A Porsche, of Course

For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
~ Romans 14:7

Because, like, you know, God’s, like, everywhere, you know.

I think I’ve heard it all. I’m still surprised sometimes, but I have heard a lot. Ask any pastor to tell you the best excuse he’s heard for someone not coming to church and he will probably give you a hundred without taking a breath. If a few pastors collaborated, they could publish an encyclopedia of excuses in a week. A man once told me he couldn’t come to church because his dog wasn’t housebroken. I heard a pastor say a woman told him she couldn’t come to church because it was too far to walk and too close to drive. A man once told me he was a member of the big church and so he didn’t need to join or attend any church. A woman once told me the only thing God requires of us is that we love everybody.

If you make any public post that people ought to join and attend church services, you had better brace yourself like when a doctor tells you you’re about to experience some pressure. It’s going to hurt. I haven’t kept a count through the years, but I think I’ve heard some variation of one excuse the most. “I can worship God anywhere.” If you think you don’t need to go to church because God is everywhere and you can worship him everywhere, you are right, mostly.

The Part That’s Right

The Bible clearly teaches God is everywhere, or he is omnipresent, if we want theological language. There is nowhere in this universe you can go where God is not there (Psalm 139:7-12). There is a day coming when God’s wrath will be revealed from Heaven and men’s misery will be multiplied because there is nowhere to go to hide from his presence (Revelation 6:14-17). You’re absolutely right about the fact that God is everywhere.

You’re also mostly right when you talk about worship. We could quibble over the difference between the hypothetical possibility of can and the objective reality of do, but I will leave that alone for now. I think what you mean by being able to worship God anywhere, is that there is no one particular place you have to be to worship God. You’re absolutely right about that. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Gerizim or Ebal, or anywhere else (Deuteronomy 11:29; John 4:19-24). There’s no special dirt, grass, or sawdust anywhere we have to have to worship God. There are no holy floorboards or holy carpet in a building that gives us access to God. If someone tries to tell you there’s a secret chamber where you have to go to meet Jesus, don’t believe it now and don’t believe it in the future (Matthew 24:26).

If God is everywhere, then he is everywhere, and everywhere you are, he is too. That’s about as sequitur as you can get and that reasoning is sound. In one way you’ve said a lot, but in another way, you ain’t said much. About all you’ve established is that a Porsche is a Porsche, of course. But the reality of the magnificent mechanical beast in your driveway and your hair blowing in the wind at 100 mph on the highway, are two different things. This is where i take issue with what you’ve said.

The Part That’s Not

Whether you can worship God all by yourself in a cabin in the woods has nothing whatever to do with why you should join and attend the services of a good church. The Bible does teach us to assemble together with other believers, but not because that is the only “place” where we can worship, praise, and pray to God (Hebrews 10:24-25). Pagans build little shrines so their gods will inhabit them and the worshipers can earn their gods’ favor. Christians have turned from all that and worship the true and living God, and so we know God doesn’t live in houses we build with sticks and stones (Ac 17:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

A church is not a building we have put up for God to live in and so we can come visit him. A church is an assembly of people who are believers in Jesus Christ and have been joined together following their baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27; Romans 12:5). You should join a true church and be faithful to assemble together because you need them. Yes, you need them. Need is the right word. This is what Paul said to the church at Corinth.

20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
– 1 Corinthians 12:20-26

A church in a location is the body of Jesus Christ. All the members are necessary and need one another. This point is emphasized by the distinction Paul made between higher and lower order members. The eye and the head are higher order members with greater position and capacity than lower order members like hands and feet. Paul’s point is that especially in this case, the eye cannot say he doesn’t need the hand, because he does.

When you say you can stay home and do just as well as going to church, you are saying you don’t need anyone else. You can read the Bible on your own. You can pray to God on your own. You can sing songs of praise to God on your own. You can do all kinds of things on your own, but you cannot fulfill 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 on your own. You cannot manifest the fruit of the Spirit on your own (Galatians 5:22-26). You cannot bear one another’s burdens on your own (Galatians 6:1-10). You cannot be forgiving and display brotherly love on your own (Ephesians 4:31-32; John 13:35). You also cannot come to the unity of faith and perfection of maturity on your own (Ephesians 4:1-16). I say again, you should join a good church because you need them.

To Hold a Baby Bird

But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children:
~ 1 Thessalonians 2:7

This article originally appeared in the Baptists for Liberty newsletter, June/July 2017 edition.

John Feinstein published his 1996 book on professional golf under the title: A Good Walk Spoiled. The phrase probably wasn’t original with him, but it is a great description of the game played in otherwise idyllic settings. I’ve personally experienced the spoiling of a good walk, particularly in my younger days. I continually sought advice on how to improve and get strokes off my game, but to give you the rest of the story; I will just say I’m not a professional golfer today, nor any sort of golfer, really, since I never play.

Golf is much like a lot of things in that you have to start somewhere. It’s unavoidable. Assuming you have the clubs, tees, and enough balls to Johnny Appleseed the woods and lakes of the course, the game of golf begins with the grip. Before you can address the ball or begin a swing, you have to hold the club in some fashion and gripping it like a Louisville Slugger isn’t going to do. The first grip I learned was the Vardon grip, though I later changed to the interlocking grip, which I think was made famous by Jack Nicklaus. I don’t think the change made a lot of difference for me, but I felt like I had done something.

The grip has two parts—the arrangement of the fingers and the pressure. I often heard the analogy that one should grip the club like they were holding a baby bird—firm enough so that the bird could not escape your hand, but not so firm that you crush the bird. This finer point of the grip is lost on most amateurs who white-knuckle the club like they are trying to wring the neck of a disagreeable chicken. While the amateur’s grip may be beneficial for Sunday dinner at the farm, it’s no good for splitting a fairway or finding greens in regulation.

The golf game begins with the grip. Aside from the tense muscles and coiling of the torso to unleash a monster drive down the middle, there must be gentleness to hold the baby bird and not kill it. You need enough pressure to hold the club but not all the pressure you can muster. To play golf, you must strike the ball. In order to strike the ball, you have to grip the club. In order to grip the club for striking accuracy, you have to use the right amount of gentleness in your grip pressure. So my philosophy all comes out to this: golf begins with gentleness.

I realize the readers of this newsletter did not come here for tips on keeping their ball in the short grass. My point is that most amateurs see the game as one of brute strength. They think most of the drive off the tee and how much distance they can get. While a towering drive on a par 5 can give you hopes of an eagle, golf is much more about finesse and delicacy. Accuracy is more important than length. Being farther in the woods is undesirable. This is probably why most amateurs don’t make much progress.

I once played in a foursome with a gentleman in his seventies. I outhit him all day. I consistently drove farther, though he was in the fairway and I was in the rough or trees. He would land on the green while I was over it. He two-putted most of the time and I easily doubled his effort. At the end of the round, his stroke count was also in the seventies and I had made a century. Had we been playing cricket, I would have been bucked up making a century, but it is an open-face shame in golf. It’s the sort of thing that causes many to put down the clubs and take up gardening or bird watching. Obviously, he understood the touch of gentleness the game requires and I nearly came out of my shoes every time I swung.

The Theme of Gentleness

Gentleness is the theme of this edition and this article’s design is to see something of how that theme works out in the life of a church. A church, of course, is a body of baptized, believing disciples who have been organized and joined together for the purpose of doing Jesus’s work on the earth until the end of this age. A church is made up of some number of people holding common membership and assembling together in a location for worship, instruction, and business.

Anyone who has been a part of two or more people trying to work together understands that such an arrangement has challenges. Different levels of maturity, skill, understanding, temperament, schedule, expectation, patience, sensitivity, and personal preference give opportunities for all sorts of problems. Unfortunately, many pastors and church members deal with the problems that pop up like an exuberant twelve-year-old boy playing Whack-A-Mole at the arcade. Mallet firmly in the hand, they bounce back and forth waiting for the next talpid head with beady eyes to pop-up. Then they whack it.

In the life of the church, our grip should begin with gentleness. Though there are times when we must use sharpness and severity, we should overall be characterized by gentleness, or meekness. This is a theme in Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth we call, Second Corinthians. In the general exhortation in the opening of the letter, Paul calls the church members to gentleness by reminding them of God’s comfort to us in tribulation, and having received comfort of God, Paul writes we are “able to comfort them which are in any trouble” (2 Corinthians 1:4). The necessary inference is that they should comfort those among them who are in any trouble.

Before Paul was deep in the letter, he pressed this application on the Corinthians in a specific case. A “punishment” was imposed on a “man” by the “many” (2 Corinthians 2:6). The word for punishment, epitimia, means a penalty. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It was in common use, a word referring to a legal penalty imposed for some infraction against the city/state. It was a punishment for an infringement by one of his own rights of citizenship. The word used for many, pleionon, means the more part, or the greater number. It was used as we would say, majority. It is clear Paul was talking about a man who had been a member of the church who had discipline enacted on him by the church. Some suppose this was the man from 1 Corinthians 5, but that is not certain.

Paul said the punishment was “sufficient,” which meant the discipline had accomplished the purpose of bringing the man to repentance. Paul urged gentleness toward him so they would not increase his sorrow by their severity (2 Corinthians 2:7). He wrote they should “forgive … comfort … confirm … love toward him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8). This is consistent with how he instructed the church at Galatia that they were to restore a repentant one “in a spirit of meekness” (Galatians 6:1).

Paul’s Gentle Example

Paul particularly taught ministers were to be marked by gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25; Titus 3:2). He also modeled gentleness in his ministry (1 Thessalonians 2:7). He likewise taught and modeled it to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 6:3-6, 10-11; 7:9). Paul was deliberate in his gentleness. It was his preferred manner (2 Corinthians 13:10). He could be severe when he believed he needed to be (2 Corinthians 13:2).

Paul was criticized in Corinth because of his gentleness. As is often the case, it was mistaken for weakness and he was put down because of it (2 Corinthians 10:1, 9-10). Paul could be so bold as to be gentle because he had confidence in the work of the Spirit in the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:15; 2:3; 7:16; 8:22; 10:2). He could speak to them the word of God in humility and meekness and have patience for the Spirit’s work. He set an example all ministers and church members should follow because we have confidence in the Spirit (Colossians 3:12-17; Ephesians 4:32).

Hold that Bird

Birds innumerable have met their end in the hands of many church members. Honest questions can be met with immediately hostile answers. The weak can be pushed down rather than helped. Like the Corinthians, we can be in danger of overloading sorrow on a repentant one. Sure, severity is needed at times, but remember it takes wisdom to use severity well. We should also remember that the true wisdom that comes from above is “pure … peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:17-18). May we manifest good “works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). Don’t kill the bird. Start with gentleness. Be guided by wisdom.

Chasing the Willies

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
~ Ecclesiastes 7:10

Where did that thrill go?

Those who know me now see me as a smooth, confident man of affairs and it will be jarring to learn I have not always been so. It might be impossible for you to believe, but it is true. Around third or fourth grade I was a chubby kid in an ill-fitting polo shirt, squirming in a wood and metal desk while listening to a very near-sighted teacher go over multiplication tables. I had hardly been anywhere in life to that point, but I began to hear rumors of a field trip.

Class field trips were usually the sort of event where kids and adults, called chaperones, were shuttled to places like the public library, Cultural Center, or state capitol building. These fine establishments were ready for the influx of pupils and would give out plastic bags with colorful information you would never read and a pencil you would probably lose before you got back home that evening. Chaperones sounded interesting until you saw them and they were just normal people. Of course, after the trips were over, the next item was writing up the dreaded report on the trip. Those reports often went the same way.

“The capitol building is big.”

“The library has a lot of books.”

“The Cultural Center has many old and interesting things inside.”

If there were page or word count requirements, the capitol would become “very big,” the library would have “a whole lot of different books,” and the cultural items would be “very old and very interesting.” One would think teachers would quit requiring such reports, if only to show themselves the mercy of not reading them.

Field trips have been going on in that vein for generations, but the rumors of this field trip were different. It was rumored we were going to a place called Camden Park. If you grew up in the ’80s in south-central West Virginia, you are familiar with Camden Park. You’ve had your hand stamped, rode The Big Dipper, and maybe even listened to Freddy Fender rendering his international hit, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.” Camden Park is an amusement park in Huntington, WV. It has a long history going back into the early twentieth century when it began as a picnic spot by the railroad and grew by adding rides. Its signature ride was a wooden roller coaster named, The Big Dipper.

The rumors were true and we loaded up one day to drive the hour or so it took to get to the state’s only amusement park. That was an exhilarating day. The park seemed enormous to a kid’s eyes and the rides provided a whole day of thrills. I didn’t muster the courage on that first trip to ride the big roller coaster, but I would ride it later. I would visit that park many times over the next few years and it was always a great day.

I drove by the place a few years ago and was underwhelmed. The park looked old and tired and not very big. I appreciate the childhood experiences I had there but know it wouldn’t be the same for me to go there now. No amusement park today could recreate that feeling I had as a kid at such a place. I have taken my own kids to those kind of places and I have a great day with them, but it is a different experience from what they are having and I had when young. No matter what I do, I can’t have that experience again.

Grasping Wind

If next I told you I was going on a quest to recapture the old thrills of my childhood experiences, you might think I’ve cracked up, or you at least know I would be pursuing futility. I can’t become a kid again. If I looked up all my old classmates and headed to Camden Park, it wouldn’t be the same. I can have new experiences but I cannot re-have the old ones. Besides, have you ever noticed the best experiences are had when we are not tying to have an experience?

The thrill comes when we are not trying to have the thrill as an end in itself. Whenever we try to contrive or manufacture a particular experience, it never works. A husband and wife will sometimes try to recapture their honeymoon experience years later on some milestone anniversary. They may end up having a nice time, but it will not be the same. They might even have a better time for some reason, but no matter how much effort they expend to make everything just like it was back then, everything is not like it was back then and neither are they. It really is like trying to grab the wind and hold it in your hand.

What would you say to someone spending a lot of time in life trying to recapture experiences they had previously in life? It’s a vain pursuit. It’s a waste of time. It’s also limiting. We grow and age and leave things behind we can never regain, but there are also things ahead we will never gain if we don’t put our faces into the wind. If we are primarily seeking the thrills, we seem to be missing the point of life as well. Thrills will come and go and as we mature we realize thrills are not ultimately satisfying. This is what C. S. Lewis was getting at when he wrote, “But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life.” 1

As a kid, I thought I wanted to go to Camden Park everyday. I could ride non-stop and inhale the sugar air known as cotton candy until dark. As an adult, I know the folly of those childish thoughts. The thrills would wear off and I would get tired of the park. The steady diet of high sugar in various forms would make me sick to my stomach. On a different level, I know I would be supremely wasting time. I wouldn’t be accomplishing anything worthwhile. I would be losing opportunity to grow, learn, work, do, and become.

Long ago, Solomon pursued pleasure with everything he had, and he had a lot. He found it empty and unsatisfying (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3). To constantly pursue experience and thrills is childish and foolish, even when done in the name of religion or spirituality. When cloaked in a spiritual guise, this folly is not easily recognized. Rather than being decried, the vain pursuit is applauded and promoted as being on fire for God, or experiencing the presence and power of God, walking in the Spirit, etc.

The Holy Ghost Theme Park

Is the Holy Spirit the proprietor of an amusement park? Is he the broker of chills and thrills? Is he the ultimate adrenaline and pleasure button we can push so that a simple church service becomes the setting for exhilaration like that of riding the world’s fastest roller coaster? Is the primary work of the Spirit in a believer’s life to give them the willies every so often? Does the Spirit inspire chaos and confusion?

Paul corrected the Corinthian church for their abuse of spiritual gifts and misunderstanding of the work of the Spirit in their midst in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12 to 14. There was confusion and conflict in the assembly at Corinth and Paul concluded warning them that was not of God, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Paul’s argument was that if they were experiencing the power of the Spirit, then the results would be consistent with the nature and character of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).

The result of the Spirit’s work is not confusion, strife, and disorder because the nature of the Spirit is not that. We know what the fullness of the Spirit means by the prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be filled with the Spirit.

1 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:
4 But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.
5 And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.
– Isaiah 11:1-5

The fullness of the Spirit does not mean ecstatic excitement, but wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of Yahweh, righteousness, and faithfulness. The Spirit’s empowering and enabling is not for some mystical experience, running around, jumping, and hollering. His empowering is for service, just as we see with those who built the tabernacle.

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:
3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,
4 To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,
5 And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.
6 And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee;
7 The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,
8 And the table and his furniture, and the pure candlestick with all his furniture, and the altar of incense,
9 And the altar of burnt offering with all his furniture, and the laver and his foot,
10 And the cloths of service, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office,
11 And the anointing oil, and sweet incense for the holy place: according to all that I have commanded thee shall they do.
– Exodus 31:1-11

The fullness of the Spirit here is seen in terms of wisdom, but also in terms of hard work. What the Spirit inspires is subject to the Father’s will and in step with the Father’s purpose. This was Paul’s prayer for the Spirit’s work in the Colossian church members, and the members of the church in Ephesus as well (Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:16-17). Paul reminded Timothy of the work of the Spirit resulting in a sound mind, which means self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Jesus taught the Spirit rebukes and judges sin (John 16:7-11), guides believers into truth by understanding his written word (John 16:13-14; 17:17), and leads believers into obedience to God’s word (John 14:15-26).

Wherever the power of the Spirit is, there will be conviction and repentance of sin, a prevailing of wisdom and soberness, and serious service for the work of God’s kingdom. Will we continue to be as children seeking thrills and trying to prolong them? Or, will we be mature and seek the Spirit that we may grow in understanding of revealed truth, that we might walk in righteousness before God, and zealously serve him for the glory of his name? We don’t need the Holy Spirit to feel all tingly. A two-story drop or a high-speed loop can give us that. However, no roller coaster, bungee jump, or sky dive can ever increase our wisdom and understanding of God’s truth.

Notes:

  1. Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 111). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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