Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Eve Service

Well, this is embarrassing. I was supposed to post the Christmas Eve Service. I recorded a few of the observations, but the audio just does not add in well. So, here it is in text. Fill in your favorite versions of the songs, and Merry Christmas. Or at least Joyous Epiphany.

Christmas Eve 12/24/2012

Scripture Reading  1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NIV)

Congregational Singing  O Little Town of Bethlehem -196 


Scripture Reading  Scripture: Romans 8:22-25   

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:22–25, ESV)

Congregational Singing  What Child Is This - 198 


Congregational Singing  O Come, All Ye Faithful -  199


Congregational Singing  Good Christian Men, Rejoice -  183 


Scripture Reading  Scripture: Matthew 1:18-21

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”” (Matthew 1:18–21, NASB95)

Congregational Singing  How Great Our Joy -202 

Congregational Singing  Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come -  181

Scripture Reading  Luke 2:8-14   

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men.” (Luke 2:8–14, KJV 1900)

Congregational Singing  Away in a Manger -  205 


Congregational Singing  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - 175


Special Music: Mary, Did You Know?


Message  1 John 3:1-3, 1:5   

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:1–3, NASB95)

“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5, NASB95)

Shine the Light of God's Love to those around you:

1. by knowing Him

2. by serving Him

3. by sharing Him

Congregational Singing w/Lighting of Candles  Silent Night, Holy Night 206 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up December 23

It’s the Sunday before Christmas! Whatever the exact date should be, this has long been the time when the churches of the Living God have celebrated the birth of the Savior. Perhaps because it aligns well with the longing for light in the darker parts of the year—though the latitudes of the early church would have been less attracted to that than many of us are. Still, more important than the timing is this: God is with us, Immanuel. So, here you go:

Sermon Audio is Here (Click the link, which takes you to a post with the audio player.)

John 1:14-18 //Love: 

Open with Scrooge...."I wish to be left alone....."

Love.

Love does not leave us alone:

1. Does not leave us alone in the face of world crises

2. Does not leave us alone in the face of personal crises

3. Does not leave us alone in the face of spiritual need

4. Does not leave us alone in the face of personal action

5. Does not leave us alone in the face of church action

Here’s the Video:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I had grand intentions of getting lots of writing done this week, but it’s not happening. Honestly, it’s not happening next week either. So, over the next few days you can expect:

The Christmas Eve Service outline from church, Sunday’s sermon from church, and possibly a book review that has to be done.

Coming back in January, I will be back to my more frequent but still not-predictable schedule. Look for:

Monday sermon posts

Tuesday and Thursday posts from the Through the Whole Bible Series.

Wednesday or Friday will see books, including: The Handy Guide to New Testament Greek; Devotions on the Greek New Testament; Conviction to Lead; Grace by Max Lucado; Tender Warrior; a biography of J.R.R. Tolkien; and a novel that is fifth in a series but that I now want the whole series of: The Tainted Coin. That’s a medieval mystery is quite good.

So, until then, Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Book: Ruth: From Bitter to Sweet

Again we see a book post supported by Cross Focused Reviews and their willingness to swap a free book for a book review.

Today, we take a look at John Currid’s contribution to the Welwyn Commentary Series. Ruth: From Bitter to Sweet is published by EP Books and is one of 38 books available in that series. I must admit to having no prior experience with the Welwyn Series before this book, so there is no comparing it to other volumes.

From Bitter to Sweet reads easily. I would count it as a commentary for anyone willing to invest more than a cursory reading of the text. The text is broken into 13 pericopes, grouped into five thematic parts.

Obviously, Ruth is not the longest book of the Bible, so one would not expect a book about Ruth to be long. From Bitter to Sweet hits just under 140 pages. Certainly part of the typical “commentary” weight is shaved off by not including the full text of the Scripture under consideration. Which is actually a reasonable idea: most people are using commentaries for Bible study and have Bibles. Why reprint the text from a common translation?

Among the benefits of this text on Ruth are these:

  • Points to Ponder sections for each chapter: these segments give a direct application concept for each block of verses. These usually involve an illustrating narrative to make the point.
  • Theological and linguistic terms explained: rather than rely on the reader’s knowledge of Hebrew, Currid explains not only vocabulary but concept terminology. That’s helpful for the reader who has no working knowledge of the Hebrew.
  • A positive spin: that’s the best I can state it. From Bitter to Sweet is aimed to recognize the good in the work of God as revealed in the text. Currid does not make light of sin, but makes much more of the work of God.

The drawbacks I find are these:

  1. Endnotes. I don’t know if it’s the author or the publisher, or the series editor. Endnotes annoy me, especially in a book that cites other sources. I would like to see those references on the page they belong with.
  2. Not a lot of nerd-stuff. The goal of the commentary is to be more practical, but I would have liked a little more authorship discussion. And maybe a map, showing the geographic setting.

Now, a few neutral points:

  • From Bitter to Sweet is definitely written from a Westminster Catechism perspective. Or, if you like, a Reformed perspective. Keep in mind, almost all theological works have a perspective on which they are based. This one leans that way.
  • The Scripture references are either drawn from the ESV or are from the author’s own translation.

If you are looking to peer behind a surface reading of the text of Ruth, this book will aid you well in that pursuit.

Note: free book in exchange for the review.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Royal We: Acts 20

Moving forward into Acts 20 (link), I want to comment on something we haven’t seen since Acts 16, but is integral to the story. More than that, it’s integral to our understanding of the growth of Christianity.

What is it?

The use of “we” in the narration. Our tradition and scholarship points to Luke as the author of Acts, and so we gather this: when Acts refers to the events occurring with “We” that tells us that Luke is present in the situation.

Some of Acts is simply history, recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and likely based in eyewitness account and personal recollection. Those segments are as valuable as the others, because that “inspiration of the Holy Spirit” phrase means something: there is no one part of the Bible that is better than another part. Some might be easier to apply, but none are superior to others.

Some of Acts, though, is the recollections of a person who was right there, in the midst of the action. Luke is in the middle of things. He was there when Eutychus died in the middle of church. He was there when Paul raised Eutychus and then finished his sermon. And keep in mind: Luke is a physician—if Paul had to raise Eutychus, that means Eutychus was all the way dead: no medical help would help, or Luke could have handled it.

Luke was there at the painful farewell to the Ephesians. Luke was there to know what Paul had faced. He was there, and knew the heart and soul of both the preacher and the people. He was there, and heard Paul’s warning that men would arise and try to mislead the church. Perhaps this was part of Luke’s reason for writing.

We can take this away from the situation, though:

Christianity does not call for passive observers but active participants.

Now, you may come alongside and watch us, but at some point, a person must either join in or reject the life that is believing that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Kings. As the Spirit and power of God move you to that point, you are certainly welcome to observe. Please understand, however, that you are observing through dirty glass and mis-aimed mirrors: none of us quite reflect properly the truth, and so you need to look broadly and also look to the source.

You will, eventually, be in or out, but for now, watch as you will. I’m not really after you on this one.

Who am I after?

The person that thinks Christianity is about sitting in a pew, or a movie theater seat, or their recliner, and watching. There is no place for that. Scripture knows nothing of an uninvolved Believer in God. Not even of one whose main job is to record what happens: there is no evidence that any author of any portion of Scripture was not involved in the events that they recorded.

(Within reason, of course, since Moses records several thousand years and was only involved about 120 of them, and the authors of the Books of the Kings were likely not involved in every century they recorded. Still, they were a part of what happened when they were alive.)

You do not get to sit back and just watch it happen.

Not and call yourself a Christian. There is an active pursuit of obedience that is necessary.

So get out there and make certain that the record of the Kingdom of God can be written by you in the First Person Plural. If you aren’t part of “we” then you are missing the point.

Nerd Note:

Actually, preacher note: Don’t preach people to death unless you know you can raise them from the dead: Eutychus.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday Thoughts

Yesterday, our choir did their presentation. Since we don’t have rebroadcast rights, there’s nothing to post here. So, I’ll post you a few quick thoughts:

Isaiah, speaking of Christmas. Well, specifically of Christ, but several hundred years in advance:

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: And the government shall be upon his shoulder: And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, To order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice From henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6–7, KJV)

No matter the darkness, the Child is born, and for us He is all these.

John, speaking after Christmas, but looking back:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:1–5, KJV)

 

Comment: folks, there is darkness out there. Sometimes, it clumps up and comes out in one place or through one person, and that’s been happening constantly throughout history. Sometimes, it’s spread out and affects small pockets.

Herein lies our hope: there is light that outshines the darkness. The Light of Christ. Shine it, and let the rest be done.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace

Today’s Book Review is presented by Kregel Publishers. They sent me a book. I read it. You decide if it’s worth more of your time.

I have previously looked at R. Larry Moyer’s Show Me How to Preach Evangelistic Sermons and companion Show Me How to Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (here). Today, we’re taking a look at another in the Show Me How…Series. It’s titled Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace. The book looks like this:

Image and it’s published by Kregel Publications. (Who are fast becoming one of my favorite publishers, even if they do too short a run on a few books I liked…)

It’s late on a Friday, so I will cut to the chase for you on this book:

If you need an easy-to-follow guide to help you and your fellow Christians at work see more clearly how to openly spread the Gospel, pick up Share Christ in the Workplace, read it, and talk about it.

Why?

I. Moyer is far from condescending. Too many times I read books about evangelism from passionate preachers that could be summarized in this manner: “The rest of you are not as awesome and spiritual as me, so let me hold your little hands and fix you.” Moyer’s tone is beyond this. He reaches for the “I know you want this, but are uncertain how.” He is helpful and not insulting.

II. Moyer puts prayer first. Any evangelism strategy is doomed without the power of God. There are some points in later chapters that are similar to methods I have seen in sales training, and I have never liked equating evangelism and sales. However, seeing the primary focus on prayer puts those expressions in a clearer light and makes them more acceptable.

III. Moyer emphasizes the importance of living in a manner consistent with your witness. This is critical, and he also highlights how work ethic and work ethics are part of this. This is well done.

In all, this was a good read. Improvement would be found in dealing with more hostile workplaces and with more labor intensive work—many of the ideas presented will work in white-collar situations better than in blue-collar ones, but the wisdom is still applicable.

As I said above, Show Me How to Share Christ in the Workplace is worth having.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ICK! Leviticus 15

Note: due to author squeamishness, today’s Through the Whole Bible post will be somewhat vague and unclear. Why? It’s Leviticus 15 (link). Read through it. If the subject headers of “Instructions about Bodily Discharges” are not evidence enough, read the whole chapter. There’s plenty of icky here, not for the squeamish types.

These are the passages that you need to either ask your own pastor about or pick up a good commentary on Leviticus. I will not be going into details here, except to highlight that one possible interpretation of the first half of the chapter relates the situation to venereal diseases (STDs) and would have quarantined a person from interaction in the community and stopped disease spread. That’s uncertain, but possible.

The second half addresses the impurity that comes monthly for women. The major note here is that it is seen as separate from impurity that comes from sin. Those impurities are addressed elsewhere: here is simply the fact that a lady who is discharging blood must be counted as unclean. The post-menstrual offerings are the offering of birds that were obtainable for all, and the reference to one as a sin offering should be seen as an offering related to all as sinners, not that she sinned by having that time of the month.

One can get bogged down here, and so I want to turn your attention to one of the New Testament incidents that highlights the effect of these laws. If you click in your Bibles (or tap!) around Mark 5:25-34, Matthew 9:20-22, or Luke 8:43-48, you will find the story of a woman who has been suffering with a discharge for twelve years of her life. That is, she has been unclean and unable to join with the religious and social life of her community for twelve years. Additionally, all of her possessions, everything she touched was all counted unclean.

It is entirely likely that, had she any relationships at all, those relationships were weak and distant. Or that they were only in contact when those women were “unclean,” but it’s likely she was avoided all the more in those times in case her condition was contagious. She is alone, isolated, and financially devastated.

And then she up and violates Leviticus 15:27, too, because she touches Jesus. Had He been any other man, He would have panicked. Here was ceremonial defilement, hitting Him in a crowd. Here was a ban from the Temple. Here was ritual trouble.

Except the point of the Law was typically this: uncleanness spreads from one to another, just as darkness fills the areas around dim lights.

And Jesus was no dim light.

In Him the fullness of God was found in human form. In Him was Light, Light that shines in a darkness that can neither overcome it nor even comprehend it!

Instead of uncleanness coming to Christ, clean healing flowed out from Him to the lady in need. She was healed. Lifted out of the isolation of life.

And here we find the use of the Law and its value to us:

The Law shows us where we are in need, but coming to Christ in faith brings us the healing from those needs. Whether the need is because of our willful sin or just the ordinary accumulation of life, we need His healing.

Grab it. As best you can.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Calling Your Bluff in the Buff: Acts 19

Paul and company have traveled onward. (What, you thought that if I didn’t blog it, it didn’t happen? Right…words can hurt, but reality is whatever it is, whether you say it or not.)

They have traveled, whilst Apollos is in Corinth doing some teaching, over to Ephesus. Paul preaches and people come to faith in Christ. It’s a truly beautiful situation. For the first time, it seems that Paul is going to preach without the Judaizers causing problems or even without causing too much controversy with the Jews themselves. (Remember, the Judaizers were the ones who thought that being a good Christian required one to first live according to Jewish law.) He does end up leaving the synagogue and teaching in a Gentile school room, but that was going to happen: eventually, the Jews that did not want the Gospel would not want the Gentiles.

Side note: a drive for “racial purity” is completely inconsistent with the Gospel: if you have the Gospel, you want all people that God has created to hear it and you are willing to fellowship throughout life with all who are your fellow Believers. No lines, no segregation. If you want a Sunday meeting or a life only for those just like you, you don’t want the Gospel. Even if you put “Church” on the building.

This chapter then gives us a couple of contrasting stories about the power of God. First, we get the picture that God is working through Paul to heal people and anoint people with the Holy Spirit. Even a handkerchief that Paul had touched carried the power of God to people and evil spirits went out from them.

By contrast, there were the seven sons of Sceva the Priest. These seven were going about, commanding evil spirits to leave people. They even called on the name of Jesus when they did so. Except when they did this, the evil spirit called their bluff and beat them out into the buff.

It just did not work without the seven sons having their own faith in Christ.

Now, we could take the wrong lesson from this, and many have. Here are the wrong lessons:

  1. Prayer hankies, blessed by preachers, to heal you. Seriously, folks, that’s nonsense. Especially since it’s usually connected to a request for money. There is nothing in the text here that indicates Paul came up with this idea—it appears that it just happened, people realized it, and praised God for it.
  2. The extended nonsense: the Greek word for handkerchief and for apron can relate to towels/headbands related to sweat. And so it’s the perspiration of the Apostle that’s helpful, so we should all collect some preacher sweat. Please, please: do not send those people your life savings. If a minister won’t pray for you just because you ask for it, find a different one.
  3. The “At least make sure the demons know your name” debacle: the evil spirit admits to having “heard of” Paul, and so we should make sure the demons know our names. Christian, your job has absolutely nothing to do with demons. It has everything to do with glorifying God. Demons might get in the way and have to be dealt with by the power of God, but if your plan includes seeking anything from the demonic, it is wrong. End of story.

We need to actually look at the text and get past these. The text actually gives us a enough to grasp what is happening in this situation.

And it is not about: Hankies, sweat bottles, or even Paul.

It is about the power of the God, shown through His Holy Spirit, and expressed in worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. Look again: there is a continuity of expressions regarding “the evil spirit” throughout Acts 19:11-16. That “The” is important in Greek, and it’s important in English. We’re dealing with the same problem, probably the same person and people: the Sons of Sceva, not being Believers, cannot do anything about the evil when they are in front of it. Paul, with the aid of other Believers, does not even need to be present.

The power is in God and is mediated through His people. Not through those who can cite the right rites. Only through those whose hearts are God’s in the first place.

What happens next?

The best thing for church growth: FEAR. Fear of people? No. Only injustice and unrighteous need fear the church. It is the fear of God that all people must have.

Because when that happens, Acts 19:20 hits, and the Word grows and prevails. People abandon their prior sinful practices, even at great cost, and stand publicly with Christ.

Then, of course, the riot comes. Why? Because so many people abandon idolatry that the idol-makers find themselves made idle. There is much here as well, as the crowd in Ephesus insists on the supporting the worship of the gods they make. Amazing how people do that—I had a pastor who often said that we either accept being made in God’s image or we attempt to make a god in our image.

On to us, though, as there is precious little left to be done for ancient Ephesus:

What is your trust in, when you face the evil things that afflict this world? More specifically, when those things afflict you?

I am not talking about finding a demon in every sneeze, nor should you hear me applaud the “never-go-to-the-doctor-just-pray” mentality. That we should pray and seek the aid of those God has gifted should be a “duh” thought for us.

Also, though, how do you handle the challenges that afflict you spiritually? Do you run to the old rituals? To the current “flavor of the month?”

Put your hope and trust in the Living God. Let the rest of the tricks slide away…

Today’s Nerd Note: The post is already long, so here’s a short one: Acts 19:35-36 give us an important learning text in our doctrine of Scripture. Even though I believe that every word of Scripture is infallible, that the Bible is truth without any mixture of error, the text can accurately record inaccurate (or outright lies) spoken by an individual. For example, Acts 19:35-36 should not be taken as Biblical proof that the Diana Statute legend is true. The textual recording here is accurate in this: that’s what the town clerk said. Not that the town clerk was right, just that this is what he said.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Overdue: Christmas Gifting Ideas

I have been an inconsistent blogger over the years that I have had this habit, but apparently the last three Christmas seasons I have done the same thing, and I probably shouldn’t stop now. After all, I’m a Baptist, and this is how we work: the first time we do something, it’s a novelty and very, very scary. The second time it’s a repeat and underwhelming. The third time? It’s a tradition and must therefore be done forever and ever, even past the Millennial Kingdom.

After this, it will be something I have to do, even if they shut down the Internet.

What is this habit? A blog post giving some suggestions on where to do some Christmas gift-giving. No, this does not have the links to my Amazon Wish Lists. Or to my Gander Mountain Wishlist, for that matter…

Ann and I have, over the years, chosen to give to certain ministries, missions, or projects in lieu of some of the “giving of obligation” that happens this time of year. You know the gifts: one little trinket for this person or that person, who is receiving a pile of token gifts every year. We first thought about this the year that Ann was in early childhood education and I was in ministry: we really appreciated the cute coffee cups and other items, but there was just a lot of “stuff.” So we asked this question:

What would we want?

Well, we want world peace. Barring that, we would like to see as much of the world as possible acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father and for them to do that now, joyfully, rather than in the end, mournfully. To that end, how could you give us that for Christmas? Not that I don’t want the plate of cookies, mind you, but instead of the fancy plate from Kohl’s, put the cookies on a paper plate and a little note showing where you sent the plate money.

Where to start?

I’m glad you asked. That’s what this list is for. Mind you, I receive absolutely nothing in return for this: unless you choose to mention to an organization that I sent you their way, and they choose to acknowledge it, this is just between you, them, and God Almighty. I will take this much responsibility: I have dealt with the individuals, organizations, or groups named personally. They have received money from me—I have trusted them that much. Do your own due diligence as you see fit.

1. Southern Baptist Missions: I am a Southern Baptist/Great Commission Baptist Pastor. It is not only a duty, though, but a joy to recommend to my fellow SB/GCBC folks to get the information from your church regarding the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

1a: There’s always a disaster. When those happen, you can give to a new start-up hoping to help with the situation, or you can give to a group with pre-funded infrastructure and administration. The former has no alternative but to use some of your crisis-giving to help with admin. That’s not bad, just reality. The latter? If they say 100% is going to Disaster Relief, it is. Here is a link to info on what Baptist Disaster Relief and how to give to it: ABSC Disaster Relief Page.

2. The next thing I would highlight is WorldCrafts that is connected with the Women’s Missionary Union. This gives you the opportunity to actually put something under the tree and also feel good that your spending helped people better their lives. Most of us already spend plenty of money helping corporate America buy bigger yachts, and WorldCrafts helps people do things like escape slavery.

2a. One major issue these days is human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Go to this section, set1free, to see how something as simple as your Christmas shopping can be a starting point to help someone. Often women and children escape trafficking situations only to find themselves starving on the streets, because there is just no work. Set1Free is a specific effort from WorldCrafts to step into the middle of that.

3. We have friends who are helping the Lavukal people of the Russell Islands get the Bible in their own language. Those friends are Aaron and Joanna Choate. They work with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and if you would like to give in support of their mission work, you can click here.  (One note: the page there will state that the Choates are in the US for Aaron to finish his MA in linguistics. They are here. But congratulations to Aaron, he’s done!!) I would trust this family with all things precious to me.

3a. You may also consider giving to the overall mission of Wycliffe Bible Translators. I would like the Bibleless Peoples Project myself.

4. Ann and I made the acquaintance of Eric and Gaye Ramsey this year. They are part of Tom Cox World Ministries. More than encouraging you to support them or even have them visit your church, though both would be fine, I would encourage you to look at the projects they support in terms of orphanages and other ministries. Check this page for more info.

5. Finally, we blessed in America to have an overabundance of nerd-pastors and brainiac ministers. There are other places where even a minor amount of training for those who serve churches is a luxury. The school I attend, B.H. Carroll Theological Institute, has a program to provide ministry and Bible training to pastors in Cuba. Yes, that little island that we think of having a missile crisis, old cars, and good cigars also has churches. However, there is not the widespread societal support of churches in Cuba as there is in the US. The school provides scholarships to help students study to better understand the whole of Scripture and the history of the church. You can click here for more info.

 

Those are my suggestions this year. Of course, there are myriads of social programs, ministry opportunities, and people in need around you. Open your eyes and answer some hard questions this year: Do I really need to get that? Do I really need to give this? Or can I give it away instead?

You might be surprised…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sermon Wrap-up December 9

Here are the sermon wrap-up links for December 9:

Audio Link is here. (By the way, I just realized that the podcast service has not been feeding the whole sermon into iTunes. So, if you listen through iTunes and thought the conclusions were lacking….they were. Checking on that this week.)

Here, again, is the video:

Daniel 2:44-45: The hidden hope of faith

Overall Sales Results for the Entire Holiday Shopping Season 2011:

  • Between November 1, 2011 and December 26, 2011, Consumers spent $35.3 billion online, according to market research organization ComScore. This is 15% more than consumers spent online in the same time period in 2010.
  • There were nine days in 2011 in which online sales were more than $1 billion, according to ComScore.
  • Clothing chain discounts were an average of 7% higher than they were during the 2010 Christmas shopping season, according to an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.
  • According to an ICSC-Goldman Sachs survey, 18% of gift purchases were gift cards, which is 3.4% higher than 2010.
  • Between December 1st and December 24th, consumer retail spending rose 4.7% over the same time period in 2010, according to ShopperTrak research.
  • Consumer Confidence rose to 64.5 in December 2011, which is 10 points higher than November's consumer confidence level according to the Conference Board.
  • In November spending rose 4.1%, according to the research organization, ShopperTrak

Set the Stage:

1. Daniel: in exile, the loss of the "good country" and the blessed lands

2. Daniel: in service to the country of his residence, but not the home of his heart

3. Daniel: waiting

4. Nebuchadnezzar: Hears great news about his kingdom but likely misses what the real message is here:

5. Christmas is coming: the outbreak of the final kingdom of his vision: the Rock that fills the whole world

6. What do we look for? 

7. Do we have faith that Christmas has come, and the Rock has been established? 

8. Do we live as part of that kingdom? Even though we must dwell in a lesser one?

9. What do we do to spread the Rock Kingdom throughout the whole world?

10. Christmas was the revelation of the plan of God and we live in fulfillment of His declared plan.

Questions:

1. How many kingdoms did Nebuchadnezzar see in his vision?

2. Was Daniel sent into exile in 587/6 BC?

3. Do people have faith in Christmas even if they are not Christians?

4. Has the Rock Kingdom fully come into this world?

5. Who is in charge of the Rock Kingdom?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Book: I AM…by Iain D. Campbell

Ever read a book that should have been longer? Except, then you wonder if, had it been longer, it would have been as good?

That’s how I feel about I AM…Exploring the “I am” saying of John’s Gospel by Iain D. Campbell. Weighing in at only 120 pages, this volume does not belabor any of the points within. Instead, Campbell comes right to the point on the seven usages of “I AM” by Jesus as reported in the Gospel of John.

In a short introduction, Campbell explains the purpose of the book. He expresses why the “I am” statements of Jesus stand out, citing the Old Testament usage of the phrase in God’s revelation at the Burning Bush. The introduction to I AM… then explains that the Gospel of John uses a specific word pattern in Greek to say those words.

This discussion lacks two things that would add value: first, it lacks the actual Greek terminology. While simplifying the explanation to “what could be said with one word is said with two” may provide clarity, to extend and show the actual Greek would not have made the point any less clear. Second, an acknowledgement that Jesus likely spoke in Aramaic rather than Greek would have been appropriate. It would only be necessary to state that, whether Jesus spoke in a different language or not, inspired Scripture records the words in Greek and so it is on Greek the book is based.

However, those are minor quibbles from a person living neck-deep in New Testament studies right now. Overall, the book reads like seven introduction lectures that are perfect to set up discussions in small groups. The discussion questions that follow each chapter are helpful at probing into the ideas expressed.

Admittedly, I AM… is not really bursting with new information. Many of Campbell’s points can be found in various commentaries and studies on the Gospel of John. However, having just these sayings extracted and put in an easy-to-read bundle is well worth it.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from Cross Focused Media in exchange for the review.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up December 2

Here is the audio link for the sermon

Outline:

2 Samuel 7

The Promise of a King

Hope: Knowing that the unknown will be worth living for

I.  Uneasiness at Christmas Time

II. Our efforts to do for God

III. God's promise to do for us

IV. Faith to trust that promise

Questions:

1. Who wanted to build a Temple? Who will? 

2. Why couldn't David build the Temple?

3. Should we build a Temple? Why not?

4. What is hope?

And one last thing: the experiment in current technology:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book: Organic Outreach for Families

 

Today brings another book review from Cross Focused Reviews. The book is by Kevin G & Sherry Harney and is titled Organic Outreach for Families. Published by Zondervan Publishers, it is third in the Organic Outreach Series. The first two are Organic Outreach for Ordinary People and Organic Outreach for Churches.

The fundamental principle of Organic Outreach for Families is to provide guidance for households on spreading the Gospel from home. This aim is addressed in three sections: Reaching Your Own Family; Raising Children of Light in a Dark World; Turning Your Home into a Lighthouse.

These sections build nicely on one another. The first goes into defining the Gospel and providing guidance on seeing the Gospel understood among your own family. This flows well. After all, one will have a great deal of difficulty turning a home into a lighthouse if the darkness holds the home.

Included in this section is a helpful chapter on sharing the Gospel with extended family. Extended family is one of the hardest groups of people to reach in America, it seems. The Harneys present the most important factor in this process: patience, patience, and more patience.

The next section of Organic Outreach for Families delves into one of the more challenging issues for Christian families in this time. (Well, and likely any other time.) That issue is the challenge of keeping a family drawn to the things of God while living in a world that strives to push other things on them. The ideas presented are helpful in general.

The Harneys did well to present which decisions they made as parents, but were generally fair in acknowledging that other choices can be made by God-honoring people. As a homeschool parent, I would have loved a longer discussion about the pros and cons of homeschooling, but that would have distracted from the overall pacing of the book. That may be a book that's not yet been written: a shared consideration of homeschooling, giving equal times to both the pro and con biased people.

Closing up Organic Outreach for Families is the section on specific ideas of how to establish your home as the base of the Gospel in your neighborhood. There are some good baseline ideas here. It is definitely of value to have statements of the methodology used by the Harney family.

It is here, however, that the weakness of this text appears. The suggestions and ideas are definitely of more immediate value in a suburban or urban context than they are in a rural situation. That does not make them useless, just realize that if you live away from a population center, you will need to be creative in your application of this work.

In all, this makes for a good read and discussion.

I did receive a copy of this text in exchange for the review. Book provided through CrossFocusedReviews.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Clean this place up! Leviticus 14

Leviticus has baffled for years, and I think it will continue to baffle for years to come. One benefit of its inclusion in the Christian Bible, though, is that it serves as evidence that the Word was not simply made up by people looking for an easy religion. What nut would spend two chapters going on about infectious skin diseases? Especially in a world where the habit already existed to banish lepers and leave them banished?

However, that just reinforces my own personal presuppositions. I personally hold that Leviticus was written down in the time of Moses, was intended as part of the theocratic rule of Israel, and should be interpreted based on that assumption. In other words, what did a group of Late Bronze Age nomads take Leviticus 14 (link) to mean?

Here are a few highlights:

1. They would have understood that disease would be a lasting problem for them, no matter where they lived. Perhaps leprosy and other infectious skin diseases were actually not that prevalent for them in their nomadic days—we know from modern medicine that one culture may struggle with diseases that another culture has long since beaten, and vice-versa. Whatever the slice on it, the people would have seen clearly here that God knew that disease would be with them, even in the promised land.

Keep in mind: even when you are right where God has placed you, bad things can still happen. Some of those bad things are horrid, like leprosy.

2. They would have seen the forward promise of living in houses. You and I may not catch this, but keep in mind that the people receiving this instruction are living in tents. Not stone houses, certainly not houses that have been plastered over nicely. Inherent in the latter half of the chapter, where the instructions for cleansing a house are given, is the promise of living in a house.

Recognize the blessing promised alongside the instructions about life. This takes knowing the Word and living life.

3. They would have known that there were no quick fixes for their medical issues. Take a look through the whole chapter again. There are waiting periods plus the times of work needed: think it wouldn’t take time to rip out plaster and rock work? Right.

Realize that many of our problems in life do not have quick fixes. They take time and work to repair.

It is really on this last point that I think we need to spend some time. We live in an instant world, where we expect to have everything as quickly as possible. We want diseases immunized against, and cured with a single pill if we actually catch them. We want our wars won in a week, and purchases provided immediately.

And we’re even worse about mental, psychological, or spiritual matters. Our learning should be on a defined, quick schedule: all children should know X by a certain age; all employees will memorize these 7 things for tomorrow; all students will fully grasp the 27 usages of the Greek genitive case this week (and the vocal shewas from Hebrew, too!). We want our depression gone immediately or our anger resolved overnight.

Spiritually, we want God to insta-zap our shortcomings off of us the moment we say “Amen” to end our prayer. To heal our fractured relationships as soon as we know they are fractured.

Life does not work that way, though. We may be able to transfer money in an instant, but we cannot transfer skills that quickly. We cannot transfer ourselves to holiness that quickly.

It takes time. It takes the time to rip out the old, diseased parts. Time to haul them away and dump them. Time to replace the structural works, and then time to be make everything look pretty again.

Time. Because God is working in you for eternity, not for next week.

What areas are you wanting a quick fix in? There is really only one quick fix: the moment of salvation, where a sinner is saved for eternity. Yet after that, it’s a time taking, effort using process.

Can you wait? Can you hope? Can you endure?

Today’s Nerd Note: One should not take Leviticus as specifically binding in practice for Gentiles, unless the principle or practice is specifically reinforced in the New Testament, but one can take guidance from the text.

For example, this passage gives us a very definite, practical step. It’s called the garbage dump. Really, Leviticus 14:40 and the other verses that refer to the “place outside the city.” Here we have a very practical principle: biomedical hazardous waste should not be just piled outside your door.

It is principles and ideas just like this one that lead to what is called “Redemption and Lift.” Those terms go together to describe some of the natural outworkings of the Gospel entering a culture. Those who adopt the process of getting hazardous waste far from their homes, among other cleanliness guidelines from the Old Testament, will tend to live healthier lives than their neighbors.

That health translates to more wealth, longer lifespans, and better educational options. In turn, more wealth, longer lifespans, and better education leads to better health. Then, in time, those same Christians are able to return and serve their neighbors, because God has blessed them with the material and physical ability to do so, and the Gospel remains proclaimed in those areas.

Unless, of course, a whole nation profits from those effects and then decides to hold on to the public health ideas while abandoning the Gospel. But no one would do that, right? We would never forget how we got where we are and Who it was that helped us get there, would we?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

None of My Business: Acts 18

Christianity keeps spreading throughout the Roman Empire. In the process, it begins to separate from the Judaism that it originated from. This leads to a great deal of tension between the two groups of people, especially as people leave one for the other.

Meanwhile, life in Rome goes on. The Empire goes about its business, the usual business of Empires: conquest, trade, taxation, commerce, and circuses. Empires are about those items and seldom are truly concerned with religious matters. Historically speaking, religion has been co-opted by governments for their own ends, but rarely has that been good for any religious group.

Paul, meanwhile, is not focused on imperial matters. He is focused, instead, on the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the pursuit of the passion, he’s gone from place to place, and now he finds himself in Corinth. Starting off, he splits time between making tents and preaching, but once his team of Silas and Timothy arrive, he focuses his whole effort on the preaching work.

Interstitial nerd note: there is something here to be gathered regarding vocational ministry. Paul sets two examples here: 1 is that when necessary and helpful, he worked with his hands to provide; 2 is that when necessary and helpful, he worked solely at the spread and teaching of the Gospel and others handled the provision. Both the “never pay a preacher” and the “pay a full-time preacher” arguments can be found in Paul’s behavior in Corinth. Meaning? That one must do what is necessary based on the situation.

Eventually, the spread of the Gospel throughout both the Jewish and Gentile communities of Corinth leads to rioting. Alongside the riot, the Roman Proconsul is asked to mediate the religious dispute. He, showing some political acumen, backs out of the argument. His statement: this nonsense has nothing to do with me, my laws, and my responsibilities. Solve it yourselves.

Well, the rioting occurs, the synagogue leader gets beat up by his own people, and Paul goes on with this business. The verse in Acts 18 (link) that I would key on for this? Acts 18:17, where the text records that Gallio, the proconsul, was “not concerned about any of these things.”

We need to keep this in mind: the world does not care one bit about the internal religious arguments of the church. End of story.

There may be feigned interest, but really what the world sees in a religious squabble is a reason to avoid religious people altogether. Certainly we do not need to expect the outside world to fix our problems—we should fix those ourselves. No one else will actually care, much as Gallio does not.

Now, what do we do with this?

1. Of all the lessons in Acts about the church, one keeps repeating. It’s here as well: the business of the church is its own, and the world will at best be indifferent. Normally, it’s hostile.

2. Be certain we grab hold of help from the right angles. Every where you look, it appears that someone wants to tell the church what to do: the media. Celebrities. Wannabe no-good bloggers that spend all day trying to write a blog post. Methodists want to fix Baptists and Baptists, Presbyterians. The world wants to fix the Anglican Communion by pulling it left and others want to pull it right.

We want to be certain our help comes from the right place: the Word of God and those committed to that Word.

3. Avoid dragging our petty fights into public. Now, to be clear, if criminal activity is found, then take it to the legal authorities. (In a situation were the laws are clearly ungodly, that’s a different story—if the situation is clear.) However, if you are upset about which hymn you sang last week, do you really need to bicker that out over dinner in public? Not bloomin’ likely, mate.

Of course, the blog world becomes a gray zone on this one. Blogs and discussion groups allow people to connect that never encounter each other in public. That connection then leads to discovering petty issues that aren’t petty when they are a pattern of behavior—but neither are they private. Taking a personal beef to a blog is not always the best route, but it is sometimes the only one.

4. Finally, do not count on the world’s help when you are right. Stay focused on doing what is right, and let the rest come as it may.

Today’s Nerd Note: We meet Apollos here. Good chap, Apollos, in Acts 18:24-28. Evidence that learning and passion are good starting points, and that clarity of instruction is the crucial ending point.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up November 26

Sunday, November 25 Morning Sermon (Audio Link)

Luke 17:22-37

I. Thankful for the promise of the future

II. Thankful for the sustaining grace of God

III. Thankful for the future life

IV. Thankful for deliverance in chaos

Questions for kids:

1. How many people got on the ark? 

2. Will Jesus come back secretly or obviously? How will we know He came back?

3. Lot's wife was turned into what?

4. Was that because she just looked or is there more?

Thanksgiving Service (Audio Link)

“Do I not fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord”

(Jeremiah 23:24)

I. What to be thankful for? The Omnipresence of God


II. What in the world is that? Let us consult with John Wesley

To shew how we are to understand this glorious truth, God is in this, and every place. The psalmist, you may remember, speaks strongly and beautifully upon it, in Psalm 139...In a word, there is no point of space, whether within or without the bounds of creation, where God is not.

III. Why? 

     A. Connection of Omnipresence with Omnipotence: Listen to Wesley:

Nay, and we cannot believe the omnipotence of God, unless we believe his omnipresence. For seeing (as was observed before) nothing can act where it is not; if there were any space where God was not present, he would not be able to do anything there: therefore, to deny the omnipresence of God, implies likewise the denial of his omnipotence. To set bounds to the one is, undoubtedly, to set bounds to the other also.

     B. Connection of Omnipresence with other attributes of God: mercy, justice:

Indeed, wherever we suppose him not to be, there we suppose all his attributes to be in vain. He cannot exercise there either his justice or mercy, either his power or wisdom. In that extramundane space (so to speak), where we suppose God not to be present, we must, of course, suppose him to have no duration; but as it is supposed to be beyond the bounds of the creation, so it is beyond the bounds of the Creator’s power. Such is the blasphemous absurdity which is implied in this supposition.

IV. Of all the concepts for us this Thanksgiving, let us remember to be thankful that:

There is no place that He is not, no matter where we go---what a comfort!

There is no place that He is not, no matter how disastrous--what a provision!

There is no place that He is not, no matter how opposed to Him---what a grace!

There is no place that He is not, no matter how alone--what a companion!

Friday, November 23, 2012

You get under my skin: Leviticus 13

When you are starting a society from scratch, everything has to be dealt with. Not only must property laws and morality laws be presented, but personal protection must be addressed. Additionally, laws and practices for public health have to be put in place. After all, you are taking a diverse lot of people that have lived semi-isolated lives and now they have to live together.

This is an important part of the context of Leviticus 13 (link). The people of Israel have been living in Egypt, and the truth is we do not know for certain the conditions they have lived with. We know that the conditions of their slavery were less than pleasant, but that does not clue us in for their life situation. It is also likely that the Egyptians handled enforcement of public health in their kingdom: sometimes by exile, sometimes by execution.

Coming back to the text, what is present here are the instructions of how to deal with infectious skin disease in the community. While some people will find a great many spiritual applications and parallels in this passage, I think this is a point where we need to remember one of the fundamental keys of Biblical interpretation:

The text does not have a meaning that it has never had.

When you consider what a text might possibly mean in the Scriptures, you must consider how the original recipients of it would have taken it. Would the original Israelite audience have thought of spiritual parallels or allegories for sin?

Not likely. They would have read it as directions for how to deal with literal people with literal illnesses, facing literal separation from their families and communities unless they got better from their illness. Which, given the situation, was not that likely.

Since we are looking at the health code of an ancient society, what do we do with it? Do we establish our religious leaders as health inspectors? (Speaking as a religious leader, I’ll pass on that.)

Instead, I would propose these ideas:

1. We should take infectious diseases seriously. In all honesty, there are times that we do not. We, instead, take habit, tradition, or custom more seriously. Take your responsibility not to share your diseases with others seriously.

2. Wash your dishes. And your clothes. That’s the ending segment of the chapter: keep clean stuff, so that you don’t get sick.

3. Get a professional opinion. This is the recurring theme of the chapter: the person who has the disease does not decide if it’s bad. A third-party person makes that call. Don’t assume you are lethal or safe. Get someone who knows.

These are just basic health tips. And those are worth knowing. Keep in mind that the Christian life is lived in the midst of the practical, physical world. It is not just about spiritual elements and heavenly considerations, but about the whole of existence.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Do you remember what happened? Me neither. Acts 17

Paul and Silas continue on their missionary journey. Acts 17 (link) has some of the most oft-preached portions of the missionary journeys:

1. That Paul had a “custom” of going to the synagogue is used to encourage customary church attendance.

2. The Bereans “diligent search” of the Scriptures to check on Paul’s message is a valued reminder not to trust the messenger alone, but to use the text to evaluate the message.

3. The time in Athens is used to justify the study of pagan literature and as an example of preaching the Gospel in completely untouched situations.

All of these are well and good. There may be some scrutiny that should be brought to bear on our interpretations of those passages, whether or not we are really seeing what is intended there. However, in general, there’s a lot of material out there about these, so we’re not going to spend much time here.

Instead, let’s go just one sentence in: “Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia.”

Quick, name all that you know about the churches in Amphipolis and Apollonia. Got it? That did not take long, did it?

We do not know anything about church expansion in Amphipolis. We do not even know if there was a church planted in Apollonia. We know, basically, nothing. It’s possible that Paul and Silas just passed through, did nothing but spend the night. Whatever occurred, it is lost to our understanding of the New Testament.

How does this matter to us?

Speaking as one who sometimes thinks nothing he does will be remembered, it matters like this:

Not everything that happens is recorded and remembered. Sometimes, it just happens.

I think the life of an innkeeper or stable boy, perhaps a server at dinner, was impacted by the coming through of Paul and Silas. There was an interaction, a moment, and it was not important enough to be recorded. Perhaps a church was started, but being so close to Thessalonica and Philippi it never got its own letter. Maybe it was just an “ordinary” church with normal problems, and so it just kind of…existed. Reached some of their neighbors. Had a few fights. Got over them, and went on…

Or the important truth runs the other direction: a tired and hungry Paul and Silas find an inn, where an innkeeper rewarms the dinner she had already served. Space is made on the couch, for the inn is full. The missionary party is fed, rested, and sallies forth the next day, onward to spread the Gospel. Illnesses due to exposure are avoided, irritability due to hunger is reduced, and the message remains the focus.

The truth is that many of us will go through life and, if we had a TARDIS to jump ahead and read the history books, find that little to nothing of what we did will be recorded for history.

We need to be okay with that. Life is about making the most of the opportunities put in front of us, not about making a name for ourselves.

Besides, that makes us that much more mysterious for future generations…

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book: Christmas Uncut

This book review is brought to you by Cross Focused Media. They send me a book. I read the book. I write a review. The folks at CFM do not know if I will like the book or not, and do not insist that I speak highly of the book. So, book exchanged for review and that’s it.

Most of us have our own understanding of the Christmas story. Usually it is an amalgamation of both the Biblical story and various storybooks, movies, and Christmas plays. Admittedly, some of our information is warped. There are things that we honestly cannot know and other fragments of the story get filled in by guesses and historical estimation.

Into this milieu is where the book Christmas Uncut by Carl Laferton comes. Here’s a look at the cover and a link for more sales info:

Christmas Uncut: What Really Happened and Why It Really Matters... 

What do we find here?

1. This is a short book. 62 pages. Which is good, given the price. Also, the length makes it easy to include this book in a tight reading schedule. Obviously, brevity cuts the other direction: the detail-hungry among us will finish this book wanting more. That cannot be helped, though.

2. The book is easy to read: it is structured as if presenting several acts of a play. This cuts the story down into bite-size chunks, each focusing on a different portion of the Christmas story.

3. The book finishes the story: there is a closing section that addresses how the Christmas story fits in with the fullness of Biblical Christianity. That’s valuable: the book’s best use is as a giveaway or discussion book. This closing section gives a follow-up: Christmas is about more than a baby in a manger, but about the coming of the Lord Jesus, who came to be not just a baby in a manger but also to be the man on the Cross.

4. The book runs with a tagline of “What really happened and why it really matters…” The “why it really matters” part is a win. However, for me, the “What really happened” part is a bit oversold. This may be more due to my line of work as a pastor and Bible-nerd: I have already seen and heard many of what Laferton puts forward as surprising: the scandals and the mayhem. That does not do much damage to the work: the reminder hurts no one and some may have never heard this, so it’s valuable information.

5. Christmas Uncut also feeds in a cute story of a children’s play. These little vignettes really put a light-side into the story and make it a great read.

In all, if you want a brief look at Christmas, one that will hold the attention of a reader that may not want to ferret the details from the midst of the whole Bible, pick this up. If you have a small Bible study/inquiry group that wants to dig in, this makes a good pick up in bulk-pricing direct from the publishers, TheGoodBook Company.

Reminder: I got one free from the publisher in exchange for reviewing it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oh boy. Leviticus 12

Apologies for the long silence. There are just times when the words don’t flow. And times when the words don’t flow and the next writing task is a big challenge.

Working through the whole Bible, we come to one of those odd passages. Actually, one of the oddest passages outside of prophetic visions in the Old Testament. It’s Leviticus 12 (link), where the rules of purification after childbirth are given.

This is an odd situation. There are a few things to hold to as we look at this:

1. Do not confuse the need for “purification” with the need for “forgiveness.” While there are overlaps in the vocabulary, not everything in the Old Testament that needed purified meant that sin had occurred. This passage should not be taken to indicate that childbirth is sinful.

2. Then we get to the real touchy part of the chapter. Why in the world are the purification rites different for a son than for a daughter? Let’s break this down:

A. The first option is the view that sons are more valuable than daughters or more approved or that it’s more sinful to have a daughter. This view must be rejected outright. One can find in Scripture support for differing views on roles and responsibilities for men and women, but no place can be found that devalues one gender in contrast to another.

B. The second option is a view that looks at the partnership between purification of the mother and purification of the child. Old Testament law held circumcision of male children as a component of their purification. Since the male child could be circumcised, he went through part of the purification and the mother does the rest. Daughters did not undergo a similar rite (anatomy forbids it—there is no cause or justification for the wickedness that is practiced against women/girls in some places in this world) and so the mother thereby had to spend the whole time of purification. Overall, this view may have some value.

C. The third option is this: in many societies, especially those with a more primitive lifestyle, males are more valued than females. Now, a qualifier: primitive is not intended as insulting here. It simply means not advanced. As in places where life is a hardcore struggle for survival and one kills and grows all of your own food, not shops for most of it.

In those societies, it is tempting to provide baby girls less care than baby boys. The first few months of life are crucial, especially in those more primitive situations. Left to our own devices, we tend to focus on providing for those who can do for us, provide for us.

By mandating that a mother spend eighty days in purification for a daughter instead of the forty for a son, the Law establishes a pattern that provides an extra measure to insure care for daughters. Rather than being an “anti-woman” type of measure, this is actually very “pro-woman.” This is another possibility of how to interpret this passage.

So, what do we do with it?

We could make an argument for longer maternity leaves based on it. I’m not sure that’s the valid Biblical viewpoint here, but it is a potentially viable idea. We certainly do not live in the theocratic society of the time, and so cannot make it the law. Nor would we want to--

How does this work for us?

I think the key is in the third option above. Even if that’s theologically tenuous, we should see here a passage of Scripture that reminds us that all life is valuable. Boys and girls. Men and women. We must fight the tendency in any society to pick and choose our favorites and degrade others. That must cut back across gender lines, racial lines, ethnic lines, cultural lines…the Gospel of Jesus Christ is radically incompatible with prejudice. Radically incompatible with foolish judgment. Radically incompatible with a culture that kills off the inconvenient.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up Nov 18

Audio Link Here

Note: I am going to be moving to a single server for audio at the end of the month. I’ve used up my free trial year for Amazon Web Services and cannot quite make heads or tails of their billing structures. So, I’ll be using a flat-rate service instead. In preparation, I’m going to go ahead and stop posting dual links now.

Luke 17:11-21

United in misery

United in rejection

United in healing

Will we be united in rejoicing?

Application points:

1. National--and our shortcomings are evident

2. Church--how do we do with it?

3. Personal--among our friends and family?

4. Will we be right, even when all others are wrong?

Questions:

1. Where was Jesus traveling through in the story? Where was Jesus going to in the story?

2. Was the thankful man from Galilee?

3. How can you show that you are thankful?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up November 11 2012

Morning Audio Link Here (Alternate Here)

Subject: The Reality of Life


     There is more to life than the human experience between birth and death

Central Theme:

     Focus point: the immediacy of choosing to believe what God has told us


Objective Statement:

Every person can know God by believing what God has said.


Rationale:

     1. This not sheerly about wealth

     2. This is about our attitude regarding wealth

     3. This is about how we handle what God has said


     4. This is about our response to the reality of eternity

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mission Minded Munching: Leviticus 11

Just as an observation: taking a quick read at “The Gospel for Shrimp” would not hurt you going in to this chapter. Why? We’re coming strongly into the parts of Leviticus that must be considered in the context of the fullness of Scripture and not just line-by-line.

That is one of the major issues facing the modern reader of Scripture: we do not read enough. Actually, it’s more that we do not comprehend in long enough blocks. Either because we learned to read so that we could answer nit-pick quiz questions or to hit page requirements, our reading abilities tend to fail us on comprehension of large blocks of text.

You can see it away from Scripture in the bumper stickers that quote J.R.R. Tolkien as saying “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s an accurate quote. Usually, though, it is applied as a “Do your own thing” anthem. The whole context of Lord of the Rings? The quote applies to Aragorn, son of Arathorn. It’s attached to him when he is protecting the wide lands of the North as a Ranger. He’s not aimlessly wandering: it is part of the heritage of his family and part of his path to the throne of the kingdom. In all of his “wandering” he remains faithful to the truth as it is known in Middle-Earth. In short—it’s a lousy quote in context if you want to validate a life of mushy detachment from objective truth.

Coming back to the point of Scripture: Leviticus 11 (link) starts us into the list of details of life for theocratic Israel in the Iron Age. We start with the famous dietary laws. Does it divide the hoof and chew the cud? Does it have scales or skin? Is it a bat? A locust or a grasshopper? Owls or ducks?

Check it according to the principle and the list before you decide to eat it. Check it before you sacrifice it. Avoid the unclean stuff for either purpose and everything will go alright.

Why?

Get through the list to the end of the chapter to Leviticus 11:45. The exact reasons, though they are interesting to contemplate, are unclear beyond this one: this is about obeying God and upholding His holiness. Were there particular reasons for the no-pig rule?

Maybe it was just about making the Israelites look odd to the world around them. Maybe it was just about making dining amidst unbelievers a little bit of a problem. Maybe it was just about making all of life stand apart from the world at-large.

When you place the whole of the Bible together, that is what you really see starting to happen here. The people of Israel were called out to be the Royal Priesthood of God—one of their purposes was to declare God’s glory among the nations (Psalm 96:3). This took more than just a different Temple than everyone else had.

It took a different lifestyle. One that evidence obedience to God about things that otherwise would not matter. A lifestyle that stood separate from the world and was visibly different to the people that were not in agreement theologically and spiritually.

So how does this work for us?

Understanding that Israel was Israel and the Church is the Church, and the two are not exactly identical, there are still things here for the believer in Jesus. What we need to understand is this:

1. We are going to be surrounded by cultures that are different from us in principle and in practice. Israel was. We are.

2. Our religious practices are going to be automatically different: worship that looks identical to a different religion is, well, not Christian. It’s either syncretism of two religions or completely the other one.

3. Differing religious practices are not enough. When’s the last time you dropped in an Odin service just to compare systems? You don’t do it. Why would those we want to come to Christ just drop by?

4. Our lifestyle has to be visibly different in every day life if we are going to truly reflect the God we serve.

5. Down to the meals we eat, our lives should be mission minded.

Not saying we follow the exact dietary laws, but we consider the principle: Why?

And we act based on that.

Today’s Nerd Note: An important add-in consideration of the passage is this: God gives not only a list of clean/unclean but the principle to apply to new animals not known to the Israelites.

What does that mean?Zoology is pretty clear that local flora and fauna are pretty consistent: God could have specified for Israel based on the food choices available there. After all, the Promised Land was where the people were headed.

Instead, the principle is given and then local possibilities were used to illustrate it. What does this tell us?

It was never God’s intention that the people who worshiped Him to be restricted only to the Syro-Palestine area. Even in the Law we find the expectation that people will need to determine what should and should not be eaten in areas not yet explored, animals not yet named.

Think about what that means for you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Shush! No speaking here! Acts 16

The Word of God is rarely as complex as we make it, but there remain times where it is also not exactly as simple as we might like. Acts 16 (link) is one of those passages that makes it not quite as simple.

Why?

Well, being a Baptist, we see spreading the Gospel by telling people about Jesus as a foundational activity. We believe that there is one Name under heaven whereby people are saved, and that is the Name above all names. That through Jesus living in perfection, dying on the cross, and rising from the grave to live forevermore, the debt of sin has been paid. That He has taken the death that Adam bought and passed on to his progeny and redeemed it, giving life in its place to all who believe.

That’s a big deal. These days, the central organizing principle of many Baptist organizations is to spread this good news that we call the Gospel everywhere. We see it commanded and commended in Scripture as an important activity of our lives as believers.

Then we encounter this chapter in Acts. The first part looks good. It’s the continuing travelogue of Paul and Silas in mission work and the addition of Timothy to the team. That’s great. We like this part.

In the middle of the chapter is a weird moment. Luke records that the group was prohibited from speaking the word in Asia (Acts 16:6). Now, read “Mostly Modern-day Turkey” for Asia, most likely, and then start wrestling with this question: God prohibited the apostle-led missions team from preaching Jesus in a region for a time.

That seems odd.

Yet there are times when this is appropriate. We lack the ability to know all of the circumstances around us. This is part of the human experience: incomplete knowledge. We live with this but we often do not like it. We often fight backwards against it and act like we do know.

God alone does, though. This is part of the comfort of being a believer in Christ and a theist in general: we can live with incomplete knowledge because we learn to trust God with the missing details.

We can try and guess. Perhaps God knew they would be ineffective in Asia. Maybe they would have been so effective that they never would have gone to Macedonia. Possibly they would have been arrested, imprisoned, and killed before they could go elsewhere to share the truth.

We just do not know.

We do know this: in the final contemplation, Luke knew that God had been responsible for the hindrance. There are times, folks, when keeping our thoughts to ourselves may be the better decision. That is not to say that we hide the truth: we do not attempt to use falsehoods to advance the truth.

Yet there are times when we must hold our tongues and speak less. That our demonstration of worship is to live in obedience. There are times that the direct, confrontational exclamation of Biblical truth does more harm to the revelation of the Kingdom of God than it does help.

How do we know? We have to know the full counsel of God by knowing the Word and by being near, filled with the Spirit and walking with Him. We must go to the text to know God, not to know tweetable statements that we can bludgeon those not of us.

When we learn to listen not only to speak but to not speak at times, then we are ready for the next thing God does with us. Then we come into our Macedonia, we meet our Lydias and our Philippians. We take our beatings and cast out our demons—and find better than we could imagine in the work of God.

After all, it is after this that Paul plants the church in Philippi. The one church that he writes only of his thanks and the glory of God, and not to correct or rebuke.

Today’s Nerd Note: Take a look at the incident of the demon-possessed girl and her deliverance. Then you get a riot: when you do the work of God, the opponents of that work will be drawn in. Some will be drawn to be your biggest allies. Some your biggest foes.

Do what you do. Let the rest sort itself out. Even if you find yourself in prison.

Additionally, look at the end of the chapter: if you are in possession of certain rights in your country, do not lightly surrender them. Take whatever abrogation of those rights you must for obedience to God and His glory, but stand for what you can stand for.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Strangers in the Fire: Leviticus 10

The hardest time to make a decision is when things are going very badly. The hardest time to make a good decision is when things are going well. Woe be unto the one who makes a decision while things are going well shortly after things have been going badly…

The people of Israel have been through a stretch in the recent months—in fact, one thing that is critical to remember when looking at the Old Testament narrative is that a lot of chapters in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) cover a short period of time. Well, to be more specific: the second half of Exodus, all of Leviticus, and a decent chunk of Number really fit in under a year. Contrast that with Genesis which covers all of prehistoric times or 1-2 Kings which covers about five centuries, you have a lot of text for a small number of calendar pages.

This is important to remember as we look at Leviticus 10 (link). Here we start with the story of Nadab and Abihu who are struck dead by God Almighty for offering what is called, cryptically, “strange fire” on the altar before Yahweh. The story is one of those slightly odd ones. We have the actions of Nadab and Abihu, which we do not fully know. We have the response of God Almighty. We have the command not to mourn them. Then we have the emphasis on priests not having any intoxicant affecting them while on duty.

What to make of all of this?

1. The identity of ‘strange fire’ is curious, but almost irrelevant. The first chapters of Leviticus, the second half of Exodus, all had addressed aspects of the how-to of performing the duties of priests in the Tabernacle. Nadab and Abihu knew what “acceptable fire” was and had no excuse to offer anything “strange” in its place. When God has been clear about what is appropriate, there is no point in haggling over whether something not in-bounds is a little out-of-bounds or a lot out-of-bounds. Christians are free by Christ in the Spirit to worship God and serve man. There are certain clearly instructed realities in Scripture: if it runs counter, it’s out. Whether out by inches or by miles, does it matter?

2. The power of God. Compare back to Leviticus 9 and see where God shows His approval of the process, through that point, by sending fire to consume the sacrifice. Here He shows the same behavior: the justice and righteousness of the Lord God will be upheld. The power of His own hand is enough to do so. There are times when people ought to influence the behavior of others but we can remember that God can (and will) deal with all behaviors. Letting God handle the timing is most appropriate: who knows but that you might act when repentance was near at hand?

3. We mourn over those we love, but there will be times when we must acknowledge that God has acted to address sin. In those cases, our mourning must look different. Note the end of the chapter: Aaron chooses to adjust portions of what he does based on the events of the day. Acknowledge those moments when seeing the judgment of God brings grief, but continue to focus on doing that which He has commanded you.

4. Clarity of thought is a helpful reality for all the servants of the Living God. Why we think that we should lose our minds before we act in service to the Lord is a mystery—and how we think we can worship without having prepared ourselves for the interaction with the Holy One is an even bigger mystery. It is our responsibility to be guided and controlled by the Spirit of God and not by any other concern in our worship.

Subpoint 4: Man can be intoxicated by many things. If a man be intoxicated by power, than he best NOT dare think he will lead the people of God in anything. Far better to lay out a day and get sobered up about grace than to face the wrath of the Almighty.

Today’s Nerd Note: This chapter gives us a one-off event in Scripture: we do not see God handle sinful worship the same way again, unless we count Ananias and Sapphira in that group. Even so, what I think this gives us evidence for is that beginning rightly is important: mistakes are going to be made, but when the direction is clear and you are starting off the foundation, be certain to get it right.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up October 28

I headed out to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and Pastor’s Conference on Sunday afternoon, and left someone to teach in the evening service. I haven’t heard from him, but his wife is still alive and commenting on Facebook, so I trust he survived.

Meanwhile, I looked back at the text from my recent sermon to the Centennial Baptist Association and found a few points of application for the church, so I adjusted it and preached it for the church this week.

Morning Audio Link (Alternate Here)

Mark 9:33-37


Subject: Moving Forward


    How do we go forward as a church?

Central Theme:

     Our focus as disciples determines God's reception of us


Objective Statement:

     Every disciple of Jesus must serve without consideration of return

Rationale:

     1. Our time is often spent in arguments about who is the greatest or most important.

     2. Yet do we want to have to answer the question: "What were you arguing about on the road?" when finish our journey?

     3. Our goal, our purpose is to serve: 

          A. Serve the Lord: there is no greater purpose

          B. Serve God's people--individually and together in His churches

          C. Serve those God has created--the world outside the church

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Yoke’s On You: Acts 15

Back in the dark ages, I was a Boy Scout. I spent a few summers at beautiful, spacious, illustrious Camp Nile Montgomery, and did my fair share of hiking through the woods and hills of Arkansas carrying everything I needed for the trip in my backpack. It was heavy.

What was worse, though, were the weekends that some of us went out to backpack, which involved carrying everything we needed, while others were just there to camp. One group of us would be dropped off at a trailhead with our packs and the rest? They’d stay in the truck and drive on in. If you’re wondering, we did for practice, as there were some trips that you had to have a certain number of backpacking miles/nights to take part in.

When we had those weekends, there were always a few guys who should have been prepping alongside us but were not. They were part of the same program but had whatever reason for not participating in the full activities.

And they would heckle those of us who came hiking in some three hours after they had ridden in the rest of the trip. There would be the digs about how slow we had been. There would be the shots taken about why weren’t ready to do something else or the being sent out right then to gather firewood. There was the ever-present needling about how we should have packed our packs differently, what we should have done differently, how much better they would have done it.

Except for this one issue: it was all coming from people who refused to attempt it themselves. Sure, they had read the book. Of course, we had all read the book about how it was done. It’s just that some of us were actually doing it, while a few others were, well, not.

And the ones who were not? They were the most critical

Now, let us take that scenario and turn to Acts 15 (link). The whole chapter is of great value: here even the early church recognizes several important facts that have to be reinforced throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Not least of these facts is that one need not become fully Jewish to become fully Christian, but there are others as well. Here we see that there are moral imperatives for believers, even though we live “under grace.”

I want to focus on two points. One is properly in context, and the other mostly takes the verse, rips it from its context, and broadly interprets it.

One: in context, the Acts 15:10 points out the foolishness of expecting new converts to follow the Law to become Christians. After all, there was general agreement that the Law had been impossible to fully, properly follow in the first place. Why, then, would you look at the Gentiles coming to the church and say “You have to do what we never could”? Seems foolish and illogical.

Two: out of context, Acts 15:10 puts another important point out there for believers: those who never do have little business adding to the burden of those who actually do. That’s not to say that a nursery worker cannot instruct a pastor of the burden his hour-long sermons have become. Both are “doing” though they do different things. However, there is a tremendous gap between that scenario and the one that we often face: people completely disengaged but trying to dictate what ought to happen.

You know the person: always has an excuse why they cannot participate. They can’t do the food pantry; can’t help with the kids; can’t fit this in—but then tell church people that “church folks don’t do anything to help people.” Except that church folks do, that person doesn’t. Then there’s the pious one, who is even more frustrating. This one cannot dirty his hands with such things as garbage duty because “he’s praying” or, even worse, “he’s getting ready to preach.” Guess what, pastor? The bag’s got to go out, and you know that the slightly shorter ladies in the kitchen can’t lift it. Go get it, Th.D. boy. It needs done.

We must never put a burden on someone that we cannot bear ourselves. Especially if it is a burden we have been offered and we have declined.

Now, do not go over the edge here: the Word of God puts burdens on us all as believers and they are not optional. That’s the balancing portion of this passage: sure, we can’t put out the burden that we could not bear, but the Word of God burdens us to control our lusts, worship with purity, and live with grace. That’s not us, though, that’s the Word.

Today’s Nerd Notes:

1. We see a “James” as the spokesman of the Jerusalem Council here. It’s likely that this is James the brother of Jesus and also the author of the book of James. That’s uncertain, but likely. This is likely part of the development of the church as Peter and Paul and the other Apostles were apparently engaged in extending the reach of the Church. Some go, some strengthen. All serve.

2. Greek note: Along the way, the habit was to translate the Greek “Iacwbus” as “James” even though it is pronounced close to “Jacob(us).” The Jacob of the Old Testament is named the same way in the Septuagint. So, be careful looking for “James” in eternity. He may be going by Jacob like he did all his life.

3. The idea of addressing questions via committee has lasted to this day in the church. Many of the basic concepts of Christianity were fleshed out in the first major Councils of the church as the leaders gathered to examine what Scripture said and to argue about what Scripture meant. These choices were then reconsidered within local bodies of believers, called churches, and we see the long-range testimony of their effects. Many of the “bad decisions” that are associated with Christianity in general come from times where one person made a decision or issued a plea for action and no one put a check on his ego or power. Insulate the reputation of the body of Christ from anyone born with a sinful nature. It’s a necessity and what bodies of elders or democratic church processes do.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Book: Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day

Note: I think I was supposed to do this as a blog tour last week, but I have lost all my record of it. So, I am going to go ahead and do it now. Perhaps BethanyHouse Publishers will never again send me a book. Perhaps they will. Either way, easy come, easy go.

Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day is one of three (currently) books in the "Understanding Fill-in-the-Blank in 15 Minutes a Day” series from BethanyHouse Publishers. The first one I have not read, the second one, Understanding World Religions in 15 Minutes a Day, is reviewed here.

Note this before continuing: BethanyHouse Publishers sent me a copy of this book so that I would review it. That is the only connection between myself and the company, and the only influence is the insistence that I actually do the review.

Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day, Daryl Aaron, 978-0-7642-1012-9

The essence of this book is realizing that theology, like any other truly complex subject, is going to take more than 15 minutes a day to really dig into. However, you have to start somewhere. And having read Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and a few other of the “basic-intro level” theology texts out there, I would agree that a lighter load of introductory material is helpful.

So this is, by necessity, a slightly shallower introductory text. If you come to it with that pre-conception, you’ll be in good shape. If you come expecting a fully exhaustive treatment, you will be disappointed. Considering that most theology books are either 3 inches (or more!) thick or are multi-volume, that should not be surprising.

Now, moving into the content that is present:

First, this book presents a basic systematic theology. The material is organized around addressing an orderly set of topics. This begins with a statement of what theology is and then proceeds to how one can know anything about theology. From there, the progression is into an understanding of each person of the Holy Trinity, an examination of angels, eternity, the nature of humanity, salvation, and the church. This is all in a fairly normal order.

Second, this book presents a strongly conservative theology. There is no sense in beating around the bush: Daryl Aaron firmly holds that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. That is his foundation for this text and for his theology, so if you have a differing view of the Bible and his chapter on why the Bible is inerrant does not persuade you, you will have difficulties with the further parts of the text.

Third, this book attempts to present a balanced theology. In examining the chapters on the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, Aaron has presented the multiple points of view on each. Baptism includes both the Paedobaptist and Credobaptist views and does not endorse one over the other. The end result of this is mixed: both views are presented concisely and so neither is deeply explained. This is because Aaron is targeting the broadest possible audience in conservative Christianity, and so the book gives equal offense to Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Baptists.

At the low cover price this book has, it looks like a good pick-up for the Christian who wants to approach how they do theology from an organized standpoint. It’s fairly often that we want to say that “we believe what the Bible says” but we don’t take the time to go through and grasp what the full testimony of Scripture about a subject may be. This book will help with that.

I would gladly recommend it.

Sermon and Service Recap for November 8

Looks like I forgot to post this! Thank you!