[Ephesians] – A Collaborative Study

My friend Pinakidion and I are going to begin a series on the book of Ephesians. All of our posts will begin with [Ephesians] so the Googlers can find it.
This should call me higher in my Bible study. My typical study involves reading and typing my comments as I go and posting them to the blog as soon as they are done. He’s suggested we follow a more rigorous pattern from the book Reading the Bible for All Its Worth. It will mean I will read it through several times in several versions.
Our first posts, an overview of the book and the context after reading it through in one sitting, will be on Monday. We’ll then be posting roughly a chapter at a time, Thursdays and Mondays from then on out.
We won’t be using any commentaries, but Bible dictionaries and similar reference works are OK. See Pinakidion’s post on this for more info on the process.
You’re welcome to join us, if you feel so inclined. Pinakidion’s friend Scott is planning on it.
It ought to be fun, in a mind expanding sort of way.

Will You Pray and Fast With Us?

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 29th) has been designated as a day of fasting and prayer for unity by the brothers who drafted the unity proposal (PDF link). Here’s a confession: Being the sinful, cynical, prideful soul I am, I had originally not given that much consideration. Shame on me. I think this is an important moment in our fellowship of churches. Not so much whether this document gets signed or not, but what happens after all the dust this settles. Signatures or not, will we move forward in greater unity or less? Will we let this divide us or determine to unite regardless of the number of signatures on the page at the end of the day?
That being said, I think that a bunch of prayer and fasting is in order. So, if you are so moved, would you pray and perhaps fast with us? Even if you find yourself here many days later, we could likely still use a prayer or two to be unified.
Pray that we might come through this more united than before.
Pray that God’s desire for us to be one as he and Jesus were one would be realized.
Pray that Satan’s desire to make this an opportunity for him to divide us would be thwarted.
Pray that I would be humble, trusting and gracious. (I really could use that.)
Thank you.

Sometimes I Wish I Could Just Lie

I still have the Escort. I’ve offered it for free to anyone who needs a car here. I’ve even offered to put the clutch in and replace the brakes, if the recipient will buy the parts. I’ve had 3 folks say they were interested and then back out. There is a brother who has said if no one else wants it, he’ll take it. He’s a mechanic and plans on putting the clutch in and then being able to sell his truck and get rid of a monthly payment.
So, although I have a ‘buyer’, I haven’t actually ‘sold’ it yet, it’s sitting in my driveway. So when the nice lady at the DMV asked if I’d sold the old car so I can transfer the plates, I replied no. Well, then, no-can-do on the plate transfer. Here’s how the conversation went:

“I can’t do the transfer if you still own the car.”
“But I’m not driving it, I intend to give it away, but no one seems to want it.”
“Sorry, we can’t have the plates registered to two vehicles.”
“And transfering doesn’t un-register it from the old car?”
“Nope.”
“What if the person I sign it to doesn’t register it right away?” (A real possibility since it isn’t really drivable.)
“Doesn’t matter, as long it’s not in your name.”
“So, if I had lied and said it was sold, that would have been OK with you?” (I asked it pretty much just like that)
“Yeah, you just need to say that it’s sold.”
“[Grumble grumble] Well, I can’t lie to you, so I guess I’ll come back.”

For her part, I’ve got to respect the lady at the DMV. She doesn’t make the rules, but she’s gotta follow them. She could have said, “Well, I know you’re going to sell it and you’re not driving it, so I’ll go ahead and pretend you said that you sold it.” But she didn’t. She stood her ground on a rule that seemed to frustrate her too. She seemed to want to bend the rules for me, but didn’t.
So tonight I’ll dig up my title, sign it and get it notarized. Then I can go back in and honestly say that it’s no longer mine. It’ll still be in my driveway, but it won’t be ‘mine’. It won’t be his either as the title will still be in my possession, but I can honestly say that I’ve signed the title over.
This is one of those rare situations where, if I had lied, absolutely no harm would have been done. I would not have been cheating the system even temporarily by having two cars that I’m driving with one tag. Leaving and coming makes no real difference except that I can honestly say that the car has been signed away. If I had lied, no one would have even known, except me & God. But God said I should not lie, not that I should only lie in situations where it was clear that no harm would be done. So I do it God’s way and it costs me a little time and effort.
Anyway, I’mnot trying to toot my own horn here, just venting I guess. I’m also a little frustrated that my government has set this up so that being dis-honest, even if harmless, is so attractive and easy, but that’s another topic entirely (and shouldn’t surprise me either).

Good Stuff At Tent Pegs

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The blog roll at the left is my nearly daily trip through the web. (It needs updating, BTW, which I will do once I switch hosts.) One of the highlights for me is Tent Pegs. Patrick is the preaching minister at the Rochester (MI) COC. Almost makes me want to move back to Michigan (For the record, that’s a comment on Patrick, not my current situation.). I love his insight, his writing style and his honesty and realism.
His last two posts, as many do, really moved me. To encourage you to go read, here are a couple of snippets:
From “Call Me Isaac:”

Confession time: one of the reasons I am a preacher is because of gratitude… but there is another reason. While I am thrilled that God didn’t leave me in a ditch by the side of the road (which would have been His right and no one would have blamed him,least of all me), one of the reasons I work in a church setting is so that I’ll show up on Sunday. You read that right: I am not sure I would attend if I didn’t have to. Church is hard for me. Interaction with God’s people is good for me and I know my soul needs it… but it has never felt natural. I don’t get excited about church events and I struggle to fit in.

All of this, perversely, makes me love Jesus even more. If He will let someone like me, who cannot draw closer, work for him, share the good news, and bring his meager talents to the table — what a wonderful savior He is! He even loves people like me: his backward kids, the underachievers, the kid who never makes cover of “Perfectly Adequate Preacher Monthly.” Thanks, God. You’re just what I need. Call me Isaac if you want to, Lord, but keep calling me nonetheless.

Although I am a bit more social (I’m frequently the last to leave church, just ’cause I love to hang around and talk), I can relate to his ‘Isaac’ mindset. Until recently there was precious little Christian music I could tolerate (still not a lot, but more). I rarely have one book on my ‘currently reading’ list, unlike many Christian bloggers & leaders who must read two books at a time, one with the right eye and one with the left, to get through all the books they read. I don’t fit the mold of super-committed Christian leader, reading the Bible through each year plus several non-fiction books. I just love God with all my heart and try to live my best for him.
From “Questions For Your Family:”

Another question: Who needs Jesus? Yes, yes, we all know that everyone needs Jesus but that’s not the point of the question. Let me use a story to illustrate it. If my father goes to Wal-Mart to buy something today he will hesitate before he goes to a check out lane. He will first pray silently, without giving an outward sign: “Lord, who needs encouragement? Who needs something from you?” He will then get in the lane of the person who seems the most tired, harried, or un-blessed, even if that line is the longest (and full of people who plan to use coupons and write out of town checks). Who needs Jesus? And to whom can I be Jesus?
Warning: these questions will lead to bizarre behavior. They will lead people who love one place to live in another. They will lead you to give away your lunch money. They will lead you to stop when everyone else is rushing forward… and ask questions. I — who am the least social person I know — am made to stop and help someone who is struggling with their luggage, or with English, at the airport. And as I leave them and wave off their thanks I have been known to say. “It’s all right. Jesus just wanted you to know he loves you. He wanted to say hi” and then just walk away.

There are three other questions, good question we should be asking ourselves more often. I hope I never get into a checkout line again. I also hope I can have the courage to help someone and say something like that afterwords.
I hope you read Tent Pegs regularly. It’s one of the highlights of my rounds through the blogosphere. Patrick travels a bit, preaching here and there. I’ve been known to get to the Detroit area (very) occasionally too. Hopefully our paths will cross one day. Until then, I’ll just keep reading and learning.

Romans 15-16

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Romans 15:1 – “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” – ESV Do we truly ‘bear with the failings of the weak’? That’s not the standard I see lived out in so much of Christiandom. Harsh criticsm is more the rule. It is my nature to be the same way. I assume everyone should be like me, have my perspective and insight, my understanding, appreciate what I appreciate. When they are not, I have too little grace.
Romans 15:14 – My inability to trust that folks are “able to instruct one another” is discouraging to me. It’s jsut another aspect of y pridefull, critical heart. I think that people need my opinion and insight, or jsut that something should not go forward without my inout. I keep praying that God will deliver me from the curse of my pride and judgemntal nature. Oe day, i do believe that I will look back and realize that he has.
Romans 16::3-16 – I wish we knew the story behind these reationsips. Behind each naem is a connection with Paul and a story, probably many. Epaenetus – the first convert in Asia, Androonicus and Junia – well known to the apostles, why? Apelles is approved, Rufus is chosen adn his Mom was like a Mom to Paul! I want to know these stories!
Romans 16:17 – A warning we would do well to pay more attention to. Avoid those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the gospel. There is plenty of that going around all over, and no, that is not another reference to the unity proposal.
Romans 16;22 – I wonder what it was like to be with Paul and to take down his thoughts as he wrote them. To watch him in his excitement in delivering them adn in his passion for the people they were prepared for.

What If …

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There’s been some good discussion on the proposal here, thanks everyone. There are also discussions going on at Clarke’s site and in the forums at ICOCnews (registration required for the forums). Most of those places are pretty negative on the proposal, some more than others. I am not aware of any discussions or commentary that is primarily positive. That, of course, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening, just that I don’t know about them. I’d like to see some, frankly, because I want to hear from ‘the other side’ on why they are for it. Balance is a good thing.
My wife is curious as to why this is such a big deal for me. Good question, I wish I knew. I think, frankly, that my opposition reveals a weakness in my faith, much as a strong desire for it may reveal a weakness in others’ faith. (She, on the other hand, doesn’t really care one way or another. She probably has a greater faith than the rest of us.) What I mean is, it makes me nervous and insecure knowing that there are folks in my fellowship of churches, perhaps in my own church, who think this is a good idea. What will that mean for my relationship with these folks? My church’s relationship with those churches? I need to grow up in my faith and just pursue God, trust my brothers and sisters and not worry about such things, but that’s not where I am. Lord help me grow!
My church has only just begun to discuss it. Actually, there have been no discussions yet, only letting the leaders know that it’s out there and they should go read it and prayerfully consider it. The deacons and evangelist have not yet had a discussion about it. Someone mentioned that my comments may be seen as signifying the direction the church is heading on this. Nothing could be farther from the truth and I hope that I did not convey that message. Perhaps we will go the way I feel comfortable with, but it is very premature to speak to that at all.
Which brings me to the title of this post:
Doug, what if the overwhelming opinion of your church is that you should sign on?
Then we will. Heck, even if it’s not overwhelming, if most of the leadership think this is good for our church, then we should sign on. Oh, I’ll speak my piece, for sure, but I’ll listen too. While I cannot see my mind being changed, I hope that I am not so entrenched in my view as to prevent myself from being swayed. In the end, whether my mind is changed or not, I will happily sign this proposal if it’s the way most of our leadership feels we should go.
You see, I am committed to God, this church and these people far more than I am committed to my ideas and opinions. Unity does not mean uniformity or everyone agreeing, it means a commitment to the team over the individual. We may not get a consensus (complete agreement, that is) on this issue, but we already have a commitment to each other, to our church and collectively to God. Commitment is more valuable than consensus, and easier to obtain.
How utterly foolish we would be to allow this church and this leadership team that we have invested so much into to be divided over a Unity Proposal.

Romans 14 and the Unity Proposal

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In light of the current buzz on the Unity Proposal in my ICOC fellowship and my recent study of this passage, I decided to create a paraphrased version of Romans 14 (ESV) tailored to our current dilemma:

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he needs no written statements of unity, while the weak person feels compelled to sign on. Let not the one who does not sign despise the one who signs, and let not the one who signs pass judgment on the one who does not, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems this unity plan as valuable and needed, while another thinks it unnecessary. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who signs, signs it in honor of the Lord. The one who does not sign, does not in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who signs, signs in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

In this first passage, I’ve placed the signers in the weaker position. It seems appropriate to the passage. They feel more at ease with a written agreement defining their church to church relationships while others have no need of any such agreement to be unified just as, in that day, some needed rules about what to eat to feel secure in their faith while others did not. Their rules about eating helped support their faith just as this agreement will help support their feelings of unity. No judgment here, just and observation and comparison.
In the second passage, however, it seems more natural to reverse the roles, to make the non-signers in the insecure position and the signers secure:

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by your signing, you are no longer walking in love. By your signature, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of signing agreements but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Do not, for the sake of a document, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by signing a paper. It is good not to sign this agreement or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he signs, because the signing is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Those of us who don’t like the agreement feel insecure about signing it. Our faith is perhaps challenged or weakened by it’s existence (I know I feel a little uneasy about it) and are not sure what those who feel great about it will do with it.
So, by taking either side, we are perhaps proclaiming a weakness in our faith. (Could it be that those who don’t care one way or another who are the strong ones?) If either side demands their way is right and best and refuses to be sensitive to the weakness inherent and revealed in the other’s position, unity – and the work of God in us – will be damaged or even destroyed. Love demands sensitivity, tolerance and patience.
Of course, this is not a perfect analogy and I’ve probably mucked it up a bit, but I think that both sides would do well to keep this passage of scripture in mind as we proceed down this road.

Thoughts on the Unity Proposal

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OK, I’ve read the proposal and the Q&A. Read it several days ago now. This is my 4th draft of my thoughts on it. I’m having a little trouble putting my thoughts into words, but tonight it finally hit me how I feel about it:
Sad.
Sad that we are not sucure in what we believe and so think that there is a need to put our doctrine on paper in order for it to be evident.
Sad that we think that we need folks to sign the paper so we can be sure they are with us.
Sad that the things we felt needed to be ratified are little different than the things we have been saying for years and years.
Sad that we cannot just trust in God, the Holy Spirit and each other to produce unity and cooperation.
Sad that we were afraid that the winds of change might blur the lines we had carefully drawn in the sand, so we re-drew them.
Sad that there is now a line, and it seems that I have to pick one side or the other. Can I have a foot on each?
Sad that ignoring the line puts me on one side of the line.
Sad that we think that a signature on a document will make us any more unified than we are now.
Sad that this will distract, even if only a little, from the real work of building unity in my local congregation.
Sad that this may somehow hurt or hinder the new found spirit of cooperation between the ICOC churches in Ohio. I hope it does not, but I fear it may.
Sad that unity is only for the ICOC, not for those outside it.
Sad that we still seem to treat The Great Commission as The Greatest Commandment, which it is not. Ask Jesus, he knew which was which.
Sad that we can’t seem to let secondary issues – like dating outside of the church, expectations of giving and attendance – be secondary issues. Instead we must elevate them to tests of fellowship, or at least tests of membership in the club.
Sad that we continue to elevate our definitions of some Bible terms like by adding adjectives like ‘total’ to commitment and ‘baptized’ to disciple. They are redundant and only seem to be there to show that our understanding of these terms is different and perhaps better than yours.
Sad that after the three years we’ve had to re-evaluate who are and what we are about, it turns out all we need to do is be a little kinder and gentler.
As you might notice, I do not like this proposal. Moreover, I do not like the idea of this creed-like proposal. Time will tell what it means for our churches.
Before I finish, I want to make one thing clear. Do not mistake my pointed criticism of the proposal and the ideas in it for criticism of the men who wrote it. While we clearly come from very different perspectives on this issue, I respect the time and effort they put into it. Some, in different discussions on the proposal, have questioned their motives and suggested there is something else at work here. I don’t question their motives at all. I do not doubt that they entered into this with good intentions and sober and humble intentions. I don’t doubt that they did the best they could with prayer and much advice. I think we do them a disservice to publicly criticize their ideas and words, sometimes quite strongly, without acknowledging their sincere hearts.
I believe that they truly think that this will help bring our churches together. I suppose for those that sign on, that may be true. But, I believe, they will be further divided from those who do not. Maybe that doesn’t matter to those who sign. As I said, time will tell.

Romans 14

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This may be one of the most ignored and most abused passages in scripture. Ignored by those who are mature so that they can continue to look down on, criticize and ridicule those who are not, and abused by the immature to force the mature to stoop to their level.
The mature ignore it because they would have to swallow their pride and their greater understanding of ‘freedom in Christ’ for the sake of their brother. They are right, not just in their own mind, but this passage implies that they do have a greater and deeper understanding of God’s plan and heart. But they ignore this passage, written primarily to them, warning them not to use their greater understanding too freely. Consider this paraphrase of the ESV version of Romans 14:15:

For if your brother is grieved by what you [do], you are no longer walking in love. By what you [do], do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.

So, for those with a more enlightened, perhaps more liberal, view of things, are you willing to give up that view for your weaker brother?
The immature abuse this passage by placing them in the seat of protection and throwing Romans 14 in the face of those with more liberal interpretations. “You need to accept me on this because of Romans 14!” They fail to recognize that they’ve just labeled themselves as “the one who is weak in faith”. In doing so, do they seek deeper understanding form those who are stronger or more mature? Do they seek to grow? No, it is frequently used to entrench their position and to guarantee it’s acceptance as valid & right. (Ironically, by putting themselves in the ‘weaker’ position in this passage, aren’t they essentially admitting that they are wrong?) They do not seek to accept those who’s faith is stronger or to grow in their own. They seem to say “I’m weak, I’m staying that way, and you need to deal with it.” So, to those who are weak, or perhaps more conservative, are you willing to admit that you may have something to learn from the more liberal among us?
We are to welcome those who’s faith is weak and requires external things to hold it up – like special days, abstinence from certain foods and other rules and regulations. There is no exception, no circumstance for not welcoming them. This is hard, because you and I can start talking about things that we think are big enough to say something like “Well, that now falls outside of Christianity.” Maybe so, but that is for God to decide not us. We can discuss and debate if we like. We may even feel that the person has crossed the boundary of Christianity into something else, but we are told to ‘welcome him’.
Are we doing so with each other within our own narrow fellowship? Think about issues like dating outside the church, giving levels, the level of importance assigned to evangelism, attendance expectations, Kip & Portland or even, dare I say, signing agreements. If we cannot respectfully welcome each other on these things, still welcoming each other, what hope is there for our relationship with the other COC’s? If you’re not in the ICOC, what about your tribe, be it COC, Baptist, Catholic, etc.
Usually my QT notes aren’t’ so ‘preachy’, but this is one of modern, divided Christianity’s biggest downfalls, in my view. And I am not exempt. Recently, my brother Clarke posted here about the call of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for 10,000 disciples to pray for their fellowship. Clarke (not a member of a Disciples of Christ church) challenged “every COC, ICOC, and ICC blogger to sign up, commit to pray, and advertise the program on their blogs.” I followed the link and found that their “General Minister and President” was a woman, which gave me pause. Based on my understanding of scripture, I don’t believe that women should be ministers or in positions of authority, so I was hesitant to sign up for this. But Clarke and my friend Alan who have indicated that they feel the same way, have signed up, seemingly without hesitation. I am not being asked to validate their doctrine, but simply to pray for them. Why should that be hard to stomach? It should not, but it is. Even as I type this, I know that I ought to go, sign up and give them my heart, yet I remain hesitant. God help my prideful, judgmental heart!. I will commit to praying for these brothers and sisters.
As long as we refuse to accept those who’s faith requires more rules and regulations or those who have a more liberal view, Christianity will remain deeply divided and each particular group will remain entrenched in the safety of their own convictions. And we will be no different than the world. And we will not grow.

Church Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything substantial, besides my QT notes. I’ve been basking in the new car glow. I seem to be a pretty popular guy with new wheels. Went to lunch with co-workers the other day and they were fighting for a change to ride in it, even running across the parking lot to secure their spot. LOL.
I’ve also been spending my online time at a couple of Mazda Forums, msprotege.com and mazda3forums.com, reading up on popular modifications and known issues. I’m looking at tinted windows and clear paint protection film for the nose as well as mods to keep the AC from kicking on when the heat or defrost is selected and to allow the use of the fog lights with the parking lights. I likely won’t do any of them, but it’s car-geek fun to read up on it and learn.
Anyway, in the mean time things at church have been going great, on a lot of fronts. I’ve already mentioned the baptisms that we’ve had this year, and I’ll have more on that later. Here’s an update on some things:
In our leaders meetings we’ve begun a series of training classes for our house church leaders based on a book by John Louis in the Singapore Christian Church. The Cinci church did a similar class from the same book with positive results. It feels good to have some focused teaching & training for our house church leaders.
Our leadship group of the four deacons and the minister has grown a lot over the past months. There’s a level of trust, respet and unity that I thought would take longer to achieve. My lack of faith, I guess. Our relationships are closer and our commitment to cooperation in leading the church is solid. I have a lot of respect for theses men, more and more each day, and I fell the sae from them. We each bring something unique to the table and it’s very good. I’m also reminded of a desire I expressed (in writing somewhere, I thought, but I couldn’t find it) a year or so ago to get closer to our minister. Our relationship was strained, and my trust in him was not where I wanted it to be. I had forgotten that desire until I recognized God at work in our friendship, even more so in my heart.
One of the most encouraging thing is that we all see the need in the church for deeper relationships and strengthening our small groups. We are unified in our commitment to strengthen these groups. That’s why we are doing the family group leaders training. We’re also committed to seeing it through. What I mean is that this will not be, as so many of our activities in the past, a short term project. Nor do we intend to let ourselves become distracted by some new project or idea. We’re committed to taking it slowly and seeing it through, as long as that takes.
To that end, we’ve changed our midweek and Bible talk schedules. We will meet as house churches 3 Wednesdays a month to encourage building ‘family’ in those groups and provide opportunity for that to happen. These will also take the place of our other Bible Talks, placing all of our small group emphasis in these house churches and the relationships in them. We will bring our friends on Wendesday, as we have opportunity. The primary objective is not to evangelize, but to worship God and Love each other.
All in all, not glamorous “Hey look at us” kind of changes. No one will be fighting for this story to write up. But it’s mighty encouraging to me because it’s a solid foundation that we can build upon. We are changing who we are in some ways, while remaining true to our past in others. It’s a good thing.

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