Thinking Out Loud

August 21, 2017

Shopping for Church Curriculum on Amazon or Google Involves Risk

The IVP art director who designed N.T. Wright’s Bible study series had a thing for boats.

Today’s topic deals with an internet reality that is filled with complexities on a number of levels for churches and people organizing independent fellowship groups and Bible studies.

Before delving into the meat of today’s subject, I want to address two potential situations which can exist in a majority of churches, at least in North America.

  1. In some churches, individual leaders are charged with sourcing and ordering materials for different ministries within the church, and expenses are reimbursed either through charging participants, or from the general fund account.
  2. In other churches, study material is a ‘top-down’ decision, with paid clerical (or administrative) staff choosing what each group will study and ordering it themselves on the group’s behalf.

The problems we’re discussing today generally apply to the former situation, though can also take place in a surprising number of cases involving the latter situation.

So…the group leader, capitulating to an internet shopping world goes online and discovers a particular resource for their small group that seems to fit the bill.

  1. It’s on the book of Philippians, which is exactly what they want.
  2. It’s a fill-in-the-blanks format, which is exactly what they want.
  3. It runs ten weeks, which is exactly what they want.
  4. It’s under $10 US per book, which is exactly what they want.

What could possibly go wrong? (go wrong? go wrong? go wrong?)

I’ve seen these things happen firsthand:

  • The website is out-of-date and the particular resource is out of print and now it’s become a ‘Holy Grail’ type of quest to find the item in question. (Some groups will locate a single copy and do photocopying which in my opinion places them in a gray ethical area in terms of both the practice and the appearance.)
  • The expectations of the group aren’t the same as the person doing the purchasing. (You’re looking for a study book and they want to do a book study.)
  • A Baptist group accidentally orders a resource by a Pentecostal/Charismatic author. (Though in one case, they actually decided to go around one more time with the same series.)
  • A Charismatic/Pentecostal group orders a resource by a cessationist author. (Discovered when they like it enough to check out their other writings, only to find their doctrine being slammed.)
  • A small group discovers they’ve accidentally ordered something belonging to what would be considered a fringe Christian group with doctrinal distinctives that were not readily apparent (eg. Seventh Day Adventist)
  • The search process lands someone on a website not realizing it belongs to an even further-removed group such as LDS/Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness and is impressed enough to delve further into their writings, never returning to their place of origin.

There are several ways this can happen:

  1. The product they followed up on when they typed their criteria into a search engine belonged to a commercial publisher or distributor who was paying for search engine optimization (SEO) or even a paid ad itself.
  2. The internet isn’t very discerning; it follows an algorithm to obtain results depending on what you type. But too many search terms can also send it off the rails.
  3. The person searching isn’t very discerning; they are not trained in terms of knowledge of who it is behind the website or the publisher.

At risk of leaving somebody out, here, in no particular order, are some publishers of Evangelical Bible study material I believe everyone in that target group can trust:

  • InterVarsity Press (IVP)
  • Zondervan
  • Baker Books
  • NavPress (publishing arm of The Navigators)
  • David C. Cook
  • Thomas Nelson
  • AMG Publishing
  • Tyndale Publishing House
  • Moody Publishers
  • City on a Hill Productions
  • Bethany House
  • Harvest House
  • Concordia Publishing
  • Abingdon Press
  • Waterbrook Press

(Some omissions were intentional; others I will correct depending on comments or emails received.)

Some of you who know me know that I continue to advocate on behalf of remaining Christian bookstores. This is the best way to source material because it has been vetted both by the above publishers and the individual store owner, who is a professional in this field.

Additionally, some authors who have books issued by the above publishing houses, have chosen to do some of their small group material in-house in order to capitalize on the smaller profits necessitated by smaller print runs. It’s hit and miss on whether local stores can get these, and the situation is greatly complicated for people living outside the US, where the shipping and handling costs are prohibitive, unless they’ve arranged for a representative in that country to stockpile copies for buyers there.

It reminds me of the story we carried last week on our trade blog, where a woman was looking for fall Bible study material in a thrift store.

She had found an old book — and I’m not saying it wasn’t a worthy resource to use — and now wanted to order ten of them.

You know what comes next, right? Long out of print. To be expected…

…I shudder to think people don’t realize that hoping to find your church’s adult elective curriculum in a second-hand store is rather foolhardy.

If you find something which meets the established criteria (as in the above example) and is included on the publisher list above, there are still things that can go wrong. Someone trained in the field can quickly spot potential for product mismatches like,

  • “Do you know that study guide needs to be used with a DVD?”
  • “That guide is actually a companion to the book, produced for people who are using both.”
  • “That only covers the last six chapters of Romans; it’s a part two which only makes sense if your group has done part one.”
  • “This series is intended for new Christians; your group might find the material a little oversimplified or even condescending.”
  • “They call that a study guide but it’s really meant for people who have some background in Biblical Greek (or Hebrew).”
  • “That resource is actually divided into 52 readings, meant to be done weekly over the course of a year.”
  • “It’s really just a few pages long; the price you’re seeing is for a package of ten.”
  • “The text quotes in that one are entirely from the KJV; your youth group might find that a bit awkward.”

Ultimately, you can’t get this type of service from Amazon and you’ll never get this type of product discernment using a search engine such as Bing, or Google. Admittedly, I am biased, but this simply isn’t the way to shop for materials for your study group.

 

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March 3, 2017

3/3 and the Trinity

trinity 1

Someone pointed out the coincidence (if indeed it is a coincidence) that a major motion picture about the Trinity is releasing on 3/3. That got me thinking that perhaps we could look back at this topic as it has been discussed here and at C201.

In November of 2014 at Christianity 201 we began with a quote from Tozer:

Our sincerest effort to grasp the incomprehensible mystery of the Trinity must remain forever futile, and only by deepest reverence can it be saved from actual presumption.
~A.W. Tozer, The Idea of the Holy, chapter 4

and then continued to look at “who does what.”

In the Holy Scriptures the work of creation is attributed to the Father

Gen. 1:1 In the beginning, God created everything: the heavens above and the earth below

to the Son

Col 1:16 It was by Him that everything was created: the heavens, the earth, all things within and upon them, all things seen and unseen, thrones and dominions, spiritual powers and authorities. Every detail was crafted through His design, by His own hands, and for His purposes.

and to the Holy Spirit

Job 26:13 By His breath, the heavens are made beautifully clear;
by His hand that ancient serpent—even as it attempted escape—is pierced through.

Psalm 104:30 When You send out Your breath, life is created,
and the face of the earth is made beautiful and is renewed.

The article continues as a scripture medley… continue reading here.

In July, 2013 we looked at the idea of “One What and Three Whos” with this item by C. Michael Patton:

I believe in one God (ousia), who exists eternally in three persons (hypostasis) — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit — all of whom are fully God, all of whom are equal.

Spirit of GodSince there is only one God, one member of the Trinity, in his essence, cannot have more power, authority, or dignity than another. They all share in the exact same nature (ousia, ontos, “stuff”). I did not understand this until later in my Christian life. For many years I existed as a functional polytheist (a tritheist, to be technically precise). I believed the three members of the Trinity shared in a similar nature, not the exact same nature. In other words, just like you and I share in the nature of being homo sapiens, so the members of the Trinity are all from the “God species” . . . or something like that. But this is a bad analogy since, though you and I may be the same species, we are different in essence. You are you and I am me. I have my body and you have yours. But in the Trinity, all three persons share in the exact same essence. One in nature; three in person. One what; three whos…

For more on the idea of a hierarchy within the Trinity… continue reading here.

In February of 2011, we offered “The Trinity Collection,” to go-to verses in which all three members of the Godhead are referenced:

Matthew 3: 16, 17 NIV

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Matthew 28: 19 NLT

19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

John 15: 26 ESV

[Jesus speaking] 26“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

Acts 2: 33 NIRV

33 Jesus has been given a place of honor at the right hand of God. He has received the Holy Spirit from the Father. This is what God had promised. It is Jesus who has poured out what you now see and hear.

II Cor. 13: 14 The Message

14The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Ephesians 2: 17 – 18 TNIV

17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

I Thess. 1: 2-5a CEV

2We thank God for you and always mention you in our prayers. Each time we pray, 3we tell God our Father about your faith and loving work and about your firm hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4My dear friends, God loves you, and we know he has chosen you to be his people. 5When we told you the good news, it was with the power and assurance that come from the Holy Spirit, and not simply with words…

I Peter 1: 1 – 2 NIV (UK)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world … 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Also included in this list is the longer passage at I Cor. 12: 4-13.

That’s pretty much the entire piece… read at source here.

Also in February, 2011, we had a discussion here about whether or not non-Trinitarians should be included among those called “Christians.” (Thorny topic, I know.)  At that time we noted that

…four of the seven statements in the National Association of Evangelicals Statement of Faith which specifically refer to God, Jesus and Holy Spirit, of which the first is primary for this discussion:

  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.

(For Canadian readers, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith is identical.) 

For that article… continue reading here.

Finally, in January of this year, at C201 we quoted Fred Sanders on Trinitarian Praise:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now,

and ever shall be, world without end.

The glory of God is from everlasting to everlasting, but while the praise of the Trinity will have no end, it had a beginning. There was never a time when God was not glorious as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit. But there was a time when that singular glory (singular because, to gloss the Athanasian Creed, there are not three glorious, but one) had not yet disclosed itself so as to invite creatures to its praise. To join in the ancient Christian prayer called the Gloria Patri, directing praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is to come into alignment here in the world “as it is now” with triune glory “as it was in the beginning.” All theology ought to be doxology, but Trinitarian theology in particular is essentially a matter of praising God. This doxological response is the praise of a glory (ἔπαινον δόξης, Eph 1:6, 12, 14) that always was, and whose epiphany in time entails its antecedent depth in eternity. Those whom God has blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ are summoned to join that praise: “Blessed be God the Father, who has blessed us in the Beloved and sealed us with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:3–14, condensed). 

For that article… continue reading here.

January 12, 2017

Building a Bible Reference Library

The chart that follows was produced many years ago by Thomas Nelson. It may exist online now, but when I tried to track it down about a year ago I couldn’t locate it; so I was quite pleased to find it yesterday in a pile of papers.

Many of the suggested Bible reference tools listed below are now available online, to the point where it’s possible to need a particular nugget of information, and not necessarily classify it as to the type of information required. The internet probably blurs the distinctions below.

Look at the graphic and then scroll down for my comments on each element. Click the image to view full size.

bible-reference-library

Tier One The Bible itself is foundational and there’s no point building a library about it without actually owning several good ones.

Tier TwoConcordances — listing occurrences of particular words in particular translations — are somewhat obsolete with what our desktop computers and phones can do. Still, a dictionary of Bible terms is helpful, but you need to be careful you’re not using a theological or religious dictionary. For example, the term trinity isn’t found in scripture, so a Bible dictionary won’t necessarily contain it. However, that may be the very thing you wish to examine, so then you’d want to additionally own a theological dictionary, or find a Bible encyclopedia that combines both.

Tier Three – I think that every Christian should have some familiarity with an in-depth commentary; the type that focuses on a single book, or the one-volume kind. Again, if you’re doing this online instead, you need to know it’s commentary you’re looking for. I would also argue that a Bible handbook, providing summaries of each book, should be moved up a tier. It’s something that new Christians often find most helpful. Word Study is a challenging field referring the etymology (origin) of key words in the original (Greek and Hebrew) languages and not everybody is ready for it. Still it’s good to have experience seeing how these books are constructed, or online, knowing it’s word study you’re looking for.

Tier Four – Right now books on life in Bible times are very much in demand as people seek to better understand the context and culture which brings passages to life. The second suggested resource, a study guide is probably what you already use in your home church group during the week and I expect the suggestion here is that you would be collecting many of these as you work through particular books. Bible maps are something I never placed great importance in, but I’m now seeing the value of them more than I did in my early Christian experience. Topical Bibles are helpful; even if you’re doing a verse-by-verse look at scripture it’s good to pause and consider the themes the passage presents in greater detail. 

Omitted – The chart makes no reference to the devotional genre, which I believe is necessary to make the Bible personal; otherwise all these books are just about hoarding information. I would also contend that in building a library like the one envisioned here, a foundational book on apologetics would be good to own. Others might argue that a prayer guide, such as Operation World are fundamental to the realization that the Church of Jesus Christ extends far beyond our local congregation, our region or even our nation. For those who have pursued a formal Christian education, the lack of a book on systematic theology is probably the most glaring omission. There are some books which simplify this and help new believers see the various pieces of the puzzle.

September 22, 2015

Max Lucado Visits Israel’s Best Days

Glory Days - Max LucadoWhether it’s a specific time-frame in music history, the winning-est season for a favorite team, or maybe even a season in the life of your church; everyone knows what it means when you say “it was a golden era in the life of…” music, the team, the church.

For author Max Lucado, Israel’s golden era, or as he would say, Israel’s Glory Days were the time of entering the Promised Land as described in the first 14 chapters of the book of Joshua. This then, is the theme of his new book. Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now (Thomas Nelson).

Lucado books are often thought of as lite (sic) reading by those who prefer more scholarly and academic authors, but I found this one to be more substantive than some other books by him. Really, this is a commentary on the first part of Joshua, but it is a devotional commentary, in the same way the NIV Life Application Bible is a study Bible, just not the type of study Bible chosen by those who prefer the NIV Study Bible. I would contend however that without practical application, Joshua’s life — or the life of any other Bible figure — is simply facts on a page, which is fine for those of you who study history, but not enough for people who face real-life challenges and want assurance of God’s care and provision.

That is the appeal of his writing, and that shines through so clearly in Glory Days. Also apparent is that for a Old Testament study, there are numerous New Testament references which includes but is distinct from a Christocentric focus which also comes through in his writing.

The Lucado formula is evident in each chapter and has been copied by dozens of writers since. A contemporary story introduces a principle that is then discussed in the text. The difference that has earned Max the right to be heard over the years is the number of these stories that flow out of real-life experience and real-world contacts he has made.

The life of Joshua has inspired writers for generations. I can heartily recommend this to both veteran readers of Christian Living titles and those for whom this might be their first Christian book.

Note: A companion 6-week DVD-based small group study is also available for Glory Days.

 

August 31, 2015

Homeschooling: Protecting Your Kids from The World and Other Christians

We have had contact with a number of people over the years who did homeschooling, including a former employee at the local Christian bookstore who, with her husband, became close friends. Heck, we even jumped into the homeschool pond ourselves once, for almost a full school year. But you do meet some interesting people in the homeschool movement. Recently, while looking up some past blog articles, I came upon two which I had completely forgotten, which will run here today and tomorrow; I apparently spelled homeschool differently back then…

My job necessitates a certain amount of interaction with what I would call the widest possible variety of people who consider themselves Christ followers. If someone is new to the community, I try to find them a place to connect with like-minded believers. This can take a great many forms, and I always try to leave the person with a choice of two or three possibilities, so it doesn’t look like I’m promoting one group over another.

I’m actually quite good at this. I say that honestly because I’ve identified about 35 worshiping ‘bodies’ in the part of the world where I live, and I’ve attended “main event” services at 31 out of the 35. So I think I know where a person is going to fit in.

The family that came in today would prove to be more difficult. After making it instantly clear that they were not interested in your standard, brick-and-mortar church, I quickly adjusted my pitch and told them about a couple of home church groups I’m familiar with; groups I am allowed to refer new people to.

This wasn’t good enough. Apparently, these people receive their teaching straight from the Word of God, and they receive their fellowship from each other. (My goodness, Mrs. W. and I would say it’s challenging enough when couples work together; where does this leave you if your total fellowship is your spouse and kids?)

The problem is that nobody is good enough. This man told me that he finds many church people to be lacking in personal holiness. No argument there. I again adjusted my pitch, to try to see where I could encourage this guy that there indeed ARE people out there who are striving to live and walk in holiness; keeping in mind that God’s demands for each of us may be different.

But once started on this theme, there was no stopping him. Like the proverbial freight train heading downhill, he attacked people who celebrate Christmas, people who don’t follow the ten commandments, and on it went. I tried to interject Paul’s bit from Romans about how one man says its okay to eat meat offered to idols while another chooses not to. Didn’t help. He then attacked me for having absolutely no fruit in my life. (He had known me for about five minutes at that point.) To wrap things up, he informed me Saturday is the only sabbath we should observe.

Well, actually, just before he got to that point, there was this big giant sign that lit up in my brain that said “CULT.” Instead of finding the perfect environment in which to advance Biblical faith, he had basically founded his own false cult, even if it did resemble a few others you may be familiar with.

And to think, all I was trying to do was welcome this guy to our town and make him feel that there were potential points of connection if he and his family so chose.

scared-kids-1Just before he finished boiling over, and while the neon “CULT” light was flickering on, he said to me, “Look, you’re scaring my kids; they had to go back to the van.”

Of all the parts of this conversation, “You’re scaring my kids;” was probably the one I’ll remember a week from now. It occurred to me later that this was a school day, and that these people were obviously home schoolers. Absolute, complete, total isolation of their kids from the world, and also, apparently from other segments of the Christian world.

Had these kids never been exposed to any real “discussion” of Christian doctrine? Had they never heard an opposing point of view? I was actually enjoying the discussion. I felt that the Lord brought to mind some key scriptures that spoke to some things he was saying, and at least three times his wife silenced him so I could get them out. This is the stuff that good small group meetings are made of; and had you been there, you probably would have been itching to add something to the thoughts that were already on the table.

scared_kids-2I was calm, I was relaxed, I was peaceful, I was asking God all the while to give me some love for this guy, and … also … I was scaring his kids.

If you read my post a few days ago about the worship gala we attended, you’ll see a comment posted followed by a very long defense of my desire to ‘critique’ the event. It seems though, that in some parts of the Christian world, there is a strong desire to shut down debate, discussion and differences of opinion.

These kids have probably grown up thinking that their dad is an ‘expert’ on all things spiritual, and have probably never heard anyone challenge his opinion. Well, today they did. Part of the “working out” of our salvation is “working out” our doctrines. As iron sharpens iron, in the course of give and take, we share our various “God pictures” and so better understand the ways of God.

I have personal doctrines that are written in pen and ink, but I have other beliefs that are written in pencil. I’m still working them out. Someday, perhaps soon, perhaps later, this couples’ kids are going to have to work out their beliefs; because each of us stands before God individually. My own kids have learned that there are a variety of doctrinal belief out there; they have the freedom to challenge my take on certain scriptures; they have visited a wide variety of church situations, have sat under DVD and audio teaching of the widest variety of speakers; they are in every respect shaping their personal spiritual future before the eyes of a loving God.

By the way, I’m not trying to make a stereotypical example of home schoolers. Please don’t write; it will just force me to post back something lame like, “Some of my best friends are home schoolers.” Instead, I’m just noting that these people reinforce that very stereotype. The home schooled kids I know are part of church kids or youth groups. They attend regional conferences or rallies or festivals. Some of them are also part of house churches, but they are house churches that are attended by several families. Not just their own family.

If you want to separate yourself entirely from the world; if you want to think that nobody can match you for personal holiness; if you want to ignore the verse in Hebrews about fellowship; that’s fine. Just don’t put your kids in that same spiritual bubble and think there won’t be a price to pay down the road.

It’s a real pity when a healthy exchange about doctrine frightens kids.

October 2, 2014

Bad Bible Study Bingo

Filed under: Humor — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

I was going to use this yesterday on the link list, but it really deserves a post of its own. This was posted almost exactly two years ago on the Facebook page of TwentyOneHundred Productions, the media division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

I think we’ve all been to Bible studies like this where some people should really get a “delaying the game” penalty. Perhaps we’ve even been the culprits. Yeah, definitely been found among the culprits…

Bad Bible Study Bingo

May 23, 2014

Defending Lectio Divina: Letting the Text Speak

Challies Lectio Divina

Tim Challies was at it again this week, this time bashing a centuries-old Bible study and meditation practice called Lectio Divina which enjoyed a bit of a resurgence a decade ago as post moderns and millennial searched for practices that could comprise an “ancient-future” approach to Christian life.

His attack on a Spirit-led consideration of the text really undermines the Pentecostal approach to sermon preparation and study and is reminiscent of John MacArthur’s recent attacks on that movement. He finds the methodology subjective, but realistically, every commentary you’ve ever read is going to be somewhat subjective, both in terms of what it says and also in terms of what it includes or leaves out.

But you don’t have to be Pentecostal to use this method; everyone who prayerfully tries to let the text speak to them is going to be embracing this at some level; furthermore, if you discard this you are one baby step away from discarding the inductive Bible study method taught by Kay Arthur (and others) and the idea of praying the scriptures which many find useful.

Fortunately, Mark Moore has written an excellent rebuttal. I want to encourage you to read all of it, but since some don’t click through, here are some highlights:

  • I approached studying for a sermon series like I was studying for a dissertation defense at Oxford. I would read dozens of commentaries, monographs, journal articles, and just about anything else I could get my hands on…Yep, for the most part it was overkill. I dissected a book until I felt that I knew it inside and out
  • …When I approach the text in order to be formed by it, rather than simply informed by it, I am submitting myself to the text–the opposite of mastering it…
  • As I continue reading, I’m paying attention to where I feel apprehended by the text. I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit knows me well and wants to speak to me and wants to form me into the image of Jesus.
  • Lectio divina is dangerous. There is a dangerous risk to your comfort when you begin submitting to Scripture rather than trying to master it.

This study method has four components and you’ll need to click through to see them explained, but here they are:

  • Lectio (Reading)
  • Meditatio (Meditation)
  • Oratio (Prayer)
  • Contemplatio (Contemplation)

If the use of Latin seems too Catholic for you, or the whole thing appears to be too far removed from your experience or how your church teaches devotional Bible study, may I remind you that if you had never heard the ACTS outline for prayer (Acknowledge, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) it would probably seem strange too.

At the end of the day, Challies’ is simply hyper-critical of anything that is outside of his spiritual life experience. “That’s not how we do it;” morphs into “That’s not how it should be done.” He is literally terrified of that which does not fit into his boxes. Unfortunately, he has a huge readership, many of whom would never question the various manifestations of the Christian world he condemns, especially considering the fear mentality that plagues much of the Church.

But so much of scripture — so much of God for that matter — is mystery. The Jews regarded the scripture as a multifaceted jewel; each reflection and refraction and each turning of the object revealed something never before seen.

That experience of the word is, I am afraid, is alwaysgoing to be somewhat subjective.

 

 

December 27, 2013

The Christmas Story in the Gospel of Mark

Filed under: Christmas, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:04 am

This is from Clarke Dixon, a pastor in Cobourg, a city about an hour east of Toronto, Canada. I actually got to hear the first message in this series, The Christmas Story in the Gospel of Matthew, and then at the end he invited his parishioners to read the Christmas story in the second gospel for the following week… Click here to read at source where you’ll also find puppet scripts for the skits that accompanied each sermon.

When I began this series “Christmas According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” I invited the congregation to read through the story of Christmas as found in Mark. I could tell by some smiles that quite a number knew that there is no story of Christmas in Mark, no angels, no shepherds, no wise men, no manger scene, and of course no mention of all the traditions we tend to associate with Christmas. That a Gospel writer would miss entirely the Christmas story can be a good reminder to us that Christmas was not celebrated by the earliest of Christians with the same intensity we do today, much of how and when we celebrate being a matter of tradition rather than of obedience to the Bible. It also serves as a reminder that we ought not to think of the Gospels as “biographies.” A biography will often leave us inspired by a person while at the same time satisfying our curiosity by filling in the details of that person’s life. The Gospel writers will have failed in their quest if we find ourselves only inspired by Jesus, they instead want us to be committed to Jesus, and details can be irrelevant to that purpose. So Mark, likely the earliest written and definitely the shortest of the Gospels spares us the details and leads us straight to “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 NRSV).

So does this mean that Christmas itself is not in Mark’s Gospel? Consider the following (I have included the passage below for easy reference):

  • Mark 1:2 points us to Malachi 3:1 which refers to the coming not so much of a Messiah figure but actually God Himself. That’s a very Christmasy thought!
  • Mark 1:3 points us to Isaiah 40:3, where again the way is to be prepared for God Himself to come. Again, here is the essence of Christmas, that this Jesus is “God with Us.”
  • Mark 1:4-5 makes reference to a lot of people involved in confession and repentance. If you knew that God was to be on your doorstop tomorrow in all His glory, how would you prepare? It takes neither a Bible scholar nor a rocket scientist to figure out that confession and repentance is best and most natural response to the news of God’s arrival. We see people doing that right at the beginning in Mark’s account and again you can hear that echo of Christmas: “God is coming to us!”
  • Mark 1:7 lets us in on the what John the baptizer knows – He is unworthy of the One who is to come. There is an incomparable greatness in the One who is coming which makes perfect sense if God Himself is that One.
  • Mark 1:8 has John saying that while he can only baptize with water, the One to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Who can do that but God Himself? Again, God Himself is coming to us.
  • Mark 1:9,10 points to Isaiah 64:1 where Isaiah prays “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (NRSV). Isaiah’s prayer is answered through the miracle of Christmas.

So is Christmas found in Mark? Yes, right at the beginning of his account where you would expect it! Mind you, if you read through the Gospel in one sitting you will have the sense that Mark would rather have us focus on Easter. While the earliest of Christians in New Testament times did not celebrate Christmas, or even Easter the same way we do today, they did celebrate Christmas and Easter – every Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a special celebration! So Merry Christmas and Happy Lord’s Day!

Mark 1:1-11  NRSV

1. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;  3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”  4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

April 14, 2013

Don’t Like Controversy? Don’t Read the New Testament

Jay Adams at Nouthetic.org writes Controversy in the New Testament:

DisagreementSometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood. All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church. We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.” The term is used pejoratively; but should it be? Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.

  • In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
  • Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
  • Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
  • I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
  • II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
  • Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
  • Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
  • Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
  • Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
  • I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
  • I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
  • Philemon is a welcome exception.
  • Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
  • James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
  • I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
  • II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
  • I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
  • II John warns against hospitality for heretics.
  • III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
  • Jude throughout its entirety is an exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
  • Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.

Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me, why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?

February 13, 2013

Wednesday Link List

ASBO Jesus - Fifty Shades of Grey

As you can see above; after a six-month break the UK cartoon ASBO Jesus is back (click image to link).

  • David Murrow at the blog Church for Men is running a series of posts at his blog on things that were formerly unheard of which are now suddenly OK; thinks like: Being gayextramarital sex, and less provocative topics such as informality and slacking. (Actually, I found that last article most interesting.)
  • At least check out the first part of this one: A play-by-play review of what can only be called a church service for atheists.
  • Matt Redman walks away with not one, but two gospel/CCM Grammy awards, for the song 10,000 Reasons, though one of them was so close, a tie in fact with Israel Houghton.
  • CNN talks to two characters central to the new TV show, Sisterhood, a reality show about pastors wives in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Are you familiar with the term, “first world problems?” If not check out this blog post and accompanying video.
  • A pastor wrestles with wanting to preach the funeral service of a close parishioner, but having to be in Zambia, Africa at the same time.
  • Steve McCoy offers various types of advice to parents, including some things you might not have thought of intentionally teaching your kids.
  • And on another parenting note, preparing sermons and Bible studies may constitute time in the word, but it can substitute for time in the word with your wife and kids; or for those of you who aren’t married or don’t have children, the personal time in the word God wants to have with us.
  • What do you do when someone tells you they are  “having trouble ‘gaining access to the leaders” at their own church'”?  Maybe they just believe too strongly that only those at the top can help them.
  • Cooking the books? A 59-year old church bookkeeper is charged with stealing a quarter million US dollars.
  • The weekend weather in the northeast meant the cancellation of many church services, but that also means the week’s offering was $0.00. What can be done when it’s a snow day at church? Here are some suggestions.
  • Can’t wait for your weekly fix of Andy Stanley? North Point has a local 30-minute show that comes on after Saturday Night Live in Atlanta with repackaged sermon content. Check out Your Move.
  • This is a sequel to the ‘damaged goods’ item we linked to last week: Emily Maynard looks at the ramifications of loss of virginity for Christian girls.
  • Virtual Recording is looking for people who want to be the voices of various characters in a dramatic Bible. Learn how you can audition.
  • No, it’s not a new video; but how often do you get to see a Jesus Toaster actually making a piece of Jesus toast?
  • Social Media Department:  A new site billed as “a Christ-centered devotional and social networking platform… with unique features for prayer, and great tools to help you stay connected with the people you care about;” check out Faithbuddy.com
  • A Canadian Christian journalist can’t get any action from her bank until she takes to social media, and then she gets a response within hours.
  • Once again, for Valentine’s Day, here’s our annual link to Biblical Ways a Man Finds A Wife.
  • Randy Alcorn tells of his dad’s experience with bulging wallet syndrome.
  • If at about this point in the list you’re thinking you’d like to read an inspirational devotional article, you can’t do better than The White Harvest
  • One more time, here’s the link for the response to one of the most popular and discussed pop music songs of all time; the Reimagine song at YouTube
An all-dressed-up Matt Redman collects two pieces of hardware at the 2013 Grammy Awards

An all-dressed-up Matt Redman collects two pieces of hardware at the 2013 Grammy Awards

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