Thursday, April 30, 2015

This Technological World We Live In

Technology surrounds us every day, lets talk about that.   We will look at a few specific instances where we actually use technology. Then we will take a look at what it means to live as a Christian in this technological world. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry1. It comes from the Greek word τέχνηλογία which means systematic treatment2. Wolfram Alpha defines it as the discipline dealing with the art or science of applying scientific knowledge to practical problems2. That means that technology can easily incorporate everything from a ceiling fan to a mainframe computer.

 If we went back we could find very early examples of technology and how it has changed the world around us but we will only look at three. The first is glass which is used in everything from fiber optics to house windows. The base component in glass, silica, is also used to produce silicon circuit boards which are in every last iPhone and laptop in the world. Glass itself is used, with other additives, as the screens for these devices. The second product is milk. Milk is classified as a hydrocarbon which is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon3. Milk from a cow can be separated and refined into different products like butter, cream, and heavy whipping cream. Crude oil, another hydrocarbon, is separated and refined into things from asphalt to gasoline to plastic to polyester fabric. Some of those oil-based plastics are used in car interiors and other car parts along with the gasoline that is put in the car to make it go. The last product is metal. Metal has been mined and refined into everything from farm equipment like shovels and plows to laser guided missiles and aircraft carriers.

Christianity, over the last two thousand years, has had to adapt to different technologies. Algebra, clocks, chess, the printing press, electric light, automobile, telephone, radio, vaccination, computers, airplanes, anesthesia, refrigeration; have all been invented since Jesus ascended. Each of these new inventions brings with it new implications. Before clocks, people weren't on time but things still happened. Before radio ideas were spread. Before refrigeration there was no ice cream and people were okay with that. Before the printing press the Bible existed and Jesus was preached. Technology is not trying to replace life but improve on it. Do meaningless novels get published now? Yes, but there was a lot of meaningless publishing going on long before the printing press was invented, it just happened slower. Technology was employed and printing press was created through a long series of steps spanning two thousand years.

The three pieces of technology from earlier are the the building blocks of our current technological society. Copper, fiber optics, glass, hydrocarbons, silicone, and various metals make up all of the equipment that we use to connect with billions of people everyday. From the backbone servers of the Internet to the cellphones that we use to connect from almost anywhere, technology is built on top of these simple resources. Yes, they are refined. Some of them incredibly so, just take a look at what it takes to create fiber optic cables. These technologies were developed to make it easier to share information within the military and intelligence community in the USA starting in the 60's. Over the last fifty years the Internet has evolved to include hundreds of countries and billions of people. Carrying services from private pizza delivery to medical databases that enable doctors to provide faster diagnosis to patients, the Internet has grown to be an integral part of the lives of people living in developed countries for communication. How do we live with these technologies as Christians? Much of the early church lived under the rule of the Roman Empire. Rome was known for technological advancements not on their own, but by assimilating those they conquered. Rome was really good at conquering. One of the towns under Rome's influence was Ephesus. The Apostle Paul spent a lot of time at Ephesus. Ephesus was home to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis. Being a wonder of the world it would have taken quite a lot of technological know-how to get that temple up and running. Technology and its effects were well known to those living in Ephesus.


In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul is reminding them of things that they should know already, but for some reason have stopped following. Paul is writing to remind his readers who they are in Christ and what that means for their walk of life. We are called to Walk Worthy of our Calling (4:1) and then part of that walking we are to Make the Most of Our Time (5:16). How are we supposed to make the most of our time? Let me ask this question, when was the last time you hand washed your clothes? Thank God for the invention of the washing machine and dryer, not just for the time saved but also the fact that clothes last longer and smell better than if you hand washed them. Next time you have the opportunity, ask a kid to make cookies from scratch and see how long it takes them. We as humans have to be taught certain things like how to be efficient with our time. Matt Perman addresses the Christian's view of efficiency in his book What's Best Next, "True productivity is not first about efficiency doing things right and doing them quickly but effectiveness doing the right things.4" So, with technology we have this tension where it takes care of those things that are more monotony like washing clothes to make way for more time to be effective. So, now that we have extra time since washing clothes, dishes, vacuuming (looking at you DJ Roomba) in our homes are now being automated, what then? Walk in good works! Paul clearly states
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Paul then spends nearly three chapters on how we walk worthy of this Christian calling. Paul says, "Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord." (5:8b) And then Paul tells the readers to:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Twice in a short amount of time Christians are called to "discern what is pleasing to the Lord" and "understand what the will of the Lord is." This language leaves the question open, not to interpreting what is 'good', but what the "good" we are supposed to be walking in from 2:10. Paul tells us what is good and what is not good detailed in 4:17-6:9. But those good works that have been designed for us that we are supposed to walk in is not clearly told to each person. Now if we are spending all of our time in the monotony of life how are we ever going to figure out what those "good works" are that we supposed to be walking in? If we are being inefficient, washing clothes by hand inefficiency, then how can we ever be effective? But if we make our lives more efficient we can take the time to learn what those things are that we are supposed to be doing. Enter technology. Someone who refused to wash clothes by hand any more and created a washing machine to help himself and others spend their lives doing something other than washing clothes. So if we have technology available to us that can make our lives more efficient and allow us to be more effective then we should likely adopt that technology into our lives. It is not the technology that changes our hearts. Mike Cosper addresses how technology brings out what is in our hearts:
Their response to any critique of technology seems to echo the words of Jesus in the New Testament; no “thing”—-no device, for instance—-defiles us, but what’s in our hearts defiles us ( Matt. 15:11, 18). So the iPhone isn’t the problem, it’s our hearts in relation to the iPhone. The internet isn’t the problem, it’s what we put onto the internet, or what we download from it. The thing, in itself, isn’t evil. It’s what we do with the thing. 5
Our technology makes it very efficient for us to walk. But we have a different kind walk, as Paul reminds the Ephesians how they once walked,
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Walking like this is not walking Worthy of our Calling like Paul calls his readers to do. Not only can it make us efficient at walking in a way we shouldn't, it makes us ineffective in walking as Children of light. Paul does not give his readers the choice to walk in both worlds. He makes it very clear that these two walks of life are diametrically opposed.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2)
Technology helps us be more efficient as we are called to do, Ephesians 5:15-16, thus allowing us to have more time to be effective. We can use technology to walk worthy and effective lives.   

References:
 1. Technology - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology
2. Technology - Wolfram|Alpha. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2015, from http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=technology&a=*C.technology-_*Word-
3. Hydrocarbon - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrocarbon
4. Cosper, Mike (2011-11-02) Is Technology Neutral? http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-technology-neutral
5. Perman, Matthew Aaron (2014-03-04). What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (p. 49). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Sean Rodgers is a IT Professional working for CREFORM Corporation who graduated from Bob Jones University with a Bachelors in Pastoral Studies and Art.  Sean lives in Downtown Greer, SC with his wife. They are members and shepherding group leaders at North Hills Community Church.  He cheers for the Cowboys and the Clippers.  He runs TechMonkie.com, a technology blog that helps its readers make the most of their technology.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Q&A Pastors: Brent Heddin

Q&A Pastors is a series where pastors are asked about life, theology and ministry.  This initial post in the series features Pastor Brent Heddin. Brent planted and pastors  Desert Heights Church in Farmington, New Mexico.
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Pastor Brent
What is the history of Desert Heights Church? 
In college, for a project, I had to interview a person who had been in ministry for more than 40 years.  The person I interviewed had led nine church plants.  I just thought that was amazing.  When the pastor of the church I was on staff resigned I knew that I was going to have to find another place of ministry.  Dianne and I began the typical church search.  We contacted our denomination’s district office.  They gave us names of churches looking for a pastor and we gave them a resume to pass along to churches.  We interviewed a couple of potential places, but never felt like those were the places God wanted us.  After one very positive weekend at a church in St. George, Utah, Dianne and I came to the conclusion that God had brought us to Farmington--it was unreasonable for us to leave just because we’d left another church in the community.  We began seriously assessing the needs of the greater Farmington area.  What were churches doing that was successful and not successful?  Was there another church in Farmington that could use us?  Did Farmington need another church?  Our conclusion was that Farmington needed about 100 more churches!  So we began putting on paper what this new church needed to look like.  It needed to be a Bible teaching church.  It needed to not be grandma’s church.  There were no churches teaching Scripture that were reaching younger families.  It had to have an accessible nursery.  It needed to be comfortable for unchurched people.

March of 2003 we held our first service at the Marriott.  I planned on preaching a series of sermons leading up to Easter.  The title of the series was, “Why Jesus?”  We advertised in the newspaper and told everyone we knew that was not already tied into another church.  About twenty-three people came, mostly family.  We met in the motel for almost six months.  We found a warehouse and offices to be a permanent location.  The building required several changes to bring it up to current building code.  At every turn we saw God work things out for the benefit of the church.  A major plumbing project ended up being small.  The landlord had traded a bunch of carpet for rent previous to us.  It was just enough for us to carpet the warehouse floor for our auditorium.  An architect volunteered his work to help us.  God blessed us over and over.

The church grew in numbers and in maturity.  We needed to relocate again.  We called on a building that we’d checked on four years previous.  The owner had not wanted a church in his building.  It had previously been a bar.  However, this time he was happy to have us.  He was asking much less for rent and he let us remodel the entire building.  In June of 2014 we moved to a location with twice as many square feet and a more visible location.  We are already having to manage space carefully.

What did church planting teach you about God, ministry and yourself? 

FAITH.  When we first began, we’d take our offering box home and dump it out on the kitchen table to see if there was enough money to pay for our rooms at the motel.  Often there was not enough.  So on the way to pay the bill on Monday a.m. we’d go by the post office box.  A number of times there would be a check from someone who had heard we were trying to plant a church.  God would lead.  We would follow.  There was always a gap.  There was some sort of unmet need, a space between where we were and where God had told us to go.  And every single time God would provide.  I learned that God is faithful.  I learned that I am weak and often scared. I learned that bringing others along on a faith filled adventure with God is ministry!

What are some books that have really shaped you and your theology? 

 Knowing God by J.I. Packer,  Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges and Exclusion & Embrace by Miroslov Volf.

Why should a pastor commit to expository preaching?
 

Simple, we are mere men.  What in the world would we have to say that can compare to the eternal word of God?  Preaching God’s Word equips people with spiritual wisdom for spiritual living.  I’m still learning these principles.  There is no way I could bring spiritual truth to others by my own words, experience or knowledge.

How important is mentoring in ministry? 

I remember growing up in a preacher’s home and seeing evangelists come through and preach.  Wow, they were so cool.  Everyone was enamored by their charismatic sermons.  That’s want I wanted to do.  Then in college, actually through the study of business leadership, I learned that in order to have a significant impact on a person you have to commit to a long term relationship.  Business leaders who worked through problems, pastors who stayed through difficulties in the church were the ones who had the greatest influence on people.  Some ministry does happen in short bursts, but lasting ministry happens when we walk together and experience God together over time.

What is your favorite aspect of ministry? 

Preaching is instant gratification, but my greatest joy comes from seeing evidence of people’s spiritual growth.  When people read their Bible and God speaks to them personally and then they come and tell me that they, “Get it!”--I don’t think there is a greater thrill than getting to lead others to a growing relationship with God.

What is SOAP? How has it changed Desert Heights? 

SOAP is simply a systematic plan for daily devotions.  There is a reading plan that guides the person through the OT once and the NT twice in a calendar year.  SOAP is an acronym that outlines the devotional time.  First, you read the prescribed passage.  Second, you choose a Scripture.  Third, you write down an Observation.  Then you write out what the Application of this verse is to your life.  And finally, you write out a Prayer.

Imagine 200 hungry babies who are all waiting for you to feed them.  Now imagine 200 people who have eaten well and are wanting to help others learn to feed themselves.  That is what SOAP has done for us.  When people meet with God on a regular basis for the purpose of hearing from Him, they tend to show up to church already fed and on their way to spiritual maturity.   It makes pastoring so much easier!

What’s your vision for Farmington/San Juan County? 

Well, there are approximately 53,000 people without a church home in the greater Farmington area.  God is patiently waiting for them to come to right relationship with Him.  Our responsibility is to be a healthy church, shine the light of Jesus, make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus’ teachings.  As far as my strategy, I think that church plants are the most effective way of reaching and training followers of Christ.  I hope to plant churches like DHC in our community, but keep them all closely connected.  Basically, a group of small churches that share the infrastructure, resources and leadership of a big church.

What words of wisdom would give to guys studying for the ministry or just starting in ministry?
 

Ministry can easily distract you from your own personal relationship with God.  There is a principle at work in real ministry.  You cannot give what you do not posses.  If God is not present in your life, you cannot share God with others.  It is absolute.   Ministry happens out of the overflow of the presence of God in us.  Your relationship with God is your highest priority.
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Pastor Brent is married to Dianne. They have two children, Brennen and Bethanie. 
Desert Heights Church meets for Sunday School at 9:00 AM and for worship at 10:30 AM.
Learn more about Desert Heights Church  here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

2015 Dallas Cowboys Prediction

2014 Review
The success of the 2014 Dallas Cowboys came out of nowhere. After cutting declining star Demarcus Ware and losing Sean Lee to another season ending injury, a pathetic defense looked even worse. Superstar quarterback Tony Romo was also coming off his second back surgery in two years. Things looked grim. Surprisingly, however, the Cowboys achieved a 12-4 record, won their division and advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Had Romo not broke his back against the Redskins, it’s likely they would have won that contest as well as the following week against the Arizona Cardinals, finishing with a 14-2 record.  In the Divisional Round their season ended at Lambeau Field partly as result of a costly DeMarco Murray fumble but more because of the controversial rule overturning a glorious reception from Romo to Dez Bryant. Everyone (except for Packers fans) perceived a catch, but the officials ruled it incomplete. Although it was a disappointing end to a great season, the 2014 Cowboys made a statement: The Cowboys are back.

#9 QB Tony Romo
In free agency, the Cowboys lost several players. Underachieving linebacker Bruce Carter went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers along with cornerback Steerling Moore and wide receiver Dwayne Harris went to the New York Giants. Most significantly, after staying healthy for the first time in his career and putting up his best season (significantly due to Dallas’ formidable O-Line), DeMarco Murray joined Chip Kelley’s cast of injury prone stars in Philadelphia.  Although they lost some key players, the Cowboys did retain players essential to their success in right tackle Doug Free and linebacker Rolando McClain. They are still negotiating with wide receiver Dez Bryant. Most importantly, they brought in defensive end Greg Hardy giving their defense the pass rusher they desperately need. 


Assumptions
My predictions for the 2015 Cowboys season is the best case scenario—in my mind at least. Newly acquired defensive end Greg Hardy is suspended for a maximum of eight games. Second year defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence builds on his playoff success. Cornerback Brandon Carr plays up to his contract.  Linebacker Sean Lee stays healthy the entire season (something he has yet do accomplish in four years). Linebacker Rolando McClain plays every game. Running back Darren McFadden or the newly drafted running back takes some pressure off of Tony Romo’s shoulders.  Romo is the most important person on the Cowboys roster. If he goes down the season's fate will be thrust on Grandpa Weeden or inexperienced Dustin Vaughn. In other words, the season will be lost. Assuming all of those factors above, we can move on to the analysis.


Analysis
The Cowboys open their season in their usual showdown with the New York Giants. Although Eli Muppet Manning is a mediocre quarterback

#55 LB Rolando McClain
he somehow always puts on a good show when facing the Cowboys. He’ll have a good day but his superior counterpart, Tony Romo will have a better day. Cowboys win 34-31 (1-0).

In week 2, the Cowboys face the Philadelphia Eagles. Here, they will meet up with former teammates running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Miles Austin. With so many new players, by this point in the season the Eagles will be mess. Cowboys win 31-24 (2-0)

After beating the Falcons 28-14 (3-0), the Cowboys will have a showdown with the New Orleans Saints.  Both defenses will give out in this game. The Cowboys secondary isn’t good enough to hold back Drew Brees but Rob Ryan’s defense will get shredded by Romo and Bryant. Cowboys win 38-31 (4-0).

Week 5 holds an exciting contest between America’s team and the New England Patriots. The Patriots and Cowboys will both be 4-0 at this meeting, reminiscent of their 2007 fight at Texas Stadium. The Cowboys defense will be the surprise factor here, with Marinelli bringing the heat against Brady who will spend his day pouting and ranting on the sidelines. Cowboys win 21-17 (5-0).

Following the most boring week in the season (bye) the Cowboys sweep the Giants 24-21 (6-0). and face the Seattle Seahawks. Here one of the NFL’s premiere offenses in the Cowboys will be challenged by on the NFL’s best defenses in the Seattle Seahawks. If it turns into a shootout, there’s no way Russell Wilson keeps up with Tony Romo. More likely, though, it will be a defensive fight, with the Cowboys pulling ahead late in the 4th quarter. Cowboys win 17-14 (7-0).

In week 9 the Cowboys will again beat the Eagles 24-14 (8-0) before annihilating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-14 (9-0). Every season the Cowboys get beat by a time they have no business getting beat by. This year, it will be the Miami Dolphins over the Cowboys, 24-21 (9-1).

On Thanksgiving Day the Panthers come to Dallas. On his first game back from suspension, Greg Hardy will play with vigor and lead a Dallas defense that has come together. Cowboys win big, 42-7 (10-1). Next, the 'Boys face off against the Washington Redskins and easily defeat them 34-10 (11-1).


#82 TE Jason Witten

Week 14 provides a rematch between the Packers and the Cowboys. In their previous match up, an immobile Aaron Rodgers stood comfortably in the pocket against a non existent pass rush. This game will be different with DeMarcus Lawrence and Greg Hardy providing pressure. The cold weather will make this game an old school grind through the run. Romo will make more key plays than Rodgers and the Cowboys will top the Packers 31-24 (12-1).

Next, the Cowboys easily defeat the Jets 35-7 (13-1). Then they travel to Buffalo where they top the Bills 21-17 (14-1). Finally, they close out their season against the Redskins and end on a victory 38-28 (15-1).







Summary
The Cowboys lone loss comes against the Miami Dolphins. They win their division and conference before bringing home their sixth Lombardi Trophy.  Tony Romo is named the league’s MVP. And finally, I can gloat on Facebook and to all my hater friends about the Cowboys. 


This prediction is obviously the optimism of a fan--a fan with annual rose colored glasses. For two decades I’ve been saying this is the year the Cowboys win it all. And again, I believe, this is the year for the Dallas Cowboys. I just can't help myself.

#88 WR Dez Bryant

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sex and Violence in the Bible: A Recommendation

Joseph W. Smith III, Sex & Violence in the Bible: A Survey 
of Explicit Content in the Holy Book. P&R Publishing, 2014. 240 pages.

Things We Don’t Talk About
It was my junior year of college and we had just finished prayer group. A few of the guys were still in my room and for some reason the topic of relationships and marriage came up. Because my own relationship adventures had yet to be successful,  I was busy preparing a cup of Earl Grey and did not contribute to the conversation. One guy was going on about how he couldn’t wait to be married so he could stare into his wife’s eyes, stroke her hair, and cook her breakfast, etc. My friend Andrew quickly jumped in.
“I can’t wait to be married because I want to have sex!”

The room immediately went silent. Awkward tension filled the air. I laughed and sipped my tea. 


Christians rightly strive to abstain from sex before marriage. Looking forward to the day for sexual fulfillment isn’t a bad thing.  How the people in the room shuffled uncomfortably, though, was telling.

Here was a group college kids, shifting uncomfortably because one of them was refreshingly honest about something personal.  Sex is a catalyst. Some graphically indulge in it—it fills their conversation in a perverse way. Others, treat it like it is less than godly—necessary for procreation and maybe even enjoyment, but not something to be talked about.

Violence, like sex, is another reality of life looked down upon. I remember hearing a youth pastor telling a group of people that no Christian should ever watch Breaking Bad because of its glorification of vice. Anyone who’s ever watched Breaking Bad knows just how ridiculous and naive that statement is. Sure, Breaking Bad is filled with objectionable content—the violence and darkness of the drug trade—but without such content the story loses its punch. The whole point of Breaking Bad is that money isn’t worth the cost of that life. So in order to communicate that message, that life needs to be seen in all of its ugliness.


How should Christians view sex and violence? What about objectionable elements in entertainment? Are these things beneath Christians? Joseph Smith III has written a work to aid Christians in answering this question by examining their role in the Bible. Sex and Violence in the Bible surveys explicit content in Scripture. Instead of summarizing all of the content covered in the book—being as it itself is a summary—it may be best to list the chapters. That will give you a good idea of the data covered within. The book consists of three parts and a conclusion that spells out implications for how Christians should view these topics.

Part 1: “Uncovering Nakedness”: Sex
1—“Please Give me Some”: A Few Aphrodisiacs
2—“Covering His Feet”: The Man’s Body
3—“I Will Lay Hold of Its Fruit”: The Woman’s Body
4—“Your Shame Will Be Seen”: Disrobing and Nudity
5—“If They Cannot Exercise Self-Control”: Premarital Sex
6—“Be Drunk with Love!”: Intercourse and Marriage
7—“Your Lewd Whoring”: Adultery
8—“The Wages of a Dog”: Prostitution
9—“You Shall Not”: Bestiality, Voyeurism, Incest, and Homosexuality

Part 2: “The Blood Gushed Out”: Violence
10:—“I Will Drench the Land”: Blood and Gore
11—“Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth”: Beatings, Attacks, and Tortures
12—“He Violated Her”: Rape
13—“Wallowing in His Blood”: Dismemberment and Other Disgusting Deaths
14—“The Smoke of a Furnace”: Death by Fire
15—“And the Son Shall Eat Their Fathers:” Cannibalism
16—“This Abomination”: Murdering Children
17—“120,000 in One Day”: Mass Killings, Assassinations

Part 3: “Any Unclean Thing”—Other Blunt or Unsavory Material
18—“Unclean until the Evening”: Menstruation, Semen, and Other “Discharges”
19—“Wasting Disease and Fever”: Bowels, Boils, Tumors, and Lepresy
20—“Their Flesh Will Rot”: Vomit, Corpses, and Other Gross-Outs
21—“And the Dung Came Out”: Feces and Urine

Conclusion: “Think About These Things”

As you can see, Smith covers every objectionable element in Scripture. His coverage of issues is as frank as Scripture’s. In some areas, he devotes time explaining some euphemisms that time and culture have made unrecognizable. He also interacts with various scholars proposals concerning some things that are unclear. One example of this interactacton is Ham’s looking on his naked father, Noah. Some have suggested the Noah’s curse demands more than mere looking on Ham's part, but possible homosexual practice. Smith interacts with each scholar, weighing the strengths of their arguments and then settling on what makes most sense. His coverage of the incident between Ham and Noah is on pages 78-81, and to see what he believes occurred, you’ll have to read the book!

A Needed Work
Over the past year in my Bible reading, I’ve been swimming in the Wisdom Books—mostly Ecclesiastes, but with occasional stops at Proverbs, Job and Song of Solomon. I’ve been nourished by their humanness. Proverbs presents us with the “a,b,c’s” of wisdom. Job and Ecclesiastes gives us advanced courses in wisdom—a Christian realism of knowing God  as good but experiencing suffering in life. Song of Solomon is a love song bathed in the joy of sex.

As I’ve spent this past year studying wisdom, I've read books that may relate to my study. Sex and Violence in the Bible was one of those. Smith’s work has broadened my perspective. While I knew Scripture was filled with objectionable content (especially the Old Testament) I had forgotten how pervasive it was.

Joseph Smith has written a much needed work for Christians. Sex and violence are universal experiences. Its part of life. The Bible is not above it. God includes these elements in His holy book.

Concerning objectionable content in Scripture and its place in Christianity, Smith writes:

The Bible is, in fact, refreshingly matter-of-fact in its approach, freely acknowledging what we all know: these things are an important part of life, and by no means to be ignored or overlooked. We want a religion that is true not for some of life—for spirituality, worship and service—but for all of our experience. The wide range of Scripture passages on sex, violence, and other uncomfortable material helps us to see that the Judeo-Christian tradition is true for all of life, that is does not prudishly overlook or sidestep certain issues; rather it concerns itself—often quite closely—even with mundane bodily matters like menses, skin disease, and nocturnal emission. (216-17)

Our avoidance of sex and violence has made Christianity neat and clean, at least on the outside. It doesn’t allow for the real struggle that we all endure daily. This is, in part, due to our avoidance of objectionable content in Scripture. Smith writes:

If we insist on sanitizing our church services and Sunday school classes, and we never talk about the graphic content that so clearly depicts the corruption and hopelessness in the heart of man, then we should not be surprised at how few of us are able to discuss the sin and depravity in our lives.

Smith makes some very helpful conclusions about sex and violence. First, sex:

In the case of sex, I am convinced that the best antidote for our cultures obsession is a truly biblical embracing of marital sexuality: a commitment to enjoy sex within God's parameters, yes, but to enjoy it fully and physically, with all the delirious abandonment modeled for us in the Song of Solomon and in Proverbs 5. If joyful married sex is God's intention from the beginning—to be naked in unashamed—then let us show the world how satisfying this is, and draw it back from the brink of romantic self-annihilation. (220)
Next, violence:
In the case of gore and violence, let’s admit that these issues are real—they are constants in life, alternately repulsive and fascinating, neither to be prudishly imagined out of existence nor used as some sort of lewd entertainment by a culture that sometimes seems unable to find stimulation in any other way. (220)

Joseph Smith has done a great service to the church with this resource surveying explicit content in the Bible. It demonstrates to Christians the Bible’s realism. Christians need not adopt a Victorian attitude about sex or violence. They need to have realistic perspective. 


Rating:  Five Hatch Green Chiles out of Five:



Friday, April 17, 2015

Preparing Sermons

Preparation
Everyone develops sermons differently, and even in one’s own preparation it is not a static thing. Development occurs. Preparation processes change. For me, preparing sermons usually involves the same process, although some things have changed over the years.  This post is a description of my usual sermon preparation routine. This preparation is assuming an expository philosophy which begins with Scripture. I'm not looking to rant about whatever I feel is wrong with the world. Nor am I using a text to springboard a discussion. Instead, expository preaching unpacks a text and explains its meaning to God's people. 


Because  New Testament epistles are the easiest to preach, the process below reflects the preparation of one. Specifically, it reflects the sermon I preached over Christmas break at Desert Heights Church on Titus 2:11-14. If I were preaching narrative or poetry there would be similar elements of preparation, but there would be real differences, most notably in the propositional display. In narrative, the key is not so much the grammar of individual phrases or words, but the meaning of blocks of texts or repetitive themes.

#1 Pray
The first step in the process is prayer. The preacher serves as a spokesman for God. The message is not his own. He is only a messenger heralding the message of the King. The Holy Spirit must be directing the entire process.



Tools in sermon studying: Bible, MacBook, commentaries, NM Pinon Coffee and Garth Brooks

#2 Master the Book
The first step in understanding a specific passage is getting grasp on the message of the entire book. No text stands in isolation. The goal in mastering the book is identifying where your text fits within the overall book and how it contributes to its message.

#3 Propositional Display
If possible, this should be done in the original languages. But sermon preparation time is usually limited,  so the original languages should at least be consulted here and throughout the entire process. The goal in developing a propositional display is extracting the intrinsic outline of the text.  We don’t come to a text and impose our own outline on it. If our theology of preaching is correct, then we see that our purpose is not to deliver our own message but to discover and communicate the King’s message.

First, copy the text and place it within a writing program.  I work on a MacBook and preach my notes from an iPad, so I use Pages for convenience. Next, look for grammatical clues, whether you're using an English or a Greek text. In English asking the 5 “w’s” (
who, what, where, when, why, how, ) provides an easy way to analyze a text and explore the relationships of its phrases. The point is that you want to dissect a text and subjugate phrases beneath phrases so that the text’s intrinsic outline will emerge. 

Here is my propositional display of Titus 2:11-14:
In addition to extracting the inherit outline of a text, a propositional display provides borders in discussion. It visually demonstrates to us the major and minor points of the text. This, in turn, prevents us from getting side tracked or making sub points main points. In Titus 2:11-14 starting in the Greek text was crucial as it reveals that the passage is actually just one sentence with charis (grace) as its subject. We see that everything in the passage relates back to grace. So my preaching outline, the frame that I  hang points of explanation upon reflects this understanding:

There is nothing profound about my outline, it isn’t cute or cleverly alliterated.  I simply tried to the best of my ability to extract the text’s outline and communicate it.  Because grace is the the subject, the first point is an explanation of  what grace is and what is meant by its appearing. Because everything else in the passage spanning from verses 12 through 14 concerns grace's training work, that forms the second point. Grace trains us to renounce, live and wait.

The Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament is a new, ongoing commentary series that includes a propositional display for every textual unit. This is an excellent resource to ensure that your display is on the right track.

#4 Work Hard on Your Own
Commentaries should be used, but that’s the next step. Initial outlining and explanation should be done before consulting commentaries. You want to safeguard yourself from copying someone else's interpretation and becoming a clone. Also, you don’t want to rob yourself of the joy of discovery.

#5 Commentaries

Some Christians are opposed to commentaries. That is a strange position to hold to. Commentaries are gifts to the church. Scholars have dedicated their lives to the deep study of Scripture. They have become specialists in their fields to a depth that the local pastor cannot match. Commentaries are the fruit of their labor.

In my own study of Scripture I read as many commentaries as I possibly can. I don’t want to miss any idea or interpretation. Reading multiple commentaries provides a forum for various scholars to debate eachother about the passage's meaning. 


In my process of consulting commentaries, I always begin at the most simple level and work my way up to as advanced as I can comprehend. I’ll read all the introductions and then the actual expositions of texts. First, I consult study Bible notes, usually the MacArthur and ESV Study Bibles. Next, I read an expositional commentary like the Tyndale series (TOTC, TNTC). Then, I’ll read a more intermediate commentary like the MacArthur New Testament Commentary (MNTC), the New American Commentary Series (NAS) or the Pillar New Testament Commentary Series (PNTC). Finally, I’ll read several advanced commentaries. At this level, the commentaries I regularly consult are the New International Commentary Series (NICOT, NICNT), the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series (ZEC), and the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series (BECNT).

#6 Pray Again
Prayer in sermon preparation shouldn’t be limited to the beginning of the project alone. The whole sermon process should be bathed and book ended in prayer. Delivering the King’s message is dependent upon the Holy Spirit’s guidance, illumination, and power.

Here is the sermon I preached on Titus 2:11-14:

God's Grace: The Foundation of Christian Life from Desert Heights Church on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week

Resources for Reflection 
Life is extremely busy. One danger for busy Christians is being swept up in all the craziness and neglecting seasons of reflection. Holy Week is a week that deserves sustained reflection. The Easter season is the most glorious season on the Christian calendar. Christ's death on Friday and Sunday Resurrection make our faith. This year, Good Friday falls on the April 3 which is the likely date on which Jesus died nearly two thousand years ago. For a convincing case of April 3, 33 as the date of Jesus' death see this article here.   Below are a few recent  resources that I have found especially beneficial in contemplation and celebration of our Lord's Passion and victorious Resurrection.



The Final Days of Jesus

Justin Taylor and Andreas Köstenberger have coauthored an excellent resource for Passion Week with their book The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived. Justin Taylor works with Crossway and has had a hand in editing several volumes. Andreas Köstenberger is a leading Johannine scholar and has written multiple volumes concerning John's writings. His contribution to the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament Series, John is excellent. He is the editor of Zondervan's Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series and author of its inaugural volume, A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters: The Word, the Christ, the Son of God. Köstenberger is my favorite New Testament scholar and I've personally gleaned so much from his writings (his commentary on John's Gospel is my personal favorite and his theology of John is superb). Köstenberger has shared his own list of Easter resources available on his site here.

The Final Days of Jesus is a chronological arrangement of Holy Week in the Gospel accounts. It also includes helpful graphs, maps and commentary. I worked through this volume during Holy Week last year and drank in its riches. 

Daily Videos
The second resource is a video series done by Crossway. These videos accompany The Final Days of Jesus but will work well as stand alone vignettes if you don't read the book. They feature several leading, conservative New Testament scholars including Andreas Köstenberger, Doug Moo and Grant Osborne.  These vignettes make for excellent daily supplements for reading each day's events of Holy Week in Scripture.

Palm Sunday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Palm Sunday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Monday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Monday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Tuesday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Tuesday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Wednesday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Wednesday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Thursday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Thursday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Friday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Friday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Saturday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Saturday from Crossway on Vimeo.

Resurrection Sunday:

The Final Days of Jesus: Resurrection Sunday from Crossway on Vimeo.


N.T. Wright on the Resurrection
Another very helpful resource is N.T. Wright. Wright is a leading voice on the Resurrection having authored a standard work with his tome,  The Resurrection of the Son of God. Some video resources that I have benefited from during the Easter season are his lecture on the Resurrection and his documentary on the Resurrection.


Lecture: "Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?"

 

Documentary: "Resurrection"