Game of Thrones, Christians, & A Plea For Humility

There have been many posts from the Christian blogosphere lately, dealing with whether or not Christians should watch Game of Thrones. Like Kevin DeYoung,

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I have not watched the show myself. Some would argue that this fact alone disqualifies me from offering any perspective.

While I think such a stance is rather illogical, this post isn’t really aimed at answering whether or not you should watch Game of Thrones (those posts have already been written and I think they’re very helpful). Instead, Continue reading

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A Gut Check For My Brother-Pastors

ariana-prestes-6923From time to time, regardless of one’s vocational roles or responsibilities, it is good to stop and examine why we do what we do. This especially holds true for those of us who have been called to the task of pastoral ministry.

I’m calling this article a gut check because that’s exactly Continue reading

Commanded to Worship

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In the last entry I started a three part series on why we worship.  These are just three giant brush strokes of the Bible that hopefully entice you to search deeper.  In the last newsletter we examined John 1 and Genesis. We saw that we and all of creation were spoken into existence.  We saw that Jesus was there at the moment of creation and was the very word in which we were created, and we concluded that because we are image bearers of God we should in return audibly sing His praises with the words He has given us. So where is the command to worship?  In the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20), the first 7 verses are a clear guide:

“And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

God demands that we recognize who He is, and that we worship only Him. God won’t settle for a watered down likeness, for what of our imaginations could truly hold His greatness? Recognize that he is God and God alone. In the chapters that follow God lays down many laws and instructions for the Israelites.   These displayed two things: God was intolerant of sin being in His presence, and to display the allegiance of the Israelites.

But it was clear it wasn’t enough to follow the rules, 1 Samuel 5:22 says, “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”  This is  the message that God is trying to convey over and over in the Old Testament, that eventually took the sacrifice of His son for us to understand.

God used the law for us understand his character and Holiness, and for Him to see where our heart is.  We are no longer slaves to the law, but we have replaced burnt offerings with musical choice, with stained glass, or with lighting. We must approach our worship services as an effort to love the lord with all our hearts. 

If we do not feel engaged in what we are doing should that exclude us? I confess my Bible would be rarely opened, and my prayers would be rarely spoken.   There are times when I want a good meal more than eternal life. There are times when I want a relationship to work more than eternal life.  There are times when I want the Cubs to win more than eternal life.  I may want these things. My heart might yearn for these things, but my efforts must be put at magnifying God in my heart, and all I do.

In my next entry we’ll look at Revelation, and how worship is only possible through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Image-Bearing Worshippers

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How are we asked to worship God in scriptures? How does that translate  to our current culture.? We define worship as the act of showing reverence and adoration towards a deity.  We do this many ways, through singing, studying,  and imitating. Others say anything we do can be worship. That may be true, but are we worshipping God no matter what we are doing?   Who and what we worship shows where our heart lies. In “Worship Matters” Bob Kauflin says, “What we love the most will determine what we genuinely worship.

So what does God want from us as worshippers? I’m going to post a few articles about where this is revealed to us in scripture. This being my first.

Starting in John, chapter I, v 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
was God.   2 He was with God in the beginning.  3 Through him all
things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

So it’s clear to me the Word is referring to Jesus the pre-incarnate,
but still the son, being the mouthpiece of God in which the world is
created.  Now if you look at Genesis one, How did God create the
world?  Did he use a blueprint and shape some rough materials?
Genesis 1:3 says “God said let there be light,” and there was light.”
This  pattern continues in the first chapter including man in verse
27:

“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.”

We are the result of the word of God.  The word which was Christ.   We were spoken into existence. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” So simply our existence is a
testament to God. In being image bearers of Christ should we not also be imitators in using our words to praise God? And in being imitators of Christ should we not also being using His words to praise Him?

As a church musician let me encourage you to take it a step further and encourage you to sing His praises.  Even if you consider yourself a poor singer you are engaging your whole body in worship.  Have you ever been to a concert or a sporting event where the entire crowd is singing together?  It’s an awe-inspiring thing. The amazing thing is somehow you know many are singing off key, but when they are part of a whole it only adds to the volume.  Watch a country like Columbia or Brazil sing their national anthem at the FIFA (soccer) World Cup, it’s a little intimidating. Now imagine the power and encouragement that could be brought to Church every Sunday morning by singing about the power of Christ.  A sea of conviction that would surely smash our doubt and unbelief into submission!

In my next entry I’ll look at if we are indeed commanded to worship.

What was the Protestant Reformation?

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The Climate of the 15th and 16th Centuries

Imagine a person driving down the road when they see someone crawling in a window of a house. That person would likely call the police to check for a break in. However, the suspect was actually the owner of the house who had accidentally locked his keys inside and did not have any other way to get inside. The passerby did not have the context of the situation to rightly discern what was happening. If the Reformation is examined without properly studying the conditions and climate in which this storm formed, incorrect assumptions and conclusions could be deducted. The Protestant Reformation was not some miraculous event handed down from heaven. It was not an event led by a singular person. It was a movement of God using flawed men for His purpose of returning the Church to the Gospel.

The late 15th century and early 16th century leading to the Reformation cannot be rightly understood without considering the Roman Catholic Church’s corruption, the printing press, and the Renaissance as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church had seen a decline in the papacy and a rise in corruption for several centuries.[i] The corruption of the church had nearly reached its pinnacle with indulgences and simony.[ii] Indulgences were a corrupt way for the church to fund its special projects which played a large part in the Reformation. The printing press was key in the spread of ideas. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press mid 15th century. This sparked literacy and the growth of knowledge. The Reformation could not have flooded Europe without the printing press busting the dam of illiteracy. The Renaissance was a revival of classical ideas, starting in Italy in the 1300’s and spreading abroad. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, an influx of classical Greek literature and other ancient texts made their rounds through Europe (class notes). This further excited scholars and helped them go “ad fontes.”[iii] God was using “secular” movements to propel the church into reformation.

Rumblings of a Reformation

Far before the Protestant Reformation, many people found the Roman Catholic Church in error and sought to reform or distance themselves from her. Four men that require attention are Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Hus, and Erasmus of Rotterdam. Peter Waldo and his followers, the Waldensians, would translate bibles so that lay people could read them. The Waldensians did not first seek overthrow the church but to supply it with closer obedience to Jesus and the Gospel. They became increasingly anti-sacerdotal and anti-sacramental. They later became a part of the Reformed branch.

John Wycliffe and his followers, the Lollards, believed that the Roman Catholic Church was not the true church. The true church were the saints predestined to salvation. They differed with Rome on several doctrines including transubstantiation, confession, indulgences, and faith.[iv] His bones were dug up and burned after his condemnation at the Council of Constance. John Huss and the Hussites taught that the Bible was the ultimate authority of the Church, not the pope, councils, or tradition. He emphasized biblical preaching. He was also condemned at the Council of Constance and burned.[v]

God used those other reformers tremendously, but Erasmus of Rotterdam would become the foundation of the Protestant Reformation. He was known as the “Prince of Humanists.”[vi] His Greek New Testament of 1516 would be the document to help the other reformers dig into Scripture to see where the Vulgate and church had erred. All of these men show that there was a spirit of a reformation long before 1517.

The Perfect Storm of October 31, 1517

All of the corruption, new scholarship, and a growing sense of needed reform were all swelling near the eye of the storm in Wittenberg, Germany. Martin Luther was not a man of any significance at the time. He was the son of upwardly mobile parents who were harsh with him;[vii] his father had wanted him to study law, but after a thunderstorm, he decided to join an Augustinian monastery called The Black Cloister;[viii] he eventually transferred to Wittenberg because of complex monastic politics.[ix] While at Wittenberg, Luther began lecturing through books of the Bible. He was stuck on the phrase “the righteousness of God.”[x] One day, as he was pondering it, he had his famous “Tower Experience” where he understood righteousness as something God gives to those who have faith.[xi] This would fuel his doctrinal stance against indulgences which would have a lasting impact on the church.

John Tetzel, under the authority of Pope Leo X,[xii] had come to Germany to sell indulgences for the finishing of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome.[xiii] Tetzel’s selling tactics are infamous for being quite scandalous.[xiv] Luther knew what was going on, and he was taking note. His note was the Ninety-five Theses. Though the primary subject was that of indulgences, the secondary charge was the unbiblical authority the pope wielded.[xv] He nailed this Latin document to the Castle Church of Wittenberg,[xvi] and the floodgates were opened. It was translated into German and printed by all the local printing presses, spreading to the general population, scholars, and rulers already disgruntled with Rome.

Luther would be summoned several times to defend or recant of his beliefs.[xvii] After Leo X put off handling Luther in other ways to no avail, he excommunicated him after Luther burned the papal bull giving him sixty days to recant. In 1521, The Diet of Worms convened with the new Holy Roman Emperor Charles V presiding over it. Many objectives were on the agenda but Luther was one. After his first day of hearing, Luther was asked to recant. He pleaded for a day of deliberation. His request was granted and on the second day, he was asked again. In no few words,[xviii] Luther did not recant and said, “On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”[xix] He was condemned a heretic, but Fredrick the Wise had arranged for him to be hidden at the Wartburg Castle, where Luther had some of his most productive yet torturous days.[xx]

Many Raindrops Make a Flood

Luther may be a towering figure of the Reformation, but he was not alone. Running parallel and even beyond Luther were other “heretics” and movements that lasted much longer than the 16th century. Four worth noting here are Zwingli, the Anabaptists, Henry VIII, and Calvin. Ulrich Zwingli was the Swiss Reformation leader. This reformation was essentially independent of the German Reformation but was a part of the general ethos of the time. Zwingli sparked the reformation by his own preaching and teaching of Greek. The Zurich city council sided with Zwingli on several key doctrinal issues before finally breaking with Rome.[xxi] Zwingli sought to change many of the church’s practices, not just doctrines unlike Luther.[xxii]

The Anabaptists originated as followers of Zwingli, but took his teachings further than he was willing to go. They were a part of a larger movement called the Radical Reformation.[xxiii] Anabaptists believed in complete separation of church and state, a believer’s church, and ultimate authority in Scripture. Other reformation groups saw them as heretics.[xxiv] The first known believer’s church in centuries was founded by them January 21, 1525. They are the ancestors of many mainline and evangelical denominations today, including Southern Baptists.

The Reformation in England happened more out of defiance of the Pope than devotion to Scripture. Henry VIII, king of England, wanted to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Spain’s powerful monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand, since she had not borne him a male heir. After the pope would not annul their marriage for more political reasons,[xxv] Henry VIII had the Parliament enact the Act of Supremacy that officially broke England from Rome by making him head of the English Church in 1534 (class notes). Henry VIII did little to truly reform the church, but his sons and daughters who ruled after him did much.[xxvi] The strongest was Elizabeth I (1558-1603). She enacted the “Elizabethan Settlement” which made the Anglican Church a via media of Protestantism and Catholicism. Other groups arose to further reform the Anglican Church in various ways.[xxvii]

John Calvin was a second generation reformer in Geneva. Calvin sought to systematize Protestant teachings by writing the Institutes of the Christian Religion as a handbook with six chapters in 1536. By its final edition in 1560, it had grown to four books with eighty chapters.[xxviii] By 1554 in Geneva, Calvin essentially ruled as head (class notes). Calvin’s Geneva became a refuge for other Protestants fleeing persecution.[xxix] He was strict in church discipline and studies.[xxx] He instated the Genevan Academy under Theodore Beza, which became a fountain gushing Protestant theology throughout Europe.

The Spring of a New Age

Not all places in Europe were safe havens for Protestants like Calvin’s Geneva. The Roman Catholic Church was doing all they could do to squash the movement. The amount of blood spilt by both parties over the Reformation remains a horrible stain on the church.[xxxi] However, the result of all those struggles came the rise of nation states and religious freedom. Thanks to the washing rain of Erasmus, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and the Radical Reformers, the world has a clearer picture of God. Thanks to the Spirit empowering all the nameless men and women who gave their lives for their conviction of biblical authority, the whole and parts of the Bible are translated into 3,223 languages.[xxxii] Thanks to scholars, professors, rulers, and ordinary people who knew the church was not who she should be, 59.4% of the world’s people groups are considered reached for the gospel.[xxxiii] Twenty-first century, Protestant Christians should take courage in anything that may come, for they have a lush heritage of God-loving, Bible-believing, corruption-defying reformers.

Footnotes for deeper understanding–

[i] The Western Schism (1378-1417) had severely hurt the credibility and authority of the papacy.

[ii] Indulgences were a practice by the Roman Catholic Church that relieved the buyer of “punishment for temporal sins.” Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, “The Bull Unigenitus of Clement VI, 1343.” Documents of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 194-195. Simony was the buying and selling of clerical offices.

[iii] This is a Latin phrase meaning “to the sources.” It became the unofficial slogan of the Renaissance.

[iv]  Galli, M., & Olsen, T. 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000. 212.

[v] This whole paragraph was pulled heavily from both class notes and Alan Kreider “Protest and renewal: Reformers before the Reformation” ChristianityToday.com (accessed March 15, 2017) http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-9/protest-and-renewal-reformers-before-reformation.html

[vi] Humanists in this sense should not be confused with the secular humanists of the 21st century. Here, humanist means someone devoted to the humanities; someone wanting to uphold the classical writings. Justo Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. 14.

[vii] James M. Kittelson, and Hans H. Wiersma. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016. 4-5.

[viii] Kittleson, 15-19.

[ix] Kittleson, 25-27.

[x] He was not just “stuck,” he hated the phrase because of its medieval interpretation of active righteousness of God. Luther said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Timothy F Lull and William Russell, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings Third Edition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012. 496-497.

[xi] The words Luther uses to describe this experience are powerful: “At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.'” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’ Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Lull, 497.

[xii] Leo X was the son of Lorenzo de Medici, or Lorenzo the Magnificent. The Medici family ran the wealthy bank in Europe at the time. Leo X’s family had bought his way into the papacy. Leo X is seen as one of the most corrupt popes in history. “Leo X.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Encyclopedia.com. (accessed March 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/leo-x

[xiii] How Tetzel got to Germany is quite complicated. Basically, Rome was in great debt because of past popes. Leo X wanted to get out of that so he started greatly pushing indulgences because it was quick and easy money. There was a particular man in Germany part of the Hohenzollern family, by the name of Albert, wanting his third bishopric in Mainz. This was the archbishopric of Germany, which would grant him to be one of the seven electors who elected the emperor. This required paying Leo X roughly $300,000 in today’s money. However, not to be outdone by others who wanted it, Albert put up $550,000. The Fugger Bank of Germany fronted the money to Albert for the archbishopric. To pay the Fuggers back and to gain extra money for St. Peters, Leo X sent Tetzel to Germany. This information is a synoptic of Kittelson, 65, Gonzalez, 26-27, and Fredrick Noll, Martin Luther: Hero of Faith. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1962. 27.

[xiv] “Tetzel and his preachers were heard announcing that the indulgences that they sold made a sinner ‘cleaner than when coming out of baptism,’ and ‘cleaner than Adam and Eve before the Fall,’ and that ‘the cross of the seller of indulgences has as much power as the cross of Christ.’ Those who wished to buy an indulgence for a loved one who was deceased were promised that, ‘as soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.’” Gonzalez, 27.

[xv] This is seen in several of the theses including, “26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.” (emphasis mine) Lull, 9.

[xvi] Some scholars dispute this. Their evidence is that Luther never mentioned nailing the 95 Theses to the church door. The first appearance of this event comes in the writings of Phillip Melanchthon. Though he was an extremely close friend of Luther’s, he could not have been an eye witness. Also, it is a fact that Luther mailed the 95 Theses to the bishops of the area on October 31, 1517. If he would have nailed it to the church door on the same day without awaiting a response and dialogue, this would have been an open defiance of his superiors, which he would have been unlikely to do. “Legends about Luther: Nailing the 95 Theses” Luther.de (accessed March 19, 2017) http://www.luther.de/en/legenden/tanschl.html.

[xvii] Some of these included the Heidelberg Disputation that was Leo X’s attempt for the Augustinians to handle their own monk. They ended up generally agreeing with Luther, and it was a success for Luther. He also had interviews with Cardinal Cajetan. Cajetan’s sole purpose was to get him to recant. These interviews turned into heated arguments over the authority of the pope.  They were largely unproductive. Karl von Miltitz was sent to take Luther back to Rome. His meeting with Fredrick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, made him essentially warm up to Luther. After a meeting with Luther, they agreed that if a German bishop could find anything biblically wrong with Luther’s writings, he would gladly recant. Then came the Leipzig debate with John Eck, professor at the University of Ingolstadt. The debate centered around how the papacy came to be, and the theological divide became evident: Luther’s primary source was Scripture, Eck’s were council rulings and church tradition. Eck made Luther identify himself with John Hus, who was tried by the Council of Constance as a heretic and burned.

[xviii] His closing statement was: “Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.” Bettenson, 214.

[xix] Bettenson, 214.

[xx] He translated the Bible into German, but also had horrible cases of constipation.

[xxi]  Issues such as the use of statues in the church, purgatory, worship, Lord’s Supper, and baptism were all discussed at these meetings, which would side with Zwingli over the RCC (class notes).

[xxii] This is said with some nuance. Obviously, Luther did want to change some practices, but not have a complete overhaul of the church. Zwingli believed in giving the communion cup back to the laity, and changing worship entirely. He believed that if it was not explicitly commanded in the Bible, then it should not be done. Gonzalez, 61. Some would even say that whole of the Protestant Reformation “can be rightly described as a reformation of worship in the church.” Jeffrey K. Jue, “The Centrality of Worship.” Tabletalk, October 2016.

[xxiii] The Radical Reformation was broad and had many different sects. However, the main ones were the Spiritualists, the Rationalists, and the Anabaptists (class notes).

[xxiv]  Gonzalez, 85.

[xxv] Catherine was the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s aunt. Charles V had the pope, Clement VII, under his thumb. Annulling Catherine and Henry’s marriage would have alienated Charles and caused a rift. Gonzalez, 88.

[xxvi] “Did much” is a gross understatement. Edward VI, who was far more devout than his father, published the Book of Common Prayer, which gave unity to the English church. Mary took the throne next. She reverted England back to Catholicism in 1554. She waged war on the Protestants, killing roughly 300, 200 of them being Anabaptists. Many protestants fled to Geneva. When they returned later, they brought with them Calvin’s teachings (class notes).

[xxvii] One such group was the Puritans. They retained that the Anglican Church was the true church but needed to be purified. Another was the Separatists. They saw the Anglican Church as a false church and true Christians should separate themselves from it. The last group was the Independents. They believed similarly to the Separatists but were less hostile in their position (class notes).

[xxviii] Gonzalez, 78-80.

[xxix]  Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. 260.

[xxx] This is evident in the burning of Michael Severtus in 1553. Shelley, 260.

[xxxi] The wars between Protestants and Catholics (also those influenced by the reforming ethos) throughout Europe during this time are completely embarrassing. Some of the main ones include: The Peasants’ War (1524-1525), First and Second Wars of Kappel (1529, 1531), The Fall of Munzter (1534-1535), The Schmalkaldic Wars (1546–1555), The French Wars of Religion (1562–1629) which include St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (August 1572), The Dutch Revolt (1567–1648), The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) which was the bloodiest in European history until WW1, and then several wars on the British Isles (1560–1651). As mentioned earlier, not every war on this list had religion as its main issue. However, to view these wars without considering the role religion played in them would be irresponsible. David J. B. Trim, “The Reformation and Wars of Religion.” Liberty Magazine. May/June 2010. (accessed March 19, 2017) http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/the-reformation-and-wars-of-religion.

[xxxii] “Scripture & Language Statistics 2016” Wycliffe.net (accessed March 19, 2017). http://www.wycliffe.net/statistics.

[xxxiii] “Global Statistics” joshuaproject.net (accessed March 19, 2017). https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/statistics.

Men, Lead Out In Prayer!

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;” (1 Ti 2:8)

According to Paul, men are to put away petty differences and anger. Instead of fighting, they are to pray with one another. Paul gives this command to the men instead of the women because as one commentator says,

“As a general rule, men are more likely to agitate the church…they are critical and competitive. They tend to argue first and listen later. They would rather be right than be reconciled. They get angry when they don’t get their way. So the Bible reminds Christian men not to fight.”[1]

Competitive and Dominate

Men, you know this is true. Being competitive and dominate is what comes naturally. When we don’t win or come out on top, we are more likely to get angry and fight with one another. As Christian men, however, we aren’t supposed to fight and burst out in anger at one another. Instead, as Paul tells us, we are to be spiritual leaders, who lead out in prayer.

Freed by the Gospel

While being a spiritual leader who leads out in prayer might be difficult and unnatural, it’s possible because the gospel has changed us. It has freed us to love others more than ourselves, to forgive and let go, to lift others up and work alongside them.

What the Church and Country Needs

Honestly, prayer is what the church needs. It especially needs men who are willing to lead spiritually, and specifically, to lead in the area of prayer. Men, we can’t abdicate our responsibility any longer to the women in the church. We must lead as God has called us to lead.

I am sure other pastors in other times have said this but I am going to say it now in our time.

Men, if we want our country and community to change, if we want to see people come to Jesus, we have to be spiritual leaders who are leading out in prayer.

I am not just talking to Pastors, Deacons, and Sunday School teachers. I am talking to all men. All of us need to be spiritual leaders, who are leading out in prayer.

Challenge

With that in mind, then, let me issue a challenge to the men in the church. The next time you are with a group of men, your family, or your church family and the conversation turns to a discussion about what needs to change in this country, instead of joining into that discussion, I want you to stop and lead them in prayer. I want you to do that because just talking about what needs to change isn’t going to change anything, but you praying with others will.

Jeremiah Lanphier

If you aren’t convinced, consider the story of Jeremiah Lanphier. He lived in New York City in the 1850’s. New York City wasn’t much different then than it is today. It was a place full of sin. Corruption, gambling, greed, atheism, and apathy toward God ran rampant.

Instead of continuing to complain, Lanphier decided to do something. Believing in the power of prayer, he put an ad in the newspaper calling for a weekly prayer meeting. The first meeting began with six men praying that the Lord would do a work in their city and the world. As they continued to meet, something amazing happened. Within six months, over 10,000 people were gathering daily, instead of weekly, to pray over the lunch hour for their city and the country. Their prayers lit a fire of mass revival [2].

It all started with on man’s burden and an ad calling others to join him in prayer. You see, prayer is powerful. It changes things. So men, let’s be the spiritual leaders God has called us to be and lead out in prayer. The gospel has freed us to do that, so let’s do it.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you realize the gospel frees you to be a spiritual leader?
  2. Are you leading out in prayer in your family and church?

Resources

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[1]  Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 78.

[2] Adapted from this article: http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/577

New Testament Backgrounds For Beginners: Conclusion

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Editor’s Note: This series is for those who want to better understand the New Testament’s historical-cultural background. You can find previous posts in this series here.

It’s rather embarrassing to admit that I’m just now finishing this series after beginning it in November. And I’m not just now finishing it because of the wealth of material I’ve been producing. My last post in this series was December 8th. But, alas, I have finally gotten around to finishing what I’ve started.

This post will be pretty straightforward. I’m simply going to provide a list of books which I think are very helpful for someone who is ready to dive deeper in to the New Testament’s historical-cultural context. I have listed these from easiest to hardest, so the order below is by design. I hope that you will find these helpful!

One final reminder before we get to the list: rejoice in the fact that our faith is rooted in actual history. Some believers I have met bemoan the fact that we need this type of context in order to understand certain passages of the Bible. Don’t. It is superbly glorious that the events and situations recorded in the New Testament happened in real time and space. In actual, documentable history. We do not have a God who operates only in the theoretical or speculative realm. We have a God who stepped out of heaven and invaded human history to make Himself known. The gospels record this invasion and the epistles record how we are now to live in light of it.

Okay, with that reminder in place, let’s get to our list.

1. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, ed. by Craig Keener & John Walton
This work is an absolute gem. If you’re looking for a study Bible, I strongly urge you to consider this one. Rather than dictating to you what a given verse may mean, this Bible provides you, the reader, with the necessary background information for you to actually engage with the text and discern its meaning.

2. Zondervan Atlas Of The Bible
There are many great bible atlases available. The reason I like this one is because of the amazing graphics used in developing the maps. Rather than just the having the topical maps we’re use to seeing, where everything looks flat, this atlas is filled with maps which view the terrain at an angle, helping you to see notable changes in topography, such as mountain ranges and valleys.

3. New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Ed.
This book is exhaustive in its treatment of terms, plot motifs, customs, and historical contexts found within the pages of Scripture. For example, how did the Pharisees develop as a group during the Intertestamental period? After all, the word “Pharisee” occurs nowhere in the Old Testament. Buy this book and find out.

4. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, ed. by Clinton Arnold
This set is great for really entering into the world of the first century. I particularly appreciate the fact that it is replete with references to Jewish works written during the Second Temple Period.

5. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
Another great background commentary, written by one of my favorite scholars, Dr. Craig Keener.

6. The Greco-Roman World Of The New Testament Era: Exploring The Background of Early Christianity
This book (and the two which follow) is not in any way a commentary. Rather, it reads more like a general history of the New Testament period, with particular emphasis on its Greco-Roman background (hence, the title). It also explores different facets of ancient life, such as what it was like to live in a city in the Roman Empire versus the country, how the ancients viewed gender roles, how they viewed a cosmos which, to them, teemed with supernatural entities.

7. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament
I really enjoyed this one and I think you’ll find its content both enjoyable and very accessible. In my view, the most important context for understanding the New Testament is its Jewish context (over against its Greco-Roman context) and this book will guide you into that world.

8. Backgrounds Of Early Christianity, 3rd Ed.
Weighing in at 620 pages, this book is definitely the heftiest of the last three. This book is chock-full of information regarding the New Testament’s Greco-Roman and Jewish backgrounds. I really enjoyed his chapter dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls, As enjoyable as this book is, I would recommend starting with the previous two before trying to tackle this one.


Well, that officially wraps this series up. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and, more importantly, I hope it has encouraged you to read the Bible in light of its historical-cultural contexts.

What is the Bible and What is it For? – Part 4

When I was in Middle School, we bought our first personal computer. I believe it was a Packard Bell. At the time I didn’t know much about computers. We had them at school and used them a little bit to play Oregon Trail, but I hadn’t taken a typing class or a class on how to use any of the programs yet.

I remember looking at the keyboard for the first time. I knew what the letters and numbers did. Delete and enter were self-explanatory, as was Caps Lock, but I had no idea what the other keys did, which meant they weren’t all that useful to me until I learned what they did and what they were for.

In a similar way, we may look at the Bible and ask: What is the Bible and what’s it for? Until we are able to answer that question, it is not going to be all that useful to us just like those other keys on the keyboard weren’t all that useful to me.

What is the Bible and What is it for?

(4) The Bible Can Tell Us How We, As the People of God, Can Live in God’s On-Going Story

As we immerse ourselves in Scripture our knowledge of ourselves and God will grow. In the process, we will be formed into the type of people God wants. That’s because, as Paul tells us in verses 16 and 17,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Ti 3:16–17)

Now notice that Paul tells us it is “all scripture” that is inspired and profitable, which means we can’t just pick and choose to follow this text but not that one. Instead, we have to allow the whole Bible to influence how we live. When we do that, we will find that the Bible does a number of things.

  • It Teaches us
  • Reproves us
  • Corrects us
  • Trains us in righteousness.

First, It Teaches us 

By this, Paul means that the Bible is able to teach us about God, His plan, His Savior, as well as it teaches us about ourselves, our church, our family, and the world in which we live. The Bible teaches us about all those things and more. Which is why I said earlier that if we want to know who we are we must look to the Bible instead of within or to our culture. The Bible tells us who we are as it teaches us all these different things.

Second, It Reproves us  

It tells us if we have done, taught, or thought something wrong. As one commentator puts it,

“Scripture can show sinners their failures, clarify [their] mistakes, and lead them to a new sense of peace and wholeness.”

Third, It Corrects us  

The Bible doesn’t just point out what we have done wrong, it goes a step further and directs us to the behavior, thinking, or teaching that’s inline with God’s will.

Lastly, It Trains us in righteousness 

This phrase means that Scripture provides us with a system of teaching and discipline that develops Christian character so that over time we grow to be more like Christ.

The result of all this teaching, reproving, correcting, and training is that we are made complete or mature, and we are equipped for every good work. In other words, as we immerse ourselves in the Bible, and allow it to have influence over us, we will be taught how we are to live as God’s people within His story. So if we want to follow Jesus and live how He wants us to live, and we should if we are Christians, then must read His Word. By doing so, we will be taught how to live as God’s people within His story.

Conclusion

So that is what the Bible is and what it does:

  • It’s a unified story that points us to Jesus.
  • It tells us the real story of human history.
  • It is a divine human word through which God’s Word is revealed to us.
  • It tell us how we, as God’s people, can live in His ongoing story.

Since the Bible is and does all those things: It’s useful to us. It’s relevant. It’s a book worth spending our time and mental energy reading.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you turn to the Bible to determine how you can live in God’s ongoing story?

Resources

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Post adapted from my sermon: What is the Bible and What Does it Tell Us?

What is the Bible and What is it For? – Part 3

When I was in Middle School, we bought our first personal computer. I believe it was a Packard Bell. At the time I didn’t know much about computers. We had them at school and used them a little bit to play Oregon Trail, but I hadn’t taken a typing class or a class on how to use any of the programs yet.

I remember looking at the keyboard for the first time. I knew what the letters and numbers did. Delete and enter were self-explanatory, as was Caps Lock, but I had no idea what the other keys did, which meant they weren’t all that useful to me until I learned what they did and what they were for.

In a similar way, we may look at the Bible and ask: What is the Bible and what’s it for? Until we are able to answer that question, it is not going to be all that useful to us just like those other keys on the keyboard weren’t all that useful to me.

What is the Bible and What is it for?

(3) The Bible is a Divine Human Word 

In 2 Timothy 3:16 we learn that:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16a)

Now when Paul says that Scripture is breathed out by God he doesn’t mean God literally wrote with His own hand every word in Scripture and delivered it to man. We know men wrote the Scriptures. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. And the other books were written by other men. So we know that God didn’t just hand us a completed book right out of heaven.

While it is true that men did write the Bible, it’s still said to be God’s Word. 1 Peter 1:20 and 21 give us an idea of how the Bible, which was written by men, is God’s Word. The text says,

“knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pe 1:20–21)

So Peter tells us that the Holy Spirit worked alongside and through men to produce the Word of God. That is how the Bible, which is written by men, is consistent with God’s character and can be said to be His word.

Since the Bible is God’s Word, we can’t just ignore it as if it was something written for people a long time ago. God’s Word is still applicable today. It’s still relevant. It still provides encouragement, joy, and hope. It still teaches and challenges. It still tell us how we are to live.

So the Bible can’t and mustn’t be ignored because it’s God Word to us.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you realize the Bible is God’s Word to you?
  2. How does that realization change your perspective on the Bible?

Resources

Image

Post adapted from my sermon: What is the Bible and What Does it Tell Us?

What is the Bible and What is it For? – Part 2

When I was in Middle School, we bought our first personal computer. I believe it was a Packard Bell. At the time I didn’t know much about computers. We had them at school and used them a little bit to play Oregon Trail, but I hadn’t taken a typing class or a class on how to use any of the programs yet.

I remember looking at the keyboard for the first time. I knew what the letters and numbers did. Delete and enter were self-explanatory, as was Caps Lock, but I had no idea what the other keys did, which meant they weren’t all that useful to me until I learned what they did and what they were for.

In a similar way, we may look at the Bible and ask: What is the Bible and what’s it for? Until we are able to answer that question, it is not going to be all that useful to us just like those other keys on the keyboard weren’t all that useful to me.

What is the Bible and What is it for?

(2) The Bible Tells Us the Real Story of Human History

We all inhabit a story. Our culture tells us that we inhabit a story of our own making. One that we forge ourselves, which is why we are often told, “You can be who you want to be and do what you want to do.”

In order to be who we want to be and do what we want to do, in order to write our own story, we are told that we have to discover ourselves. Our culture tells us that we discover who we are by looking within.

While that sounds great, it’s not true. If we look within to discover who we are and begin writing our story based on what we find, it is going to be one messed up, self-absorbed story. All you have to do is look at people’s Facebook or Twitter feeds to know that’s true.

You see, we are messed up people, who have been corrupted by sin, so instead of looking within, we need to look outside of ourselves. By outside of ourselves, I don’t mean to our culture. It’s just as messed up as we are because we make up the culture. Instead, we have to look beyond ourselves and our culture to God.

God’s Story

We look to God not only because He is perfect and able to reveal the truth to us, but also because it’s His story that we inhabit. Listen to what the Psalmist says in Psalm 33,

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” (Ps 33:6–12)

We inhabit God’s story. A story that began in Genesis chapter 1 with God creating the world and everything in it and one that culminates in Revelation 22 with God’s people inhabiting a New Heavens and New Earth for all eternity. So if we want to find ourselves, if we want to know our true identity, we must read the Bible because it provides the real story of human history.

Four Main Acts

The Bible’s story can be broken down into four main acts.

  • Creation
  • Fall
  • Redemption
  • Recreation

You see, we weren’t created by a time plus chance evolutionary process. Instead, we were created by God. After man was created, he was placed in a perfect garden and given dominion over all the earth. But man rebelled, which is why we and the world we inhabit is so corrupt and messed up.

God’s Faithfulness

But even though we rebelled against God, He didn’t abandon us. Instead, He sent a Savior to redeem us and make a way for us to once again enjoy a relationship with Him. The Savior is Jesus, who came, died on the cross for our sins, resurrected on the third day defeating death, and ascended into heaven to sit on His throne. One day, Jesus will return and set everything right. After Jesus’ return, we will once again live with God for all eternity in a perfect world.

Now, that’s quick, but that’s the barebones story of the Bible. A story we inhabit. So if we want to learn more about who we are, we don’t look within, instead, we look outside ourselves to God’s Word — the Bible. It tells us who we really are, how this world can be fixed, and what our hope for the future is.

Question for Reflection

  1. What is the real story of human history to you? Is it the biblical story? If not, why?

Resources

Image

Post adapted from my sermon: What is the Bible and What Does it Tell Us?