Sunday, December 25, 2011


Nicholas Flatoff photo

C.S. Lewis calls Joy “a kind of love.”

He writes, “I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and from Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”

Lewis spent much of his pre-Christian life desiring to find Joy. And what he eventually found is that it wasn’t Joy itself he needed to find, but its Source. When Lewis wasn’t looking, even though he was looking—but in the wrong direction—he was surprised by Joy.

As he tells it,

“There was no strain of music from within, no smell of eternal orchids at the threshold, when I was dragged through the doorway…” by, and to, the Source of Joy, God Himself. “I found it (Joy) to be a person,” writes Lewis, who adds that Joy “might be one of the demands, might be the very first demand, He would make upon me.”

“Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight.” Psalm 43:4

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Joyous Christmas Eve

Barb Harwood, photo

The following is a Christmas editorial from the Wall Street Journal.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

All of us are the poor, all of us are the prisoners, all of us are blind, all of us are oppressed...lest we think these words do not apply to us. Jesus came for all of us, making us rich in Him, though we are poor materially, spiritually or emotionally; freeing us from a bondage to darkness; giving us sight to see His truth; releasing us from the self-centeredness of ourselves and others; and giving us the gift of Himself.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift of Jesus: A Matter of Style?

I heard someone make the comment recently that a gift they received “wasn’t really their style.”

It struck me that many people view the gift of Jesus the same way. He simply isn’t “their style.” As Christians, we also reject the gift of Himself when we like His “style” in some ways but not in others. Many of us are great with the serving side of Jesus, but we don’t follow Jesus in heart matters. Instead, we allow spiritual pride, self-promotion, envy and the like to take hold.

I often fail to allow Jesus to love me and love Him back and love others simply because it “isn’t my style” at the moment to do so. I ignore His gift of the inner counselor—the Holy Spirit—to guide me into all truth, righteousness and love because I am more bent on getting even emotionally with someone or boasting about myself out of a need for societal acceptance and affirmation. Many of us don’t take every thought captive, as the Bible teaches, and we don’t focus on loving others with our attitudes and words as much as we focus on finding fault and seeing the world with a critical spirit. If there is any message that needs to be pounded into me at Christmas, it’s this: to live out the joy I have because my Savior, Jesus Christ, was willing to freely love me—and all others--to the point of death on a cross.

What does that mean? It means He came to save us from our thought lives. Our repentance and trust in Him does bring eternal life in heaven. But before heaven, there’s a whole lot of cleaning up to do in our hearts here on earth. The best gift we can give ourselves, and ultimately others, is to give our hearts to Jesus for regeneration and rebirth.

Jesus came as a baby into lowly circumstances. He came in humbleness and sweetness; all the attributes of a baby. Jesus obviously thought them important, if not key to the Christian life, to make them the conditions of His entrance into the world.

Many of us excel at service, giving material things, planting churches and providing financial and even prayer support. But do we practice (and not just listen to it at weddings) a 1 Corinthians love that begins in our hearts and forms our attitudes and outlook, transforming our service so that it is God’s pure service through us? Do we apply a right attitude and selflessness to our families and to those we encounter who are a bit abrasive?

Jesus Christ has not made it an enigma on how our hearts should be. Since love is the greatest command, our heart’s foundation must be love. Jesus tells us how to love. He doesn’t make us figure it out for ourselves: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

Love never fails….but I do. I fail at this kind of love on a daily basis. That’s because I squash the Holy Spirit who is desperately trying to grow this kind of love in me. We tend our gardens and maintain our homes. And Christians give wonderfully to charity, serve on the mission field and allow God to work through us in uncountable ways. Christians are such an incredible blessing. But I know that, for me, and for perhaps many Christians, a struggle with core heart issues exists, sometimes affecting the glory that is supposed to go to God in my serving and family life.

The gift of new life in Jesus Christ is not something we can put on the level of the style of curtains we decorate our house with, the jeans we wear, or the kind of restaurants we choose. Jesus is not a matter of taste or style. I need to stop living my thought life as if He were.

“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’ ‘The most important,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” ‘The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.’” Mark 12:28-31

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

“And now these three remain; faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Monday, December 5, 2011

Where and What is Our Treasure?

A recent news article on the value of antiques gave me pause. It reported how Jim Beam Collector’s Edition decanters, which were made from 1966 to 1986, “have not gained in value through the years.” In fact, any Collector’s Edition decanter sells today for $5 or less.

I know someone who has a living room filled with these porcelain decanters. The person is convinced that this collection "will be valuable someday.” I don't have the heart to tell them the truth.

This little news item hit me because the Lord has been pushing me these last few months to de-materialize. As I have been obedient in His request, I have spent much time commiserating with my husband regarding the stuff we’ve managed to accumulate over the years. That led to a discussion on why humans collect things in the first place. I know my reasons for obtaining possessions was that, before I was a Christian, I attached sentimentality to material things. So my kids received Beanie Babies to mark birthdays and holidays. They received “keepsake” items like music boxes and snow globes. My son, as a toddler, loved a bar of soap in the shape of an animal, so I fed that enjoyment by giving him more soaps in animal shapes until he had a collection: Not a collection of his own volition, but one fed to him by me, his mother. On and on it goes.

We feel the need to mark life with stuff. We also fill voids in life with stuff. We “kill time” by shopping for stuff. We decorate for the holidays by buying “seasonal” shower curtains, hand towels, front-porch mats, cooking mitts and candles. We have red, white and blue plates for the 4th of July and pumpkin-decorated dinnerware for Thanksgiving. We have candy cane pajamas for Christmas. We have snowflake comforters for winter and poppy printed blankets for summer. We have TVs, computers, hand-helds and cells. We have and we have and we have. And then one day, we realize that all that we have is a burden that only steals time away from family, friends and ministry.

I have come to deplore the mindset that once drove me eagerly to Kohls, Shopko and Target. The times I've had to reluctantly go into those places recently (had to find a requested red tie for my husband for a wedding) I could hardly breathe for the overwhelming memory of how, only a short time ago, I came to these places to spend time, assuage boredom, and put my trust in new clothes or towels to “lift my spirits.”

God alone has begun a new work in me. Since June 1st, my husband and I have tossed out or donated a good portion of our built-up possessions. I can’t even really remember all that I have gotten rid of. I just know that, the more I get rid of, the less burdened I become, and the closer to God’s will for my life I get. And God isn’t settling. He is pushing me harder to keep going--to get into the high places and remove some more; to get into the recesses and remove, remove, remove.

Stuff in itself is not a bad thing. Too much of it is, along with too much attachment. Once God commanded me to start letting go, I got over my initial reluctance when I saw how much easier it is to clean my house, how pleasant it is to live with empty spaces and how much time has been freed up.

God has given me an amazing gift these last six months: the gift of freedom from accumulated stuff and from wanting more stuff. I am patiently awaiting what He has in store for me with this new unburdened life. He is tearing down the storehouse of stuff, freeing my heart from its attachment to things and putting a new treasure there.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

“Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:33-34

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tribute to Veterans

"Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you;" Psalm 55:22

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


photos, Barb Harwood

"You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance." Psalm 65:11

"The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest." Psalm 85:12

"...let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them." Psalm 96:12

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Devotion to God

E.M. Bounds
, in his book On Prayer, writes that there is no substitute for a devotion to God for the founding of our character and conduct. While his comments specifically address pastors, Bounds words on where our loyalty lies hold true for all Christians: "Devotion to a church, to opinions, to an organization, to orthodoxy--these are paltry, misleading, and vain when they become the source of inspiration, the animus (attitude) of a call."

Bounds explains that God must be the "mainspring" of effort, "the fountain and crown" of toil.

He goes on to say, "The name and honor of Jesus Christ, the advance of his cause, must be all in all. The preacher (and we too) must have no inspiration but the name of Jesus Christ, no ambition but to have him glorified, no toil but for him." The only aim, Bounds writes, is to have God with us, and that is an ambition to cherish perpetually.

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." Galatians 2:20

"May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14

"I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me." Philippians 1:20-22

Saturday, October 29, 2011

More on Biblical Testimony...

On May 3, 2011, I wrote a post titled "What is Biblical Testimony?" I wish I had read the following lines in John R.W. Stott's Understanding the Bible at the time I had been asked to give my testimony to a large group of high school students! (My first mistake was giving "my" testimony instead of "a" testimony about Jesus).

Stott writes:

"The words 'witness' and 'testimony' have been much devalued, and are sometimes employed to describe what is little more than an essay in religious autobiography. But Christian witness is witness to Christ. And the Christ to whom we have a responsibility to witness is not merely the Christ of our personal experience, but the historic Christ, the Christ of the apostolic testimony. There is no other Christ. So if Scripture leads to witness, witness also depends on Scripture." John R.W. Stott

"As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" Romans 10:15.

Our testimony or witness, whether given formally or informally, ought to be good news about Jesus for a people caught in darkness unawares. It has not so much to do with us as it does with the power and leading of the Holy Spirit to say what He will about Himself through us. It is the unchanging testimony of Scripture, working on uniquely different lives. We are the feet that bring the beautiful news, not so that people hear or see us, but so they hear and see the Jesus of Scripture. Perhaps they, too, will then desire to know and experience the Jesus of Scripture.

"He must become greater; I must become less." John 3:30

"All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Peter speaking). Acts 10:43

"...I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace" (Paul speaking). Acts 20:24

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

God Is, Regardless

I came across this Habakkuk verse today and it pretty much stopped me in my tracks:

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,

though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,

though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights. “

Habakkuk 3:17-19

Contained in these two lines is a sermon to last a lifetime: what an expression of joy, regardless of circumstances. What an expression of trust, regardless of circumstances. What an expression of standing strong, regardless of circumstances!

These last two lines of Habakkuk are motivating words for a day in which a critical and complaining spirit often reigns, even within the Body of Christ.

But God, in His Word, provides for our every need. And Habakkuk is a great place to start to allow God Himself to lift us up in renewal and steadfastness in our walk with Him, regardless….

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Biblical Theology of Parenting

My husband and I just completed an online Biblical Theology of the New Testament class. As part of our final exam, we each had to write a Biblical theology of parenting. It was a great exercise, and I highly recommend Christian parents do the same exercise and tape it to the refrigerator! My husband and I both agreed we wish we had done this when we first became Christians. So here it is, my Biblical theology of parenting:

Biblical parenting involves loving, teaching, training, guiding, disciplining and mentoring.
Ephesians 6:1-4 is a great place to start: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
If parents do not first teach respect for parents, then parents are going to find themselves swimming against a very strong current the majority of the time. Finding the balance laid out in the Ephesians verses is key: parents must teach and discipline. Yet, as the verse states, parents must not exasperate their children (Colossians 3:21) by putting unrealistic expectations on them or disciplining too severely or constantly without also praising, encouraging and edifying (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We've all heard "pick your battles" but maybe that should be re-phrased as "don't pick battles" in the first place! "Battle" implies stubbornness and the digging in of one's heels for the long haul, often justified as its being "the principle of the thing." But what principle? At what cost? To whose benefit?
The training and instruction of the Lord can be found as a teaching of Jesus in Matthew 19:14 when Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them…”
How is it that parents can hinder their children’s coming to Jesus? Well, by not creating and maintaining a Christian home in belief, thought and deed. Also, by not having a consistent church life at a sound, Bible-believing church (consistent does not mean the church takes over one's family life. Each family must decide as a family what they want to become involved in at church, and how much. The amount of involvement that works for one family may be disruptive in another). In addition, parents can hinder their children’s “coming to Jesus” and growing in Christ by failing to be Christian mentors. If parents watch violence or mediocre, tasteless programming on TV or too much TV, skip daily prayer and Bible time, cuss, cheat, lie, gossip, eat to excess, drink alcohol or abuse prescription drugs, they will indeed be getting in the way of their children’s ability to come to Jesus, especially during the younger developmental years when establishing a Christian walk is so important.
Mark 9:42 goes along with the previous point: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.” Parents have been entrusted with God’s children. Just as we are not are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), our children are not our own: they belong to God and are His creation (Psalm 139:13). God will hold parents accountable as to whether they were Godly teachers and a Godly influence or a stumbling block to their children (God does not expect parents to be perfect. But He does expect contrition and repentance from parents and children alike when they sin).
The other key verse for parents to rely on in their parenting, and to teach to their children, is 1 Thessalonians 5:21: “Test everything” (also Romans 12:2). I’ve said this to my children and continue to remind myself of it many times (and wish I had been more proactive at it in my early faith life, when my children were aged 10 and 7). But as my sons are now in college (and my husband and I participate in the online Bible class), I am relying on this verse quite a bit as we all discuss what we hear from classmates, professors and textbooks.
Another key to parenting is to realize we are sinners and live in a fallen world (yes, even cute little two-year olds are sinners. This realization alone should make parents not take bad behavior personally!). This, I believe, is where love is needed most; not to excuse bad behavior, but to make room for the inevitable tripping into sin and making of mistakes. Colossians 3:13-14 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love; which binds them all together in perfect unity” (the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32 is a great illustration of this).
As I enter my 6th month of empty-nestness, the above verse holds even more meaning. No one could have prepared me for how much I miss my children, and, in looking back, the desire that more of Colossians 3 would have taken place and less of “sweating the small stuff.” Once my sons left home, I realized how those little irksome qualities of my children are really quite endearing, and it might not be so bad to have a pile of my son’s junk sitting on the dining room table! I guess that’s why empty-nesters make such wonderful grandparents!
Finally, if I had to select one passage from Scripture to give to new parents, it would be Philippians 4:4-9: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Parents must, in prayer, humble submission, thankfulness and Godly love for our children, give ourselves, our parenting and our children over to God on a daily basis.

copyright Barb Harwood

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How Majestic

Barb Harwood photos, Olympic National Park, Washington

"Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"
Psalm 8:1;9

"They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works." Psalm 145:5

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Heavens Declare

Barb Harwood Photos

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world."
Psalm 19:1-4

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chris Christie Willing to Take a Stand

The following article

is a great example of how judgment calls are a good thing.

One of the most misunderstood passages in Scripture is “do not judge.” Many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, take this to mean, “Keep your opinions to yourself.” Yet, that isn’t what “do not judge” means. It means God will judge (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37; Romans 2) and only God knows the heart (1 Kings 8:39-40). We aren’t to think of ourselves as being more valuable in God’s sight than anyone else (John 3:16; Romans 2:11; Romans 12:3; 1 Timothy 2:3; 2 Peter 3:9). We are to pray for the lost and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44; Matthew 9:35-38; Luke 10:1-3; Romans 12:14;1 Timothy 2:8). We are to be forgiving, understanding that those we forgive must face consequences for their actions, just as we, too, are forgiven by God when we repent yet will face consequences for our actions (Proverbs 3:11-12; Mark 6:12; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Hebrews 12:6; 2 Peter 3:9).

The Bible, however, says we are not to love the things and ways of the world (John 15:18-25; John 17:24; John 17:14-15; Romans 12:2; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17), and is full of verses that talk about discernment and correction and having nothing to do with false teaching (1 John 2:18-26; 1 John 3:1-6; 2 John 1:7-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; 1 Timothy 5:24-25; 2 Peter 3:17). In fact the book of Jude devotes itself to warning believers how close to the brink of destruction they are by allowing “teachers” who mishandle the truth and lead others astray to enter the church. Jude implores the believers to compassionately rescue these apostates if they can, all the while being very careful that they don’t fall into the false teaching themselves. The Bible tells us to be on our guard and to wear the armor of God for protection to stand strong in our faith (Ephesians 6:10-18). The devil, it says, prowls like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Yet, even in the hostile picture of the world that the Bible portrays, we are to admonish in love and gentleness as we stand on the firm foundation of what we believe (2 Thessalonians 3:14; 2 Timothy 2: 25-26; Colossians 3:16-17). I believe Chris Christie did exactly that. He is standing for what he believes in (and represents many others in agreement with him) and matter-of-factly taking action to remove support for an entity that is derogatory and not worthy of positive recognition or support. Oh that more would follow his lead.

Some are sure to criticize Christie for his actions, saying that now production companies will go elsewhere to film. Let them. There’s a thing in this country called prerogative. Just as Jersey Shore producers and actors have the prerogative to make a tasteless program, politicians have the prerogative to say "not with my tax money" (in the case of Italy, "not in my country," which is basically the cool reception Jersey Shore is getting there. That country doesn’t want the show, or any money it might bring in, either).

I find it incredibly refreshing that Christie has made a judgment call. We hear about the “culture war” all the time. But how can it be fought if everyone is afraid to ruffle someone else’s feathers? Is it only okay for a shoddy program to have its say, but not anyone else? The only way we’ll start winning the culture war is if we actually enter a battle! I thank Chris Christie for doing exactly that.

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world..." Romans 12:2

"Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart...Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." 2 Timothy 2:22; 25-26

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” 1 John 2:15-17

Saturday, September 24, 2011

God Is With Us Right Now

Barb Harwood photo

This morning was one of those mornings where the sun, early autumn colors of purple and gold, a bit of rain, blue sky and large dark clouds all converged. I sat on my porch and thought, “this is the amalgam of life.”

On any given day, life is usually a mix of two or more—sun with rain, or sun with color, or rain with color, or clouds with rain. And sometimes, more often than we even know, all five! That’s when life can get complicated. Yet, this morning was one of the most beautiful of the entire year. And the overriding quality was calm. In spite of the white clouds spilling up and out of the dark sky and the rain, the flowers stood still and the sun glistened off the water drops hanging silently from petals. Remarkably, there was no wind.

God is our calm, too, in the midst of the mix of daily life. This is a reminder I need. As my Dad summed it up yesterday as he related the health issues of his ten-year-old dog, “That’s life.” Life is often out of our control. But even with the diversity of situations, and the aging and death and new birth, living is beautiful because God is present in it. Our days are a hue of brilliance and grey. But God is with us; in joy and in anguish, pain and trepidation, humor and blessing. God is in this life, this very moment, with us.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’” Lamentations 3:22-24

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Scripture in the Hands of Politicians and Clueless Writers

I once heard an actress say, "Everyone is an expert on the Bible, yet very few people have actually read it." An article appearing in today's Midwest Christian Outreach highlights the problems that occur with bad exegesis (explanation or interpretation), or no interpretation at all but a mere parroting of what one has heard but never examined for themselves. Journalists, especially, are to be held to a higher standard when it comes to getting things right. If a journalist isn't familiar with the Bible and is unwilling to become familiar with it in a manner of integrity, then perhaps they should leave matters of theology to those who are.

Here's the article, written by Jonathan Miles. It is an extremely worthwhile read for the times we live in:

(Midwest Christian Outreach is a resource I've benefitted from since the early days of my Christian walk. One of the things I like about it is that it is independent of any denominational loyalty, and is sincere in its attempt to rightly handle Scripture and do sound Biblical apologetics (a defense of), often with a refreshing sense of humor!)

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." 2 Timothy 2:15

"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:3-5

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Here is the Church

Barb Harwood, photos

My son spent last weekend at a freshman college retreat and was quite upset that he had to listen to yet another Christian speaker talk about how “the church isn’t doing anything.” In fact, according to my son, this particular speaker faulted churches for spending more money on missions conferences than on actually doing missions. Yet isn’t it ironic that this critique is coming from none other than a conference speaker?

My son said that the speaker’s closing remarks included the child’s finger play game, “Here is the church, here is the steeple.” Only this speaker changed it to, “Here are the doors, where is the church?” A dramatic soundbite, maybe, but I see it as a cheap shot, and certainly not biblical. I’m sure all the students in the crowd who are involved in ministries were really encouraged and edified. Not!

The apostle Paul is our example of how to disperse criticism. And I certainly wish I’d studied his model in the past in dealing with my own differences with church. But maybe because I’ve been there, I know that this conference speaker is off base. The Bible tells us Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Not that we aren’t to have discernment, concern and constructive criticisms. The verse itself says we are to think about whatever is true, and that can involve some confrontation. Paul, however, in addressing his listeners and churches, always starts out with a praise or edification. Nobody wants to feel constantly beat upon, especially if they already are “doing something” (which the conference speaker has no way of knowing. Often, a speaker or author will assume their audience is doing nothing, or that the audience is doing all the work and everyone “out there” is doing nothing. Again, these “experts” have no way of knowing what everyone “out there” is doing).

So, before his corrective teachings, Paul first says something positive to build up and encourage, and only after that does he explain where the churches are in error. He follows that, in turn, with instruction on the specific changes that need to be made going forward. Again, many authors and speakers on the circuit today shoot off about the church not being “authentic” or “radical” or “relevant,” but never give an answer as to how to be that way. In fact, they often say we need to be in a “conversation” to figure it all out. Well, the conversation has been going on for several years now and these authors and speakers continue to claim, “Nothing’s being done.” Maybe the “conversation” approach is the problem, not the church.

The second point is that, if a person critiques a church based on works that meet their personal definition of works, the church will often look like it isn’t doing anything simply because it isn’t doing what that particular person considers works! Jesus, in John 6:29 says, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” The church as Jesus commissioned it is to preach the Gospel. Acts 4:18-19 says, “Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

In studying this, I looked to “A Biblical Theology of the New Testament” by Roy B. Zuck, where author Darrell Bock states, “So the new community saw herself as called to obey God by continuing to preach the message of Jesus to the people…Peter noted that the new community will obey God, not man…The church considered it an honor to be able to share the message and asked for boldness to do the job” (see Acts 4:29.)

In Luke, the church is to be a witness as well: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things’” (24:45-47).

Jesus commissioned His church to be a believing church and to share the way to that belief with others so that they, too, can receive the gift of new life here and in heaven (and from someone who is about to go in for a biopsy, the notion of some that we focus too much on heaven is, I believe, also not biblical. Even thinking that I may have cancer, as small of a chance as it is, makes me incredibly grateful for the hope and reality of heaven. I know people whose fear of death—especially as they age--has them caught in despair. Don’t we want to give them the scissors that will cut them loose from that chain of despair?).

Yet many in the church today don’t find the reading, teaching and sharing of the Gospel, along with prayer and witness, as worthy. But everyone who claims the name of Jesus Christ needs to go back and see that belief in Jesus and His Word is not relegated to one random, remote page of Scripture, never to be mentioned again! Nor is the sharing of the Gospel. It’s all right there throughout and is, in fact, part and parcel of loving one’s neighbor.

With that, I lift up the following members of the Body of Christ to show that indeed, the church is doing something!! May looking at what people are already doing encourage us to get involved if we aren’t already!


A Lutheran High School Graduate of the Class of 1998 is “leaving her position at Pella Corporation in Pella, IA to train with Youth With a Mission.” YWAM’s stated purpose is to “know God and to make Him known,” and includes short-term evangelistic missionary journeys, educational training, church planting, business as mission and relief and development services.

Another LHS Graduate, Class of 2009, spent four weeks in Uruguay as a missionary for Campus Crusade for Christ, and has been involved with the Madison chapter the last two years. She helped build a campus ministry in Montevideo.

Southside Alliance Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin has the following outreach: “Forgiven and Set Free” confidential Bible Study for those seeking healing from an abortion; Faith-in-Action Sunday with a focus on “Going to Church to Being the Church;” several home groups focusing on building Godly relationships; and a recovery ministry and archery ministry, both open to the public. SSA includes a Ministry Start-Up form on their website, which implies that anyone with an idea can get started!

First Baptist Church in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, is holding a fundraising banquet for the Alpha Women’s Center in Milwaukee. Alpha Women’s Center is a crisis pregnancy center offering counseling and abortion alternatives, along with parenting support and programs. Faith Baptist Church in Plymouth, Wisconsin is also one of its supporters and recently delivered diapers and other baby supplies to the center.


Third Christian Reformed Church of Denver, Colorado sent an adult team to Mexico in April, and supports missionaries in Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Nigeria and Cambodia. Their local outreach includes working with the Khmer Christian Reformed Church in nearby Aurora. The website says, “The Cambodian ministry is bringing the Good News of God's Word to our Cambodian neighbors in the Denver area. The Khmer CRC ministers to an average of 80 adults who faithfully attend each Sunday with their children.” There is also a Cambodian Teen Youth Ministry that meets every Thursday evening. Third Christian Reformed also partners with the Sun Valley Community Church, where “the ministry is shaped by a neighborhood consisting of primarily single-parent families with few financial resources. Our vision is to present the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution to life's challenges, while demonstrating our care and concern. Our ministry at Sun Valley is through pastoral support, gifts of food, clothing, and support of their tutoring program. Sun Valley Church is a place of worship for this community.” This is just a partial list of all of the things Third Christian is involved in.

The Presbyterian Reformed Church of Charlotte, North Carolina is involved with Bible distribution and translation; African Bible College in Uganda; Voice of the Martyrs—a non-profit interdenominational Christian organization dedicated to assisting the persecuted church worldwide; a church plant in Italy; support of a church in Malawi and two students at Knox Seminary in Uganda.


Central Baptist Church in Victoria, British Columbia, which I attended while on vacation, supports missionaries in Sudan, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Argentina, South Africa and the Philippines. In their community of Victoria, they do the following outreach: hold a monthly free hot breakfast; offer free ESL classes in conjunction with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Center Society; and send volunteers from church to go into the near-by elementary school weekly to help students learn to read.

“Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’” John 20:21