My church is soon to begin a residency program with a pretty awesome reading list. While I may have had a hand in selecting titles, that doesn’t mean I have read and/or possess all of said titles. Never one to shirk from book-acquisition, these came in the mail today:
Looking forward to getting into “Only a Prayer Meeting” first!
If you treasure Jesus and long to follow him better, then can I make a blunt request? Avoid the teaching of Steven Furtick and Elevation Church.
Why so direct, today? This was in my feed over lunch break:
Besides the preaching of the local body of Christ, there are a lot of great resources out there for building our faith, extending our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and disciple one another towards Jesus. There are simply too many good resources to take in even a snack-diet of Furtick’s brand of false teaching.
Maybe these words are just unfortunate. But I can’t wrap my head around a minister of the Gospel using the words “Following Jesus doesn’t change you…” This is the opposite of the gospel! Having a right understanding of how God sees us is absolutely essential. God loves us, that much is clear. But that doesn’t mean that the righteous judge doesn’t see us exactly as we are, as rebellious sinners in need of a savior.
From Jesus’ Lips
In my local body, we are currently in a series going through the Gospel of John. We will hit chapter 3 this coming Lord’s Day and I want to offer a preview of Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in this context: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God…That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” (John 3:3, 6-7)
Jesus calls for something beyond explanation, something more than having a better, “healthier” grasp of God’s thoughts toward us. He says that something truly marvelous must be done to make our trajectory compatible with the kingdom of God. Following Jesus certainly reveals who I’ve been all along, as the Spirit continually reveals how deeply implanted my desire for sin is, how manipulative and treasonous my flesh, and yet the depth of God’s love and mercy. If we saw ourselves through God’s eyes, apart from Christ, I think we would most likely be led to tears, rather than joyful self-assurance.
From Paul’s Pen
Paul says much the same in his “second” letter to the Corinthians:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (bold mine)
Paul tells us that we are new creations. We are not the same! Contrary to Furtick’s “help that is no help”, thank you, Jesus, we are changed into something else! What I have been is defeated and nailed to the cross. God’s work of reconciliation in Christ has powerfully made all things new. But with that, Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors. Jesus died to make us become something we were not, and could never be – the righteousness of God. His death and resurrection is transformational. It tells us not only how much God values us, but how much it cost to make us his own.
So, as a pastor, when I read Furtick’s words, I weep at what must be the outcome of such teaching: A weak gospel proclamation. A faith focused on personal fulfillment and emotional well-being but devoid of spiritual growth and dependence on the body of Christ. A worship that is self-congratulatory, neglecting to praise God for his justice in salvation.
With all that said, my prayer is, whether you have just chanced upon this blog or know me well, whether you are a long-time follower of Jesus or are simply wondering who Jesus is, that you would truly be a disciple of Jesus, changed by his limitless grace, by the power of God that raised Jesus from the grave and calls us to die that we might live.
And, find pastors and teachers who will faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus, rather than feel-good self-actualization. Steven Furtick simply doesn’t fit the bill.
Continuing what I began last week, I wanted to give you a little taste of what sabbatical has involved this week. Still a bunch of reading, but other stuff, too! God has been speaking through it all, answering prayers for wisdom and understanding, while at the same time challenging me in areas that I haven’t fully considered or in some ways hadn’t dared to consider.
I’ve continued to keep ahead with my Hebrew work. I’m really enjoying Hebrew! The approach taken by the author (the professor) is quite engaging. The workbook is really helpful for cementing ideas after doing the memory work.
I continue to make daily progress on 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. The readings on the voice of prophesy were great. Today, I started in on “The Voice of Wisdom”. The way the author sets Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes in contrast to one another was insightful, to say the least. Looking forward to seeing it fleshed out this week (and maybe just a little more from Song of Solomon)! This has been a great resource in daily engaging with Scripture.
As well, I am progressing through The Path to Being a Pastor. This is a really good book. It has been convicting, encouraging, and altogether challenging so far, and I am only a third of the way in.
Today, in coordination with our church’s week of missional focus, I began Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus. I’m only through the introduction, but J. Mack Stiles is already challenging and winsomely engaging the reader. As a side-note, I will say that John Power, who gave the sermon this morning, did a really good job. Also, all those who read Scripture came prepared and did an awesome job of doing more than reading – but really helping the congregation engage the Word.
On a more restful note, I have also taken some time for some fiction, with Asimov’s The End of Eternity and Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings. Both authors do a great job at building worlds and capturing people.
And, as a final note on “rest”, after some grueling work getting the room clean and the puzzle table in place, I started a puzzle for the first time in a while. It’s going to be beautiful, although for now, I must say it is maddening. The pieces are not very firmly connected, so they shift really easily. Also, the distinction between pieces can be quite unclear. It will be slower-going than intended!
So, onward to week 3. And thinking on a number of themes that God brought together this week, I’ll leave you with this from Deuteronomy 6:
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…
So, today was the first Sunday of my September sabbatical. It’s been a restful time so far, and that time has also been put to some good use! Thought I’d stop a moment each Sunday and consider the week. Primarily, this is a help to me, helping me remember what God is doing.
So, for starters, there has been a bunch of prayer. Prayer for my local church, prayer for my wife and kids, prayer for direction. Especially, I’ve been in prayer asking God to raise up leaders and servants, and to provide opportunities for purposeful discipleship.
I actually jump-started my sabbatical finishing one of my first reading goals. The book in question was Leeman’s Church Membership. I shared a couple quotes and thoughts here and here. Great book, if you are looking for something to help you think through meaningful membership.
I followed that up with another book in the same series, Dever’s Discipling. You can find some thoughts I posted here. Also a good read, with some great motivation for discipling with purpose, especially as it approached the final chapters.
I’m keeping up daily with 6 Ways the Old Testament Speaks Today. Last week, I commented on how he addressed worship. Today, I began the next “voice”, the voice of prophecy. I’m excited to get into the daily “devotional” portion, as last week bible readings were great reminders of how God calls us into worship.
I sprinted ahead in my Hebrew textbook, finally stopping at chapter 12. That basically got me through the Qal-stem forms (qatal, yiqtol, weqatal, and wayyiqtol, plus the infinitive construct). Now to go back and do some more systematic review. I’m still much further back in the workbook. I’ve also been busy loading up my Anki deck. Anki has really helped with memorization of vocabulary. Debating if I should put time into using SIL’s FLEx to begin capturing nominal/verbal system rules…debating if it is worth the time/effort. I haven’t done much with infixing in the tool, which would be critical.
I helped my father-in-law find a Bible translation that was good for reading. He specifically was looking for one that would be good for reading more for the fuller story, the flow. A nice, cheap HCSB arrived more quickly than I could have imagined.
The family spent the long weekend up in the North Carolina mountains visiting Kim’s parents, “camping” out in the front yard. Also a lot of hikes with the dogs. It’s been a blast, but tomorrow we will head back home.
Well, that is a lot! But it honestly has been quite restful. Getting some time set aside for determined reading means books are no longer building dust on the shelf, which is a weight off the shoulders! If you find the right moment, pray for me, that I might continue to use my time wisely.
In my last class, I picked up 6 Ways The Old Testament Speaks Today by Alec Motyer. It was meant as a book the student could read and review for extra credit. I fully intended, though I had no need ultimately, to do the extra credit. But, my failure to plan my time then means I have a great book now that I can use devotionally for a much more leisurely paced venture.
Each of the main chapters addresses a particular “voice” in the Old Testament. They begin with a summary of the idea, then 6 days of bible readings and discussion, plus more readings in the back of the book for deeper digging. I had already completed the first two chapters, “The Voice of History” and “The Voice of Religion”, so now I’m tackling chapter 3, “The Voice of Worship”.
I’ve loved Motyer’s manner so far, but the first day’s Bible reading for “worship” really captured my attention. Motyer sends the reader to Genesis 4:1-15, the account of Cain and Able. I must admit that when I think of dwelling on worship in the Old Testament, my mind doesn’t (or didn’t) race to this story in Genesis 4. As Motyer notes, this story “is one of the many places where we really wish the Bible gave us more information.” (p.67)
Motyer briefly walks the reader through some options for understanding the naming of Cain and the implications of God’s words to Cain in verses 6 and 7. There is a brief consideration of the type of Cain’s offering, finally turning to the “disposition of the offerer”, the fact that unlike Cain, Abel appears to go out of his way to offer the best portions.
Which brings me to the following:
If we are at all moving along the right lines (and at least it all concurs with what we learn throughout the Bible), then as a basic rule, worship must rest on, and be obedient to, a previously revealed will of God. We are not free to be self-pleasing. Worship is not an area in which personal choice and what we might find “helpful” are in order. As Calvin remarks on Matthew 15:9, “True religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard.” Jesus was, if anything, sharper: worship that is no more than a human device is “vain” (Matt. 15:9). This was the pit into which Cain fell, where arrogance, pride, and sinful animosity bound him and turned him into a brother-hating murderer (1 John 3:11-15). And indeed, we need to keep our traditions of worship constantly under review, with ceaseless reformation and adjustment according to the Word of God, lest our coming together be condemnation rather than a blessing.
6 Ways the Old Testamant Speaks Today, pp.67-68
This hit me pretty hard this morning. In what ways might I turn away from proper worship? Is it devotion to a particular style? The demand for a certain level of performance or execution? A desire to cling to tried-and-true patterns, or the warmth of nostalgia? Or maybe a persistent search for the new, different or unique. It brings up a lot of questions!
Is worship about what “works”? It was for Cain. He gave what he had, without thought for God’s former provision. Is worship simply a filler in our services, or potentially worse, clever religious marketing? Is it there to please a certain crowd, draw a certain audience, to create the right image, to check a box? Or is it there to set the mood, to create an emotional response, to cover up the transition from one part of our corporate gathering to another?
Does worship say more about us than about God? Are we focused on Him or are we looking for an outlet for our religious fervor? Is our worship aimed at humbling ourselves before God? Paul deals with this as he addresses the Corinthians. Rather than proper worship in loving community, they have perverted the Lord’s supper by their selfish carousing, taking on the role of Cain in this murderous drama. Paul does not mince words.
Finally, how do I – how do we – respond to distractions? Is a child in service – our own or another’s – a distraction that “ruins” worship? If worship doesn’t measure up to our expectations, do we respond with frustration, irritability or hurt feelings? What if the band or singers makes a mistake, or a couple mistakes, or can’t seem to get it together? How is our worship affected? Where is our focus?
Motyer has got right to the point in this first offering. Worship starts by asking what God wants, how to best please him. And our efforts to make worship in our own image stink of the grave.
I’ve now started into my next book, as I had mentioned in the last post. Chapter 2 of Discipling is titled “Oriented Towards Others”. A number of passages are addressed as Dever talks about the biblical pattern we experience in Jesus through the gospels, as well as the example Paul provides. But the one that stood out for me was Colossians 1:28-29. He looks at it through the lens of two different word pairs.
The first pair is “toil” and “struggling”, reflecting on the need to engage, to work hard to see the gospel take root. Discipleship doesn’t just happen. It takes conscious effort, fueled by the work God is doing in us. The second pair was “proclaim” and “present”. Here, while he is usually not making any pastoral-specific points, he does make a detour, and I am glad he did:
A Brief Word to Pastors
If you are a pastor or are considering the pastoral ministry, you should think long and hard about this passage [Col 1:28-29]. Notice that the ministry involves both fully proclaiming the Word of God and working to present the people of God mature before him.
This requires utter selflessness on our part. There is much that is good about being a pastor, but, given the sinfulness in both church members and pastors, there is also much that’s tough. Pastor, you will toil and struggle out of love for the members of your congregation, and they sometimes will respond by explaining how flawed and insufficient your love is.
Ultimately therefore, your toil and labor cannot root in your love for them or their love for you. It must root in your love for Christ, his love for you, and his love for them. He has purchased them with his blood. And you mean to present them to him. It is for him that you do it all.
He ends the chapter returning to the need for all Christians to be disciplers, each of us one who “proclaims now so that he might present later.”
Beyond what I found to be a well-aimed reminder, I thought this chapter was well timed, as well. The overlap between Colossians 1:28-29 and Ephesians 1:1-14, which our men’s group studied this morning, made me pause for a moment. God be praised for seeing fit to shower us with his grace at the right time, to call us into the work of developing biblical maturity in those we have been connected with through the Spirit.
In the final chapter of “Church Membership”, Leeman discusses how locale and context affects church membership. In light of all that is going on in Afghanistan of late, but also the experience of churches in China and some parts of Africa, and increasingly here, this chapter reflecting on what membership looks like under different societal and political forces is helpful. It bears out the flexibility and wisdom Leeman brings, rather than a rigid set of rules.
And as discussions of viruses and vaccines continue to dominate our lives, this section hits home:
Now, Satan uses different devices in different locations to undermine Christ’s kingdom. A favorite device in the West is cultural Christianity. The American brand of cultural Christianity results from well-intending adults handing out the candy of cheap grace to five-year olds and twenty-five year olds alike. You ask them if they want to be with mommy and daddy in heaven or pressure them into walking an aisle. The point is, you play on their fears, emotions, or appetites in order to get quick, unconsidered professions of faith. Then you immediately affirm those professions. The European state-church brand, on the other hand, is much more civilized. Cheap grace comes with a birth certificate.
The genius of this device in both locations is that it allows Satan to inoculate their hosts against real Christianity. It’s nearly impossible to share the gospel with a cultural Christian because he already gives lip service to it. “Yes, I believe that.” But there’s no repentance. He merely baptizes a slightly sanitized version of his old self into Christianity.
Church Membership, pp. 122-23
Before getting into what membership looks like in those locales experiencing more pervasive and physical persecution, he makes the point that “cultural Christianity…fools churches into thinking that they don’t live in enemy territory.” (p.123) It should be enough to remind us of James 4:4: You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The local church exists to show off God’s glory and mercy. Leeman is on solid ground when he remarks that, “the local church protects the gospel from all kinds of attack by taking great care in who it receives as a member. Every church must ask the basic questions: Who do you say that Jesus is? Are you sure you’re really ready to take up your cross and give yourself to identifying with him and his body?” (p.124)
A persecuted church may not have a physical membership role, and may not even vote on incoming members, but you can trust every member knows who is “with them”, who is a part of the body, who is set apart as a disciple and who is not. In a world of easy membership with no responsibility, and little to no accountability, I think churches are wise to put extra effort on the front end, to ensure that the resulting body is actually Christ’s body. Not a perfect or sinless one, but one that lives and proclaims the gospel by being set apart for God’s work.
I’ve been reading and listening to a lot of Jonathan Leeman over the last few days, and I’m definitely benefiting from his skill in teaching. I’ve read him writing in a more academic tone, and loved it. Pleasant to find he can write equally well in a style that is more down-to-earth.
I’m almost done with Church Membership, in the 9Marks series, and I would definitely recommend it for every Christian. This is a quick and easy read to situate the believer as a citizen of a kingdom and a member of a body, striking at both the structural and the organic nature of the church in the life of a believer.
Chapter 6, “How Does a Christian Submit to a Church? (Being a Member)”, stands out powerfully. Beginning with yet another image, another metaphor, for the body of believers – stars in the night sky (see Philippians 2:12-16) – he moves on to eight practical ways to submit to the local church. I can hardly quote it all, but as just a taste, Leeman offers the following. Christians can submit to the local church:
Publicly – “…by which I mean formally or officially…Jesus publicly identified himself with his church. We should publicly identify with him and his people as well…” (p.95)
Physically/Geographically – “Now, let me raise the stakes a little. If you can, ‘consider others better than yourselves’ and ‘look to the interests of others’ by living geographically close to the church…it’s easier to invite people to one’s house for dinner, to watch one another’s children while running errands, to pick up bread or milk at the store for one another.” (p.96) Better yet, “Did Jesus submit himself physically and geographically for our good? He left heaven!” (p.97)
Socially – “Christian friends are surely valuable inside or outside the same local church. But friends within a local church will be formed by the same ministry of the Word, giving them the opportunity to extend that ministry more carefully into one another’s lives throughout the week.” (p.98)
Affectionately – “He commands us to rejoice with the brother who gets a big job promotion and all the money and prestige that comes with it. Can we? He commands the thirty-year-old single woman who longs for marriage to rejoice with the twenty-two-year-old woman when she marries. Can she? Can the poor man mourn with the rich man when he loses his job? Saying yes to these questions – rather than saying yes to ‘selfish ambition and vain conceit’ – requires something more than sentiment. It requires a heart to be altered by the gospel and the Spirit.” (p.99)
Financially – “This will look different from context to context. But however it’s done, Christians should look for ways to fulfil biblical commands like these…” (p.99)
Vocationally – “I know men and women in secular employment who, for the sake of serving in their local churches, have turned down promotions and more money, who have moved from larger, more reputable firms to smaller ones, who have refused to move to another city…because he or she knew that it would have hindered the ability to care for the church and family.” (p.100)
Ethically – “…Christians should look to the church for ethical instruction, counsel, accountability, and discipline in matters that are addressed in God’s Word.” (p.101)
Spiritually – “By this I mean three specific things: First, this community is where we should seek to exercise our spiritual gifts…Second, the local church is the community where Christians should build one another up in the faith through God’s Word…Third, it’s the people for whom we should intercede regularly in our prayers.” (p.102)
As you can hopefully see, Leeman offers spiritual wisdom that grounds the believer in reality. Being a Christian, and thus being a member of a local church, is more than just words, more than just “ideal”. It has real implications for how we live our lives together before a watching world. It calls us to consider how our actions impact one another, how our decisions represent Jesus and the gospel proclamation in our communities.
As a final quote, wrapping up the chapter:
Truth be told, people are not afraid to submit. They just want to submit to beauty, like the valiant hero who submits himself to rescuing the damsel in distress.
What’s unexpected about Christianity is that its hero doesn’t risk all for the damsel but for what the Bible likens to a harlot. Then he calls everyone that he saves to submit themselves to this same harlot – the bride still being made ready, the church.
Now submitting to ugliness does scare people. And that’s what submitting to the local church can be. Churches are filled with other sinners whose visions of glory contradict our own. But this is how Christ loved us: “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV)
Christ’s love wonderfully transforms the ugly into the beautiful (see Eph. 5:22-31). Our love for one another should do the same thing – help the ugly become beautiful.
Who can love in this way? Only the ones whose eyes have been opened and whose hearts have been freed from the slavery of loving this world: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV)
God often uses his messengers and his word to shine a light on matters in our lives that are unacceptable to God and yet have become accepted by us. Jerusalem is “desolate.” Perhaps they have grown accustomed to the disgrace. The first step in changing a situation is to honestly assess the situation. Only then will one recognize the need for the change.
Nehemiah: A Pastoral and Exegetical Commentary, p.43
What in your life have you gotten used to and stopping resisting? What sin seems a losing battle? What conversation, situation or relationship do you avoid messing with, settling instead for the status quo? Sometimes all it takes is for fresh eyes to point out our precarious position, to point us back to God, to help us reflect on his love and care for his people. In this case, it was the perspective of a leader committed to bringing God glory, removing the reproach that had become “the new normal”.
In chapter 2, Nehemiah helps the people see their condition. It’s not that they didn’t already know what Jerusalem was like, the desperate state it had fallen into. But they needed someone to point the way forward. They needed encouragement, even exhortation, that was grounded in God’s glory and promises. They needed to be confronted with how their ambivalence and acceptance of the situation dishonored God and prolonged the situation.
I’m coming to realize, more and more, when the day-to-day looms so large that it begins to choke out our vision of God, we need the Spirit’s voice spoken through brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot and must not walk this life alone, separate from other believers. We need the gospel applied in our lives daily, and we need all the different gifts, voices and perspectives that come from God’s covenant community.
Woohoo! Hebrew textbooks and Old Testament hermeneutics in the mail. Can’t complain about that. This upcoming semester I’m taking 20400 WW, otherwise known as “Elementary Hebrew”, with Dr. Garrett. There are two textbooks (really a book and an associated workbook), two recommended texts, plus an extra credit book.
So, for text and workbook, and the extra credit, all pictured above, I’ll be working with:
The “recommended” texts are A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament and Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). The first I recently picked up cheap at a used book store, in really good condition. Someone even did the much appreciated work of tabbing the book by initial letters! The other, I may go for in the future, but I have Zondervan’s Hebrew and Greek reader from a couple years back, which is the Leningrad Codex (L), and supposedly only slightly different from BHS. I’ll save a couple bucks for now sticking with it. Fairly readable font, too, and I hear the cheaper variations of BHS can be difficult on the eyes – all those tiny lines and dots!
The professor and OTA both highly encouraged going ahead and getting started on the text, even though there are still about 3 weeks until class starts. To that end, they provided the first couple chapters as pdfs, and I have already begun working on chapter 1, with lots of memorization. Starting to load and run through vocabulary with a custom ankiweb deck. Practicing handwriting, letter names, alphabet order, and some initial vocabulary on paper (here is just one sheet of example, of which there are numerous):
So, that’s what I am going to be working on for the near future. How about you?