Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another OTC Devo

Another preview from the devotional we are writing for my church for The Old Testament Challenge, Part 1 - The Pentateuch.

Day 36: Exodus 27-29

The priestly business was a bloody business. When you read Exodus 29, it begins to sound a little excessive and verging on morbid. Blood on the altar. Blood around the altar. Blood on the ear lobes, thumbs and toes. Even a little blood sprinkled on the garments. And all of this at the instruction of the Lord. Why?

First, God was implementing a system that would be a constant reminder of the gravity and severity of man’s sin. Today, if I lie to someone, all I have to do is repent to God and—if I’m motivated enough—the person I lied to. But under Israel’s sacrificial system, a little critter had to lose its life because of me. (I imagine the PETA of their day were in fits). As the writer of Hebrews described the Old Testament sacrificial system:
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Hebrews 9:22)
Second, the Old Testament system was meant to be a shadow of the perfect sacrifice to come—and that sacrifice was going to be bloody. Again, the writer of Hebrews speaks on this:
When Christ came as high priest…he did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11a,12)
Third, it was a constant reminder of the grace and mercy of a God who had every right to demand justice. It was a reminder of the provision that the Lord had made (and would make someday) so that a sinful people could dwell with a holy God.

So what, you say? Other than a nice little history lesson, what does this have to do with me? Well believe it or not, there is a similar system set up still today and you participate in it. It is a reminder of the gravity of our sin and the cost of forgiveness. It is a picture of the perfect, bloody sacrifice. And it is a reminder of the provision of grace made by God for us sinners.

We call it communion. Let us never forget the great extent that God in Christ stooped to for us. Let us remember the merciful covering of blood that makes us right before God. So eat. Drink. Remember. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor. 11:26)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels? by Mark D. Roberts

Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. Dan Brown's DaVinci Code. From academia to pop media, it's trendy to suggest that Christians have gotten the message—and the person—of Jesus horribly wrong.

Enter Mark D. Roberts and his easily accessible book, Can We Trust the Gospels? What began as a blog has turned into what Roberts calls a blook, which is a real word for a blog turned book (who knew?). Without delving into the highly technical arguments of textual criticism, Mark D. Roberts defends the reliability of the Gospels in such a manner that even those with a low view of Scripture should be impressed and perhaps even convinced.

While the book is less than 200 pages in length, Roberts deals with all of the most central challenges to the transmission of the biblical texts. He also addresses many of the more fringe challenges that may not find footing in the academic realm but may gain popularity among the general public (via a novel turned movie about the Gospel of Thomas, for instance). After all, I don't care what academia thinks of an idea as long as Ron Howard can work some explosions and intrigue in.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Recommended: For apologists or anyone who wants to know if we can trust the Bible

This book was a free review copy provided by Crossway Books.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Old Testament Challnege: Part 1, The Pentateuch

In a bit of shameless self-promotion (or really, Redeemer Church promotion), I wanted to share what I've been working on lately (and why I've been doing little over here lately). Last year we did a New Testament Challenge in which we challenged all our members to read through the New Testament in nine weeks. We bought a curriculum from another church so everyone also had a devotional to read every day.

Well, it was popular enough that we decided to try an Old Testament Challenge this fall. The only problem, no one's worked up that curriculum (can't imagine why . . .). So we're writing our own Old Testament Challenge: Part 1, The Pentateuch! Pastor Lee and I split the devo writing duty and I thought I would share one of my rough drafts.

A couple ways you can interact: 1) Obviously I'm limited on space for content but I always welcome critiques on the writing. 2) If anyone is interested in what our reading plan looks like, let me know. I can either send it to you or perhaps even post it here. 3) If this devo interests enough people here, I will continue to share them so that I am at least contributing some sort of original content on the CIC blog. 4) And finally, if there are any churches or groups that would be interested in our material, let me know! We're pretty excited about it here in Omaha.


Day 9: Genesis 19-20

We have been reading about how God would bless Abraham, but in yesterday’s reading we learned the scope of that blessing. In 18:18 the Lord says “all nations on earth will be blessed through him”. And the blessing of the nations begins that very day, though in a strange sort of way. Abraham defends and mediates between God and the city of Sodom, acting as a sort of high priest on behalf of the city.

Yet they do not even clear the low bar of righteousness that Abraham pleaded for (only 10 righteous people) and they are destroyed. Only Lot and his family are spared and this not necessarily due to his own righteousness but rather (at least partially) to the mediation of Abraham (19:29).

But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are not the only ones shown to be sinful in these two short chapters. See if you can keep up: Lot offers his daughters to the angry mob, Lot’s wife longs for the wicked city of Sodom, Lot’s daughters get their dad drunk and sleep with him and then Abraham tells the half-lie about his wife being his sister (again!).

Yet this is a fitting precursor to the characters we find all throughout the Bible. The stories are almost infamous surrounding David and Bathsheba, Sampson and Delilah, or the entire Israelite people during their wanderings in the desert. Or consider the New Testament example of Peter being told by Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan”. Not exactly good PR for God’s elite.

However, this should be encouraging to us for at least two reasons. First, if there is something in our Bible that would call in to question the character of one of our spiritual heroes, it actually lends an air of credibility to our story as true history. After all, if the Bible were all made up stories and fabrication, who would make up such broken, faltering fathers of the faith? This is what modern-day apologists call the “test of embarrasment”.

Second, it is encouraging to us because we are all of the broken, faltering sort ourselves. As Paul wrote, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong . . . so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:26,27, 29)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Economic Descent of the Biblical Christian

They say that once a person begins living at any particular socio-economic level, he will almost never again willingly live below that level. For example, if Hank lives in a brand new 4,000 square foot home in Newport Beach, CA and drives a BMW 6 Series, he will almost certainly not willingly move into a 40 year old 1,500 square foot home in Long Beach and drive a 2001 Honda Accord. If he does make such a move it will be out of total necessity, and it will likely be difficult. Further, the wider the lifestyle gap gets, the more difficult it becomes for ol’ Hank to descend.

Two more corollary points:

(1) This is the case even if Hank once lived a life he considered to be joyful and fulfilling at a lower level. Once Hank tastes the high class life, he will forget all about how little he actually needs it to be happy.

(2) This is also the case even if Hank does not go down to a level below the poverty line. 1,500 square feet with a reliable car in Long Beach is a far better existence than the vast majority of people in the world. But to Hank, this gap between upper and middle class life will look less like a gap and more like an uncrossable chasm.

Ultra-rich athletes who go broke image this struggle in its most dramatic form. Take Antoine Walker, for example. Here is a man who made over $108 million in his NBA career and is now bankrupt. We read these numbers and think, “How is that even possible?” No doubt some bad business decisions are to blame, but so is living at an unsustainably high level and refusing to cut back as the funds decrease.

It happens on much smaller scales too. My wife’s and my first apartment was only one bedroom, but it was a large bedroom. Plus it had a big, open living room with a vaulted ceiling, air conditioning, and a back porch. We liked it a lot, but since we live in outrageously overpriced Southern California, it cost us $1,350 per month. When we found a very small, 50 year old apartment down the road with no a.c., no dishwasher, a tiny living room, 70′s looking brown carpet, and no porch for $850 per month, we had to take it since we really didn’t need the nicer place and would much rather save the $6,000 per year.

But what shocked me was how even such a small drop in my level of living bothered me. I don’t consider myself to be someone especially wooed by wealth in this world, and yet as we considered moving apartments I tried to think of all the reasons why it wouldn’t be so bad to stick it out in the nice apartment.

And all that brings me to this: Christians cannot be biblical while actively seeking to maintain a certain lifestyle level, especially the higher that level gets. Can some Christians be rich? Yes, they can. But they cannot make it a major goal to maintain their wealth. Biblical Christians instead will seek to love and serve those around them with their finances as much as with anything else. If that means selling a large home to move into a smaller one in order to turn the profit into money for a poor person in his congregation (or for a poor church in India or the Philippines), the biblical Christian will do so. He cannot maintain such a high life style while others are in need.

If you’re wondering how this is “biblical”, I’ll give you three main clusters of passages. First, Acts 2:43-47 and 4:32-37 present a picture of church members who continually give their possessions for the sake of others needs. Sophomore Bible students everywhere will chide my hermeneutical unsophistication and remind me that Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive. I will remind them that they don’t know anything because they’re just sophomores but that I have two degrees in the Bible, and more importantly, that Luke clearly presents this as the church ideal. Anyone who can’t see that is dumb. Just kidding. But seriously.

Second, Paul’s collection for the saints in Jerusalem (mentioned in Rom. 16:25-28 and expounded at length in 2 Cor. 8-9) points to the same thinking. While he certainly does not say that the Corinthians must never be wealthy, he points to the Macedonians who begged to give even out of their own poverty (2 Cor. 8:1-5), reminds them that Jesus became poor to make others rich (2 Cor. 8:9; cf. Phil. 2:5-11), and almost sounds like a Marxist when he says, “I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” (2 Cor. 8:13-14). Strong words considering the abundance of American Christians and the need of many Third-World Christians.

Third, Jesus’ major point in saying, “Whatever you did to the least of these, my brothers, you did for me” (and its surrounding context in Matt. 25:31-46) is that those who are truly his disciples will care for the needs of others of his disciples (thus “my brothers” and not “all people”) when presented with them. If someone claiming to be a disciple does not feed Jesus’ famished brothers and sisters, then he is a sheep, not a goat. In the Google age, few Western Christians can be unaware of the physical plight of the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters all around the world.

There are all kinds of related issues (e.g. tithing, the church’s role in pursuing social justice, and the remarkable deceitfulness of wealth in general) some of which I hope to address in other posts. But for now, this is the point I want to be clear: Christians cannot make it a major life goal to raise or even maintain a particular standard of living. Their major life goal needs to be to love God and others with their money as much as with anything else. In most cases this will mean willingly climbing down the socio-economic ladder for the sake of others. Jesus did this very thing. How can we not do the same?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Book Review: Intelligent Design Uncensored by Dembski and Witt

The debate between evolution and intelligent design (ID) can become quite intellectual and academic, quickly passing over the heads of your average reader (including yours truly).

William A. Dembski and Jonathan Witt have done all those interested in the discussion a favor in writing Intelligent Design Uncensored. Perhaps the best aspect of this book is that it doesn't focus on just one aspect of ID. Not only does it cover some of the most compelling arguments (the origin of the universe, the bacterial flagellum motor, etc.), it also addresses the stranglehold of materialism and evolution presupposed into much of academia. And it does so in language that usually won't outpace the reader.

And finally, the last chapter of the book is intended as a "how-to manual for using the investigative tools of intelligent design to reinvigorate our culture by awakening it to the powerful evidence of design in the natural world". They have pointers for aspiring scientists, parents, teachers and the rest of us.

This book is as good an introduction into the ID position as I have read and at just 154 pages it's a perfect loaner that won't intimidate as well.

Rating: Five of five stars

Recommended for: Apologists, the scientifically inclined, anyone looking for an introductory resource for intelligent design

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Gospel Demythologizes Us

Mike Bird has a good post about NT scholar Ernst Kasemann (including quite the endorsement from N. T. Wright, who is, you know, kind of a big deal). Bird offers a few comments about his own view of Kasemann’s work that you may care to see, but even more interesting are some of Kasemann’s quotes about discipleship. Here is the one I liked best:
    It is not enough to demythologize texts with Bultmann. Before doing such, the world and human beings need to be demytholoigzed, in, say, their self-mastery, their ideology, and the religious superstition to which they have surrendered. This takes place in the power of the gospel. This power streamed forth from Weigle. I will never forget his funeral.
“Weigle” was Kasemann’s youth pastor who apparently was quite influential on Kasemann’s life. Which brings up the important side point that youth pastors (such as myself) ought never to downplay the potential they have to impact the lives of their students, especially considering that they also have no idea where their students will end up. It is easy to be discouraged in youth ministry, but let us remember that God can use us in ways we will never know.

Monday, August 9, 2010

In Which Andrew Bids Farewell

I have recently wondered about what it must be like to be John Piper, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, or any other mega-popular pastor. Not so much in terms of the particular content of their ministries, but because of this: people are always asking them questions about how to do, well, all kinds of stuff.

They always have to have answers. Advice on all kinds of subjects is even a cash cow for such men.

I can claim nowhere near the influence or wisdom of such men, but for the last couple of years I have spent lots of time on this blog offering my two cents. At this point I can no longer keep that up.

So this is a sad post to write.

I have enjoyed my time as a blogger for Christians in Context immensely. The other men (and one woman) who do or did blog here, in my experience, are wonderful people and wonderful thinkers. That alone has made this time both a pleasure and a great learning experience.

But it is time to move on. The simple fact is this: I no longer have enough CiC appropriate material to write about with any kind of consistency. So I can no longer maintain my commitment to this blog.

I am not done with blogging as a whole though. Instead a good friend (Glen Smallman) and I have started a new blog called Someone Tell Me the Story. The reason that I'll still write there and not here is because Someone Tell Me the Story will be broader in its focus than CiC. This will allow me to write about more topics that would be out of place on this blog without losing the chance to throw those couple cents in here or there. In the off chance you've enjoyed my writing here and want to keep up with me, I invite you to follow me and Glen at www.someonetellmethestory.com.

CiC will continue to move on without me, and for this I am thankful. I'll certainly be one of its followers. And as the other guys figure out what to do from here, I will provide them with some leeway time by posting some stuff that will go on both sites. I trust that CiC will continue to a place where these folks thoughtfully interact with theology, the church, and culture.

Thanks for all of the feedback, both negative and positive, that I have gotten from many of you over my time here. I look forward to what comes next for both Christians in Context and Someone Tell Me the Story.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Shared Concern While We Work Out Theology

"It is thus significant that Paul in probably his earliest letter, as he was still fashioning his relationship with the original apostles in Jerusalem, notes that all easily agreed 'that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do' (Gal. 2:10). While theology and territory for ministry were still being hashed out, no debate centred (sic?) around the need to help the poor."

- Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty Nor Riches, 178

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Album Reviews

Since we're on topic, I figured I would add my contribution to the thread Tom started with some albums that I feel rise above the average CCM fare.

The first I purchased this past week while I was on vacation in Boulder, CO (incidentally, vacation is also why I haven't been as consistent on my book reviews, sorry!). Andrew Peterson's Counting Stars quickly became the soundtrack for my Colorado vacation much like his Resurrection Letters, Vol. II did for last year's Colorado vacation. While this album has a lot more to say about Peterson's role as husband and father, there is still plenty of spiritual depth in his lyrics. I can honestly say there is no other songwriter that moves me to tears, goosebumps and a driving passion to be a better Christian than Andrew Peterson. (And a little side note: If you ever get a chance catch his Christmas program on the Behold the Lamb of God tour, you will never see a better gathering of great musicians telling the Nativity story beginning from all the way back in the Old Testament. I promise, it is worth every cent!)

Favorite lyric: "It's so easy to cash in these chips on my shoulder/So easy to loose this old tongue like a tiger/It's easy to let all this bitterness smolder/Just to hide it away like a cigarette lighter/It's easy to curse and to hurt and to hinder/It's easy to not have the heart to remember/That I am a priest and a prince in the Kingdom of God" - Fool With a Fancy Guitar

The second album that forced me to pull out the lyrics and follow along during vacation was John Mark McMillan's The Medicine. Stylistically, I think fans of Samford and Sons will find a lot to like here.

John Mark started making serious waves when David Crowder recorded his song "How He Loves" on his last album. However, if you purchase this album expecting an entire record of worship songs like that, you will probably be disappointed. McMillan writes with depth, honesty and creativity that probably makes most of the songs a little too strange for congregational singing.

However, the one exception is the song "Death In His Grave": "On Friday a thief/On Sunday a king/Laid down in grief/But woke with the keys/of hell on that day/The firstborn of the slain/The man Jesus Christ laid death in his grave"

Honorable mention:












The Outsiders, needtobreathe - Southern rock, a bit of a live feel makes it stand out

The End Is Not the End, House of Heroes - Influences from The Beatles to Green Day, Muse to Weezer, this album has been a year long favorite

Beautiful Things, Gungor - Lyrically and sonically, Gungor sits somewhere between John Mark McMillan and your radio-ready worship music.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Album Review: 'Sigh No More' by Mumford and Sons

So I thought I would break with tradition and head out on a different tack. An initial caveat of what is to come - I do not, by and large, like Christian music. The oldies I love - the number of times 'Be Thou My Vision' has echoed in my mind at key moments in my life are innumerable - but I find it hard to get into modern Christian music. This probably reflects my own prejudices and hang-ups, but I find the lyrics largely lacking in depth and often a full theology of God. I stand full square behind Dick Lucas: Jesus is not my boyfriend. And I think that is where my tension lies - there's far more to God and the Christian experience than singing about our closest friend, the lovely Jesus. What about God as Holy, Soverign, Judge, Saviour, Spirit, Guardian and Protector? What about Jesus leading the Armies of Heaven in judgement? What about songs that reflect the agony and struggle it is to be a Christian? By and large these have slipped away - perhaps by social agenda, modern sensibilities and theological trends, perhaps not. Either way my soul resonates with older hymns in a way modern hymns just don't manage.

Mumford and Sons are a band from Britain lead by Marcus Mumford who I know was raised in a strong serving Christian family. I have no wish to go further than this in way of background for it is not mine to share. When I first started listening to 'Sigh No More' something resonanted within me: within those words that were not mine was an experience that was. This is not a Christian album but rather a reflection of one man struggling with sin in his life and the attempt to reconcile truth about God with the fallen nature of man. How often we learn most about God in His fullness not in the 'good' moments of our life, but when we are broken and in the depths.

Consider these experiences of Chrsitian faith scattered in the album:
  • 'Can you kneel before the king/And say I'm clean, I'm clean' (White Blank Page).

  • 'Darkness is a harsh term you think/Yet it dominates the things I see.' (Roll Away Your Stone).

  • 'It seems that all my bridges have been burnt/But you say that's exactly how this grace thing works/It's not the long walk home that will change this heart/But the welcome I receive with the restart.' (Roll Away Your Stone).

  • 'But you are not alone in this/You are not alone in this/As brothers we will stand/And we'll hold your hand.' (Timshel).

  • 'Awake my soul, awake my soul/For you were made to meet your maker' (Awake My Soul).

  • 'Serve God, love me and mend/This is not the end/Live unbruised we are friends/ I'm sorry/ Sigh no more, no more' (Sigh No More).

  • ''Cause I have other things to fill my time/You take what is yours and I'll take mine/Now let me at the truth that will refresh my broken mind' (The Cave).

  • 'You can understand dependence/When you know the maker's plans (The Cave).
These are just but a sample of my Christian walk - I wish it were different, but there have been many agonsing moments of brokeness where God has taught me on all aspects of His character. What I get from this album is a man struggling to live with the knowledge of the God who saves and the temptations and trevails of the world. Whenever I listen to the album I have the words of Qoholeth ringing loud:

"'Vanity of vanities' says the Preacher, 'vanity of vanities! All is vanity.'" (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

and:

"The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God wil bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil". (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

We may know this to be true but living it is an entirely different matter. I think Mumford understands this and here is an album that demonstrates the brutal reality sin has on our lives and hence the glory of YHWH - He who gives us His name that we might call upon it and nothing else. If you want a different approach to God in song or a challenge at least I suggest this album - it is raw and gritty but real. Reviewers have called an exercise in existentialism. I call it God.