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Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Excellence is something that has been part of me for at least 15 years.  Of course, it came easy to me to be excellent in academics, or in Bible memorization.  In Awana as a third grader I joined my first Bible Quiz team.  At the time I was completely naïve, unaware of the competition or the tension or even of the possibility of winning.  The thought never crossed my mind.  After finishing both segments of the quiz, speed (like Jeopardy) and multiple choice (with paddles we raise into the air), my team sat clenching each others’ hands in nervous anticipation.  To our utter astonishment they called our team for first place.  The group of us screamed our way to the front to receive our medals and trophy.  And excellence in Bible quiz was my goal from then on.  

 

In a history of grace, God granted that I be on a winning Bible Quiz team for six years straight, unprecedented.  Everyone wanted either to be on my team or to finally beat me.  I didn’t stop working hard, because each year I desperately wanted to win.  There were no assumptions that I would win no matter what.  But I did think that if I kept giving it my all, I would be rewarded.  There was no second place, no third, no fourth – and certainly there was no place between fifth and fifteenth.  So when as a freshman I suffered my first defeat, it felt as though I had crashed into a lightless chasm.  It didn’t matter in the slightest that we had placed third.  The fact was I went to win, and I had failed. 

 

There’s more to the story, of the journey God continued leading me on through Bible Quiz until my senior year – and how I got to share the lessons as a coach.  But today I want to write about that concept of no place but first.  No success without the best.  This is a definition of excellence. 

 

I’m reading a book called Godcast (review coming soon of course), a collection of single-page devotionals written by an Assemblies of God pastor and radio/tv host.  In chapter 196, Dan Betzer writes about mediocrity in the house of God.  Now I’m no advocate of demanding perfection in the worship performance each Sunday, or of dazzling buildings on which no expense was spared.  Nor do I think that God always wants us to have a well-polished speech to deliver as Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, or sermons.  Sometimes He wants us to be the humble vessels through whom His message can be spoken.  And whether you know the words you’re going to say or not, every teacher should have properly studied, meditated, and prayed for what he is going to say. 

 

Yet the message is inspiring.  As a teacher, do I say, “Well, I read over the passage a couple times, and I have an illustration, so I’m all set”?    How many times have I as a blogger decided I didn’t feel like revising my post?  And what about as a Christian?  Do I consider myself good enough as long as I’m not really bad? 

 

Every Monday night I attend a Bible study.  Presently we are going through Galatians, and I’m wrestling with the implications of grace and Christian liberty.  What is legalism, and how should we reconcile Christian holiness with Christ-given grace?  One answer that seems clear at this point in my life is that legalism says “If I follow the rules, I am good.”  But isn’t that what Judaism proved impossible?  Grace is the other side, the side that so delights in the life bought through Jesus’ death and given through His resurrection that it delights to please God, not flirting with the line of trespass, but safe and free well inside the bounds of God’s righteousness. 

 

I can’t help but mention that this doctrine of Galatians meets a complementary parallel in Romans, wherein is found the association between faith, grace, life, and righteousness. 

 

God calls us to excellence, to the extraordinary experience of walking in the Spirit, turning aside neither to the right or to the left, each action born of faith and love and Christ alive in me. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

 

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On the problem of teaching children right from wrong – of teaching them wisdom – especially in the abstract circumstances:
 
I sit in my office listening to a mother interact with her young daughter over a Highlights magazine.  Seeing a picture of a child riding a vacuum, the girl recognizes, “That is no, no, no, no, no.”  The mother supports her child, “Yes, that’s silly.” 
 
So we see that the girl knows the word “no,” and that it indicates something which should not be done. 
 
The mother takes a psychological approach today, creating the association of silliness with things which might be dangerous or wrong. 
 
My problem with this is that youth – and at times even adults – are supposed to be silly.  They can make faces and jokes, stand on their heads, and draw pictures of fish in trees.  A court jester is silly for entertainment.  He is humble, too. 
 
In the old days a jester was also called a fool.  But here we meet the same difficulty.  Foolishness is rejection of God, emptiness, the opposite of wisdom and faith.  Fools we should never be if we can help it. 
 
Riding on a vacuum cleaner is more accurately described as foolish.  The consequences are not foreseen, authority and respect for property overlooked, and no justification given for the activity.  Is that what the mother wanted to teach her daughter? 
 
The danger in teaching children that wrong things are silly is that there are many things silly that are not wrong.  If you say it is silly to eat a peanut butter sandwich only from the left-hand side, or to sing a song of sixpence, then either the child will be terrified, considering all things unlike his parents to be wrong – or he will learn that wrong things are merely silly, and one day he will try them anyway, just to be funny or just to be curious.  “Silly” takes the seriousness out of disobedience. 
 
What do I recommend, then?  Usually when I have parenting ideas, they seem quite logical, natural, and easy to implement.  In this case I cannot think of an easy way to overcome this tendency.  Adults – especially worn out parents who have had little but two-year-old style conversation – are not creative or attentive enough generally to accurately describe why they disapprove of a certain course of action.  Thus they resort to the “silly” tactic, or “because I said so.” 
 
Now “because I said so” is a valid thing to teach.  Authority must be obeyed even when we do not understand the reason.  Unto parents is committed a more complex responsibility of bringing up a child to be able to make his own decisions when there is not authority to instruct.  So most of the time a parent should accompany an instruction with a reason, sharing their rationale. 
 
“Don’t take your pennies out of your pocket.  That isn’t careful.  If you lose them that would be irresponsible.” 
 
“Thank you for taking your own plate to the sink.  That was very responsible of you.” 
 
“Good job carrying the cup of water to Daddy.  You were careful it didn’t spill.” 
 
“You shouldn’t make fun of your brother or call him names.  That is unkind.” 
 
“Jesus said to be kind to one another.  Mommy is kind to you when she helps you tie your shoes.” 
 
“That was your sister’s toy.  Don’t steal it from her.  That is selfish.  Love your sister and share with her.” 
 
“Telling mom no is wrong.  God gave you a mom to take care of you, and He made her the boss.” 
 
Jane Austen’s grown-up characters responded well to the more descriptive rebukes.  Some were accompanied by explanations, and others were one-liners.  Mr. Knightley does not tell Emma “That was silly,” but the much more potent, “Badly done!”  Jane checks Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice by saying, “Lizzie, that was unkind!” 
 
How much better would we all respond if, rather than a culture that hints and manipulates (psychological influence, peer pressure, teasing, silent treatment, “that’s silly”), we had a culture where good friends and family could tell each other they were wrong?  And doesn’t the descriptive version reinforce values?  If I scolded to a little boy that he was being “ungentlemanly,” I am implying that there is such a thing as a gentleman and that it is a high calling.  On playgrounds children still value courage, by taunting each other with “coward” (or its loosely associated, “chicken”).  Jane valued kindness and knew that, in principle, her sister did, too.  Mr. Knightley appealed to Emma’s goodness. 
 
I might say, “That was dishonest,” or “That was imprudent,” “that was unwise,” unsound, inconsiderate, selfish, malicious, dangerous, destructive, unhealthy…
 
Any other suggestions, experiences being descriptively corrected, examples, arguments, etc?  Comment!
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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