Archive for category Worship

Give Us the Word This Christmas

The Word of the LORD in Jeremiah 

While studying and teaching the book of the prophet Jeremiah early this year in the student ministry, I discovered a little volume entitled A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah by Andrew G. Shead. It was quite the read. Shead set out to examine every instance in the book in which a reference to the “word of God” was made, and then he proposed  a theology for the word of God in Jeremiah and to some extent compared this a theology for the word of God in the whole of the biblical narrative. In Jeremiah, the word of God is a, if not the, primary theme. Just consider here the frequency of use demonstrated in the following chart:

דְבַריְהוָהַ or “Word of the LORD” in the Prophets

 

Total Hits

Hits per 1000 Words

Isaiah

12

0.47

Jeremiah

63

1.89

Ezekiel

57

1.89

Daniel

1

0.10

Hosea

3

0.83

Joel

1

0.69

Amos

3

0.99

Obadiah

0

0.00

Jonah

3

2.77

Micah

2

0.94

Nahum-Habakkuk

0

0.00

Zephaniah

2

1.76

Haggai

5

5.42

Zechariah

13

2.68

Malachi

1

0.76

The chart demonstrates that the “word of the LORD” construction makes frequent appearances in the writings of the OT prophets (there are also other phrases that could be examined, but were not included here for the sake of brevity). The top five frequencies are found in Haggai, Jonah, Zechariah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and lastly Zephaniah. It would be interesting to do theology of the “word of the LORD” for each of the prophets in order to discover the similarities and unique traits throughout the prophets. Daniel’s one use of the construction is interesting to this study as it refers to “the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet” (Daniel 9:2).

To summarize Shead—and hopefully do justice to his good exegetical work—the phrase “word of the LORD” is specifically the message of God, which is found in the words of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:1; 26:20; 36:10; 51:64). The “words of Jeremiah” are also “the words of God” (1:9; 15:16); however, when the singular is used in the phrase “word of the LORD,” a specific message with a powerful purpose is indicated. At times in the prophet’s writing, it is as if the “word of the LORD” becomes a person and accomplishes his purpose. It is not too much to say that the “word of the LORD” is the main character of the book of Jeremiah.

The prophet “consumes” the words of God (15:16), and they become to him his delight and joy. The words of God, which contain the message of God, sustain Jeremiah in his lonely, lonely work as the prophet to whom no one would listen. It sustains him so deeply that he could say, “I have not run away from being your shepherd, not have I desired the day of sickness. You know what came out of my lips; it was before your face” (Jeremiah 17:16). Isn’t it true? Judgment was coming upon the people of Judah; they would not listen. Jeremiah had the message of God; yet, he was alone in listening to it. Although he wept at the hard-heartedness of his own people, the word of God sustained him. The message of God became the anchor of his soul, his delight, his joy. Further, although true listeners, like his friend Baruch, were few and far between, he had to proclaim the message. In Jeremiah 20:9, he says, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” He could not suppress or stuff the message of God deep inside so that it never came out of his mouth; he says it was like a fire, burning him up from the inside—he had to open his mouth so that the “flames” could exit and fulfill the purpose of the message of God.

It is to this I would like to turn our attention—the purpose of the message of God in the book of Jeremiah. I find this very powerful, and again, I credit Shead for setting me on the path to discover this insight. Remember that I said earlier, it is as if the “word of the LORD” is a person, the main character, in the book of Jeremiah. I may say further that it is a warrior, sword in hand, to either tear down what needs to be destroyed and/or to build up what must be sustained or rebuilt. The “word of the LORD” is fierce and entirely sovereign in its ability to accomplish this destruction or construction. No one could stop it. No one could prevent it. We are informed of this purpose very early in the book, at the calling of Jeremiah, “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’” (Jeremiah 1:9–10; cf. 31:28 ESV). The prophet Jeremiah would speak the words of God to the people of Judah, from the greatest to the least, and through these words the message of God would destroy and/or strengthen.

The Word of the LORD beyond Jeremiah

Now, let us take what we have learned about the “word of the LORD” or the message of God from the prophet Jeremiah, and consider the rest of Scripture. For example, think about the creation of the world. Do you remember how it was that God created the world?

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.  And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.  And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.  And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 1:3–2:3 ESV).

God created all things by the power of his word. His word “built up” the creation. Perhaps there are some differences between the theology of the word here in Genesis and what we observed in Jeremiah; however, I think it is a mistake to miss the similarity that where the words of God are found, the message of either destruction or construction is also found. Consider the sheer power of the word of God. His word has the power to brings new things into existence, to give life. In light of this, consider the potential power of the word of God in your life. Are you submitting yourself to the destroying and constructing power of the message of God? To the preaching, to the study, to the reading, to the internalizing of the word of the LORD? Surely, we all have things in our lives that need to be destroyed by the message of God. Surely, we all have things that need to be built or strengthened in our lives.

The Word of the LORD Incarnate

Now, Christmas is fast approaching. It is the time of year during which we often think afresh about the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. May I suggest to you that at the incarnation the “word of the LORD” truly and actually becomes a person? Consider the words of the apostle John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1–5 ESV). And again, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:9–14 ESV). The same word that spoke the creation into existence, from which came all of life, and the same word that speaks to the people of God throughout the history in order to tear down and to build up, this same word has now become a person. John writing later in his first epistle teach us that, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He came to destroy sin and death, and he accomplished this through his cross. He also came to build. He is building his church, and as the Creator and now Savior, he builds new life through his resurrection, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Ironically, the personified Word, Jesus Christ, who came to destroy and to build up would accomplish these ministries of the “word of the LORD” by he himself being destroyed and built up, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up . . . But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19, 21–22).

Father, Give Us the Word This Christmas

Dear Christian—are you believing the “word that Jesus had spoken”? Dear sinner—have you submitted yourself to the destroying and building power of the message of God in the holy Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ? Are you in the word and in the Word? Everyday, we must allow the message of God in the gospel to be preached to us that our hard heartedness may be destroyed and that new life and obedience may be strengthened and built up. This word is the most powerful thing there is; we must subject ourselves to it. I pray that this Christmas season would be a reminder to you of the great lengths to which God has gone in his love and glory to engage the world with the power of his word.

, , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Bible Study Websites

While the World Wide Web certainly at times ushers garbage into our homes from time to time, I think we also must admit that it is an amazing resource when employed for good. Recently, I was asked to create a list of quality Bible Study Websites that may be of benefit to my students as they grow in the love and understanding for God’s word. I have provided this list below, and I would appreciate it if you would share with me any other websites that you have found helpful for Bible study. Thanks and enjoy!

20131024-101132.jpg

Bible Study Websites

1. Bible.org is THE site for Bible study assistance. It has everything.
2. Salem Communications seems to have a number of helpful Bible study websites, such as . . .
a. http://www.biblestudytools.com has helpful tools such as concordances for word studies, Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias, etc.
b. http://www.godtube.com and search for the Bible Study Methods videos with Dr. Howard Hendricks.
c. http://www.jesus.org focuses on topics surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and seems to have an apologetic tone to it.
3. DesiringGod.org is another helpful website that provides sermons, articles, some Bible study guides, and much more.
4. http://www.studylight.org is full of resources too! Concordances, original language helps, Bible dictionaries, encyclopedias, commentaries. It also has a decent variety of daily devotional materials.
5. http://www.blueletterbible.org is a great place to start for the person who some interest in studying the Bible in its original languages. Yes, you can do some study in the original languages even though you’ve never taken a Greek or Hebrew course! This site is designed with the beginner in mind and is very helpful for those who really want to labor in the text of the Bible.

, , , , ,

1 Comment

Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—5. Community

5. Community

This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.

However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.

We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.

  1. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
  2. Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
  3. Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.

I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.

Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

How Gospel Conversations with 7th Day Adventists Led to Research about Michael, the Archangel, as the Pre-Incarnate Christ and to . . . John Calvin? What?!

Three months ago, over a third of our church participated in Unlock 2013: Asking God to Open Hearts in DFW. I had the privilege and opportunity to lead this ministry and all of our Unlock Workers that consisted of an evening VBS, a free meal, prayer groups, sports camps, lots of organizing, administrating, and publishing, evangelism teams and prayer stations in the streets and parks of Dallas, and now – follow up for discipleship. We had over 620 gospel conversations with folks in Dallas, and we’re excited to evangelize more and become better equipped at discipleship. This whole thing launched out of a renewal that is taking place at our church to grow by worship, prayer, conversion/the new birth, and discipleship as opposed to the ever popular mantra of “Hey, come to our church because we now have the latest, biggest, and best programs.” We want to worship, pray, and proclaim the gospel and watch the Holy Spirit work in power.

As our teams were out in the streets and parks, some encountered 7th Day Adventists. Honestly, I did not know much about the Adventists. After having done some research, I will suggest that their openness to prophecy and the authority that they give to the writings of Ellen White are troubling. Also troubling is their inability to see that the Law was entirely fulfilled in Christ, including the Sabbath. Their position on the Sabbath leads them down strange roads as expressed in this recent article from Ted N. C. Wilson, the President of the Seventh Day Adventist Church: http://www.adventistworld.org/issue.php?issue=2013-1009&page=8.

Is Michael, the Archangel, Jesus Christ?

During my research on the 7th Day Adventists, I came across a very interesting view on Michael, the Archangel, that I had never heard before. They believe that Michael, the Archangel is another title for Jesus Christ. Michael means “who is like God.” Archangel could mean, “highest ranked angel,” or “ruler of the angels,” or “chief of the messengers.” Context must help with the interpretation. Let me be entirely fair, they DO NOT believe that Jesus Christ is or ever has been an angel. They believe that Michael when mentioned in Scripture is NOT an angel, but it is Jesus Christ, the ruler of the angels. Now, whether or not such an interpretation is plausible will take more thought and work on my end. My initial judgment is that such a view is confusing rather than clear, and we do not ever have the New Testament writers clarifying this for us. In fact, Michael appears in the New Testament, and in my opinion, it becomes more clear in those passages, that Jesus Christ and Michael are two separate beings.

It is also very interesting that this study led me to a place, or a person rather, whom I did not at all expect to meet on this journey . . . John Calvin. One Adventist author referenced John Calvin’s commentary on Daniel in support of his view. I couldn’t believe it! I surely thought he was mistaken. So, I looked up the reference myself, and here is what I found:

Commenting on Daniel 10:13, Calvin writes, “He adds next, ‘Behold! Michael, one of the chief leaders or princes, came to strengthen me.’ Some think the word Michael represents Christ, and I do not object to this opinion. Clearly enough, if all angels keep watch over the faithful and elect, still Christ holds the first rank among them, because he is their head, and uses their ministry and assistance to defend all his people. But as this is not generally admitted, I leave it in doubt for the present, and shall say more on the subject in the twelfth chapter” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 253).

Commenting on Daniel 12:1, Calvin writes, “By Michael many agree in understanding Christ as the head of the Church. But if it seems better to understand Michael as the archangel, this sense will prove suitable, for under Christ as the head, angels are the guardians of the Church. Whichever be the true meaning, God was the preserver of his Church by the hand of his only-begotten Son, and because the angels are under the government of Christ, he might entrust this duty to Michael” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7-12 & Hosea, XIII, page 368-69).

He seems uncertain about the whole thing really. Calvin also writes in his 65th lecture, which followed the above quotation, “As we stated yesterday, Michael may mean an angel; but I embrace the opinion of those who refer this to the person of Christ, because it suits the subject best to represent him as standing forward for the defence of his elect people” (Calvin Commentaries: Daniel 7012 & Hosea, XIII, page 369-70).

I could . . . not . . . believe it. It’s not that I sense orthodoxy is at stake if someone holds to such a view, especially as expressed here by Calvin. It’s just a thought that I had never heard of until recently, let alone a thought that I have entertained. Yet, many of us would identify the angel of the LORD in the Old Testament as the pre-incarnate Christ. I am not so sure about that now, but I once held to that with no problem at all, and I still don’t think such a belief is too big a deal.

My curiosity continued. I wanted to see if Calvin maintained this belief all the way through the New Testament. So, I picked up his commentary on Jude, where Michael is mentioned again. Here, Calvin’s tone was different on the matter,

However, when you read Calvin’s commentary on the epistle of Jude, he mentions no connection between Michael and Jesus Christ, and in fact, I would say that there is no way that Calvin sees Michael as another title for Jesus in Jude 9, “That Michael is introduced alone as disputing against Satan is not new. We know that myriads of angels are ever ready to render service to God; but he chooses this or that to do his business as he pleases. What Jude relates as having been said by Michael, is found also in the book of Zechariah, ‘Let God chide (or check) thee, Satan.’ (Zech. iii. 2.) And it is a comparison, as they say, between the greater and the less. Michael dared not to speak more severely against Satan (though a reprobate and condemned) than to deliver him to God to be restrained . . .” (Me commenting on Calvin Commentaries: Hebrews, I Peter, I John, James, II Peter, Jude, XXII, page 439).

So, it seems that something happened in Calvin’s understanding of Michael, the Archangel, between his writing on Daniel and his writing on Jude. I looked at Hebrews to see if he said anything about it on Hebrews 1, where Christ is taught to be superior to the angels, but I did not find anything. I have not yet checked his comments on Revelation 12, where Michael is mentioned once again. I am not sure what exactly catalyzed the turn around. An interesting ride though. Thanks Mr. Calvin.

*Update* I recently discovered – and I think that this was news to me – that John Calvin did not write a commentary on the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. Most with whom I have spoken or whom I have read state that he simply ran out of time in his life to write said commentary. This news then caused me to inquire as to what was the final word of John Calvin on the issue raised in this article; that is, which was written later—his commentary on Daniel or his commentary on Jude? One may assume that Calvin wrote his commentaries in order, working his way from the Old Testament into and through the New Testament. However, this is not what we find when we search the dates as recorded in Calvin’s commentaries. According to page lxxv in his introductory material to his lectures and commentary on the book of Daniel, Calvin signed a letter that included his provenance and the date, which were Geneva, August 19, 1561. He did the same for his commentary on the Catholic Epistles, which included the book of Jude. His provenance and the date for this writing were Geneva, Jan. 24, 1551. This means that what John Calvin wrote about Michael, the Archangel in Daniel CAME AFTER what he did or did not write about Michael, the Archangel in Jude. Therefore, the conclusion I think we must draw from the matter at hand is that John Calvin did indeed believe that “Michael, the Archangel” was another title for the second person of the Trinity. Calvin believed that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was also the “One like God” who is also the “Captain of the Angelic Messengers and Host.” Although, let it be clearly stated here that John Calvin DID NOT believe that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was a created, angelic being, but rather the commander of the angels. In holding his position here, he does not succumb to the Arian heresy that “there was a time when the Son was not.” Calvin believed in the eternality of the Son, that he has no beginning and he shall have no end.

In my opinion, I think that Jude should be most informative to our understanding on this matter. First, it seems odd that after the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity such a title would continue to be employed. Second and more troubling, the Michael of Jude seems sheepish in his confrontation with Satan. If this is indeed an angel, I can completely understand his deflection to have the Lord rebuke Satan. However, it is difficult for me to comprehend a post-resurrection and ascension Christian writer reflecting on an event in the Old Testament in such a way that paints Jesus Christ in such a way. Now, I said difficult, not impossible. I can see how some may point out that (1) this is an event in the Old Testament and historically preceded the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension, and (2) we observe Jesus Christ, even in his incarnate state, in his encounters with Satan and with spiritual warfare appealing to the word of God and to the Father through prayer and fasting. This reveals the inner fellowship and relationship of the Triune God with a common mission and a common glory as well as the faithfulness of the Lord Jesus as the second Adam, as the faithful Man. So, it is not impossible for us to understand Michael in Jude the same way that Calvin understands Michael in Daniel. Thus, I conclude that — hey — I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea. Yet, I can understand how someone may arrive at such a position. I am not ready to embrace it, nor do I think that there is any benefit in embracing it. I still think that it breeds more confusion than help for whether “Michael, the Archangel” is another title for the second person of the Trinity or not, whether it is a title given to him to emphasize his leadership over the angelic host or not, it remains true regardless that all creation is under his authority. He has been given this by the Father, and a special title is not necessary for this truth to be true.

He is the image of the invisible God,

the firstborn over all creation,

for all things in heaven and on earth were created by him —

all things, whether visible or invisible, whether thrones or dominions, whether principalities or powers —

all things were created through him and for him.

He himself is before all things

and all things are held together in him (Colossians 1:15–17).

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments

Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—5. Community

5. Community

This may be perhaps THE reason that Marc brings up that gives me the most pause. I think he is right to warn about the false security that community can bring. It is very easy to feel a part of anything when you are a part of the crowd. It feels good to be a part of something – this is especially so among young people, but also true among the other generations too. Sometimes it feels good to be a part of a small community, and sometimes it feels good to be a part of a larger community.

However, I do push back a little bit on Marc’s criticism of community, because community is obviously something that is going to happen in a local church context. Is he suggesting that we avoid community altogether? If not, what limits should we put on community so that people do not mistake the good feeling that accompanies community with sincere faith and discipleship in the gospel of Jesus Christ? He doesn’t say enough here. Community is GOING to happen.

We are relational beings – all of us – to some degree or another. In fact, I would argue biblically that we are hard-wired by God to worship him in community. How much time does the Scripture labor over the establishment, life, theology, and future of the BODY of Christ? Or even the NATION of Israel? There are endless places in Scripture to which I could turn to make my point. I’ll choose three.

  1. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) were given to Moses by God to teach the PEOPLE of Israel how to be a community of individuals who worship YHWH in purity and holiness as well as how to live with one another in purity and holiness.
  2. Ephesians 2:11-22 is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (btw, who was this letter written to . . . oh yeah, a COMMUNITY of Christians). The whole context of the passage is community focused, particularly how Jesus Christ through his death has become the peace between diverse – and sometimes even hostile – members of a single community. The passage even goes on to say that the apostles, prophets, the Lord Jesus as the Cornerstone, and the rest of the Body of Christ is being built up into one temple in which the Lord makes his dwelling.
  3. Lastly, turn to end of the Story to Revelation 5:9-10, where a community is singing about the community that the Lamb has ransomed for God “from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a KINGDOM and PRIESTS to our God and THEY shall reign on the earth.” Again, I could share more, but I think that it is clear that throughout the biblical narrative, God has engaged himself in a great deal to make a PEOPLE for himself.

I have not yet even mentioned the notion of community that flows from the Godhead itself as the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoy perfect communion with one another as the one God.

Now that I have thrown Marc under the bus a bit, I’ll stop and embrace his warning because his warning – though not well-rounded per se – is still legitimate. I often wonder, “How many of our students come to weekly meetings because their friends are there?” “If so and so stopped coming or left the faith, would he or she leave too?” “Are they here because they know that the Lord Jesus has called them into the Body of Christ, to a commitment to this local church, and because the Holy Spirit is yearning in them to serve, work, and worship with the community of saints at Scofield?” These are fair questions, because a person can find a “feeling” of community anywhere – in your college dorm, as you sharpen your focus and truly become part of a degree program with other students, in a frat or sorority, on a sports team, through fitness, at a bar or restaurant, at a workplace, or through any number of common interests that you may end up sharing with others as you leave the student ministry of Scofield. Students – don’t mistake the common, human need for community with other humans for the unique, sanctified, reborn community in the Lord Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. I’m not saying that the former is evil; I’m just saying that it is NOT the latter. Word.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

More Light on the Path: Reflection on Genesis 1:2

Today, after meeting with a dear friend from my days at Dallas Theological Seminary, I picked up a copy of More Light on the Path: Daily Scripture Readings in Hebrew and Greek by David W. Baker & Elaine A. Heath with Morven Baker. Obviously, I am only one page beyond the introduction, but I think I am going to enjoy this book! Each daily reading begins with a title, a prayer, and a short passage from both the Hebrew Scriptures (OT) and the Greek Scriptures (NT).

Today’s reading was from Genesis 1:1-2 and John 1:1-2. As I was stumbling over the Hebrew text, I saw something to which I have not given attention in the past. In Genesis 1:2, there seems to be a parallelism between these two statements:

And darkness [was] over the face of the deep,

And Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters [translation mine].

In the past, I have always heard and mostly assumed that the “darkness” was a sort of evil presence. Now, I know that “the deep” and “the waters [of the sea]” can at times communicate the concept of an eerie evil lurking below beyond human vision. However, I am now not certain that “darkness” in Genesis 1:2 is a reference to evil. Rather, just the opposite, I think it may be a reference to the divine presence of the Spirit of God.

There are other places in Scripture where this particular Hebrew term for “darkness” is found to surround the presence of God. For example, HALOT references Deuteronomy 5:23 and 2 Samuel 22:12. The Deuteronomy passage reads,

And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders [ESV].

2 Samuel 22:12 reads,

He made darkness around him his canopy, thick clouds, a gathering of water [ESV].

Now, HALOT specifically places the Genesis 1:2 in the category of “cosmic darkness” along with the use of the term in places like Genesis 1:4, 18; Psalm 104:20; and 139:11. However, if there is indeed a parallel connection between “the deep” and “the waters,” may there also be a connection between “darkness” and “Holy Spirit”?

The term was employed in Deuteronomy when Moses reviews the contents and giving of the Decalogue. Israel is called to remember the glorious and great presence of God that consumed the mountain. Out of the darkness (5:23), the voice of God came and delivered the law. In 2 Samuel, the term is again employed, but this time in a song of David “on the day when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul” (2 Samuel 22:1). In verses 2-4, David proclaims the strength of the deliverance of God. Then, he goes on to describe the terrible calamity in which he found himself (vv. 5-6). It was as if he drowning in the sea because death was tugging him under. Death seemed inevitable. But then, David cries out to the Lord out of his distress, and the LORD hears David from his temple (v. 7)! Now, verses 8-16 paint a majestic, jaw-dropping, glory-shot of the descent of the LORD to deliver David from death. It is in the midst of this description of the LORD that the term for “darkness” is used in 22:12. The sight, the sound, the feel, the internal stripping away to bareness that the Lord’s presence causes upon the whole of creation is overwhelming. He will deliver David, and David’s enemies will cower in the presence of his God. It is an amazing scene.

Thus, let’s return to Genesis 1:2, and consider afresh “the darkness [that was] over the face of the deep.” Could it be that we have here a reference to great and glorious presence of God who will subdue the deep by the power of his word and the majesty of his presence? The idea of the “dark” presence of the Lord should create within us a reverence for his transcendence, a proper fear for his immense power, and an embrace of the power of his word.

May God be blessed today.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—8. They Get Smart

8. They Get Smart

I don’t agree with Marc here. Our youth group doesn’t dance around difficult questions. We embrace them, discuss them, argue from historic, orthodox Christian teaching, and attempt to humbly admit it when we must embrace mystery and trust God with things. We’ve talked, not directly, but about the ideas in the Epicurus quote. God is both willing and able to prevent evil. Has he not sent his Son to experience the full blow of evil? Does he not seek to unite believers with his Son by the Spirit in the fellowship of suffering? Is he not patiently waiting for all evil persons to repent and turn to him, before he finally and fully judges evil when the cup of his righteous wrath spills over and pours out every last drop? From where did evil come? From pride and disloyalty from within humans? How was it found in humans whom God created? It was enticed by the evil one, the Deceiver and Adversary of God. How was evil found in Satan? From pride and disloyalty from within the angel whom God made? Did God then make Satan evil? No, God tempts no one, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (James 1:13). What then? God created angels and human as good, and he alone is righteous to determine what is good. In this mystery, it seems that what was good to him was to create beings with a will initially free to be loyal or disloyal, prideful or humble, worshipers or idolaters. However, when the angels and the humans were enticed by their own wills to turn from God; they irrevocably found themselves bound in slavery to evil that leads to death apart from God. Therefore, God must have in eternity past desired for us to know him as the one who is both merciful and judge. For because of evil’s presence, he redeems and judges. The Trinity must have desired to be known through the story of redemption. We talk about such things in our youth group.

However, my concern about our students going forward is not that some professor will make them feel intelligent because we have failed to do so. We give our students a lot to chew on, sometimes purposefully too much for sake of awareness. My concern is that many of our students have not either experienced evil in a life altering way, nor have they yet embraced the gospel to the extent that they will be able to interpret evil and fellowship with Christ in the midst of evil, nor have they yet developed the insight or possibly have not taken their fellowship with the saints deep enough in the local church so as to come to realize that the body of believers with whom they meet every week knows the grief of evil well, many of whom continue to rejoice in hope, endure in suffering, and persist in prayer. Despite our best efforts, some teens continue to perceive the local church as some kind of social club, which it is not, rather than a corporate fellowship with Christ and with one another as worshipers through both days of trouble and days of celebration. You can know about evil and all the philosophical debates, and yada, yada, but your real theology shows up when you experience evil.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—9. They Never Attended Church To Begin With

9. They Never Attended Church To Begin With

Again, I love this quote from the author,

From a Noah’s Ark themed nursery, to jumbotron summer-campish kids church, to pizza parties and rock concerts, many evangelical youth have been coddled in a not-quite-church, but not-quite-world hothouse. They’ve never sat on a pew between a set of new parents with a fussy baby and a senior citizen on an oxygen tank.

He’s right. When I hired our Senior High Director (J. Ryan Bowen) back in 2008, one of the things we knew needed to change, in light of the gospel and in light of the biblical teaching about the Church, was the experience of our young people in the larger local church life and worship.

We inherited a youth ministry that was not always mindful that the local church is an expression of one church body, young and old, infants and mature ones in the faith, worshiping, believing, and serving God together. Sure, there is a place for specialized discipleship, but there is a far superior place for corporate discipleship and worship. We have taken steps and maintained them in order to push our teens out into the larger local body at Scofield – several teens now participate in the worship service; many attend the Scofield Church Prayer Meeting; one of our seniors recently led an adult evangelism team during our Easter Evangelism Outreach. Youth are encouraged to take our local church’s membership class. We don’t meet separately when there are special church-wide activities – we do this on purpose. We gave up our Sunday morning time in the Amphitheater (i.e., one of our meeting rooms) so that El Buen Pastor (a Latino congregation that shares the building) could continue to worship in that space on Sunday mornings without too much disruption, and in order to help the whole church embrace the Scofield Church Prayer Meeting, we moved to a Sunday Night meeting – the embrace of temporary inconvenience for the sake and health of the whole body.

These purposeful decisions on behalf of our student ministry leadership are good. As I was assessing this particular area of the student ministry recently, our Senior Pastor, Jeff VanGoethem, said to me,

I think you have done a great job in not having a big separation, I think our kids feel part of the larger church, etc.

I sense that we are moving toward this – especially for the student who is a consistent attender or member of Scofield. However, we have more work to do as we prepare students for the adult life in the local church when they fully and finally leave youth group. For example, our student participation in the Prayer Meeting is lower than I would like. Prayer Meeting, I think, is sort of viewed as something for the adults to do. Not so. It is something for Scofield Christians to do – young and old praying together in worship and for one another. I believe a stronger embrace of this by our teens and their parents will immensely help the students when they go away to college or away for a career and find themselves as young adults in the church, who cannot go back into youth group, but who must move forward into fellowship, prayer, service, worship, and evangelism with adults.

, , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—10. The Church Is Relevant

10. The Church Is Relevant

I do like this statement by the author,

You didn’t misread that, I didn’t say irrelevant, I said RELEVANT. We’ve taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as “cool” to our kids. It’s not cool. It’s not modern. What we’re packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we’re called to evangelize.

Maybe I am a little blinded because I am an insider at Scofield, but I don’t think we struggle much with being Relevant; that is, we don’t try very hard to be Relevant. I have heard out of the mouth of our Worship Pastor, Daniel Jordan, that the goal of our worship ministry at Scofield is not to become slaves to one particular generation’s preference or experience of worshiping God. Instead, we are part of a global, ancient, culturally diverse movement of worshipers, who have always worshiped the one, true God. Our worship should reflect our connection to the past, our experience of God in the present, and our hope for the future.

If our youth ministry was too worried about Relevance with regard to our meeting areas, the Garage would have been remodeled into a hipster coffee bar, with X Games activities throughout instead of foosball tables, air hockey, and a chalkboard. Now don’t get me wrong, the Garage (i.e., one of our meeting rooms at Scofield) is cool, but it’s like late 90’s early 2000’s cool if we are dating it on the “Trendy Calendar.” Now, there is nothing wrong with remodeling rooms or buildings for better aesthetics and accessibility, but there is something wrong if we obsess over such things. Our weekly meetings have historically and will continue to be (if I have anything to do with it) primarily focused on biblical teaching. Sometimes, we spend up to an hour teaching the Bible on Sunday evenings. The time spent in the Scriptures is one of the author’s criticisms about most youth ministries. One student, who moved away sometime ago, has struggled in his new youth ministry because of the minimal focused on in-depth biblical instruction.

I could also go into our events and other activities, but I won’t. Let me just say that I feel like even our larger events flow more out of “the family” and “the tradition” that we have here at Scofield more than out of some attempt to be Relevant to every young person. Now, let me say this. Just because the things that I mentioned above don’t necessarily reflect a “Quest for Relevance” does NOT mean that deep, deep down in our hearts as a community there isn’t a desire to be more Relevant, and perhaps even sometimes a jealousy of others who may have the finances or resources to give the appearance of heightened Relevance. Lord, test our hearts; keep us from the sins of jealousy and envy. Lastly, let’s be careful about ALWAYS throwing Relevancy under the bus. Everyone at some level seeks to be Relevant. Shoot, in our day, to say something like, “I’m fleeing Relevance!” automatically makes you Relevant! However, thankfully, there is a biblical model and approach to Relevance. Consider the sermons of the book of Acts. They are always contextualized for preaching the gospel to particular audiences. Just think of Paul in Athens in Acts 17. Consider when the Apostle Paul says, “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). So, may God help our ministry to seek the Holy Spirit and how he might have us proclaim the truth about Jesus to all people everywhere without forsaking who we are.

, , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

Response to Marc5Solas on Top 10 Reasons Our Kids Leave Church—Marc’s Intro

Assessing the Author’s Intro

I kind of hit on this in the previous post, but not entirely. First, I agree with and share the author’s “love for the church” and his desire . . .

. . . to see American evangelicalism return to the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins; not just as something on our “what we believe” page on our website, but as the core of what we preach from our pulpits to our children, our youth, and our adults.

However, I am always a bit skeptical of building a “what’s wrong with the Church” article based upon the rantings of those who have left the Church. I’d rather ask those who are faithful to the Church about our weaknesses. There is a wonderful little book that we read in our counseling curriculum at DTS called The Pastor As Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life. In brief, the author (also my professor) explains that oftentimes what people tell us in conversation or in a counseling setting is the “Text of Their Lives.” It’s the surface. But below the surface is the “Subtext of Their Lives.” It’s the real thing that’s actually causing the situations, feelings, thinking, and circumstances. The problem is that the Subtext is hidden, stuffed, locked away, forgotten, neglected, or perhaps even something about which we haven’t even considered. Tapping into the Subtext almost always reveals an issue with the individual’s relationship with the Triune God. Almost always. This isn’t to say that genuine pain, hurt, or neglect wasn’t experienced, but it is to say how have you worshiped through and interpreted your experiences in light of your relationship with God? He loves the Church; do you? So, I push back a little here.

, , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment