Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

For years I have been focused on Thanksgiving being about the good things that happen in my life. That is true, we should be thankful for those good things when we are blessed by God. I have founded it harder and wiser to also be thankful when things do not go my way. This is a favorite passage of one of my daughters. I was always surprised by her attraction to it. I heard a sermon podcast on it this past Monday about this passage. "I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places." (Hab. 3:16-19 ESV) God is good. Sometimes in his drawing me nigh to himself, it means my body trembles from fear. Sometimes it means I anticipate trouble. Sometimes it means what is normal function of provision is absent. Still God is my strength. The Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony thanked God for his hand of providence, although by modern standards many things looked grim. Years before, the Huguenots at the first Thanksgiving in Florida thanked God for his goodness. This was not a study in successful ventures, yet thankfulness was their response to the blessing of God. "I will rejoice in the LORD." I am thankful for those things that feel like blessings, but I am also thankful for those things that do not feel like blessings but draws me nigh to my maker and creator. His hand of providence is where we find goodness. "I will rejoice in the LORD".

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Are We Commanded To Go In The Great Commission?

It is not clear where the teaching comes from but I have often heard that the word 'go' in the Great Commission is not the command.  The supporting evidence given is this, the word 'go' is not in the imperative.  Certainly grammatically the word 'go' is a participle so the imperative is not a choice.  That may sound like an open and shut case, the word is not in the imperative mood so therefore it is not a command.  While this is true that the word 'go' is not in the imperative, it is a participle, so what does that mean?  In New Testament Greek (Koine Greek) the participle often has an enriching function in the sentence.  One of the main uses of the participle is to combine two or more actions as a combined action.  While we can't do this in English to the same extent as New Testament Greek can, if we say "he ran the ball to the end zone and won the game" we usually would think that the act of running the ball was how he won the game.  This may be the case if something is simultaneously happening.  In this use of the Greek participle, it has a tense that is expressed not in terms of the present, but in terms of the main verb.  If the participle is present tense, it is the same time as the main verb.  If the participle is past, it is sequentially before the main verb.  There is still this fusing together of action to show unity in purpose, result, story, manner, or something.

So what if a participle is working with an imperative main verb.    An example of that can be found in Matthew

"And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.' " -- (Matt. 2:8 ESV)

In this example Herod commands the Magi to search for the child.  The word 'search' (ἐξετάσατε) is in the imperative, but the word 'go' (πορευθέντες) is an aorist participle.  The aorist is often past action (sometimes simple action), and in this instance action that will precede the imperative.  While the main idea is that the Magi are commanded to 'search' but in no way should one think that they have choices as to whether they should go to Bethlehem or not.  The aorist participle is used to show what they must do first, and then what they will be able to do second.  The 'going' is necessary in order to accomplish the 'searching'.  I don't think most people would argue that Herod is not commanding the Magi to go to Bethlehem.

When Jesus tells us to make disciples in Matthew 28:19,20, there is not one but three participles.  The first participle is 'go' which tell us what we have to do in order to do the main command.  The main command is 'make disciples'.  Then there are two other participles; 'baptize' and 'teaching'.

When I've heard this teaching that the 'go' is not imperative it seems to have the general thought that we are not accountable to go in order to fulfill the Great Commission.  The idea seems to be that we can fulfill the Great Commission by staying where we are currently located.  Certainly there is ministry to be done wherever we are.  However, this is a misguided approach to the passage.  Going is a part of the main action by setting up the circumstances through which the main command is to be accomplished just like the Magi had to go to Bethlehem in order to find the child.

Would we think that the ideas of baptizing and teaching are optional components to fulfilling the Great Commission?  I would propose that what Jesus is telling us how we are to make disciples, we make by disciples by baptizing and teaching.

Go is a part of the full command of making disciples in the Great Commission.  We are to do this.  We might do it in many ways.  The New Testament shows us how the first century disciples carried out this command.  We are to go and make disciples.  We make disciples by baptizing and teaching.  Brothers and sisters, let us go and make disciples.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." -- (Matt. 28:18-20 ESV)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Short Review of Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain H. Murray

I bought the book Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain H. Murray for a family member.  Initially she told me she liked it but as she read, she got frustrated.  She actually gave up on it and gave it to me.  I just finished reading it myself.  It took a while.  The book lacks direction is one of its main faults.  Rather than guiding and interpreting the life of Jonathan Edwards, it seems like the author accumulates many facts.  Murray seems to go into depth on issues which for me which would have served the average reader better by summarizing the issue or by excising the material altogether.  This book best serves someone with a strong interest in history and lover of detail.  If you desire to learn a bit of church history, historical theology, or be inspired by a great Christian man, you should look for another biography.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Translation and Notes on Job 1

I took Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek in seminary.  I am maintaining my Hebrew and Greek by continuing to use those skills.  I translate my preaching passages.  I use Bible Works which I highly recommend.  It is my favorite Bible software since as they advertise, focus on the text.  Sometimes I'm being overly literal, so the English is poor, but it helps to figure out how Hebrew is different that English.  They just do things differently with language sometimes.  

 אִ֛ישׁ הָיָ֥ה בְאֶֽרֶץ־ע֖וּץ אִיּ֣וֹב שְׁמ֑וֹ וְהָיָ֣ה׀ הָאִ֣ישׁ הַה֗וּא תָּ֧ם וְיָשָׁ֛ר וִירֵ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים וְסָ֥ר מֵרָֽע׃
 (Job 1:1 WTT)

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job and he was a man who was whole and straight and feared God and turned from evil. 

Notes:  The location is east of Israel. 

 וַיִּוָּ֥לְדוּ ל֛וֹ שִׁבְעָ֥ה בָנִ֖ים וְשָׁל֥וֹשׁ בָּנֽוֹת׃
 (Job 1:2 WTT)

And there was born to him seven sons and three daughters.

WTT Job 1:3  וַיְהִ֣י מִ֠קְנֵהוּ שִֽׁבְעַ֙ת אַלְפֵי־צֹ֜אן וּשְׁלֹ֧שֶׁת אַלְפֵ֣י גְמַלִּ֗ים וַחֲמֵ֙שׁ מֵא֤וֹת צֶֽמֶד־בָּקָר֙ וַחֲמֵ֣שׁ מֵא֣וֹת אֲתוֹנ֔וֹת וַעֲבֻדָּ֖ה רַבָּ֣ה מְאֹ֑ד וַיְהִי֙ הָאִ֣ישׁ הַה֔וּא גָּד֖וֹל מִכָּל־בְּנֵי־קֶֽדֶם׃
 (Job 1:3 WTT)

And he had livestock of 7,000 head of cattle and 3,000 camels and 500 pair of oxen and 500 female donkeys and a great many servants and the man was greater than all the sons of old. 

WTT Job 1:4  וְהָלְכ֤וּ בָנָיו֙ וְעָשׂ֣וּ מִשְׁתֶּ֔ה בֵּ֖ית אִ֣ישׁ יוֹמ֑וֹ וְשָׁלְח֗וּ וְקָרְאוּ֙ לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת (אַחְיֹתֵיהֶם) [אַחְיֽוֹתֵיהֶ֔ם] לֶאֱכֹ֥ל וְלִשְׁתּ֖וֹת עִמָּהֶֽם׃
 (Job 1:4 WTT)

And then his sons would go and make a feast each in the man’s house on his day and go and call their three sisters in order eat and drink together. 

וַיְהִ֡י כִּ֣י הִקִּיפֽוּ֩ יְמֵ֙י הַמִּשְׁתֶּ֜ה וַיִּשְׁלַ֧ח אִיּ֣וֹב וַֽיְקַדְּשֵׁ֗ם וְהִשְׁכִּ֣ים בַּבֹּקֶר֘ וְהֶעֱלָ֣ה עֹלוֹת֘ מִסְפַּ֣ר כֻּלָּם֒ כִּ֚י אָמַ֣ר אִיּ֔וֹב אוּלַי֙ חָטְא֣וּ בָנַ֔י וּבֵרֲכ֥וּ אֱלֹהִ֖ים בִּלְבָבָ֑ם כָּ֛כָה יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אִיּ֖וֹב כָּל־הַיָּמִֽים׃ פ
 (Job 1:5 WTT)

And thus when the cycle of the feast days was complete, Job made arrangements and consecrate and rise up early in the morning because he said, “Perhaps my children have cursed God in their hearts”.  And thus Job did all the days. 
 ‎ וַיְהִ֣י הַיּ֔וֹם וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ בְּנֵ֣י הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים לְהִתְיַצֵּ֖ב עַל־יְהוָ֑ה וַיָּב֥וֹא גַֽם־הַשָּׂטָ֖ן בְּתוֹכָֽם׃
 (Job 1:6 WTT)

And it came to pass that one day that the sons of God came to stand to present themselves before God and there came the Satan in the midst of them. 

Notes:  Satan is among the other heavenly beings just as Judas is among the disciples.  Satan is not in hell running terrible spa.  Proverbs 22:29 talks about presenting one’s self before a king or before low men. 

וַיֹּ֧אמֶר יְהוָ֛ה אֶל־הַשָּׂטָ֖ן מֵאַ֣יִן תָּבֹ֑א וַיַּ֙עַן הַשָּׂטָ֤ן אֶת־יְהוָה֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר מִשּׁ֣וּט בָּאָ֔רֶץ וּמֵֽהִתְהַלֵּ֖ךְ בָּֽהּ׃
 (Job 1:7 WTT)

And the Lord said to Satan, “Whence did you go?”  And Satan answered the Lord and said, “I have been wondering on the earth going to and fro on it. 

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־הַשָּׂטָ֔ן הֲשַׂ֥מְתָּ לִבְּךָ֖ עַל־עַבְדִּ֣י אִיּ֑וֹב כִּ֣י אֵ֤ין כָּמֹ֙הוּ֙ בָּאָ֔רֶץ אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֧ם וְיָשָׁ֛ר יְרֵ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים וְסָ֥ר מֵרָֽע׃
 (Job 1:8 WTT)

And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you put your heart on my servant Job?  For where is anyone like him on the earth a man complete and straight and fearing God and turns from evil?” 

 וַיַּ֧עַן הַשָּׂטָ֛ן אֶת־יְהוָ֖ה וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַֽחִנָּ֔ם יָרֵ֥א אִיּ֖וֹב אֱלֹהִֽים׃  (Job 1:9 WTT)

And Satan answered Yahweh and said, “Is it not out of favor that Job fears God?” 

 הֲלֹֽא־(אַתְּ) [֠אַתָּה] שַׂ֣כְתָּ בַעֲד֧וֹ וּבְעַד־בֵּית֛וֹ וּבְעַ֥ד כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־ל֖וֹ מִסָּבִ֑יב מַעֲשֵׂ֤ה יָדָיו֙ בֵּרַ֔כְתָּ וּמִקְנֵ֖הוּ פָּרַ֥ץ בָּאָֽרֶץ׃(Job 1:10 WTT)

Have not you not put a fence around him and his house and all that belongs to him on every side? The things made by his hand you bless and his herds break forth on the land. 

וְאוּלָם֙ שְֽׁלַֽח־נָ֣א יָֽדְךָ֔ וְגַ֖ע בְּכָל־אֲשֶׁר־ל֑וֹ אִם־לֹ֥א עַל־פָּנֶ֖יךָ יְבָרֲכֶֽךָּ׃
   (Job 1:11 WTT)
But strike, I pray, your hand on all which belongs to him and will he not curse you to your face? 

 וַיֹּ֙אמֶר יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־הַשָּׂטָ֗ן הִנֵּ֤ה כָל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ֙ בְּיָדֶ֔ךָ רַ֣ק אֵלָ֔יו אַל־תִּשְׁלַ֖ח יָדֶ֑ךָ וַיֵּצֵא֙ הַשָּׂטָ֔ן מֵעִ֖ם פְּנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃
 (Job 1:12 WTT)

And then Yahweh said to Satan, “Behold, everything which belongs to him is in your hand, but surely on him do not send your hand.” And then Satan went from before the face of Yahweh.

וַיְהִ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם וּבָנָ֙יו וּבְנֹתָ֤יו אֹֽכְלִים֙ וְשֹׁתִ֣ים יַ֔יִן בְּבֵ֖ית אֲחִיהֶ֥ם הַבְּכֽוֹר׃
   (Job 1:13 WTT)

And one day his sons and daughters were eating and drinking win in the house of their first-born brother. 

וּמַלְאָ֛ךְ בָּ֥א אֶל־אִיּ֖וֹב וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַבָּקָר֙ הָי֣וּ חֹֽרְשׁ֔וֹת וְהָאֲתֹנ֖וֹת רֹע֥וֹת עַל־יְדֵיהֶֽם׃
 (Job 1:14 WTT)
And a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were pasturing near them. 

וַתִּפֹּ֤ל שְׁבָא֙ וַתִּקָּחֵ֔ם וְאֶת־הַנְּעָרִ֖ים הִכּ֣וּ לְפִי־חָ֑רֶב וָֽאִמָּ֙לְטָ֧ה רַק־אֲנִ֛י לְבַדִּ֖י לְהַגִּ֥יד לָֽךְ׃
 (Job 1:15 WTT)

And the Sabeans came and took them and the young lads they smote with the mouth of the sword and I alone escaped for the purpose of declaring to you these words.”

 ע֣וֹד׀ זֶ֣ה מְדַבֵּ֗ר וְזֶה֘ בָּ֣א וַיֹּאמַר֒ אֵ֣שׁ אֱלֹהִ֗ים נָֽפְלָה֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וַתִּבְעַ֥ר בַּצֹּ֛אן וּבַנְּעָרִ֖ים וַתֹּאכְלֵ֑ם וָאִמָּ֙לְטָ֧ה רַק־אֲנִ֛י לְבַדִּ֖י לְהַגִּ֥יד לָֽךְ׃
 (Job 1:16 WTT)

While that one was still speaking then another came and said, “Fire of God fell from the heavens and burned the sheep and the young men and consumed them and I myself alone escaped for the purpose of declaring to you these words.” 

 ע֣וֹד׀ זֶ֣ה מְדַבֵּ֗ר וְזֶה֘ בָּ֣א וַיֹּאמַר֒ כַּשְׂדִּ֞ים שָׂ֣מוּ׀ שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה רָאשִׁ֗ים וַֽיִּפְשְׁט֤וּ עַל־הַגְּמַלִּים֙ וַיִּקָּח֔וּם וְאֶת־הַנְּעָרִ֖ים הִכּ֣וּ לְפִי־חָ֑רֶב וָאִמָּ֙לְטָ֧ה רַק־אֲנִ֛י לְבַדִּ֖י לְהַגִּ֥יד לָֽךְ׃
 (Job 1:17 WTT)

Still while this other one was speaking another came and said, “Chaldeans placed three raiding parties and raided the camels and taking them and the young men they slew with the mouth of the sword and I myself alone escaped for the purpose of declaring to you these words.”

עַ֚ד זֶ֣ה מְדַבֵּ֔ר וְזֶ֖ה בָּ֣א וַיֹּאמַ֑ר בָּנֶ֙יךָ וּבְנוֹתֶ֤יךָ אֹֽכְלִים֙ וְשֹׁתִ֣ים יַ֔יִן בְּבֵ֖ית אֲחִיהֶ֥ם הַבְּכֽוֹר׃
 (Job 1:18 WTT)

And still again while that one was speaking another came and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine and in the house of their first-born brother.

 וְהִנֵּה֩ ר֙וּחַ גְּדוֹלָ֜ה בָּ֣אָה׀ מֵעֵ֣בֶר הַמִּדְבָּ֗ר וַיִּגַּע֙ בְּאַרְבַּע֙ פִּנּ֣וֹת הַבַּ֔יִת וַיִּפֹּ֥ל עַל־הַנְּעָרִ֖ים וַיָּמ֑וּתוּ וָאִמָּ֙לְטָ֧ה רַק־אֲנִ֛י לְבַדִּ֖י לְהַגִּ֥יד לָֽךְ׃
 (Job 1:19 WTT)
And behold a great wind came across the wildness and struck the four corners of the house and it fell on the young ones and they are dead and I myself alone escaped for the purpose of declaring to you these words.”
 וַיָּ֤קָם אִיּוֹב֙ וַיִּקְרַ֣ע אֶת־מְעִל֔וֹ וַיָּ֖גָז אֶת־רֹאשׁ֑וֹ וַיִּפֹּ֥ל אַ֖רְצָה וַיִּשְׁתָּֽחוּ׃
 (Job 1:20 WTT)
And then Job arose then he tore his robe and shaved his head and fell to the ground and worshipped. 

 וַיֹּאמֶר֩ עָרֹ֙ם (יָצָתִי) [יָצָ֜אתִי] מִבֶּ֣טֶן אִמִּ֗י וְעָרֹם֙ אָשׁ֣וּב שָׁ֔מָה יְהוָ֣ה נָתַ֔ן וַיהוָ֖ה לָקָ֑ח יְהִ֛י שֵׁ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה מְבֹרָֽךְ׃
 (Job 1:21 WTT)
And he said, “Naked I came out of my mother’s stomach and naked I shall return.  Yahweh gives and Yahweh takes away.  Blessed be the name of Yahweh!”

Notes:  The idea that we come into this world naked is literal, but when we go to the grave we are clothed.  So does he mean that we are as if we are without clothes in the grave? Or that separating from the body is like disrobing?  Does it mean that we carry nothing with us into the afterlife?  Many people and cultures have the tradition of burying people with possessions, even riches, pets or people in their household.  Pharaohs in Egypt built massive, elaborate tombs to not have the same of being without in the afterlife.  Vikings were buried with rich possessions. 
3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness,
 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions,
 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain,
 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
 11 But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
 (1 Tim. 6:3-11 ESV)

How is Job returning to the womb?  This seems like the question that Nicodemus is asking in John 3 regarding himself. 
Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
 4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
 5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'
 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (Jn. 3:3-8 ESV)
Why does Job call him Yahweh?  Job is not an Israelite. 

WTT  בְּכָל־זֹ֖את לֹא־חָטָ֣א אִיּ֑וֹב וְלֹא־נָתַ֥ן תִּפְלָ֖ה לֵאלֹהִֽים׃ פ
 (Job 1:22 WTT)
In all of this Job did not sin and did not give (ascribe) to God folly. 

Notes:  The word folly does not seem to be there in this form in BDB.  If I just looked at BDB it seems to be saying “prayer”, and in that case it is a euphemism for not cursing God.  In that case it is a desire not to write or say the words “curse God”.  When it isתִּפְלָה  as is in the text Holladay sees as “folly”, but Holladay says תְּפִלָּה  is “prayer”.  The transposition of the first and second vowel is the only difference. 

We sometimes suffer for righteousness sake, so therefore receive from the hand of God what he brings.

  • The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, let us bless the Lord. 
    • We sometimes suffer for righteousness sake, so let us bless the Lord.
    • We sometimes suffer or receive blessings as a part of our covenant relationships, so let us bless the Lord.
    • The Lord’s pattern of operation is a cycle of giving and taking, so let us bless the Lord. 

Monday, May 09, 2016

One on One

In his book The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman points out the example of Jesus in his ministry as individual instruction, small group instruction and preaching to large congregations.  These three are at least helpful in considering how a church should organize the discipleship ministry of the church.  Making disciples is a direct command in Scripture (Mt 28:18-19).  Jesus’ example of making disciples when working with individuals, small groups, and larger gatherings is strategic for the modern church. This blog post focuses on one to one discipleship.  

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) in his book “The Reformed Pastor” describes how he traveled from home to home teaching the catechism.  He had a clerk arrange appointments for the members of the parish.  Rev. Baxter would visit each family in the parish. The church provided printed catechisms which he left with his congregation members.  His approach was to talk with all members of the household but the time spent with the children was by habit short.  He focused on teaching the catechism to the fathers who was expected to pass down the information to the rest of the household.  Depending on family composition, he may work more with the mother who was head of household or wife of an unbelieving husband.  His work with individuals consumed much of his time, and he worked exceedingly hard.  He had lasting effects on the congregation many years even after his death. 

Fast Forward to the 20th Century when Dawson Trotman (1906 – 1956) worked with individuals in the military.  He met with US Navy sailors individually.  He taught practices such as daily Bible reading and prayer.  He also covered basic teachings such as salvation, Christian growth and inspiration of Scripture, however he focused on instilling practices that would lead the individuals he was mentoring into finding God for themselves in Scripture.  This approach has been successful in teaching Biblical literacy and praxis but was light on theology. 

I have personally gone through several discipleship programs which used the individual instruction method.  In college I was discipled by Don Braem as an older brother in the Lord. (Discipleship period: 1981-82).    While stationed in California I went through the Barnabas program (Discipleship period:1986).  I was mentored by Steve Martell, who was mentored by Bill Holdridge, who was mentored by Cliff Stabler, who was mentored by Ray Stedman. This program used the book Authentic Christianity by Ray Stedman which directs the Christian away the tendency of seeking salvation by faith but seeking sanctification by works.  Sanctification is also a work of God.  Later when stationed in Virginia I went through the One-to-One discipleship program mentored by Ron Johnson (Discipleship period: 1989-1996).  This was 10 lessons on basic Christian life.  I took four other guys through the material.  When I moved to Maryland I was mentored by Arthur Ames (Discipleship period: 1996-1999).  I had wrestled in embracing the Reformed faith.  Arthur was just the right guy to answer my questions and lead me down the right path.   All of these and other Christians have been instrumental in my own growth as a Christian.  

One on one is best for establishing foundational information, identifying educational gaps and removing them, and developing mature leaders.  

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Source of Conflict in My Life

Πόθεν πόλεμοι καὶ πόθεν μάχαι ἐν ὑμῖν; οὐκ ἐντεῦθεν, ἐκ τῶν ἡδονῶν ὑμῶν τῶν στρατευομένων ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ὑμῶν;
(Jas. 4:1 NA28)

Where do wars or conflicts come from in you? Do they not come from the pleasure you find in war making in your members?
(James 4:1 my own working translation)

We have conflict and fight with each other because we like it. I know people often are the victims of other people's love of the fight, however, we have to be constantly vigilant of our own hearts. We have to be aware of our own instinct to dig someone else, to go head to head, or to just compete in an unhealthy way. In recent years people have often thought that war comes from lack of resources. That may be a contributing factor, but the heart of mankind is the real source. People often think poor communication techniques or lack of empathy is the reason we have personal conflict. Communications techniques can help, but often our heart will turn good techniques on their head when used for sinful purposes. When we viciously compete with our neighbor and win, a part of our triumph may be to know exactly how they feel when they loose. It is not that we have not engaged emotionally with the other person, it is that we have engaged with sinful purpose in mind. We fight because we like conflict. We like the fight whether it is verbal or physical. We like the fight whether it is via gossip or the sports field. We all have conflict and often we like it if we can win or think we are winning. Not addressed in the verse is the idea of healthy and unhealthy conflict. The verse mainly deals with the source of conflict which is the human heart, my heart and your heart.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

We Hold Convictions Because They First Hold Us

If we go to a clothing store, we expect choose according to our taste and preference.  There are practical concerns like size and season that may inform our choices, but we can buy any article of clothing in the store.  It need not be our size or fit our marketing demographic.  I can buy a pair of jeans that would be more suitable for a young man in his twenties.  Besides the functional issues, clothing choice is a matter of style and taste.  These define what we want to communicate about ourselves.  It is our choice.

                        Image result for creative commons images buying clothes

There are other decisions we make in life that define our story.  If we accept or reject a marriage proposal, it has a great deal of impact on our life story.  If we are able to choose between two career paths that appear to be significant, meaningful work, that choice will influence our income, our life-work balance, our mobility, our health, and our professional network.  While practical concerns are expanded in impact and issues of the heart are deep, we still have a choice to make.

In our age of modern commerce, marketing towards our choices is common place.  If we go to Starbucks, we expect to have a multitude of choices.  If we book a hotel, we may be focused on price, amenities, location, or style.  These type of decisions may appeal to our sense of self by helping us to define ourselves.  Style, social association, and self-identification through our purchases is part of our modern culture.  Most of us, including this author, participate in these social rituals.

Image result for creative commons images buying coffee

This is not how freedom of religion works.  We do not sit down with a list of tastes, preferences, and practical benefits of religion and decide what we want.  If we have the luxury of choosing clothing, food or entertainment according to personal preference it is nice, fun and satisfying.  Weighty decisions that influence our story or define our character are a part of all our lives.  We should enjoy it.  However, this is not how freedom of religion works for anyone.  If we choose according to taste, this is not really encountering God.  We are in the driver’s seat and God is in the back seat.  In other words, we are our own God.  That leaves us not with freedom of religion, but of perhaps freedom of association and freedom of expression.  It may be a means of self-identification, not service to the God whom you have encountered.  Freedom of religion is based not on my preferences, but on my convictions.  A conviction is not centered on taste but on truths about justice, meaning, purpose, and story.  We may have an appetite for the truth or we may not.  A conviction takes hold of us so that whether we have an attraction to something or not, we pursue the stance consistent with the conviction.  Convictions differ from preferences in that a preference is what we pursue for pleasure. Convictions are what take hold of  us so that we are willing to suffer for them.

In a society where religion is handed down either by the family or by the state and there is no conviction on the part of the one practicing it, this is not freedom of religion.  A religion handed down is one that means a person chooses what to do, not a religion taking hold of the person.  God is not taking hold of the person.  This is not a transcendent experience that encounters God, but a human experience where a person encounters human ritual, human thought, and human community.  On a human level, we decide what we are going to do with that.  Shall we embrace it?  Shall we use it for social or business advantage?  Shall we let it pass by as a social artifact?  Shall we give lip service to the religion of the state or family?  We have a lot of choices when religion is handed down.  I can not speak authoritatively for other religions, but as Christians if it is simply the human experience we have lost the essence of Christianity.  If there are no eternal truths, we are merely holding the shell of the Christian experience.  If we have not met God through Jesus Christ, we are nominal Christians at best.  When the United States was founded on freedoms, that freedom of religion principle was based on the idea that women and men should not have to suffer under the hand of the government for their convictions.  The founders had observed how many people had suffered greatly for their convictions.

However, if we have freedom of religion we are not looking for preferences we are looking for convictions.   A conviction is something we hold as a fundamental truth for which we will suffer to live up to.  A conviction is not a preference we find within ourselves, but a principle whose importance, beauty and truth has captured our heart.  In a sense freedom of religion means we are captive to truth, justice, and righteousness.  A preference is that we can choose bottled, tap, mineral or sparkling water.  A conviction is that there is only one source of living water.  A conviction is not about my preference.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

I've been a student of evangelism for years. I've taken multiple college and seminary courses. I've been trained in church based programs. The motivation and theological reasons to do evangelism are often addressed. Sometimes these are the only issues of evangelism addressed because we are more comfortable with theological reflection than meeting people. At other times the techniques of evangelism get addressed. As one explores techniques, it is often the same as general persuasive communication used in business decisions, sales, policy debates, and public speaking...but watered down to one sales pitch which addresses one dimension. Often one sales pitch takes into account all the great public speaking techniques, but the techniques are usually not taught explicitly. These techniques of persuasive speech are incorporated into the structure of the canned presentation, but not taught explicitly. This would be indicative of training, not education. It is my observation that there is theology and techniques, but there is not much robust praxis. What is the difference between praxis and technique? I would say praxis is what we do in the Christian faith that has theological reflection as to why we do it. Technique on the other hand does not assume Christian theology so much as pragmatic outcomes as its rational. Praxis is more global in the issues addressed and multi-layered in issues addressed. Often the techniques of evangelism looks at what worked for one person and tries to teach other people to do the same. This often works but it often does not work. When it works we rejoice and use it as a reason everyone should adopt the technique. When it does not work we hide it and blame the one who did not follow the technique faithfully. I remember no indications that Mack Stiles intended to write a book about the praxis of evangelism, but it seems to me he did. He sees the persuading as a patient retelling of the gospel message multiple times in many contexts. The core of the gospel message is constant, but the individual stories of how one moves from rejection to consideration, from consideration to acceptance is a non-linear story in real life. Stiles seems to know this from experience. He understands that a culture of evangelism as a team is important. His book is one of the best on this topic.