place. I’m always doing something, and I’m always working hard at it. but I never seem to get anywhere useful. And what I do accomplish, never seems to be enough or seems to give me what I wanted.
Before I went to college, I had my life all planned out.
I chose a Christian college, so that I would be able to meet Christians. The plan was to find a Christian to marry to raise a family with. While that seemed to work for most of my friends, it never worked out for me. Relationships always seemed to fail long before they got anywhere near that serious. Since college, it’s become even harder to meet and form relationships with Christians in the local churches. Consequently, I’ve been basically single for quite a long time.
I picked my major in college partially because I enjoyed it, but also because it seemed like a field that was growing. A field where demand and pay would remain high. All things to consider, if you want to support a family and have a rewarding career. Again, it didn’t work out like I planed. The year I graduated, was the year after the tech stocks crashed. Jobs in IT were hard to find, unless you had experience. I did find a job, but the pay was not what I would have wanted. Even now, with the industry having recovered, pay scales are not what I had planned for. And as much as I love my current job, to be honest the pay is not great.
For the past few years, I’ve basically gone nowhere. My pay is higher than when I started working, but still pretty close to entry level. I’m still single, and currently have no prospects for changing that. Even my close friends are drifting farther and farther apart from me, as they get on with their lives and begin raising their families. No matter how hard I’ve tried to change things, I never seem to get any closer to my goals.
I’ve begun to think that my focus has been wrong all along. I’ve been focused on trying to accomplish my goals for my life, but maybe those goals aren’t God’s goals for my life. Maybe that is why I am not satisfied and at peace, even when it seems like I am accomplishing things towards my goals. That isn’t to say that God doesn’t want me to get married and have a family, or that he doesn’t want me to have a successful career. All I’m saying is that maybe my focus shouldn’t be simply working towards accomplishing those goals. Rather, it should be on being open to what God wants me to do.
I’m not exactly sure what I should be doing, but I’m going to try to change the focus of my life toward God’s focus as much as I can. A good start would probably be to see where my skills and abilities can best be used in my church.
A friend of mine posted a commentary on his blog about preference and bias, and how it affects the Christian church today. His commentary really got me thinking about the tendency in the modern church to go to extremes of either separation, or inclusiveness. It doesn’t seem like there are many churches in between.
As many of you know, I went to a Christian College here in Pensacola. Pensacola Christian College sees itself as a spiritual leader in the Independent Baptist movement. And the truth is, that they are. Though, even though they won’t admit it, they share that position with Bob Jones University.
When I first went to PCC, I really didn’t know much about the college. I don’t come from a Baptist background, and hadn’t heard much about them. There were a few adjustments, but my church background was pretty conservative, so I didn’t have a big problem fitting in. The worship styles and daily living standards, were not much different from those in the Presbyterian denominations (OPC and PCA) I had grown up in. But what I wasn’t used to, was the extremes of separation the Independent Baptist movement goes to. Music, books, instruments, politics, Bible versions, clothing styles, preaching styles, praying styles, associations, lack of associations, and the list goes on. It seemed to me that they were actively looking for reasons to separate and vilify their fellow Christians. Most of the things they were separating over were petty and stupid, but if you suggested such, people assumed that that meant you didn’t believe in “separation.” The constant divisiveness and fighting really bothered me.
After I graduated, I did a lot of church hopping as I looked for a church I felt comfortable with. As a consequence I ended up visiting a lot of churches that didn’t believe in separating at all. So important doctrines and standards were thrown out in favor of presenting a united Christian front. All the emphasis was centered around being a big family. Which is good in a way. After all, we are a big family and will be together in heaven. But by ignoring key doctrines and beliefs in favor of unity, you open the door to a lot of problems and heresies that can seriously mess up peoples lives. The message seemed to be that in order to associate with people who believed differently, we had to accept that their beliefs were just as correct as ours. Even when they were in direct contradiction with our beliefs.
What is really needed, is a middle ground. We need to recognize and acknowledge our differences without vilifying each other over them. We should be able to meet on common ground whenever it won’t compromise our beliefs. Both sides fall into the trap of equating association with validation. There is no reason why you can’t associate with someone without agreeing with all his actions and beliefs.