Monday, July 10, 2017

Why Are Our Assemblies Dying?

Why are our assemblies dying?

Because members no longer get value from attending.

It's often claimed that people "want entertainment", and that's why they don't attend.

I believe that's false. It's not that people want entertainment; it's that they want Value.

Entertainment is a form of value, so it works to some extent to bring people in, but entertainment is not really what people seek in attending. They seek Value.

Those who attend regularly find some value in attending:

 - a sense of doing what they're supposed to do
 - entertainment
 - a chance to criticize
 - standing within the community
 - they like lectures, and sitting mostly passively on a pew for two hours
 - a chance to meet a boy/girl-friend

Those who don't attend regularly don't find value in attending.

If we're not offering the value that the Bible has established for attending, is it any wonder our assemblies are failing?

Most people think that Biblical value is "worship", focused upward on God.

But the truth is, the Biblical value for our assemblies is one-anothering, focused horizontally on one another.

We can worship God when we're all alone in a fishing boat on the lake. But we can't one-another when we're alone.

We can worship God when we're alone on the couch at home. But we can't one-another when we're alone.

We can worship God when we meditate silently in our pew during the Lord's Supper. But we can't one-another when we're inward-focused.

We can worship God when we're looking at our song books, or the overhead projection, or the song leader, belting out the chorus of 728B. But we can't one-another when we're essentially ignoring those around us, passively "teaching" them the exact same words they're passively "teaching" us.

And since many of us are introverts, we sneak in quietly, trying to avoid the gauntlet of hand-shakers, and we sneak out the side-door as soon as the last "Amen" is uttered, because we find no value in small-talk. Those same introverts might find value, however, in a safe place to talk to others about things that matter.

The Bible presents the value of assembling as each person encouraging and enabling each other person to do good works, and to grow spiritually. This does not mean talking about the weather for three minutes before the opening announcements.

As long as "church" is structured like a Catholic mass lite, we're not going to see Biblical results for the assembly.

Here are some one-anothering suggestions:

- Set aside a time for small groups to go around the circle telling first name and some significant thing that is currently happening in their life. Make that info publicly available on a prayer-list.

 - Discover what each members' strength is, and put that strength to work some how in the assembly.

- Set up an information exchange so that needs can be matched up with skills. Sister Anna needs a broken window replaced? Brother David has the money to pay for a new window, and Brother Tom has the tools and skills and time to replace the window. David is eager to serve with his money, and Tom is eager to serve with his skills, but unless they know about Anna's need, their gifts are lying fallow and her need goes unmet.

- Rather than have a 20-minute lecture, which absolutely drives away the post-MTV generation, present God's word in a way that has value to the people. Sermons are absolutely useless to me. I do not hear a word. I am not an auditory learner. I tune out, and fall asleep. Lectures have no value whatsoever to me. And that's the main focus of most of our assemblies; it's the only service most congregations pay for. In my case, it's just throwing away money. Am I unique in that way? Or are our empty pews testimony that others find little or no value in one-sided dronings that tell us what we've known since we were three? Make your presentation interactive; get us involved. The very first Gospel sermon takes less than two minutes to read out loud, slowly, and it was followed by a Q&A. Yet we think we've improved on that by following Paul's example of preaching a kid to death (after which, he changed his methodology from talking to them to talking with them - interesting).

- Change the seating, so that instead of focusing everyone on one, everyone can focus more better on each other. How can we be one-another focused if all we see of each other is the back of each other's head?

You want your assembly to grow? Then focus on the Biblical reason for assembling: One-anothering.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Microsoft Tools Leave Me Wanting....

You wouldn't believe how difficult it was to figure out the syntax of this simple task using Microsoft tools. (Linux makes it *so* easy!):

powershell -command "& { Invoke-WebRequest -UseBasicParsing -Uri https://download.mozilla.org/… -Outfile 'FirefoxSetup.exe' }"

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Word "Sing" in the Bible

When the Ephesians, etc, read Paul's instruction to sing, they did so with a cultural background of learning their religious terminology from the Old Testament scriptures.

When they read "sing and make melody in your hearts to the Lord", they, knowing the Old Testament scriptures much better than most of us, would realize that Paul, just as he had done twice in the previous chapter, was again alluding to scripture:
WEB Ps 108:[1 ]My heart is steadfast, God. I will sing and I will make music with my soul.
They understood the word "sing" exactly as God had taught them to understand the word "sing". You can understand the word using a non-Biblical understanding all you want, and insist that it automatically excludes instrumental music, but that is not how God taught Bible students to understand the word. Here's how he taught Bible students to understand the word "sing", and how to sing his praises to the peoples:
WEB Ps 108:[1 ]My heart is steadfast, God. I will sing and I will make music with my soul. [2 ]Wake up, harp and lyre! I will wake up the dawn. [3 ]I will give thanks to you, Yahweh, among the nations. I will sing praises to you among the peoples.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The following is written by Lucas Necessary.


Without question, there is one thing God wants: for you to show up on enough Sundays that you make it to heaven; give Him just enough of your time. Or maybe it's that you throw enough money into the plate that you make it to heaven? Maybe that you believe in Him (or think about believing in Him) more of the time.

Yeah, so maybe that's not so true. It's common for us to view God in that way ("I'll give enough that I reap a reward"), but God pointed out in Micah 6 that He's interested in something else:
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? 
He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you? 
But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!
There is no amount of giving done that can replace a true LOVE of kindness. Not just outward acts, but being in love with your Creator; loving to have mercy on fellow man.

At least, that's IMHO.

Originally published in the CHURCH OF CHRIST Facebook group, 14 Jan, 2017, by Lucas Necessary, and then published at http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-following-is-written-by-lucas.html

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Why Do I "Go to 'Church'"?

A question was recently asked on Facebook: Why do you "go to 'church'"?

Here's my answer:

The "church" is designed as an alternative to the community of the world, as a different "nation" than the nation of USA or the nation of Mexico or the nation of France, etc.

If you lived in England but wanted to be a USA citizen, and you went through all the necessary process to do so, and then refused to live in the USA, what kind of USA citizen would you be?

A lousy one.

I can be committed to God without necessarily being committed to the kingdom of God (from "outside"), but I can't be a good citizen of the kingdom of God without being committed to that kingdom's community.

God doesn't tell us to "go to church to worship me" (the reason most of us have been taught since childhood for attending); rather, he tells us, over and over to, "be involved with one another; teach one another; encourage one another; bear one another's burdens; share with one another; love one another".

When you're alone, you can worship God. But when you're alone, you can't be one-another-ing.

Right now, "going to church" offers very little personal value to me, and often "costs" me something (not sleeping in; feeling more discouraged after attending than before; being bored; etc), and it would be easy to "skip church". But if I skipped, I'd essentially be saying "I'm not even going to try".

I can't control how the assembly goes; but I can control whether I go to assembly. And God told us to "go to assembly", not to worship him, but to "one another" each other. Whether the one-anothering actually happens is beyond my control in many respects, but I *can* control whether or not I'm there, available for one-another-ing.

And that's why I "go to 'church'".


Originally posted at:
http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2016/12/why-do-i-go-to-church.html

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Curse on Canaan

The question was asked recently, "Why did Noah have to curse Canaan?"

For those of you not familiar with the story: Noah and his three sons and the four wives of those four men had recently spent a year and change aboard the ark, with a bunch of smelly, high-maintenance critters. After disembarking, Noah planted a vineyard, maybe within a year or two, and then it was probably another year or three before he was drinking the wine from that vineyard.

Whether he intentionally got drunk, or had no idea wine would ferment into alcohol in this new post-Flood world (other clues in the text indicate that something had changed in the environment), the result was that he got wasted. Here's the text from Genesis 9 (WEB):
20 Noah began to be a farmer, and planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and got drunk. He was uncovered within his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it on both their shoulders, went in backwards, and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were backwards, and they didn’t see their father’s nakedness. 24 Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done to him. 25 He said,

“Canaan is cursed.
    He will be a servant of servants to his brothers.”
I'm not sure it's accurate to say Noah "had to curse" Canaan.

Two versed prior to this, in verse 18, you might notice that Moses specifically points out that "Ham is the father of Canaan", without saying something similar about the sons of Shem and Japheth. Now again, in verse 22, Moses again points out that "Ham, the father of Canaan" did such-and-such.

Why all this emphasis on Canaan?

Recall that Moses compiled Genesis (from books and records of the earlier patriarchs - cf Gen 5:1; 10:1; 36:1; etc), and he likely did this during the forty years of wandering in the desert, just before he was expecting to lead his people to an invasion of the land of ... wait for it, wait for it ... Canaan!

His people needed to understand that they need not fear the people of Canaan; the prophecy is that Canaan will be the servants of his people.

All part of God's plan to lead his people into the Promised Land of Canaan.


Originally published at:
http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2016/11/the-curse-on-canaan.html

Friday, November 04, 2016

Letting the Bible Define Its Own Terms

Sometimes we run into a word or phrase in the Bible, and not knowing exactly what it means, we turn to an English dictionary.

Whereas there's nothing wrong with that, the Bible wasn't written originally in English. Maybe we should look at a Bible-language dictionary (Greek/Koine for the New Testament, Hebrew for the Old, mostly).

That's better, but that still introduces the possibility that the word means something different in broader context than in the Biblical context.

Take the word "church", for example. We see the word "church" often in our English translations. (Arguably it's a terrible choice for translating the underlying Greek word "eklessia", but we're pretty much stuck with it since that's the pattern given to us by the KJV translators (by order of the King, by the way, not because it was the best choice).) If we were to look up the word "church" in a modern English dictionary, we'd see it has reference to physical buildings, to the people who assemble in such a building, to the local organization to which those people belong (such as a "congregation"), to the area/nation/world-wide organization to which the local organization belongs (such as a "denomination"), to the universal organization to which the wider organization belongs (the "universal" church), etc. But the usage of the word in the New Testament never refers to a physical building.

This same sort of thing can happen even if we turn to a Bible-language dictionary.

Thus we can see that dictionary definitions of a word don't necessarily match the Biblical usage of that word.

The best method of determining the meaning of a word is to let the Bible's usage of the word determine its meaning.

Here's another, perhaps explosively-debatable, example: "psalm". What is a "psalm"?

If we turn to non-Biblical sources, especially amongst brethren in the Church of Christ, the usual definition is that it at one time, in the Old Testament times, referred to a song accompanied by stringed musical instruments, but by the New Testament times, it simply referred to a song, without necessarily being accompanied by musical instruments, and from there, it is often insisted to mean a song definitely not accompanied by musical instruments.

Well, if you want to use non-Biblical sources as your authority, that's a fine definition. But what if we want to use the Bible as our source of authority for what the word "psalm" means?

In that case, let's just start at the beginning, and see if we can figure it out.

Using the computer web site www.biblegateway.com, I searched for "psalm", using the King James Version. The first hit I found was:
2 Sam 23:1 Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,
Well, that doesn't tell us much, other than David was a "sweet psalmist". So let's look at the next two hits:
1 Chron 16:7-9 Then on that day David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord into the hand of Asaph and his brethren. 8 Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. 9 Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works.
Ah, so now we know a "psalm" is a song, that can be sung to God and that can be used to thank God.

So David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, was a song-writer, who wrote songs of thanks to God.

There are only four more hits in the Old Testament:
Psalm 81:1 Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob. 2 Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the psaltery.
Psalm 95:1 O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.
Psalm 98:4 4 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. 5 Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. 6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King.
Psalm 105:1 O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people. 2 Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him: talk ye of all his wondrous works.
Using all the instances of the word "psalm" as found in the scriptures known by Timothy since he was a child (2 Tim 3:15), the word "psalm", as defined by the Bible, is a song of praise and joy and thankfulness to God, usually accompanied by instruments of various sorts.

But while we're here, notice that there's a whole book of psalms here in the Old Testament, 150 of them. (There are also a few other psalms, sometimes duplicates of some of these 150 psalms, scattered throughout the Old Testament in various places.) If we look at the characteristics of these psalms, we can see that sometimes they are not addressed to God, but to one another, such as in Psalm 1, which is simply telling the listener how the Godly are blessed, and the ungodly are not. We see that some do not mention musical instruments, and some do; some of those that don't mention instruments in the psalm itself mention instruments in the headings to the psalm. Some of the psalms are not prayers of praise and thanksgiving to God, but rather appeals to God for help, such as Psalm 3. Some of them are simply heart-rending emotional overflows.

Generally speaking, the Old Testament has defined its own usage of "psalm" as "a prayer or expression of, or an encouragement to, joy, sadness, thankfulness, etc, with God as the focus in some core way, set to music, and accompanied (when ascertainable one way or the other) with various instruments of music".

That is the way the term "psalm" is used in the Old Testament.

What about in the New Testament?

There are only nine hits. Here they are:
Luke 20:42 And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand,
Luke 24:44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
Acts 1:20 For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take.
Acts 13:33 God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.
Acts 13:35 Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
1 Cor 14:26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
Eph 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Col 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Jam 5:13 Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
In the first five references, "psalm" refers to the book of 150 psalms found in the Old Testament.

In the remaining four references, we're simply told to sing and teach from psalms, without being given any new definition of the term "psalm".

You'll recall that Timothy had been left in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3). You'll also recall that he learned from childhood how the Scriptures used the term "psalm" (2 Tim 3:15). When he read Paul's instruction to teach from and to sing "psalms", do you supposed he understood the word as the Scriptures used the word, or as non-Bible sources understood the word?

When either Paul or James instructs us to sing psalms, do you see them saying "sing psalms, except for the ones you might find already in Scripture"? If they didn't make an exception, who are we to add to their words? Can we not sing Psalm 150 as a congregation this coming Sunday morning? And if we do so, won't we feel weird encouraging each other (as Paul insisted we do) to praise God with the psaltery and harp? But should our comfort-zone be our standard of measure, or should the written word of God be our standard of measure?

Please note that this is not an argument for using instruments in our assemblies; there are reasons why we may not want to do that. But using a non-Biblical definition of the word "psalm", which conflicts with the Biblical definition of the word "psalm", should not be one of those reasons.

Let's let the Bible define its own terms whenever possible, rather than turn to non-Biblical sources, to inform our Christian walk.

Originally published at http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2016/11/letting-bible-define-its-own-terms.html