Category Archives: Fellowship

My kind of vacation

For the second year in row, our dear friends from Texas (AJ, Laura,and #8) drove all the way to our home in South Carolina to spend a few days of their vacation with us and to celebrate our Independence Day together, blowing stuff up and eating lots of yummy food.  We laughed, shared memories and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Somehow this year, we started talking about Meyers-Briggs personality types and my brother-from-another-mother pointed out a simple description of the difference between Introverts and Extroverts.  I, being an Introvert, lose energy with prolonged exposure to people, even beloved friends.  He, being an Extrovert, replenishs his energy supply from being around people.

So, when I wake up in the morning, my batteries are fully charged because I’ve had a nice long break away from people (well, except for my beloved wife).  AJ wakes up depleted and needs company fast in order to recharge.  Basically, my brother is a vampire feeding off of people like me.  😂

Thing is that I love being around my friends and family, but I don’t really have this burning need to DO stuff.  I just love knowing they are near.  I do, however, need a plan or some milestones for the day – like what we’re going to eat or if I need to drive anyone anywhere or if we need supplies, etc.  Guess if you are a father of seven, much of this stems from necessity.

At one point during our weekend, I think a circuit just snapped in my head and I made a mess of the festivities, getting short with my wife and embarrassing myself in front of my friends because “I just needed to know the details of the plan!“. 

Sigh, thankfully my wife and our friends love me too much to hold a grudge when I get stupid.

Have you ever seen Weird Science?  There’s this scene where Gary and Wyatt are hosting this huge, rocking party and where are they?  Hiding out in the bedroom, taking some consolation that everyone else seems to be having a good time.  I can totally relate to them.  😁

But here’s how thoughtful and wise God is.  In all my quirks and oddities, my wife is the glue that keeps it all together for me.  She, being an Extrovert, can graciously host dozens of our friends at our home without batting an eye.

Well, the Fourth came and I was super excited.  I had a stock pile of fireworks all planned out.  And then, our friends brought even more!  They brought food, children, and most importantly, themselves.

I was a little nervous because of the rain in the forecast, but it cleared up just in time for the show.  God is good! 

The week was a huge success.  We had such a good time with our friends.  I didn’t have to drive cross country and enjoyed the comforts of home.  We blew up a ton of explosives.  AND, no police showed up!  (We’ve got a cranky neighbor that complains to them anytime we’re out in our yard after 9 pm).  

I am so thankful for all of you in my life.  Thanks for the best vacation an INTJ can ask for.

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How Healthy Is Your Local Church?

Been having a few discussions about healthy assemblies, so I thought it would be a good idea to capture some thoughts.  Depending on your denomination, the group of Christians that form a local body might go by a few different names – the Church, the body of Christ, the local assembly, the brethren.  My family and I have attended countless denominations over the years, so I’m not writing to split hairs over which is right.  Yes, I’ve gone through several studies of the greek word – ekklésia.  For the purpose of this post, I will use the names interchangeably.

Anyway, the point of this post is to discuss the health of your assembly.  How do you know if your congregation is new, growing, stable, declining, or even dead?  If you are visiting a church or looking for a new place to join in fellowship, one tell-tale sign is to observe the spread of generations represented.  Now, I’m not talking about “age diversity” like it’s some goal to manufacture artificially.  

What I’m referring to is whether you have large clusters of certain generations.  Does your assembly look like an old folks’ home?  Are your pews filled with mostly young couples or singles without any children?  Do you appear to cater to families with mostly toddlers?  I’ve even seen some mega-churches purposefully divide their congregations into these groups.  The older, ‘traditional’ worship crowd may meet at 8:30 am while the ‘modern’, younger Christians meet at 11.    

So why even bring up age or generations?  What does that have to do with a healthy church?  Everything.  Look at Paul’s letter to Titus.

Titus 2:1-8 (NKJV)

Qualities of a Sound Church

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.

(The bold emphasis was obviously added by me.)  Look at what Paul is describing.  The church is all about the older generations teaching, admonishing, and living out “a pattern of good works” to become examples for younger generations to follow.  The younger generations, in turn, should revere and learn from the older, wiser generations.  

Think about how our society behaves today.  How often do you hear the young praise the wisdom of elders?  Are you more likely to see the young dismiss, disrespect, and mock their elders?  How often do you see older generations complain about how spoiled and entitled millennials are? (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this.)  By contrast, when was the last time you heard a parent or elderly person tell the younger “Follow me, as I follow Christ.“?  How many of these older generations can claim they are living examples of “integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech” — in other words, that they live out lives worthy of reverence? 

There’s a blatant lie that the secular world has come to embrace, and it has even permeated the Church.  It’s the idolatry of ME and ME TIME.  There’s a notion that we work hard for some 30-50 years of our lives and when we get to a certain age, it’s time to coast and enjoy the fruits of our labor.  No more kids to worry about or responsibilities other than fulfilling our own desires.  We save up for retirement and when we get there, it’s endless days of golfing, mimosas, and gossiping at the Club.  That or popping E.D. pills to bathe outside in a tub on a hill (not sure why these always seem to be together).

If this is what I’m working toward, someone please kill me now and put me out of my misery.  

At the fall of man, Genesis 3:17-19, God does not tell Adam that he only works until he grows old.  The curse to labor is for “all the days of your life” and “till you return to the ground“.  Now, as we age, we might not be able to do the same job or physical/mental labor that we had done in our youth.  But clearly, Paul instructs the older men and women to actively participate, even LEAD, in the matters of the church.  Think about how perfectly planned this is.  When you are young, you almost never had enough time or energy.  When you are older and wiser, you now have ample time to share your experience and wisdom.  

There’s something beautiful about a local assembly of Christians where the older, experienced ladies are helping young ladies, new mothers, or even struggling single mothers “to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, [and] obedient to their own husbands”.  Likewise, when older men are preaching the Word, discipling the younger men to someday take up the roles of leadership in the home and the assembly, this is God’s design for how to build the Church.

To be sure, these principals of building the Church begin in the home.  Husbands and Wives have their own responsibilities for raising up godly children, teaching them the Bible, and earning the respect of their young ones.  The Church has a function to support and encourage Men and Women in their homes.  It can never replace a Mothers’ and Fathers’ responsibilities.

For decades, one alarming by-product of ignoring God’s design for building healthy homes and churches I’ve watched is the fallout rate.  Many churches have children that have grown up in the same assembly for most of their lives.  And yet, when they reach adulthood, not only do these children never return to the assembly of their youth, but they stop attending a church altogether.  

It’s amazing to me when local assemblies dedicate so much effort for preaching the gospel all over the world to complete strangers when we are failing to make disciples of Christ in our own homes.  What better opportunity for fertile soil will you have in your lifetime than to plant the seeds of faith in your own children?  Now I’m not saying missionary work isn’t important or Biblical.  Even Christ said “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”  

Still, the truth is that the health of our local assemblies hinges greatly on whether we are following God’s design rather than the latest marketing trend report.  The work of the body of Christ never ends, as even the Lord said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.” – John 9:4.  Each part of the body has a critical role to play in order to build and maintain a healthy, thriving church.  Let us focus on our calling, in our given season of life, to serve one another for His glory.

Wave That Flag

Once again, the flag burning debate has popped into the headlines.  Not sure what prompted it, but apparently your President Trump had an opinion to share:

A year in prison or loss of citizenship.

The obvious double standard that his fans seem to overlook is that Conservatives oftentimes defend anyone that burns an ISIL/ISIS flag. Or a Koran.  They stand behind their precious 1st Amendment and claim God is on their side.  These are the same people that laugh at French, satirical comics of Mohammed but cry foul when someone mocks baby Jesus or Mary.  It’s clear then that the rights protected by the 1st Amendment are not preeminent in their minds.  It’s only convenient when it aligns with their goal of preferential treatment for themselves.  The 1st Amendment is quickly discarded when any opposing values or speech claim rights to the same protection.

Liberals are logically inconsistent in similar fashion.  They stand up for anyone that’s not white, Christian, or ‘Murican.  They claim to fight for equality for the little guy, the minority view.  But they often get so wrapped up in the minority that they are willing to sacrifice the majority just to prove a point.  That doesn’t make a lick of sense either.  I’ve written on several occasions that equality is a farce and a mirage so I won’t get into it here.

But Free Speech aside, I’ve written quite a bit about the ideas of Imperialism and National Pride in the 21st century.  These flags we wave are designed to divide us and pit us up against each other.  Behind the flag, we take credit for things in which we had no participation, assume blame for atrocities we did not commit, and hate entire groups of people whom we’ve never met.  There are flags for clubs, religious denominations, sexual orientation, sports teams, professional associations, rock bands, corporations, and schools.  There are flags for cities, states, regions, countries, and continental unions.

Sure.  There are some that will claim the flag brings people together.  It doesn’t have to necessarily divide.  That’s all well and good if you agree with everything for which the flag stands.  But what if you don’t?  What if you are critical of some of the things that flag represents?  Well, if you’re talking to a die-hard flag fanatic, a flag-natic if you will, chances are you are now the enemy and just placed a target on your back.

Think about how inconsistently the American Flag itself is treated.  On the one hand, flag-natics will tell you that it should never touch the ground.  You should never leave it out in the rain (unless it’s specifically an all-weather flag).  It should be folded / stored / and retired in a precise, prescribed manner according to the code.  (Incidentally, when it’s time to retire a flag, you’re supposed to burn it.  You just have to have a little ceremony where you sing a song, recite your holy prayers over it, etc.)  

But with all this pomp and circumstance surrounding the idolatry of the national cloth, Conservatives don’t seem to mind if you fashion a bikini (or swimmers’ underwear) out of a flag.  You can make tablecloths and napkins that look like flags.  You can make shoes dressed to look like the flag.  I’ve even seen pictures of Muslims wearing hijabs (headcoverings) out of their Red, White and Blue flags (of course, this caused all kinds of confusing ruckus with Conservatives.)

And what should Christians think?  Can we, in good conscience, idolize the flag?  

We were reading the following passage in Hebrews at the assembly a few weeks ago.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

(Hebrews 11:13‭-‬16 NKJV)

http://bible.com/114/heb.11.13-16.NKJV

These verses are in the middle of the so-called Hall of Fame of the faithful.  I don’t know why American Christians don’t seem to understand the simple, yet crystal clear, statement made in Scripture.  And in the New Testament, no less.  

As Christians, this world is not our home.  Our primary citizenship is a heavenly country, not America.  We reside in these lands as sojourners.  Within our arbitrary borders, there are people that do not share citizenship to our heavenly country.  Conversely, we share citizenship with other Christians that live beyond our flag-based borders.  As Christians, we have more in common with other Christians in Canada, Mexico, China, Nigeria, Russia, Iraq, and Israel than we do with non-Christians (atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Humanists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons) that reside in the United States.  

When we bomb, spy, steal from or overthrow governments in countries with different flags than ours, we are most likely doing that to some of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we point drone strikes or nukes at our so-called enemies, we are taking aim at fellow Christians.  

And even if there weren’t a single professing Christian in the lands of the Other Flags, how does the Great Commission of Christ, to go forth and make disciples of ALL the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, reconcile with your platform of Nationalism?  

Brethren, don’t let the politics of the flag entangle you into fruitless and empty philosophy.  Our only allegiance should be to His Kingdom come.  When we buy into the Us vs. Them debate, we not only kill fellow followers of Christ, but we hinder our one calling from the Master to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Churches

Let’s get the housekeeping stuff out of the way.  Yes, it’s been ages since I’ve posted.  We’ve moved to South Carolina, so I’m trying to think of what to rename this blog.  Guess I could continue to be the TXFatherofSeven, but part of me wants to embrace our new surroundings.

I’ve also been working in my new job for the last 3 months.  Same company, but new manager, team and responsibilities.  It’s completely different from anything I’ve done previously in my career.  It’s exciting and different.  My personality type doesn’t necessarily go looking for change, but I do get bored if I feel like I’ve learned / accomplished all I’m going to get out of a particular team or job.  More on my job in a future post.

We’ve been able to find a buyer for our home in TX and should be closing within the next week if all goes as planned.  We’re currently renting in SC, but we’ve signed a contract to build our new home.  Amazingly, the builders are expecting to deliver in just over 4 months.  That’s unheard of in North Dallas where new construction is taking some of our friends up to 2 YEARS because of the crazy market demand.  That demand certainly helped fuel the rapid appreciation in the existing home market in TX.  I’m very pleased and grateful that we’ve been able to cash out on our 10-year investment.

The holidays have all but come and gone.  We celebrated Thanksgiving twice, had a bout of intense, but short lived, stomach flu, had both sets of parents come to visit us, enjoyed a very special Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day.  And of course, we were thrilled with the latest STAR WARS new release.  Thumbs up, J.J.

But what I was hoping to share in this post, as the title eludes to, was our experience in looking for a new church.  Firstly, our family is a non-denominational, Bible believing Christian household.  We believe that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17).  Throughout our lives, my wife and I have attended dozens of different churches and denominations.  Some were very good in certain areas but lacking in others.  Sometimes, we’ve had to leave congregations because the Holy Spirit convicted me of Biblical principles that were being violated or ignored.  Other times, we’ve helped close the doors on dead or dying churches.

When we moved to SC, there were certainly many places of worship from which to choose.  There are huge mega churches, old churches that have been around for over a hundred years, smaller congregations meeting in rented office space or schools.  Thank goodness for the internet.  Can’t imagine having to go to each and every place of worship just to get some basic information.

On the Sunday morning the weekend before Veterans Day, we visited one Christian church that was meeting in what looked like a high school gymnasium.  There was a stage, folding chairs, and wall dividers separating the worship area from the dining tables.  As we walked in, we were greeted by several people.  Our large family always draws attention wherever we go.  In a whirlwind of handshakes and questions, I was told several times that we were in luck showing up on this particular Sunday because this was Pastor Appreciation Sunday, and they had a special lunch planned after service.  (I had never heard of Pastor Appreciation Sunday.)  One couple started telling me about the great scouting program they had on Wednesday nights for the kids.  Another was telling me about the Veterans outreach program they were supporting.

After all the excitement of greeting us, we finally made our way to our seats and prepared for worship.  A band took the stage and performed a couple modern praise type songs, though I can’t seem to recall if the name of Jesus was ever mentioned.

From there, the service turned quickly to the Veterans Appreciation time where a video glorifying the bravery of the American soldier, establishing freedom and democracy throughout the world, was played for all to oooh and aaaah.  A veteran who was there to speak on behalf of a local secular Support Center took the stage to thank the congregation for their financial support over the years.  He spoke of the bravery of the men, the shameful treatment of our soldiers by our government once they return home, the fact that he wasn’t proud of the ‘hard living choices’ he’s had to make since returning home and that he wouldn’t wish it on any of us.

Next, a guest speaker came up to transition quickly to the Pastor Appreciation portion of the service.  Can’t be certain, but I think he might have been an elder or deacon of the congregation.  Anyway, after reading a couple verses from the Easy-to-Read Translation of the Bible, (all 7 of my children simultaneously gave me a puzzled look when he began to read), he reminded us how hard a life their pastor had, in selfless dedication to his flock.

After the sermon?, the worship leader opened up the floor to anyone in the congregation that felt like sharing any memories, funny stories, or touching testimonies about their pastor.  Several people continued to laud praise and adoration over their pastor’s selflessness and dedication.

They closed the service by repeating one of the songs with which they had opened.

As soon as we were dismissed, I quickly grabbed up my family and all but ran for the door.  We were asked to stay for the Pastor Appreciation Lunch, but I could not stay in that place a minute longer.

If you could have witnessed the utter looks of confusion on my children’s faces when we got in the van . . .  I didn’t even have to say anything, but immediately they started asking questions.

“Dad, what’s the Easy-to-Read translation of the Bible?  Is that like the Children’s Bible Matthew reads?”

“Why were we watching army videos?”

“Do we have to come back again next week?”

But we all knew the most important questions on our minds – “Did we just worship Jesus Christ, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, on the Lord’s Day?  Was His Name lifted up and given Glory and Honor and Praise?  Was the worship done in awe and with reverence?

After lunch, we went home and had a short time of worship ourselves.

The following Sunday, I took our children to another church which we had driven by during the week.  The building was of modest size.  There was ample parking.  And BIBLE was in its name, so that was a good sign.

When we walked in, our family was greeted by one of the elders.  He asked a couple of general questions like whether we were from around the area and where we had attended church previously.  Before I could go too far into our history, he gentled reassured me that “as long as you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you’re in the right place.”

That was it.

He explained that worship would begin in a few minutes with a time of the Lord’s Supper.

As we entered the main room, I noticed several Christians already quietly seated.  The ladies wore coverings on their heads.  Children sat with their parents.

After a few moments of silence, one man stood up and started reading verses from Scripture.  Another would lead the congregation in a hymn.  Yet another man would offer up a prayer.  The congregation joined along, singing praises to Lord Jesus, offering up the Amen, and bowing in times of prayer together.

After about 45 minutes, words and songs and prayers began to focus on the Lord’s Supper, on remembering the reason for the bread and the juice, and preparing our hearts to partake in a thoughtful, reverent manner.  An elder came up to break and distribute the bread.  Another came to pass the juice.  There was also a time to collect offerings afterward.

All along, there was no worship leader or program prescribing each and every action or spoken word.  The Holy Spirit was allowed to move in men’s hearts to lead this congregation into worship.  This was not a performance to observe.  This was an act of worship in which we had actively participated.

Afterward, there was a short time of refreshments and fellowship in another room.  I was able to meet several members of the church including the elders.  I learned that following the fellowship time would be a time of hearing the preaching of the Word by one of the elders.  I was told that my children would be invited to join a separate Children’s Church program if they would like or that they were welcome to stay and hear the preaching.  I chose the later.

We began the preaching portion of the service with a couple more songs, led by an elder playing guitar.  Another gentleman came up to lead a couple hymns along with piano accompaniment.  Finally, the elder came forward to share God’s Word.  And it just so happened that on this Sunday, they were beginning a new series in the Gospel according to John.  The elder commented that over the last 15 years, John would mark the very last book of the Bible to be studied.  He asked rhetorically what they would do after finishing John and answered “start all over”.

Put simply, the preaching was so refreshing.  I later explained to my children that there are basically 2 methods of preaching God’s Word – 1) Topical and 2) Expository.  Topical preaching involves selecting a particular theme or topic which the preacher feels is relevant or necessary.  He searches the Scriptures to find the relevant verses and tries to frame the subject in terms of God’s Word.  Expository preaching, on the other hand, usually involves starting at Chapter 1 verse 1 of a particular book of the Bible and going through it verse by verse.  The preacher should definitely cross reference other Scriptures to help explain any context or meaning necessary, but the road map is the book selected.

Neither is right or wrong, but my personal preference is Expository preaching.  It forces the preacher to examine every verse, not to skip over the difficult or challenging ones, and to humble himself to the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

What was especially encouraging was when I looked over at my children.  I could tell that they were engaged, listening, learning, and understanding the sermon.  You know it’s a good sign when you wish you had a notebook and pen with you to take some notes.  (The following week, I bought notebooks for everyone.)

At the conclusion of the service, I gave my contact information to one of the elders and he asked if it was okay for him to call on me during the week.  I said I was looking forward to it.

When we got in the van, I turned around and asked my children “is there any doubt in any of your minds whether we spent this morning worshiping Jesus Christ?”  The answer was an enthusiastic and resounding “NO doubt!  We definitely worshiped this morning.”

When Christians preach the Word of God in spirit and in truth, when men take their prescribed roles to actively lead the corporate worship, when the Holy Spirit is given room to move in Men’s hearts rather than to take a back seat to our preferences and stylistic moods, when orderly worship is not mistaken for scripted empty ritual, and when the time of worship is approached with utmost reverence and awe – there’s no need for the glamour or glitz.  God’s Word stands on its own as it has for eternity past and will for eternity future.

In saying all that, you wonder why the walls aren’t bursting at the seams at this particular, modestly sized, congregation.  And once again, God’s Word gives us the answer.

Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)

 

My Public Apology

I have to make a public apology to a couple of friends.  My last post, which I’ve since removed, was not meant to out anyone, defame, or humiliate.  I don’t mean to sound like the Godfather, but it wasn’t personal, it was business.  

I did not ask for permission to post or quote conversations from Facebook into my blog, and my friends felt like a trust had been broken and betrayed.  

I can get shortsighted in the heat of debating ideas.  And though I am pretty good at separating the differences in ideas or values from the friendships I’ve formed, I can easily step over the line and hurt feelings when there was no malicious intent.

That’s no excuse for betraying a friend.  And for that, I am deeply sorry.  I don’t want you to regret sharing your ideas with me or challenging me.  I have much to learn from all of you, so please forgive my lack of social graces.  I will try to share the passion I have for Liberty and my Faith without slamming those that are closest to me going forward.