Archive for October, 2008

In the Western world, and for nearly two centuries, Halloween has occupied the limelight of October 31st. Few are aware, however, that October 31st marks another important event that has shaped our world far more than clever costumes and excuses to eat candy. I am speaking, of course, of Reformation Day.

On October 31st, 1517, a German priest named Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to a church door in Wittenberg. While purposed to generate discussion on the Catholic sale of indulgences (N.B., and not intended to affect a break with the Catholic Church), Luther’s theses began a chain of events that ushered in the Protestant Reformation, forever changing the landscape of Christianity. In honor of Reformation Day, we’ve decided to unveil our Resource of the Month a day early, and honor Luther along with a host of other key reformers for their contributions to Christianity.  Our hats are also off to Tim Challies, for suggesting a third Reformation Day Symposium; stop by his site when you get a chance.

We can think of no better way to kick off this series than to consider the Reformation’s impact on the Bible. If you own a Bible in your native language, you can thank God for people like Martin Luther. In Luther’s day, the only Bible readily “available” was the Vulgate: A Latin translation of the original Greek and Hebrew penned some 1,000 years earlier. If you lived in 16th century Europe, chances were that you didn’t read or speak any Latin outside of the few phrases you might have picked up at church (since mass was in Latin, too). Latin was reserved for the small island of society fortunate enough to receive a proper education. To put it in modern terms, imagine that only high-ranking government officials and multi-millionaires had access to the Bible. This might give you a flavor for what it was like in Luther’s day.

Aware of this horrible disparity, Luther began his translation of the Bible into German while he was exiled in Wartburg castle in 1521. The completed work, which Luther would spend the rest of his life refining, was published in 1534. Even today, the Luther Bible is considered seminal in terms of its impact on Christianity and the German language itself. The advent of the printing press helped Luther’s translation (indeed, the Reformation itself) immensely, and thousands of copies were made and distributed to those hungry for God’s Word.

Of course, Luther was not the first to translate the Bible into the vernacular. John Wycliffe (the eponym for Wycliffe Bible Translators) published a translation in Middle English about 150 years before Luther.  Luther also had company in William Tyndale, who began publishing translations in English shortly after him.

While other partial Bible translations pre-date Luther’s, few had his impact. In addition to the aid Luther’s work received from the printing press, the Luther Bible was helped by the translator’s passion to make God’s Word accessible: He spent a great deal of time studying how people communicated in his day. Luther wanted to ensure that his translation would be readily understandable by people of every age and class.

So, to my titular question: How Much for that Bible? A lot: Years upon years devoted to faithful study of Biblical languages, many more pouring over the texts for translation, the logistical nightmare of managing the undertaking without modern contrivances, and the threat of public disgrace, imprisonment, or even death at every turn. Much like our salvation, the Bible you own today was bought at a tremendous price, and it is stained with the blood, sweat and tears of many saints who gave everything for the sake of furthering the Gospel.

Today the Bible is available in thousands of translations. For those of us in America, countless study guides, concordances, commentaries, cross-references and books complement the Bible, and the internet brings a wealth of free resources (this website to wit) right into your home with a slight twitch of your index finger.

What, then, will be our excuse should our Bibles spend more time on a shelf than in our hands? Have we sought after God’s Word with the hunger and zeal of one starving for bread? Do we cherish each page of God’s Word, understanding that what we hold cost more than we can imagine? Do we humbly and thankfully accept that over the span of human history, we enjoy today a luxury afforded by a very few?

This Reformation Day, let us take a moment to thank God for His Revelation to us through His Word, and making it so accessible to us. Let us put our thanks into action by diligent study and meditation. Finally, let us do all we can to make sure that the reformers did not labor in vain, and continue their work, by getting the Bible, history’s greatest evangelist, into the hands of all the world.

Read Full Post »

Note: This book review originally appeared on my old blog on 6/26/08.

Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for the review copy of this book.


A few weeks back I posted some thoughts on the Introduction of Stephen Nichols’ book, Jesus Made in America, published this year by IVP. To be honset, I wish I were a full-time blogger, because I feel like this book deserves a post for every chapter. In fact, I hope to do a multi-part interaction with it someday, possibly in the fall. But of course, don’t hold me to that.


Nichols does a terrific job combining careful insight, painful observations (painful for someone in the midst of evangelicalism) with a healthy dose of humor. Throughout the book are fascinating accounts and snapshots of how Jesus has been used (and abused) throughout American history in a more-or-less chronological arrangement, from “the Puritans to The Passion of the Christ“, as the subtitle states. Nichols sets out to “unveil these pictures of Jesus in American evangelicalism, to tell the story of his American evangelical incarnations” (p13) as well as “to raise signification questions about the state of Christology in American evangelicalism” (p17). Even with my disagreements (see below), I have to say: Nichols’ book is a success.



The Puritans stand as Nichols’ best form of American Christology, the standard to which the rest of American evangelicalism is measured. Through the words of Edward Taylor and Jonathan Edwards, Nichols, rightly, shows that the Puritans were not simply a boring bunch (though I admit “boring” is subjectively defined), who totally confined religion to the intellect and rule abiding. In fact, they loved the arts and poetry. As much as they taught the deeper points on theology, particularly Christology, in their sermons, they were also capable of writing words like: “Here [Christ] comes to give us the caresses of his love, and lay us in his bosom and embraces” (p31-32). Update the language a bit, and you got yourself a Jesus Is My Boyfriend worship tune! Thus, the Puritans were not simply intellectuals, but passionate worshippers of God (contrary to popular belief).



He does have a criticism, however, and that is “Given their dexterity in articulating both an orthodox, creedal Christology and a heartfelt piety, they didn’t always follow through with Christlike action” (p40-41). Mind you, I think he largely lets the Puritans off the hook here, as he spends far more time praising them than critiquing them on this very important point. I have some thoughts as to why this is so, but I’ll save that for a later post.



What follows is essentially a lesson in how we tend to “create a Jesus in our own image.” I remember reading Albert Schweitzer’s comment made over 100 years ago, that the liberal scholars of his day were “looking for the historical Jesus down the well of history, only to see their own reflection.” Nichols shows us how the early founders of America (specifically Ben Franklin, John Adams and especially Thomas Jefferson) were concerned not with a divine Jesus (hence Jefferson‘s cut & paste work on the Gospels). ). “What mattered most to Jefferson, especially for the new republic, was that Jesus was a virtuous man” (p57). These founding fathers help pave the way for the virtuous and moral Jesus, rather than the Jesus who is God and died for the sins of the world (p72-73).



In the 19th century, The frontier Jesus suited the non-educated men and women of the frontier, who did not want to bother with a God-man, but one who can be understood through personal experience and simple stories. The Victorian Jesus introduced the more feminine Jesus, as seen in John Sartain’s picture “of the Victorian jesus, gentle, meek and mild, with flowing hair and high cheekbones, and a softness that only a womanly Savior can muster” (p84). Thus, “the prevailing contribution of the nineteenth century to American Christology is that Jesus…became captive to ideology” (p95).



Chapter 4 deals with the battle between early 20th century liberalism (such as Harry Emerson Fosdick) and orthodoxy (see J Gresham Machen). Nichols’ quotes Machen’s words, “Liberalism regards him as an Example and Guide; Christianity as a Saviour: liberalism makes Him an example for faith; Christianity, the object of faith” (p117). I think Nichols ought to have pointed out that Jesus is in fact an example for us to follow (1 Peter 2:21, Phil 2:1-11), but his main critique is correct: liberal Christianity has reduced Jesus to an example and removed His rightful place as God in the flesh and Savior of the world. The fallout of this period, though, is that “for contemporary American evangelicals… the tug of war between devotion to Christ, on the one hand, over precise thinking about Christ, on the other, often goes in the direction of devotion” (p120).



In more recent years (chapters 5-8), Nichols gives us an honest (and sometimes painful) look at Christianity. Here, we see the rise of “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” music (whoever invented that term is my hero, by the way), where “like a good boyfriend, Jesus shows up at the right moment, says the right thing and knows how to hug” (p140). While I felt that his dealing with movies about Jesus (in chapter 6) is his weakest of the book, he makes a good observation: that these movies tend to appeal to emotion and personal experience more than anything else.



Chapter 7 deals with the commercialization of Jesus and Christianity, whether through WWJD bracelets, t-shirts or Jesus action figures. Perhaps his greatest point is during his discussion of The Shepherd’s Guide: The Christians’ Choice of Yellow Pages, which is a book for Christians to help them find other Christians in various types of businesses. Nichols states, “The Shepherd’s Guide, not to mention CCM and even the union of Christian insurance agents, creates an insular world for Christians” (p185). Christians, ostensibly in an effort to witness by wearing Christian t-shirts or buying only from Christian businesses, have isolated themselves from the rest of the world, who tend to laugh at us more than weep in repentance. It makes me ask: what purpose do these products actually serve?



Chapter 8 deals with Jesus in American politics. This chapter, I would imagine, may have been the hardest to write, simply because there’s so much to deal with. He’s weakest when discussing the right wing portrayal of Jesus, largely because (in my opinion) there is less about Jesus and more about Christianity here. With that said, it’s well known that the right wing of American politics has often appealed to Christianity to support its agenda. On the left wing, we see men such as Jim Wallis (which is spelled correctly and incorrectly- with the homophonical “Wallace”- multiple times in the same paragraph), who use the stories of the Gospels to show that Jesus cared primarily about helping the poor and the outcasts of society, which they claim lends support to the left wing cause. Ultimately, what happens is that we end up with a truncated Jesus (my term); a Jesus that does not take into account the whole of the Gospels.



There were a few points that stood out to me as particularly poignant from this book:



1. We haven’t been especially strong in letting the depth of the Gospels come out. Nichols warns us that “we need not shrink back from complexity” (p226). It’s true, we tend to keep Jesus limited to our experience (Jesus is my fishing buddy, etc) rather than allow the fullness of who He is (as seen in the Bible) impact us.



2. Interestingly, while we ignore (or fail to be impacted by) many of the stories about Jesus, we tend to “fill in the gaps.” Time and time again throughout this book, Nichols shows how Americans have simply not been comfortable with letting the Gospel stories to speak for themselves. We want to know what Jesus’ face looked like when He spoke to someone. We love to read Max Lucado stories, as he offers up imaginative stories that we do not find in the gospels (p78-79). The problem, however, is that these types of stories tend to provide the substance of the presentation of Jesus, rather than allowing the Bible itself to do so.



3. His treatment of “Jesus Is My Boyfriend” music is terrific. It’s often true, that you can take many Christian songs and substitute “Jesus” with “baby” and end up with a love song fit for a cheesy romance movie. Many would consider this harmless, but Nichols makes a great point: “Even lovesick teenagers on the shores of life or shaking like leaves need more than a hug from Jesus. Even they need to know that he is the God-man. If they don’t hear it in the songs, the locus theologicus of today, then where will they hear it?” (p145).



4. American Christianity, for the most part, does not care what the ancient creeds of the church say about Jesus. We think that we have come to the Bible with a blank slate and come away with a biblical portrayal of Jesus. We don’t need some dead guys who spoke Latin to tell us what to believe. The problem is that Christians who do not learn from Christians of history will be more susceptible to cultural influences of their day. Nichols shows this time and time again.



5. We need to go back and revisit our idea of who Jesus is. Do we have a truly well-rounded and biblical idea of Jesus? What episodes of Jesus’ life do we neglect at the expense of others? What aspects of Jesus’ character do we think about / pray about / sing about / preach about? What are we leaving out? Are we being conformed to Jesus’ image (Rom 8:29) or are we conforming Him to ours? I found myself asking these questions of myself over and over throughout the book.



To close, I really enjoyed this book. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in some time, and even where I disagree with Nichols (and I certainly do at points), I found myself conceding that he had a point to consider. If you are at all interested in Christianity and culture, American religious history or how evangelicalism has evolved over the last few hundred years, you ought to read this book.


Read Full Post »

Random Thoughts on the Book of Joshua

Recently one morning I read the entire book of Joshua in one sitting while my wife slept in (being with child is a unassailable excuse to sleep as late as you want).  As I was reading, I had a few random thoughts that aren’t really “full post worthy.”  Hence, this random thoughts post.

Dating Joshua (not that kind of dating)

It seems to me that the book of Joshua must have been completed shortly after Joshua’s death.  I say “completed” because I’m sure there were folks recording these events as they happened, but the entire book as we know it was compiled after Joshua died.  Two things stand out (and I’m sure I missed more).  First, is the note that Israel “stood in awe of him [Joshua] all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses” (4:14), a comment that makes most sense if it was written after Joshua had died.  Second, is the comment that Rahab “lives among the Israelites to this day” (6:25).  Seeing as how Jericho was the first city taken by the Israelites, she would have been one old lady if this was written long after Joshua’s death.

Um, a little help?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know what the Book of Jashar (10:13) was? 

Along the same lines, I don’t know who this “Arba” dude was, but he must have been something special because he’s mentioned a number of times, always in passing.  We can surmise that he was a giant (descendent of Anak) and probably a ruler since there was a city named after him (14:15).  Other than that, I’m not sure what else we can say.


“At that time the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.’  So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.”  (5:2-3)

Still kickin’ after all these years

Couldn’t you see an 85-year old Caleb challenging the younger men of his clan to arm wrestling matches and various other feats of strength?  And winning.  Imagine being an 18-year old stud in the tribe of Judah, impressing the young ladies with your warrior skills, only to have Grandpa Caleb walk by and give you a nice spanking in front of everybody.

The Greatest Generation

I’m convinced that this generation, the Conquest Generation, is the greatest generation in the Old Testament.  When you compare them with their parents, the Exodus Generation, it’s easy to see that where they had failed, the Conquest Generation succeeded, other than a few hiccups along the way (Achan’s sin, the stupid vow with the Gibeonites).  For instance, after making the vow with the Gibeonites (chapter 9), the Israelites began grumbling against the leaders (9:18).  Those who paid attention to Numbers will notice that “grumbling” led to all sorts of problems for their parents.  However, in this case, Joshua stepped in and handled the problem well.  Nothing more is heard about it.

You can also see how great the Conquest Generation was when you compare them to what followed.  Judges 2:10-11 states, “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.”  When juxtaposed with the previous and subsequent generations, the Conquest Generation proves themselves to be the greatest generation.

Read Full Post »

One of the confusing things for many Christians is figuring out what to do with Old Testament laws, specifically those ones that seem completely distant to our culture.  Can we apply them to our lives in our cultural context?

The way I see it, the best way to learn to apply OT laws is to see how the NT writers apply OT laws.  So, let’s take Deuteronomy 25:4 and see what Paul does with it.  Deuteronomy 25:4 states, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”  That seems distant enough for most of us, especially those of us who live in the city and haven’t ever seen an ox.

But Paul applies this to his own day in his letter to the Corinthians, a bunch of city folk themselves.  In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, Paul writes, “For it is written in the Law of Moses: ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’  Is it about oxen that God is concerned?  Sure he says this for us, doesn’t he?  Yes, this was written for us, because when farmers plow and tresh, they should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest.”

So what does Paul do with Deuteronomy 25:4?  I see two main things.  First, he applies the principle behind the law to his situation.  The principle is fairly straight forward: the ox deserves to eat the grain it is “treading out” (I’ll admit, I don’t really know what that looks like, but I understand the point).  The ox deserves to be “paid” for its work.  In the same way, Paul argues, the minister deserves to be paid for his work (though if you read on Paul explains why he passes up this right).

Second, Paul uses a “lesser-to-greater” argument.  If this is true of an ox, how much more true is it of people, who are greater than oxen?  This reminds us that the laws of the OT are not exhaustive, but paradigmatic.  What is true of the ox is true of the horse, the dog, the person, etc.

So how does this teach us to apply OT laws?  We look for the principle behind the law itself, not limiting the law to the specific wording alone.  The principle is what we are applying to our context.

Douglas Stuart makes this point in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth when discussing the command to build a parapet around the roof of your house (Deut 22:8).  On page 169 he states,

The Bible contains all sorts of commands that God wants us to know about, which are not directed toward us personally.  If we are not concered about building parapets around the roof of our houses (Deut 22:8), we should nonetheless delight in a God who cared that houseguests not fall off a roof with which they were unfamiliar, and therefore he taught his people to build their houses with that sort of love for neighbor in mind.

Read Full Post »

Believe it or not, one of my favorite passages in the Pentateuch to teach is Leviticus 19.  I can think of a couple reasons, including the strong correlation between theology and ethics.  But, I’ve found that this is a good place for a Bible teacher to show how historical background can help us understand the seemingly random laws we find in Leviticus.  Enter October’s Resource of the Month, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament.


In verses 26-31, we see a combination of laws that seem, to our minds, arbitrary and disconnected to one another.  However, when we understand the pagan cultures that surrounded ancient Israel, we can understand why the Lord issued these commands.


The Bible Background Commentary informs us that the issues brought up here in these verses were a part of pagan religious rituals.  Some of this is obvious to us (practicing divination, seeking out mediums), while much of it may not be.  Let me share some relevant background information from our good friends Walton, Matthews and Chavalas (all of these quotes are from page 134).


V26– The connection of meat with blood still in it and divination is seen in nearby cultures (such as the Hittites), who used the blood of sacrificed animals “to attract the spirits of the dead… or chthonic (underworld) deities in order to consult them about the future.”


V27– “The law’s placement here immediately after the prohibition against divination suggests that the restriction on cutting hair is based on the Canaanite practice of making an offering of hair to propitiate the spirits of the dead. …In ancient thinking hair (along with blood) was one of the main representatives of a person’s life essence.  As such it was often an ingredient in sympathetic magic.”


V28– Cutting oneself was often a means of attracting a god’s attention (think of the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18:28).  As for tattoos, this was often “designed to protect a person from the spirits of the dead.”


V29– While the denunciation of prostitution does not necessarily require a pagan religious ritual context, it may well include that (and since this command falls in the context of pagan rituals, I would argue it does).  As we know, prostitution was often a part of pagan religion.  (Remember the story of the idolatrous Israelites and the Midianite women in Numbers 25.)


So, when we read Leviticus 19:26-31, we can see that these are not arbitrary laws, but rather are commanding Israel not to practice their religion like their pagan neighbors.  You don’t need to perform magical spells or stir up a special concoction in order to hear from the Lord.  You don’t need to mutilate your body to ensure that the Lord will hear you.  You don’t need to live in fear of the spirits of the dead because you have the God who created all things on your side. 


This all leads to another reason why I like teaching Leviticus 19: I find it ripe for hermeneutical reflection.  In what ways do we copy the surrounding pagan culture?  Have we adopted means of determining the Lord’s will that are actually unbiblical?  Do we worship in ways that reflect our godless culture more so than our holy God?  There are many more questions one could ask, which are admittedly open ended, but I’d love to hear the thoughts of our readers.

Read Full Post »

As promised, I wanted to continue exploring some of the issues brought about by the recent release of “Religulous,” starring Bill Maher. To be clear, the intention in my first post was really to bring up some of the issues that surface when we consider the premise of Maher’s film. I cannot review the film itself, as I have not seen it, though from reviews and trailers I did offer a few reasons why it may not be worthy of any serious consideration, save that it provides an opportunity to share the Truth. I therefore agree with commenter smhjr: Religulous is not a threat, but an opportunity, and perhaps a catalyst spurring others to ask good questions about faith and religion (questions, mind you, for which Christianity has satisfying answers, so long as you’re willing to dig deep enough, and perhaps even talk to people other than those on the fringe of reason).

However, I do find the genre of Religulous more troublesome, hence the promised “real danger” I mentioned in the teaser at the end of my first post. For me, my worry is that films like Religulous, or similar media that lampoon people or institutions on moral grounds, foster an unhealthy attitude towards important issues. In this sense, Religulous is worthy of serious consideration.

Consider The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Each day politicians or the media that cover them are sliced and diced with great skill. Double talk, direct contradictions, or otherwise ridiculous statements are put right out in the open thanks to some brilliant editing and smart writing. The result is the fulfillment of Stewart’s admitted intention: Many “schnicks and giggles.” A comparison of Maher’s work and Stewart’s reveals similarities in method, intent, and result.

I must make the point upfront that Stewart and Maher are not “harmless” by virtue of their profession. In other words, we can’t say “Relax, it’s just a joke.” Your chosen profession or genre does not absolve you from social responsibility. Comedians writing comedy ought to be held responsible for taking a part in shaping public opinions and attitudes as much as anybody else. Repeatedly making the president of our country look incompetent is perfectly legal in our country, but it has real consequences for the social milieu. The same applies to Maher and religion.

That said, whence the resultant “danger” of Religulous, The Daily Show, and their like? First, I believe that such humor, if viewed frequently and uncritically, will subtly desensitize us to the gravity of some of the issues at stake. What, after all, is intrinsically funny about people killing each other over religious differences? Or (ostensibly) corrupt politicians running our country aground? Comedy by its nature requires some trivialization and/or emotional distance from the issue(s) at stake. Most of us have made the social faux pas of telling a joke at a party about a certain issue only to find that somebody nearby has suffered greatly from that about which we poke fun. Popularizing humor that plays on serious issues requires a loosening of sensitivities to real suffering. Suffering which, for most who are laughing, happens “out there.”

Second, Stewart and Maher do such a good job of making their point that in the end you’re left feeling helpless. For Maher, we’re proffered the notion that any member of an organized religion is ipso facto irrational. In Stewart’s case, we’re sold that politicians and the news media are so hopelessly bankrupt that there’s no point in actually doing something about it. In the end, any real engagement with serious issues is so futile or pointless that laughing about it is all we can do. Where I live, cynicism about politics and religion is rampant, and media like Maher’s and Stewart’s fuel that cynicism. At my last check, cynicism rarely brought about any lasting good, if any good at all.

The “real danger,” then, of Religulous is more subtle than the knee-jerk offense it may create. Like The Daily Show, and others of similar stripe, these media engender cynicism or apathy to serious issues. If indeed said issues are worthy of the moral offense that underlies the comedy itself, for all their intelligence, Maher and Stewart are a part of the very problems they purport to condemn.

Read Full Post »

Fireproof: some thoughts on the movie

On a whim, my wife and I saw Fireproof last night in the one few theaters in the Boston area to show it.  I would highly recommend you go see it.  I’m not going to pretend it’s Oscar worthy or anything like that, but as far as a movie that keeps you engaged, connects the audience with its characters and teaches valuable lessons effectively, this is a good one.  What I’m offering here is not a movie review (though I’ll give some thoughts on it), since I’m horribly unqualified to do that, but rather some thoughts I had coming out of it.

For those who saw Facing the Giants, released by the same church and production team as Fireproof, you’ll be happy to know that there are strong improvements.  For one, the acting is better, not limited to but especially Kirk Cameron (oh Mike Seaver, how you’ve grown!).  But what stuck out to me the most is how they wove the gospel into the story effectively.  Let me illustrate by contrast.

In Facing the Giants, basically you had an awful football team with an unsuccessful coach who suddenly had a turn around after a bunch of the players repented of their sin and became Christians.  Cute story, liked the movie, but felt like the “conversion” part of it was a bit forced (please understand that I liked the movie, I don’t want to come across as overly critical).  In Fireproof, however, Cameron’s character comes to the Lord in a way that (1) actually fit well with the storyline itself and (2) probably happens with dozens of people every year in towns all across America.  I won’t give the specifics, because I feel like it’s a powerful point in the movie and by telling you, I’ll ruin it.  But you’ll understand what I mean.

One of the most impactful parts of the movie is seen in the second point- the storyline is completely realistic.  Caleb’s (Cameron’s character) marriage is falling apart.  Like any struggling marriage, there are numerous factors that play into this- difficult work schedules, unappreciated spouses, different views of money, a man’s need for respect, a woman’s need to feel cherished, pornography, etc. 

I’m not giving anything away here, but basically Cameron’s character is driving his wife away.  There is the temptation there for her to find acceptance with another man.  While many movies would jump quickly to the underappreciated wife sleeping with another man, Fireproof realistically portrays the temptation here.  It isn’t about sex, it’s about feeling loved.  The wife doesn’t feel loved and appreciated by her husband.  Another man pays attention to her and symphathizes with her plight.  This interaction goes on for a while, growing slowly but steadily.  They don’t jump into bed together right away.  Temptation is a much more subtle snare.

When the movie was over, I couldn’t help but think about my marriage (just barely over a year old, now) and how I need to continue to love and appreciate my wife.  Though we are (praise God) nowhere near the point of the marriage in the movie, I should “be careful lest I fall.”  Just because something is not an immediate temptation does not mean we should not be aware of the possibility.  In fact, we ought to take measures to make sure we never come even close to reaching that point.  My job as a husband is to love my wife as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her.  My job is to ensure that she doesn’t feel the need to find sympathy in the company of another man.  In short, I need to avoid the mistakes made by Caleb.

This reminds me of a point made in a class by Dr Roy Ciampa back in seminary.  He talked about adultery (we were discussing the Sermon on the Mount) and how it grows over time.  He broke it down like this:

A married man and a married woman eat lunch every day in the compant of coworkers.

This man and woman find themselves enjoying each other’s company more than the other coworkers and begin to have side conversations during those lunches.

This man and woman then begin to eat lunch without the other coworkers.

This man and woman begin to become disappointed when others are around, intruding on their time together.

This man and woman begin to meet at times other than lunch in places where intrusions will not happen, often when they should be with their own spouses.

And it goes on from there as they continue to feed each other’s needs, ultimately their physical (sexual) needs.  People don’t wake up one day and fall into an adulterous relationship.  It’s about having a need met in someone other than your spouse (say, the need for good company) and going back to them to fill more needs.  Dangerous stuff.

Okay, I’ve gone on long enough.  So, if you are married, I highly encourage you to see this movie.  Even if you are not, check it out and keep in mind the lessons taught within it- I can assure you they are better lessons than the ones you’re learning from other movies and TV shows.

Read Full Post »

Note: We, along with everyone else in our missions training school, are memorizing Romans 8 this fall semester.  Since our desire is not simply to recite words, but to understand and implement what Paul is teaching in this chapter, we will be periodically posting thoughts, insights or questions from a variety of sources to provoke thoughtful interaction.

Consider these thoughts on the work of the Holy Spirit and how it relates to dealing with sin in our lives.

Not only do Christians have the verdict of “no condemnation” when they convert, they are also empowered by the vivifying presence of the Spirit to walk in newness of life.  The Spirit does not merely convey the Good News.  The Spirit enacts that news in the believer. 

– Ben Witherington w/ Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, p219

… deliverance from the tyranny of sin, effected through the atoning work of Christ, as an experienced ongoing reality, is the work of the indwelling, life-giving Spirit. 

– Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, p528

So, given what is said here about the role of the Spirit, how should we approach our battle with sin?  How often do we neglect the fact that we have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling within us?  Do we really view the Holy Spirit as the key to implementing the gospel & our deliverance from sin in our daily lives? 

Read Full Post »

Wanted: Prayer

At the risk of overposting this week (if there is such a thing), I found it convincting running across two different posts regarding prayer in the church this week.  As someone who is not a pastor or elder, but is in a leadership position consisting mostly of Bible teaching, I needed to hear (or read) both of these encouragements.

Thabiti Anyabwile encourages people to pray for their pastors and elders (HT: JT), reminding us of the reality of pastors burning out and leaving the ministry.

On the flip side, over at Koinonia, Dr Clinton Arnold (I’ve previously reviewed his book How We Got the Bible) encourages teachers (I’ll extend it to pastors and other leaders) to follow Paul’s example in Ephesians to pray for their students that they do not fall into the trap of spiritual dryness as they study the Word. 

It’s necessary to remember that both groups are susceptible to burning out and becoming spiritually dry.  Those not in a leadership position cannot assume their pastors and elders exist in a consistent state of on-fireness, in fact the challenges to maintain a consistent yearning for the Lord may be even greater.  Pastors and teachers need to know that their biblically sound teaching and passionate preaching of the Word are no guarantee that those under them will somehow avoid the dry desert periods of life- if Paul’s disciples weren’t guaranteed this, then we shouldn’t expect to be either.

So I find myself burdened (in a good way) to pray even harder for my pastors and for those I teach, and I encourage everyone to do the same.  And I hope that someone out there is praying for me, too.

Read Full Post »

Church without a Building

I’ve had a few years to think about what church life is like without a owning a building.  Our church rents a school gym on Sundays, uses the basement of another church for our training school, and meets in members’ homes during the week for our small groups.  We do have a building fund, and have looked into a few different buildings in the area, but have yet to have anything work out. 


I’ve reflected on this more recently, since a good friend’s church is no longer meeting in the building they’ve had for years.  They, like us, will be meeting in a school gym and will need to readjust how they do things.  In time, they’ll probably build a place to meet, but for now are in the same boat we are. 


I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing.  In fact, I think there are numerous advantages to doing church without a building, and I’ll list a few here.  Before I do that, I’ll cut off the objectors who will note that all the advantages I mention can be found in churches with buildings.  Yes, I know.  And there are advantages to having a building, too.  I realize that.  But I do think that not having a building encourages and forces a church to be shaped in a way that is less likely to happen with a building.  So, if you read this and think, “but my church has a building and we do ___”, then let me congratulate you on having a great church.  These are simply my observations.


Not having a building reinforces the idea that church is not the building, but the people.


Yes, I know, there may not be a more common cliché than “the church is not about the building, but the people.”  But, clichés generally become clichés because they are true.  Too many churches feel they’ve “made it” when they have their building up and running, all ready for the person on the street to walk in and find a home.  The nice thing about not having a building is that this temptation to feel like you’ve “made it” isn’t even an option.  You can’t feel like you’ve made it because your church is about the people, who are living, breathing entities who can’t be maintained simply by mopping the floors and keeping the steeple lit up.


Not having a building encourages people to open up their homes to spend time with each other.


In my years at our church, I’ve become more and more convinced that the greatest strength of our church is the faithgroups (small groups) that meet in homes throughout the week.  Let’s be honest, meeting in a classroom and meeting in someone’s living room have two completely different feelings.  I hope that if/when we do get a building, we never have faithgroups that meet in the church building.  The thought makes me cringe.


Not having a building reminds us that the work of God is supposed to take place in every aspect of our daily lives.


Praying for each other, worshipping together, speaking the truth of God into our lives- these are things that ought to be a part of our daily lives.  However, there can be a sense that “we do that at church” in many fellowships.  But when you’re options are (1) do these things in homes or (2) wait until next Sunday to do them, hopefully you’ll find yourselves opting for (1). 


For those who feel lost in crowds on Sundays, it gives them a place in the church.


I’ll be honest, when a church reaches 300+ people, I start to feel lost- and this is coming from someone who is in a leadership position.  I can only imagine how someone who may not be comfortable in a church of any size would feel.  But, when you are meeting in homes throughout the week in smaller groups, they are more likely to find themselves a firm place in the community.  This then bleeds over into Sunday mornings, where they have a core group of friends that they can feel comfortable with, and who can introduce to other members of the community.  Notice something important here: for many, the best introduction to the church is not the corporate meeting, but smaller meetings within the larger community.


Not having a building creates a place for people to serve.


For a few years, I’ve helped with a team of volunteers who show up to the school building a couple hours ahead of time to set up.  We’ve found ourselves becoming a mini-community, going to breakfast every week after set up.  I’ve made friends that I otherwise may not have made.  When you don’t have a building, it makes it harder for your members to see things that need to be done as “someone else’s job.”  They know that it’s their job to rally together to get things done.


I want to make two suggestions that follow up on these things.


If you are a church that centers on Sunday and mid-week meetings, you will have a much harder time.


You’ll notice that my observations above assume that the church is meeting throughout the week in smaller groups.  But, many churches do not do this; they rely on Sunday and mid-week meetings (often Wednesday) in their sanctuary as their dominant times of ministry.  If your church is one of these churches, but you do not have a building, you will struggle.  (Of course, I would recommend that even if you have a building, you ought to rely more on weekly small group meetings in homes, but that’s another post for another day.) 


Don’t let not having a building hinder you.


You don’t need a building to advance the kingdom.  Even without a building, you can train and send missionaries, plant other churches, hold missions conferences, and so on.  There isn’t any reason you can’t help the poor and needy in your community.  In fact, not having a building might help because it forces you to go to them, rather than wait for them to come to you.  My point: if you’re ministry relies completely on your building, you may need to rethink how you do ministry. 


So there are some of my thoughts.  I may have given the impression that having a building is a disadvantage, but I don’t necessarily feel that way.  There are advantages to having your own building, and maybe someday I’ll get around to posting those thoughts (but don’t count on it).  Also, I’ll repeat what I said above- I realize that all of these things I’ve talked about can happen in churches that have their own building.  In fact, I hope they do happen.  If that is your church, then don’t move.  Ever.


Please feel free leave your thoughts on this matter, we’d love to hear what you think.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »