Faith Lessons by Ray Vander Laan: The Very Words of God

The apostles followed Jesus “until they were covered by the dust of his feet,” as the ancient saying goes. And they were immersed in the text.

Jesus learned the text, lived the text, taught the text, prayed the text, and died the text — Jesus even recited from the Psalms while hanging on the cross.

The apostles had the advantage of having grown up in a culture that honored the text, but they had to teach in a Greek world that knew nothing of the text. Continue reading


Ministry Ideas: Celebrate Recovery

Several months ago, some of our members began working with some of our staff to start a chapter of Celebrate Recovery at our church. It took months of planning and preparation, but we finally got started earlier this year.

“Celebrate Recovery” is a Biblically based program for addiction recovery begun by the Saddleback congregation led by Rick Warren. Several of our members have been through the training and have helped lead the program. The program launched after a series of sermons laid out the principles behind the program. We offer it once a week on Wednesday nights.

The first night, we had over 70 visitors, and it’s been going strong ever since. The leaders coordinate their ministry with other Celebrate Recovery programs in town, so that they are all offered on different nights, allowing those who need to attend several times a week to do so at different churches. (No other Churches of Christ in town offer this program, but a non-denominational community church does.)

The program helps with recovery from addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex … anything that can control your life. And it’s strongly focused on the healing power of faith in Jesus.

Many of our members have benefited from the program, and some visitors have begun worshiping with us.

How do you measure the success of such a program? By baptisms? By addictions defeated? By the image the program projects to the community? I think these are all valid measures, but ultimately it’s about whether our members are being changed to live as Jesus lived, and by that measure, it’s a huge success.

Ministry Ideas: B.A.G.S.

I thought it might be worthwhile to use a few posts to share some ministry ideas. Most of these will come from my own congregation, but this is not to brag. It’s just that I can only write what I know.

Lately, God has been moving powerfully in my home church to raise up ministries that do all sorts of things. These ministries are rarely initiated by the elders or staff, least of all by me. Rather, we elders have found that our role is to give permission, to provide support, and to get out of the way.

For example, one of our small groups (we call them “Acts 2 Groups”) was touched by the needs of the homeless in our community. Many in Tuscaloosa have lost their jobs due to the currrent recession, although we’ve not been hit nearly as hard as some other places.

Anyway, it’s fairly common to find someone on the street asking for food or money. Rather than “passing by on the other side,” this group decided that they should each Be A Good Samaritan — hence B.A.G.S. They made a list of what they should have on hand to give away, went shopping, and found that for $5 they could stuff a bag with simple food, a razor, water, soap, etc. The idea is that we should be prepared to be generous.

The group leader made a powerful presentation to the congregation. He explained that he’d given a bag of supplies to a homeless man. Sometime later, he saw the same man again, pulled over, and asked him how well the supplies he’d given him had worked out and whether he needed anything more. The man replied, “I really appreciate the supplies, but what I really appreciate is you taking the time just to talk to me like I matter.”

The group then sold, at cost, dozens of bags to the church to be given away as opportunities arise, with encouragement to be sure that we take the time to make the person receiving the bag feel significant.

Election: Romans 8:29 (“those God foreknew he also predestined”)

(Rom 8:29)  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Whom did God “foreknow”? The word only appears one other time in the Pauline corpus —

(Rom 11:2)  God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah–how he appealed to God against Israel:

— and it refers to the Jews, concluding that only a remnant of those foreknown by God would be faithful.

We see, here, one sense of God’s foreknowledge. Paul concludes that this remnant — the relatively few Jews who believed in Jesus — is the same remnant referred to in the prophets as being those who will be saved when the long exile is over. God had foreknowledge in the sense that his prophets spoke of these things.

There are, of course, difficult issues with foreknowledge that Christians wrestle with. But for Paul, foreknowledge is not about the paradoxes that might arise due to God knowing in advance. It’s simply the fact that God’s foreknowledge allowed him to announce the results in advance. Continue reading

Football, Annoying Comments, and Baptism (Not in Order of Importance)

A question has been raised regarding where my attentions have been. Well … I should think it would have been obvious. I’ve been busy watching Alabama beat Arkansas —

This has got to be one of the all-time great runs — any time, anywhere. I mean, freshman Trent Richardson broke four tackles by an SEC defense to score that touchdown. Oh, wow! Continue reading

Election: Romans 8:28 (“called according to his purpose”)

We’ve already considered the core of this magisterial passage. But my proposed interpretation of chapters 9 – 11 so radically changes our understanding of 8:28 ff, it’s critical that we consider chapter 8 in light of chapters 9 – 11 to make sure it all fits.

(Rom 8:28)  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Who are the “called”? Fortunately, Paul has explained this in earlier passages.

(Rom 1:5-7)  Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. 6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. 7 To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Plainly, Gentiles preached to by Paul are “called.” Continue reading