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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Stirring One Another Up, Part 2

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrew 10:24-25)
What does it look like to be involved in meaningful relationships with other believers? Last time we considered a couple of examples of what it doesn’t look like.  Now, I’d like to look at one more example that falls short, but then consider what it might truly look like to “stir one another up to love and good deeds.”
Another kind of involvement that may not qualify as obedience to Heb 10:24-25 is accountability relationships.  Let me quickly qualify that statement.  If you are in an accountability relationship in which you focus on stirring one another up to love and good deeds, that does represent obedience to Heb 10:24-25. 
However, it is my observation that accountability relationships for the most part have devolved into asking each other a few questions and then quickly moving on to conversation about non-essential things.
“Have you been doing your devotions?”
“Have you gossiped about anyone this week?”
“Awesome.  What do you guys have going on this weekend?”
Accountability has become more about discouraging each other from doing bad deeds, but there is little thought given to stirring up love and good deeds.  We’ve talked many times at Providence about putting off and putting on.  Put off love for idols, put on love for Christ.  Put off sinful behavior, put on righteous behavior.  Many accountability relationships are only about the first half of that – putting off sinful behaviors.  Where is the putting on?  Where is the encouragement to grow in the worship of Christ?
So you may be in an accountability relationship.  I would encourage you to evaluate what you focus on in that relationship.  Is it all about stopping certain behaviors?  Or do you also stir one another up to love and good deeds?
If showing up at church, family devotions, and typical accountability groups aren’t the biblical idea of building up the church, what should it look like to build one another up to love and good works?
A great mechanism for this kind of regular, intentional meeting together is the Puritan practice of conferencing.  (This is the model we used for the Men’s Spiritual Leadership Boot Camp last year.)  Conferencing was the Puritans’ mechanism for living out the “one another” commands of Scripture and of stirring one another up to love and good deeds. Among the Puritans, everyone—whether a pastor, farmer, teenager, or mother of small children—everyone was expected to practice conferencing. 
Conferencing consisted of very small groups – 2, 3, or 4 people – coming together regularly to engage in weighty conversation about spiritual things.  It was not merely a cold, theological discussion, but a meaningful discourse about the Word and the heart, an opportunity to build into one another’s lives with scriptural encouragement and exhortation.
One Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, gave his congregation a list of conversation starters, including: “1. ...a point from the last sermon that you heard, or of something lately preached that nearly [i.e., deeply] touched you. 2. Or of something in the last spiritual book you read.  3. Or of some text of Scripture obvious [i.e., relevant] to your thoughts. 4. Or of some notable (yea, ordinary) providence which did lately occur. 5. Or of some examples of good or evil that are fresh before you. 6. Or of the right doing of the duty that you are about.”  Additionally, he encouraged them to open up regarding their own personal struggles.
That is a much more robust response to the exhortation to stir one another up to love and good deeds.  To use this model, we can adopt the following framework for conferencing meetings.
First, we need to come prepared to share something with the group for the purpose of encouraging them and stirring them up.  You can use Richard Baxter’s suggestions.  It could be a point from a sermon that you listened to during the week, that was helpful to you or that would be helpful to them.  It could be a point from a Christian book you are reading.  It could be a passage of Scripture that you came across in your bible reading.  It could be how to view a certain current event through the lens of the gospel.
Perhaps a brother or sister is struggling with something in particular – you could bring something to encourage him or her in that area.  It just needs to be something you are bringing to that man or men to generate a conversation about meaningful things for the purpose of stirring them up to love God more and to follow Him in obedience. Ask yourself, “What can I do to point them to Jesus?”
But we may groan, thinking, “Great, another thing to add to my to-do list: find something to encourage others.”  This shouldn’t be a burden if we are pursuing the Lord ourselves.  we will inevitably come across something in our own devotions that we can use to encourage our conference group.
Second, come prepared to converse about what the others in the group bring to encourage you.  In other words, when others share what they have brought to encourage the group, engage with them on that subject.  Let it grow into a larger consideration of the things of the Lord.  These are conversation starters, not conversation enders. 
Third, come prepared to find out how you can help them with their struggles.  What do they need you to pray about?  How can you come alongside them to help them deal with a particular sin?  This is where accountability fits in.  Accountability is a way of helping a brother stay on course.  Ask them explicit questions about how they are doing fighting sin.  Ask them how they are bringing the Word and prayer to bear in that fight.   
Fourth, come prepared to share freely about yourself and your struggles and allow them to “one another” you.  As we are pursuing fellowship with the Lord throughout the week, we should be thinking about what we can share with our conference partner(s).  Thus, the group becomes less about how we keep ourselves from sinning and more about how we can stir others up to love and good deeds.  Amazingly, this helps in our own struggle with sin.  Out of love for God and others, we are doing the good deed of considering how to help others grow in the Lord.
So many of the sin problems we all struggle with are nothing more than complications caused by acute self-centeredness.  By focusing on helping others, we somewhat inadvertently kill the habit of self-focus and replace it with service.  In these ways, conferencing is others-centered and service-minded.  It’s about giving, not receiving.  
With conferencing we take the concept of accountability and add to it stirring one another up to love and good deeds.  Conferencing focuses as much on positive growth in the worship of Christ as on recent successes or failures in overcoming temptation.  So we’re not throwing out accountability; we’re fortifying it with Christ-centered encouragement.
I’ve heard frequently in recent years that “accountability doesn’t work.”  I think conferencing, by being others-focused, could help to correct this belief.  Next time, we’ll consider why accountability often fails and how conferencing could help prevent this failure from happening.  In the meantime, is there a person or two at PBF that you could ask to conference with you?  Who are they?  Why not talk to them about it?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Stirring One Another Up

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (Hebrew 10:24-25)
In Sunday's message, we noted once again the three tools of sanctification (the Word, prayer, and fellowship) as well as how essential they are to our growth in valuing Christ above all things.  As I mentioned then, the first two are ingrained in us – we know we must spend time in the Word and in prayer.  But we tend to neglect the third – fellowship or meaningful relationships with other believers.
It could be the case that some of us are unaware of what this should look like.  We may know that God has designed the church to grow by mutual edification, but what qualifies as mutual edification.  How do we go about building up the body of Christ?  This post will be the first in short series seeking to answer that question.
Hebrews 10:24-25 calls us to stir one another up to love and good deeds.  I would suggest that this is one of the clearest indications of what biblical fellowship should entail.  We are called not merely to hang out and have fun together, although there is nothing wrong with that.  But this is a call to a specific activity and destination.  We are to help one another grow in love and good deeds.  
I find it interesting that v24 reads, “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good deeds,” and not merely, “stir one another up to love and good deeds.”  What difference does that make?  A couple of things.  First, it assumes that we should stir one another up.  Second, it commands us to devote thought to how to do this.  It indicates that we are to concern ourselves with one another’s love and good deeds.
Many of us spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how to stir ourselves up to love and good deeds.  This passage asks us to make a priority of doing that for others.  And I believe the reason for this is that when we are all doing this, everyone is stirred up.  As I am stirring someone else up, they are stirring me up.  This fosters the kind of others-centeredness that is so prominently encouraged in the New Testament. 
Most people in the modern church don’t think this way, but rather think with a self-centered bent (“how can I stir myself up to love and good deeds”), which is what enables so many people to justify cutting themselves off from the church and pursuing an isolated Christian life.  We need to reject a solitary view of sanctification and adopt a corporate view.  Certainly we should be concerned about our own growth, but the Bible calls us to be concerned with the growth of others around us as well.    
The command of Hebrews 10:24-25 is not directed to a subset of believers.  It is given to all, which means that involvement in this kind of relationship is not some kind of extra-credit for spiritual over-achievers.  If we’re not doing it, we’re disobeying.  If we are not actively stirring others up to love and good deeds, we are sinning.
Before we consider what a Heb 10:24-25 kind of interaction might look like, let’s think about what kind of “involvement” with others doesn’t qualify as obedience to this command.
First of all, regular church attendance doesn’t qualify.  We use v25 frequently to make the point that believers should attend church regularly, and we use it to confront those who stop coming to church.  However, that grossly lowers the bar of this passage.  The writer of Hebrews was not shooting for believers to come into a building and warm a pew for two hours a week.  Merely showing up is not what he was looking for. 
What did He have in mind?  Stirring one another up.  That is the main verb in the verse – “let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good deeds.”  Then there are two participles modifying that main verb.  The first is “not neglecting to meet together.”  That’s a negative qualifier.  Then the second is a positive qualifier: “but encouraging one another.”  You see, the opposite of “not neglecting to meet together” is not “showing up at church,” but rather is “encouraging one another.” 
Consider this: if you come to church every Sunday of the year, and you do the normal greeting time, and you stay afterward for a few minutes and have a conversation or two about whatever, and that’s the extent of your involvement in the church, can you say that you’ve been obedient to Heb 10:24-25?  Surely not. 
Is it possible that there are people at Providence Bible Fellowship who come to church every Sunday and never miss but who have absolutely no meaningful interaction with others in which they stir them up to love and good deeds?  I would dare to say that this is the habit of many of us.  We need to repent of this.
Coming to church, coming to Sunday School, coming on Wed nights – these are not things to which Heb 10:24-25 calls us.  These are good things that we should do so that we might be equipped to serve, but they should not be the extent of our involvement in the church.  And if that is the extent of our involvement in the church, we cannot say that we are a functioning member of the body of Christ.  It would be more appropriate to consider ourselves dead weight, like a leg or arm that is paralyzed.  We’re a drag on the body rather than a vibrant, obedient vessel contributing to the body building itself up in love.
Another activity that does not qualify as obedience to Heb 10:24-25 and Eph 4:7ff: Some may think, “well, I do this in my family.  I do all this one anothering at home.”  It’s great that you obey the one another commands in your home.  Praise God for that.  But Eph 4:7-16, which explains that sanctification is a corporate activity, wasn’t written to families.  Family instruction is at the end of Eph 5 and the beginning of Eph 6
There has been a movement in recent years among some to think of the family as a church.  That just isn’t biblical.  We need the church.  And if you are not involved in relationships in the church, stirring others up to love and good deeds, you are sinning.  The family is the family and the church is the church.  The Bible gives explicit and distinct direction for involvement in both, and involvement in one does not count as involvement with the other.
Next time, we’ll consider one other kind of involvement that may not qualify as obedience to Heb 10:24-25.  Then we’ll consider some ideas about what would qualify.  Until then, consider your weekly routine.  Your monthly routine.  Do you have any regular interaction with other believers for the specific purpose of stirring them up to love and good deeds?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Invest in Your Marriage!

The busyness of modern life can lead us to invest in many things that are not truly significant to our Christian walk.  Some of us are in careers that require a great deal of time not only during the workday, but also in our hours at home.  Those of us who have kids still at home can find ourselves stretched thin very easily by our children’s involvement in even a few regular activities.  Others deal with family or health concerns that chew up much time and attention.
As a result, many times the most significant relationships in our lives suffer.  Sometimes it is our relationships with our children, but most often it is our relationships with our spouses.  The early years of childrearing require so much personal sacrifice that a couple can establish an unspoken agreement that “we’ll reconnect with one another when this season is out of the way.”  It’s not at all uncommon, however, for that “season” to become the normal way of life for them and that couple eventually finds themselves existing with one another rather than being truly intimate companions in every area of life.
Consider a few questions.  When was the last time you sat down with your spouse and had a face-to-face, meaningful conversation?  When was the last time you did something fun – just the two of you?  Do you have any idea what is weighing on your spouse's mind these days?  When was the last time you did something for the specific purpose of strengthening your relationship?
Growth in companionship within marriage doesn’t happen automatically.  In fact, virtually every influence around us will erode our companionship if we are not making conscious strides to overcome them.  We desperately need to strive to continually cultivate a biblical picture of companionship in our marriages.
A great tool to keep this on the front burner is to make every effort to attend marriage events and conferences periodically.  One of our sister churches, Clearcreek Chapel in Springboro, holds an annual marriage and family conference for this very purpose.  We’ve been invited to participate this year and I’d like to encourage all of our folks to attend.
The theme of the conference is “Cultivating Companionship.”  There will be five sessions over the course of Saturday, March 5, 9:00-3:00.  Five pastors from the Southern Ohio area will be speaking on various helpful topics, including the Biblical foundation for companionship, how to cultivate companionship, and how to protect companionship.
The cost of the conference is $20 per person and includes the conference, materials, snacks, and lunch.  The material will be suitable for anyone over 14 years of age.  Childcare will not be provided onsite, so you’ll need to secure your own childcare (think of this as investing in your own marriage and in your children – your children benefit from your healthy marriage!)
Clearcreek Chapel is located at 2738 Pennyroyal Road, Miamisburg, Ohio 45342.  You can find a more detailed brochure for the conference here.  You can register for the conference at
Please consider investing in your marriage in this way.  The conference will be a great benefit to you, your children, and our congregation!