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This and That – 03-25-17

9 Things That Are Still Great About Facebook – Facebook Exposes Things You Wouldn’t Otherwise See… True, sometimes there are things you get exposed to that you wish you hadn’t. At other times, though, you may find your world expanded positively. – Cheryl Magness

10 Mistakes Churches Make with Special Needs Families – I have much to learn in this area and even while preparing for this seminar I felt convicted about how much more we should be doing in our own congregation. Here’s what I put together for the webcast. I hope it will serve the church and special needs families by identifying areas for growth and action. – David Murray

To the Unknown Pastor – While we all want to complain about the state of the Church, and in many cases rightfully so, I think it’s helpful to remember, as God told Elijah so long ago, that there are many men around the country and around the world who faithfully shepherd their congregations, joyfully counsel them, diligently prepare and spend as many hours preparing for sermons that they will preach to a couple dozen people as others do to thousands, and please their Savior through their joyful attitude throughout. – Jordan Standridge

The Shack is not the Problem

516de8n1l8l-_sy346_I promised myself I would stay out of the debate over the theatrical release of the popular Christian novel, The Shack.  I don’t have much of a desire to join the echo chamber of condemnation that already exists.  Pretty much anything I would say has already been said and said better than I could say it.

Yet, I do feel the need to speak out over one aspect of the movie I do not think has received enough attention.  While I am quite concerned over much of the theology that the novel/movie promotes, that is not my top concern.  In reality, there are lots of movies out today that put forth a theology or a worldview that is contrary to the historic Christian faith.  Movies like this come and go.  The Christian faith will live on forever.

I recall a few years ago Dan Brown’s Davinci Code was the biggest challenge put before the church.  There was fear that people would leave the church in droves as they were misled by the false historical claim of the movie/novel.  That was years ago and the Church of God still stands.  I’m sure we’ll say the same thing about The Shack years from now.

However, there is something that concerns me about the Christian response to this film.  I have had more than one fellow believer tell me how they were blessed by this work as it finally helped them see the Trinity in a much clearer way.  This bothers me.  

This bothers me not just because the Shack’s portrayal of the Trinity is flawed (though it is).  I think most people’s concept of the Trinity may be flawed.  Many believers in the pew on Sunday could probably define the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but I fear most are unable to go beyond this definition.  Those who do often times unknowingly slip into heresy.  

There is no doubt that the Trinity is a mystery that is difficult to comprehend, so we try to break it down in ways we can understand.  This is natural.  This where the church must get involved.  We all believe in the Trinity, but when was the last time we heard a sermon explaining the Trinity?  It is a part of most conservative churches’ statements-of-faith, but it is rarely explained and rarely taught.  It’s simply a given in most churches.  This vacuum of teaching leads to speculation.  This void is right now being filled with The Shack.  Author William Paul Young is giving people simplified explanations which are being received with praise because so many have nothing else to compare or contrast it with.

What adds difficulty to this topic is that the word Trinity is not found anywhere in Scripture.  Overly simplistic reductionism might tempt us to think this doctrine is not all that important.  After all, if the word is not even there, why should it be important to us?  Yet, it is of the utmost important to us.  Our view of God is what distinguishes as Christians.  If our view of God is off, our whole faith is off.

The question of the Trinity is wrapped up in a larger question of how came to express our Christian just the way we do today.  Our modern systematic theology books contain may words, phrases and doctrinal systems that would be foreign to the authors of Scripture, even though we are confident they are a reflection of what the authors of Scripture actually wrote. Our sermons today contain verbiage and phrases that the early church might not have understood.  So, how did we get to where we are today?  How did go from Jesus to Joshua Pegram (my pastor)?  The answer is found in church history.

If you have struggled with the concept of the Trinity, you are in good company.  It was the major concern of the early church.  Though we take it for granted today, this was all new to them.  In the first few centuries of the church, Christians, pastors and thinkers struggled with just who Jesus was.  Why would they struggle?

First, news traveled slowly back then.  You have no internet, cell phone or even a telegraph.  There were no automobiles or even flight.  Mass production was still a few centuries in the future.  So, as the authors of Scripture wrote their books, it would take some time for it to arrive at the intended destination.  Once it arrived, the church often times would copy it and send it off to another church.  It was a slow process.  It would take quite a bit of time until we had a completed canon (meaning the collection of books we now accept as Scripture).  

Second, the books we now accept as Scripture were not the only books being written.  They certainly were not the only books people claimed as from God.  Perhaps you’ve seen a documentary on TV about the “lost books of the Bible.”  Many of these books were not “lost” as much as they were rejected.  Remember, even as Paul was writing his letters he warned of false teachers and even false letters written in his name.  This would add confusion.  Even in addition to these false books you had godly Christians continuing the tradition of Paul writing good and helpful letters to churches.  These were helpful, but never claimed to be inspired by God.  Yet, because they were helpful, they too were passed on to other churches.  So, there was quite a bit of material being circulated, even if at a slow speed.

Third, remember the church was facing times of great persecution.  Waves of persecution would sweep through the church in various places at various times.  It’s hard to form a sound theology when you are running for your life!  Christianity would not become a legal religion in the Roman Empire till the early fourth century.

When you consider all of these factors, it is not hard to imagine why it took awhile for the church to form a coherent set of beliefs.  But, even in the midst of all this, there were those who were thinking deeply and contemplated whatever light God had granted to them.  The church was discussing the issues closest to their heart – who is Jesus and how does He relate to the Father and the Spirit?.

How do we know they were thinking through this – we see this reflected in one of the earliest creeds the church confessed.  While the Apostle’s Creed was not actually written by the Apostles, it was believed to be a summary of what they taught.  This was what it meant to be a Christian.  Believers all over the world could recite this as a confession of faith.  At very least, we agree on these things.  At the heart of the creed is a declaration of belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
     creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
     who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
     and born of the virgin Mary.
     He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
     was crucified, died, and was buried;
     he descended to hell.
     The third day he rose again from the dead.
     He ascended to heaven
     and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
     From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
     the holy catholic church,
     the communion of saints,
     the forgiveness of sins,
     the resurrection of the body,
     and the life everlasting. Amen.

But this was only the beginning of what the church would wrestle through.  The church continued to grow and spread once Christianity was made legal in the empire.  As Constantine took power, he identified himself as a Christian.  But, he recognized controversy within his new-found faith.  There were those who said that while Jesus was like God, and of a similar substance of God, he was not actually God, at least not like the Father was.  So a council was called consisting of churchmen throughout the empire.  They met at Nicaea in 325.  The result was an acceptance of the deity of Christ on par with the Father.  

They declared, “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.”  We call the full statement the Nicene Creed.  This would be the first of seven church councils that would meet in those early centuries of the church.  Later, the Nicene Creed would be affirmed with a few edits at the Council of Constantinople.

The church would revisit the issue at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 as more false teachings and questions arose about the relationship of the members of the Trinity.  As a result we have the Chalcedonian Definition:

So, following the holy fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; of one essence with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same of one essence with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days, for us and for our salvation, the same born of Mary, the virgin God-bearer, as regards his humanity.

He is one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation. At no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being. He is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about Him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us.

I could go on, but my point is that the church has a rich history of struggle that leads to a clarification of what we believe.  A study of the church councils, creeds and confessions can be incredibly profitable.  Why do we believe what we believe and state it as we do?  Church history answers these questions.  Such a study can lead to a greater confidence in our faith.  It will certainly leave us less prone to be drawn in by false doctrine as much of these false teachings have been dealt with many times before in the past.  The study of church history is a study of who we are.

As imperfect human beings we struggle to fully understand the Scripture God has given us.  Doctrines like the Trinity challenge our mortal, sin-stained minds.  But, we are not alone in the struggle.  We’re not the first ones to find ourselves in this position.  Let’s learn from those who have gone before us.

So, am I worried about The Shack?  No.  Movies like this will come and go but sound doctrine will remain forever.  I am more concerned about the health of our churches.  We have a rich, godly heritage.  Are we passing that down to the next generation?  Are we digging deep into this well or are we simply trying to re-invent the wheel?  Or, even worse, are allowing the heresies of the past to wreak havoc among us once again, filling a vacuum that could be filled with a deep understanding of the Word aided by those who fought these battles already?  Maybe The Shack is not the problem.  Maybe we are.

So instead of attacking a movie, let’s do our due diligence and continue to the fight that started long before us.   

This and That – 03-18-17

Don’t Be “That Guy” at Church – Another one to watch out for is the Sermon Corrector. This person takes it upon themselves to pick the nits out of every awkward illustration, slip of the tongue, or mis-remembered Scripture reference. They have a special ability to isolate the one aspect of a metaphor that wasn’t intended, and have developed a remarkable immunity to having a sense of proportion. – CJ Bowen

Should We Give Money to the Poor Even When There’s a Risk of Waste or Misuse? – Of course, all these commands to give generously do not negate the need for us to also give wisely. There are important characteristics to look for in any ministry you might choose to support. (These are 19 questions I encourage people to ask before giving to any ministry. An abbreviated version is also available.) But I strongly object to what I’ve heard a number of people say: “I no longer give to relief work since it’s all a waste.” That’s simply untrue. Some waste is always a possibility but “it’s all a waste” is a gross overstatement that ends up justifying lack of generosity and even spiritualizing materialism—“Since it won’t really help others, I’ll just spend it all on myself.” – Randy Alcorn

 

This and That – 03-11-17

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility – Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out. – Joshua Pegram

Cheap Grace is No Grace at All – Any so-called “grace” that leaves a man a slave to his sin is really no grace at all. Why? Because grace isn’t merely deliverance from judgment. It is deliverance from what makes us worthy of judgment. – Denny Burk

Beware of ‘Preacher Eater’ Churches – The pastor’s family is not supported. I had this conversation with a pastor recently. He said, “I had to leave the church because they were so mean to my family. If my wife did not show up when they demanded she did, they talked about her incessantly. And they had expectations of my kids they never expect of their own.” – Thom Rainer

 

This and That – 03-04-17

Why the American South Would Have Killed Charles Spurgeon – In 1860, an article entitled “Mr. Spurgeon and the American Slaveholders” offered the following words: “Southern Baptists will not, hereafter, when they visit London, desire to commune with this prodigy of the 19th century. We venture the prophecy that his books in [the] future will not crowd the shelves of our Southern book merchants. They will not; they should not.” In 1889, Spurgeon uttered a prophecy of his own: “For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next 50 years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.” – Christian George

The Shack – Impressions – Anyone who is strongly influenced by the imaginative world of The Shack will be totally unprepared for the far more multi-dimensional and complex God that you actually meet when you read the Bible. – Tim Keller

Symptoms of Legalism:  Playing the Spiritual Comparison Game – Yeah. I’m not so sure about that. How often have we said, “Lord, I thank you that I…”

– Don’t parent like that person.
– Don’t school my children like them.
– Don’t arrive late at church every week like that family.
– Don’t spend my money like him.
– Serve more frequently than her.
– Don’t watch the same movies as them.
– Keep myself in better shape than him.
– And on and on and on… – Stephen Altrogge

Gospel Points – The Grieving Christian, Part 1

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This week on the Gospel Points podcast we are joined by Pastor Aaron White of the River Hills Community Church in Janesville, WI.  We’re discussing Pastor White’s book, When Shadows Fall:  The Grieving Saint and the Granite Promises of Romans 8.  Listen in as we talk about how believers in Christ grapple with the loss of their loved ones in light of the precious promises of the Word of God.  Also check out his Grace by the Minute blog.

Listen to the program here.
Download the program here.

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Gospel Points Podcast – The Ordinary Pastor, Part 2

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This week on Gospel Points we welcome back Pastor Cody Almanzar of the Grace Family Church in Canon City, CO.  In this final segment with Cody, we chat about the challenges of bi-vocational ministry, ways congregations can help their bi-vocational pastor and then we wrap things up by talking about his Ordinary Pastor Podcast (that is well worth your time to download, AFTER you’re all caught up with Gospel Points episodes).

Listen to the program here.
Download the program here.

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Book Review – 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James by Tim Keller and Sam Allberry

51bqeytnh3l-_sx350_bo1204203200_Title: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James
Author: Tim Keller & Sam Allberry
Publisher: The Good Book Company
Publishing Year: 2017
Pages: 192
My Rating: 5 out of 5 (1 meaning I hated the book, 5 meaning I loved the book)

The search for a meaningful devotional that actually focuses upon Scripture is finally over!   90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, James by Tim Keller & Sam Allberry is a great book that will actually enhance your devotional time in the Word.  Many devotionals simply use Scripture as a launching pad in order to get to the author’s helpful thought or deep reflection.  In other words, you read the Scripture and then forget about it.  This book was intended to be read with your Bible open and continually points you back to Scripture thereby giving you a better understanding of the Word.

On the other hand, neither is this book an in-depth commentary.  You won’t be digging deep into systematic theology, although there is the occasional reference to the original languages.   The real aim of this book is to get you into the Word and learn how to study with an aim toward personal application.  Dig into the Word and live it out in your daily life.

Each passage is divided up into several sections.  First Keller and Allberry break down each book passage by passage with just a few explanatory notes to aid you in understanding the text.  You will be answering questions along the way to challenge your mind, also helping you to get behind the true force of the text.  These sections end with prayer and thoughtful application.  Finally there is a section for you to journal your own thoughts and reflections.

This book is helpful to both the theology students and laymen alike.  The authors recommend setting aside a half an hour’s time to really get into this and from my experience that seems about right – and time well spent.  Buy the book and jump right in!

Purchase the book here.

Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.

This and That – 02-18-17

3 Steps to Get the Most out of the Sermon This Sunday – The key is to develop a system to help you remember the main point of each message so you can look for the connections that run from message to message and from each message to the particular circumstances of your life. – Phil Schomber

Love the Church You’re With, Not the Church of Your Dreams – I think to really love the church in front of you, you have to die to the church of your dreams. – Ricky Alcantar

Preaching as a Means of Survival – Preachers need to be competent in many arenas of life. They need managerial competence. They need organizational competence. But above everything else, the preacher needs theological and exegetical competence. – Al Mohler

 

Free E-Book Alert – This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

Reflecting on forty years of matrimony, John Piper exalts the biblical meaning of marriage over its emotion, exhorting couples to keep their covenant for all the best reasons.

Even in the days when people commonly stayed married “’til death do us part,” there has never been a generation whose view of marriage was high enough, says Pastor John Piper. That is all the more true in our casual times.

Though personal selfishness and cultural bondage obstruct the wonder of God’s purpose, it is found in God’s Word, where his design can awaken a glorious vision capable of freeing every person from small, Christ-ignoring, romance-intoxicated views. As Piper explains in reflecting on forty years of matrimony: “Most foundationally, marriage is the doing of God. And ultimately, marriage is the display of God. It displays the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his people to the world in a way that no other event or institution does. Marriage, therefore, is not mainly about being in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. And staying married is not about staying in love. It is about keeping covenant and putting the glory of Christ’s covenant-keeping love on display.”

This Momentary Marriage unpacks the biblical vision, its unexpected contours, and its weighty implications for married, single, divorced, and remarried alike.

Download the book after filling out this survey.