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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fire IT UP! Leviticus 9

“Then Aaron lifted his hand toward the people, and he blessed them, and he came down after sacrificing the sin offering and the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings. Then Moses and Aaron entered the tent of assembly. When they came out, they blessed the people, and Yahweh’s glory appeared to all the people. Then a fire went out from before Yahweh, and it consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And all the people saw it, so they shouted for joy, and they fell on their faces.” (Leviticus 9:22–24, LEB)

I have a plan for Sunday. It rolls like this: I’ll get to the church somewhere around 8 in the morning, come into my office, and start collecting my thoughts for the day. I’ll check throughout the church for anything that seems out of place and then I’ll make some coffee. Around 0930, people will start getting here, then we’ll have Sunday School. When 11 rolls around, we will gather in one batch and sing, have some announcements, sing some more, take an offering, and I’ll preach a sermon.

That’s the plan. It’s been the plan for years. I do know that it is the plan that is an invention of man, but many of those were good men that put it together. Good people have followed it for years.

And it, typically, works. Through the ebb and flow of ordinary church life, relationships are built between families. People learn the Word of God and grow as disciples. People come to an understanding of the truth and surrender their lives to Christ.

How does this connect with Leviticus 9 (link)? Great question.

When the chapter begins, the process of Aaron starting his work as High Priest over all Israel is described. There is a pattern established how this is to be done, and Aaron follows it. And for years and years to come, the faithful of Israel will follow it.

Yet something extraordinary happens this one time. After Aaron has gone through all of the prescribed rituals and behaviors, then God sends forth fire to consume the sacrifice. This was not part of the plan—but it was how God worked this time.

Are we prepared for that? Do we expect it to happen? Even if we do not expect something out of the plan, are we willing to adjust to it when it happens?

That’s a necessity. We must be ready for God to work.

One prerequisite: know and do that which God has commanded. This is what Aaron does through the majority of the chapter.

So what about you?

Are you preparing by walking in obedience?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

These aren’t the gods you’re looking for: Acts 14

There are times to beat around the bush, give fluffy intros, or tell a quick illustrative humor. Then there are times to come straight to the point.

Today is a straight to the point day. Acts 14 (link) is our next passage going through the whole Bible. We pick up Paul and Barnabas on their missionary endeavors, and find them in Lystra. Through Paul, God heals a man there who had been lame since birth. The witnesses determine that Paul and Barnabas must be “the gods” come down in human form to visit humanity.

Paul and Barnabas then have to put a stop to the people’s attempt to worship the two of them as gods. They are aghast that the people would ascribe to them any of the worship and honor due to God alone.

Without further ado, here are the critical points for us:

1. Worship belongs to God alone. There is no one, nor any being, that deserves any fragment of the worship that God receives.

2. If you are in leadership, there is a consistent pull for people to ascribe to you a respect that goes too far. And it’s incredibly easy to allow it. AND YOU MUST NOT DO SO. While making disciples includes helping people grow in their discernment, as a leader it is your responsibility to not walk into this trap. It’s not set by people, but it is real.

3. If you are someone who considers yourself more a follower than a leader, that is not always a bad thing. However, it is necessary that you learn to not take the worship and honor due God and give it to someone else.

Why does it matter so much?

First of all, it matters because as God’s people we should be concerned about truth. Anything that attempts to deprive God violates the truth. That, on its own, should be adequate.

Second, though, it matters because of human nature. People are born with a sin nature: we are born with a habit of sin, whether we like to admit that or not. Now, how that sinful nature shakes out is a matter of debate and how God counts guilt is also a place of discussion, but the truth remains that people, especially full-grown adult people, have a tendency to do the wrong thing.

That means that when one person acquires more and more power, their capacity to do wrong increases. If you take the power, you increase your temptations. And then bad things happen. Leadership includes putting forth the effort to keep a check on your own weaknesses, your own temptations so as not to put yourself in the midst of a crisis.

Unfortunately, too often we have failed in this regard. It behooves us to push back against that in ourselves. Too push back away from amassing worship that is misguided. It often starts with the best of intentions, but those good intentions then turn into dangerous situations.

Neither can we try and take those mistaken views and use them even for a temporary advantage. Paul and Barnabas could have been sly here and said “Yes, we’re Hermes and Zeus, and we want you to know that Jesus is the way!” Yet we cannot accomplish good ends with wicked means.

In all, we must be very cautious about how we handle leadership within the Christian world. I would argue that we must also be so in the world-at-large. Deifying leaders serves no valid purpose—even doing so just a little.

Today’s Nerd Note: I wonder what we can infer about Paul and Barnabas from the crowds assignment of “Hermes” to Paul and “Zeus” to Barnabas. Certainly we see Luke recount that Paul was doing the talking, and so he was assumed to be the messenger.

However, is there more? Perhaps a bit about relative ages, that Barnabas seemed the older, wiser one?

We cannot go too far, as it is inferring from a brief mention. Yet it does allow the mind to wander.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up from October 21

Sermon wrap-up:

Morning Sermon Podcast is up: http://bit.ly/RbZjju

or http://bit.ly/RbZlbl

Subscribe: http://bit.ly/dhitsub

iTunes: http://bit.ly/dhpodsub

Luke 15:11-32


Subject: A Parable about what God is not like

     (What is this about?)

Central Theme:  The Father

Objective Statement:

       Every Christian Must Stay with the Father

Rationale:

     1. The standard look at the story: Father, Older Son, Younger Son

     2. Do not forget to look at the "citizens of the far country"

          A. They welcome the younger son who is for their economy

          B. But when judgment comes, the economy does not help, does it?

     3. When he returns: he has nothing. All of the family's wealth belongs to the older son

     4. When the Father dies, the older son could give his baby brother the boot

     5. Fortunately, the Older Son is not like this one. The Older Son is One with the Father (John 10:30)

     6. The Older Son came to the far country to find us

     7. Still, though, all that is belongs to the Son and not to us

     8. Our only resource is to stay in that relationship, stay close

     9. Our only offering for the world around us is to bring them home

     10. We cannot be attached to our far country that we live in.

Responses:


1. Salvation: Come to the Father; leave the far country


2. Commitment to Prayer


3. Focus on the Kingdom


4. Live physically where you are but spiritually/morally/emotionally where you ought to be


5. Celebrate all who return

Friday, October 19, 2012

Long, boring post: Podcasting How-To

Podcasting:

I’m putting this on my blog as a reference post. Most of you aren’t going to be interested in the info, but this is the process I use to do my sermon podcasts on a weekly basis. It is, so far, the lowest cost method I have found. If you have suggestions, put them in the comment section. I will delete/spam any that are pure “sales” comments for your profit.

NOTE: This reads longer than it takes. My average podcasting time is 12 minutes, not counting waiting on files to compile/upload. I typically start it doing a hands-off process and then go do whatever else needs done.

I. Equipment

This is the first step to deal with. The only piece of equipment that you technically need to podcast is a digital voice recorder. All the rest of the process can, technically, be handled through the web on a computer at the library. If your library allows you to attach an external storage device, that is.

I personally use an Olympus VN-8100PC voice recorder. Attached to it is an Olympus ME-15 Clip-on Microphone. There are other voice recorder models, and Olympus has updated the VN-8100. You need one that will record well in your situation. If you are doing single-person speaking, then an external microphone jack that you can clip on is a good call. I have used a Sony and this Olympus, and both worked well. I have also used a fancier “room pick-up” recorder that gathered from the whole room. I never got it set right, but if you’re an audio nut, you might be able to.

However, if your situation is dynamic and you are trying to record speaking in different places and different environments, the simpler handheld with a clip-mic is probably the better choice.

Now, if you’re not going to do this with just web tools, which would be a challenge, you need a decent PC to do a few things. Like any editing or adjustments and uploading. I am a PC, so if you’re a Mac, you’ll have to figure out which software is best for you. I think part of what you paid that extra money for to get a Mac is an included program that will do a chunk of the work.

I have been podcasting from a 3 year old Dell Inspiron with 2 GB of RAM and Windows 7. I will do the next podcast from Samsung with 8GB of RAM and an Intel Corei7 processor. That might go quicker for me.

The only software that I use for this process is the open source program Audacity. That can be downloaded here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ and, as far as I can tell, does everything the basic podcaster needs. You will need the LAME plug-in set for it, available here: http://lame1.buanzo.com.ar/#lamewindl (you want to click the “For FFMpeg/LAME for Windows link and save that file).

Install Audacity first, then install LAME.

You should now have your computer prepped with software and a piece of equipment intended to record your voice. It is possible to use the webcam/microphone of your computer and just record yourself talking to the computer. If you don’t speak naturally to the computer, that could be a problem, because your podcast will sound more artificial than it should.

If you take this route, you can still use the above mentioned clip-on microphone plugged into your microphone jack on the computer to get a clearer audio file. This will also help cut background noise.

II. Services

Now, let’s talk services. Podcasting is an inherently cloud-based service. There are a few necessary partners in this process, and fortunately most of them are free to cheap. You need a file host, a feed service, and a feed generator.

There are all-in-one solutions for this. GoDaddy.com (yes, I know, they’re evil. They’re also cheap and effective) offers a service called QuickBlogcast. It will run you (in Fall, 2012) about $60 a year for the economy package. This service does it all and walks you through the setup of everything, including submitting your feed to Apple to get onto the iTunes store. It is an all-in-one, and I use it with a few modifications these days. You have the advantage of being a paying customer and so they will work to keep your site running. The interface is nearly impossible to get wrong, so if you can spare $60/year this is not a bad way to go. You will still want to read on and sign up for a Feedburner account and use the Feedburner feed to publicize your Podcast.

However, formerly my podcast budget was not capable of handling the cost. So, I learned how to do it cheaper. In fact, it can be done for free.

First, you need a file host. Amazon Web Services is great for this. Their price structure is “scalable” which means that as you become galactically famous and use more downloads, you’ll have to pay more. You can afford then, though. Instead, you want to sign up for the “Free Tier” of the “S3” service, which is Simple Storage Service. They will want some billing information and you can link that to your Amazon.com account. Set up a “billing alert” for when it will actually cost you something, so you’re not stunned when it does.

I have been using Amazon S3 as my additional podcast host for a year, and haven’t paid anything for it. That’s about 120 files so far, averaging 15 MB each, and about 20 downloads a week. There have been no problems and no expenses. Sign up for the service, then treat your S3 space as if it is your podcast storage hard drive.

I organize mine with a directory for sermons, then annual directories for each year. That makes it easy enough to navigate.

Amazon S3 is where your files live.

Second, you need a feed generator.

You can do this for free with Blogger from Google. Sign up for a free blog account from Blogger, or add a blog to your existing account. Either way, it’s free. I think there is a space to click that it’s a podcast, but there may not be.

The title of this blog becomes the title of your podcast. Make it unique. You might want to skim your category in the iTunes podcast directory to make sure you are different from others. I took the easy route: it’s my name and my church name: Doug Hibbard/FBC Almyra Podcast. No duplication there!

Blogger becomes the matchmaker between your file at Amazon S3 and people that want to meet it.

Third, you need a feed service.

This step is technically optional, but you want to do it. Why? Because you want people to always find your feed, and you want them to only have to look in the same place every time. If you change file hosts (maybe you get rich and start paying someone to do it) or if you need a different solution, you do not want people to lose track of you.

The solution is to use a feed service as the mediator between your feed generator and the universe at large, including Apple’s iTunes store.

Feedburner.com is what I use. That puts most of my eggs in Google’s basket, and if they ever decide not to like me, that will be troublesome. However, for now, they do for free everything I need, except the file hosting.

Go to Feedburner.com, sign up for an account (which, if you’re using Blogger for generation, you just have to add Feedburner to your account) and follow the instructions there to “redirect your blog feed.” That process changes slightly from time to time, because it’s different to do it now than when I set mine up. They will keep your settings, but the help files are there to help you with it. Be sure to set it as a Podcast feed.

This allows you to change your Podcast Feed from an extended series of slashes and words and character strings to something like this: http://feeds.feedburner.com/DougHibbardPodcast (which is much easier to remember and share!)

The feed service is like the tour guide: sure, you can find stuff on your own, but isn’t it easier for someone to show you the straight path?

Now, if you do this, you can change your underlying feed source without resubmitting your feed to iTunes. You can also give this feed out to anyone with an RSS reader or non-iTunes Podcatching software. And whatever changes you make, as long as you go back and update the “Original Feed” section of Feedburner, your subscribers will still get your feed. That’s what you want, right?

III. Your first podcast

Wait, don’t we sign up for Apple’s iStore next?

No. You don’t have anything to give them, so they do not want you yet.

Instead, here is what you are going to do:

Record your first podcast. If you’re a preacher, record your sermon. If you’re just creating a talk show, record it. Be extra careful not to violate copyright laws!!! Famous people get warnings and second chances. If you’re reading this and following my guide, you’re not going to get a lot of slack about breaking the law.

Remember that the longer your source, the bigger the file.[1] The more complex your source, the bigger the file—orchestras take more space than banjo solos. Also, remember that the bigger the file, the longer the process. If you need to podcast in under 5 minutes, don’t try to do that with an hour long recording.

Got it recorded? Good. You want to import it into your computer and do any editing you need to do. Maybe you forgot to stop the recording and you need to cut the end off of the file. Perhaps you had an extended stammer in the middle and you need to cut it out. I know these things can be done with Audacity—I’ve done them.

I primarily add a musical intro and a musical tag at the end of each podcast. The closeout tag includes contact information, the music was public domain music played by a church member. I add those clips and then, because my recorder only records me in MONO, I use Audacity’s “Stereo Track to Mono” effect to make it a MONO track. Otherwise, I only talk from the left side of the car.[2]

You then want to “Export” or “Save File As” an MP3 file. You can record it in whatever audio type you want, but to Podcast it you need an MP3. I use a medium-level variable bit rate (110-150 bps is the setting in Audacity), that seems to hold the quality but keep the file size reasonable.[3]

Save this file on your computer and be aware of where it is.

Now, to the Internet. Log in to your Amazon Web Services S3 account. Go to the file bucket that you want your podcast in, and click “Upload.” Use their help if necessary. You want to set the file permissions when you upload to “Make Everything Public.” That will not allow anyone to mess with your file, but it will allow them to hear it. Do not, if you are on the “Free Tier,” use the Reduced Redundancy Storage. That’s not free, that’s cheap. Why pay cheap when you can have free?

Once that file is uploaded, you need the “Properties” of the file, and you should see a hyperlink down at the bottom of the screen. Highlight it, and use “CTRL-C” (for PC) to copy it. If you’re a Mac, whatever the keyboard shortcut is to copy for copy and paste.

Now, into your Blogger account. Create a “New Post” and give it a title, like whatever you want your podcast episode title to be. So, it can be simple: “Episode 04.” It can be complex: “Sunday AM October 14 Luke 15:8-10.” Or it can be creative. You get the point.

Title is set, now on the right-hand side of the Blogger compose page is a place for links. You want to paste the link to your AWSS3 file where it says “Enclosure Link.” I always put the same link in as the “Title Link” too. Not sure why.

If you have any accompanying text to go with your podcast, put it in the text window for post on blogger. This will show up in the “Comments” field on iTunes. Longer isn’t necessarily better here—do a separate blog for long outlines/manuscripts. You can put a link in that blog post to your audio.[4]

Click “Publish.”

Your podcast is now out there, waiting for the world to find it.

Let’s give it a fighting chance to be found.

IV. Publishing and Publicizing

First of all, remember that Feedburner feed you made? http://feeds.feedburner.com/DougHibbardPodcast or however you personalized it?

That’s your podcast feed. You can send that to anyone and they can add it to any RSS reader or put it in iTunes under “Advanced” and “Subscribe to Podcast.” You can be done at this point if you are so inclined.

If you want into Apple’s iTunes store, you need to jump through their hoops. It’s not hard: http://support.apple.com/kb/TA23478 has instructions, the main point of which is to point you here: https://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/publishPodcast

That link will open in iTunes and you’ll need to give Apple some information and the Feedburner link from above. It will take them a few days to get back to you with approval, and they’ll give you an iTunes Store link.[5]

So, anyone wanting to subscribe through iTunes can go through that link and find it. Also, people perusing the iTunes directory for a podcast will find you. Anyone else can find your podcast with the Blogger blog that you created. Try to only use that blog for your podcasts. Create a second blog for your writing and other items.

V. Options

Options to consider:

I use bit.ly to shorten my links: http://bit.ly/dhpodsub is the shortened version of my official iTunes link, for example. That’s a lot easier to tweet, and it stays static rather than letting twitter shorten it every time.

You might prefer to check out specialty hosting, such as SermonAudio.com if you’re a preacher. I used one for a while, but I find the generic works well enough for me.

If you have any questions, ask away!


[1] This actually has impacted my sermon length: I strive for 30 minutes both for the sake of live audience and for podcast audience.

[2] I didn’t even think about this until one of my computer speakers went out and I spent an afternoon panicked because I thought I had podcasted blank space. Actually, my left speaker went down and so I was hearing the right-channel. With music it might matter, but with audio I don’t think it’s as crucial.

[3] Remember, you’re paying by the MB for storage—you don’t need the perfect crystalline quality to hear every last breath, so why take up twice the space to have people hear the floor creak?

[4] Example: http://www.doughibbard.com/2012/10/cba-meeting-sermon-mark-933-37.html

[5] It will look like this: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/doug-hibbard-fbc-almyra-podcast/id387911457

Except with your data.

It just got real: Leviticus 8

You start with a plan. It’s a good plan. It’s a big plan. It’s an amazing plan. People will be wowed, the world will be astonished. Through it all, God will be glorified in what you have planned, and the whole thing will go down in history.

Except that a plan is not really anything. It’s just a plan. There is nothing of value in a plan if you cannot get anyone to get their hands dirty and do it. All you have is a lovely spreadsheet and some nice PowerPoint slides. That and a dollar will get you a pseudo-burger from the golden arches.

This is where the narrative of the Old Testament sits as we start Leviticus 8 (link). Moses has been given the plan. The materials (Tabernacle, et. al.) have been assembled. The instructions have been given.

Now the question comes to it: Will Aaron and his sons take up the task? Will the priests undertake their duties? Will the people participate?

If you have never tried to get a group of people to do something, you may not see this as a stress point. It is one. All the pieces start coming into place, everything looks like it’s going to work out, but there’s this huge fear of that one last issue, that one hiccup that will rip the whole thing to pieces.

Moses may have been mature enough not feel that at this point, but some of us are not quite there yet. I know I am not: the best laid plans of mice and men often involve fighting over cheese, and I worry about whether someone will shred what should be sliced.

The fear, though, is an illusion. While it is true that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy and no lesson plan survives first contact with students, we miss the point if our greatest concern is a perfectly executed plan. Our greatest concern is obedience to the Lord God Almighty. Oftentimes I have found that this requires obedience and diligence in planning followed by faithfulness and flexibility and obedience in execution.

However, so far none of this plagues Moses. Instead, he has the ordination services for Aaron and sons and puts them to work in the Tabernacle. The sacrifices are offered, the anointing oil is poured, and new clothes are put on.

This marks the point where things get real for the covenant community of Israel. They have been “on their way” to being a nation with its own religion. Now they have it: a primary day-to-day leader in Moses and a spiritual leader in Aaron. They have portions of the civic law and portions of ceremonial law. They have a plan, a promise, the first real pictures of its fulfillment.

Now it’s about obedience and faithfulness. Which is frequently where we stumble.

Which gives us that sense of dread for the coming chapters.

But you’ll have to wait a few days for that. Or you can read ahead.

Today’s Nerd Note: That sense of dread will be fulfilled. One thing to take note of is the command at the end of the chapter regarding staying put for seven days. That’s worth remembering: if God says stay put, then stay put.

Also worth wondering about: Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar are to not leave the doorway of the Tent of Meeting for those seven days. What did God show them, what did they see/hear/experience in that time?

We don’t need to know. But that falls under the list of things that I would like to know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Book Review: Churches, Revolutions, and Empires 1789-1914

Are you looking for some light reading? Want a nice, fluffy easy book that won’t tax your brain too much?

Look elsewhere.

Want to dig into the interactions of churches, revolutions, and empires? Do you think that type of material would interesting? Then welcome to my world—and you’re on to the right book for that: Churches, Revolutions, and Empires: 1789-1914 by Ian Shaw.

Cover->Churches, Revolutions & Empires : 1789-1914 by Ian J. Shaw (Cover links to Amazon.com book page.)

A few of quick notes before we go any farther: 1. I have the Kindle Edition of the book; 2. I got it free from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for the review; 3. I am not a galactic expert in all forms of history and as such, may have missed errors amongst some of Shaw’s details.

On to the review: history is tough, I think, to write. There is a great deal of detail and it is not uncommon to see authors who have so buried themselves in the historical period that they have lost the ability to connect to a modern reader. Fortunately, Shaw has not fallen into that abyss.

What he presents here is a look at events, beginning with the French Revolution and concluding with the world on the eve of World War One, and how theological developments in Christianity both shaped and were shaped by those events. The American Revolution is introduced as a background material, as it definitely showed a collision of all of these forces.

In all, the style is easy to follow. One definitely needs a background of some historical knowledge to follow the movement of material. Certainly I am in favor of the broader understanding of history, so this does not draw away from the text. Just note that if your understanding of history involves hitting CTRL-H while in Internet Explorer, you might need to grab an overview text before you dig in here. Or at least have one handy.

I could definitely tell that my Kindle version has a few typos, but I am not certain if those were not corrected before the book went to press. There is also, in the closing chapter, some summaries of activities in the 20th century that should have either been more in-depth or left out. Since the book states a focus on 1789-1914, many of these could have waited until a full treatment in a volume 2.

Also, while there is some look at areas beyond the bounds of Western Christianity, in all the book focuses on this portion of the world. The print edition does run past 500 pages, so something had to go. The Boxer Rebellion is discussed as well as various other world missions points—but typically in context of interactions with the Western World.

I liked this book. The revolutions were not all military ones: Shaw addresses science and technology, long referred to as “revolutions,” and how those impacted theology. He also points out some of the run-up to Darwin and demonstrates how Darwin was simply the next in a line of scientists exploring where they thought the science went.

This is a good one, but an advanced one. Not for the light reader.

Note: Free book from publisher in exchange for the review.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

This Magic Moment: Acts 13

When we get going, the opposition is more than just a little ordinary.

The fundamental nature of Christianity is that it is a seeking religion. While we see God as holy, righteous, loving, merciful, and just; mankind as fallen and needing a Saviour; the Earth as our stewardship; and all fellow believers as equal before God Almighty, the right view of our religious behavior is to be seeking.

Seeking what?

First of all, seeking God. Why? Not because He hasn’t already found us but because He has. That sounds odd, but it’s an accurate depiction of much of Biblical religion: man seeks more about God after God has sought out man. Start with Eden—God comes looking for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and then Cain and Abel seek God through sacrifice in Genesis 4. John puts it more bluntly: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). We act in response to God’s actions.

Second, we seek our fellow believers. My own denomination has an emphasis on starting churches, but it’s one I find slightly misdirected. Truly maturing disciples of Jesus willfully and cheerfully seek other believers to have fellowship with on a regular basis. Admittedly that can be hard, and this is where a church planting effort belongs, in trying to facilitate meeting that need. Yet if you find you have no desire to be around people who share your faith in Christ, something is not right.

Finally, though, we seek unbelievers. Some religions exclude unbelievers. Some isolate from unbelievers. Some execute or intimidate unbelievers (and there are terrible periods in Christian history that we have done such).

Christianity, as demonstrated in the New Testament, takes no such viewpoint. Rather, we see in Acts 13 (link) exactly what Christianity does: with the support of a home base of believers, willing Christians go forth among unbelievers to seek those who would join with our faith. Coercion is never upheld or suggested as a model for evangelism. In fact, coercion and evangelism are functional antonyms: how can one be forced to accept what is good news? If you deem it good, then will you not accept it rather than be forced to acknowledge it? Few Americans, if any, were forced to acknowledge V-J Day in 1945, but many members of the Japanese Imperial Army had difficulty: defeat was not good news for them.

What we do see, though, in this chapter is this: there are times when the power of God comes into the situation and that may seem coercive. The storyline of this chapter gives us Paul and Barnabas talking with Sergius Paulus, proconsul in Paphos. Except that while these two are talking about the One True God, there’s a man named Elymas who is trying to argue the other direction. Elymas is a magician—and probably not quite just the “rabbit-in-the-hat” kind of magician. More of a “Why yes, Sauron, I’d love to use one of those nine nifty rings you have there” kind of magician.

He is working to oppose Paul’s efforts. And Paul:

1. Files a complaint with Roman Civil Liberties Union?

2. Writes a scathing letter to the editor?

3. Forms a counter-protest group and wears a snippy button?

4. Posts his angst with old religion on Face-Scroll for all to see?

5. Prays for God to deal with it, and reports the results to Elymas?

If you read your chapter, you know it’s number 5. God strikes Elymas with blindness for a time. Paul carries on the mission, going forward after persuading Sergius Paulus of the truth about Jesus.

What do we learn?

That God is concerned that the truth be proclaimed and that His people go out and seek those who will come. That God is not only capable but willing to work in prevention and protection of the message of the Gospel. That sometimes God works in ways that are not quite what we would expect.

And that we should focus on proclamation and prayer, and leave the protection and provision to be divinely guided. He is capable of handling those actions—and our goal is not to survive in the first place. It is to walk with Christ.

Today’s Nerd Note: Take a look at Paul’s sermon in this chapter. It is preached to a primarily Jewish audience, and as such focuses on their history and how God worked their history toward the redemption in Christ that Paul preached.

Now, think forward: certainly the history that we find in the Old Testament is relevant to our preaching and proclamation in these days, but what else should we consider on point? There are two ways to see both Peter and Paul’s sermons in the book of Acts. One is that they only used Scripture, and so should we.

The other is that they used Scripture, certainly, but that they also used what was the history of their own people is relevant. We should therefore consider using what we know of our own history and the history of the audience in teaching and preaching. Not introduce historical debate, such as whether or not there was a conspiracy/cover-up over the Kennedy assassination (there was), but the fairly clear facts: Pearl Harbor, The Space Shuttle, The Civil War, Civil Rights, and various things that definitely happen. Then there’s locally: the drought of 1980 or the floods of 08 are important.

This idea calls us to not only know Scripture but know people. It also calls us to apply our understanding not only to what happened in the long past, but in our own past.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

CBA Meeting Sermon: Mark 9:33-37

The Audio link is here (or here)

Chrysostom Story: Hesitant to become preacher, had to be forced to become archbishop--

386 Antioch to 397 Constantinople

Did not want the promotion to archbishop. Did not relish the power or hold it.

At first, things went smoothly in Constantinople. The people were impressed with his preaching. The Empress Eudoxia responded to his spiritual prescriptions. Chrysostom, however, was not one to let diplomacy stand in the way of calling people to repentance. He found that many of the clergy in Constantinople were undisciplined and unspiritual, and so he instigated reforms which made many unhappy. Chrysostom also discovered that much money was being wasted by church officials. He put himself on a limited budget and diverted funds formerly spent on luxuries to the poor, to building hospitals, and to establishing new churches.

If a preacher be indifferent to praise, and yet cannot produce the doctrine “which is grace seasoned with salt,” he becomes despised by the multitude, while he gains nothing from his own nobleness of mind; and if on the other hand he is successful as a preacher, and is overcome by the thought of applause, harm is equally done in turn, both to himself and to the multitude, because in his desire for praise he is careful to speak rather with a view to please than to profit.



Mark 9:33-37


Subject: Moving Forward


    How do we go forward as an association?

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: the Calvinist? The Traditionalist? The Hymn-singer or the Praise Band? The Missionary or the Pastor? The Church-planter or the church-sustainer? The minister or the layman? The old-guy or the young guy? The Seminary Grad or the self-trained?

     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

Responses:


Implementation:


1. Budgetary

2. Cooperative Action

3. Church Action

4. Personal Action

Source notes: My Logos Bible Software collection has A Treasury of Great by Clyde Fant, volume 1 of which mentions John Chyrsostom. There are a few other history sources that I read and brought in for the information on him as well, such as Schaff’s History of Christianity and Ferguson’s Church History. And Gonzalez’ Story of Christianity.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sermon Wrap-Up October 14

Sermon Wrap-Up

Morning Audio is Here (Alternate Here)

Luke 15:8-10

I. Lost things need found

II. Found things need celebrating

III. The Table is the place where both happen: we remember how we were found and we celebrate that fact

IV. Go into: invitation to repentance; invitation to the Table.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: You’re Stronger than You Think

On the front end: this is a book by a clinical psychologist. I have a general discomfort with psychologists/psychiatrists, with the exceptions of Dr. Sidney Freedman and Dr. Gordon Wyatt, so I did not dig into this with the expectation that it would be a great book.

However, Tyndale Publishers was offering You’re Stronger than You Think through their blog give-away program and I wanted a free book. Even if it was one I thought I would dislike. Hey, free book in exchange in for the review, right?

Instead of finding just some unnecessary shrinky-stuff, though, this book was more encouraging than I expected. While it is focused on psychological issues, it is a worthwhile read. Here are a few of the keys to the book:

1. Dr. Parrott focuses on parts of the human experience that are shared: mind, heart, and soul. This makes a strength for the book: I have seen some “self-help” that over-focus on the impact of physical exercise on your well-being. While everyone should exercise to their physical abilities, not everyone can improve their life by running marathons. So that’s not quite a universal advice.

Parrott does not give you that. Instead, this book focuses on what we all can do: strengthen our minds, strengthen our emotions, and strengthen our souls. It may be more difficult for some than for others, but all of us can make strides here.

2. Flowing from this, the book focuses on what we can do. It is broken down into short chapters that provide attainable actions. There is no “go forth and conquer your fears by doing something insanely dangerous” advice. Rather, the focus is on conquering your fears by daring to live your normal life without being consumed by it.

3. Additionally, while Parrott is not exactly cautious in how he quotes and utilizes Scripture, the work does originate from a view of humanity as more than just a mere animal. This is important to me. Parrott’s basic view of humanity is that God has better for us than we often attain, and his effort reflects that.

The work, though, does not fire on all cylinders. The largest concern I would express is that it borders on being a silver-bullet thinking book: if you just think this way, that will fix everything. While there are some who can completely will themselves into a better state of being, for others it will take more than just a minor change of thought patterns.

This is not to say the work is not helpful. However, some portions of it will take willpower that, if you don’t have, the book can’t give. And if you do have it, a few chapters are unnecessary.

Also, though this should be obvious, the book does not really address abnormal or extreme circumstances. It is worth noting that if you have been through major trauma or deal with physiologically-based issues, you would be wise to consult with a medical professional and not just read a book.

In all, I would rank this book 3.5 stars out of 5. Worth reading and considering.

Note: Free book received from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for the review.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

By your own hand: Leviticus 7

We live in an age of substitutes and surrogates. A quick look at our TV Guides and browser histories tell us that: we live our dreams through surrogates—otherwise why do we watch so much “reality TV?” It may be your dream to dance like that, but you don’t do it. You just watch someone else do it. You might dream about your survival skills or your singing skills or your cooking skills….but you don’t practice them or develop them or test them. You watch others do that.

And these are the lighter, fluffier issues of our problem with substitutes. We need relationships but we sub out Facebook. We need intimacy but we sub in pornography, whether visual or textual. We see a world in need of justice but we can’t bring it, so we watch shows where the perfect crime meets the better-than-perfect crime solvers. We want substitutes.

We want to learn, but we don’t want the trouble so we hit the wikis. We want spirituality but without difficulty, so we stack up on podcasts of gurus or preachers or teachers. Why bother with really trying when we can just substitute more? After all, 6 hours of John Piper and reading a good Christian feminist blog have got to be better for me than spending just a few hours with a small-town church, right?

Yet some things cannot be replaced. Some things you cannot send a substitute to handle: you must do it yourself. Leviticus 7 (link) highlights one of those moments.

If you look down at Leviticus 7:29-30, you should note that the person who brings the offering is not to be a substitute. It is by “his own hands” that the sacrifice is brought. It is the one who wants to offer sacrifice who brings. The one who needs to offer sacrifice who brings it.

It can be no other person. No matter how busy or how crazy your days are or how much you loathe the idea of getting involved, you have to.

There is no substitute for your own involvement in life. You cannot keep mailing it in, or worse, e-mailing it in.

If you want to see things change, you have to step up and be a part of that.

It starts with your own involvement in your own growth. Spiritual first, but all things as they come. No one can read your Bible for you, pray your prayers for you, or learn to walk in obedience for you.

Building on it, you also cannot send someone else to make the world right for you. Do you know of needs or issues that you can correct? Do it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it.

While this passage is truly about how the sacrificial system worked and about who got what, one of the keys about that whole system is that everyone had to be involved. Even though there were priests to handle certain specialty tasks, there were no idle worshippers in proper religion. Each person had a part in what happened.

Can you say that about your worship? Can we say that about our churches?

If not, then we have missed an important point seen in the Old Testament. It is not merely about avoiding idol worship. It is also about not thinking we can call being idle, worship.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Few Thoughts on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday”

Notice: I did NOT say brief thoughts. I wanted to hit all of this in one sitting, so it’s long. Very, very long.

Some of you may have seen on the news leading up to this past Sunday, or in the news this week, about what is called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. I thought I would give you a little information about what that refers to and how it impacts us.

A little history is necessary to understand what is going on with all of this. First point is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Based on the First Amendment and stinging from the ways in which the British Monarchy of the time had used both force and taxation to control religious speech, the heritage in the United States became that churches and other religious bodies were exempt from taxation. After all, if one could be taxed for expressing specific opinions, that would allow control of the expression of those opinions. One must keep in mind that government restrictions are not based on preventing moderate situations. They are based on preventing the extreme situations. It is not a tax of a dollar per sermon that we fear—it is the tax of a million for a criticism of the government that must be prevented.

And you cannot allow the one in generation without the other in the next.

Now, going forward, the next stream that developed was that other groups received similar tax advantages and became the forerunners of modern non-profit organizations. These groups provided a function similar to religious groups but focused on an issue or social cause that needed addressed. Because the value to society was deemed worthwhile and the freedom need similar to religious groups, these also received the same tax advantages.

What, though, do people do if given the opportunity?

They find loopholes and exploit them. There are groups that exist strictly to address political victory, and that victory is beneficial. Remember the hullabaloo about the government’s use of Halliburton while Dick Cheney was Vice-President?How about the Solyndra loans during the present administration of President Obama? Victory is rewarding.

Since there was an opportunity to exploit the loophole for the sake of profit, people began to use it. The IRS, when formed, was given the authority to regulate who could be non-profit and thereby tax-exempt and who was not. Churches were classified non-profit, but political organizations were not.

Now, along comes the election of Lyndon Johnson to the US Senate in 1948. Searching for information online about it, suffice it to say that there are differences of opinion about whether or not everything came out of that election legitimate. Johnson was elected, though, and so had the assistance of being in the Senate when he ran in 1954.

Because of the questions regarding the previous election and the strong concerns regarding his liberal policies, many churches and pastors had been speaking against Johnson since 1948. In 1954 he offered an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that denied tax-exempt status to any organization that endorsed specific candidates for political office.

The actual intent of this might be good, but the apparent intent was to make sure that Texas preachers (rumor has it Baptists especially) would not preach against him specifically in the coming election. The long-term effect is that technically, a church that wants to retain its exemption from paying income tax cannot endorse, for example, Doug Hibbard for President. This becomes a bigger deal when you realize that many other tax exemptions are based on the IRS’s decision: state, local, property, etc…

So we come to the recent years. First of all, there are active attempts to have tax-exemptions removed from churches. Technically, many of these would claim to be attempts to remove those exemptions from all religious groups, but the groups call themselves things like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. No mention of Separation of Mosque, Synagogue, Temple, Coven,  or anything else—so churches tend to take it personally. These groups tend to push very strongly against churches and have convinced quite a few that the ban on political speech includes anything that resembles politics: not just candidate endorsements but issue statements as well.

Second, there is a growing rift in churches about politics. Some are more readily endorsing issues that are embraced by the liberal side of American politics, and those issues are hard to see as anything other than endorsing the candidates that support those issues. There have been notable examples, Al Gore in 2000 comes to mind as does Mike Huckabee in 2008, of candidates speaking in churches but claiming they are not there for “political” purposes.

In the long-run, what this has led to is a lot of smaller churches that are not sure where they stand and a few bigger ones as well. What exactly is ok from a legal standpoint? There has been, that I have heard of, one church that has been punished by the IRS over violating the Johnson Amendment. They lost their exempt-status for one year.

Into this mix comes this question: Should this limit be the law? Why should I, as a pastor, not stand up this coming Sunday and point out that anyone who wants to slow-down the demise of the United States should vote a certain way? (If you know me, you know what I think, but I don’t want this about the specific candidate.)

Does this not violate the First Amendment? Does this not violate, more importantly, the responsibility before God to preach the truth even about politics in the place where you live?

In my opinion, it does. I do not think that the IRS has any business telling me what I can or cannot preach. That should be limited only by my understanding of my God.

Why, then, did I not join in Pulpit Freedom Sunday?

For a couple of reasons:

1. Civil disobedience is important. One should never obey laws that harm people. NEVER. Such laws should be resisted by all possible and moral means until they are overturned either by legislation, adjudication, or change of government. For example, the Fugitive Slave Act should have been resisted utterly by all Christian people in America.

However, such an action should only be taken if it is the only possible course of action. In this case, I do not think there has been a concerted effort to have Congress adjust the law. Instead the goal is to shortcut that process: get someone fined/punished so that an appeal to the Supreme Court is possible, and hope for an overturning of the law. Before we go there, we need to consider why we cannot prevail in the legislative process. Is it for lack of trying? Or because Congress is obstinately against us?

They ought to be against us—because the vast majority on both sides of the aisle have become corrupt and our pulpits ought to thunder against corruption. Not just against Democrats, but against all corruption. Even corruption that’s beneficial to us.

So, I think the effort ought to be there to change the law first. No one is truly being harmed by this law as it stands, so there is no sense in going to jail or paying the IRS and a bunch of lawyers for breaking it. When they lock you up just for stating that you think President Obama (or President Romney) is lying and harming the nation, then you have a free speech issue. That’s worth looking at the next amendment over.

2. More importantly: If I endorse Mike Huckabee for President (hah! Use the last election!) what becomes of my ministry if he loses? Or to those who vote for his opponent?

You see, I want to retain a portion of moral authority to call out whomever the President is when he violates the promises he has made. Especially about working under the Constitution. The pulpits of colonial churches helped stir the people into action against King George III, and the pulpits of America should be calling the people, including the President to repentance and righteous action.

We lose some of that if it seems like we’re just having “sour grapes” over the outcome. Now, the Johnson Amendment was birthed out of just that right action: corruption led (probably) to his election, and that corruption was being decried. That’s why it is bad law and needs to go.

Even if it goes, though, you will not likely finding me calling for a specific name during the worship service. I want to retain the ability to say that the church is for right, not for The Right.

3. Most importantly: Ministry Axiom #3 is that the mind can only absorb as much as the other end can endure. If you have limited time in a sermon, what is most important? Preaching the truth of God’s Word. That includes addressing issues that last: abortion is one of those—it remains, no matter who the candidates are. Taxation. Freedom. War. Police state tactics. Nanny state tactics. Poverty. Economics. These issues remain.

If I am going to preach on a text that addresses a political theme, is it not that I should address what God has said about the issues? These remain, even if BO/MR both sail off to Tahiti this weekend and we have to pick from two others. Discipleship teaches people to think through the Biblical issues. It does not make out a checklist to follow blindly.

4. Utmost importance: the church service is about worshiping Jesus. Proclaiming, singing, following, growing, praying, remembering.

If I make it about why you should vote for Bob, then it draws away from why you should surrender to the Lordship of King Jesus.

Which is more important? Besides, look back at point 3: a thinking disciple will vote based on the Lordship of Christ, not based on who funds Sesame Workshop. (Most of their funding comes from merchandise, by the way. You could defund PBS and Big Bird would not go broke. He just might have to go to a different network.)

Now, what should we do about the law? Is it not bad?

It is. It should be challenged in court if someone has standing, in general, to challenge it. It sounds like it is an example exercising prior restraint on speech: telling someone they can’t say something even before they say it. Perhaps someone would like to defend my sermon manuscript that I cannot preach? The one where I edited out my endorsement?

We should also request our Congressional representatives to change this law. Got that, Arkansas Delegation? Representatives Ross, Griffin, Womack, and Crawford? (Especially you, Rep. Crawford?) Senators Boozman and Pryor? Change it. It’s foolish.

Then, we as church people need to handle our own affairs on this. If the church’s money is used too much for politics you disagree with, then change your church. This is one part I have never understood, because I am in a strong free church tradition: if you feel your church is politicking or anything else in violation of God’s Word, use that door just one more time, and be gone from them.

If Christ is all, then do so, because you are not called to a Political Action Committee. You are called to obedience to Him.

No government should try to stop that, and in our hearts no government can. We cannot sit idly by and hope things remain this way, but we need to fight those battles wisely.

So, I did not endorse a political candidate Sunday. Nor did I specify that you should explicitly not vote for one, either. However, that is not because of the restraints to the First Amendment in the Johnson Amendment to the Internal Revenue Code.

It’s because the church must be about Christ more than politics.

Sermon Recap: October 7

Morning Sermon Audio Here (Alternate Here)

Luke 15:1-7


Subject: Rejoice that what was lost has been found!


Central Theme:

     We have all been lost; some of us still are


Objective Statement:

Everyone of us should seek what we have lost--our relationship with Christ

Our relationships with each other.

Our purpose in living.

Key:


Find this at the Cross. Everything you have lost is found there.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Book: Mondays with My Old Pastor

Jose Luis Navajo’s Mondays with My Old Pastor from Thomas Nelson Publishers is a book with a  good intention, decent execution, but a somewhat fatal flaw. Let’s take a look:

<---There’s the cover.

Mondays with My Old Pastor is the story of a young, burned-out pastor prescribed “mandatory rest” by his doctor. He takes part of that time and visits with his old pastor, old being “former and experienced” not “bad old.” The pastor imparts the distilled pearls of wisdom gathered along the path of many years of ministry. The happy ending is, of course, that the young pastor leaves the book committed afresh to his work and committed to strengthening the younger ones behind him.

Overall, the intention of the book is excellent. Navajo writes to share some basic wisdom points that are helpful and encouraging to new pastors and tired pastors. The basic premise is the strongest wisdom principle in the book: do not be a young pastor without seeking the wisdom of those who have gone before. After you pack in the academics, seek out the experienced wise ones that help you grow.

Then there are the fifteen principles discussed in the book. These are all well worth reviewing for those in the ministry. The work here well supports the author’s intentions and is quite helpful.

The execution, though, troubles me a bit. The overarching concern is that the primary sources for these pearls appear to be cultural references rather than biblical text. To me, that’s a weakness that is very hard to get over. The wisdom is still good and easy to digest, but the base point is not the deep foundation of Scripture. It’s not that the wisdom is unbiblical—in fact, it looks like it all has a solid base in Scripture. That base is just left implicit rather than explicit. By leaving it in this manner, readers may make the assumption that the most crucial advice for ministry is folktales and not Scripture.

The folktales are good---many of them are not known to me, and I place that in the book being originally in Spanish. That may also account for the lack of Scripture references embedded in the text: this is a book from another culture, and while white evangelical-land demands such footnotes, other cultures may be less particular about it. Navajo’s view may be that the Biblical grounding is obvious, so who needs the citations? The answer? Thick-skulled folks like me.

Now, what I see as the somewhat fatal flaw. The book escapes as “mostly dead” with this, but mostly dead is still slightly alive, and can still be brought forward to usefulness.

The book presents itself as autobiographical. Yet it does not quite ring as factually true in all things. It is, perhaps, more properly seen as a parable. Except the text does not state that it’s a parable. Instead, one is left wondering whether or not the story is true. Why does this matter?

Because if the pastoral advice is really from a wise old man, then it’s easier to adopt it. If it’s just the ideas of an author who knows his own credibility will not persuade us to adopt them, so he idealizes an old, wise man for them, it’s another story.

Now, again, the wisdom in the book is sound. Very sound.

I just have a problem here.

I will get over it, and I do recommend you take a read at this book. Especially consider the fifteen principles stated in it.

Free book received from BookSneeze in exchange for the review.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Restoration: Leviticus 6

There is no moving forward with God until we have done all that we can to not only mend, but truly restore, how we have harmed our fellow man.

Continuing on completely through the Bible, Leviticus 6 (link) comes up next. Leviticus gets a bad rap as a boring plod, for the record, as there is more here than we often give credit for. You just have to actually read it and consider what you find.

First, remember that Leviticus is about living life in light of God’s holiness. At the core of it, that is what you are dealing with here: How do we live in the presence of a holy God?

Leviticus gives us the first part of the answer. The fullness of the answer is found in the righteousness of Christ and His death on the Cross. However, while the Incarnation remains the most important interaction between God and humanity, we have the remainder of Scripture to consider and to help flesh out how we live in light of that.

That is where we come to in this chapter. The headers in the NASB do not do justice to the section. While it does address more about guilt offerings, that fairly generic title misses the richness of the chapter. Always be wary of chapter headings—they can be descriptive while still missing the point.

Here we see in the first few verses a very important reality. These verses address the sins that people commit against each other—how we cannot be trusted with one another’s possession. How it is extraordinarily dangerous to trust other people with power over the lives of others, because people do not always handle that power well.

It is clear from Scripture that sin is primarily the destruction of the relationship between God and man through man’s violation of God’s standards. Yet we cannot make the mistake of thinking that sin is only about our relationship with God. There is also the damage done to others by what we do.

In this chapter we see an important fact: we must reconcile with others if our sins have harmed them. That is not an option.

Here we see that before the atoning sacrifice can be offered to reconnect God and man, the offender must first not only restore what had harmed the other, but must even exceed the damage done. This is mandatory, not optional. It is necessary if we have stolen, if we have negligently lost or destroyed, or our dishonesty has harmed them.

The addition of one-fifth to the losses reflects that it should always cost us more than we gained when we harm others. No matter what we think we gained, it will always cost us more in the end.

The decision that has to made is this: do we want to have our relationship with God flow naturally? Or do we want to leave small barriers that grow into big ones?

That leads us to this: there is no moving forward with God until we have done all that we to not only mend, but truly restore, how we have harmed our fellow man.

This matters. It matters because we often advance ourselves without consideration of the cost to others. We improve our days by venting our rage at some unsuspecting worker. We satisfy our urges to the detriment of our spouse. We make other choices and the only consideration is how it benefits us.

That cannot be the manner in which Christians walk through life. Since we are redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, we do not have the obligation to make right before our sins are forgiven. Instead, we have the responsibility to respond to grace by reconciling with others.

It stands between us and walking fully with Christ.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Worm FOOD! Acts 12

There is much to tell in Acts 12 (link), but I will leave you to read of Peter’s arrest and deliverance on your own. Do not overlook that you have to slow down and notice your prayers being answered: we often are so emotionally overwrought, swinging from the one side to another, that we miss the very practical and obvious working of God.

Instead, today we shall focus on King WormFood. He is actually called Herod Agrippa I, and he had been granted the rule of most of the region we call the Holy Land. His territory included Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis—more than Herod the Great, his grandfather, had ruled. Herod Agrippa I owed this good fortune to being friends with Caligula, the Roman Emperor.

Caligula was not a popular Emperor and holds the distinction of being the first Roman Emperor assassinated while in office. Technically, Julius Caesar does not count---he was assassinated primarily to prevent him from consolidating all power in the Republic into the Empire. He was the dictator, but not the emperor, the dictator being a temporary position that he only intended to hold for the rest of his life. Caligula is often depicted as a man of highly questionable morality and extreme cruelty. There are some modern scholars that doubt this view of Caligula, but it has been commonly held since, well, Caligula was assassinated by his own guards!

Caligula had placed Herod Agrippa I into ever-widening power because of their friendship. From that position, Herod did what he needed to do to retain his control, and being in Judea, he needed to keep the Jews happy. So we see him open this chapter by executing James the brother of John. Herod then moved to dispose of Peter as well, with the hope that this would keep the religious leadership of Jerusalem happy with him.

We see here that Herod Agrippa I is not particularly concerned with anything but the retention of his power. Most history books that address the time show this to be true. We also see that he has the guards executed who failed to keep Peter in prison when the angel let him out. In all, Herod Agrippa I is a man with power and a will to keep it.

Then we see him at the end of the chapter. History is somewhat vague on his dispute with Tyre and Sidon. These two cities were within the Empire, so there was no outright war happening to have peace from. However, the lesser tyrants of the Roman Empire maintained control through fear and economics in those days, and it is likely that economics were at stake here. Agrippa’s mainland territories are the food sources for these two coastal cities, so he’s going to win.

Neither do we know the source of the enmity between these cities and the king. Given his status as a petty tyrant, it was likely nothing important. Perhaps they had written Caligula’s replacement, Claudius, and asked Claudius to remove Agrippa. Such an action would have been viewed as disloyal and, for a tyrant, reason enough to starve the cities that had taken that action.

However, he who holds the grocery store key holds the power, and the cities capitulate. He sits to make a speech and is acclaimed as a god by the people.

And an angel of God strikes him, he’s eaten by worms and dies.

That’s it. This is his autopsy as reported in Scripture: eaten by worms and dies. And yes, it is entirely in line with the text to think that the eaten by worms part happens first—perhaps some disease or parasite that afflicts him and then he’s dead.

Now, why do we care?

Because petty tyrants still remain in this world. They occur in governments and businesses and unfortunately in churches. These are those people who like to be acclaimed as the saviors and sole authorities and the greatest-evers in what they do. (Quick note: if someone must make sure that all history points back to them, that’s a clue.)

Oftentimes, these tyrants insulate themselves from accountability, they keep themselves in power by any means necessary: individual murder, inappropriate incarcerations, wholesale economic deprivation. You name it, they will do it.

This truth, though, remains: their future is as worm food. It may not be as quick in coming as we would hope. It is, however, coming. All across the years, tyrants have fallen and died: Caligula and his friend, Herod Agrippa I; Nero; Pol Pot; Stalin; Hitler; Idi Amin; Lenin. These have all gone on—others, like Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Assad, and many others yet to come will also go on.

If you’re inclined to chase the power that comes from being a tyrant or the friend of a tyrant, realize this: worm food. That’s the future. It ends in worm food.

The other side?

Acts 12:24: The word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

Make a choice. One dies and the other grows. The latter requires self-sacrifice, but the former?

Today’s Nerd Note: The lack of other historical documentation for the feud between Herod Agrippa I and Tyre/Sidon should trouble you a small amount, but not much. Why? Because there are many other events readily accepted that have only a single-source for their happening. Much of what we know of Ancient Rome comes from a small number of sources—yet we know it, just the same.

Further, there is non-Biblical support for Herod’s icky death in the writings of Josephus. Also, the text of Acts is not enhanced by fabricating the dispute—the questionable event is the death, which is attested elsewhere.

In all, nerds, do not get overwrought when something is “only in the Bible.” Take a look at the study of history in general and see if it’s really that bad of a thing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book: Serpent of Moses by Don Hoesel

Today’s book review is brought to you by Bethany House Publishers, who provided a free copy of the book in exchange for the review.

Serpent of Moses cover art

Serpent of Moses by Don Hoesel is the second novel in the Jack Hawthorne Series. If you can picture a semi-Indiana Jones-adventure series but with no Nazis, at least not in this one, you’ve got a basic idea what you are dealing with. I would make this first observation: you would probably do well to snag Elisha’s Bones, the first in the series, because there are enough references to Hawthorne’s past that it would be helpful. Given that you can snag both for under ten bucks suggests it’s not a bad idea.

On, though, to Serpent of Moses. In this case, our intrepid hero has departed the archaeological field after the trauma of being featured in the first novel. After all, I have read books about non-traumatic archaeology. They’re called textbooks/sedatives.

The basic plot line is a search for the Nehushtan, the bronze serpent from Numbers 21. As with any archaeological action, there are multiple groups who want the item in question, and some of them are willing to kill for it.

The action is good, though the development of characters is a bit weaker for it. This is an action book, though, so I don’t really miss it.

Christian content here is mainly seen in the positive view of faith overall and the lack of profanities and explicit sexual content. This is not an evangelistic book, so if you do not want one, you’re good. If you’re looking for an evangelistic tract with a novel wrapper, then look elsewhere.

Is this a read it again and again? Not likely. It’s good the first time, and not bad the second time to catch what you missed. All-in-all, a nice distraction read.

Note: free book received in exchange for the review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Sermon Recap from September 30

Luke 14:25-35

Audio Link here (alternate here)

Subject:


     Following Christ has a greater cost going forward than we often imagine

Central Theme:

You cannot stay close to Jesus and remain anonymous: Scott Duvall


     The grace of God is unilateral. The life of a disciple is not.


Objective Statement:


     Every person that follows Christ must  pay a cost.

Rationale:

     1. That cost does not buy us grace: grace is gifted by God and CANNOT BE BOUGHT

     2. That cost is rather charged by the world to us.

Responses:


     It will cost those who crave the approval of family and friends over the approval of Christ

     It will cost those who crave the trappings of this world

     It will cost those who crave the security of their lives

     It will cost those who crave to call things their own

     It will cost those who crave to pass through life without stinging a few and unchanged

Implementation:


1. Prayer cards:

     A. One thing that you want to see happen in yourself in the coming 40 days

     B. One thing that you want to see happen in this church in the coming 40 days

     C. One thing that you want to see happen in your family in the coming 40 days

2. Prayer Cards: other side

     A. One person that you need to be more like Christ in your relationship with

     B. One person that you need to share the love of Christ with

     C. One person that you need to be reconciled to

Sermon Recap for September 20

Good evening! We had some major technical difficulties this week, so we don’t have the music part of the service, and you get the video from...