Christianity 201

September 13, 2012

Why Didn’t He Call The Light “Light”?

For several weeks now at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve been encouraging people to check out the Phil Vischer podcast.  Phil’s name may register with those of you with children as the creator of Veggie Tales.  There are 16 podcasts so far, and Phil is joined each week by Skye Jethani, a name familiar to both bloggers and readers of Christianity Today, and by producer Christian Taylor. Phil is a naturally funny person, and the whole show has a “radio morning zoo” feel to it; but Skye, as a pastor is more focused and while he often adds to the levity, he also rarely wastes words.  Many weeks they are joined by a guest. But why are we mentioning it here?

This past week, the guest was John Walton who teaches at both Moody and Wheaton, and specializes in Old Testament studies. Apparently he and Phil have had some previous conversations regarding Phil’s newest children’s series, What’s In The Bible, especially about the creation narrative in Genesis.

One of the comments was about this verse:

Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

John then asked, “Why didn’t God call the light, “light.”?  He said that what we’re seeing in this verse is not the creation of light, but the creation of the separators or periods of separation between light and its absence, that what we’re witnessing in this book is the creation of time.  You could say, “And God said, “Let there be time.”

I’d never thought about that before.

Much discussion early on also had to do with the apparent ongoing tension between theologians and scientists on the creation of the world.  John compares this to the difference between you telling your friends about the origins of your house versus the origins of your home.  The former has to do with land, and construction and the physical features. The latter has to do with family, and usage, and traffic patterns.  They are two entirely different stories, and he says that the Bible does not attempt to answer the house questions, and we shouldn’t expect the Bible to serve as a science textbook, because those issues are not raised in its pages.

There was also the issue of death coming into the world. John looked at the creation narrative again and told of having his students focus on this verse:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

He then asked them if Adam was clothed in skin, and reminded them that skin is epidermis and epidermis is dead cells. In other words, there was death from the beginning.

This then led to a discussion of predation. That was a new word to me.  The question is whether or not in a “new earth” — a doctrine that’s a given when you get academics together — animals would survive through killing other animals or whether as Phil asked “whales would strain plankton.” John responded that the new earth would involve a new order, and that he does not believe this will be a replication of what existed in the garden, but will involve an entirely new set of possibilities.

This particular podcast — their longest — is 67 minutes long. After the usual banter, John Walton is introduced at around 22:00, and the interview really kicks in at 23:15.  You also have to endure Phil playing the ukelele at the beginning and end of the show; once in children’s ministry, always in children’s ministry, I guess.  So even if you skip the frivolity at the beginning, you’re still looking at 45 minutes; but well worth it.  (We listened to it twice already.) This is the kind of material I love personally; what this blog’s tag line is all about: Diggin’ a little deeper.

…You might also enjoy the previous episode (# 15) which deals with the issue of heaven and the issue of the rapture. You can find that easily enough once you’re at the site; and I also wrote a set-up for that piece Tuesday at Thinking Out Loud.

July 15, 2012

Cooperating With What God Is Already Doing

It’s possible that your work situation or family situation or neighborhood situation looks, from a spiritual perspective, fairly bleak. You may find yourself in what you consider to be a fairly pagan or secularized environment. But I believe that God is at work in hearts more than we realize.

Today, I want to continue where we left off two days ago, and look at our part in bringing people into an awareness of Jesus that leads to a desire for Jesus.  Two days ago, we looked at being the kind of person that God can use to be “sent,” that is to go out into a particular situation or people group or individual’s life and then tell them, so they can hear, believe and call out for salvation.

But the Bible also teaches a principle of “sowers and reapers” in I Corinthians 3:

(NCV) 5b …We are only servants of God who helped you believe. Each one of us did the work God gave us to do.6 I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made it grow.7 So the one who plants is not important, and the one who waters is not important. Only God, who makes things grow, is important.8 The one who plants and the one who waters have the same purpose, and each will be rewarded for his own work.

My entire part-time work career during eight years of high school and college consisted of working in large department stores. In each area of the store I had to know what the products were, how the products worked, whether there were product warranties, and where the products were kept in the stockroom.  I also had to learn how to work the cash register.

So, my usefulness to my employer consisted of two things:

  • product knowledge
  • sales processing

In later years, when I owned my own business, I realized I had been taught nothing about how to sell. There was no sense in which I asked customers what they felt they needed, qualified what might meet that need, and then proceed to  “ask the question.” Asking means saying, “Do you think that this product can meet those needs?” Or, “Is there anything stopping from you buying today?” Or, “Can I wrap that up for you?” 

The ingredient I was missing was what is called, “closing the sale.” My training should have been a three-pronged approach consisting of:

  • product knowledge
  • closing the sale
  • sales processing

Sometimes in the Christian journey we encounter people who given to us so that we can plant seeds. And other times, we find people where God has been working in their lives already and they’re just waiting for someone to gently nudge them over the line of faith.

But sometimes we fall short of doing both when the opportunities are present. To switch analogies for a moment, it’s like a baseball game in which you’re up to bat and you get a perfect pitch, but instead of hitting a home run you decide to bunt. What holds us back from the hitting the ball out of the park?

In one of his books*, Bill Hybels tells the story of a friend with whom Bill had been planting seeds for a long time. One day, out of the blue, an associate asked the man if he would like to become a disciple and make Christ the Lord of his life, and the man said yes on the spot. Bill often jokes that this was simply “not fair.” With a department store analogy, you could say that this man was “Bill’s customer;” though thankfully we’re not exactly on commission! More seriously, Bill understands the distinction between sowing and reaping, and rejoices that this man did indeed cross the line of faith.

In Experiencing God, Richard Blackaby talks about coming alongside areas where the Holy Spirit is already working.** Perhaps there is a ministry organization or even a secular social service agency where people, whether consciously or unknowingly, are experiencing the fruit of God’s love and are ripe to respond. Could you be the missing ingredient?

  • In the lives of people you’ve been in contact with for the past few weeks or month, are you a sower or a reaper?
  • Do you know people right now who you’ve been gently sharing your faith with, but you’ve been afraid to ask the question?
  • Re-read today’s key verses. Maybe you find evangelism very difficult. Is there an area where you can be a “water-er” providing after-care for new disciples?

~ PW

*Just Walk Across The Room,pp. 45-47
**Experiencing God, pp. 54-55; p. 297

July 13, 2012

But Before That Can Happen, This Has To Happen

NIV Romans 10:14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

From a purely literary standpoint, these verses in Romans use a rather unique form. It’s like Paul is deliberately saying everything in reverse, not unlike those comedies or dramas on television where they keep flashing back to progressively earlier and earlier scenes chronologically. In other words, before that can happen, this has to happen.

Having just proclaimed that, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” in verse 13, the sequence looks like this:

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent

So before one thing can happen something else has to happen.  Let’s put things in chronological order:

  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

That in itself would be a sufficient meditation, but it leaves something else.  In every major English translation, one more verse is included in the same paragraph, which is a quotation from Isaiah 52. 

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”

Repeated here in Romans:

As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love how the CEV put this:

The Scriptures say it is a beautiful sight to see even the feet of someone coming to preach the good news.

Now, I’m going to read something into the text here, but I want you to humor me by following along here.  I think the CEV accurately conveys the picture here of the beauty of the sight of someone coming to bring the good news. But let’s assume for just a moment the beauty of the person themselves who comes.  (Not, obviously physical beauty, but spiritual beauty.)

If everything in the text is in reverse order, and if every translator sees the quotation as very directly linked to the other phrases, then what appears in the original form,

  • people are saved if they call on the Lord
  • can’t call on Him unless they first believe
  • can’t believe unless they hear
  • can’t hear unless someone delivers the message; the good news
  • can’t have the message delivered unless someone is sent
  • that “sent someone” is a beautiful person!!

Then the adjusted order would be

  • the process described here begins with a beautiful person!!
  • someone is sent
  • the ‘sent person’ delivers the message
  • others hear the message
  • they believe the message
  • they call on the Lord to save them
  • they are saved

Again, I’ve done some “reading into” on the text here, but it does give you a different way of looking at the passage, and it is supported by further study of what it is to be the man or woman who God chooses.  Those of you who object strongly can leave a comment with the more traditional interpretations of the Isaiah passage’s presence here.

But I think God is looking for a “special someone” to relay the message to people in need, and he’s looking for that someone to have a beautiful spirit.  In other words, before we can assume a ministry, we need to cultivate the character of Christ within.

Someone once said there are two dimensions to a physical cross, and we can think of the vertical dimension as the depth of our relationship to God, and the horizontal as the breadth of expressing that relationship to the world around us. We are responsible for the depth of our ministry and God is responsible for the breadth of our ministry.

To get to be the sent one, to be the preacher, to see people respond and call out for salvation; all that has to begin with the formation of Christian character within.  You can’t expect to move in the gifts of the spirit until you have cultivated the fruit of the spirit.

~Paul Wilkinson

For some of you, the passage today reminded you of an older worship song; so here’s a link to Our God Reigns.

May 8, 2012

The Truth of Scripture is Accessible to All

Today we return for a visit to the blog Jesus Carries Me, where Lila wrote this post under the title, 

Who receives Understanding of the Scriptures?

Scripture Reference: Matthew 13:36-43  (link takes you to NIV; NLT is below)(NLT)13:36 Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, “Please explain to us the story of the weeds in the field.”

37 Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39 The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40 “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

For many Christians the answer to this question is rather obvious, but it never was for me. If one has been fed lies for years like I was, it is an exceedingly exciting time when the Truth intersects your life and enters your heart. Burdens of deception and lies are hurled to the ground and light fills the heart.

You see, for years one of the lies I was taught was that you have to have the title “apostle” in the specific church I grew up in to receive understanding of the Scriptures. This also excluded anyone outside of the borders of this denomination. Only these “apostles” received insights and that meant it was kind of useless to read the Bible since you won’t understand much of what you read anyway. Since I never knew God then (although I religiously attended church), I didn’t understand most of what I read no matter how hard I tried. Consequently I never questioned this lie.

But thanks be to God, one day the Truth entered my dark heart and with that a desire to read the Bible. Not only that, I now understood what I read. I found the treasure I longed for all my life. I found the Truth. I couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible and God proved His faithfulness by first taking me to the Scriptures that would make these lies come crashing down. At first, I didn’t know where to start. But, although I was alone in a room with my Bible, He was there too. He took me from one Scripture to the other and over time taught me His liberating Truth with the precision and timing of a perfect Teacher. One example is this portion of Scripture in Matthew 13:36-43.

After Jesus told the parable of the weed sown among good seed, the disciples approached Him wanting to understand what He just said. Those who love the Lord and His word will desire to receive more enlightenment and will ask for better understanding. Many others may think of the Lord’s word as a nice little story. Some may disregard His words in an off-hand way and some may even mock His word. Folly always mocks anything it doesn’t understand. But His true followers will ask to understand what He says. They realize they don’t know it all and that He is all-knowing. These are the ones to whom He reveals the deeper meaning of His words. I learned that this privilege is not reserved for people with religious titles, but for anyone who humbly comes to the Lord in faith and ask for greater understanding.  As we read here, we can see how Jesus gave an exposition on the parable of the seed and the weed to those who asked. He shows them how there will be a separation of the righteous and the unrighteous at the end of time.

Jesus concludes His exposition by saying that this is open to the understanding for all who have “ears.” This is a non-exclusive term. It is open to all who desire to know more. It is not a promise made exclusively to people who flaunt religious titles. Instead, the Lord, in His generous nature, is eager to teach anyone: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” So, the Lord invites anyone with a sincere desire for wisdom and understanding  to ask and it will be given to them. The verses below further confirm that there is no exclusivity. God does not show favoritism.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27) 

[These words were written for all believers, not exclusively to church leaders]

April 14, 2012

Preaching: Eloquent or Effective?

From Jim Cymbala’s new book Spirit Rising (Zondervan):

Every believer is probably familiar with the important role that preaching and good teaching play in extending Christ’s kingdom and helping us mature.  But over the last few years, I’ve begun to wonder if our understanding of preaching is defined more by our life experience than by the Bible.  In most churches, a minister stands before the congregation and shares a passage of Scripture, usually in a sequential, logical manner that breaks down the meaning of the passage for everyone to understand.  Illustrations are often used, followed by an application of truth.  If the message is Scripture based and the speaker’s communication skills are of a high caliber, one would usually define that as a “fine sermon”. 

The same can be applied to us when we share the Word one-on-one with a friend or coworker.  The recommended advice is to use your head, be as persuasive as you can, and try to bring the person to a belief in Jesus.

While all of that is good, what are we going to make of the apostle Paul’s description of his method of preaching?  Reminding the Corinthian church of his eighteen-month ministry there, he said:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.  (1 Cor. 2:1 – 5, emphasis added)

What?  A speaker not depending on wise and persuasive words?  Isn’t that what most seminaries and books on effective preaching almost exclusively emphasize?  Isn’t that what most of us aim for when we share with others?  But here the apostle states unequivocally that his message and preaching were not “with wise and persuasive words.”  That was never part of Paul’s strategy as a preacher of the gospel.  What he did claim was that his ministry involved “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power”!

What kind of Spirit-saturated messages did Paul give the people in Corinth?  He certainly didn’t mean that every five minutes or so he interrupted his talk to heal someone’s blind eyes or have the lame walk, because there is no record of that in Scripture.  Yet this brilliant Pharisee-trained convert to Jesus dismisses “wise and persuasive words” and instead boasts in the Spirit’s power resting on him.  Why?  In order that the Christians in Corinth might have their faith “in God’s power” and not “human wisdom.”  I wonder how many of us ministers have that as our goal every time we open God’s Holy Word.

~Jim Cymbala, pastor, Brooklyn Tabernacle

January 15, 2012

Too Much Salt, Too Much Light

This morning at church, the pastor read the familiar “salt and light” passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.  If you’ve been in church for a long time, it’s hard to imagine hearing anything new and different on this, and yet, the text is so rich that I am always amazed at the “take away” you can get from this passage.

First of all was the emphasis on being salt and light in the world.  There’s no thought of ‘salt for salt’s sake,’ or ‘light for light’s sake;’ but rather, the analogy exists to guide the Christian in living in a broader society.  

That said, salt is reactive, while light is more proactive.  The former deals with how we respond to the world around us, the latter deals with what added value we are infusing into that world.  

But then the pastor talked about the fact you can have too much salt.  In terms of the seasoning nature of salt, it’s easy to overdo it; and in terms of light, it’s not helpful if you’re shining it in someone’s eyes.  

And then he gave a rather interesting example that I’d never considered before.  He talked about people who feel the need to respond with a Bible verse who also give the reference, and how foreign that concept is to people who are outside the faith and/or outside the church. I’ve heard people say that we should know references so that we can open up a Bible and point them to what the Bible says and where it says it; but I have to agree with the pastor that conversationally, there’s no need to do that; we just need to pass on the heart of what God’s word says; the truth element of it without the precision of a GPS reference.

Really, it comes back to being able tell people — without reading it off a script — about the ways of the Lord. 

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them.  (Hosea 14:9 NASB)

Our job is to know God’s ways in order to instruct others, but we are the best translation of scripture and our words should flow out of a general sense of God’s will and God’s ways.  When I start spouting chapters and verses (or Greek and Hebrew) to a non-Christian it all sounds like when my son who takes engineering starts talking scientific terminology.

And frankly, people who read a blog called Christianity 201, and obviously want to go deeper and be deeper are at the greatest risk of overdoing this.  We know a lot of stuff, and it’s easy to allow pride to creep into the equation as well.

…Today some people despair over ‘seeker sensitive’ sermon approaches that they say has had the effect of ‘dumbing down’ the gospel.  But there is something to be said for “putting the cookies on the lower shelf.”

  1. First, when we’re able to express the gospel in its rawest simplicity, we’re closer to the essence of the gospel, the profound nature of the gospel.
  2. Second, as stated, when dealing with unchurched or unevangelized people, we run the risk of scaring them off with responses or explanations that are too complex, even while we admire and relish the great complexity and mystery of the gospel ourselves.
  3. Third, in an increasingly Biblically illiterate culture, we’re going to increasingly be dealing with people within the church for whom what we consider basic theological and doctrinal discussion is more than they can handle

We want to be salt and light, but we have to be careful not to over-salt, or turn the lights up blindingly high.

August 22, 2011

Wishing Hell Wasn’t So Doesn’t Change the Bible

First, Radical author and pastor David Platt.  This was filmed in India as things were heating up in the U.S. over the publication of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, though I should add that Bell doesn’t clearly state some of the things he is being associated with.  Nonetheless, this is worthy of viewing:

Did you note the difference between “intellectual universalism” and “functional universalism.”

Next, Hell is Real But I Hate to Admit It author and pastor Brian Jones. The book is releasing in the next few days.  I wonder sometimes if perhaps there is a degree to which an understanding — perhaps an acceptance — of the doctrine of hell is mark of spiritual maturity; while at the same time others believe that a rejection of the doctrine of hell is some kind of mark of spiritual sophistication.  This video was directed to pastors, but there doesn’t seem to be a general book trailer.  You can read my review of the book here.

August 24, 2010

Don’t Give Church Kids “Things”

A Christian bookstore in Anytown, U.S.A. …

Customer: I’m looking for something to give my Sunday School class on the first week; maybe some pencils or something…

Clerk: You know, kids are pretty high-tech these days, they’re not really impressed with pencils anymore and we’ve kinda stopped ordering them.

Customer: Well, what does that leave? How about some rubber stamp things, or stickers; or one time I got bookmarks with smiley faces…

Clerk: You know, forgive me for saying this, since I don’t know you well, but maybe you should just give them you.

Customer: I’m sorry. What was that?

Clerk: Maybe you should just give them yourself. Pour your life into them. Spend time listening to their stories. Invite them over to your house a few times.

Customer: Okay. I get that. But I really felt I was meant to come in and buy something here today.

Clerk: And so you should.  But invest in your own spiritual development. Build yourself up in God’s Word, and then, out of the overflow, you’ll have so much more to give your Sunday School students.

Customer: Like what?

Clerk: I don’t know. It will be different for each person. But something that challenges you to get deeper into Bible study, deeper into prayer, deeper into sacrificial giving, deeper into awareness of global missions, deeper into personal witness.

Customer: But that doesn’t directly benefit my Sunday School class.

Clerk: Actually it does directly. As you are being moved deeper into grace and deeper into knowledge; as you are being moved toward the cross; your kids will pick up on that spiritual momentum. They’ll be drawn into the current of spiritual motion that’s taking place.  It’s the best gift you can possibly give them.

June 16, 2010

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Some of you wouldn’t think of leaving the house without at least a New Testament in your shirt pocket or glove box; let alone heading out on a vacation or a business trip.

But the “format” that Bibles take and the way the next generation approaches Bible reading is always undergoing subtle change.

We have about two hours in the car tomorrow, and we wouldn’t consider doing it without copying a sermon or two for listening to on the car CD player.

Here’s a few I can’t live without!! —

Charles Price — pastor of Peoples Church in Toronto; solid teaching (click on last month and select one of his sermons from the list.)

Francis Chan — I’m a recent convert to catching these messages online; I hope they stay up after he leaves Cornerstone

John Ortberg — Eloquent delivery by one of America’s finest Christian communicators.

Greg Boyd — What’s it been now, seven years studying the book of Luke?   Sometimes controversial, Greg makes us think.  (Click on most recent.)

Bruxy Cavey — A new kind of communicator, Bruxy pastors Canada’s fastest growing church movement, The Meeting House. (Click on teaching.)

(Just in case you missed it; each one of the above is a link!)

Each one of these delivers the solid teaching that previous generations came to expect, but in a style that next-generation Christians can relate to.

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