Disputable Matters: Handle with Love

In any Christian community there is bound to be strong differences in opinions and convictions about disputable matters. This can sometimes lead to heated arguments, strained relationships, arguments, fractures in families, cell groups and even congregations. 

Some people cannot live without clear black and whites, laws and regulations, and fine lines. They take a position and insist that others follow suit. They want uniformity, not unity. They feel uncomfortable and want to impose their convictions on the rest. 

This is not the way of Christ, according to St Paul. He expressed this in Romans 14, 15. It seems that the network of home churches in Rome were grappling with such arguments and disputes specifically about what could be eaten and drank, and what are special holy days. These strong opinions seem to stem from the diverse cultural religious backgrounds of converts from pagan religions as well as Judaism. 

It is no different in today’s church. There are disputable matters that can overturn peace and harmony in the church. Matters like eating food offered to idols, consumption of alcohol, dressing and musical styles in church, yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, martial arts, tattoos, dancing, and in recent years, vaccination. What are the guidelines as to how we are to relate to people with different opinions about such matters? In short, they are:

WHAT NOT TO DO (how to un-love)




WHAT TO DO (how to love)



SEEK UNITY & EDIFICATION – Rom 14:19; 15:5,6

I dealt with this in a sermon that was part of a series of on Romans done by World Revival Prayer Fellowship pastoral staff. In this sermon I talked about what disputable matters are, who are the “strong” and “weak” Christians, and how we are to handle such hot potatoes and relate to people in love throughout. I also talk about why it is important for us to do this and what is important to the heart of God. Finally I summed up the book of Romans. You can listen to the sermon titled “DISPUTABLE MATTERS: HANDLE WITH LOVE” in the video below: 

Share this:

Read More →

Preaching radical grace

tullian tchividjianTullian Tchividjian is the Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A Florida native, he is a visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and a grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. What he has to share about sermons seasoned with grace is encouraging and enlightening. Read this extract from SermonCentral.com and if you like the article and want to know how he prepares his sermons, read the rest HERE.

SermonCentral:  How can pastors evaluate their sermons to see if they’re really preaching Jesus + nothing?  What kind of litmus test can we take to make sure we get grace right in our preaching?

Tullian: The litmus test that I use for myself is that if people walk away from my sermons thinking more about what they need to do than what Jesus has already done, I’ve failed to preach the Gospel.  The Gospel is the good news that Jesus has done for me what I could never do for myself.  And a lot of preaching these days is “do more, try harder,” like you said.  It’s behavior modification.  We come to church expecting God to give us a to-do list or the preacher to give us a to-do list.  As long as we are given a to-do list, we maintain some measure of control over our lives.  Just tell me what to do.

This message of radical grace, that “it is finished,” is difficult for the human heart, the sinful heart to grasp because we’re so afraid of control being wrestled out of our hands.  So we come to church saying, “Pastor, my marriage is in trouble…my children are going off the deep end…my business is failing…I’m coming to you as the expert to tell me what to do to fix my own life…”  And as a result, our lives get worse, not better, because we’re taking matters into our own hands.

So my job at the end of every sermon—and this is the grid by which I preach—I preach God’s law, and then I preach God’s Gospel.  Both are good.  The law diagnoses my need and shows me that my best is never good enough.  So I’m always trying to help our people realize that they’re a lot worse than they realize and they’re a lot more incapable than they think they are.  But the good news is that God is more than capable, that He’s already done everything we need for Him to do.  He’s already secured in Christ everything we long for.  So my job at the end of every sermon is to, in some way, shape, or form, encourage our people by saying, “Cheer up.  You’re a lot worse off than you think you are, but God’s grace is infinitely larger than you could have ever hoped or imagined.  It is finished.”

And what I’ve discovered is that the people who lean on “it is finished” most are the ones who end up being the most free and whose lives change the most.  It’s the people who constantly demand to-do lists and then preachers who capitulate to that demand and give them to-do lists, those are the people who get worse.  I’ve realized, and I’m only 39 years old, but I’ve realized the more I try to get better, the worse I get.  I’m just realizing I am a narcissist.  I think way too much about how I’m doing, if I’m doing it right, have I confessed every sin.  In other words, I’m thinking much more about me and what I need to do than Jesus and what He’s already done.  And as a result, I’m not getting better.  I’m getting worse.

I’ve come to the realization that when I stop obsessing over my need to improve, that is improvement.  When I stop obsessing narcissistically over my need to get better, that is what the Bible means by getting better.  That’s why Paul was able to say at the end of his life, “I’m the worst guy that I know, and the work of grace in my life is that I’m free to tell you that.”  I think the whole notion of what it means to progress in the Christian life has been radically misunderstood.  Progress in the Christian life is not “I’m getter better and better and better…”  Progress in the Christian life is, “I’m growing in my realization of just how bad I am and growing in my appreciation of just how much Jesus has done for me.”

Share this:

Read More →

The Gospel is for every day

We mistakenly think the Gospel is just the four spiritual laws. We further mistaken that the Gospel is only for accepting Christ, for conversion, for “crossing the line” and after that we lay it aside and go to deeper things. How wrong this is, and how disastrous it is for the church to think so. The pastor ought to bring the gospel of Christ and his finished work as much as possible into his messages because the people need to hear it often. They need the constant reminders and renewal in the Gospel both in Word and sacrament, because our faith in the good news must be kept fresh and dynamic to keep drawing down from our spiritual inheritance of forgiveness, enabling grace, peace, power, the benefits of justification, love, healing and much much more. Here’s a video by John Piper that says this:

Share this:

Read More →

A tale of two Preachers

preach the good newsA Preacher took the text and preached a rousing sermon on prayer one Sunday and exhorted the congregation to pray thirty minutes on waking every day that week. And some did and felt good, but most did not and felt short.

The next Sunday, he preached a tremendous sermon on being a witness and challenged his members to witness to one person in school or in the workplace that week. Some did and felt good, but most did not and felt short.

The following Sunday, the Preacher motivated his members to love their wives, and he did it with tears, and confessed his lack, for he had been too busy as a pastor, and he was sure others were the same. So he gave them seven things to do to love their wives. The women loved the sermon. Many men walked down the altar with tears and arose resolute. That week roses were bought, love letters were written, and romantic dinners were had. Some felt good, and those that were still too busy, felt short.

On the last Sunday of the month, the Preacher was convinced what the members lacked was time management. So he talked about the tyranny of the urgent, and underlined the importance of keeping the main thing the main thing. He listed five things they could do to manage their time better. The members were perked with hope that if they could do the list, the nub of many problems would be solved: they would wake up to pray; they would have time to witness, to love their wives, and be a better disciple. Some did it, and felt good. Most of them fell short.

And by the end of the second month those who felt good about waking up to pray no longer thought of themselves as good Christians, for their habit faltered. Those who witnessed did it only that one week. The flush of renewed romance of those men who loved their wives had chilled. And the weekly schedule in the diaries was blank. That Sunday the Preacher looked over the congregation and saw a jaded people. They looked like a people weary of religious must do, ought to do, and should do. The trust that began their relationship with God has given way to earnest but relentless attempts to reach and maintain the C+ of Christian behaviour. They now felt weary. After some months the Preacher left the church with his shoulders slouched, his face downcast, his eyes absent of the gleam with which he started.

After several long months, the congregation found another Preacher. On the first Sunday, he preached Christ the High Priest who sympathized with man’s weaknesses and who offered Himself for the forgiveness of sins. The congregation felt the love of God and they experienced a cleansing peace and assurance wash over them. They had a new found boldness in approaching God in prayer, and though they had not prayed every morning, no pall of guilt hung over them.

The next Sunday, the Preacher exalted Christ as the Baptizer of the Spirit. The people received a fresh infilling of the Spirit, nothing emotional, more a faith thing. Strangely at the cell group that week, there were numerous reports of how members had opportunities to share Christ and pray for the concerns of friends.

The following Sunday, the Preacher talked about the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of Christ as pictured in the Song of Songs, and the people experienced a new sense of being the Beloved of God. That experience of being loved stayed with them and they found themselves feeling affection for their spouses and children, and being patient towards the people at school and at work.

On the last Sunday of the month, the Preacher talked about the Jesus the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23 and the people were re-assured that God was watching over their ins and outs, guiding them with His staff, protecting them from all kinds of enemies with His rod, and that they need not fear anything. The members entered that week with a restedness and confidence in the Shepherd’s care for they knew in their hearts that the steps of a good man were ordered of the Lord, and that God would work all things for good.

The Preacher kept preaching Christ, and though it seemed elementary, it was fresh as he drew from the wells of Old Testament as well as New with the heart of one who had drawn near and drank from the living waters. The infectious love he had for the Lord Jesus was being passed on to the congregation. Beyond just knowing, the members were catching it.

After four months the Preacher looked over his congregation one Sunday, and saw a sea of contented faces, oozing assurance and animated with joy. Though they may not have prayed every morning, nor witnessed every week, nor loved their wives as they should, or managed their time as they ought, they knew they were forgiven, empowered, loved and watched over and guided by a wonderful Man with scars in His hands, and love in His eyes.

Share this:

Read More →

Wearing Sunday best and forbidden flip flops

poster showing forbidden attire

Enforcing dress codes in church

The arresting subtitle of the Sunday Times article by Elizabeth Soh (Feb 6, 2011) read: “Catholic churches are enforcing dress codes, as more turn up in inappropriate attire”. Such inappropriate attire included shorts and flip flops; attire that exposed the entire shoulder, chest, back or thighs; low rise jeans and T shirts with loud graphics or rude slogans. A church even had a poster showing prohibited forms of dressing for parishioners, except that there was no FINE. It had even recruited “hospitality ministers”, an euphemism for fashion police. Some inappropriately attired parishioners may have been denied entry and barred from taking holy communion.

Church members’ attire often reflect what is popular and acceptable in society. People dress down and love casual nowadays. The preferred university dress is casual tops, shorts and flip flops. We see young people wearing that in church too. Executives want a break from having to be dressed smartly during weekends. Society has also made ‘more skin’ equivalent to more attractive and more fashionable. With the triumphant upliftt of bra design, even petite Chinese women have been emboldened to show more skin. Any priest serving at the communion rails would have to pray, “Lord lead me not into temptation” more often than a decade ago!

The rationale behind churches enforcing dress code

What were the reasons for this push for decent dressing in the Catholic Church?  In recent years the parishioners dressing have “got to a point where people were wearing tube tops with shorts barely covering their bottoms”.  Priestly prudishness?  No. The priests generally feel that parishioners should  “dress with reverence, to show respect”. There is an obligation to revere the Eucharist. The Archbishop’s office told the Straits Times: “Many Catholic churches in Singapore, and throughout the world, post guidelines on the type of dress that is considered ‘proper’. Dressing in one’s ‘Sunday best’ has historically been the protocol for attending Holy Mass.”  Another priest wrote to 10,000 parishioners: “When others look at the church, they learn something about us as Catholics. This would mean to dress appropriately and to be covered sufficiently.” The young ones are the main target and they feel it but are not convinced: “We are taught that God loves us no matter what we are, so why should the church discriminate against our attire?”

The truth about attire

Does the Bible have anything to say about how Christians should dress themselves and why? And if a faith community wants to disciple people in the practical area of dressing how can it be done wisely and graciously? There are two passages that can be cited about dressing in the letters of Paul and Peter. The first is about dressing for women in worship gatherings, the other about the essence of true feminine beauty.

1 Timothy 3:9,10:  I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1 Peter 3:3,4:   Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

What’s the point?

From the pen of the foremost apostle of grace come the golden guidelines: modesty; decency; and propriety. From Peter’s mouth: clothe yourselves with unfading, instead of temporal beauty. Both emphasized that outward beauty and refinements like “elaborate hairstyles, gold or pearls or expensive clothes” must not detract from the inward beauty and character of the Christian that the Lord of grace had handcrafted. To my mind, the attire is just the frame, the character is the masterpiece portrait. In God’s eyes, our outward adornment must not detract from the showpiece of the brushstrokes of His finished work. The inner beauty must stand out, take the spotlight, so that Christ is exalted and praised by believers and unbelievers, and the grace of God is displayed and magnified. The frame should enhance, direct the eyes of onlookers to the masterpiece, and cause them to praise the Master Artist.

If wearing Sunday best means wearing the best suit of clothing I have, I am not for it. Its too burdensome. Honoring God, respecting others, protecting the brothers in the church from unnecessary temptation may all be good reasons but they gain significance when viewed in the light of the understanding that we Christians are partnering with the Holy Spirit to glorify, magnify Christ in our lives.

How the discipling community does it

We certainly can teach guiding principles just as the ultimate preacher of grace did: modesty, decency and propriety. Imparting an understanding of the whys and imparting the motivation of gratitude is better than having explicit detailed dress code. Guided group discussions about this topic in the cells is good way of learning God’s way- if there are to be community agreement let it come from the community through collaborative learning informed by biblical understanding. Discussing together and teaching people  to prayerfully judge for themselves is much more respectful of how God works to transform individuals. It is a better path to maturity  than legislation and imposition from above. Such imposition only increases anger, frustration, transgressors, hypocrisy, self righteousness, guilt and pride. We want to avoid judging one another, gossiping, and nit picking at whether the skirt should not be allowed one or two or three inches above the knee. We do not want Christianity to be mistaken as another religion with all its detailed rules and regulations to be kept to be accepted by God. When there is strong community life, we can lovingly and tactfully show individuals in need of specific application and instruction, the way of Christ. This may actually be a wonderful learning opportunity for the discipling community: a time of collaborative learning as a body.

Different levels of understanding and personal growth

Grace would make room for different levels of understanding and different contexts. We shouldn’t bar anyone who dresses otherwise, for we are all walking with the Lord at different pace, and are at different milestones on this faith journey.  A church that often receives beach tourists would be mad to ban flip flops. Of course there will be some different specifics in different context. In Myanmar the pastors wear flip flops – if you wear something else, you’re not following the unwritten rule!

Spiritual offering of our life

When Christians know how much God loves them and what he has done for them they will be grateful enough to want to glorify Christ,  whether at church, at work or at play or at school. Attire is a part of the total spiritual sacrifice we offer to the Lord as priests. The motivation has to be a grateful heart.

Here is a list from the article of three different dress codes of three Singapore Catholic churches just for information and discussion:

Church of our Lady Star of the Sea: inappropriate dressing includes camisoles, halter tops or translucent tank tops, miniskirts or shorts, bermudas worn with flip fops, men’s tank-top sports wear, low-rise jeans, T shirts with loud graphics or rude slogans.

Church of St Anthony: No attire made of spandex or translucent material; no attire exposing the entire shoulder, chest, back or thights; no attire promoting violence or vices such as drugs and alcohol; no sportswear or flip-flops.

Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour: For women, please wear: blouses or dresses with sleeves, trousers and skirts of a decent length; spaghetti-strap tops or tank-tops should be worn with a cardigan, a shawl or a jacket. For men, please wear: Shirts with sleeves, T-shirts paired with trousers and shoes.

Share this:

Read More →