Is There Ever A Bad Time To Pray?

Burning Question:  Why does the choir disperse during prayer?  It seems irreverent.  Why not postpone “greeting your neighbor” until the choir joins the congregation?

Burning Question:  I am a visitor.  Something that really bothered me was when your praise and worship leader prayed, the choir went back to their seats.  So is this prayer for real or just a convenient way to spend time while the choir takes their seats?

For those unfamiliar with our Sunday morning schedule, our choir typically leads worship each Sunday.  As the service transitions from the singing portion into the preaching portion, the choir disperses from the front in order to sit with their families/friends, attend Sunday School, or to serve elsewhere for the remainder of the worship service.  During the time that they transition down from the front (about 30 seconds to a minute), our Worship Pastor leads in prayer.

These questions were surprising to me, to be honest.  However, I think they are beneficial and a reminder that we must evaluate the motive behind everything we do.  For that reason, these questions were actually quite helpful.

Personally, I see no issue with praying while the choir disperses.  I typically pray throughout the service and don’t feel that it is disrespectful at all to pray while others return to their seats.  It seems to me that filling the time the choir returns to their seats by speaking to God in prayer is much better than simply remaining silent during that time.  Prayer during that time period actually makes good use of the time from my perspective.

Regarding whether the prayer is “for real” or “just a convenient way to spend time” could only really be answered by the one who is praying.  For us as a ministry, I would hope we would never use prayer as a tool other than it’s purpose . . . to connect with God on a personal level.  It reminds me of the story of Bill Moyers, who was the special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson.  President Johnson asked him to ask for God’s blessing on the food one day in the White House.  Moyers began to pray in soft tones and the President interrupted him, telling him to speak louder.  Mr. Moyers stopped President Johnson politely but boldly with the response, “I wasn’t addressing you, Mr. President.”

At the heart of the matter is the authenticity of the one speaking to God in the moment.  For us, it is simply the best place in the service for our choir to relocate.  Rather than to do so in silence, we redeem the time by talking to God in prayer.

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Wine or Grape Juice?

Burning Question:  Why do most Baptist churches only drink grape juice during the Lord’s Supper?  It appears from the verses in the Bible that actual wine was used.

So here is a question that will likely be answered less from the Bible and more from cultural norms and practical guidelines.  It is significant that the Bible does not prescribe in “Thou Shalt Use” form (think booming voice there) wine as the drink of choice in the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  When Jesus spoke of believers celebrating the Lord’s Supper in Matthew 26:29, he referred to the drink as “the fruit of the vine” and not “wine”.  In fact, verse 27 in that same passage refers to Jesus taking “a cup” and giving the command to drink from it.  Mark (Mark 14:23-25) and Luke (Luke 22:17-20) follow this same pattern.  Paul follows the same pattern, also, as he refers to “the cup” with no specific reference to wine in 1 Corinthians 11:25-27.

There really does not seem to be any clear instruction in Scripture that prescribes or even details the use of wine for the Lord’s Supper.  “Fruit of the vine” could mean juice as much as wine.  In 1 Corinthians 11:20-21, Paul references the Corinthian believers as being drunk at the Lord’s Supper (not a good quality, by the way!).  It could even be said that this is a great argument against the use of wine at the Lord’s Supper.

From a practical and cultural perspective, using wine to celebrate the Lord’s Supper simply creates issues that are not beneficial for such a meaningful act of worship.  Imagine the new believer with six months of Christian maturity under her belt, with such excitement about partaking for the very first time in observing the sacrifice that her Savior made for her.  She comes to the Lord’s Supper with such gratitude over the reminder that her sins have been forgiven, and for her a part of her sin was the addiction to alcohol that once ravaged her life.  As she nervously, yet with such joy, takes of the bread that represents the body of Jesus given on the cross for her, she can only weep with happiness over her new life.  Yet as the mere taste of wine passes her lips, she is not now celebrating the blood that Christ shed for the payment of her sins, but is suddenly and unexpectedly pushing away the demons of her past that have been awakened by the mere taste of a drink so powerful in one’s life.  Practically speaking, why turn the recognition of such a beautiful expression of worship, meant to celebrate our Savior’s sacrifice for us, into a stumbling block to be endured by some for whom the taste of wine may not be so easily handled?

At the end of the day, don’t allow the big picture of the Lord’s Supper to be clouded by questions of procedure not addressed in Scripture.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees, as they say.  But also don’t check wisdom and common sense at the door.  Churches must determine to place no stumbling block in the path of those who come to humbly honor Christ for who He is, what He has done, and how He re-defines the life that follows Him!

What To Preach

Burning Question:  Why don’t preachers preach more on Revelation and the end of time?  Sometimes reading the Bible, especially in Revelation, I don’t understand it completely.  Would love for you to take and preach on that like we do other books of the Bible.

Burning Question:  Why can’t you preach on the good things that Heaven has to offer and what Heaven is like?

Burning Question:  Why don’t you teach on the moral issues that are destroying our country (our children and our families), like abortion?  Being a godly country, political issues (without being political or taking party sides)?  Encourage voting — Christians are among the lowest percentage of voters.  Divorces among Christians are as high as non-Christians.  America is becoming and ungodly nation.  Our children will suffer!

These questions really cut to the heart of how preaching today is to be defined.  There seems to be wide variety as to what the aim should be for those who stand and preach on a weekly basis.  Sadly for many preachers today, the pulpit is turned into something other than a platform for the declaration of the Gospel and the truth of God and His Word.  For a fair share of pastors and preachers, the pulpit has become a platform to display themselves or to advance certain causes (or both).

For me personally, my desire over the long haul is that people are engaged with the truth of Scripture and that they determine to apply that truth to their daily lives.  For some, that means choosing to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ.  For others who have made that decision, it means to apply God’s Word in a way that brings growth and maturity to their relationships with Him.  All of it, by the way, is for God’s glory.

The way that I seek to do this is by maintaining consistent focus on Scripture with an aim toward making it applicable.  Whether I preach through a book of the Bible (as I am currently in 1 Corinthians) or preach through a topical series, it is in response to what I feel are the needs of those who will be here each week and how God seems to be directing me.  Always, however, the intent is to communicate Scripture as it applies to our lives and culture.

Inevitably within a crowd of people, there will be some who have certain desires or thoughts as to what should be addressed.  As with the questions above, some may desire a deeper study on a specific book of the Bible.  Others may desire a certain topic addressed which is important to them.  This is understandable but what has to be kept in mind is that the preacher has only about 30-40 minutes per week to address the things that matter most.  It is unreasonable to expect that every major topic being discussed today can be addressed quickly and thoroughly.  Additionally, the aim is not for the preacher to simply preach whatever he desires to preach but what he senses God would have to be preached.  For me, my conviction is that when Scripture is preached faithfully and when the hearer is open to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life, God takes His Word and applies it in a variety of ways.

One word of caution here is that the preacher of God’s Word must be very careful to find the balance needed in his preaching in a relevant way today.  As Titus 2:1 would encourage, we must be willing to address any topic (politics, abortion, morality, etc.) but in a way that does not lose sight of the bigger picture (that people need a Savior).  Our world does not need more Christians who vote, more people to stay married, and better government nearly as much as it needs to walk with Christ and honor God in every area of life.  When the preaching of God’s Word puts Christ on display and communicates God’s truth, and when people heed that Word and apply it to their lives, the results will be Christians who do the right thing, vote the right way, stay committed to their spouses, and bring light to a dark world.  The apostle Paul, responsible for the bulk of the New Testament, made it pretty clear that he really only had one message when he involved himself in the lives of the Corinthian people (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).

Hopefully no one can ever say that I backed away from a topic related to life in this world, no matter how touchy or controversial it may be.  But hopefully it can be said that I did so, not to promote myself or my view, but what God’s take is on the topic so that lives can be aligned to His truth for His glory!

 

Church: The Beginning

Burning Question:  How did church originate?  Who started Christianity?

The book of Acts details the beginning of the church as we know it just a few weeks after the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 2).  It was here that the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell all who would turn from sin and place their faith in Christ for salvation.  Ever since that point in time, we have experienced the concept of “the church.”

I believe that it can be argued, however, that the concept of church can be seen in the work of God long before the events of Acts 2.  God made a promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 that He would bring forth a select group of people who would walk in relationship with Him.  In Exodus 12:3, the people of God are called a “congregation” for the very first time in Scripture.  Even before “the church” was birthed in Acts 2, Jesus makes reference to “the church” in Matthew 16:18 and also in Matthew 18:17.

In the reference in Matthew 16:18, Jesus makes it very clear that it is His responsibility to grow the church.  So according to God’s Word, it is God who started Christianity.  He started it in miraculous fashion and the existence of Christianity is not another religion in this world but rather the expression of the only way a person can know God . . . through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for our sins so that all who come to Him can be redefined, forgiven, and part of His church in this world.  It is not a man-made religion but rather a Christ-centered relationship, offered to any who will come to Him on His terms.

Homosexuality And The Church

English: A fork in the road Which way should i go?

Burning Question:  Why are we not more welcoming and loving towards gay Christians and non-Christians?

Burning Question:  The homosexual lifestyle and pressure to “accept” it by the mainstream media is more prevalent than ever.  How does the church take a stand against this sin in love while overcoming the labels of being “judgmental”, “bigoted”, and “non-progressive”?  Is it even possible?

These questions were turned in anonymously as part of our Burning Questions message series recently.  Though turned in anonymously by design, they reflect true “burning questions” as the church and Christians today seek to find the balance between the truth of God and love for others.

Sadly, the church has badly lost this balance in many ways regarding this topic. One way has been by becoming strangely mute regarding even speaking to this subject.  Another way has been by attempting to move the boundary lines placed by God in the Bible as they relate to sexual morality.  Yet another way has been to unlovingly spew Bible-laced venom upon anyone who has chosen the homosexual lifestyle at all.

What makes this discussion so difficult is that there are different “camps” represented within the discussion on homosexuality.  One camp sees the issue from the perspective of civil rights, political platform, and social advancement.  This perspective is often easily heard because of the loud voices of those who have chosen this lifestyle (in fact, it’s often presented as a lifestyle that’s not chosen at all but has rather been forced upon one in their creative design).  At times, some within the homosexual community will also seek to join their lifestyle to a walk with Christ.  It is not difficult to find churches who seek to find harmony between a person’s homosexual lifestyle and a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Another camp is less vocal, often even silent.  Their  perspective of the issue is of one who silently suffers in guilt, confusion, and embarrassment due to their same-sex attraction.   Often there are peripheral issues that contributed to their same-sex attraction which are difficult to navigate in their own light . . . childhood abuse or neglect, absentee fathers, and others.

Rather than to turn this post into pages and pages of material addressing the variety of arguments concerning the homosexual lifestyle, let me simply seek to address the questions above.  To be clear, my conviction is that the Bible clarifies that the lifestyle of homosexuality is sin, however, the temptation to live that lifestyle is not.  It is here that one could find a number of biblical passages that address the homosexual lifestyle as a sinful lifestyle.  Romans 1:18-32, for example, depicts homosexuality in this light, along with a number of other vices that heterosexuals themselves also engage in.  We must remember that as Creator, God has all right to declare what is right and what is wrong and that living outside of His parameters of right-ness brings tremendous consequences to our lives.  Again, being tempted with same-sex attraction is no more sinful than another’s temptation to lust, or overeat, or punch out their boss on a bad Monday.  But according to the Bible, the choice to act on that temptation and to engage in homosexual behavior constitutes sin.  Sin that can be forgiven and washed away, but sin nonetheless.

So why are Christians not more welcoming and loving towards “gay Christians and non-Christians?”  Perhaps it is because of self-righteousness in that we have lost sight of our bankruptcy before God without Christ as our Lord.  Perhaps it is because of our weakness in that we are too concerned about how our peers will view us if we actually demonstrate love with no strings attached toward this segment of our culture.  Regardless of why, it is simply wrong for anyone who has been forgiven of their sins by Christ and has been re-defined as a “Christian” to hold back love from someone for whom Christ died.

However, it is important that I clarify something here.  Though the church has not always responded well in facing this issue, there is a point where the homosexual community has also fallen short in its response toward its detractors.  Simply because a Christian considers homosexuality as sin does not necessarily mean that the Christian is unloving, unwelcoming, or is a homophobe.  Our media today loves to categorize anyone who disagrees with the homosexual lifestyle as a homophobe, or even a hater of homosexuals, and this is just not always accurate.  Just because I may disagree with your choice to eat collard greens doesn’t make me a collard-green-eater-phobe . . . I am not afraid of you and I do not hate you and I don’t aim to avoid you at all costs.  No, I just don’t want to eat your collard greens!  In other words, can we just lay aside the rhetoric and have grown-up conversations about all of this?

So how does the church take a stand for truth and consider homosexuality to be outside the boundaries of God’s design without appearing judgmental or bigoted?  By remembering that our sin cost Jesus exactly the same to make us right with God . . . His death.  By remembering that a person is rarely reached by shouting at them but by engaging them in friendship and dialogue, which often only occur over extended periods of committed time.  By remembering that it is not our place to condemn or to judge but to merely announce the truth of the Gospel that liberates all who come to Him on His terms.  By remembering that Christ met us where we were with such amazing love, despite our sin, and that He desires us to reach out in that same manner to others.  And by remembering that some will choose to characterize us as hate-mongers no matter how genuinely we care about them, simply because of the message we proclaim.

Watering down God’s truth is not an option to be considered because it’s His truth that sets people free.  As Martin Luther said approximately 500 years ago, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

May the church and every Christian within it be certain that we stand on God’s truth with boldness, regardless of the cost.  But may we also proclaim that message with compassion, humility, and grace, as well.  The shining hope in it all is that God does still forgive sin when we come to Christ in repentance and faith (Acts 20:18-21).  And praise God, He does still transform and re-define the life that finds forgiveness in Christ, changing us from what we once were to washed, sanctified, and justified saints regardless of the specifics of our past sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

The Christian And Alcohol

overchilled wine

Burning Question:  How does the church view members who drink alcohol?

The issue of beverage alcohol as it relates to the life of the Christian has been a topic of much debate and disagreement within Christian circles today.  On one extreme is a position of libertarianism which holds that our freedom in Christ grants us the privilege to enjoy life on our terms . . . of course, to those who hold this position, the drinking of alcohol is a non-issue.  On the other extreme is a position of legalism which treats the drinking of beverage alcohol just a little lower than masquerading as Satan himself . . . those who hold this position often miss the heart of God as they focus solely on the “rules” of the Christian life.

What is often missing in this conversation, however, is the quality of objectivity.  In other words, those who evaluate this issue often begin the discussion from the starting point of their own views and only turn to the Bible when it supports their view.  What I believe is most healthy is to let Scripture speak for itself, then we as believers make necessary adjustments to what Scripture has said.  It is extremely important, however, that we examine Scripture regarding what it explicitly states and regarding what it implicitly implies.

So, the Bible does not state that the drinking of beverage alcohol is a sin (score one point for the libertarians!)  Yes, it is true that Jesus turned water into wine (2-0).  Yes, wine is mentioned in numerous places in the Bible (current score: Libertarians 3, Legalists 0).

When we take the time to examine how the Bible speaks of beverage alcohol, we find that the picture it paints, however, is not necessarily a good one.  Proverbs 20:1 speaks of the lack of wisdom associated with one who is intoxicated by wine and strong drink (don’t think “intoxicated” in this passage specifically refers to .08 blood alcohol content.  Any beverage alcohol affects one’s mental and physical capacities in a negative rather than a positive way).  Proverbs 23:30-35 references in no uncertain terms the damaging and dominating effects of beverage alcohol to such a degree that the admonition in verse 31 is to not even look at it.  Proverbs 31:4-5 gives strong admonition for kings and leaders to leave beverage alcohol alone (perhaps this explains some recent governmental decisions in our country, wink wink!) Combining these passages with the current state of our culture shows that Proverbs has hit the nail on the head . . . alcoholism, drunk driving, and abuse are just a few of the negative ramifications of not avoiding beverage alcohol today.  At its core, even our culture understands this because we allow a young soldier to legally risk his life in our military at the age of 18 but do not allow that same young soldier to take a drink with his buddies until he is 21 in most states.

So it would seem pretty clear that, based on the debilitating and addictive nature of beverage alcohol and these admonitions from Scripture, wisdom would dictate that avoidance is the best policy.

Another perspective that must be considered by the follower of Christ is the perspective of witness.  Does engaging in drinking of beverage alcohol strengthen or weaken one’s witness for Christ as Healer, Life-giver, Savior, and Lord?  Can one knock back a cold one while sharing the Gospel with a lost neighbor and expect to be heard?  Can one teach a Bible study and pause between Bible verses to take a drink without compromising their witness to others in the process?  Does the drinking of beverage alcohol in a public setting risk bringing harm to another who may be privately wrestling with breaking the hold of alcohol in their own life?  Does the drinking of alcohol privately not put one in a position of causing another to stumble or struggle if asked by a teenager, for example, whether or not they drink?  For me as a pastor, would I be more willing or less willing to see real ministry impact through my life if I decided to drink beverage alcohol?  Should others view pastors differently in this area than they view themselves as ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)?

Paul unapologetically makes the point of putting certain things away for the sheer sake of our witness in Romans 14.  In that context, the discussion centered around whether to eat meat sacrificed to idols . . . choosing to do so had begun to negatively affect others who could not partake due to their conscience.  However, it easily fits into the discussion regarding beverage alcohol today (in fact, wine is even mentioned specifically in the passage.)  So Paul makes the argument in Romans 14:13, Romans 14:15, and in Romans 14:21 that the proper choice as it relates to witness and causing another to stumble is to abstain.

See, when we place the weight upon the Gospel that we should and when we understand that our lives are not our own but that we have been bought with a price . . . when we understand that a lost world is looking at us from the outside to see what a holy, righteous, set apart life looks like . . . and when we understand what it means to deny and die to self daily (Luke 9:23) for the sake of following Christ . . . and when we understand that the culture in which we live today in this 21st century of life is a culture that is ravaged by the effects of alcohol, then it becomes easier to see that the wise choice and the choice that enhances rather than compromises our witness is the choice to abstain from drinking beverage alcohol.

How does the church view those who drink alcohol?  Hopefully without contempt or bitterness.  But, perhaps the better question would be, “How do those who drink alcohol view their Christian family, the lost community, and the church?”

Why Are There So Many Different Types of Churches?

Church Steeple

Church Steeple (Photo credit: Karen.E.Rice)

Burning Question:  Why are there different denominations of churches that believe in Jesus Christ?  Why so many separate churches, all doing their own thing?

Ahh, the question about denominations!  I once worked in a bookstore a long time ago and remember the time that someone came to the check-out and needed change.  When the check-out lady asked, “What denomination?” . . . well, you get the picture.  Needless to say, it was pretty funny!

So, what really is going on with all the different denominations?  Are they a bad thing or a good thing?  The question behind the question is:  “Why can’t churches just have unity the way the Bible speaks of?”

The Bible definitely tells us that we are to have unity as believers (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Jesus spoke of how believers of different backgrounds are called to become “one flock” with “one shepherd” (John 10:16).  We could list a page full of references where the goal is one of unity within the world of believers.  However, we can also find instances of disagreement that led to division in Scripture, even related to one of the heroes of the New Testament . . . you can check it out here.

Actually, for roughly the first 1000 years of church history, there was outward unity for the most part.  This doesn’t mean that separation didn’t occur at all, but as Wayne Grudem points out, “. . . the prevailing sentiment was one of strong opposition to division in the body of Christ.”  Since that time, when separations have occurred and new denominations have begun, they have often done so for a variety of reasons.  Really since the Reformation in the 1500s has the denominational explosion really taken place.  Sometimes because of doctrinal disagreements over minor points of doctrine, sometimes over major convictions dealing with major points of doctrine.  Sometimes the separations have taken place because of anything BUT doctrine.

Maybe it can be helpful to think of it in terms of concentric circles:  The first circle involves our different convictions regarding Scripture that, even though we disagree, do not prevent us from joyfully worshiping together.  For example, the fact that you believe Paul’s thorn in the flesh referenced his poor eyesight but that I believe it referenced a specific temptation (for the sake of argument!) should not cause us to find separate churches in which to worship . . . we should pretty much be able to work through this one.

The second circle extends a bit further and involves our different convictions regarding Scripture that may cause us to worship in separate places of worship but should not prohibit our fellowship as brothers or sisters in the same body of Christ.  Some examples here could be the issue of speaking in tongues or other “convictions” that have little to do with salvation.  Where the main components of the Gospel are agreed upon and adhered to, believers should be able to fellowship together.  However, it may be challenging for someone who believes speaking in tongues has ceased, to worship each week with one who holds firmly to the conviction that speaking in tongues is alive and well and has no problem acting on that belief.  It is at this point that Joshua Harris makes an interesting point in his book, Stop Dating the Church when he says, “So you don’t have to think of denominational differences as the enemy of unity, but as something that makes true unity more achievable.  We agree to agree on things of first importance; we agree to respect disagreements on things of lesser importance.”

The third circle would involve differing convictions on major details of doctrine that would prohibit even worshiping or experiencing Christian fellowship together at all.  Some denominations hold to completely differing views of salvation altogether.  Basic Catholic doctrine, for example, would be drastically different from classic, biblical Christian doctrine, in its understanding of grace and salvation (which led to Martin Luther’s issues at the start of the Reformation in the first place).  This is not to say that there are not Catholics who are believers, but that the belief system as a whole within Catholic theology will be vastly different from orthodox biblical theology in a number of major areas of key doctrine.  So as an example, there should be no reason to get mean and nasty with one another, but to be able to worship together and fellowship together in a way that is centered upon the Gospel when these differences occur is difficult, to say the least.

So are denominations bad?  Well, it would be best if we could all be together under one roof in our worship of Christ as Lord and King.  But rather than be sidetracked and distracted by differing beliefs and practices on peripheral areas of doctrine (tongues, baptism, church government, etc.), perhaps denominations can be a benefit.  That is, as long as we keep the main thing the main thing:  That Jesus Christ came to give His life as a sacrifice and substitute for sinners.  And that all who turn to Him in repentance and faith will be forgiven and made right with God . . . forever.

Regardless of our denominational tag, may we be found always hot in our passion for Christ and always relentless in sharing with the world the message that has changed our lives for eternity!