Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Bible in 50 Words

Came across this creative video today.  Yeah, there are obviously a lot of things missing, and I don't think "Pharaoh plagued," is a very accurate description of what happened (I would have said "God plagued"), but it's still pretty cool.  Transcript below.

God made.
Adam bit.
Noah arked.
Abraham split.
Jacob fooled.
Joseph ruled.
Bush talked.
Moses balked.
Pharaoh plagued.
People walked.
Sea divided.
Tablets guided.
Promise landed.
Saul freaked.
David peeked.
Prophets warned.
Jesus born.
God walked.
Love talked.
Anger crucified.
Hope died.
Love rose.
Spirit flamed.
Word spread.
God remained.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Thus & Such, Vol. 22 (Gay Marriage Edition)

For this volume of Thus & Such, I'd like to dedicate some space to what I consider to be some really good evangelical thinking coming from some very smart people as a result the gay marriage debate.  Take a look and learn:

1. The first article is one that I've posted and referenced several times on this blog, by Voddie Baucham.  Voddie provides what seems to me to be an air-tight logical case against same sex marriage being a civil rights issue.  In my opinion, this is the most important piece of writing out there on this topic.

2. You've no doubt heard responses from those supporting gay marriage to biblical objections to the same: "Well, Leviticus such and such says you're supposed to stone your children if they talk back.  Why don't you do that?"  It's frustrating, because people obviously don't know how to read and understand the Bible, and yet they use it as if they do.  As I've talked about before, those Old Testament references can tell us how God feels about homosexuality, but those aren't necessarily directives for us today.  Still, we should know how to handle scripture, and how to handle people when they tell us we can't use the Bible in this debate.  Here's Tim Keller's take on how to do that.

3. I have long bemoaned what seems to me to be an inability to think critically, reasonably, and logically among the people of our country when it comes to this debate.  Kevin DeYoung talks about the same issue, and gives several reasons why gay marriage arguments are so persuasive.  When you boil it down, it appears that people have lost their ability to think, and instead rely upon knee-jerk emotionalism when making judgments on this issue.

4. What does it say about our faith if we affirm same sex marriage?  This guy thinks it's akin to idolatry.  I think he's right.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Time for a Feast

This evening I had the privilege to hear a presentation by Roy Shcwarcz from Chosen People Ministries on how the gospel is foreshadowed by the seven feasts of Israel in Leviticus 23.  It was a fascinating presentation, and Roy is a gifted and engaging communicator.  I was glad to have been in attendance with 50 or so other Riverview-ers.

During my second to last quarter in seminary, one of my favorite professors had us watch an Israeli movie entitled Ushpizin.  This film details the story of a traditional Jewish couple and the trials and challenges they face as they attempt to celebrate the Feast of Booths.  In reflecting on the film, the professor wanted us students to focus on the role that ritual plays in our lives.  As I reflected on it, I was glad for the small yet significant role that tradition and ritual played in my own life, as I can see quite a bit of value in it, even in regards to training and teaching my children the things of God.  At the same time, however, I was somewhat dismayed that I could only identify a couple of rituals and traditions that my family holds to here and there.  In other words, we're not very ritualistic people (at least not religiously).  As I saw the value of ritual and tradition, I wanted more of it in my life.

There's a lot of value in ritual.  It can help or even force us to think about certain things.  Sometimes this is good, but sometimes it can be bad.  Consider the use of formal liturgies in worship.  Liturgy is good in that it directs our thinking and worship.  But it can also be dangerous in that it can be rote, and performed without any thinking or engagement in the heart.  As a Baptist, the "default switch" of our denomination is to shun most forms of liturgy or even ritual.  Again, I think this has positive and negative aspects.  But as a Baptist who has, for the most part, been starved of ritual for most of his life, I  am intrigued by the prospect of having ritual observances play a more prominent role in my spiritual development, and in the development of my family.

That was then, and this is now, and as I listened to the presentation tonight, delineating the feasts of Israel, I felt a renewed desire to engage in more ritualistic observances.  What would it look like, I wondered, if the feasts of Israel were celebrated in a Christ-centered manner?  In other words, could a Christian celebrate the feasts, but instead of looking forward to Messiah, look backward and celebrate his finished work?  I talked to Roy briefly at the end of the presentation and asked him if such a thing was common among Jewish believers.  He said that yes, indeed it was.  Moreover, he affirmed my thought that celebrating the feasts was a very real and memorable way to extol the work of God in the hearts and minds of children.

All this has got me toying with a seemingly strange idea (at least it's strange to me): I want to try to celebrate the feasts of Leviticus 23.  I might have to wait a while, though, as the "feast season" (as I understand it) begins in the spring, and I don't have enough time to prepare for it this year.  I'd like to do the feasts in order, so I might have to wait until 2014 to begin.

Crazy?  Maybe.  We'll see what happens.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

He Set His Face

As Holy Week is this coming week, it's sometimes interesting to take a look at the chronological events leading up to this week.  At some point in time before his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus made a conscious decision to begin the journey to the holy city.  Luke 9.51 says that Jesus "set his face to go to Jerusalem."  That's an interesting phrase: "set his face."  What does it mean?  It communicates an intense feeling purpose and resolve of the one whose face has been set.  The phrase is used only one other time in scripture, in Isaiah 50, and in the context of Isaiah's resoluteness to continue on in his prophetic duties in spite of the persecution he was facing.  Isaiah says, "I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.  But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame."

In other words, Isaiah was resolved; he was committed; he was ready and willing to do what must be done to accomplish what God had set out for him to accomplish.  He will not be turned back on his path because he has "set his face" toward being obedient to God.

This is the kind of resolution that is communicated in Luke 9 when it says that Jesus had "set his face" to go to Jerusalem.  Why the dramatic statement about traveling to the nation's capitol?  Mostly, I suspect, because Jesus knows what is going to happen when he gets there, and it's not going to be fun.  To go to Jerusalem requires resolution, because that is the journey's end.  Although Jesus knows this to be true, he will press on, and that's what we learn by reading that he "set his face."

And so, as Jesus begins his intentional walk toward Jerusalem, he continues to do what he does: ministering, preaching, healing, etc.  On the way to Jerusalem there is a Samaritan village where Jesus wants to stay, presumably to preach, teach, heal, etc.  The Samaritans wanted no part of Jesus, however, and basically told him to keep walking down the road.  Now, the cultural tension between Jews and Samaritans was deep and wide, and it was no secret that there was little love lost between the two people-groups.  But this was not the reason the Samaritans did not receive him.  Instead, verse 53 says, "But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem."

So that was it.  It wasn't the ethnic and racial discrimination that existed; it wasn't the fact that the two groups were miles apart religiously, even though they shared much of the same religious history; no, they were put off simply because Jesus' face "was set toward Jerusalem."

Why didn't they like that?  A few reasons, probably.  First, Samaritans believed that God was to be worshipped on Mount Gerezim in their region, while the Jews believed God was to be worshipped in the temple, which would have been an abominable thought to Samaritans.  What good could there be in Jerusalem?  None, according to the Samaritans, and so no reason to go there or associate with anyone on their way there.

Secondly, it was probably widely known in the region who Jesus was, what he was up to, and who his friends and enemies were.  Word about each of these topics probably traveled fast, and so the Samaritans probably knew that Jesus had made many religious enemies.  They also knew that those religious enemies of Jerusalem were headquartered in Jerusalem.  Jesus, marching into Jerusalem - the lion's den - was asking for trouble.  Who would want to follow a guy that was marching towards what, for all the Samaritans knew, would be a religious war, potentially leading to violence and even bloodshed?  Not many people were likely to follow a man to his end.

None of this deterred Jesus, however, although James and John were so offended by the rejection by the Samaritans that they literally wanted to burn them alive.  Jesus' reaction is to simply go "on to another village," presumably to preach, teach, heal, etc.

What can we learn from Jesus' resoluteness?  I think it's important to note that Jesus was resolute in his obedience and to what he knew God had for him to do, despite what it would cost him.  Isaiah was resolute in his prophetic duties, even though it meant he would be flogged, have his face spit in, and his beard plucked out.  Tradition even tells us that Isaiah was sawn in two as a result of his preaching.  But he could take it because he had set his face, and he would not be put to shame, because there is no shame in obedience to God.

Have you ever known that doing something would cost you?  Really cost you?  Maybe a relationship, or maybe something physical and tangible, but you had to go through with it because you knew it was right?  Because you knew it would honor God, even if it meant losing something you cared about?  Because you knew that to not do so would be sin?  If so, then you might have the tiniest grasp on what Jesus was feeling as he "set his face" toward Jerusalem.  Jesus just wasn't going to lose relationships as a result of his obedience; nor was he just going to lose something physical or tangible.  He certainly was going to lose both of those things, but add on to those the fact that he would also be receiving the wrath of his Father for the sins of all those who would believe.  And yet, he set his face.  We have a remarkable Savior!

Neither would Jesus, even if he was rejected by a Samaritan village.  Neither should we feel as though we have been put to shame when we face trials of many kinds, because these trials lead to steadfastness in the faith.  Or, put another way, trials lead to a "set face."

As we enter Holy Week, we can praise Jesus for his "set face," and ask for the grace to set our own face to obedience in like manner, especially in the face of rejection and difficulty.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Holy Week = Busy Week

This Sunday is Palm Sunday, which kicks off the Christian celebration of Holy Week.  This is the week that Christians celebrate Jesus' passion, beginning with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Later in the week we celebrate the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples on Thursday.  Then, of course, Good Friday marks his crucifixion, concluded of course by Easter Sunday: the celebration of the Resurrection, the final triumph over death.

In the ministry world, Holy Week is probably the busiest of the 52 weeks in a given year.  This might be a bit non-intuitive on the surface, as most would probably guess that Christmas is the busiest season of the year.  This could be true, but there is a significant difference between Christmas in Easter, namely that the Christmas season is celebrated over the course of a month, while the Easter holiday is focused all in one week.

This week I have a total of five worship services to plan and conduct, five rehearsals to facilitate, one special event to coordinate, one meeting to attend, six newsletter articles to write, and probably dozens of other things that I'm not thinking of.  All in all, it's an exceedingly busy week.

One of the primary dangers of working in ministry is neglecting one's own spiritual health.  Quite frequently ministers will only spend time in the Bible for presentation purposes.  That is, our only Bible reading takes place for the purpose of presenting what we have learned to an audience, such as in a class or worship service.  Another danger is that ministers can sometimes lose the corporate sense of worship.  They might feel detached from the rest of the congregation, as they bear the burden of preaching the word and conducting the worship for the rest of the community.  Believe it or not, ministry is a dangerous profession in that it has the potential to disconnect a minister from the word and from the fellowship, which is ironic, considering that a ministers main duties are to the word and to the fellowship.  Often times, these failings come as a result of pride, selfishness, sinful busyness, and a lack of humility.

These dangers are especially evident during busy seasons, like Easter.

But what's especially comforting about this reality, and particularly because it is especially intense during Holy Week, is that Holy Week is all about inabilities, shortcomings, and oversights.  For these things Jesus faced the cross and death.  Because I am sometimes proud in my ability to study the Bible to the extent that I have made it a subject to be mastered rather than a word from the Lord to transform my heart, Jesus went to the cross.  Because I have the tendency to selfishly and pridefully think that things won't get done without my expertise as though I am the missing piece of the puzzle, Jesus went to the cross.  Because I sometimes put myself above others, Jesus went to the cross.

It is during these busy seasons when it is especially beneficial for me to slow down and remember why it is I am running around like a chicken with his head cut off.  This simple reality helps to change the way I approach things and conduct my business in the church.  What a comfort and blessing to know that even my efforts in leading the bride of Christ in the worship of her Bridegroom fall short, and that those failings are covered.

May God be glorified during this Holy Week by his church at Riverview, and by my restful obedience in his finished work.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Son of the Promise

Beginning this past February I have had the unique opportunity to be the first male Bible study leader in our church's Ladies' Morning Out ministry on Thursday mornings.  Whether this distinction was afforded to me based on my exceptional teaching abilities or a perceived lack of masculinity on my part remains to be seen, although I like to think that it is the former rather than the latter.  Regardless, it has been my pleasure to lead a study on the names of God for the past seven Thursdays in a row, and I look forward to the coming seven Thursdays as we continue to study this fascinating and important topic.

The name of God I'll be leading the ladies through this week is a familiar one: Jehovah Jireh, or "The Lord Will Provide."  Most Christians (over the age of 30) are familiar with this name if for no other reason than because they have sung the song of the same name.

God first reveals himself as Jehovah Jireh to Abraham on Mount Moriah, after sparing Isaac from sacrifice and supplying the ram to die in his place.  Genesis 22.14 says that "...Abraham called the name of that place, 'The LORD will provide'; as it is said to this day, 'On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.'"

Quite a thing, I suspect, to be required to sacrifice your only son.  But Abraham trusted that God was Jehovah Jireh - that God would provide.  Therefore Abraham could give his son without thinking about the consequences, even if it meant his very life.  He was willing to give Isaac's life because he knew that God was Jehovah Jireh.

Now, I've heard many sermons about the emotional torment that Abraham must have been going through during this trip up the mountain.  People suppose that Abraham may have experienced doubt in God's providence and wisdom in the command to sacrifice his only son.  Or perhaps Abraham questioned God: "God, why are you doing this?  Do I really have to sacrifice my only son?  How could you ask me to do such a thing?"

So Abraham is seemingly left with two choices: obedience to God's command (begrudgingly as we might suppose it to have been), or the life of his son.  What a choice!  And we usually think that, although Abraham knew it would cost him everything, he would obey God, and trust that God was doing what was best, even though he didn't understand it.  After all, the Lord works in mysterious ways, right?

I don't think that was Abraham's frame of mind at all.  That is, I don't believe that Abraham was a begrudging or unwilling participant in this process.  Instead, I think that, when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, that Abraham was a willing, and even glad participant, and it all has to do with how Abraham believed that God was Jehovah Jireh - The LORD Will Provide.  Abraham knew full well that when he came down from that mountain, it would be arm in arm with his son Isaac.  There was never a doubt in his mind.

It all started back in Genesis 12.1-3: Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

Here we have a promise that God is making to Abraham.  The promise is that God will make him a great nation, and that his name will be great, and his lineage will be a blessing to all the earth.  Abraham is "only" 75 years old when God makes this promise.  Isaac wasn't even a twinkle in Abraham's eye yet, as he wouldn't be born for another 25 years, but the promise is there: Abraham will be a great nation.  And to be a great nation, you need descendants.  So here God is essentially promising Abraham that he will use his descendants to fulfill this promise.

And then in Genesis 17.15-21 we read a reiteration of God's promise to bless Abraham and the rest of the world through his descendants.  But things have changed.  Abraham is 25 years older, and he's already had a child, although not by his wife.  This has brought about its own set of challenges, but God remains faithful to his original promise to Abraham, even in spite of Abraham's insistence that it's not necessary.  By this time, Abraham believes he and his wife to be too old to bear children, and says to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before you!"  Abraham essentially asks God to fulfill his promise to him through the son that he already has.  But this is not God's plan.  God will defy all odds and give a child to a centenarian and a nonagenarian.  Although Abraham has a son, it is not the son that God has promised.  Isaac will be the Son of the Promise. God will fulfill his promise through Isaac and through his descendants.

Then we get back to Genesis 22, with Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, preparing for the sacrifice.  Remember, God has explicitly told Abraham on at least these two separate occasions that he would use his descendants - Isaac - to fulfill his promise and to bless the whole world - even though Abraham already had a son.  And here in Genesis 22 we see God telling Abraham to sacrifice this Son of the Promise - the one on whom God's faithfulness and reliability rests.

So how does Abraham feel when God tells him to sacrifice Isaac?  Many have speculated that he was torn apart by conflicting emotions.  I don't believe this to be the case at all.  Rather, I believe that Abraham was chomping at the proverbial bit to be obedient to God and get to Mount Moriah and get to work.  Why?  Not because he was excited at the prospect of killing his only son, but because he knew that God was Jehovah Jireh - The LORD Will Provide.

Consider Hebrews 11.17-19: By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named."  He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Why was Abraham willing to sacrifice his son?  Not out of blind obedience.  But because he knew Jehovah Jireh.  And he knew that God was faithful.  If God allowed Isaac to die, as in permanently die, then God would be a liar and would not be able to keep his promise to Abraham.  This was certainly not going to happen, so the only option left is that God would deliver Isaac somehow.  Abraham believed that God was going to supernaturally divert his hand when he went to thrust the knife into Isaac's chest, or that God would provide a ram as a substitute, or even that God raise Isaac from the dead.  He may not have been sure how it was going to happen, but one thing Abraham was sure of: God would provide a way of escape for Isaac because Isaac was the fulfillment of God's promise.

In this sense, Abraham might have even been kind of excited when God told him to sacrifice his son, not because the prospect of killing his son was exciting, but because he knew that he was going to be able to see God work in a miraculous way, which is always cool.  I can picture Abraham receiving the word of the Lord, telling him to sacrifice his son, and Abraham replying confidently, "Let's do this."

God provides for his children, and he is always faithful.  Abraham believed that he could be obedient to God in whatever God told him to do because God is Jehovah Jireh.  Even if it mean killing his own son.  God would not break his promise.

May I, like Abraham, when led by God to do something that seems somewhat crazy, not respond in fear or doubt, but with a confident spirit of obedience.  After all, my God can raise the dead.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thus & Such, Vol. 21

Still a bit busy this week, but hope to be back to normal soon.  Till then, the usual:

1. "Any Peace and hope we have in our lives right now can be traced to the fact that God alone is God, that he is the sovereign power behind everything.  And this has future-creating wonder."  One theme that has been manifesting itself in my life in recent weeks is that of risk-taking.  I can take risks because of who and what God is.  Read this article that lists 9 reasons you can face anything.

2. Sex is playing a more prominent and regular role in our society, and this role is only bound to increase in coming years.  While this reality is perhaps not so desirable, it does come with an ironic twist: the pornography industry is losing ground.  Due to the increasingly overwhelming role of sex in everyday life, and the increased mediums in which it is manifested, it seems people have no desire for porn.  Tim Challies writes about how porn has no one to blame but itself.  

3. I'm a big fan of the regular inclusion of children in worship services.  It models for children what worship looks like, and it shows them that their parents find it to be valuable enough to humble themselves and devote a segment of their time each week to corporate worship.  It is also beneficial for the unity of the church, I think, in that young and old - though separated by generational differences - find commonality in worshipping the same God.  But, there are of course challenges that come with including children in worship: disruptions, noises, loud talking, the occasional passing of gas, etc.  Here, a helpful mother offers tips for how to keep children in worship.  

4. "The new mark of being culturally acceptable is affirming homosexuality as virtuous (not merely okay, but virtuous, even exemplary).  This is the litmus test.  I don't think many of us expected that it would so quickly fill this role, but it has.  The mark of being a progressive, kind socially courageous person today is simply this: affirming same-sex marriage."  Read more about this scary new litmus test.

5. Some friends of ours have recently embarked on a God-ordained journey of adoption.  They've started a blog that details their journey and how they see God in this process.  Take a look, but only if you've got time.  When I first discovered the blog I spent an hour and a half reading it from front to back!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Back from a Brief Hiatus (Thus & Such, Vol. 20)

It's been a while since I've posted regularly on this site.  This has been due to an increase in my work level and responsibilities in recent weeks, and the process that led up to said increase in the weeks previous to that.  Needless to say, I am the one-legged man in the butt-kicking contest.

I hope all that will change soon, however, as I seem to be getting into more of a rhythm with my new set of responsibilities and schedule.  Hopefully this will allow me to post more frequently.  So for now, here is the 20th installment of Thus & Such.

1. In my (cough) free time, I've started another blog.  Yeah, I know, I just complained about not having enough time to post on this blog, and then in the next breath I reveal that I've started another blog.  Kind of hypocritical, but it is the way it is.  Posting on this other blog is considerably less time consuming than posting here, so I guess that's how I rationalize it.  Anyway, it's a blog that celebrates my affinity for church signs - bad ones in particular.  Take a look.

2. My church has, from time to time, very informally considered the possibility of removing the word "Baptist" from its official name.  You see a lot of churches nowadays that don't indicate a denominational persuasion in their name.  Good idea?  Bad idea?  A little from column A, a little from column B, according to this research.

3. While I was at Bethel Seminary, one of the concepts they continuously tried to hammer home in our brains was self-differentiation.  What is self-differentiation?  It sounds a lot like what Denny Burk defines here as "teachability."

4. Have you ever been presented with a rule prohibiting a certain thing and found yourself wondering just how close to the line you could get without crossing it?  I think that must be what it's like to be Amish.  There are so many prohibitions against what you can't do that the Amish have made an art form out of coming right up to the line but not crossing it.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I'm Thinking of Making a Rose...

I'm thinking of making a rose, and I'm going to do it from nothing.  I'll need to make a seed that has programmed DNA that would tell it to produce tap roots that would, of their own volition, seek after moisture in soil and send the liquid vertical for the nourishment of the plant.  The DNA would then have the plant grow a stem, branches, and leaves that were capable of the process of photosynthesis.  It would have to make its own needle-sharp thorns (they are such a curse), and of course the rose buds.  These would automatically blossom into what I'm aiming at - a beautiful rose.

The flower itself wold contain the usual male and female parts - the pistol and stamen - for reproduction after its own kind.  Then there's the process of pollination that will need to take place, and for that I will need to make sure there's an aroma, and a radiant color that will attract bees.  I'm not sure how to do all this, but give me time.  Time is the key.  Time.

There's also the production of nectar that the bees can turn into the sweetness of honey.  When the rose dies it will have to produce its own seeds, so that it can reproduce after its own kind.

Well, I've had time to think about this and it's getting a little complicated, mainly because I have to make all this from it happened in the beginning.  Making a rose from nothing should have been easy because intelligent scientists say it wasn't designed with any intelligence.  But I feel a little dumb because I don't know where to begin.

OK, I've given it some serious thought.  Making a rose from nothing is way too difficult, and I don't think I could do it.  Not in a million years.  No, I think I will leave the rose and try something a little easier - like a bee.

The preceding was taken from the March edition of the newsletter.