R. E. A. P.

I often read the Bible on the train, and so it is handy to have a number of tools to help study. A few days ago I encountered this little study technique and thought I would share it with you today.

It is called R. E. A. P. And stands for read, examine, apply and pray.

R is for Read – the first part of the technique is to read. You take a passage and read it. Simple right? Pay attention to the things that stand out to you . Always think about the context as this can affect the meaning. Ask yourself if the passage is poetic, historical, prophetic or another type of literature. Watch out for who is speaking, and to whom.

E is for Evaluate – Having read the passage thoroughly, we then move on to evaluate it. Here we go a little deeper and try to listen to the Holy Spirit and what He is saying to us through this part of the Bible. We consider the main themes of the passage and what it would have meant to those who first received it. Before we can apply it to our own lives, we need to understand how it would have applied to those originally hearing or reading it.

A is for Apply – At this stage, we start to think about how this passage applies to us. The Bible is timeless, but sometimes we need to think about the way that what we have read applies to our modern day lives. Does the passage require us to do anything? Is God asking us to give something up, or to start doing something positive? Do we learn something about God here, and if so, how does that affect the decisions we make today?

P is for Pray – Lastly, having read and applied the passage, we take it back to God. We pray about the passage at hand, and ask God to help us apply it and live for Him more. It may result in us praising God, and thanking Him for a particular blessing or worshipping an aspect of His character.  We may realise we need to pray for someone we know, or for ourselves, and it is great to be led by the Spirit in that respect.

 

So there you have it! It is not a perfect tool, nor should it replace dedicated study, but in certain situations, you may find it a helpful way of looking at a Bible passage.

Whatever you do, I pray that your Bible study time is fruitful this week.

Where To Draw the Line

Last time, I wrote about how to defend yourself against deception. This time, I want to think about where we draw the line when it comes to Bible teachers we disagree with.

What I mean is, no single teacher has everything 100% correct. And if you are looking for a theologically perfect teacher, then you will be searching for a very long time. All of us are on a journey, including those with a gift to teach, and so there may be elements of their teaching which is not quite correct.

Myt question, therefore, is where do we draw the line?

Clearly if someone is teaching blatant heracy, we should avoid them like the plague. You probably don’t need me to tell you that! If they teach that Christ is not the only way to God, or that we can earn our way into heaven (as examples) then have nothing to do with them.

But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you any “good news” other than that which we preached to you, let him be cursed. 9 As we have said before, so I now say again: if any man preaches to you any “good news” other than that which you received, let him be cursed.

Galatians 1:8-9 (WEB)

Usually however, false teaching is rarely so obvious.

I was listening to a sermon the other day and was learning from what was being said. At one point however, the speaker made a comment about God’s Sovereignty. As you know, this is something I’ve been thinking about over the last year and so I was perhaps more attentive to such a statement than I might otherwise have been.

What they actually said is not relevant here, but it suggested they had a more liberal view of what God’s Sovereignty actually meant. It was a passing remark, and not a full statement of their beliefs. What if though, they had a mistaken or false view of God’s Sovereignty? Should I abandon the teaching altogether and forget all that they said?

The doctrine of God’s Sovereignty, like some others, is a critical doctrine and so likely affects all other aspects of our faith. If we have a wrong belief about such a foundational truth, then that will likely have a knock effect on what else we believe.

There are some issues in the Bible which I think are fundamental. I mentioned some of these above, but would also include the inerrancy of Scripture and the deity of Christ. There are other matters however, which are perhaps less clear cut and there is space for believers to disagree (agreeably).

So how can we decide if we should listen to and accept one Bible teacher’s lessons over another?

There is no easy answer I’m afraid. I cannot give you a single formula where you can plug in certain factors and get out a Yes or No answer.

We must start with what I discussed last time. We must attempt to gain a systematic and complete view of Scripture. The better we understand the Bible as a complete message, the easier it will be to detect false teaching when we encounter it. And by “false teaching” it could be mistaken teaching rather than deliberately deceptive.

As I said last time, we must interpret Scripture in the light of other Scripture. We must not take individual verses and make a new doctrine out of them. Context helps us understand what the message is meant to be.

Secondly, i think we should take each case in its own right. There may be a difference between us listening to a single message from someone, and us choosing to regularly sit under their teaching. A single message may be fine, but when we sit under someone’s teaching for a length of time, we will inevitably be learning more about their perspective and theology.

While of course we need to be on guard, I also don’t think we should be closed minded. Within reason, I try to listen to a variety of teachers in order to try to gain a wider perspective. That’s not to say I swallow any and every teaching that comes along, but if you only listen to one teacher, you only get that one perspective.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must take everything back to God in prayer and His Word. If you encounter a teaching which you are not sure about, then take the time to see what the Bible says about it. Instead of just listening to a teacher, discuss it with the Teacher. Be a Berean!

Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.

Acts 17:11 (WEB)


But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.

John 14:26 (WEB)

Understanding the Bible is not an easy or simple task. It is a complex book, but it is meant for believers. If you know the Lord and are seeking to follow Him with your life, then the Bible is there for you. Speak to God about it and He will teach you from it. It may take a lifetime to learn, but it is worth every effort you put in.

I hope this has been helpful.

Do Not Be Deceived

But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction.

2 Peter 2:1 (WEB)


Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (WEB)


Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.

Ephesians 5:6 (WEB)

 

I’ve been thinking about deception lately. The Bible carries many warnings to the believer to not be deceived. But how do we do that?

The problem with deception is that when you are suffering from it, you don’t know. To be deceived means to be completely ignorant of a false belief. If we don’t know that our beliefs are false, then how we can we ever escape from deception’s grasp?

One of the most amazing benefits, and also biggest risks, of our modern world is our free access to information. Even within the church world, you can turn on a Christian TV channel or radio station 24 hours a day and access “bible teaching”. Likewise, you can dive into social media and follow all manner of Christian teachers.

I myself write a blog and have written and published a book. Anyone can. There is no body or organisation to check that the materials one can put out are correct and true.

With all of this access to information, and more specifically Bible-related teaching, how can you ever be sure that you are hearing the truth? One denomination teaches God sovereignly controls everything, and another that He does not. One teaches that the Gifts of the Spirit were for the early church only, and yet another that they are for the here and now. Some teach prosperity, while others poverty. Who is right?

Deception is like a mask we don’t know we are wearing. So how do we take it off?

A Firm Grasp of the Bible

The only way to avoid deception is to have a firm grasp of the Bible and its teachings. You will never be able to guard yourself against false teaching if you do not know what the Bible says. And you must know it for yourself – not merely based on what someone else has told you.

We are all sometimes guilty of not taking our faith seriously enough. Like anything, to become an expert, we must invest time and effort into it. We cannot hope to build a deep and strong knowledge of the Bible based on a short sermon once a week on a Sunday. Imagine a Cello player who only played for 25 minutes on a Sunday morning, and didn’t touch their instrument for the rest of the week. They would never be a master musician.

We must not only read the Bible, but study it on a regular basis.

The way we study is also very important. You may consider this blog, or a Christian book, or a sermon, as ways in which you can gain a better understanding of the Bible. That is true. And can certainly be a good thing, if the teaching is sound.

The issue comes when we look at passages of Scripture in isolation. The only way to properly interpret the Bible is in the light of other Scripture.

Too many of us, myself included at times, take a verse or passage, and don’t properly apply its context. What I mean is this – take Jesus’ encounter with the rich young rules. Jesus meets a man who claims to have followed all the commandments since his youth. Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. What lesson can we learn from this encounter?

Is Jesus teaching that all believers should sell all they have and give it to the poor? Is He saying that it is a sin to be rich and that we all ought to have nothing? If this was the only verse in the Bible which talked on the subject, then we might draw that conclusion. However, there are many verses in the Bible about material possessions and the dangers of wealth, but also many describing poverty as a curse.

We cannot take a single verse and make a doctrine out of it.

Continuing with the example of wealth and material possessions, you can likely turn on your TV today and find someone on a Christian TV channel preaching on prosperity and how it is God’s desire for His people. Is that right? They might quote Philippians 4:19 which says:

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (WEB)

This is a wonderful promise, but is it a promise to you? You won’t know unless you understand who wrote it and to whom and any prerequisites such a promise might have. Here, it is written by Paul to a set of believers who were partnering with him in proclaiming the Gospel.

My point is that we must take a wide-angle view when studying the Bible. Further than that, we must take a systematic view. We cannot just snatch small chunks of the Word, take it out of context and then proclaim it as the full truth.

To avoid deception, we must have a thorough and systematic understanding of what the Bible teaches – as a whole. When we have that, we are far less at risk of falling for a false teaching.

Not everyone can go to Theological or Bible college, but we can all be “theologians” in our own right. I think it was Graeme Goldsworthy who said, “Every Christian should be a theologian.”

Don’t be put off by the term, it just means that each of us must be responsible for understanding the Bible. There are many tools available to help us do that.

Remember no one individual or denomination has 100% perfect theology. We are all growing and learning, and I can certainly say for myself that as I learn more about the Bible, I adapt my views. This is growth.

Remember also that not all false teaching is deliberately designed to steer you away from the truth, and it may simply be a gap in the teacher’s knowledge. Irrespective of this though, deception is dangerous and can lead us away from God.

Prayer and the Holy Spirit

Alongside having a thorough and systematic view of Scripture, we must also seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance through prayer. God can and does give us wisdom, and the Holy Spirit wants to lead us into all truth.

It would be dangerous to do this without a strong knowledge of the Bible, because you would not know if you were hearing from God through the Spirit, or another source such as our own mind or the enemy. As long as we have the framework of the Bible, then we can and should seek God’s guidance. We know that God will never contradict His Word.

Removing the mask of deception

To be rid of deception, we must be open and honest with ourselves. As we study the Bible, we will no doubt encounter truths that don’t align to our beliefs. When that happens, we must be honest and ask ourselves what we really believe.

It can be hard to face the truth. You may have read my blog posts last year about the Sovereignty of God. I had been taught that God does not control every single aspect of life, and that humanity is free to do what it wants. As I studied the Scriptures, it became clear to me that what I had believed was not really in line with what the Bible said. I had to adapt my views, and accept, no matter how uncomfortable it was, that I was wrong.

I see this as a good thing. I would rather go through the pain of changing my beliefs to more closely align to the Bible, than to stay under the mask of deception.

I pray for myself and all of you, that God will reveal all areas of our lives where we are deceived. And that through proper study of the Bible, we will all be able to guard ourselves against false teaching and deception in all its forms.

Conquering Fear (Audio)

Here is the audio from a sermon I gave a few weeks ago at a local women’s retreat. It is about Conquering Fear and comes from the passage in Mark 4 where Jesus calms the storm.

I’m sorry about the quality of the audio, and hope it doesn’t distract too much. My microphone seemed to pick up the traffic noise more than me for some reason! I also have my youngest daughter around to “help” me at times!

 

How To Be A Welcoming Church

I happened to catch an episode of “Veggie Tales” the other morning while my children were watching it. If you are not familiar, it is a kids show starring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. In this particular episode, Bob had taken on a job of Chief Greeter at a local shop. He started off enthusiastically and later grew more and more weary, growing hoarse from saying “Hi!” so often and his cheek muscles no longer able to hold his smile.

It got me thinking about the subject of this week’s post on how to be a welcoming church.

It is essential that every church be good at welcoming people. It is especially crucial for those visiting for the first time. I once heard it said that people have decided whether they are coming back long before they hear the sermon or the worship music, but based on the kind of welcome they receive.

What follows is not an exhaustive “how to” guide, but rather a few thoughts on how to improve the welcome people receive when coming to your church.

Churches are never as welcoming as they think they are.

I once went to a church where, without anyone saying a word, I knew I had taken somebody’s seat. I just felt that I had done something wrong, and that I had somehow happened upon a seat which had been sat in by the same person for a very long time. As I recall, no one came to sit beside me or to welcome me.

Unfortunately, this is not as uncommon as it should be. If you are outside of the church, then you probably wonder what is so wrong with sitting in someone’s seat – and you’d be quite right! If you’ve been in church for any length of time, then you know how such habitual seating patterns can occur!

If I asked representatives of your church if they thought it was welcoming, there is a good chance they will say yes. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who said that their church is not welcoming. Yet, so many come away feeling unwelcome or even unwanted.

This should not be!

Irrespective of how good your church is at welcoming people, there is always room for improvement.

It’s not all up to the welcome team

At a church where I was once an elder, we discussed at length whether we should recruit people into a “welcoming team”. We wanted to ensure that when someone came to our church, that they felt at home, knew what to do, knew where to take their children if they wished and other such things.

Welcoming can often suffer from the bystander effect. This sometimes happens when there has been an accident or emergency, so many people are standing watching, that no one does anything to help. If we stood alone, we would know it was up to us, but it’s very easy in a group to assume someone else will do it.

On the one hand, we thought a welcome team would be a good idea as it would ensure that there was always someone there, ready to welcome and who knew it was down to them.

The problem was that those who were not on the team no longer felt it was their responsibility. “I’ll leave that up to the welcome team…” they would think. Not so!

It is everyone’s responsibility to welcome people into the church. Whether you are the pastor/minister, or on the leadership team, or a church member – it is down to you!

Discernment

The most important thing when welcoming someone is discernment.

When we approach someone to welcome them to the church, we must allow the Holy Spirit to guide us and to discern what the person may need or want.

There are times when people come to church and want someone to sit beside them, hold their hand, or guide them through an unfamiliar service. They may want to be invited for coffee afterwards, or have someone to chat to before the service begins.

On the other hand, they may be a more timid person, or someone who has come because of loss or grief. In such cases, the person may simply want to slip in, sit on the back row, encounter God and then slip away before they are “cornered” by an over-friendly Christian!

While these are perhaps extremes, the point is that everyone who comes to church is different. They may want company, or they may want to be left alone to observe. Either way, when you welcome them, try to discern what is best. If you are not sure, you can simply ask! “Would you like any help?” “Would you like to sit with me?” “Can I show you where to get a service sheet or cup of coffee?”

The answers to such questions should give you a good idea of what the person is wanting. You just need to pay attention.

Everyone wants a friendly welcome, but beyond that we need to be a little sensitive at times.

It is not rocket science

Welcoming people really isn’t rocket science! If you see someone you don’t recognise, just go over and introduce yourself. Make them feel at ease like you would any guest to your home. You don’t have to pounce on them the second they come through the door, but don’t wait until they are putting on their coat to leave either.

We often overthink these things because we know that welcoming people is important, and we don’t want to make a mistake and “scare them off!” If you are a naturally shy person, then you might find it more difficult to go over and speak to a stranger. If you are – let’s say – socially overdeveloped, then you might find it harder to not talk their ears off!

I cannot say that a bad welcome is better than no welcome at all, as I’ve heard some pretty horrendous things about the kind of welcome people receive at times. However, if you are sincere, all you need do is be friendly.

Welcome Pack & Domestics

It is sometimes a good idea to have a welcome pack handy too offer to visitors. It might include information about service times, children’s activities, home groups, details of the pastor or leadership team etc. Some churches offer a small gift, such as a book, to those who visit. It can be a very helpful thing to someone who is not familiar with your church or how it does things.

Similarly, in our effort to welcome people, we can forget the obvious things. For example, offering a service sheet so people know when to respond to prompts (if your church has a particular liturgy) or directing someone to the toilets, creche or refreshments.

For some, it is a big step to walk into a church and it can be embarrassing to not know what to do or where to go. For many people, the children’s work is critical. Introducing parents to the children’s workers is important so that they have some confidence in leaving their children in a Sunday School or junior church setting.

Some even say that the quality of the coffee is important! If a visitor is used to Starbucks, then handing them a volcano-hot, watery cup of mud may not fit the bill! Is it important? Not compared to the church’s theology say, but for someone who’s never set foot in church before, I can assure you they are not really considering the kind of theology you practice. A bad cup of coffee won’t put someone off i’m sure, but why not aim for excellence in everything we do?

At what point do people stop being visitors?

Most of what I have said so far is probably more applicable to brand new visitors. But at what point does the visitor become another member of the congregation? After three visits, are they then “absorbed” and so no longer need to be welcomed?

I recall overhearing a conversation once where someone welcomed a visitor to the church. “How long have you been coming?” They asked, “I’ve not seen you here before?” The answer was unfortunate. “I’ve been coming for 18 months…”

While many churches are good at welcoming brand new people, they are rarely good at bringing people into the congregation. My wife visited a church once and on her first morning was asked to join the AV rota! On the other extreme, I know people who attended a church for several months and knew only a handful of names and faces. At what point does such a person give up and walk away feeling like they just couldn’t crack the shell?

It is not advisable to put someone into any position of authority or responsibility until you get to know them. But sadly too many people feel like they go to church and are just never integrated – for want of a better term! Our welcome should not be limited to those “new” to the church, but to everyone.

 

As I said up front, there is no church that cannot improve their welcome. Every single one of us has a responsibility in this area, and it is not up to the pastor, leadership team or welcome team. It is up to us!

Some refuse to welcome because they feel they are not good at it. However we will never get any better if we don’t practise!

As I have written this post, I appreciate it is a lot of practical things and sharing of experience rather than my usual biblical based teaching. I hope it has still been useful to you. Have a think and a pray about you and your own church this week. What can you do to improve the welcome your church offers? Perhaps you cannot get up and greet people, but maybe you can put together a pack or welcome leaflet to give to new faces.

The church is not a building, it is a group of believers. We are all part of it, and each of us can do something to help make the church a great place to be!

Come As You Are

I saw a pamphlet recently which gave me pause for thought. It was all about welcoming people into the church, and was specifically aimed at a particular group of people. The leaflet pointed out that God loves everyone, and so everyone is welcome into the church – irrespective of their lifestyle or background. It went on to quote Jesus, and told the reader that He welcomed one and all.

I take no issue at all with efforts by the church to be more welcoming. Churches are rarely as welcoming as they think they are, nor are there any that cannot be improved. The word “welcome” has a specific meaning though, and sometimes we think to be “welcoming” we must change everything that we believe and do, so that we do not offend. Wrong!

We think to be welcoming means to accept everyone who comes through the door, no matter what their lifestyle and never point out biblical truth to them. Take a practicing serial killer who refuses to give up their lifestyle of murder – how might we welcome them? Does welcoming them mean we also welcome their life of crime?

Next week, let’s look at what it means to be a welcoming church. For now though, I want to think more about what some seem to think welcoming means.

Quoting Scripture

One issue I had with the pamphlet is that it did not actually quote Jesus properly. In fact, it misquoted Him. I am all for quoting Scripture, but not for taking it out of its context and even editing it to make it say what we want it to.

In this case, Jesus was quoted as saying, “Come to me all of you and I will give you rest.” A nice message indeed, but not strictly what He said.

Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28 (WEB)

We see that actually Jesus did not say, “Come to me, all…” but “Come to me, all who labour and are heavily burdened…”

I know that some will think i’m splitting hairs here, but the danger is that we can take any Bible verse we like, tweak it slightly, apply it wrongly, and then make it say whatever we like.

Too many of us – and this can often apply to us “bloggers” – quote single verses here and there without giving sufficient thought to its wider context. We “google” a Bible verse which seems to support our point, and then paste it in. Sometimes that’s ok, but sometimes we take such verses out of their proper setting and imply a meaning that is not there.

Scripture must be interpreted by other Scripture. We must understand who is speaking and to whom, what the context of the chapter is, what the context of the book is, and finally how it fits into the whole of the Bible.

As I’ve written more lately, working on books, blogging, writing and recording sermons, I’ve felt the weight of responsibility. I do not want anyone to be misled who reads what I am teaching. No one has perfect understanding, and so we will all make mistakes along the way, but I hope and pray with fear, that God helps me to share only His truth.

Welcoming is not the same as approval

We believe in welcoming people to church, and preach the message “Come as you are!” Quite right too. No one needs to clean themselves up before they come to church! The church is full of people who know they need a Saviour! None of us is perfect, and if we were, we wouldn’t need Christ!

The problem is that many churches aren’t just saying “Come as you are,” they are adding on, “Stay as you are.”

“Come as you are” is welcoming, but “stay as you are” is not biblical.

Jesus welcomed everyone, but He taught them the right way to live. His message was not “Come as you are and stay as you are,” it was “Come as you are and repent!”

Let’s look at the woman caught in adultery from John 8.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the middle, 4 they told him, “Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do you say about her?” 6 They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of.

But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. 7 But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground.

9 They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. 10 Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, “Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?”

11 She said, “No one, Lord.”

Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more.”

John 8:3-11 (WEB)

The first thing we notice is that the scribes only brought the woman to Jesus. Last time I checked, it took two to commit adultery. Where was the man?

The scribes here are clearly not trying to exercise moral law, but rather thinking they can catch Jesus out. If He condemns her, then it ruins His reputation as a Man of the people, and yet if He lets her go free without punishment, He breaks the Jewish law.

Jesus is cornered – right?

He drops down and begins to write on the ground with His finger. Many are frustrated that they do not know what He was writing. This is a mark of authenticity for the Bible, because if this story was fictional, then the writer would not have put such an untidy detail in. It suggests that the eye witness simply could not see.

Many have speculated about what Jesus could have been writing. I personally favour the idea that He was writing out the Ten Commandments. The ground where he stooped was not sandy or muddy, like we might imagine, but stony. And so the finger of God wrote on stone… remind you of anything?

He gave to Moses, when he finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, stone tablets, written with God’s finger.

Exodus 31:18 (WEB)

Assuming I am correct, then as the scribes began to read the Ten Commandments on the ground, they became acutely aware of their own sinfulness. And notice that the older ones left first. Perhaps the older we get, the more aware we are of our failings.

Jesus, fulfilling the Law, says essentially that she should be stoned for her sin – but let the one who is without sin cast the first stone. The only One who could do that was Jesus Himself, and He chose not to.

Acknowledging that no one had condemned her, Jesus tells her to be on her way. But He adds something very important. “Go and sin no more!”

Jesus welcomed this woman, despite her sinful behaviour. Praise God for this! However, He did not lower His standards in order to do so. Jesus was very clear that He did not want her to carry on living as she had.

When we welcome someone into church, we should absolutely meet them where they are. I am not at all suggesting we had them a list of rules as they come in, and expect them to abide by them from then on. However, at some point, we must share what we believe. If they want to go on and become a member of the church, then they must start living their lives in line with Christ’s teaching. Refusing to do so is a refusal to submit to Christ as Lord.

Where does the welcome end, and the teaching begin? That is not an easy question. As per my silly example at the start of this post, even if we could bring ourselves to welcome a practicing serial killer, they cannot continue this way and claim to be a follower of Christ.

Likewise, whatever sin we replace serial killing with, we too must give it up to follow Christ.

Being welcoming does not give any of us the excuse to accept sinfulness and not challenge it with God’s Word.

We will think about what it means to be a welcoming church next time. For now though, consider your own life. Are there sins you continue to hold on to, despite knowing what God thinks about them? Ask for His help to change, for you cannot do it in your own strength.