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November 2003

November 30, 2003

I need to belong not only to a church but also to a small group within the church. Life is meant to be shared and it is best shared with a small group of dedicated friends with whom I can experience true fellowship. The ultimate model for a small group is Jesus’ twelve disciples. He realized that a group that is much bigger than that causes people to shut down. Warren gives several pointers as to what is true fellowship:

  • In real fellowship people experience authenticity. Real fellowship is sharing authentic feelings, thoughts and concerns. It is being willing to make oneself vulnerable. True intimacy as Christians can only occur where there is transparency.
  • In real fellowship people experience mutuality. Mututality involves both giving and receiving. In true fellowship I will give of myself and expect to receive from others. This may involve accountability, encouragement, serving and honoring.
  • In real fellowship people experience sympathy. Sympathy is sharing in the pain of others. In true fellowship I will feel the pain of those I fellowship with. In the darkest, worst days of my life I will have the assurance that others will be there for me, to help me and to stand by me.
  • In real fellowship people expect mercy. In true fellowship I need to offer and receive mercy. I need to be willing to be merciful to others, realizing that my faults are as great as theirs’. I will never be asked to forgive someone else more than God has already forgiven me.

The chapter closes with a discussion of the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a must. I am required to forgive those who hurt me and to do so immediately and unconditionally. Trust, on the other hand, needs to be earned. I do not need to trust people as soon as I forgive them.

Bible Passages

Warren quotes the Bible fourteen times using nine translations and paraphrases. On the whole the passages are quoted with reasonable accuracy and used in their proper context. The Message’s version of James 5:16 offers more than the literal translation and the same is true for 1 Corinthians 12:25. He also quotes Colossians 3:13 twice in the same paragraph using different translations which present different meanings.

Point to Ponder

Today’s point to ponder is “I need others in my life.” This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Prior to coming to my current church I had never experienced a small group. I had heard of Sunday schools and Bible studies, but never the concept of a home church. In our church that involves a group of about six to twelve people meeting once a week to study the Bible and fellowship with eachother. It is where the heart of the church’s ministry really happens. Having experienced true fellowship like that, I cannot imagine going without. My home church is my life blood. It is a time to share what has happened in the past week. It is a time to share trials and hardships as well as praise and thanksgiving. It is a time to have others share in my Christian walk and to share in the walks of others. To me it should be an indispensable part of any church. In many ways I believe attendance at a small group to be equally or even more important than attendance at weekly church services! Rick Warren has had a great influence on the modern church and I believe that the emphasis on small groups may be his greatest contribution.

I am eighteen days into The Purpose Driven Life and am finding that last two days the best part of the experience thus far. I am looking forward to continuing the journey.

Up Next

Tomorrow’s topic is Cultivating Community

November 29, 2003

God does not just call us to believe; He also calls us to belong to His family. The Bible shows that from the beginning of creation “it was not good for man to be alone.” We were formed to be part of a body of believers. The Bible speaks of a human body and shows that each part of the body is dependent on the others (though it gives no mention of the tonsils or appendix!). So in the Christian family each member plays a critical role and needs to depend on the others.

Warren provides several reasons I need to be part of a church family:

  • A church family identifies me as a genuine believer. I prove my faith by showing love to other members of God’s family. This can only be done within the fellowship of a church.
  • A church family moves me out of self-centered isolation. Relationships with other Christians will teach me how to love unconditionally. It will fulfill the Biblical model of being committed to and dependent upon other believers.
  • A church family helps me develop spiritual muscle. Being part of a church family will help me grow to maturity in my faith.
  • The body of Christ needs me. Every Christian has a unique gift or ministry. It is wrong to deny these God-given gifts to the church.
  • I will share Christ’s mission in the world. The church is God’s instrument on earth to fulfill His work. By being part of a church I can share in that mission.
  • A church family will help keep me from backsliding. As part of a church family I will have other Christians to keep me accountable and to ensure that I do not backslide. This is the responsibility of all believers.

After a plug for The Purpose Driven Church Warren shows the importance of not just being an attender of church, but of being a member – one who contributes to the church and to the mission of the church. By becoming a Christian I am committing myself to Christ and by becoming a member of a church I am committing myself to a group of believers.

I found today’s chapter inspiring and enlightening. It is probably the highlight of the book for me thus far.

Bible Passages

Warren quotes the Bible twenty eight times using seven translations and paraphrases. Generally speaking he uses the Bible within its proper context. The bulk of the verses are quoted in a reasonable translation.

Point to Ponder

Today’s point to ponder is “I am called to belong, not just believe.” I had a discussion about this with a friend just a few weeks ago. He professes Christ but does not feel the need to attend church. He tells how he has felt betrayed by church before and feels that he does not need a church in his life. I tried to explain to him that church isn’t all about receiving, but that it is also about giving. It is easy to say that there is nothing he can gain from church, but it is downright selfish to say that there is nothing he can contribute to a church.

I am thankful to be part of a church that believes in maximizing every member’s contribution to the church. My church believes that each and every person has a unique gift that can be used to benefit the church. The pastors do their best to determine how each person is gifted and then ensure that people are using their gifts in a ministry that can use those specific talents.

Up Next

Tomorrow’s topic is Experiencing Life Together

November 28, 2003

This is part four of our series studying the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. Please note that this is only a brief overview of a vast topic. A thorough discussion of this topic can (and often has) filled many books. At the conclusion of the series I will provide a list of helpful resources should you wish to pursue this study further.

Today we turn our attention to a comparison of the two views. I present this as a “quick and dirty” summary of the opposing views. Remember that not all Calvinists hold to all of the points I have listed below. Similarly, not all Arminians believe all of the points below.

November 28, 2003

Life is all about love. Because God is love – because He is the greatest example of love and because He embodies love – he wants me to spend my life loving others. Love is the foundation of every law and commandment He has given. Though I am called to love everyone in the world, I am to give special attention to the members of God’s family. The love that Christians show to each other is proof to the world of how God can work in lives and serves as a great testimony to His power.

Warren gives several reasons why love needs to have top priority in my life:

  1. Life without love is really worthless. The only thing I can take to heaven with me is relationships. I can spend my whole life working but the second I die I lose all of my money and everything I own. But the people I meet, spend time with and love (and maybe even lead to the Lord) – I get to spend eternity with them!
  2. Love will last forever. Love is eternal. Love does not end when my life ends. Love has eternal implications. Unfortunately Warren decided to quote Mother Teresa here. He quotes her as saying, “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.” Not only is that statement devoid of any real meaning, it’s also just plain false. It is a shame that he couldn’t use a better quote there.
  3. We will be evaluated on our love. Spiritual maturity can be partly measured by the quality of my relationships. When I die God will review how I treated other people and if I truly loved them.

Warren then turns to a discussion of how love is best expressed through my time. I can learn about what I really love by examining how much time I spend doing various activities. Do I spend my time with my wife and children or do I spend it alone? Do I spend my time with friends? My time is an indication of my love.

Bible Passages

Warren quotes the bible seventeen times using eight translations and paraphrases. Generally he quotes the Bible within its proper context.

Question To Consider

Today’s question to consider is “Honestly, are my relationships my first priority? How can I ensure that they are?” I became convicted a few months ago that I needed to take a good look at how I spend my time. I was quite surprised to see how selfish I was with my time. And even more surprising was how much time I wasted. I found that I had the incredible talent of spending hours just frittering away my time. I could spend hours sitting at my desk “working” but getting nothing done. I could spend hours in the living room with my children without spending any quality time with them. So I made some changes. I cut out some activities that were dragging me away from the family. I really tried to make it a priority to spend time with my friends. And I think it has worked. I generally am a better steward of my time now, which also makes me a better steward of relationships.

Up Next

Tomorrow’s topic is A Place To Belong

November 27, 2003
God made me to be part of his family. So begins my study into the second purpose of my life. God, who already had perfect relationships within the Godhead, desired a family to bring Him glory. The only way to be part of God’s family is to be born again as a child of God. God has extended a universal call for all people to join His family (see my articles on Calvinism and Arminianism for more information about general and particular calls).

There are many benefits to being part of God’s family. Among them are: the family name, the family likeness, family privileges, family intimate access and the family inheritance. Everything God has now belongs to us!

Warren now turns to a discussion of baptism and to how it is a symbol of our identity with God’s family. Baptism signifies that I am part of God’s family. As such, it should not be delayed or put off. The Bible tells us to be baptized as soon as we believe. It is out first act of obedience after becoming Christians.

That we are part of God’s family is an incredible honor and privilege. Nothing in all the world can compare to this.

Bible Passages

Warren quotes the Bible twenty three times using four translations and paraphrases. He quotes the New Living Translation’s version of Ephesians 1:5 which reads, “His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.” This loses much of the meaning of the verse. There is great beauty and comfort in that verse that is lost in the translation. Compare to the NASB which reads, “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” Of course as a Calvinist a literal translation of this verse is very important! James 1:18 is quoted in the Living Bible paraphrase which, again, loses much of the meaning of the verse. There are several more poor choices of translation in this chapter, but for sake of time I will not mention them all.

Question To Consider

Today’s question to consider is “How can I start treating other believers like members of my own family?” I have been blessed to be part of an incredible group of believers through my church. My Home Church (similar to a Bible study group or a cell group) is the most amazing group I have ever been part of. Through that small group of Christians I have learned so much about Christian community. I have learned about the value of bearing one another’s burdens; of the need sometimes to confess to each other; of the need to have friends who will love unconditionally and of the need to have a relationship where we really are family. I can’t imagine having to live my life without a group like that. What is difficult for us at times is to extend that family. We are so close-knit that it can be difficult to desire to extend the group to more people. However, we have recently been learning the importance of treating all members of the Christian family equally. As we have come to this realization, we have seen the family grow and have rejoiced at the new relationships. God is good.

Up Next

Tomorrow’s topic is What Matters Most

November 26, 2003

This is part three of our series studying the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. Please note that this is only a brief overview of a vast topic. A thorough discussion of this topic can (and often has) filled many books. At the conclusion of the series I will provide a list of helpful resources should you wish to pursue this study further.

Today we turn our attention to the “five points of Arminianism” which arose in response to Calvin’s teachings.

Jacobus Arminius (1559 – 1609) was born in The Netherlands and spent the majority of his life as a pastor in that country. From the beginning of his pastorate he came under fire for teaching theology that was contrary to Calvinism, which was already a well-established system of theology. He taught that human free will and God’s sovereignty could be reconciled and also denied the doctrine of Irresistible Grace.

As Calvinism can not be understood without a proper understanding of man’s depravity, so Arminianism is dependent on understanding human free will. Arminians believe that God has given humans free will in all areas. Although the term “free will” is widely used, there are different understandings of it.

November 26, 2003

Sometimes in my life God feels distant, but I need to realize that He is real and He is there, even when it doesn’t feel like it. It is always easy to be worshipful when life is good, but when times are tough am I able to worship God? It is in the times of trouble that real relationships are forged.

God may feel distant, even if I am a close friend of His. David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart” even felt far from God at times. Many of the Psalms he wrote beg God to make His presence felt. Warren ascribes this to God testing us. God will often withdraw His presence from us to test us and to see if we will remain faithful even when we cannot feel Him. Warren points out that though we may feel that it is our sin that is making us feel this way, that is rarely so. I beg to differ on this point. I have found in my life that when God feels distant it is almost always because I am pushing Him away. My sin has driven a wedge between myself and Him.

Warren then teaches that a common mistake many Christians make is to seek an experience in worship rather than simply bringing glory to God. If they feel what they were looking for they conclude that they have worshiped. This is, of course, not what God intends for worship. We need to seek God, not a feeling.

The chapter concludes with some points on how I am to act when God feels distant. I am to tell God exactly how I feel, focus on God’s unchanging nature, trust God to keep his promises and remember what He has already done for me. When I focus on these things I will remember that He is and always has been faithful to me. I will have no reason to doubt His love and concern for me.

Bible Passages

Warren quotes the Bible twenty one times in this chapter using six translations and paraphrases. A couple of the passages concern me. He provides a lengthy quote of Job 23:8-10 in the New Living Translation which reads vastly different than the NASB. The NLT “interprets” the verses rather than simply translating them. Compare also Today’s English Versions rendering of Job 7:11 which reads “I can’t be quiet! I am angry and bitter: I have to speak!” to the NASB, “There I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” The TEV seems to convey anger where the more accurate NASB conveys sorrow and bitterness.

Though not concerned with Bible passages, I am going to note my concern with some of the authors Warren quotes. In this chapter he quotes St John of the Cross (a Catholic mystic who was a devout follower of Mary) and Henri Nouwen (a Catholic theologian). I don’t think either one is a trustworthy source to teach us about true Christianity.

Question To Consider

Today’s question to consider is “How can I stay focused on God’s presence, especially when He feels distant.” I believe the key is to examine how and when I began to feel distant. Did I start to feel distant after a certain event? After I committed a certain sin? Is there a sin I need to confess to God and then perhaps to someone else? When I have cleared the slate with God and my friends and family I need to turn to His word. The Bible contains all the wisdom I need to be assured of God’s closeness to me. The Bible provides comfort and strength. If, after turning to God and to His word I still do not feel God’s presence that is when I would start to believe that God might be testing me. In that case I need to continue to read the Bible and to draw strength from Biblical figures, such as Job or Paul, who faced trials and persevered.

Up Next

Tomorrow’s topic is Formed For God’s Family

November 25, 2003

This is part two of our series studying the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. Please note that this is only a brief overview of a vast topic. A thorough discussion of this topic can (and often has) filled many books. At the conclusion of the series I will provide a list of helpful resources should you wish to pursue this study further.

Today we turn our attention to the “five points of Calvinism.”

John Calvin (1509 – 1564) was born in France, but lived most of his life in Geneva Switzerland. Though a contemporary of Martin Luther, he was a generation removed and never met him. Calvin, like Luther, formed theology that was based on an understanding of the errors of Roman Catholicism, specifically the belief in a works-based salvation. Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” which laid the foundation for his system of theology, were first published in 1536.

A proper understanding of Calvinism is fully dependant on understanding Calvin’s view of man’s depravity. He taught that man, who once enjoyed perfect fellowship and communion with God, had his very nature changed through the fall into sin.