Works and Grace at the Same Party?

"Christianity is about grace," so many believers rightly proclaim, "salvation is through grace alone!" This is a regular statement made in many confessions of faith and statements of belief as a reaction to those who argue that there is some task or tasks to earn salvation.  The Bible argues that there is not a single work that one can engage in to earn salvation. It's a free gift because the work was done and completed by Jesus Christ.  But how often does this 'no-works' thinking bleed into areas where it ought not to?  The Bible is full of instruction, guidance, and commands.  How many times do its readers dismiss the difficult passages simply because they look like 'work'?  And the bigger question is how Christians reconcile works and grace?

In some areas of the country the works vs grace argument is hot.  It may have been even more intense some 1600 years ago when Augustine and Pelagius were arguing about it.  Augustine's position (which claimed that salvation is by grace alone) prevailed and Pelagius was branded a heretic. That issue, however, didn't get at the reality that God still asks us to do things.  Why?  And what's the deal with this work?

I was recently asked to preach on what Proverbs has to say about the topic of work.  I chose Proverbs 6:6-11 as my primary text.  This question continued to nag at me as I was studying.  How can we explain that salvation is through grace alone but it is also by God's grace that we are given instruction, guidance, and commands once we become Kingdom citizens?  If doing or not doing these works has no baring on our salvation, why do them?  What are they for? 

In simple terms, it's like a castle with a large moat around it.  From outside, there's nothing a person can do to bring the drawbridge down. However, Jesus has done the work to lower the drawbridge and it was work only he could do.  He invites us to cross the bridge and enter the castle to live with the King. This is a free gift.  It's grace. But there is another gift of grace given to us and that's the Kingdom ethic. We've been given instructions, guidance, and commands to help us relate well with the King, other Kingdom citizens, and those who have yet to cross the drawbridge. While some see this Kingdom ethics as work, it's actually a gift too. The Kingdom ethic isn't something that could cause us to get kicked out once we've crossed the bridge; but rather, it is so something that teaches and conforms us to look more like the King. Yes, it's a gift, and that's grace too.

While I could explain this further here, I'd rather point you to the sermon.  If this question is nagging at you, or you are trying to reconcile how grace and works fit together, please consider listening to this sermon: Proverbs on Work. I pray that it's helpful in how you understand God and his Word.

*Photo by Sean Molin and is registered under a creative commons license.

Our Vision for Home Groups

September 21, 2010.

In the first four centuries after Christ ascended into heaven, the word "church" (ekklēsia) did not have anything to do with a structure, walls, a building, or even a specific location.  Instead, it meant congregation or assembly.  This is why Paul clarified the word by saying "church in their house"  and "the church in" a particular city.  The church in Corinth, for example, likely didn't always meet in a single location.  And in early Church history when Christians were being hunted and persecuted, the believers met in hiding, even in the catacombs--worshiping, preaching, and teaching, right next to the decomposing bodies of those who were recently martyred for their faith.  However, over the years (especially in America), holding services and gathering together in a building specifically designated for the church became extremely practical.   It's wonderful that a local church can meet together in a single building on Sunday and throughout the week!

However, communities built on strong bonds and consistent, safe opportunities to grow, learn, serve, and work out matters of the faith are losing ground to a rapidly moving society of fast communication, long commutes, and social networking.  The little neighborhood community ekklēsia is becoming extinct.  What is left of community is often only seen on Sunday mornings.  To gather together at the church typically requires long drives from opposite ends of the city.  It many not be true everywhere, but it is true for Salt Lake.

Churches are turning to smaller groups that meet in homes in addition to the various gatherings in the church building in an effort to foster a strong community, reach non-believers, and grow relationships.  Many long to mirror the early Acts 2 church communities: "And, day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:46-47, ESV). 

With so many churches utilizing mid-week groups that meet in homes, there are many different models and methods throughout the Church.  Some churches have gone completely to a home-church system without ever meeting corporately in an designated church building.  Other small groups meet with a social goal in mind.  Still others meet to study in greater depth.  Some call for accountability.  For some, it is about outreach.  And sadly for some, it is about checking another box, simply to be doing something "religious." 

These groups come in all sizes and are tagged by many different names.  Some churches call them small groups; some are identified by the name "home group."  I've seen other names too, like community groups, life groups, Soma groups, home church, disciple groups, and so on.  Some meet weekly, some bi-weekly, some monthly, and some actually never meet (because they are more of a phone-tree thing.)

Our Vision for Home Groups:
Lisa and I feel our local church does a great job with classes that meet on Sunday mornings (although it would be nice to see the the number and size of these classes matching the explosive growth of the church).  The sermons are soundly fixed in Scripture, and other mid-week classes at the church building are teaching good doctrine, often with practical application.

The church we attend utilizes a small group system called "community groups."  If I understand correctly, there are a couple groups that meet exclusively in homes, but generally the groups meet together for Sunday school classes and then have regular gatherings in homes at other times.  Unfortunately, there are not very many of these groups.  (It is not my intention to be critical of these groups, but instead, I hope to grow more groups.) Another difficulty is the connection of these groups to Sunday classes.  Given that many people serve the church in a variety of ways, they can't always join a class.  Some people simply have work schedules or other responsibilities that do not allow them to attend a Sunday school class. And there are also people who might not be comfortable yet in attending a Sunday school class for one reason or another.  Therefore, Lisa and I would like to see multiplying home groups (not necessarily tied to a Sunday class)  helping fellow believers grow in their relationship with Jesus, serve as another outreach to non-believers, and then launch more multiplying home groups. 

A group might start with as few as 6 people and hopefully grow to about 10 to 14, at which point the group should be thinking of launching another home group.  Just as Jesus sent out the Apostles in groups of two (Mark 6:7), each group should consist of two leaders--a host and home group leader.  The host will oversee the physical needs of the group, which may consist of providing the place to gather, food, and any other needs; or simply planning who will provide what, when.  The home group leader won't necessarily be planning lessons (more on this in a minute), but instead be a strong leader to guide the group and re-direct the group if it starts to head in a poor spiritual direction.  The leader should be quick to turn to the Bible for guidance as well as lead and encourage the group in prayer. In addition to these two leaders, each group should also have an apprentice leader.  This apprentice leader will most likely be the leader of the next launched home group and will assist the leader and fill in as needed.  If possible, it would be nice if the group also has a apprentice host. 

Each group should examine their needs and pray about how they, together as a home group, can best grow closer to God.  This may or may not mean regular "lessons."  It could be through fellowship and light scripture reading and study.  Maybe games and open conversation, followed by honest corporate prayer.  Or the needs of the group might be calling for a deep well structured study in the Word of God.  Hopefully the group will engage in service projects and activities.  It will really depend upon the individual group.  The goal is for the group to provide a place for people to be accessible to one another, (especially the leaders), so they can work out their faith (Proverbs 27:17) and love God more and more.  And the group should be praying together, helping each other in times of need, and joining each other in celebrating the happy moments of life.  Each member should know the others and be known, meaning the connection between one another is deeper than those of simple book club meeting or Sunday school class.

In addition, the group should be praying about and working to expand their group, especially through the conversion of non-believers.  While some non-believers have no problem walking into a church service on Sunday morning, others may feel more comfortable coming to a home group at a neighbor's house or accepting an invitation from a co-worker.  And discipleship projects (briefly discussed in the previous paragraph) could potentially be outreach activities such as prayer walking, neighborhood barbecues, or offering service to a neighbor in need.

As the group grows, they should be excited to launch another home group to multiply and repeat the process.  Ideally, members of these groups will be found worshiping and studying the Word of God together at the church building on Sunday, and then getting together in homes all over the valley at other times throughout the week.  This might even be a way to understand what God is doing in the Salt Lake valley.  Should the church grow to the point that it is time to plant another church or campus, an area where there are already many home groups might be a ripe location.

How does it start?  From one group.  It's simple. From this single group, people will be invited, apprentices identified, and eventually another group launched.  At that point, two groups will be growing and launching more groups.  Those groups will also continue the process, stopping only after everybody in the entire valley is meeting somewhere in a home group and corporately worshiping Jesus as a part of his Church.     

I will be leading a group that Lisa is hosting in our home.  Will you join us?  If you are interested, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Coffee for Christ

This website has generally been free of advertisements, but as I'm drinking a cup of coffee this Sunday morning, I thought I would interrupt this blog for a brief commercial break.

If you're a coffee drinker and you spend between $0.70 and $0.90 per ounce for your beans, you should consider purchasing your coffee from one of the many organizations selling quality coffee to raise funds for ministry.  The price is typically the same for this coffee as it is for other specialty brands like Starbucks, and usually the flavor and quality is the same, if not better.  The major difference is that rather than the profits going into a commercial corporation's bottom line or to enhance an owner's lifestyle, they go toward ministry efforts.

Two examples include Saint's Coffee (which Tom Davis and I highly recommend) and Acts 29 Coffee (which comes highly recommend by a Danny Braga, a friend).  Saint's Coffee is raising money to care for orphans overseas, mostly in Africa.  Acts 29 Coffee is raising money for church planting in America. 

It may not seem like much of a contribution individually, but when many individuals purchase coffee, the proceeds add up, like the Proverbs ant (Proverbs 6:6, 30:24-25).  Churches that typically serve coffee before, during, and after Sunday services and other weekly gatherings, should consider one of these coffee fund-raising options as another way to support various ministry efforts outside their walls.

There can be a charge for shipping; however, some of these organizations offer free shipping for orders over a certain size.  If you have a little extra space, it might be something worth doing.

* I have no material connection to either of the organizations or products mentioned in this post.  The photos come from the websites and, and admittedly are being used without permission (Although I am happy to remove them and the links to their respective sites if requested to do so.)