Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Confused by Eschatology?

I know I am. This is one of those areas of theology that just about always leaves me cross eyed and confused. For those of you who don't know what eschatology is, well you are in the right place. Eschatology comes from the Greek word eskhatos which basically means "last", and another Greek word logia which means "sayings, utterances, oracles". An easier definition is "the study of last things" and we'll just leave it at that.

For most of us, the only eschatology we know is what we were exposed to in the 90's through the Left Behind series. There is quite a bit of scripture that talks about the "last things" but it can be hard to make heads or tails of most of it unless you are willing to spend some time studying it. Left Behind basically told most of us what to believe and we agreed with it 100% because it is all we had ever read on the subject. Sooner or later as we grow in our understanding of God, some big words will start to thrust themselves upon us and we look at them like deer caught in the headlights, either running away from them or getting hit so hard by them that we are left on the side of the road beaten and battered. These words are:

Amillenialism, Premillennialism, Post Millenialism, & Dispensationalism.

Now, if you are anything like me, you will probably look at those words and say, "Who cares?! Jesus doesn't care if I know this stuff." Well, truth be told, it's pretty important. Not "this hinges on eternal salvation" important, but choosing one of theses will define how you view history as well as the future. Rather than try to explain all of these to you, I stumbled on these 4 videos from David Murray at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. They are short and have cartoon pictures. Couldn't be easier. Enjoy!

Amillennial Timeline

Amillennial Timeline from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

Postmillennial Timeline

Postmillennial Timeline from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

Premillennial Timeline

Premillennial Timeline from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

Dispensational Premillennial Timeline

Dispensational Premillennial Timeline from Puritan Reformed on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Regarding the Church Reading Prayers Together

For the last two weeks, our church has been doing something that we have never really done before. After the message, we typically would go straight into singing 4-5 songs in response to what we had just heard from God's word. There is a short prayer time for the entire church that takes place as well that leads into the singing. As the music ministry leader I made the decision to add an additional "church prayer" between the corporate prayer time and the music. A short prayer is placed on the screens for the church to pray together and then the music begins. It was very evident to me that this would make some people feel uncomfortable, and I was well aware that as we did this, it could result in nothing more than a monotone, emotionless chant. After hearing some people ask questions about it (which I am very thankful for), I thought it would be good to lay out some reasons why I implemented this as the start to musical worship. First, I want to give a little personal history that may help the discussion.

To begin, I spent my earliest years in the Roman Catholic Church, so speaking in a monotone chant as a congregation is nothing new to me. In fact, I never ever liked it at all. It always seemed so meaningless and obligatory. I never felt any connection to what I was saying and therefore thought the whole thing was just ridiculous. I'm pretty sure the adults around me were thinking the same thing as they went through the motions without any care for what they were actually saying. I mention all of this because it would seem I would be the last person to suggest a "church prayer" for everyone to recite. Didn't I learn as a child how meaningless it was to everyone? Truth be told, after doing it the last two weeks I can hear a voice saying inside of me, "This is wrong. No one likes this. It's meaningless. It's just like when you were a kid." However, I have learned over the years that when I hear or feel things like that, I need to check if they are rational, biblical, or lies from the Enemy.

With that short history in mind, let me throw out why I proposed we attempt this as a church:

1. I had heard of other churches doing this with some success in regards to uniting the body in one prayer. Focusing everyone towards one specific prayer in order to get everyone meditating on the same thing either prior to or after the message. I realize that many churches do this ineffectively & ultimately fail at this, but I will get to why I think this a little later.

2. It serves as a transition from praying as groups to starting the musical part of our worship service. Rather than have the band leader add more preaching to the message that was already preached, or pray a short prayer out loud and then say, "Stand up we are going to sing now," the church prayer has the opportunity to set us all up to sing wholeheartedly and make a joyful noise as a church, not just individually amidst others.

3. It teaches us how to pray through scripture. I once was leading a Bible study and asked the group, "Has anyone here prayed through scripture before?" The response was a unanimous "no". I've found at times that I am often without words, and find myself not knowing what I could possibly pray. Praying through scripture helps in getting us to pray something, and we can know that what we are praying is pure truth. Every prayer that we have read as a church is a bunch of verses put together in one coherent thought. They have actually been taken from Matthew Henry's Method of Prayer which you can check out here. The verse references are added to the bottom of the prayer to show that these are not meaningless words we are saying, but we are praying the word of God back to him. I have also been trying to find prayers that line up with what has been preached to further help us stay focused on what God is trying to teach us.

Now for some important points that will hopefully clear up some things.

1. It was never my intention that everyone would need to pray these prayers aloud. Everyone could pray in their own minds or at a whisper if they wanted. The important thing is what is being prayed, not how many people are saying it out loud.

2. I mentioned above that many churches fail at doing these types of things. I believe that they fail because neither the leaders, nor the body really take to heart what they are saying. A beautiful prayer to God that is intended to build up both the body and bless our Father can instantly turn into monotone, pointless regurgitation of what is written on the screen. However, it isn't that the prayer is bad, but that we have let it become so drab and worthless to us that we say it the way we do. Or, on the other hand, the fear of man is so strong that we don't want to sound like idiots reciting some prayer we've never seen before.

3. This is actually a sub-point to clarification #2. Think of music in the church for a moment. Most people have no problem singing the same songs over and over again throughout the year. These songs are done as a community and yet they can seem so personal. I think that musical worship is "easier" than worshiping through prayer or hearing the preached word. Think about this for a moment. If we read the lyrics that we love so much, the same ones that are so meaningful to us, without any music at all, we would say those same words in a monotone and boring way. The music forces us to respond loudly and emotionally. It does a lot of the work for us because it brings us to a place where we want to participate. Preparing ourselves to hear preaching or for praying as a church out loud or in groups is not nearly as easy. It is a battle. However, uniting in one prayer does not have to sound like reciting lyrics without music, or like a cult with no ability to think on their own. If everyone were to pray out loud the way that they sing & recognize that they are praying to the living God, it would change from a boring reading to a real and authentic cry to our Lord.

Ultimately, reading through a prayer together can be a recipe for disaster, but only if the people involved treat it as nothing more than reading. It could be much more, but then again, if it is something that we don't give much effort to, and continue to not give effort to, or it just never leaves the "this is weird" stage, than it would make sense to remove it & try to accomplish the same goals in another way.

Hopefully this clears up some of the reasons why I added this to the beginning of the music portion of the service, but if not, I'm just an e-mail address away from answering any questions, concerns, or ideas. I am very thankful for the people who have had questions about this already and am grateful for their honesty.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Radical Together - A Book Review

David Platt's previous book Radical is a book that, since reading it, I find myself recommending to just about every Christian I share casual conversation with. It was challenging and edifying which made it all the more exciting when I saw Radical Together was coming out. In all honesty I was slightly nervous this Radical thing would become the next Every Man's Battle with 100 different versions and would end up being over done and be the new "fad". Considering the author, I don't see that happening and after reading Radical Together it looks like I have nothing to worry about. This book is a perfect follow up to Radical and will hopefully open a lot of eyes to how we are called to live radically not just individually, but as a church that strives to impact the world in service to Jesus Christ.

The book is broken down into six chapters that follow six ideas proposed by the author:

1. One of the worst enemies of Christians can be good things in the church
2. The gospel that saves us from work saves us to work.
3. The Word does the work.
4. Building the right church depends on using all the wrong people.
5. We are living - and longing - for the end of the world.
6. We are selfless followers of a self centered God

Each chapter follows a similar style as Radical. There are personal stories from the author, church members, as well as letters from people that changed their lifestyle after reading the first book. None of these stories are included to make Radical seem like the answer to our problems but rather as a testimony to God's grace in changing lives to better serve His purposes. These stories usually act a springboard to help us see his points more clearly.

So why read this book? Is it more of the same? Yes and no. The stories are similar to the first book, and the tone is the same, but the focus is different. Everything written in Radical Together is aimed at the local and universal church. The individual application is present but the goal is to drive the Christian community to a more biblical understanding of what it means to work together for the sake of the gospel. What should our vision be? Should we have a vision? Should we spend our efforts locally or think globally? All of these questions are answered in a helpful way that is persuasive and challenging. As a church leader I found some of the points the author made to be so challenging that I actually rebelled against them in my mind and in my heart. It was a struggle thinking through what was in this book and what my life and our life as a church would look like if we lived this way. The world would look very different, that's for sure.

As I read the book I really didn't find too much about it that was negative. If there was anything I was bothered by it was my own heart and unwillingness to want to pursue what the Bible clearly teaches in regards to living as a church.

Buy this book and read through it slowly and carefully. Take notes and ask yourself the questions the author is asking. I bet you will not come away the same person. Highly recommended for anyone from Pastors to churchgoers. Also, there are discussion questions in the back of the book that could be used in various group settings.

Read the 1st Chapter here.
Buy the book here.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Daddy, Why Doesn't God Live In Me Too?

Well, it is beginning to happen. Our 4 year old son, Jonah, is starting to ask hard questions. Recently we have spent a lot of time answering questions about where Jesus is right now, why he died, and various other Jesus related inquiries. Just the other night after some discipline time Jonah told Erin, "I just want to go to Heaven and be with Jesus." That may have stemmed from his dislike of discipline but it also could be because he actually does want to be with Jesus. Regardless, it is really fun to watch him try to figure out what Mommy and Daddy believe.

This brings me to the question Jonah asked me in the car yesterday. We were on our way to his soccer practice which is about 15 minutes from where we live. Usually I use this time to tell him he needs to share and that if someone takes the ball he can't throw a fit because that is what soccer is all about. However, I decided to drive a different way yesterday and we passed by a couple churches. One church had a giant statue of Jesus on the cross hanging on the outside of the building. The other church had just a simple cross sans Jesus. Jonah said, "Look at the statchio (statue) of Jesus! He looks dead." I went on to tell him that Jesus was alive and well and that some churches have statues like that to remind us what Jesus accomplished through the cross. That made sense to him, but then he asked again, "Dad, where is Jesus?". I told him that He is sitting at the right hand of God holding all creation together. That made sense to him too. Then I went on to tell him that when Jesus went up to Heaven to be with God He told the people that loved Him that He would send a Helper to be with them. I explained that this Helper is the Holy Spirit, which is God's Spirit that lives in us. I used very simple words and he was getting it. He actually seemed to like the whole idea. He liked it, that is, until I said, "...So God lives inside Mommy and Daddy."

He looked conscerned. In the most worried and honest tone I've ever heard he asked, "Daddy, why doesn't God live in me too?".

What does a father say? How can you tell your own son that he is not a Christian? I wanted nothing more than to just say, "Well, he does buddy, because you said you loved Him the other day," but I didn't. That would be dishonest of me. So I said, "Jonah. Mommy and Daddy were very bad people, and in a lot of ways we are still very bad people, but one day God changed our hearts from stone to flesh and helped us to see that we needed Him to save us from that. What I hope is that one day Jesus will do the same for you and that God will one day live inside of you too."

What do you think he did? Was that a good answer? I don't know if it was, but he seemed to be ok with it. This is actually the second time we've talked about this but he's asked it differently the first time. Is it cruel to tell my son to his face that he is not a Christian yet? No, not if I do it lovingly. Hopefully this is God's work in slowly drawing Jonah to Himself.

I sincerely pray that all of my children would be saved, but I know that even when that day comes for each of them (if God wills) the teaching doesn't stop. I can't wipe away the sweat from years of praying for them and stop because they are "saved". I can't "let up" on how much they need the gospel just because they reached "that point". I would be in great error if all I was trying to do was get them saved so that our burden as parents could be lifted.

I really love these questions. It's really fun talking with my son about God in all His wonder and seeing him think deeply about it. I'm sure more questions are to follow, and all I can say is, "Bring 'em on little guy."

5 Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Church

By way of Challies.com, originally from the Resurgence.

Read it here.

The Chasm - A Book Review

I found The Chasm by Randy Alcorn sitting on my kitchen table in the Multnomah packaging at about 12:30pm MST today. At about 1:15pm I set the book on the coffee table and had read the entire book in one sitting. The last time I did that was with John Piper's The Supremacy of God in Preaching and that was because I love non-fiction. I rarely finish fiction that I start so for me to read this book in roughly an hour is an amazing thing. This is not a boast in my reading ability however, but rather a tribute to how well this book draws the reader in to what is a very familiar story.

Initially, the book didn't grab me. Chapter 1 was slightly confusing and I started to think that this book would be added to the "unfinished fiction pile" that sits in my office. However, I just kept reading hoping it would all become clear. The somewhat confusing beginning almost makes sense in light of what Randy Alcorn is trying to do. He is telling a story of a man who is both sure of himself and unsure of his path at the same time.

Without giving away too much of the story the main character, Nick Seagrave, is on a journey to find the city of Charis, although throughout the book he questions whether he actually wants to go there or not. He finds himself having to choose between multiple paths before him and has several guides along the way. These guides however are either at work to help him or hurt him and their motives are not entirely clear to Nick until about halfway through the story. All the while Nick is realizing more and more with every step he takes, and finally reaches a full understanding of his journey when the story comes to its weighty climax.

In a nutshell, Randy Alcorn is walking in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis in the Narnia series and The Great Divorce as well as John Bunyan and his Pilgrim's Progress. This story is a very well done allegory of a person's path either to eternal death or eternal life. While it is shorter than the books I just mentioned it gets the point across quite well, and as I read it I saw myself in the main character. For a reader to feel that type of pull while reading is quite the feat and Randy Alcorn should be commended for this little book.

Another inclusion in this book is a handful of illustrations that match up with the text on the page. In all honesty I found these both helpful and somewhat irritating. While they are well done for the most part some of the expressions on people's faces as they plummet into the chasm are almost comical. I hate saying that because most of them are quite good, but there is something about them that didn't quite match up with the picture I had in my mind. Truly the book is so well written that there is really no need of illustrations. Here is a passage that I thought was particularly vivid:
Later, alone, I climbed a hill. Glancing down, I was surprised to see a huge figure, a giant in a flowing black robe, standing on the hillside, looking down over the roads...The ominous black-robed being cast a long shadow across the hillside, and when he moved and the shadow fell over others of the little people, I heard howls and whimpers. The man - or was he a great beast - stood smiling, gloating, taking pleasure in the pain he saw on the roads below him. He took out a lyre and played music and sang an otherworldly song. It sounded compelling, yet at moments seemed like a fraud, a counterfeit of some truer and deeper song. He laughed and pointed his finger at the sprawling misery and played his music like a cosmic Nero, fiddling while a world burned. He blew smoke out his nose. Then, to my horror, I saw him putting little people into his mouth. He smoked men as if they were cigarettes. Soon he had a half dozen in at once, a macabre sight that turned my stomach and made my knees tremble.
The book is full of imagery like this and it really made me feel as if I were there.

If you are the type of person that enjoys fiction, and better yet allegorical fiction, you should pick up this book. It will remind of you of Lewis and Bunyan and even more importantly it will remind you of how desperately we need a Savior. I'm glad I read this book and hope others find it as enjoyable and helpful as I did.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Thanks WaterBrook!)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Radical - A Book Review

A few days ago I was talking to a friend about how much the American Dream was pounded into my mind as a child and teenager. It impacted how I was educated in school and gave me a reason to do the hard work necessary in achieving said dream. It may be helpful to define what the American Dream actually is by way of the originator of the idea, James Adams. He said this in 1931:
"...life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement...
It sounds good, but it is almost directly opposed to biblical Christianity.

This brings us to the the new book Radical by David Platt. David is a pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama which has roughly 4,000 members. The book is interesting because the author is a mega church pastor, but he is not writing a book about how to be "radical" in gaining new members. He is not throwing out "radical" pastoral ideas. Here is David's reason for writing this book:
"I am on a journey. But I am convinced it is not just a journey for pastors...I am convinced that we as Christ followers in American churches have embraced values and ideas that are not only unbiblical but that actually contradict the gospel we claim to believe.(p.3)
This book is a pastor's careful attempt at revealing some of the errors in the American Church and reclaiming the church as was laid out in Scripture.

If I were to recommend this book to a certain group of people that I think would be affected the most, it would easily be Christians in the United States. I am not saying it wouldn't be helpful to the universal church, but as I mentioned above, this is really focused on issues here in America and how our desire to have the perfect family, job, etc has actually blinded us to the reality of the gospel. It also asks difficult questions for those of us who would align ourselves with Christ but are really not doing much to build His kingdom. However, the author doesn't ask us to be "radical" by doing new things and being relevant, but by being faithful in the way the church started 2,000 years ago based on Jesus' teaching to "Go and make disciples..."

At 9 chapters, this books is short but is filled to the brim with useful material. The stories David shares concerning letters he has received from church members or conversations he has had with church leaders in third world countries are heart-wrenching, encouraging, and even shocking. I would share some of my favorites but there are just too many to write in this already too long review. Needless to say, this book is full of moving quotes that you will most likely meditate on for minutes, hours, or even days.

So is it worth it to buy this and read it? Yes. Absolutely yes. In fact, I thought many times while reading, "I need to get this book into people's hands!" The things written in this book, again, are not new. I have heard them before, but that is not a bad thing. This book will take you from church critique to self critique and ultimately, to wanting to lose yourself for the sake of Christ. I have much to think about, and I am thankful that I read this book.

Read the first chapter for free here.

Grab your copy here.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Thanks WaterBrook!)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

If God Is Good Review

Let me start off by saying this. The first time I ever heard of Randy Alcorn was at a Desiring God conference a few years ago on the perseverance of the saints. My initial impression was not entirely positive (probably due to my immaturity in a lot of areas at the time), but since then both myself and my wife have read a fair amount of his books and really enjoyed them. His fiction is well written and in some cases, very inspiring and helpful. Safely Home was one of the better books I read two years ago and while I haven't read Heaven (eventhough I own a copy), I am sure I will be greatly helped by it.

Since the years since the Desiring God conference I have experienced pronounced suffering in various forms. It seemed that if it wasn't physical it was mental. If it wasn't mental it was emotional. If it wasn't emotional it was something else. The valley that God had me in (and still does to some extent) was very painful and many questions arose in my mind that if not for the grace of God, may have shipwrecked what little faith I had left. This last December I was sent a copy of If God Is Good and slowly made my way through it. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this book is a blessing to the church.

One thing I noticed instantly when receiving the book was its size. This book is large. However, the chapters are really very short and easily read in under 15-20 minutes. This makes reading a book of this size a real pleasure. While the content is heavy and thought provoking, it is given in small doses which is really quite brilliant. It gives you time to meditate on the stories shared and the arguments made.

The subject matter ranges from refuting atheist ideas to personal stories that have helped the author over the years. All in all I was very impressed with the research that went into writing this book and, even more so, the care that was taken in delivering it in a loving and sensitive way. I think that for anyone dealing with any sort of suffering (which is all of us) or the weight of evil in the world this is a great book to have in your collection.

I have heard people say recently that churches these days are not taught how to suffer well. I think reading this book is a great step towards alleviating that problem and moving us towards a more healthy view of both suffering and evil and the God who is Lord over all of it.

(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. Thanks WaterBrook!)