God’s 7 Exercises for Mental Wellness

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By Kevin Cauley 2/21/2017

The Bible is the greatest book ever written for man and the words of the Bible prove this fact over and over again. It has been said that it is the “owner’s” manual for life. Certainly it was written by the one who knows man best-his Creator. Just as we would look to the owner’s manual for our automobiles, houses, and other items we possess to become more intimately acquainted with these items, so also we should look to the Bible to become more intimately acquainted with ourselves. Modern psychologists have nothing to boast greater than the principles set down for man’s well being in the Bible. Perhaps no clearer example of this can be found than in the book of Philippians.

Paul wrote the book of Philippians to thank the brethren in Philippi for the monetary gift that they had sent Paul by the hands of Epaphroditus (1:4,5; 4:18). But Epaphroditus also brought some additional news to Paul regarding the church a Philippi. They had heard about Paul’s current imprisonment and were worried about him (1:30). Paul comforts the church by letting them know that this situation he is in resulted in the increase of the gospel (1:12). He also relates to them that he hopes that he will soon be released from his imprisonment and will visit them again (1:25, 26). However, Paul wants them to know that whether he lives or dies all will be well (1:21). Their concern for Paul’s situation had evidently lead to a congregational anxiety that was preventing them from living according to the principles of the gospel. The rest of the book of Philippians is addressed to the concern that Paul has regarding the Philippians-that they should
set their minds on matters over which they can control, not over matters that lead to worry and depression. This would bring them out of their “blue funk” and bring them back to greater service to the Lord.

The crux of the book of Philippians in this regard is found in chapter four. It is in this chapter that Paul discusses the action one can take to bring one’s self into the peace of God. The prescription that Paul gives to the brethren is a combination of mental and physical exercises. First, they were to “rejoice in the Lord always” (4:4). This is a mental exercise. The Christian has everything for which to be thankful and nothing for which to be ungrateful. This should lead to a perpetual spirit of joy in the Christian’s life. The sacrifice of Jesus for our sins should humble us into recognition that nothing is so important in this life so as to be cause for anxiety and depression. The Christian has everything! For this reason, he can rejoice! Psychologists have stated that in times of extreme tension, one should picture oneself in a place of happiness. The principle was first iterated long ago in the sacred scriptures.

Second, Paul says, “Let your moderation be known unto all men” (4:5a). This is a physical exercise. The Christian is not to be caught up in the extremes of the world. There is on the one hand the extreme of debauchery in all its forms and practices and it was prevalent in the Philippian’s society as well as ours today. On the other hand there is the extreme of isolationism. This is the concept that we must completely cut ourselves off from those around us who are not Christians and never have anything to do with anyone. Both of these are extreme choices that Christians faced then and face now. The Christian must exercise moderation in living a life that includes interaction with society, but does not participate in its sinfulness. Balance is certain one of the fundamental principles of modern psychology and here it is clearly stated in God’s word.

Third, Paul writes, “The Lord is at hand” (4.5b). Many have interpreted this phrase to have reference to the second coming, but the context suggests that this more likely refers to the ever-present awareness within the Christian that God is with us. This is a mental exercise. Hebrews 13:5c states, “for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” The expression, “The Lord is at hand” indicates to the Christian that God will always be there for him in time of worry or depression. It is a great comfort to recognize that God is always by our side and is not going to leave us as long as we don’t leave Him. With God, there is no problem or trouble or worry or fear that can’t be overcome, for all things are accomplishable with Him (Philippians 4:13). Modern psychology is replete with the principle that you are never alone. The self-help group is a common occurrence in today’s society. The Christian’s ‘self-help group’ has
a Member the likes of which this world cannot boast.

Fourth, we read, “Be careful in nothing” (4:6a). This is a mental and physical exercise. The word “careful” should really be translated “anxious” as indicated in the American Standard Version. Anxiety for the things of this life can become a big problem for the Christian. Jesus taught us to understand that God knows the things of which we have need and that he will supply those things if we but seek Him and His kingdom first (Matthew 6:25-34). When we start to dwell on the cares and concerns of this life, let our minds and our actions turn to things of the kingdom. What can we think and do to further the cause of our Lord upon the earth? We can study the word. We can visit the sick. We can help the poor. And the list goes on and on. There is no shortage of activity. Today we hear from psychologists these words, “Get involved.” Being involved in something goes a long way toward eliminating anxiety that crops
up as a result of eating the bread of idleness.

Fifth, Paul states, “but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (4:6b). Here is a mental exercise. Prayer unburdens the Christian from the ceaseless parade of events about which he is concerned, but has no direct control. Prayer provides a means whereby the Christian may exercise a heart of thankfulness to the Creator, Sustainer, and Provider. Prayer provides opportunity for the Christian to divest himself of wrong choices made in the course of the days events. Prayer motivates the Christian to act in ways that will improve his relationship with his God and his fellow man. There is much blessing in prayer. Modern psychology acknowledges these activities as being therapeutic and helpful to an individual’s mental state. Oh, if we as Christians, would only acknowledge the power of prayer in times of trouble how great burdens would be removed from our weary shoulders and what great
relief would be obtained from the troubles of life.

The conclusion of enacting these five exercises in one’s life is this: “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” There is a certain peace that comes through understanding and applying these five principles in one’s life. Modern psychology may be able to provide a measure of peace and tranquility, but not to the extent that can be provided by God. The peace that God gives ‘surpasses all understanding;’ that is, no efforts on the part of man solely through his own mental abilities are going to be able to provide the type of peace that God can provide. This is because modern psychology cannot supply God. Faith in God comes through hearing God’s word (Romans 10:17) and ultimately the peace of God depends as much upon our faith in God as it does upon the principles that God sets forth in this passage. Faith must always be presupposed when applying the principles of having a healthy
mind to us as individuals. Without faith, none of these exercises will prevail to bring peace to our troubled souls. The hearts and minds of the Christian will only be guarded through Christ Jesus. As great as this promise may sound, however, there is yet more that the apostle wishes to address regarding our mental health.

Sixth, we read, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (4:8). The exercise in this verse is mental. It is an exercise of focus upon the spiritual. It is the proactive exercise of the mind to think. The exhortation is not to just let your mind drift upon any and every old thing that comes along, but to purposefully and deliberately concentrate upon good things. When we fill our minds with positive thoughts, there will be no more room for negative thoughts. Worry, anxiety, depression, and despair are all negative thoughts that seek, almost without invitation, to invade our daily consciousness. It is a fight and struggle to battle these things, but we must. When we bring our focus back upon the true, honest,
just, pure, lovely, good, and virtuous, there is no lack of things about which to cogitate. One of the great failures of modern psychology is that while it can help you understand what you are thinking and bring you to a greater awareness of your thoughts, it cannot provide content for your mind. The gospel, however, does this very thing.

Seventh, Paul has this to say, “Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do” (4:9a). Here is a physical exercise. When we have done everything that we need to do mentally to prepare ourselves for Christian service, we must make application. Paul says that his teaching and example constitute an example for us as well. If we are looking for ways to behave, let us look to the example that Paul left as he followed Christ in his life (1 Corinthians 11:1). We have half the book of Acts to let us know how Paul behaved as well as many of his epistles in which we find great teaching regarding how to live the Christian life. This is where the proverbial rubber meets the road. Again, while modern psychology can suggest a course of behavior, it cannot suggest a lifestyle that will so thoroughly meet our needs as that which we find within the gospel of Christ (2 Peter 1:3).

The grand conclusion to these seven steps of mental health is found in the words, “and the God of peace shall be with you.” This is yet in addition to the previous promise. Not only do we have the assurance of the peace of God being with us, but also we have the assurance of the God of peace being with us. Greater blessing can no Christian have than to know that the very God who made us and knows us better than we know ourselves will provide a life that is filled with contentment and peace as well as provide the companionship that we need to finish such a life in His service. May we ever seek to apply these seven steps in our time of need.

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Free Union

“Free Union”

By Kevin Cauley 2/22/2017

One might think upon seeing the title of this article that we are about to discuss something extremely positive. After all, what could be more appealing that freedom and what could be more motivating that unity? However, we have an adversary who is very deceitful and rejoices in calling wicked things by righteous names. This is exactly the case with the title of the article today.

As many of you know, we (five of us) took a mission trip to Costa Rica at the beginning of December, 2003. Being in a different culture for a week is enlightening because you can see how different people do things differently. However, there are some things that are universal to mankind. One of those things is the problem of sin. Changing cultures did not imply that we changed standards for what is right and wrong. Sin is as much a problem in Costa Rica as it is in the United States, Europe, Russia, or anywhere in the world.

One interesting thing, however, that did not change from our culture to theirs, is the desire to place a nice sounding name upon sin by those who engage in sin. We see this happening in our society as well. Abortion has been changed to “pro-choice.” Homosexuality has been changed to “gay” or “an alternate lifestyle.” The murder of the elderly has been changed from euthanasia to “death in dignity.” And the sin of fornication has been changed to “recreational sex.” The effort to change the name of something that is evil to something that sounds good is merely an effort to justify that which is evil.

Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Without a doubt we live in a world that would make sin appear palatable so that the masses would swallow it whole. This is, in fact, the very goal of Satan himself. He deceived Eve at the beginning and he continues to deceive today.

So what is deceptive about “Free Union?” “Free Union” is what the non-Christian people in Costa Rica refer to what we would call “living together” or “living in sin.” But “free union” certainly doesn’t sound like such a bad concept upon the surface of it. In fact it sounds pretty good, and herein ought to be the warning for us. Just because something sounds good or looks good, doesn’t necessarily meant that it is. Even Satan would change himself to appear as an angel of light if he thought that it would advance his cause (2 Cor. 11:14).

Let us take warning and be sure that we give ourselves to things that we know are right (Phil. 4:8); things that we find approved within the word of God (Col. 3:17). Let’s make an effort to avoid trying to have our ears scratched with soothing words (Isaiah 30:10). The alternative, of course, is to have the honestly to grapple with our own failures and seek the appropriate changes in our life regardless of how difficult it may be.

Which will we choose? Deceptive words which make us feel good? Or words of truth and sobriety that cause us to examine our lives? Would to God that we choose the later because the situation that sin presents to us is anything but free and united.

We Worship God As He Desires, Not As We

Worship God | We Worship God As He Desires, Not As We

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By Kevin Cauley 2/24/2017

We read within the Bible that Christians assembled together upon the first day of the week to worship God through His Son, Jesus (Acts 20:7). When they met together, they studied God’s word, prayed, sang hymns of praise, gave of their income, and partook of the Lord’s supper. We have examples for each of these practices within the New Testament (Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 14:15; 16:1-2). We see in these simple, yet powerful, actions of worship, how God desires to be worshiped in the name of His Son, Jesus.

Why We Worship God As We Do In The Churches of Christ

The worship observed within the churches of Christ is one of the biggest differences that are noted by those who are not members of the church of Christ. Many want to know where the “music” is. Many want to know why the Lord’s supper is observed every Sunday. Many want to know why such emphasis is placed upon Bible study. Many want to know why we do not “tithe.” The answer is really quite simple, though many do not accept it. We seek to worship God upon the terms and conditions that God has set for worship within the New Testament.

One will not find the word “tithe” in the New Testament. One will not find the use of mechanical instruments of music in the worship of the church in the New Testament. One will not find the Lord’s supper being observed once a quarter, or month in the New Testament, but every Sunday. One will not find within the New Testament “self-help” motivational speaking, but rather the preaching and teaching of the word of God. It is our desire to worship God in the way that God would have us worship Him, not in the way that makes man feel good. We seek to serve God in our worship, not to serve self.

We Worship God Because He Is Worthy

We worship God not to gain an emotional experience, but because God is worthy of our worship. Revelation 4:11 states, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” The reason for our very existence is to give pleasure to God; it makes no sense for God’s creation to fashion worship practices which give pleasure to the creature rather than the creator.

We Worship God in the Way He Desires to be Worshiped

Indeed, who ought to determine how we are to worship? The one who worships? Or the one who deserves to be worshiped? Certainly, the creature has no right to tell the creator how he/she is going to worship Him. God Himself must tell us what we may do to worship; we dare not approach God with our own righteousness (Romans 10:1-3).

Jesus said that God desires to be worshiped in spirit and in truth. Spiritual worship is worshiping God out of a humble, respectful, and subservient attitude. Truthful worship means to worship God according to His word, for God’s word is truth (John 17:17).

So as we worship together this day, let us focus upon God as the one toward whom we are worshiping; let us acknowledge His wishes in the way in which He would have us to worship Him; and let us be content to satisfy God in our worship as opposed to satisfying ourselves.

Blue Like Jazz

In April, Blue Like Jazz, the movie named after the New York Times best-selling book by Donald Miller, hit theaters. While we can’t comment on the movie at this time, having not seen it, we are compelled to say something about the book. No doubt, tens or hundreds of thousands of young people will see the movie, which will, for many of them, be their introduction to the emerging church (i.e., the “new” Christianity).

Blue Like Jazz, the book, published by Thomas Nelson in 2003, was essentially a “soft” introduction to the emerging church. There are two myths about Donald Miller that all concerned Christians should know:

Two Myths about Donald Miller

Myth 1: Donald Miller is not really an emerging church figure.

Truth: Miller shares the same spiritual outlook as other emerging leaders (even in Blue Like Jazz, which has sold over a million copies and has gained enormous influence in the evangelical church). That is why Brian McLaren (who rejects biblical atonement) said there is “no better book than Blue Like Jazz to introduce Christian spirituality.” McLaren said this about Miller because he recognizes Miller as a soul mate of emerging spirituality.

The following quote by Miller (in BLJ) reveals much about his spiritual propensities:

For me, the beginning of sharing my faith with people began by throwing out Christianity and embracing Christian spirituality, a nonpolitical mysterious system that can be experienced but not explained (p. 115).

When Miller says that “Christian spirituality” cannot be explained, he means that solid, unchangeable biblical doctrine and theology do not exist. When Miller says “Christian spirituality” can only be “experienced,” this is referring to mysticism. That can be substantiated when Miller says: “You cannot be a Christian without being a mystic” (p. 202). He has echoed mystic Karl Rahner’s words who said the Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will be nothing. Some may say that Miller is merely defending ideas like the trinity or eternity (which he refers to in BLJ) as being mystical. But putting in context Miller’s statement above, he is actually defending “Christian writers” who embrace “mysticism.” These are two different things. When the “Christian” mystics speak of mysticism, they are referring to altered states of consciousness (the silence) reached during mantric-style meditation. And while Miller doesn’t mention contemplative or mantras in his books, he helps condition people to see mysticism as a legitimate and valuable practice.

Blue Like JazzFor those who may be skeptical regarding Miller’s view on mysticism, in his book Searching for God Knows What in the acknowledgements, Miller thanks New Age meditation proponent Daniel Goleman. Goleman (author of The Meditative Mind) writes favorably about mantra meditation and Buddhism. He was the editor for a book titled Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health.

Miller backs up his dismissal of doctrine and theology (an earmark of all emerging leaders) when he says he has “climb[ed] outside my pat answers [doctrine],” and says “Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid” (p. 205). That might sound acceptable to many people today in our feel-good, redefining society, but it is the “pat answers” and the “chart” that the Bible has given us so we can understand God, life, and salvation. Miller reiterates his rejection of immoveable doctrine by concluding:

At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. (emphasis added)

A million to one is very low odds that “any” of our theology is right. What about the theology of the atonement? Is our chance of understanding that a million to one? What about the theology of Jesus Christ’s return? Can we possibly know whether or not He is coming back? And what about the theology of biblical inerrancy? Can we even trust the Bible? With the odds Miller suggests, no, we can trust nothing about God’s Word at all. Praise God, that Miller’s odds are completely wrong.

Myth 2: The emerging church isn’t against debating the abortion or gay issues; they just don’t want those to be the ONLY issues.

Truth: In Searching for God Knows What, mystic proponent, Tony Campolo, endorsed the book, saying, “We need this book.” Brian McLaren and other emergent leaders endorsed the book as well. In that book, Miller echoes the emergent voices when he states:

I wondered if the Christian faith in America had not been hijacked as well, hijacked by those same two issues: abortion and gay marriage. How did a spirituality such as Christianity, a spirituality that speaks of eternity, of a world without end, of forgiveness of sins and a mysterious union with the Godhead, come to be represented by a moralist agenda and a trickle-down economic theory?

The mantra of the emerging church is the false accusation that the only two things biblical Christians care about is stopping abortion and gay marriage. They state publicly that we should also care about the sick, the poor, and the needy. But you see, this is not what they mean: Since biblical Christians have cared about the poor, the sick, and the needy already, what they really mean is those two issues should be dumped altogether.

Rick Warren and other emerging leaders are not being honest when they use the media and their books to convince the masses that biblical Christians do not care about those in need. And whether they know it or not, they are helping to bring about a new spirituality, which has its foundation based on death. How’s that? The driving force behind the emerging church is mysticism. The premise behind mysticism is man’s divinity. Believing that man is God ultimately leads to death because in that belief system, there is no need for a Savior. Man erroneously thinks he can save himself. Thus, he dies in his sin because he rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everything that Satan does leads to death. Abortion and practicing homosexuality are in essence practices of death, and it only makes sense that this New Age mystical spirituality that is entering the church condemns Christians who oppose abortion and the practice of homosexuality.

The reason the emerging church must ultimately accept practicing homosexuality and abortion is because both of these practices lead to death, and emerging spirituality is ultimately a belief system that draws people away from biblical truth that gives life and takes them toward an interspiritual, panentheistic “religion” (i.e., man is God) that leads to spiritual death (see Sue Monk Kidd).


Posted initially at http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=8961.

Asking Great Questions

The best book on the art crafting powerful statements that influence and communicating effectively is “Words that Work” by Frank Luntz. This book is the best I have read on the art of asking questions. There is so mucWords that Workh great information to digest, perhaps too much. Just like the new shiny toy, this is information that you want to run home and play with right away.

I’ll begin with commenting on the negative aspect of this book, because from my perspective there is only one. Here it is . . . there is ab
solutely no way that this great information can be completely consumed, digested and properly applied in any short order. In other words, it seems that this type of information isn’t something you can be taught and then go out and put into practice. Instead, I would venture that the author acquired this information through a combination of years of academic study and even more years of practice through trial and error. And that is in addition to, what I would imagine is, a natural gift for asking great questions.

As I read through this text, I found myself constantly nodding my head with great approval and agreement. The author systematically laid out several ideas, principles and facts that I have been fortunate enough to either learn on my own or put into practice. My trouble came when I began to process the remaining information and begin to contemplate how I might go about taking my new toy for a spin during my next Bible class. As I alluded to, I’m not sure I can.

It seems foolish for offering remarks that might appear to be remotely critical for an author offering too much positive information. No, it is foolish. Instead, of trying to digest the book as if it were theory, I am going to treat it as an invaluable piece of reference material; and take one idea at a time and practice applying it over the course of several weeks. For my purposes though, the greatest value is putting this book in the hands of my small group leaders and teaching them to do the same.

In terms of the specific aspects of the book, again, there are simply too many to comment on or even list out. As I just mentioned, what I value most about this book is that it will serve as a terrific reference for my small group leaders, who lack either the experience or natural skill at leading a meeting/Bible study by crafting thoughtful and powerful questions.

In terms of the actual content, the “Top Ten Principles” shared on pages six through fourteen are worth the price of admission. This list is small enough to be digested and most likely carried into the next small group meeting.


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Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups




This is one of the better books on small groups among all the texts that we’ve read for this course. In terms of its’ pragmatic nature, I liken it to “Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups”. There is a substantial amount of “hot-to” information that makes it particularly helpful. It’s rather interesting that, while the authors’ of “Activate” tout their own originality, Osborne shares the value of many of the same ideas at the same general time that the Activate book was published (for example, the short semester-based groups). But I digress.

I must clarify (and be honest) that when I say “better” I am really referring to the fact that I share many of the same ideas and values about church and small group ministry as the author. For example, he believes (as do I) that the best function for small groups is to “close the back door” by helping to create stronger relationships. It is interesting that he laments his early ministry failures as he focused too much on visitors and non-Christians and allowed his members to sneak out the back-door.

I also appreciate his tendency to be honest, even to the point of being “politically incorrect.” While it’s definitely not that impressive or important, I find it refreshing that he openly encourages his members to choose a group based on who else is in the group. This would be in opposition to the idea that because we live in harmony as Christians that we will all get along well in our groups. That’s simply not true; and it seems to me that it would be a mistake in strategy to try to force relationships on people. While this is not a new idea, Osborne’s transparency and honestly has helped to reinforce my own thoughts and convictions that I may have otherwise lacked full confidence in. As I continue to think through, and read the book a second time, I have come to believe that this is the greatest benefit of the book for me and my church—simply reinforcing the convictions, beliefs and conclusions that I have been coming to. To that end this is not a singular occurrence.  Activate - A New Approach to Small Groups

Also, I appreciate very much that Osborne writes from a more “normal” church experience. He has served his current congregation (a multi-site, mega-church) for nearly three decades. But when he took over the leadership role it was small and struggling; not altogether unlike the context that a majority of his readers will find themselves in. This is amazingly refreshing after reading from people like Gladen and Donahue who write from the ivory tower of the mega-church.

One of the most tangible and specific benefits of this book is Osborne’s approach to training the group leaders. He openly shares how they failed early on in their ministry by throwing too much at their leaders—both in terms of time requirements and the amount of content they shared. This is an error that I likely would have made starting out. In fact, since reading this I have thought through my plans to have a monthly group leader meeting. I was always hesitant about this, but this is another example where Osborne essentially “gave me permission” to trust my instincts. Now I have decided to go back and work through my original approach.

Osborne makes one fundamental error in his thinking that continues to trouble and challenge me. Essentially, his thesis is that sermon-based small groups are the end-all for small groups. Of course, there is great value beyond this idea; but this is certainly the primary point that he is attempting to make. Here is the problem: throughout the book as the author discusses and describes his method for small groups he always goes back to the argument that sermon-based approach makes it all possible. For example, after discussing how small groups provide a natural point to consistently connect people to both significant relationships and the Bible; he states that:


the best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long-haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church (p.46).


In my estimation, nearly all small groups, if done well will provide the same benefits that he claims for the sermon-based model. He makes this type of claim throughout the book while providing little support or evidence. It’s clearly just a bias towards that particular model that has served his congregation so well.


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On page six (in his introductory comments) the author states that “there is, in fact, no better way to come to grips with the spiritual and relational poverty of American individualism than to compare our way of doing things with the strong-group, surrogate family relations of early Christianity. This is the central focus of this book.” The author defended his thesis well; and in the process may have provided church leaders with an answer they have been looking for. For this reason, the book is extremely helpful.

Did he overstate the current status of the problem saying that we are living in spiritual and relational poverty? Perhaps, but it is clear that there are extreme problems in western churches. It may well be that dealing with the individualistic nature of our society is the extreme and correlative answer.

The first thought that comes to mind is to challenge the authors’ assumption that the cultural norm of the first century must be duplicated today (or throughout all other times and cultures). Is it true that an individualistic society is contrary to that of the New Testament and that it brings inherent challenges? Yes, certainly, for both questions. But the question remains, must we duplicate this today? The author is convinced that we should. At this point I have two responses. First, it is extremely difficult to live within the context of community and relate to one another as the Bible demands, while living as an individualistic culture and society. At least it is within our individualistic society. Second, Galatians 4:4 states: “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law.” The timing of God’s action should not be discounted in this discussion. Nor should it be treated as a coincidence that at the time God chose to act, there was a prevalent strong-group culture. We can only speculate as to exactly why God chose this time to act. However, Christians today should take notice of what was going on in the life of Christ and the first-century church; because that was clearly the most appropriate time for God to set his standard for His people. In other words, that was evidently the most conducive setting by which he could implement his church so that they would look and live in the manner that He desired.

The author brings to light several interesting ideas and thoughts that helped to explain his case; and more importantly increase my understanding and appreciation for where my congregation needs to be moving. In the first two chapters, he emphasizes three social values involving strong-group society of the New Testament world. First, the group has priority over the individual. Second, the most important group is the family. Third, the closest relationship within the family was between the siblings. Assuming that this is what God desires for His church, the church today is further from a biblical model than we may have otherwise assumed. While there may be isolated exceptions, it seems clear that we do not consistently demonstrate any of these characteristics.

This is a terribly difficult situation and highlights the quandary of church leaders, particularly those among the conservative Churches of Christ. The specific value in being presented with these ideas is that it helps to frame or identify exactly where our congregations have miss-stepped with regard to our institutional nature. In other words, as we have become more and more organizationally and institutionally focused, we have become less and less of a representation of the strong-group church of the first century. Because the individual takes precedence over the group, it is much easier for us to be a part of an organization that requires less personal investment than a family would. Going along with this idea, because we are organizationally centered, we are able to maintain superficial relationship as opposed to sibling relationships that constitute a true family.

Four primary values demonstrated in Paul’s writings relative to the strong-group family paradigm (affective solidarity, family unity, material solidarity and family loyalty) provide a terrific blueprint, or perhaps even a vision, for congregations in the 21st century. These characteristics provide us with the ability to determine a positive course of action to move away from the current individualistic based culture. In other words, Hellerman has presented information that leaves me with an insightful understanding of the daunting task of leading a congregation in the twenty-first century. Fortunately, this particular information provides the confidence that the current situation is correctable and even provides the blueprint to make it happen.

For these reasons, this book is exceptionally practical, applicable and useful.

House Church Book

The House Church Book was a challenging read for me. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Simson has made me more uncomfortable and challenged me more than any author I can remember in the past couple of years. I applaud and welcome this. I am still thinking and rethinking through several of the ideas that he has presented. I also appreciate so much the sincerity with which the author writes. His passion for the church and kingdom is clear and unmistakable. Yet, having said this, I can’t help but sit in judgment on so many of his doctrinal presuppositions, and the manner in which he seems to take liberties with the Bible. I understand that my spiritual heritage leads me to be conservative, even among room full of conservative evangelicals. And usually I can look past my differences in order to appreciate the idea. But Simson was difficult.

For example, Simson is clear about how he believes the house church ought to be structured and led. On page forty-six he speaks briefly about leadership where he states that “house churches do not have leaders in a technical sense; they have elders . . . elders are responsible members of society who are able to assume a parental role in the house church, and who meet the biblical qualifications describing deacons found in 1 Timothy 3.” This makes no sense to my admittedly conservative ears. They are elders, but they function as deacons? In his virtuous attempt to restore pure Christianity, I am disappointed at just how quickly he has corrupted the biblical model (which in fairness makes him no different from the rest of us).

Along with this thought, it seems that Simson has a definitive misunderstanding or lack of understanding of the richness and details of the Bible. I don’t say this because he lacks formal theological training; but instead because it shows up clearly with how he envisions the church coming to life in modern western culture. This shows up in the same comments on elders that were previously alluded to. Simson writes that “these elders are empowered and counseled by apostolic people who usually function beyond the borders of an individual house church.” In citing Acts 15:2, 4, Simson demonstrates a troubling level of biblical illiteracy. This text is referring to a specific group of people who happened to live in or around Jerusalem. The manner in which Simson frames this (and later discusses), makes clear his belief that the apostles were a type of people that may have existed in any location.

I admit that much of my discomfort comes from his complete dismissal of traditional church. He seems ready to burn it all down (which I suppose is why he calls for a third reformation). I agree that he is clearly on the right track. As he argues for, there is a more biblical way in which to “do and be church” than the institutionalized version that has grown up since the 4th century. Again, I disagree with his details and implementation of this more biblical paradigm, I appreciate so much his call to return to a model of church that is clearly more consistent with the Bible than what we have now in the traditional church model. In this sense, his failures (as I perceive them) are also benefits. Because where I feel he takes the house church principle beyond the scope of the New Testament, he does force me to come along with him and as a result forces me out of my box where I have existed in the traditional church. And while I might now take the same trip that he has, I will at least end up at a spot that is closer to the Bible than where I began. This is likely the greatest value of this book.


Prodigal God


Jesus made God the Father figure. This was new to the listeners.

Jesus changed the view of God – to that of a Father.

Jesus always prayed Father – sometimes even using Abba.

No one ever talked about God like this.

Jesus is trying to communicate why he hangs out with sinners.

He’s looking for a way to talk about God.

No word describes God.

The best metaphor is Father.

Find a word to try to explain the universal pain that every parent feels when it comes to their children.

Most parents love their kids so much it hurts.

Everyone else in your life it takes time to love – but not with your children, its instant love.

Nobody is prepared for the joy or pain of parenting. If you’re a father and your child is lost, you have one agenda.

Jesus is trying to explain why he spends so much time with sinners.

Because their fathers’ heart is going to stay broken until all of his kids are back home.

The father didn’t have one lost boy – he had two. They had more in common that what you might think from a surface reading.

  1. Both boys resented their fathers’ authority. Because both wanted their fathers’ things more than they wanted their father. They both wanted a party with their friends and neither had their father on the guest list.
  1. Neither boy thought a relationship with their father was enough. They misunderstood the type of relationship that their father wanted.
    1. Things motivated the younger boy’s obedience. Things motivated the older boys’ obedience.
    2. Goodness is a weapon and a way of gaining control. They want the fathers’ blessings. You can tell that when times get hard, they get mad at God and the Church.
  1. Both boys saw their relationship as something to earn. The younger boy thought that he could not be at the Fathers’ table because he did not earn it. He thought he blew it. Father said he didn’t earn his place at the table in the first place. The older boy said that he had been slaving all these years for the father. He wasn’t there because a love or devotion. It was duty. He thought his work obligated the father. He thought his father owed him because of what he had done.
    1. Does any Dad want his kids to see him primarily as a task master.
    2. Merit didn’t cost the son his sonship. Merit didn’t earn the older boy his sonship.
    3. He never asked for a party because he didn’t see himself as a beloved son.
    4. How does it make the father feel if your boys talk to you like an employer with a labor shortage?

A father is a man who carries photographs where his money used to be.

The boys say I want this. The Dad says I want you.

Ever since the time in Genesis ch3 God has been asking the question, where are my kids? He came in person, in the form of Jesus to find his children; because God wants a relationship with his children. The bigger question is, what kind of a relationship do I want with God?

This story says that you can live right under the father and still be lost. Some people avoid the father by being very bad. Some people avoid God by being very good. God doesn’t want the dutiful service of slaves. He wants the willing joyful affection of sons.

Arms of God – folded (angry), up in the air (exasperation), wide open (love)

How do you see God’s arms?

Story ends on a sad note with an angry young man. Older brother was so mad and was willing to disgrace his father because of his perception of justice. Why was he so mad?

  1. Didn’t care about the lost.
    1. Easy to brand him as a self-righteous person. But, you can only grow self-righteousness in the soil of a community that values righteousness. Only when righteousness is valued that self-righteousness can grow.
      1. His reaction was consistent with his theology: people are either good and thus valuable or bad and therefore are worthless. Why should you care about people who are bad and are worthless?
      2. That’s what the critics were asking Jesus. He gave a new understanding as righteousness. He said all people are bad and valuable. Totally new paradigm. He was saying that they had no idea the value that God has placed on the people that they wanted to discard.
      3. Older brother didn’t want his brother back because he didn’t think he was worth it.
  2. He did care about the cost. Justice is required.
    1. Everything left in the diminished wealth belonged to the older brother. He’s already blown his part and now we’re spending it on my part of the money.
    2. Forgiveness always comes with a cost. And to the older brother it wasn’t worth the cost. He didn’t want to pay the price for reconciliation.
    3. It cost him a soured soul, missed joy. Cost his father the opportunity to stop grieving for a lost son. The older boy became a prodigal and he never left home.
    4. The story ends on a sad note. Jesus is trying to say that it’s sad because people are constantly trying to replace goodness for grace.
      1. He was a goodness had become a bigger barrier to a relationship with his father than his little brother’s badness had been. He was estranged from his father not in spite of his goodness, but because of it.
      2. Sad because there is a father who is full of grace that you are willing to disgrace him because you are determined to live your life by the goodness grid. Pay such a high price for it. What has it cost us?
        1. Become judgmental.
        2. Become angry. The good life we think we’ve lived doesn’t always result in the good life we think we deserve. Become bitter at church, family, neighbors and God.
        3. Become anxious. Because contentment is always based on achievement and acceptance is always based on performance.
          1. The father told him that everything he had was his. You can have a party, why haven’t you thrown yourself a party. Because he didn’t think he deserved a party. He didn’t think he had earned it.
          2. Not sure where you stand with God. Even though you are judging where others stand with God.
    5. How do you cope with “dropping the ball.”

Similarities and differences between the two brothers:

They know they have dropped the ball and they are in desperate need of grace. The older brother thinks he’s good. I hope that we would be a church full of younger brothers.

Every person that comes through the door is someone else’s son. Are we looking out for them so that we can meet them at the door, put our arms around them and hug them?

Jonah Chapter 1



Theme of Jonah: God’s Response to Wickedness in the Word

Theme of Ch.1: Sin and Grace: Our Sin of Running from God and God’s Pursuit of Us


Rewrite perceptions of what Jonah is about – there is deeper theological significance.

Book focuses on one incident of Jonah’s life – other prophets focus on their teachings.

Jonah, fish, sailors and Ninevites are supporting actors in this story about GOD

VS 1-3

Jonah from Gath-Hepher (small village outside of Nazareth) – 2 Kings 14:25 – Contrast with Nineveh

Like many other of our biblical heroes – Jonah is a reluctant prophet (Abram, Sarai, Moses)

Not the task Jonah was expecting or wanted – other prophets spoke to Israel (not Nahum or Jonah)

Nineveh to the East – Assyrian “capital” – great in size and scope – Awful against enemies and proud of it

Imperialistic and wicked – past 100 years – lasted until 612 Babylon – “Samaritans” 750-722

Vs 2 told Jonah to ARISE and GO – JONAH ROSE UP and FLED

Geography lesson – Tarshish to the West – didn’t get any further west

VS 4-6

Wild scene – imagine the strength of hurricanes – how bad was this if it was from God?

Ships were made for this – yet this one was about to break up

Experienced and professional sailors were scared – Panic button – got religion

1) Pray to gods 2) Start tossing stuff

Where was Jonah – this tells us where he was mentally – gave up and accepted his fate-death

He was going to die by the storm or by these sailors

Captain to Jonah: Are you crazy!? Start praying to your God – maybe he’ll help us

VS 7-12

Found out Jonah and tried to find out what he did and who he did it to – that would help them fix problem

Found out it was the LORD and they were exceedingly afraid

Jonah accepted his fate and his punishment – he knew he was dead

VS 13-16

Didn’t listen to Jonah at first because they were scared of God – not because of Jonah

Tried to row out of it

Jonah’s sin endangered those around him – but God was glorified through it

VS 17

Jonah was saved by the fish

Why did Jonah run? 4:2 – Because of faulty theology – believed in Justice but not Mercy

Chapter 1 is about God’s pursuit of Jonah – Grace and Mercy – not so he could punish him but so that he

could use him

The sooner we realize our purpose the better off we’ll be. We are props for God’s glory – just like Jonah.

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