I've put together nine resolutions for this New Year. I've included a few of the steps I'm taking to make them happen along aside each resolution.
I’m resolved to spend more time communing with God and others in his creation. Too much of last year was spent under a roof in front of a computer or television screen. This year I want to get out under the great blue with my family and friends. There is something incredibly refreshing from spending time exploring nature. Perhaps, it is the constant reminder of the beauty of our Trinitarian God that injects us with a booster shot of joy? A Few Steps: Renewing our Cincinnati Zoo and Hamilton County Park passes, start planning three camping trips for the summer/fall, and join a flag football or an ultimate Frisbee league, etc
I’m resolved to up my “romance game” with my wife. 2008 wasn’t the year of the Don Juan in the Foster household. I let the church plant mixed with adapting to life with children led me astray from romancing my wife. We did make ground in getting back to a regular almost weekly date night. However, my beautiful wife deserves more. This year I’m hoping to up my game from a 2 to a 5 on a scale of ten. Rome wasn't built in a year. A Few Steps: A dress-up date once a month, quarterly overnight get-a-ways, lots of little loves notes, etc
I’m resolved to get as close as possible to being a certified Social Sciences teacher. I need to nail down a good tent-making job before I get back to church planting. It is not only naïve but also reckless to assume that the church you plant will be able to support you. Paul’s support status ranged any where from “full-time” to “part-time” to bi-vocational during his church planting endeavors. School teaching would seem to be a vocation that would work well with my preferred church-planting model. A Few Steps: Finish my History/English BA at NKU this summer, start a post BA program at Western Governors, etc…
I’m resolved to complete Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. I’ve never finished a Bible-in-a-year plan. I tend to read a whole book at a time instead of a chapter from here and there. Nevertheless, I want to follow through on one of these plans that virtually every godly Christian from history recommends. A Few Steps: Download Plan to my iPhone, wake up earlier to read, etc
I’m resolved to make drastic improvements to my health starting with dropping fifty pounds. I know there is more to health than just your weight. However, I’ve gain 100 pounds in the last decade and 65 of them have been packed on in the last 4 years. Weight is definitely a massive problem in my life. This year I’m going to start taking seriously the stewardship of my body. It is a gospel issue. A Few Steps: Complete the Master Cleanse in January, start a modified version of Body for Life in February, swear off red meat and milk products except for very rare occasions, etc
I’m resolved to living off as little as possible regardless how much money God sends our way this year. We made some huge adjustments last year to cut back our cost of living. I want this trend to continue the rest of my life but I’m hoping that this year will stand as a milestone of when made “living thrifty” into an art. A Few Steps: Memorize and Believe Matt 6:33 & Phil 4:12-13, Budget for absolutely everything, dumpster diving, etc…
I’m resolved to reading only 24 books this year (one fiction, one non-fiction per month). I read too many books. Wait…scratch that. I skim too many books. I want to yield to the counsel of Charles Spurgeon:
“Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them, masticate and digest them. Let them go unto your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that has his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed. Little learning and much pride comes of hasty reading. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditations away for the sake of much reading. In reading let your motto be “much, not many.”
A Few Steps: Reject the cult of the newest is the coolest, Map out the year’s reading ahead of time, leave a few spots open for surprise must-reads, etc
I’m resolved to blog consistently this year. My blog fell to the wayside this past year. This time around I’m aiming at doing two posts a week that amount to something more than linking to someone else’s blog. A Few Steps: type down thoughts on the books I’m reading as material for posts, read and engage in current “blog conversations” (e.g. the Kimball-Keller-Cole exchange), etc
I’m resolved to improving our family discipleship this year. Our family discipleship has lacked a plan. It is haphazard and all over the place. This year I want to create a simple family discipleship plan and follow it. I’m thinking just 20-30 minutes of prayer, bible reading, and discussion per night would go a long way. A Few Steps: Repent of not making this as dire as it should be, Map our reading out by quarter, Keep it simple so it is easy to maintain, etc
There you have them. I'll keep you updated on my progress.
1) I celebrated 5 years of marriage. Emily Mayer got the worse trade-off in history when she said, “I do” to me July 12, 2003. I can’t believe that I landed such a beautiful woman. She is truly a constant reminder of the grace of God.
2) I was blessed with my second son Athanasius Clive. Children all such a blessing from the Lord! Athan is yet another reminder of my need to rely on my heavenly Father.
3) I returned college to finish my BA in History and pursue my teacher’s certification. It became clear to me in 2008 that I couldn’t expect my bills to be paid by my church. I’m not opposed to being “full time” but I think it is naïve (and probably unbiblical to a certain degree) for every pastor to expect this. Even Paul had an industry. I’ve got background in two industries (collections and playing cards) but I don’t intend to be in either long-term for many reasons. I’m so glad I made this move. I think I should be certified to teach by this time next year.
4) I reduced my living expenses to 1/3 what they had been at the end of 2007. I realized in the middle of last year that our lifestyle was reckless and unsustainable. We got out the shears and have pruned our life back massively. It has been painful and humbling. However, coming to the end of this year I think we are finally getting somewhere financially.
5) I resigned my church planting effort in Cincinnati for a season. I intend to explore this subject more on my blog in the first quarter of the New Year. However, I can kind of sum it up by saying it was the right thing for the right reasons in the right location at the wrong time. This break is definitely just for a season of healing and re-preparation. I’m still committed to the making of disciples (aka church planting) in the Greater Cincinnati Area.
6) I became so ill that I feared that I might die or be scarred for life. I had a crazy high temperature for three days and lost my voice for two weeks. My voice still hasn't recovered. It was the first time I've felt helpless. It shook me to my core and caused me to revaluate where I stood with God.
7) I became a son of divorcees. This summer my parents decided to “part ways” after being married for one year shy of three decades. The paperwork isn’t final but I can tell you that their decision is. I was shocked how broken I was over this news.
8) I experience complete “church planter burned out.” Again, I intend to explore this subject more on my blog in the first quarter of the New Year.So there you have it. What were your biggies in '08?
The motivational difference between using your influence and protecting it is quite simple. It is the difference between the fear of God and the fear of man. Who do you fear?
Twelve years ago, I spoke with R. C. [Sproul] at a conference in Chicago. Lamenting the unwillingness of men to take a stand against neutered versions of Scripture, R.C. said something I've often thought of since...
He said for many years he'd been threatening to write a book called The Myth of Influence. "All the time, men tell me they won't take a stand on this or speak of that because they need to protect their influence. But you know what? I watch them and they never end up using their influence. They just protect it."
Tradition doesn't always decide the election but it should always have a vote. God has gifted the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as equippers for the work of the ministry for over two millennium (Eph. 4). Many of the works of these men have been recorded and preserved so that we can still fellowship with them posthumously. It would be a supreme form of arrogance and stupidity if we overlooked this massive crowd to listen to the few living voices whose work have yet been proved.
Presently, there is an incredible drive towards simplicity in the church. It is all about K.I.S.S. (Keep it simple stupid). There are certain elements about this movement that I agree with. I definitely think our churches have made things more complicated and clunky than the have to be. However, there is a point when a quest for simplicity dives off the deep end into ecclesiological reductionism. A recent web-surfing session provided me with some more evidence of the truth of this assertion. I stumbled upon this website that exist as, “a new Social Networking site for those exploring simple expressions of church.” The discussion forum on the site contained a thread that I think is representative of this movement’s ultimate destination.
The thread begins with what I interpret as a man that is sincerely in search of a healthy gospel community (aka the local church). He desperately writes, “I'm dying here, well my family and I are dying here for lack of true spiritual connection.” The churches which he has been part of have heavily focused on their Sunday service as the primary community and discipleship event. He rhetorically ask, “How do you build relationships with others like Christ commands us to by sitting for ninety minutes singing a few songs and hearing a twenty minute sermon and that is it?” He yearns to experience Christian community. He wants to know and be known. It is in this vein he poses he main question, “Can anyone give me pointers on how to start a house church?”
I can identify with this man. His experience isn’t all that unique. Sadly, his do-it-yourself reaction isn’t that unique either. Nonetheless, my particular concern finds its source in the replies his posting received. For example, one woman said:
“We're in much the same situation and have discovered that a family makes a fine church. When God is ready, He'll add others to us, but in the mean time, we bear one another's burdens within our small family. We've gotten much closer--I believe this is the best "church" I've ever attended.”
Family makes a fine church? Actually, no it doesn’t. A church isn’t merely Christians-in-relationships. That is a reduction of scripture’s teaching on the local church. For example, a local church is supposed to have a local leadership that is comprised of a plurality of elders. A single family by definition can’t possess a plurality of elders and, thereby, can’t be a church in a biblical sense.
Another person replies:
“You see, simple church happens all the time. Did you ever run into someone in Walmart and have them share a concern? Did you share a word of encouragement or even a quick prayer? That is simple church….Remember, though, where two or three are gathered in His Name, He is there.”
Again, this is a reduction of biblical ecclesiology. A chance meeting of Christians at a local retailer that results in spiritual activity isn’t a church. A local church is a family of people that have made a deep commitment to “one-another” each other. This example in no way stresses that need for the regular and intentional involvement that the biblical authors emphasize as part of the dynamic of the local church. Moreover, the use of Matthew 18:20 to define church as where two or three are gathered is incorrect. The truth is quite the opposite. Matthew 18:20 is set in a larger context of “church discipline” that emphasizes the church is more than just two or three (see vs. 17).
In conclusion, the sin of our age is reductionism. I’m all for minimalism and simplicity when it comes to the church but not when it is at the expense of biblical doctrine.
I have no aversion towards the existence of denominations and even of the generation of new ones in the Bride of Christ. I've experienced quite a bit of rapturous fellowship across denominational lines. Matter of fact, I'm a Baptist that general seeks asylum among Presbyterians. It can be easy to think that if we rid ourselves of denominations that the spirit of partisanship that we ascribe to them, and sometimes rightly so, will dissipate like warm breathe into frigid air. I think this a shortsighted and naïve assumption. Denominations don’t necessitate partisanship. The wicked heart of man certainly often use denominations as an opportunity to cloak divisiveness as virtue but again the fault doesn’t lie with the usual object of blame. Denominations can be a helpful tool towards the purification of the church, expansion of the gospel, and glorification of God assuming they possess a proper spirit of catholicity. Samuel Davies provides one of the best treatments of a godly approach to denominations that I have ever read. The pastor from Hanover writes:
What an endless variety of denominations, taken from some men of character, or from some little peculiarities, has prevailed in the Christian world, and crumbled it to pieces, while the Christian name is hardly regarded?...what party-names have been adopted by the Protestant churches, whose religion is substantially the same common Christianity, and who agree in much more important articles than in those they differ. To be a Christian is not enough now-a-days, but a man must also be something more and better; that is, he must be a strenuous bigot to this or that particular church…
Every man will find that he agrees more fully in lesser as well as more important articles with some particular than others; and thereupon it is his duty to join in stated communion with that church; and he may, if he pleases, assume the name which that church wears, by way of distinction from others: this is not what I condemn. But for me to glory in the denomination of any particular church, as my highest character; to lay more stress upon the name of a Presbyterian or a churchman than on the sacred name of Christians; to make punctilious agreement with my sentiments in little peculiarities of a party the test of all religion; to make it the object of my zeal to gain proselytes to some other than the Christian name; to connive at the faults of those of my own party and to be blind to the good qualities of others, or invidiously to represent or diminish them: these are the things which deserve universal condemnation from God and man; these proceed from a spirit of bigotry and faction, directly opposite to the generous catholic spirit of Christianity, and subversive of it. This spirit hinders the progress of serious practical religion, by turning the attention of men from the great concerns of eternity, and essential of Christianity, to vain jangling and contest about circumstantials and trifles. Thus the Christian is swallowed up in partisan, and fundamentals lost in extra-essentials…
Endeavor to find out the truth, even in these circumstantials, at least so far as is necessary for the direction of your own conduct. But do not make these the whole or the principal part of your religion: do not be excessively zealous about them, nor break the peace of the church by magisterially imposing them upon others. “Hast thou faith in these little disputables,’ it is well; “but have it to thyself before God,’ and do not disturb others with it. You may, if you please, call yourselves Presbyterian and dissenters, and you shall bear without shame and resentment all the names of reproach and contempt which the world may brand you with. But as you should not be mortified on the one side, so neither should you glory on the other. A Christian! A Christian! Let that be your highest distinction, let that be the name which you labour to deserve. God forbid that my ministry should be the occasion of diverting you attention to anything else.