According to the Riches of His Grace

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…" -Ephesians 1:7-8

Month: November, 2014

Cultural Context and the Bible

Let me give you a little Bible reading tip: Understand that you are reading a document from the past and not our current day.

On Thanksgiving, I was with my family and one of my uncles was talking about the Bible. He referenced the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. A brief synopsis of the story: They are husband and wife. They sell their land and bring part of the money to Peter to use for ministry, but they lie and tell him  that they brought all that they got from it. God strikes them dead. They are taken out and buried.

My uncle described it that they were taken outback of the church building and buried in the church cemetery…..and that’s how he understood the story. The trouble is that in the early church, they didn’t have church buildings or church cemeteries. It was a house church movement and they wouldn’t have even been able to build churches with the opposition to Christianity.

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Yeah, the backwoods of Kentucky might have small churches with cemeteries out back, but first century Jerusalem didn’t. You can’t read Acts 5 with small town Kentucky as your setting.

If you want to understand the Bible properly, you have to understand it in the context of the culture and time that it was written. For example, Deuteronomy is written like that of a Hittite treaty. This doesn’t affect the inspiration of Scripture. It simply means that Moses was smart enough to write it in a way that would hit home with his readers in a way they understood.

Revelation is a huge compilation of Old Testament passages. Sometimes a description of Jesus will include imagery from Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah all in the same sentence! It is also written during Roman oppression of Christians. John wrote Revelation in a way that would appeal to his readers, pulling from all these things.

There is a danger that comes with cultural context in Bible study because sometimes people make it more supreme than the text itself. This must never happen. But the text must be understood in the context of where and when it was written.

In the same way that if I read a news article about the invention of a new social media network, I’d never read it with a 14th century cultural understanding, since social media wasn’t a thing then.

Rethinking Christian “Fellowship”

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I’ve been to a lot of “fellowships” in my time as a Christian. Super Bowl fellowships. Swimming fellowships. Basketball fellowships. Disney fellowships. Movie fellowships. Halloween fellowships.

They were all great and I had a ton of fun. Some of my best friendships were built at those. But I don’t know if we can call it a fellowship. Sure, it was Christians hanging out together, but we weren’t doing anything related to our faith. We were watching sports and eating chicken wings. We were dressing up like Disney characters or superheroes. We were watching the Hunger Games.

Christians often say things like, “I am going to the restaurant with you all, but I’m not going to eat. I’m just going for the fellowship.”

I’m not sure the Bible has this kind of mentality on what fellowship is. I’m not sure fellowship in the Bible is the same thing as hanging out with people.

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” -Acts 2:42

“We who had sweet fellowship together walked in the house of God in the throng.” -Psalm 55:14

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” -Philippians 2:1-2

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to hang out with people outside of “Jesus settings” but fellowship is something much deeper than watching the Super Bowl. Fellowship is deeper family time in which brothers and sisters strive to lead each other farther in Christ and grow in him.

Think about it. If you are trying to have fellowship with Christ, you don’t just sit in your living room and say you are hanging out with Jesus. You spend time in the Word. You spend time in prayer. You sing praises. Likewise, the Bible describes Christian fellowship in that way.

“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” -Ephesians 5:19-21

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” -Colossians 3:16

 and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” -Hebrews 10:24-25

Again, I think it is good for Christians to hang out with one another. I do it all the time. But let us seek for our “fellowship” to be more than eating chicken wings and watching television, barely talking because we are caught up in the action on the screen.

Rather, let our fellowship be a time when we encourage one another, build one another up, gracefully get in each others’ faces, and discuss Jesus. All of this so that those in the fellowship can grow to know Jesus and love Jesus more.

14 Signs You are a Hipster Worship Leader

If you look at the younger generation of Christians seeking to be church leaders, you see an overwhelming majority of one particular group of people: Hipsters. A friend of mine described hipsters as people who want to look like they are as smart as nerds without doing the work of being a nerd. A major area this is becoming apparent in is worship leaders. So here are some ways you can tell if you are, or your worship pastor is, a hipster worship leader.

1. Your worship leading outfit consists of at least 3 of the following items:

  • Brown pointed shoes that look like a cross between work boots and dress shoes
  • Tight jeans, with the ankles rolled up
  • Flannel shirts (with either the top two buttons unbuttoned to show your chest hair or all of the buttons buttoned up to the top)
  • A cardigan sweater (bonus points if it is unbuttoned)
  • Big rimmed glasses
  • A toboggan/beanie
  • An untamed beard (think David Crowder or Duck Dynasty minus a few inches)
  • Combed over/slicked back hair
  • A scarf
  • Your hair with the sides cut shorter than the top
  • Optional: Tattoos

2. You have quoted John Piper, CS Lewis, or Valley of Vision more than once while leading worship.

3. Expressive worship is good, but in every worship service, you look like a squirrel is crawling around in your pants.

4. You sing the same 5-15 songs every time you lead worship and they are all either well know hymns or from Sovereign Grace Music.

5. You find a way to bring Calvinism into every worship service.

6. You have thanked God for predestining you to salvation before the foundation of the world.

7. You have led worship while drinking coffee.

8. You have instagrammed your quiet time more than five times in your life.

9. You hold to the theology that all worship songs have to be deeper than half the passages of the Bible.

10. You look down on versions of the Bible like the NLT or the Message.

11. You are really adamant about supporting social causes and missions….on social media.

12. Your preferred Bible translation, no matter the audience is the ESV.

13. You think Chris Tomlin is too mainstream.

14. You swear on your mother’s grave that you are not a hipster.

 

When Your Faith is as Dry as the Desert

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There are few things I hate more than those times in my life when I am in a dry season in my Christian walk. I think I’d rather have a serious head cold than be in one of them.

I just finished my first semester of seminary and during this previous semester, I experienced more dry seasons than I think I ever have. You probably think that is weird, in that I am constantly around Christian people and hearing Christian truth. But don’t forget about your cell phone. If you leave your cell phone on charge for four months, its battery is going to hold a charge for a couple minutes and die. It took in way too much energy and was never able to use it’s energy.

So has been my case at seminary. Being in a new city, I haven’t had much chance to pour out in ministry because I don’t really know the city yet and I am not heavily involved in my church just yet. I have a job on campus, I mostly eat on campus, I do homework on campus, and I live on campus, so I really have no reason to leave campus. Aside from Sunday morning worship, I tend to be on campus the entire week. Even if I were to go off campus, I don’t know what I’d do. Go sit on a bench in the park and wait? Go sit in a coffee shop and watch people around me? How do you do ministry in a new city by yourself?

Psalm 42 makes two statements:

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.

In the same Psalm, the Psalmist says he thirsts for God, but he is having trouble with the health of his soul. Is that how you feel in your walk with Jesus sometimes? It’s my story all the time.

I constantly know in my mind that I want to love Jesus, seek him, and follow him. That rarely leaves my mind. But a lot of the time, my heart and my soul don’t feel like it.

What do you do during those times? How do you overcome it?

You keep pressing on. You fight with everything you have and don’t back down. It won’t be easy. It will likely feel like the most unnatural thing you could experience. Your flesh isn’t going to feel like seeking the Lord. It is unnatural for the flesh to want Jesus. So in those dry seasons, you keep pursuing Jesus, thirsting after him, and offering your heart up to him until the Spirit overpowers your flesh.

When that happens, the waterfall of the richness of Jesus will flood the desert that is your faith and vegetation will begin to grow again.

Christ and the Single Christian

I’ve heard a few sermons on singleness in my lifetime. Not many, but a few (we’ll get to that in a minute). Something that I noticed about all those sermons is that the person preaching it, as they moved their hands for gestures, had the glimmer of a wedding ring shining from their finger.

As a single guy, I felt the same thing all other Christian singles have. “What can you tell me about what it is like to be single when you are married?

Very few sermons on singleness are delivered. Not much teaching is done on it. The Christian books about it are mostly trying to teach you how to get out of it and get married. Singles in churches are often a group that no one really knows what to do with. They are too old for the youth group but they don’t fit in with the young couples. Many singles feel ashamed to be single and they are seeking to get married as soon as possible. I am a seminary student and there is this terrible idea about seminary students that we are looking to have the “ring by spring.”

But what about singleness? If you are like me and are in your twenties, but still aren’t married, how are you supposed to deal as a Christian? Our culture would teach you that real adulthood happens when you get married (or at least shack up with a significant other). Growing up is almost seen to be completed at marriage. If you aren’t married, you are still a child.

But is this really what the Bible teaches? Check out 1 Corinthians 7:25-35. Paul actually tells singles there that they shouldn’t get married! (though he says that is his opinion) Bookstores are full of books on singleness and marriage. The marriage books are trying to help married couples with the problems of marriage. Singleness books are trying to teach singles how to solve all their problems: get married. (Good logic, huh?)

Just a couple facts from the Bible about marriage and singleness.

1. Jesus and Paul were both single. The Son of God and the missionary responsible for getting the Gospel to most of the known world at the time didn’t have wives.

2. After Jesus returns, no one will be married. Marriage is only temporary. In the end, Christ will be married to his church and the meaning of marriage will be shown.

So what do we do? Well, if the sermons of a pastor or teacher who is married won’t satisfy you, let me speak to you as a single Christian to a single Christian. If you are a Christian, you are not defined by whether or not you are married. You are defined by Christ and what he has done for you. It took me over 6 years of being a Christian to figure this out.

The truth is, most people will get married in their lives. A few will be single. A few have what we in the church have started calling “the gift.” But no matter which boat you are in, don’t wait until marriage to be who God wants you to be.

So single Christians, do not wait for marriage to serve the Lord. You are responsible to do that now. He wants to use you to reach people with the Gospel maybe in your own neighborhood or maybe on the other side of the world. You must lay down your relationship status at the feet of Jesus and allow him to do whatever he wants with it. The Christian must be fully surrendered to Christ no matter what.

I know this is hard. Do I want to get married in my life? You bet. Am I going to be sorry if it never happens? No. If I die single, I’m not going to step into the presence of Jesus and say, “Come on, Jesus! You didn’t let me get married!” Do you know why? I’ll be captured by his beauty and I’ll realize there was something even greater. And I’ll fall at his feet and say, “Never once did you fail me.”

He is worth it. Will you lay your singleness at his feet and surrender it to him?