Tragic Value Systems

An entertainment news show started off tonight intro’ing these headlines:

  • Actress gets out of the psych ward.
  • Reality star commits suicide.
  • Another actress dies while in rehab for drug abuse.
  • Fitness star with an eating disorder.

All of these people are attractive, famous, and would seem to have pretty much everything the world values. I don’t know these people and I don’t presume to know what they are thinking or what they value but I can’t help but think that all of this fits the narrative of a society that’s promises of fulfillment turn up empty again and again. It is a world gone crazy. Crazy with greed. Crazy over image. Crazy to be filled but just feeling emptier and emptier until there is nothing left to live for. It is all very tragic. These are real people who have been turned into objects by the very people they depend on…it is a brutal relationship. Keep up the image and we will value you…we will value you as an object but better to be valued as an object than miss out on everything the world says will fulfill you.

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10

The above list shows exactly how much havoc the “thief” is able to dole…Thank God that Jesus’ invitation is open to all and that life to the full is attainable, just not through the ways the world understands.


Knowledge is potential, not power

Knowledge does not guarantee the ability or willingness to do something about it. Too often in the church we describe problems, analyze problems but then do little to solve them. The 20s leaving the church is a classic example of this. People describe and explain why and then it’s like everything is ok now that we at least understand it. Few churches are turning the boat, taking that knowledge and using it to leverage better outcomes. Knowledge is potential, not power.

Review of Logos “How to Read the Bible” Collection – Part 1

Logos recently released a 4 volume collection on How to Read the Bible. The four volumes are:

  • All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us by Stan Guthrie
  • A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy: 60 Predictions Everyone Should Know by Stan Guthrie
  • How to Read the Bible in Changing Times: Understanding and Applying God’s Word Today by Mark L. Strauss
  • Out of Context: How to Avoid Misinterpreting the Bible by Richard L. Schultz

ReadBibleChangingTimesPart 1: How to Read the Bible in Changing Times by Strauss

I have taught several classes on how to read the Bible for both new and seasoned Christians and this book has just about everything I have ever included in those studies. This book is very similar to Gordon Fee’s book How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth (Strauss actually co-wrote “How to Choose a Translation for All It’s Worth” with Fee). The big difference is Stuart’s book covers more ground than Fee & Stuart by spending less time on genre (giving it a thorough overview with the essentials) and more time on how to make sense of what the Bible is and how to read it in light of our own cultural assumptions and biases. The book is also written from a pretty conservative perspective, which I appreciate. Strauss has a great deal of respect for the biblical text and sees it as an authority in the life of the Christian. I also appreciate that he has taught how to read the Bible on multiple occasions within Bible classes. That takes some of the ivory tower out of his approach and results in him asking and addressing the questions real people ask.

The two main things I liked about Strauss’ work is that he is extremely talented at asking good, guiding questions and his examples are extremely helpful. Instead of just giving you information, he often gives you the right questions to ask while studying a text and the order in which to ask them. That is tremendously helpful. This book is also loaded with biblical examples where he takes scripture and runs them through the questions he would have you ask of the text. Again, that is extremely helpful. Each chapter ends with discussion questions, complete with blanks to type in your answers. The questions have two purposes: 1) review the principles to help you remember them and 2) to help you figure out which parts you might actually use.

This book is a little more advanced than just an introductory text on how to read the Bible. I think it would be good for a new Christian or an experienced/older Christian to read but young Christians will have a lot of questions (especially in the later chapters) that they will need help with as they work through this book. That is not a bad thing, just saying that for your own awareness. I would hope a new Christian would already have someone more mature they could ask those questions to.

Overall, great book and one that I would recommend, especially for someone who is a little more than just getting started. I would recommend this book as a leader guide for a more experienced Christian who is teaching a class on how to read the Bible. This would be my primary text for a class like that.

There was one thing I wish they would change in the book. There is a list of additional resources on page 221 that is hidden in the text. It would have been better to have formatted this as a list of additional resources so you could find it easier. Honestly, this book needed an Appendix of additional resources. There are so many great resources out there on how to read the Bible contextually, how to understand culture, exegesis, how to read prophesy, and even commentaries that are geared toward reading the Bible from a historical perspective (like Beale’s work) that really needed to be listed at the end of the book. That would be a great addition to get the recommendations on these works from a person of Strauss’ caliber.

The 4 Volume collection is $47.18 @ which is really a great deal to get four books (with no shipping cost) straight to your computer, with all the bells and whistles that come with Logos’ products (fully searchable, indexed and linked in with other resources, etc).

Reminder – Google Reader Dies July 1

In case you forgot, Google reader is going away as of July 1. If you haven’t already found a new RSS reader and exported your favorites now is the time! Any tips on other readers you guys believe are exceptional that you want to pass on to the rest of us?

Spirituality is More Than Just Non-Physical Reality

ListeningSpiritGodGordon Fee is one of the most gifted writers on how to read scripture in the last 30 years. He is probably best known for some of his New Testament commentaries and his book “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth“. I have been reading his book Listening to the Spirit in the Text and have found it very helpful on many levels. Fee is Pentecostal so there may be a few things in there many will disagree with when it comes to spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, etc. But there are still some nuggets of wisdom that I took away from this book.

The biggest thing that changed my perspective in this book was his discussion of the word “spiritual” in Paul’s letters. Fee wrote that in all his studies of Paul’s letters that he came to the conclusion that Paul’s use of the word “spiritual”/”pneumatikos” always refers back to the Holy Spirit. In other words, “spirituality” is not a blanket term for non-physical entities but is always related to the Holy Spirit. Here is what he wrote,

“The point that needs to be made is that the word pneumatikos, a distinctively Pauline word in the New Testament, has the Holy Spirit as its primary referent. Paul never uses it as an adjective referring to the human spirit; and whatever else, it is not an adjective that sets some unseen reality in contrast, for example to something material, secular, ritual or tangible.

In the New Testament, therefore, spirituality is defined altogether in terms of the Spirit of God (or Christ). One is spiritual to the degree that one lives in and walks by the Spirit; in Scripture the word has no other meaning, and no other measurement. Thus, when Paul says that ‘the Law is spiritual’ he means that the Law belongs to the sphere of the Spirit (inspired of the Spirit as it is), not to the sphere of the flesh…So also, when Paul says to the Corinthians (14:27), ‘if any of you thinks he is spiritual,’ he means, ‘if any of you think of yourselves as a Spirit person, a person living the life of the Spirit.’ And when he says to the Galatians (6:1) that ‘those who are spiritual should restore one who has been overtaken in a transgression,’ he is not referring to some special or elitist group in the church, but to the rest of the believing community, who both began their life in the Spirit and come to completion by the same Spirit who produces his own fruit in their lives…True spirituality, therefore, is nothing more nor less than life by the Spirit.” (Fee, 5-6)

This sheds light on what it means to engage in “spiritual disciplines”. It means more than just doing something that has a non-visible effect. It means we are engaging ourselves specifically in the work of the Spirit. When it comes to reading and interpreting scripture we realize that it is a “spiritual” event in that the Holy Spirit is at work when we engage ourselves in those activities. I don’t know how the Spirit does it and I can’t place my finger on how it works all the time but that doesn’t keep me from believing it is true. If I am limited to only accepting as true those things that I can fully understand, there is no room left for faith and I end up limiting the work of God within me. This should encourage us to be more and more immersed in the Word of God because it isn’t about getting it done. It is about partnering with God and God’s work in us and through us by His Spirit. That is exciting!

Q & A With Our 80 and 90 Year Olds

Sunday night we had a Q & A with some of our members in their late 80s and early 90s. You can listen to the audio here

Wilma – Before we started I noticed Ms. Wilma (who is 93) was sitting a few rows back from the front. I went over to her, put my arm around her and said, “You know Jesus taught that if you go to a banquet don’t take the seat of honor. Instead, take a seat at the back and let someone invite you up to the front. That’s what I’m doing right now.” I helped her to her seat up front. She is a sweet sister, baptized in Tamp Bay (as in the water, not the city) by Marshall Keeble in his meeting in Saint Petersburg back in the 1930s.

Floyd – A B17 pilot in WWII. He is 88 and attended our outreach class for over a year to try to keep making a difference in the lives of others.

Mildred – 94 and still drives herself to church. She is always calling people to encourage them. Until a few years ago, she was still visiting people in the hospital, driving herself there to see them. She is one of the most kind people I have ever met.

Helen is 87 and still goes to the ALF were her husband died 3 years ago to play the piano for them and spend time with the residents there. Amazing people.

All of these people are still ministering to others in their late 80s to mid 90s.

A Way to Encourage More Scripture Reading In Your Home

BibleChairOne of the things we want our kids to grow up knowing is that our home is a place where reading scripture is extremely important. An idea hit us that we have put in place, still a work in progress. We decided to add a chair and table in our living room that has an open Bible on it at all times. The thought is, leaving the Bible open is a reminder to us that the Bible is important and needs to be open/read not shut/unread. It is easy to overlook a Bible on a shelf. It is hard to miss this one. The second idea is that it serves as a reminder to us to spend time in that chair, reading that Bible. I do a lot of Bible study with my ministry but not always as much at home with my family. This has encouraged me to get into the Bible more at home. The things we need to work on next is making Bible study a more significant part of our time together as a couple. Do any of you guys have routines that you have used to increase Bible reading in your home, with your kids or with your spouse?

Communication: Make You or Break You

ResidentParkingWe pulled into an assisted living facility yesterday. As always the lot was extremely full and there were only two spaces available. As we pulled into one of the available spots a man in the car next to us pointed at me and shook his head. I stepped out and asked him what was wrong. He said we weren’t allowed to park in that spot. I pointed at the little white sign that was in front of the parking space and told him, “It says Oak Manor Parking Only” and we are here to go in the building right here…this is Oak Manor, right?” He tells me, “That sign is supposed to say it is for Oak Manor workers only”. I let him know how confusing that was and asked him where we should park because all the other spots said “Resident” on them. You won’t believe what he said (or maybe at this point you already know). He said, you can park in the spots that say “Resident” but not in the spot that says “Oak Manor Parking Only”. I was floored. The sign that seems to say “This is where you park” is where you don’t park and the sign that seems to say, “Don’t you dare park here” is exactly where they expect you to park. Great! Now that I know the system I will be able to live comfortably within its convoluted confines.

When you are trying to figure out what people need to hear, act like you just pulled in the parking lot for the first time in your life and don’t have a clue what is going on. Don’t assume people know anything. Don’t assume they can read your mind. Tell them what you mean, keep it simple, and obvious. I am afraid that too often in church world our communication can be very much like that. We think people know what we are talking about but we might as well be speaking another language. It might be more convoluted to outsiders than we realize. People shouldn’t have to learn some complex system of poor communication in order to “Get it”. That is a barrier to reaching the lost than can and should be avoided.

So here is a thought, get someone you know who doesn’t have any church background to come by the building during the week and poke around. See what feedback they give you. Then have them come on Sunday and tell you what their experience was like. What was communicated that was wrong? What was communicated that was right? What needed to be communicated that wasn’t? Then start making changes…and maybe, they will come back another Sunday as you show them that you value their input!

Switching from Google Reader to Feedly

So google reader is going away and you may be looking for a good alternative. In the previous google reader post, someone suggested that Feedly is a good replacement. I installed it into chrome and it is excellent. It immediately asked to log into google reader and transferred all my RSS subscriptions straight in! Now I just need to figure out how to add a subscribe via feedly button on my sidebar.

Where We See Dry Bones, God Sees a Vibrant People

In Ezekiel 37 God takes Ezekiel out to a valley of dry bones. God asks him if these bones can live. Ezekiel, showing his savvy, gives God the perfect answer…one that is worth remembering if God ever asks you a tough question, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” God demonstrates how he works by telling Ezekiel what to say and so Ezekiel starts to preach to the bones. The bones rattle around and begin to connect. But they are still dead. So God tells Ezekiel to speak to the bones again and tell them that the breath of God is about to enter into them. Ezekiel informs the bones of what God is going to do and God sends his breath into them and brings them back to life.

Evangelism works like that. God tells us to speak to the dead, dry bones out there and God is the one who brings them to life. We speak and say what we are told to say and God works to bring people back to life. I realize this is out of context because these verses are about God’s own people coming back to life and I am applying this to speaking the word of life into the lives of the spiritually dead but I think the principle still applies. It worked that way with Moses & Aaron in Egypt…they spoke but it was God’s power that backed it up. What is more, God takes a hopeless people and gives them hope. He is the giver of life. He is the resurrection and the life.

Read these final words from Ezekiel 37:11-14,

“Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

I am so glad God is in the business of renewing and restoring things, even dead things. He is the ultimate giver of hope and giver of life. He has the final say…not the grave, not the valley of defeat where these men fell, not Israel in a foreign land worshipping foreign gods and not a church in disarray and decline. Where we see dry bones, God sees a vibrant people. Let’s catch that vision!