Author Archives: Jim
People have been living and dying for Christ for over 2000 years and history is full of wonderful examples of men and women who followed Christ faithfully. We can learn a lot from studying their lives. Yet, there is something truly compelling about those who suffer for Him and pay the ultimate price for their faith.
When I read the historical record of what some of these ancient brothers and sisters went through, it challenges me deeply. I often wonder how I would respond in such situations. I guess we won’t ever know unless and until we find ourselves in the same place. The one thing I can say with certainty is Read the rest of this entry
You are in charge of planning, preparing and executing one third to one half of the entire service. How well you do that is essential to the people you are charged with leading week after week.
I know there is a lot more to being a good song leader than what the congregations hears on Sunday morning. It takes a lot of work away from the stage to create a service that effectively inspires God’s people to worship rather than being entertained. The responsibility for that lies squarely on your shoulders. In that sense, it IS all about you. It is about how you view the gathering and how you prepare for it.
Choosing Better Songs
If you want the majority of the men and women in the congregation to sing with the team, you Read the rest of this entry
It doesn’t matter which study you read about the church, because they all say pretty much the same thing: The church is in decline.
The church is in trouble. I don’t need to read a study to know this. I have observed it over the years in countless churches that I have visited. Churches are weak and though they may have exciting services, they are largely failing to develop strong, grounded and mature Christians. The church at large (there are exceptions, of course) is also failing to impact the lost around her.
The statistics on this are over-whelming and should stop every pastor and leader dead in their tracks so that we immediately fall on our knees to cry out to the Lord “What are we doing wrong?” Sooner or later that will have to happen. Let’s pray it is the former!
Is This Decline the Result of a Flawed Church Model?
I have a theory. It goes something like this: The decline we are seeing in the church is directly related to Read the rest of this entry
What is that event? Most Americans can’t answer that question so we share the answer here:
The World Cup!
That time is upon us, it starts on Thursday.
Not many people know this, but over here at Not For Itching Ears, we are hard core futbol, or soccer fans. We watch every single game. No matter what time the game is on, we watch it. What’s not to like about it? 204 teams compete over a three year period to win an invitation to the World Cup, which happens every 4 years. The host country team gets in free. So there is some great competition.
To make room in our schedule, Not For Itching Ears will be on vacation until the World Cup ends. We have priorities, so we will also be foregoing all yard work. All items on the “Honey Do” List have been temporarily removed. We were supposed to be in Brasil for the games, but alas, we are not!
Soccer is God’s greatest gift for world evangelism. It is an instant conversation starter. Just ask ANY non-American, male or female, who they are rooting for or what they think or their countries chances and you’ll have a 5 – 10 minute conversation about soccer. After that, the rest is up to you.
Our staff is rooting for in this order:
1. The USA and Ecuador (it’s a tie actually) Neither will win, but Ecuador has the best chance of advancing out of their group. Sadly, the USA is in the “Group of Death”
2. Any South American Country
The teams we most want to lose: Ghana, (sorry friends, you have beaten us one to many times) and Mexico. You can’t throw beer bottles at the USA team on their home field in the USA and expect us NOT to despise your team (we love you though!)
Take my advice: Stop blogging for a month and enjoy the World Cup. See you Mid-July! If you don’t know much about it check out this article on the Ten things Non-Soccer Fans Need To Know About the World Cup.
I often find nourishment for my faith when I read and pray through old prayers. Sure, the church has changed over the years. What it means to follow Christ in a fallen world hasn’t. Those who have faithfully walked the walk before us down through the ages, though gone, can still minister to us. One of the ways this can happen is when we read and prayer the prayers they left behind.
Today, I share with you a 1600 year old prayer from Basil The Great. I have updated it for the modern reader. The Thee’s and Thou’s have been changed.
O God and Lord of the Powers, and Maker of all creation,
Who, because of Your clemency and incomparable mercy,
did send Your Only-Begotten Son and our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind,
and with His venerable Cross did tear asunder the record of our sins,
and thereby did conquer the rulers and powers of darkness;
receive from us sinful people, O merciful Master, these prayers of gratitude and supplication,
and deliver us from every destructive and gloomy transgression,
and from all visible and invisible enemies who seek to injure us.
Nail down our flesh with fear of You,
and let not our hearts be inclined to words or thoughts of evil,
but pierce our souls with Your love, that ever contemplating You, being enlightened by You, and discerning You, the unapproachable and everlasting Light,
we may unceasingly render confession and gratitude to You:
The eternal Father,
with Your Only-Begotten Son,
and with Your All-Holy, Gracious, and Life-Giving Spirit,
now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
We don’t often re-blog things over here at Not For Itching ears. Today, we ran across an excellent article about how to identify those modern churches that most closely resemble the early church. It’s a great article that we wanted to share. If you care about the church, we think this thought provoking and detailed analysis by our friends over at Finite Reflections of Infinity will be well worth your time! Which modern church most accurately resembles the early church? Read on and find the answer.
Originally posted on Finite Reflections of Infinity:
Will the real Church please stand up? Go to a phone directory of any moderately sized settlement and see if the listings for “churches” don’t rapidly get bewildering. Indeed, such an exercise is often an education into varieties of Christianity we didn’t know existed! How should those who worship Christ sort through this denominational chaos?
One method frequently suggested by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Disciples of Christ (along with a few Baptists, on occasion) is to look at the evidence for early Christianity and see which contemporary denomination is most similar to the churches of the apostles and their successors. This is the argument from similarity. I recently read a blog post making this argument against Protestants of all stripes, and a commentator here pressed me to consider the same line of reasoning. It was not the first time. I have heard this argument made in favor of multiple different branches of contemporary Christianity. I…
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We love to discuss those things we are passionate about, don’t we? Be it our favorite football team (THE Washington Redskins), politics, sports, movies, cultural issues. Heck we even argue about beer! Remember the Miller Lite commercials? For years, Miller Lite drinkers, including the likes of Rodney Dangerfield and John Madden, bickered back and forth on our TV sets. The argument? What made Miller Lite such a great beer. Some said the drink tasted great. Others said it was less filling. Though they were very entertaining commercials, it makes one wonder: Don’t we have anything better to discuss than beer?
Of course we do! Over here at Not For Itching Ears, we’ve been spending a lot of time talking about a topic that is higher up the food chain: Worshipping God. If you read these posts (millions of people do each hour) Read the rest of this entry
That’s how much our worship of God adds to God. Our “worship” doesn’t enhance Him and our lack of worship doesn’t take anything away from Him. Put another way, God doesn’t need our worship. In fact God doesn’t need anything from us: our money, our time, our dedication, our service.
Theologians refer to this as God’s Independence:
“God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.” Grudem, Systematic Theology.
The New Testament states it this way:
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. Acts 17:24-25
Is God An Egomaniac?
Think about this: If God does not need our worship, why does he require that we worship him and him alone?
Is it because he is the ultimate egomaniac?
Is it because he loves to hear the sound of his own name on the lips of his adoring fans?
No. When we look at God’s acts in history that is not the picture we see. It must be something else.
We All Worship Something
Humans are pretty predictable. We are the ultimate evaluators. We evaluate everything in life and prioritize them according to what we think is best. For example, I highly value guitars. But I value my wife and children more. There is really no comparison; I rank family higher in importance. What do I value more than family? Whatever the answer to that questions is, I may value something even more than that. I can keep going up the ladder of importance until I finally reach that one thing I esteem more than anything or anyone else.
Whatever that thing or person is, that is what we worship. We all worship someone or something, even if it is ourselves!
God Doesn’t Need Our Worship…We Need It!
I submit to you that God doesn’t need our worship; we need the worship we offer him. I think that is why God demands our devotion. There is no other thing or being more worthy of our ultimate devotion than Him. It has been said that we become like that which we worship. God, in his mercy, created us to become like him. If that is going to happen, then we must actively place him at the top of our Top Ten List of Things I Value The Most.
Looking at worship this way means leads us to conclude that worship, though directed at God, is truly meant to serve humanity.
We are to worship God, not ourselves.
But God demands our worship, NOT for himself but for the good of his people.
At least, that’s the way I see it.
On a side note, that is one of the reasons I am so passionate and often critical about corporate worship. It has the potential to truly shape us, but we often squander those opportunities because we don’t understand what worship is and why God demands it of us.
Your challenge is that most people are going to believe EVERYTHING you teach. When you stand in the pulpit and teach God’s word, you better make sure you know what you are talking about!”
I have never forgotten how my Greek professor started that Intro to Greek class. He laid out a challenge to the entire class that has shaped me all these years. When I was preaching every week, it guided my preparation time. It is why I spent 30-40 hours every week as a pastor studying the texts I was teaching on. I took it THAT seriously.
A lot of us out here in the blogosphere know how to study the scriptures for ourselves. We read books and articles all the time that help shape our faith and practice. Still, vast majorities of people rely on the church corporately and pastors specifically to teach them the faith. How are we doing?
According to a report by George Barna, the church is failing miserably in this area. “Believers” know less and less about God and understand the Bible less and less. Yet it is the Church’s job to make disciples and to “Teach them to Obey everything I (Jesus) commanded you.”
Why is this happening? If you read this blog, you know that I don’t lack an opinion on this!
Could one of those reasons be the failure of our younger pastors to grasp the significance of their preaching task? I have been to over 30 40 different churches in the last 8 years. One of the things I have noticed is the casual manner that a majority of pastors have towards their preaching. I can tell when someone has prepared. It is obvious to a wordsmith when a fellow wordsmith has put in the study and preparation time. It is just as obvious when they are winging it.
From what I have seen, many pastors are winging it!
The reasons for this can be summed up into to broad categories: Time Management and Skill/training
Pastoring has never been an easy job. Preaching week after week is not for the faint of heart. The demands of today’s ministry on a pastor’s time only make it harder to be faithful in your study. I am no longer pastoring, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get quiet alone time to study in today’s world.
For many pastors, there just isn’t enough time to adequately study AND keep up with the ever increasing demands of today’s ministry. The only solution I know for this is to let other things go. Pastor, if you find that you don’t have time week after week to study the word and show yourself approved, you need cut other less valuable things out of your schedule. You know what those things are.
The other issue that may be causing this “Wing It!” mentality is a lack of skill in studying the Bible. Judging by what I’ve seen, our seminaries may no longer teach Hermeneutics. I doubt they are teaching Homiletics. If you don’t know how to study a text or passage, and you are a preacher, you need to stop reading this and go learn how to do it!
When you stand in that pulpit to teach God’s word, we are listening! We are ready to believe what you teach. Many of us will believe what you teach even when you are off base and wrong, due to a lack of serious thought on the text. For our sake, and for His sake, take some extra time and prepare the way you should.
If your pastor is already doing this, rejoice! Send him a note and thank him! Encourage him to keep doing it! Find out when he studies and never call or email or text him during those times, unless it is a real emergency. Teach others in the congregation to do the same. Help guard your pastors study time, and you, he and the entire congregation will be the better for it!
I asked, as my friend looked on in utter disbelief at what had just been said. We had been discussing the state of the church in its four major divisions: Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant. (For the sake of brevity, I have lumped all us Protestants into one category. I don’t have time to list us all!)
“Of course THE Church matters to God”, he replied, “He died to give it birth!
I can’t argue with that!
What perplexes me though, is that there are so many different types of churches. Clearly a lack of unity within THE church has eluded us. Catholics believe in purgatory, the other three divisions of the church, don’t. That is a pretty significant difference. We can’t all agree on how many books are actually in God’s Holy Word! That also seems significant. Some of the churches teach that how one lives has absolutely nothing to do with one’s salvation, while others teach that it has a lot to do with it, still others are somewhere in-between. Maybe it is just how I think about things, but I would have to say this one is a critical difference of doctrine. We have Catholic decrees calling the Reformers heretics, and we have the Reformers labeling the Pope the anti-Christ. Orthodox and Catholics are at odds over one word in the Creed among other substantial issues. We can’t even seem to agree on the purpose of Christianity.
Then we have us Protestants who agree to disagree!
We agree that Jesus Christ died on the cross for “our” sins, but we can’t disagree on who is included in “our”. We believe there is such an important and critical thing as the Atonement, but can’t agree on what it actually entails. We believe that people worked miracles, but can’t seem to agree on when or IF that has stopped. We can’t agree on how a church should conduct itself in worship. We can’t agree on something as simple as how a person actually comes to Christ. We can’t agree on what it means to follow Christ. We don’t agree on a host of important issues.
The world looks at us and sees “Christian” sects that argue amongst themselves and who can’t seem to agree on the essentials. We are divided, pure and simple. Stating otherwise is foolish and wishful thinking.
“Maybe it doesn’t matter to Him?”
Of course, Jesus did pray for “those who would believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one…May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” (John 17:20-21, 23.) Unity was important enough to pray for on the eve of the crucifixion. It would seem the Father didn’t answer that one in the affirmative. Or am I missing something?
Why would God have allowed that to happen?
Many Protestants believe that around 300AD the real church was infiltrated and perverted by the Catholic Church. As a result, the true Gospel was lost.
If the church is so important to Him, and if the purity of the Gospel and the doctrinal teachings that stem from understanding it correctly matter so much, why didn’t he step in at such a critical moment to stop the hijacking of the Church? Why would God allow the church to embrace a false gospel that would consign its followers to hell? Why didn’t he intervene? Why didn’t he put a quick end to it? I find these questions a bit troubling.
Of Course Catholics believe that the Reformers are the real usurpers. Who can blame them? After all, the church had existed virtually unchanged for 1500 years, until Luther and the young punk come along and want to change the whole thing. It is understandable that they got together at Trent and called the Reformers heretics.
Here’s the compelling issue for me: In both cases, God did not stop the supposed error from taking root. Make no mistake about it; God knew what the result would be of doing nothing to stop these movements. Because of the omniscient nature of God, combined with His foreknowledge, the ensuing doctrinal mess would not have surprised him. He knew it would happen if He did nothing, and he did…. nothing. Think about that!
We do know that if God wanted to step in and crush the rebellions, he could have. He did that very thing during the Exodus when Korah and his crew openly challenged Moses leadership of the young Israel. Read about it in Numbers 16. The gist of it is that God caused the ground to open up and swallow the leaders of the rebellion, their families and everything they owned! Rebellion over. Case closed. God’s leadership of his people settled.
But that is not what he did in 300AD. That is not what he did when the West and East Split. It is not what he did at the beginning of the Reformation. In all three cases, God allowed it to stand. In all three instances, The Father had the opportunity to answer the Son’s prayer for unity, but chose not to. Even when, in the case of the Reformers, God knew that a Pandora’s Box of doctrinal disunity would surely result if He did not act. Still, he refrained.
This brings me back to my conversation with my friend. Most assuredly, the doctrinal differences we have killed others for matter to us. They are a big deal. But do they matter to God?
Before you get the kindling and light the match to burn me alive at the stake for the heretic that I am, realize that I am not saying that God does not care about the Gospel or the church. That is not what I am saying at all. Actually, I don’t know what to think about all this. This is a conversation I have been having, largely in my own mind, for quite some time. I thought I would put it out there for others to interact with and see how you might approach the topic.
Why do you think God did nothing to stop any of these movements?
Read another thought provoking post on worship: God Does Not Need Our Worship…We Need It!
Enjoy this satirical look at modern worship lyrics. Song writers were challenged to write a worship song using the name of Soap Opera’s as their dominant lyrics. Hilarious, and surprisingly similar to the typical worship song being written and sung in churches across the USA.
If you are like me, you might not even know what the Orthodox Church is!
The Orthodox view salvation and the purpose of mankind through a different lens than most Protestants do. In this short video, you will see a very accurate portrayal of mainstream protestant soteriology which you will recognize immediately. You will also be introduced to the Orthodox view.
After you watch it, come back and share your thoughts about the video. Which view best represents the Gospel in your opinion?
Hard to put down.
Effortless introduction into the writings of the early church.
“We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them” is a must read book for every Christian. It contains two early church writings: Justin Martyrs First Apology and Octavius, written by Mark Felix.
If you want an introduction into how the early church thought about Jesus, Salvation, predestination, communion and life after death, and how they lived out the faith, this is the easiest introduction I know. Thanks to the modern translation, the works practically read themselves.
Next to the Bible, the early Christian writings are the most valuable documents of Christianity. They teach us what the church was like immediately after the events recorded in the New Testament. What a rich resource they are. Yet, for many followers of Christ , they remain a mystery. You know all about the history of the United States and how it started. You probably know a lot about how your own denomination began or at least how the Reformation started. Shouldn’t we all be familiar with how Christianity grew in the first and second century?
Don’t stay in the dark. Read this book: “We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them”
When a second-century pagan ridiculed Christians for their lack of education, one Christian replied, “We don’t speak great things we live them!” That was the essence of early Christianity. It was not a Christianity of words, but rather of holy, obedient living.
This book contains two second-century Christian works, translated into readable contemporary English: Mark Felix’s Octavius and Justin Martyr’s First Apology. They describe the dynamic, living church of the second century and discuss what Christians of that age believed.
The First Apology of Justin Martyr is the oldest Christian apology still in existence in its entirety. Justin penned this work at the risk of his own life. Apart from the inspired New Testament writings, this apology is perhaps the single most valuable work of early Christianity. Through it, we can take a peek through time to see what Christianity was like at the close of the apostolic age. For example, Justin takes us on a tour of a Christian baptism and a typical Sunday morning church service. He lets us know what Christians in his age believed about Jesus, salvation, predestination, communion, and life after death.
Octavius, written by a Christian lawyer named Mark Felix, takes a look at Christianity from both the pagan and Christian view points. It’s not only one of the most readable early Christian works, but it’s also a true work of literature. Felix writes in a graceful style that rivals that of Cicero, and his defense of Christianity is truly inspiring. In the end, Octavius is more than a challenge to the pagan Romans it’s a challenge to the twentieth century church as well.
“We Don’t Speak Great Things – We Live Them” Justin Martyr and Mark Felix
This has been one of our favorite slogans since the 1960’s. It seems that the American church has adopted a similar pragmatic view for church: “If it makes people come to church, we should do it.” Today, church leaders of every persuasion are willing to try anything if it works in drawing more people into their services. If it “works” then it must be fine and stamped with the approval of God Himself.
I can hear you now saying “Of course this is true! Why on earth wouldn’t it be?”
Because it wasn’t!
One of the things that is clear for any to examine is that… Read the rest of this entry
Can I worship God any way I want to?
Does church leadership have biblical authority to design a worship service anyway they think is best?
Judging by the state of worship in the American Evangelical church, the answer is Yes to both questions. And boy do we ever take this permission seriously!
It would appear that Read the rest of this entry
#10 We have the best worship team in town filled with young, uber-talented musicians and singers.
#9 Our worship team recently recorded a cutting edge worship CD (You can buy it for $13).
#8 We have state of the art sound and lighting systems that allow you to hear and feel the worship, as well as experience worship in a way you can’t at other local churches.
#7 Worshipping in song is the best and highest form of corporate worship. We do it with excellence and we do it a lot! If you like music, you are going to love our worship!
#6 Come as you are. You can wear whatever you feel comfortable in. People wear everything from business casual to jeans and T-shirts
#5 We have GREAT coffee drinks (for sale) and you can bring the drinks with you into the auditorium.
#4 We have free wi-fi available throughout our facility and it is available at all times
#3 Our services are short! Each of our 3 services is only 70 minutes long
#2 Our pastor is an incredibly gifted speaker who is VERY funny. Each week you will hear a short inspirational talk based on our pastors life experience or the experience of others that is always relevant to your life. There is usually a Bible verse or two sprinkled throughout the talk to help inspire you to live your life to the fullest.
#1 Our services are FUN! We have eliminated the old school, boring liturgical stuff from our worship which many of the other churches in town still utilize. We won’t ask you to stand or sit or kneel. There are no corporate readings or corporate prayers or communion. Just cutting edge worship and inspirational words.
I have compiled these “reasons” from church websites and church advertising in my area. Before you write to correct me, realize that this post is a joke. The sad part about it is that they are real reasons that actual churches have given. Well, I have added my special touch to the reasons. Nevertheless, the gist of them is spot on.
Some will object to the competitive nature of the post. The “Our Church is Better Than the Rest” idea is abhorrent, I agree. However, that idea is rampant in our church advertising. It is sometimes subtle, sometimes over the top, but often present for anyone to see. At least I see it.
Some will see nothing wrong in the Top 10 Reasons I have listed. Others, will be able to spot what is missing easily. Still others, will have to look harder until they see what is missing. Feel free to throw daggers, share thoughts or comment as you see fit!
Thanks for visiting us here at http://www.NotForItchingEars.com
Last week we posted a poll called “Do You Know How The Early Church (pre 150AD) Spotted A False Prophet” (Take the poll!) In it, we gave respondents 5 answers to choose from and only one choice was correct. It is important to note that this poll did not include all the ways the early church spotted a false prophet. Also, the one correct choice was taken from the Didache, a respected early church document written sometime between 50AD and 150AD. Do you know the right answer? Let us look at them one at a time:
5. They Believed The Gifts of The Spirit Had Not Ceased. FALSE! 6% of respondents identified this as the correct answer.
4. They Taught That There Were Two Ways Only: The Way of Life or The Way of Death: FALSE, and almost 13% of respondents chose this as the answer,
3. They Taught that People had Free Will and Could Choose to Follow Christ. FALSE! 13% of those polled chose this as the correct answer which would be a popular answer for followers of Calvin.
2. They Taught that Water Baptism Could be Done Without Immersion, FALSE! It is not surprising that this answer was chosen by 19% of those who took the poll. However, the early church did not make as big a deal about this as modern day Protestants. They preferred immersion in running water, but allowed pouring water over the head if running water was not available.
Fifty percent of respondents chose the correct answer. So, how did the church spot a false prophet? Drum roll pleeeeeease!
1. They Asked For Money!
“Now concerning the apostles and prophets, deal with them as follows in accordance with the rule of the gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be welcomed as if he were the Lord. But he is not to stay for more than one day, unless there is need, in which case he may stay another. But if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle leaves, he is to take nothing except bread until he finds his next nights lodging. But if he asks for money, he is a false prophet. Didache 11:3-6
Think about this. If they asked for money, they were to be considered false prophets. Why do you think the early church used this as part of the criteria? Just as importantly, why do we not use this criteria today and if we did, how would things change?
BONUS: Here’s another way the Didache instructed believers to recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing: They did not practice what they preached!
“If any prophet teaches the truth, yet does not practice what he teaches, he is a false prophet.” Didache 11:10
Justin writing around 160 AD describes the early church’s view on free will in his First Apology chapter 43 and 44. It seems to be diametrically opposed to what Calvin taught on the subject. Hmmm, could Calvin be wrong?
But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. …
But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.
Breaking: Church Service in 2nd Century Revealed