theology

Elephants in the Bible Study Room

Jesus knows how to take care of souls better than we do. Go figure; he created them. So why is it we insist on taking care of things our own way?

Bible study was more than a little interesting today. I lost my voice due to a combination of cold and being outdoors and shouting all day yesterday. So, I planned a video for Bible study. It was one that I thought should elicit a good amount of conversation. It’s a well-done video that you can find here:

 

And after the video, I asked: “What did he get right? What did he get wrong?” I expected a conversation following why we need to gather as Christians, condemning legalism, and the like. (And if you want a great response to the video, watch this:  )

 

OK, so I asked for responses. I got some of the expected basic answers: He was able to talk about the Gospel, how Jesus is the center, how we do nothing, how hypocrisy is bad… And one woman asked: “If we’re supposed to be full of grace… if we’re not supposed to judge… then how can we judge sin? Everyone sins! We shouldn’t be kicking people out of church just because they sin!” (more…)

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What shirt do you wear?

Galatians 5:2-6

2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

This week we studied these words in Bible study. And as I explained part of this to the class, an illustration came to mind:

Imagine you’re going out on a date. Your date is awesome. Perfect. But he tells you: “I’ll only go out with you if you wear this one shade of blue. That’s the kind of shirts I love.”

Well, wanting to have a good date, you find that shade of blue. Except… it’s a shade off. And your date clearly sticks his nose up at you. Do you want to go out with this guy again?

That’s what having a relationship with God based on the law is. If you want to follow rules, you can follow rules. But it’s going to ruin your relationship. You’ll be “alienated from Christ.” And that goes with any kind of law-keeping, from “Thou shalt obey!!!” to “I’m just a nice guy.” Ultimately, it will alienate you from Christ.

But now imagine that you go out with a guy, and have a great time. You clearly are meant for each other. He treats you well. And then he lets you know, “I think you’d look really pretty in blue.”

Well, you want to make this guy happy, right? And he’s not forcing anything on you. What are the chances you wear blue next time you get together? A lot higher?

That’s what a relationship based on the gospel is. We long to please God, because he’s kept all his promises to us. Our relationship isn’t based on trying to please him. He did everything for us. How could we not rejoice in him? How could we not desire to please him — not because it gets him to do anything, but because he’s already that good to us?

– – –

I enjoyed the illustration, and it seemed to help the class understand our relationship to the law a little better.

And then we got to verse twelve, and I was amazed at how many people didn’t know what the word “emasculation” means…

Firsthand

Firsthand
by Ryan & Josh Shook

“It doesn’t matter how real your parents’ faith is, or anyone else’s for that matter, if you don’t develop a faith of your own.”

That’s the crux of this book. It’s all about the people who grow up in the church because that’s what they’re supposed to do. They have the religion of their fathers, their mothers, their pastors, their peers – but they never had a faith of their own. They have a “secondhand faith.” Can we get rid of that secondhand religion and find a faith of our own?

I’ve served Waterbrook Multnomah as a reviewer for a few years now, which means I get to grab a few books before publication. When I first read about the concept of this book, I was greatly interested. Many youth come through my church and disappear as soon as they don’t have mom or dad pressing them to come. They are faithful and express an intent to remain faithful… until it depends on them to show up. Suddenly it’s not so important anymore.

And then I was given an opportunity to take an in-depth survey for the book. And then a second, more in-depth survey. And they ended up quoting me! Twice! So I was even more excited to read the book and find out where they quoted my pearls of wisdom.

(Note: If you pick up the book, you won’t find any Jon Mast within its pages. I used my actual name on the survey.) (more…)

Thoughts as I prepare for Good Shepherd Sunday

Not everything a pastor writes gets into a Sunday sermon, and that’s probably a good thing.

I was prepping for next week tonight. (Yes, I started working on next week’s sermon a few hours after this week’s is done.) It’s from John 10:22-30. There, Jesus says that there is no way that any sheep in his hand can be plucked away. And then he adds that the sheep are in his Father’s hands. After all, he and the Father are one.

So, who’s hands are we in? God the Father’s, or Jesus’s?

Yes.

Why?

Because Trinity. That’s why.

That fantastic line isn’t likely to make it into a sermon, but it’s right there in my notes as I went through the original Greek. (more…)

Broken

Broken: Seven “Christian” Rules Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible
By Jonathon Fisk

What rules does your church teach? Follow your heart? Make sure you do X? How about, “Make sure it makes sense”? Or is it more, “THIS will save the church” every couple of years?

The church in America is broken. It’s hemorrhaging souls. It’s not being Jesus. And the reason it’s broken is that it refuses to break these seven rules.

Fisk writes an ambitious book. He targets seven huge paradigms of thinking that have captured much of America. It’s not just churches; it’s the very culture we live in. A book like this could be heavy and thick with terms that only make sense in doctorate studies. A book like this could be filled with fire and brimstone.

Instead, it’s filled with Star Wars references and wonderful pictures that explain everything well. (more…)

Naw, we can ignore that part of God’s Word.

Well, it’s finally happened.

A church councilman approached me today. In short, his request came down to this: “We need the church to grow, but you’re scaring them away by sticking to what you say the Bible says.”

“This is what the Bible says. See? Here are the verses.”

“That’s only your interpretation.”

There’s a lot involved and a fair amount of history behind this man’s issues. However, it boils down to: “Pastor, you did something that offended a visitor and she’s never coming back. Change what you do so that we can have more people in the church.” (more…)

I’m doing great things?

“God’s using you to do great things.”

That’s what the pastor said to me. He was my predecessor, visiting briefly to pick up mail that refused to be forwarded to his new address. (Yeah, he moved a good two years ago… some mail just refuses forwarding, you know?)

Anyway. He told me that. “God’s using you to do great things.”

And I want to change that. I want to alter that. I don’t want to accept what he says. I’d rather say, “God’s doing great things.” (more…)

Dilemma

A young woman, a minor still well within her mother’s care, desperately wishes to be baptized. Her mother has forbidden it.

Now, do I:
1. Listen to Jesus’s command to “baptize all nations” and baptize this young woman anyway?
2. Listen to Jesus’s command to respect parents?

Things to keep in mind: 

This young woman has saving faith. The Holy Spirit, through God’s Word, has created a love of Jesus in her heart. She is forgiven. She has eternal life already. She is a member of God’s family. Baptism, while an awesome gift, does not convey anything she does not already have.

This young woman is certainly not despising the Sacrament; this is not a matter of her saying that the blessings of baptism aren’t that big a deal.

Yet, baptism has very real blessings, even when applied after faith already exists. It is not merely a symbol; I Peter says “Baptism now saves you.” Titus calls it a “washing of rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit.”

Complications in this case:

The young woman and her family will be moving in about a month to a place where it will be very difficult for her to get to a church to worship or stay connected with a face-to-face Christian family.

Her mother does want her baptized; however, the mom is Jehova’s Witness. Because they deny the Trinity, their baptisms are not real.

Mom has a decent amount of pull in the community. This young woman came into contact with the Gospel through our Teen Center, which does most of its work with teens who had never before heard the Gospel. If Mom finds out we went against her wishes, it is realistic (as I know her) that she would then speak badly of the center to other parents, directly limiting the amount of Gospel outreach we could do.

Saying no to this young woman could realistically cause offense to her in the Christian sense; it may hurt her faith. At the very least, it would cause a very real struggle for her that may be unnecessary.

Things to bring comfort:

This young woman has saving faith. This is not a question of whether or not she goes to heaven. It is a question of whether or not we can participate in giving her this solid reassurance, this sacrament, at this time.

It is God-pleasing to obey the fourth commandment and honor parents.

It is God-pleasing to baptize.

Either way, we win.

To wrap-up:

What do you suggest? Do you have any advice or questions? Help me out here!

Daddy’s Dance

https://i2.wp.com/data.whicdn.com/images/28174061/dancing-with-daddy-189079-475-665_large.jpg

What father could deny a dance with his daughter?

Yesterday my daughter, my little girl, my delight, rushed into my office. “Mommy’s playing piano! Come dance with me, Daddy!” The music moved her, and she wanted to share that special moment with me.

God gave me grace to set aside my work and dance with my daughter while my wife played “In Christ Alone” and “Jerusalem the Golden.” Not exactly dancing songs, sure, but all my little girl needed was music and her Daddy. And she was happy. She snuggled into my shoulder as I held her and danced.

“Upside down, Daddy!”

And so I dipped her.

“Faster, Daddy!”

And so I spun.

And we danced to the music, my daughter and I.

What father could deny a dance with his daughter?

…except so many do. Except so many have. I have seen so many broken women. So many broken teens. So many whose daddies said no. (more…)

Reaching Out to Those Who Aren’t There

“I noticed you weren’t here on Sunday…”

I think church members feel a general frustration when they think about those people whose names are on the church membership list but haven’t attended any kind of worship service for years. I’m not talking about shut-ins; if I explain that someone can’t attend a service because of health problems, but I visit them regularly with God’s Word, I usually get an, “Oh! I’m glad you’re visiting them!”

I’m talking about those members that are in fine health but have convinced themselves that they are “too busy” for church. They have other things to do that are far too pressing. And besides, God can wait. Church is always there, right?

I know members in my congregation are frustrated. For a good year and a half (and even before my arrival here), the congregation has attempted to reach out to “delinquent members.” We’ve sent letters. We’ve phones. I’ve made personal visits, all to invite. We invite to special events like our neighborhood cookout. We invite to “little” events like a pot luck. We invite to plain old church.

We’ve had some positive results. Some people have returned and become regulars. Many, though, don’t seem to care. Some will make a verbal commitment to appear… but come Sunday, they’re still absent. (more…)