Does church make a Christian?

Or in other words, can someone really be a “Christian” but never go to church? In short, “Yes” and “No” but before you roll your eyes because of a flip-flopped answer, let me explain.

Someone does not have to go to church to be a Christian. The Bible does not directly say, “Thou shalt go to church or thou art not Christian.” Yet to not go to church does not make Bible-sense. Its like a train saying, “I don’t need tracks,” or a fish saying “I don’t need the water.” The longer a “Christian” separates himself from the community the less like Jesus he becomes. Just like a train without tracks becomes derailed and fish without water becomes deadly.

My step-father is a carpenter. One day while on the job his table saw slipped and it sliced through his finger. That finger was dead, but at the hospital the doctor did surgery and reattached it to his hand. It healed and grew strong again. That is the miracle and power of being connected to the body.

You can’t take your finger off and on without consequences. Some might prefer to have a prosthesis that can be removed whenever, yet if you ask a person who has a prosthesis, like my friend Darrell, they will agree the real thing is so much better. To have real blood pumping through your veins connected wholly to the body is in our design (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

A Christian who doesn’t care to gather and connect with other Christians in the church is no different from a football fanatic who thinks his best view of the game is from the comfort of his couch. He will cheer for his favorite team or player though he is missing out on the amazing reality of rubbing shoulders with others other fans, even players on the team. As Kyle Idleman echoes in his radical book Not a Fan,

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”

There is more to “encouraging one another” than saying kind words and cheering each other on. Encouraging means I will get off the bleacher and onto the field. I participate in the action. I will listen to the calls from the coach and the Playbook. I will hold a block or run a screen. I will cart an injured team mate to the locker room and help him rehabilitate. I will commit to being a team player and show up week in and week out, even bulk up between games.

I think I have overused that illustration, but I did so to make a point. That’s what followers of Christ do. Christians, church going Christians, are not passive or solitary. That makes the church wonderful and wonder-filled, especially when you got more fingers than toes and other complications that naturally come with a body. Being part of a community is more than just being a card carrier with benefits.

Yes, you can be a Christian and not go to church. However, a self-proclaimed Christian who does not belong to the church is not practicing biblical Christianity at all.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6792

Advertisements

how long…?

How-long-does-tramadol-last2

Some people back home ask, “How long do you plan on being in Africa?” I know many of those faces we will not see for years. I don’t know how to answer that question, but my usual response is to answer, “As long as it takes.” We desire to see a mighty movement of God. That could take a while.

On Sunday, Sarah and I were listening to a sermon on the book of Habakkuk during our family worship time. In Habakkuk 1:2, he asks “How long?” for a different reason. He sees all the violence and injustice around him and asks God, “Why aren’t you doing anything about it?” (my paraphrase, 1:2-4). It is easy to regard our circumstances and think that God is passive, however, God is more proactive than you can imagine. For in the next verse, God answers Habakkuk’s question, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (1:5)

Like Habakkuk, I may doubt God promises. I may question His character. I may not see immediate results from my work. I may throw in the towel too early. Yet God says, “Wait a minute. Check this out. Look and see. Be amazed. Be still and know that I am God over history and your circumstances.” He’s been working among the Z people long before we arrived. He will be at work among them long after we’re gone (whenever that may be). Right now, He is at work within me reminded me of His faithfulness, His truth, His presence, and His sovereignty. If God were to share with me all that He is doing at this moment, I would not understand or comprehend.

Luke: Discovering Jesus, the Son of God

For a few months, I have been studying the Gospel of Luke with some friends. It has been a joy to study the life of Jesus. Below is a Family Worship Guide that I created from our discussions. Just click on the image below. You will find questions with and without helps. I hope this is a blessing to you and your family.

Luke family worship guide

Let me know if you would like to make changes or additions. This is certainly a work in progress.

Questions for skeptics and contradiction seekers

I realize skeptics are the ones with questions. However, wise Christians should have good questions too, especially for skeptics. Questions help those with questions to think and reason out loud. Here are some good questions to consider when dialoging with a skeptic or contradiction seeker:

1. In the light of modern science, can you give reasons why Christians can continue to believe the Bible? This question turns the science debate on its head and seeks to help them think how is the Bible and Christianity is logical and rational scientifically.

2. Do you have a hard time accepting history as fact? Do you have a hard time believing that old things can be as true as new things? If so, why? This questions tries to get the hearer to consider new is not always better and old is not always bad.

3. Have you recently read the Bible through in its entirety? How have the alleged contradictions affected the theology or overall message of the Bible? This is a good question because most skeptics have not read the Bible through completely or chronologically. The Bible has an amazing cohesiveness when read altogether.

4. How do you explain the preservation and reliability of the Bible? Can that help answer some of your questions? If not, why? This question gets people thinking about how the Bible has stayed around so long and changed so many lives through the centuries.

5. What would make the Bible and Christianity more believable to you? This question helps you see where their doubts or questions really are rooted.

I am sure there are more questions you could ask. Do you have other questions that you’ve asked that help open up the heart of the skeptic or contradiction seeker.

thumb lick [1.14.12]

3 Things You Need to Know about Sin

Community idolatry. Are chasing false gods together? 8-idol shattering questions.

Abandoned by God. What to do when you feel alone or forsaken.

Benefits of sorrow.

My dream vacation: move, learn, eat.

Nearer Heaven: a great 30-day devotional.

Religious views of 20-somethings.

Books on Christians and politics.

It’s amazing what artist can do with books, mailboxes, and more paper.

In our State they do not test parallel parking anymore. Maybe they need to rethink that:

can you rewind the tape please?

I used to live with my grandparents during my elementary years. I remember my reward for good behavior was a trip with grandma to the mall and visit to McDonalds. Now McDonalds back in the day was not like the massive metro-play-lands that they are today. It was just a sit-down meal in a box with a toy, commonly known as a Happy Meal. I would always get the fish filet, fries, with orange High-C. I loved those Happy Meals with grandma.

The Bible talks about another Happy Meal [John 6:1-14]. Jesus had performed a fish filet and French fry Hebrew Happy Meal miracle for 5000 people. His popularity was at an all-time high. After this miracle everyone wanted to crown Jesus King [not the burger King, v.15]. Jesus had something else in mind. How about taking a boat trip? What? So Jesus’ 12-followers boarded a boat across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum and Jesus meets them later taking a stroll on the water [6:16-24].

Meanwhile all the people who received the Happy Meal were looking for Jesus. What about another free meal? The crowds caught up with Jesus on the other side of the sea. Jesus was not looking to draw a big crowd. When crowds showed up Jesus would get all OCD [Operation Crowd Deduction]. Jesus says something really strange, “I know why you are here. You want another free meal.” [6:25-26] I could imagine what the disciples were thinking, “Jesus cool it. You got all these crowds captivated and you go ahead and say something crazy like this?” Jesus continues to talk about food, rather spiritual food and what really matters is relying on eternal food that on He can offer [6:27-29]. This brings about some serious questions in their minds:

“What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” [6:30-31] This brings up a Hebrew History 101 lesson. Do you remember the Sunday School lesson when the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness and God miraculously feed them? The manna miracle proved to the Jewish people that Moses was their leader. The people were making the same connection with Jesus, but wanted more proof. However, Jesus was not interested in being some miracle producing David Copperfield, rather he answered their doubts and corrected their wrong thinking [6:32-33]. Doubts or questions either draw us to God or away from Him.

Jesus now gets controversial by removing the cape from a Jewish superheroes: Moses. And makes one of the most radical claims of all that either labels Him a lair, lunatic and/or Lord: He says He is the cosmic carbohydrate [6:35]. The disciples must have thought He flipped out. He even goes on to say cannibalistic things like, “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Surely Christ’s career is over.

Sometimes it would be nice if life and God’s plans were recorded on DVD. Could I have season 8 please? There are times when watching a movie that I miss an important line or did not completely understand something. It is easy to rewind and replay. At times you want to fast forward to the good part. What happens when God does something you do not understand? What on earth are you doing here God? How should we respond?

Don’t press pause [6:60]. Don’t get all bent out of shape over unanswered questions. For Jesus’ followers it was a tough day. They had a lot of questions. I have felt like that after reading some of Jesus’ words. Pausing in our questions and doubts can handicap us. If you are in a boxing match and you pause for a moment you will become a TKO. Why pause? Is it because you do not want God to look under your hood and see all that is broken?

Don’t push eject [6:66-67]. Many bailed on Jesus even after they saw His miracles and heard His teachings. They were not ready to commit after counting the cost. Stay to the course.

Press fast forward [6:68-69]. Look ahead. Consider the long-term benefits of following Christ: Life eternal. What are the alternatives? “The only thing more difficult than having a personal relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship”—Phillip Yancey. Is it a personal relationship? Yes, really personal.

Press rewind. Look back. Remember what God has done. He has a proven track record. For Peter the changes were dramatic—from fish to following Jesus. What is your story? How has God changed your story? [ie. David; 1 Sam.17:37 & Ps.77:11-12]

Push play. Press on. The best remedy for questions and doubt is “faith.” In the boxing match and blows to your faith, when you are against the ropes faith is the where we can regain strength. Sometimes God and our faith are difficult to understand. Like many who have gone before you and will come after have said, “God this is hard for me to accept, but I have faith you are who you say you are and you will do what you say you will do because you have already done so much.”

Does God really care for me? Even when my life seems to be falling apart? He cares more about me than I care about myself [1 Pt.5:7]. During my freshmen year of college I had major doubts. Why am I here? Does it really even matter? I have distant friends, my grades are collapsing, my family is splitting again, and God seems distant. I was to the point of taking my own life to escape the misery. I was at a crossroads: I am either going to throw away my faith and life or come running to God. I had a heart to heart with a professor. In that moment, my pride crumbled, I didn’t have the answers. I wept in relief, broken before God. God has given us the church to encourage our faith, to ask questions to one another and build on our faith.

a plastic faith

Doubt can be a good thing. Some are taught never to question God or their faith. That is silly. Even Billy Graham had doubts. Doubt can strengthen and secure your faith. They can also drive you away if you are unprepared. Stats say that 50% of Christian teens will abandon their faith by the end of college. Jesus was more comfortable with doubt than most Christians are.

You can take some major blows your can take for your faith. Like a boxing match we can take intellectual upper cut, this is when you are sitting in science class at school and your view of creation is challenged, or in philosophy faith is reasoned as irrational, or spirituality is stated as not for the smart. Then there are psychological gut checks, which can happen when you experience a flawed view of fatherhood, have a bad church situation, or observe hypocritical Christians. The most common is the sinful right and left hook. By its very nature sin separates us from God. Sin fuels pride, arrogance, or invincibility from God.

When we receive these blows it can leave our faith damaged, bruised, and scarred. When I was in high school I took a baseball to the face. My nose was even more crooked and broken than it was today. I visited my doctor Rocky, and the he said the only way to fix my face was through plastic surgery and a face-lift. When we take blows to our faith we need a faith lift. As a messenger of truth I need to help bandage and repair sagging faith and God’s Word comes into your life like a surgical knife. How do I know if I need a faith lift? Can you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions?

Are you convinced God doesn’t listen to doubters? God never says doubting is dumb. He never calls us stupid for using our brains to question or consider our faith and relationship with God. It really takes faith to enter a relationship with Him. God is more comfortable with our doubts than many Christians are. Take the example of Thomas from the Bible [John 20:24-27]. Thomas had good reason to doubt. His friend, teacher and Savior had been unrecognizably beaten to death and executed on the cross. People were saying Jesus was alive. How could he believe that after all we saw? Jesus didn’t give Thomas all the answers for how He rose from the grave, but He did give Thomas enough to believe and relieve him of doubts.

Are you searching for absolute proof? You want every questioned answered to satisfaction before you make the leap of faith. Truth is, having every questioned answered removes the need for faith. Jesus did not answer all of Thomas’ questions [John 20:28-29]. Doubt and faith go hand in hand. If you have no doubt, you have faith. If you doubt, you do not have faith. [note: Abraham had endless examples faith mixed with doubt.]

Faith is attached to trust. I have faith every day and I often take it for granted: I have faith my alarm will wake me up in the morning because the electricity works. I have faith my car will start. I trust my office chair will keep me sitting up straight. All of these have failed me from time to time, but over time they have been faithful. I do not understand electricity, mechanics or the engineering behind an office chair, but I trust they will work. I do not have to have all the proof before I trust. That is faith.

We may not have proof that Jesus rose from the grave, but we do have evidence. What is some of the proof or evidence we have that Jesus rose from the grave? Christianity has some very compelling evidence, but what it comes down to is do you have faith that it is all truth? What I have found is that sometimes people can have all the facts before them, all the proof and evidence to their questions, but they still doubt because they want to keep their lives hidden from God. They do not want to change their lives because they are too comfortable in their sin and keeping God distant.

Are you waiting for a miracle? You say, “If God would just speak to me, or write it in a book, or come down here to my level, then I would believe.” Do you really? People posed that same question in Jesus’ day. God did speak to them, He did write them a Book and He did come down to their level, and many did not believe [note: miracle of Lazarus; John 12:9-11]. A miracle does not guarantee faith, but assists it [John 20:30ff].

Are you waiting until it feels right? You might think to yourself, “It just doesn’t feel right. I will know in the moment. If Jesus is really for me then I will feel it.” As a good friend once told me, if you are looking for a warm and fuzzy feeling, wet your pants. Feelings are often a byproduct of faith, but not always. Feelings can be freaky. There are some songs and movies that really move me, but they do move me the same as my wife. The other night I was watching Rudy with Sarah, I was in tears at the end, Sarah said with a straight face, “He should have quit the team.” Does that mean I have more feelings than her? No. We are all wired differently. God is emotional and emotions are not wrong, but faith is not anchored in feelings.

Are you bargaining with God? You might think that if you have faith you will get everything and more from God. Just because you have faith doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden ace all your future exams, your family will be pieced back together, you will never again struggle with sin, and a new car will show up in the driveway with you name on it. You cannot use faith to bully God to get what you want. So what is in faith for me? Life. Eternal life. Being with God forever, and being spared from His ferocious wrath that would shun me out of His presence forever.

So tell me what I need to do to get a faith lift? Get off the couch of doubts and talk to someone who has a strong faith. Get into good books: Bible, apologetics, and more. Go to church and immerse yourself into some good teaching and relationships. Faith is a gift [Eph.2:8-9]. You do not earn it or deserve it. God gives it to you because He infinitely loves you. From God it is a gift, but for us the decision is to take it or leave it, to receive it or reject it, to give up on trying yourself, and give your life over to God in faith. Is your faith borrowed from your parents? Is your faith real? Do you see your faith lived out everyday? Do you love the world more than your faith? Will you keep your faith?

faith TKO

Do you ever feel like your faith is getting a gut check? Or that doubts and question plague your mind? I like to ask questions. When I was younger my mom would get so annoyed with all my questions, “Why…?” “What if….?” “How come…?” At times she would pleasure me by giving answers, but when it just got to be too much 20-Questions she would say, “That’s enough.” I still ask a lot of questions. Just ask my wife and she will agree. I am curious.

I am glad that God does not say, “That’s enough,” when we come to Him with questions. He doesn’t get annoyed or have a question quota. He welcomes our questions and doubts. The older I get I ask God more and more questions. Truth be known, many of our heroes of faith in the Bible had serious questions and doubts they poses to God. If you were honest, I would guess you struggle with doubts at times. What are your biggest doubts?

There are different levels of doubters. First, there are doubters with the little “d” who do not have major doubts they are fight with at the moment, but they might one day. Second, there are Doubters with a big “D” who actively doubt, doing battle with nagging questions that come in like a ferocious front line attacking over and over again. Third, there are those who are dead. The only way to not have doubts is when you kick the bucket.

Since God is invisible we bound to have periods of doubt. We will have times in our life when our have has gone flat like a 2-liter bottle of Coke or when our faith has the full-blown flu. We ask questions like: Does God really love me? Can He really forgive the bad I’ve done? Why does He allow such pain and suffering? How can evolution and biblical creation be at odds? What about other gods from other religions? What if I were born somewhere else in the world? These are real and good questions.

Overcoming doubt is all about what we do with our questions and where we take our questions. Dealing with doubt can electrify our faith. Here are some truths about doubt:

Doubt is different than unbelief. Doubt does not mean you do not believe. I seriously believe in a God that saves, but I do have some serious doubts about God at times. The word doubt comes from the Latin, “dubet re” which means wavering between two issues or bouncing back and forth between two options. The word, believe means to be in one mind about something I agree or trust. The words are different in nature.

Doubts can become unbelief. If we do not deal with our doubt in the right way it can become unbelief. Doubts can become like bunnies, you might have two today, but tomorrow you will have a thousand if not deal them urgently. Doubts can choke out your faith like an uncontrollable weed. Remember, it is where we take our doubts. If all your questions were answered there would be no need for faith. Faith says, “I do not have all the answers, but I know One who does.” [Mark 9:24, “Immediately the boys father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me to overcome my unbelief!”]

Doubts are not a cosmic crime. Doubting is not the same as sinning. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  He saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove. Later he was thrown into prison. For Johnny-B this is where the rubber met the road. How did the baptizer of Jesus respond? He doubted [Luke 7:18-19]. I love the way Jesus responded to John’s questions [7:28]. Note where John goes with his doubts and questions, to Jesus. Remember, it is what we do with our doubts that matter. Who do you go to?

Doubts can distance us from God or can draw us to Him. I love my wife. I definitely take her for granted when we are together. I do not concentrate on her character, voice, beauty, her sweet spirit, and all that has drawn me to her. I do not fully appreciate her until we are apart. It is when I am sitting in my office working or away on a trip and she is not there, then I appreciate her fully. It is the same way with doubt. When we feel distant from God, He uses those times to draw us near to Him.

What are you doing with your doubts? Are you allowing them to defeat you? Or are you allowing God to deepen your faith? How can you win the bout with doubt when your faith fizzes flat? First, Go to God. Ask God, “What is my driving doubt?” Admit you do not understand, but are willing to listen. Second, if you have not already, receive Jesus Christ. Beginning a relationship with God brings you close to Him. Sin separates you from Him, but forgiveness brings you freedom. Third, get off the island. Don’t doubt alone. As a kid I would watch Gilligan’s Island. It was the same story every week. Even thought the Professor could build satellite dishes our of bamboo and radios with coconuts they could not get off the island. They tried too much on their own. Do doubt in church, small group, with others you trust in the faith.

If you don’t deal with doubt it will deal with you. The result will be a TKO punch to your faith.

real questions: the Bible?

Ned Anzers: How do you know the Bible is true? What makes the Bible different than any other book?

Bible simply means book. I believe the Bible is more than a book, but an inspired book.  Inspiration is the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.

According to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “all Scripture is inspired.” I believe that “all scripture is inspired” means that the Bible comes from God. Every word from Genesis to Revelation, in its original autographs, is the very word of God. The Bible is the very Word of God, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says “…you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” When we read the Bible we should realize we are receiving God’s own message, in other words God divinely produced the Bible.

2 Peter 1:20-21 explains that the Holy Spirit moved men to guarantee that no human contribution would corrupt, distort, or in any way diminish the written Word from being the very Word of God. This passage teaches that when one reads Scripture, what they are reading does not only come from a man but also from God. The Bible is the writing of many different men. These men spoke with their own language and style. Peter mentions two dimensions of their speaking:

First, they spoke from God. What the men had to say was not merely from their own limited perspective because they were not the origin of the truth they were speaking. The truth is God’s truth. Their meaning is God’s meaning.

Second, not only is what they spoke from God, but how they spoke it is controlled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was not left to human voice boxes alone, but also the Holy Spirit. The words of the Bible are the Word of God (plenary) [“all” in 2 Tim 3:16 – Luke 11:51/Gen 4/2 Chron. 24:20-21], and the reality that the words themselves are God’s words (verbal) [Matt 5:17-18].

The implications of the inspiration of the Bible are huge since the Holy Spirit is the author of scripture.  Since the Holy Spirit is the author of truth, the Bible is true (Ps. 119:142) and altogether reliable (Heb. 6:18).

  • It is powerful, working its purpose in our hearts (1 Thess. 2:13) and not returning empty to the One who sent it (Is. 55:10-11).
  • It is pure like silver refined in a furnace seven times (Ps. 12:6).
  • It is sanctifying (John 17:17).
  • It gives life (Ps. 119:37, 50, 93, 107; John 6:63; Mt. 4:4).
  • It makes wise (Ps. 19:7; 119: 99-100).
  • It gives joy (Ps. 19:8; 119: 16, 92, 111, 143, 174).
  • It promises great reward (Ps. 19: 11).
  • It gives strength to the weak (Ps. 119 :28 ) .
  • It gives comfort to the distraught (Ps. 119:76).
  • It gives guidance to the perplexed (Ps. 119:105).
  • It gives salvation to the lost (Ps. 119:155; 2 Tim. 3:15).

The wisdom of God in Scripture is inexhaustible.

I also believe that the entire Bible is the infallible Word of God and without error in the original manuscripts. Infallibility is synonymous with inerrancy. The Bible is without error regarding either assertions or denials even in matters of History and Science. The Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives. The Bible cannot lie and proclaims the truth on each and every matter.

I believe that God’s purposes revealed in the Bible are the supreme and final authority in proving all claims about what is true and what is right. Authority means that the Bible has the right to tell me how to think and how not to think, and how to behave and how not to behave.

If the Bible is inerrant then it must also be authoritative on whatever it affirms or denies.  The Scriptures explain that it is all that is required for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), therefore, I can have confidence that the Bible is authoritative for all areas of life. Jesus Himself said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). There are many other proofs inside the Bible that declare it is true and authoritative.

According to Romans 3:4 it is stated that God cannot lie. 2 Tim 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 says that God is the author and protector of the Bible. Jesus Himself affirms the authority of the Old Testament authors (John 5:39-47). Also, there are many prophecies within the Scriptures that have been fulfilled. Second, the history recorded in the Bible is accurate with the history recorded outside the Bible (Ex: 2 Kings 20—Hezekiah and Sennachareb/Daniel 11). Third, the Bible is harmonious with itself from Old Testament to New Testament. The Bible’s theme of Redemption is woven in the fabric of each book so clearly and purposefully.


Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, p.225

John Piper, The Holy Spirit: Author of the Scripture, 1984

The Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy, 1978

Norman L. Geisler, Inerrancy, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI. p.268