Your Gifts, Your Church Family (Hill)

A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church - Hill, Megan - 9781433563737

I’m halfway through this helpful book: A Place to Belong: Learning to Love the Local Church by Megan Hill. Each chapter is a short exposition and application of the various metaphors in Scripture for the church: flock, body, saints, etc. It’s good biblical resource on the nature of the church and what it means to be a living member of a local church family. Here’s one section I highlighted this morning:

Thankfully, the particular composition of the church doesn’t depend on us. Continuing the image of the church as a body, Paul writes, ‘But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose’ (1 Cor. 12:18). The truth of 1 Corinthians 12 is that however it might appear, the people and gifts represented in our local church are exactly the people and gifts we need. A few verses later, Paul flatly dismisses any suggestion that some people or gifts are more necessary for the body’s well being than others: ‘The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (12:21-22).

This truth should give you confidence: your particular gifts have a valuable, God-appointed place. It should also humble you: your particular gifts are simply one part of the body, and you desperately need other people with their particular gifts (see Rom. 12:3). Finally, this truth should increase your love for the local church: the gifts in the body are exactly what God knows your congregation needs. Because of God’s sovereign choosing, no part is missing, and every part is valuable.

That’s so true! If you’re a follower of Christ, God has given you gifts to use in the service of other people, including his family. You and your God-given gifts are needed in the local church. But don’t get proud, because you also need the gifts of others to help you along in following Christ. In other words, a local church family is a felllowship of Christians who need one another!

Megan Hill, A Place to Belong, p. 80.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Physical Presence of Other Believers (Perkins)

Dream with Me: Race, Love, and the Struggle We Must Win by [John M. Perkins, Randy Alcorn]

“Dream with Me” by John Perkins is a helpful autobiographical reflection on the Christian life through the eyes of a man who has seen much evil and darkness. Yet he did not give in to the darkness or fight darkness with darkness, but by God’s grace let his light shine in various ways and blessed many people. Last night I highlighted these paragraphs that I though were helpful and worth sharing:

At a recent conference some of the young people I had met tried to convince me that they didn’t really need a preacher. They’re frustrated with traditional church leadership but believe in the priesthood of believers, which is all well and good. But they prefer a virtual church over a traditional one.

I told them, ‘That’s going to be weak, because it’s going to miss the incarnation. It will not have a human touch.’

The writer of Hebrews gave this exhortation: ‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Heb. 10:24-25). That active presence of other believers contributes to God’s work within us. Again, it’s not that God needs us to complete what He is doing – but He allows that human dimension to be a part of His redemptive work. We are so quick, as human beings, to get our salvation and then make it personal. ‘It’s all about Jesus and me.’ What would happen if we organized with the expectation that God is going to use us in one another’s lives – if we recognize the importance of those around us to our own spiritual growth?

John Perkins, Dream with Me, p. 96-97.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Duties of the Church (Bullinger)

Henry Bullinger’s mid-sixteenth century publication, The Decades is a four volume collection of sermons on the main points of the Christian faith. The Decades is something like Calvin’s Institutes in structure, content, and character. These sermons by Bullinger are worth reading!

In the fifth book of The Decades, sermon 1, Bullinger wrote on the church. After discussing the church militant/triumphant, visible/invisible, the marks of the church and the power of the church, Bullinger gave a nice summary statement on the duties of the church. These paragraphs are a biblical summary of what the Christian church should look like. It is true that there is no perfect church, but by God’s grace we should strive for these biblical goals and duties. (Notes: I’ve edited the following slightly for length and readability. The two translations I have go back and forth using “it” and “she” to refer to the church.)

For the church executes that power which it hath received of God most carefully and faithfully, to the end that it may serve God, that it may be holy, and that it may please him. And that I may reckon up some of her duties specially: first of all it worships, calls upon, loves and serves one God in Trinity; and takes nothing in hand without having first consulted with the word of this true God.

For she orders all her doings according to the rule of God’s word: she judges by the word of God; and by the same she frames all her buildings, and being built maintains them, and being fallen down she repairs or restores them again. The assemblies and congregations of saints upon earth she fervently furthers and loves. In these things it hearkens diligently to the preaching of the word of God: she is partaker of the sacraments devoutly, and with great joy and desire of heavenly things.

It prays to God by the intercession of our only mediator Christ with a strong faith, fervently, continually, and most attentively. It praises the majesty of God for ever, and with great joy gives thanks for all his heavenly benefits. It highly esteems all and every the institutions of Christ, neither doth it neglect any of them. But chiefly it acknowledges that it receives all things belonging either to life, salvation, righteousness, or felicity, of the only Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ; as as the one who alone chose her, and then by his Spirit and blood sanctified her, and made her a church, that is, a chosen people, whose only king, redeemer, high priest, and defender, he is, and without whom there is no salvation.

Therefore in God alone by our Lord Jesus Christ she only rests; him she only desires and loves; and for his sake she rejoices to lose all things that belong to this world, yea, and to spend her blood and her life. And therefore it cleaves unto Christ by faith inseparably…for without Christ nothing at all in life seems to be pleasant.

It is exercised with afflictions, but yet never overcome. It keeps unity and concord carefully. All and every the members of her body she most tenderly loves. It does good unto all men, as much as power and ability will suffer. It hurts no man. It forgives willingly. It bears with the weak brother, till they be brought forth forward to perfection. She is not puffed up with pride, but through humility is kept in obedience, in modesty, and in all the duties of godliness.

 Henry Bullinger, The Decades of Henry Bullinger: The Fifth Decade, ed. Thomas Harding (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1852), 46–47.

My prayer is that we, as members of Christ’s church, do our Christian part to help the body of Christ reach these great biblical goals for God’s glory and the good of other people in – and outside of – the church. Churches that reflect these biblical goals shine brightly in the midst of the surrounding darkness!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

“Satan Blocked Our Way” (1 Thess. 2:18b)

 In 1 Thessalonians 2:18 Paul wrote that Satan hindered the missionary team from going back to visit the new church plant in Thessalonica: For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way (NIV).  There are a few things we could discuss and note about this verse, but it is important to realize that one of Satan’s evil strategies is to keep Christians apart and prevent Christian teaching from happening.  He hates Christian fellowship and he hates it when Truth is taught and preached. There’s much application here!  Below are three different commentaries that I found helpful in thinking about this verse and topic:

Note, Satan is a constant enemy to the work of God and does all he can to obstruct it.  [Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 2340.]

He [Paul] tells the Thessalonians that he tried to return on more than one occasion but that he and the apostolic team could not reach their goal because Satan stopped us. So great was their effort that only Satanic opposition could explain why they did not return! Stopped is a term that comes from the military. In order to stop the advance of enemy armies, soldiers would tear up and destroy the road to hinder their passage. Warfare imagery is embedded in the metaphor, Satan himself being their adversary. The battle was over the souls of the Thessalonian believers whom Satan tempted to commit the sin of apostasy (3:5 and comments; 1 Pet. 5:8). One of his tactics was to bar the way so the apostles could not return to the church. In spite of the opposition, they did manage to send Timothy back (3:1), and the church itself continued on in faith and love (3:5, 6). Sometime later Paul was able to return to Macedonia and Thessalonica (Acts 19:21–22; 20:1–6; 1 Cor. 16:5; 2 Cor. 1:16; 2:13; 7:5; 1 Tim. 1:3). God responded to their fervent prayers (1 Thess. 3:10–11). In this spiritual warfare, Satan is hardly an omnipotent adversary. But he is a real adversary. [Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 152.]

…Would to God that this sentiment were deeply impressed upon the minds of all pious persons: that Satan is continually contriving, by every means, in what way he may hinder or obstruct the edification of the Church! We would assuredly be more careful to resist him; we would take more care to maintain sound doctrine, of which that enemy strives so keenly to deprive us.  [John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 263.]

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

When God Seems Far Away (Nye)

Distant God: Why He Feels Far Away...And What We Can Do About It by [Chris Nye] I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the book Distant God by Chris Nye. I was interested in the topic and the preview of the book made it sound worthwhile so I gave it a shot.  I’m glad I did!  Although I don’t agree with everything in it, overall it’s a pretty helpful book on the topic of God seeming to be far away.  This is something Christians think about quite a bit: what it means to be near to God, to feel his presence, to enjoy his close fellowship.  Nye does a pretty good job discussing this theme in Distant God.

One part of the book that I thought was helpful was where Nye discussed the reality that God is everywhere (omnipresent); we cannot escape his presence (Ps. 139).  Sometimes God does manifest his presence in a more specific way, as in the burning bush and ultimately in his Son (Immanuel, God with us). But when we talk about God being far off, Nye argues, it has to do with our fellowship or relationship to God: “This aspect of being with God in relationship is really what most of us mean when we talk about God’s proximity” (p. 58; emphasis his).   Therefore, although God is with us and will never leave us (facts!), sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s with us because there’s something amiss in the relationship.

I don’t have time or space to discuss the rest of the book, but Nye does go on to mention how prayer and obedience are related to us sensing the nearness of God. When we don’t talk to our spouse for weeks, the relationship suffers.  Similarly, if we don’t often talk to God in prayer, the relationship suffers and it’s difficult to feel his nearness because we’re not calling on him.  Likewise, if we disobey God and ignore his word, it will negatively affect our relationship with him.  We can’t expect to feel God’s loving presence if we’re not listening to him as he speaks to us in his word.  “Our actions toward God are tied to our intimacy with God” (p. 67; emphasis his).  Nye then takes time to explain how to strengthen our relationship with God through faith, prayer, and obedience (among other things).

Anyway, I could go on, but just let me say this book is worth reading if you want to wrestle more with the feeling or sense that God is distant.  This book was quite helpful for me, even though I didn’t agree with everything in it. I appreciated how Nye kept pointing readers to Christ, to the Bible, to prayer, and to Christain obedience.

Chris Nye, Distant God (Chicago: Moody, 2016).

(Note: I received this book for review purposes and was not compelled to write a positive review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015