Passively Engaging with God

One of the most difficult aspects for me during a worship service is to be actively engaged with what is happening. Someone moving down the row from me, or someone coming in late, or a child crying or a funny joke all distract me from the primary purpose I’m there: to commune with the family of God and to spend time in awe of who God is. It takes a concerted effort to be engaging with people and with everything that happens during the service. This is the difference between being an active participant and being a passive participant.

Being a passive participant means I expect everything to go my way, for the music to be my favorites that I enjoy, for the sermon to be perfectly applicable to me and relate to me. This leads to both an entertainment model of church and a me-centric model of church. Church is all about me and what I get and want from the weekly services.

Being an active participant means I look for opportunities to serve those around me. Instead of wanting the music to be my favorites, I look for the ways these songs can serve us as a whole. I actively listen to the sermon and think through ways I can encourage the pastor for being faithful to the Word, ways I can grow as a believer, and support those around me.

This is part of the reason I ask for people to stand when we sing. By standing people are forced to be more engaged in what they are doing. Not to mention, it’s much easier to sing with correct posture, like you have when you stand.

Instead of looking for ways that we can get something, I hope we as a church can look for ways that we can engage with the Word of God and allow that to change our lives and the ways we interact with each other.

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The Avoidance of Titles

As I’ve expressed before, during college I somehow found myself in the middle of those who consider themselves “young, restless and reformed.” The one time I interacted with Collin Hansen I was introduced as “one of the people you wrote about.” (thanks Dad…) I quickly embraced the title and began reading and listening to more Piper, Driscoll and Chandler and then went to as many of the “Gospel” conferences as I could (T4G, The Gospel Coalition). I enjoyed the commitment to the Word and history of the church but didn’t always enjoy the connotations that came with identifying myself as a “Calvinist.” After having the books for 2 years, I’ve finally been digging in to “Against Calvinism” and “For Calvinism” and find myself resonating much more with Calvinism than I ever have before, but still don’t always like what comes with the label.

Reading through a couple blogs today on what has been dubbed “the Neo-Calvinism” (which you can read about here and here) and continuing to reflect on where I’m at and where I’ve been I’m continuing to find myself less within the so-called neo-calvinism movement and more likely to consider myself to be an Evangelical, to which my dad has been delighted. So what do I mean by Evangelical?

Evangelical gets it’s name from the Greek word evangelion which we translate as “gospel” so the whole gospel centered movement is Evangelical in nature. I uphold Scripture as the ultimate authority in my life and daily strive to be more like Christ. In this way I am also reformed, in that I am constantly reforming my life to the message of the Bible. I can join with the early church fathers in reciting and agreeing with the creeds of the early church and go back to Christ’s final command in Matthew 28 to spread the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth.

This is also something I often hesitate to do because so many labels come with so much baggage. Calvinists tend to be over bearing and domineering without much grace extended. Many people don’t know what an evangelical is or what one believes. And reformed tends to bring to mind Luther and the Reformation. What are some labels you’ve seen in your life that have either been helpful or unhelpful?

In the same vein, some of my hesitancy to use labels to identify myself is because neo-calvinism is currently the “cool” title to use. And while there are some aspects of it I so resonate with and will whole heartedly agree with, there is some hesitancy for me to jump on bandwagons. I know things come and go so quickly in the church and don’t want to be swept away by the newest trends-even if they’re good things. I know that the truth is here to stay and am continuing to trust God to lead and guide the church of yesterday, today and forever.

EFCA Theology Conference 2014

I’ve decided to do things a little differently this year and just continually updating this page with the new sessions in order. Would love to hear any questions or comments you might have!

A World Absorbing Text or a Text Absorbed by the World?

Dr. Richard Lints

Introduction – Cultural Saturation

Interpreting Overlapping Realities: Gospel and Culture

Misconceptions

Micro and Macro Stories

The Gospel as Theological Framework and Theological Vision

Culture as Macro and Micro Stories

Pre and Post – Modernity

Defining Narratives

Democratic Consumerism

Technological Rationalism

Social Pluralism

The Great Irony

Reading Our Times

Beginning Clues

Reading the Scriptures as a Canon

Being Read by the Scriptures

Christian Faithfulness in the Face of Ancient Cultural Challenges

Dr. D. Jeffry Bingham

  1. Christian Faithfulness in the Face of Persecution
    1. The Accusations of the Culture

1. Christians were being accused by a culture that was very religious, the culture saw Christians as atheists. This was the main motivation for Roman persecution.

2. Christians didn’t make good Roman citizens.

3. Romans viewed Christians as incestuous

4. Communion is viewed as cannibalistic

  1. The Faithful Responses of the Christians

1. They explained in literature and conversation. Showed how monotheism was something allowed even among the Romans, pointing to poets and scholars (Plato in particular) to show that monotheism was already accepted.

2. Pointed to their care for others (orphans, neighbors, hungry) as their appeal to how they were good citizens.

3. They said they were a family and that’s just the way they refer to themselves.

4. Eucharist was the reason they came together. They explained to the community what they were doing and why.

Christianity is a very gory religion, characterized by the sloppiness of blood.

  1. Christian Faithfulness in the Process of Scriptural Definition
    1. The Proposed, Erroneous Models of Scripture

On the one hand you had Marcion who cut most things out of the Bible, and then the other hand had add everything.

  1. The Faithful Responses of the Christians

The sacred text, if nothing else, included the Old Testament Hebrew Bible.

So they said nothing gets into the Bible unless it’s in harmony with the OT. And if they are universally embraced by Christians throughout the world. We don’t accept any text that doesn’t put the slaughter of Jesus as its’ focus.

Where is the Lord’s supper in your meetings?

The Opportunity to Learn from the Challenge of Race

Dr. Vincent Bacote

Mandela’s Death and movies like 12 Years a Slave show us the problem of apartheid and puts the legacy of racism right in front of us. Thought it may be in front of us, we may be tempted to avert our gaze.

  1. “Our” Issue and Our Mission: A commitment to Bible and the obligations of the gospel

Using the issue of race to enslave people is completely missing the idea of the greatest commandment: love God and love others. The Bible talks about it.

  1. Dancing with history: facing the world and society we have inherited in the modern West; why race remains a challenge for all of us in spite of improvements

These issues don’t simply disappear.

  1. Considering the Experience of Minorities: What can the church learn…and perhaps anticipate in the future.

The question of a lack of power. People become accustomed to accepting the fact that they are lacking in power. There’s also the question of hope.

  1. Considering Some Core Beliefs: How does our Christology, Soteriology and Ecclesiology lead us toward persistent and patient progress on the lingering question of race and the prospect of the evangelical church as a cultural minority?

Theology and ethics need to be seen together. Which Jesus do you emphasize? Which text do you go to when talking about Jesus? What do people experience at your church that helps deal with the issue of race?

If you’re going to be people of the book, are you considering all the book teaching us? Or are we just pragmatists?

  1. What Posture Should We Take: Faithful Presence, or something else?

Your context makes a huge influence as to what your suggestions can be.

  1. To Consider: What vision might we have for the future?

At one level, Christians out to be a counter-cultural people practicing a counter-cultural reality. People will notice this because it’s not typical for people to live with other people who are not like them.
Need to have a disposition of massive patience.

Regression happens within the church as well (the crisis of marriage is also taking place within the church)

A commitment to public engagement without messianic ideas.

Understanding the Times and Understanding the Places: Theological Localism

Dr. Fred Sanders

  1. Theology with a local accent

It’s just a matter of fitting in – the message of the cross should offend, not our way of talking about it (i.e. sports)

  1. Two methods: correlation and proclamation

Correlation: identified in Paul Tillick – philosophy raises the questions, theology answers them. Explains the contents of Christian faith using questions.

Proclamation: identified in Carl Barth

I suggest using theological localism.

  1. Taking action: Men of Issachar in every place

See 1 Chronicles 12:32. Seen in Augustine’s City of God.

  1. “Theological Engagement with California Culture”

 

Evangelicals in 21st Century American Culture

Dr. Leith Anderson

Introduction

  1. Living in challenging times

We get caught up in our time and forget about previous times issues

  1. Theology of Culture

Do you consider culture to be the friend, or the enemy of Christ?

  1. Matthew 13:24-30 – parable of the weeds

Looking back – where we came from

  1. Liberalism & Fundamentalism

Scopes vs Monkey trial in 1925, fundamentalists increasingly marginalized. Most of the world didn’t even think of fundamentalists, then along came Billy Graham

  1. Billy Graham & today

Evangelicals are now ¼-1/3 of all people in the US, so what do we do with that?

Looking around – where we are

  1. Globalization of Christianity

Now the largest & fastest growing religion. 20,000 new believers in China every day

  1. Evangelicals in America

We are the dominate Christian force

  1. Demographics

Segregation in America remains strong

  1. Theology

Homosexuality and the exclusivity of Christ

  1. Church in adversarial circumstances

Conclusion: How then shall we live?

Speak the truth, but always in love

Don’t be quick to come to conclusions

TRUST GOD

As long as people have the Bible and the Holy Spirit they’ll be ok.

Responding to An Open Letter to Praise Bands

I came across a blog today titled, ‘An Open Letter to Praise Bands,’ written by James K.A. Smith, a professor at Calvin College. In his blog he lists 3 problems he sees with worship music in churches today, and they are:

  1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.
  2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.
  3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

While I wholeheartedly agree with his statements on worship, there is some refining of them I would like to see, as someone who leads worship. I completely agree with his first statement, you shouldn’t need ear plugs at a church. If the congregation can’t hear themselves it encourages people to become much more focused on themselves than the body around them, who they are there to encourage through their singing (Ephesians 5:19).

The second point I also agree with, but would refine some. Different congregations have different styles of music they prefer to do. Now, with the internet, when you go to most churches today, you’ll typically recognize a couple of the songs, but every church has their own unique gifts and styles, especially in urban contexts. One church I went to did old Gospel songs that I didn’t recognize, but everyone else in the church loved! Another place I’ve been used rap as worship for a couple songs. The other issue I have with this is some of the push back I’ve gotten from elderly people where I serve. Some of the older people will use this as an excuse to not sing some of the songs on a Sunday. I would encourage people to listen to the songs we sing on Sundays outside of Sunday so they can sing along. And finally, introducing a new song can often be difficult for people to grasp, so I will often sing a verse and chorus so people can figure out a song, then repeat it and encourage the congregation to sing along.

Finally, the third point is the one I would most refine. Part of the reason I like to lead from the front so people can see me is so that they can know when their supposed to be singing. It’s always awkward when there’s one person with an especially loud voice who doesn’t know when the next verse starts, so they jump right in then sheepishly look around. Yes, I do want to model what it looks like to worship through music, but I also want to show the congregation when they are supposed to sing along. One of the things that I think is incredible helpful for this issue is to make sure what is being said is focused on God. This can be done by including pertinent Scripture passages during musical interludes, or having someone use that time to praise an attribute of God that the song talks about.

Honestly, it is very hard to not make it about myself and try to use music as a way for me to build myself up, so I pray before every service that I make God’s name great, and pray the same prayer of John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease.” I want to model to the congregation what it means to worship, but then apply that worship to my whole life as I conform myself into the image of God’s Son, Jesus.

“You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God Himself.”

-D.A. Carson

Once And For All

Passion is a wonderful conference that has exploded in recent years. Fueled by speakers like Louie Giglio and John Piper and music by Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, people flock to this conference by the tens of thousands. I have a few friends that have gone to this conference in the past, and every year I buy the CD to hear some of the new songs that will be big in churches the following year. This year was no different-a wonderful conference with great music. I bought the CD the day it came out, and have begun doing some of the songs at the church in which I help lead music. One of my favorite songs from the album was ‘Once and For All’ done by Chris Tomlin. This past week, I was sent an e-mail with a discussion about some of the wording in the song, and led to this blog on the song. The lyrics in question are the first ones in the chorus “We believe our God is Jesus.” One of the most difficult concepts within Christianity is the idea that God is three persons yet one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If this line is true, then Jesus is the only person of the Godhead who is God. Wording in the songs we sing matters!

This is similar to a song I used to love in middle school by John Reuben titled ‘God Is Love.’ The chorus says, “Love is God and God is love.” Yes, God is love (1 John 4:8), but love is NOT God. Describing God as only love puts limits on many of his other characteristics.

So what do we do with a song like ‘Once and For All’ when the rest of the lyrics are theologically sound and speak to the truth of what Jesus has done on our behalf? The writer of the blog I pointed you to earlier suggested changing the words to “We believe our King is Jesus,” which I agree would be a big improvement on the song, and would keep the song theologically true. I continue to be grateful for the gift of Chris Tomlin and hope to sing this song soon at church, with the edited words.

A Gracious Theologian?

One thing I’ve discovered about myself in recent years is that as I learn new things, I’m convinced I’m an expert on them before I truly understand everything I’ve learned. I read a really good article today titled ‘Fourteen Characteristics of Theological Legalism.‘ Michael Patton, a professor at Dallas Seminary wrote:

Theological legalism is nothing new (and such is certainly not limited to the world of theology). Think of the Pharisees who, according to Christ, strained out gnats and swallowed camels (Matt. 23:24). To the theological legalist, there is no such thing as gnats. Christ spoke of the weightier things of the Law (Matt. 23:23). To the doctrinal legalist, all issues are of equal weight. Paul spoke of things of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3); to those who are theological Pharisees, everything comes in first place, there is rarely, if ever, a second.

He then goes on to list 14 ways that show someone who is a theological legalist, and finally, says,

If you love theology, please be the first to put on the attitude of humility. When someone speaks about you in this regard, don’t have your goal to for others to think you are smart or right, but humble and meek. When others talk about your personality with regard to theological discourse, would they say you are arrogant and legalistic, or gracious and meek? This does not mean we sacrifice our passions or beliefs, it just means we temper ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. The truth is too important for us to lose our witness due to theological legalism.

I’ve seen this in my own life, as well as the lives of many of my friends. In college, I discovered that I was reformed, and was convinced only those who were reformed were true believers. Then I discovered I was a Calvinist and was convinced anyone who didn’t hold to the “TULIP” was either uniformed, unintelligent or not a true believer. Yes, we should be a people who are studying the things of God (i.e. theology) but may that knowledge be used to build up others in the body. As I’ve come to know many people who are far smarter and learned than I am, I am continually amazed by their humility and graciousness. These men who are some of the experts in their field took time to stop and talk to me and ask about the ministries I’m involved in, yet I often have trouble “lowering” myself to talk to someone who is an Arminian. What is my problem? I hope and pray that as I continue to grow in my understanding of God, that I am a humble and gracious theologian, one who not only intellectually knows God, but who lives out the things I know so that I may grow to be more like Christ in my everyday life.

EFCA Theology Conference – My Thoughts

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the EFCA Theology Conference in Denver and was really stretched and encouraged in my thinking on the issue of sexuality. The most powerful session for me was Wesley Hill on his struggle with homosexuality. Never before had I talked to someone who struggles with same sex attraction, yet is willing to submit it at the foot of the cross and call it sin. We live in a broken side world, as evidenced by looking around us. All of us are sinners and have our certain areas where we are more prone to temptation than others, I think it’s safe to admit that for most of us, sexuality is a very hard issue, especially being a single man as I am right now. But what should we, as the church, do to reach out to single people like Wesley and myself?

I’ve talked about this very important issue before (“Where Are All the Young People“) and was reminded of it again this week. The church is called to be a family (see Jesus in Matthew 12), yet so often we don’t treat each other as the family we are supposed to be. As someone who is single, I can so often get overlooked in the ministry of the church, and most churches I’ve been to have a fantastic youth group ministry, a thriving couples-with-small-children ministry and some even have a great college ministry, but what about the single 20-somethings who are trying to figure out how to figure out a schedule, budget, and where best to use their time? We need the encouragement and support of those in the church, and those in the church are primarily those who are older and married. So again, PLEASE just come talk to us, invite us over and invest in our lives! I promise you again that we won’t bite!

Tied in to this is the issue of homosexuality. As it becomes more prevalent, we in the church need to know how to reach out and welcome those who are, as Wesley described himself “gay celibate Christians.” Wesley has written why he uses the term “gay celibate Christian” in a recent blog post that you can read here. The church needs to be a place where even single people can feel loved and as a part of the family. The Gospel should bring us together in the same way that growing up together in a family does. We should be willing to lay down our lives for our friends, just as Christ laid down his life for us. This is an issue in my life as well-I so often focus on myself and my needs instead of the needs of the body. I’ll close with this final thought from 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has past away; behold, the new has come.” May we continue to cling close to the cross as we daily repent, die to ourselves and remember to live in Christ, who will give us the strength we need to not give in to temptation.

You can buy Wesley Hill’s book on Amazon, and read his blog here. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to him and am incredibly grateful for his faithfulness to God’s word as he attempts to follow His will in his life. Thank you, Wes, for being open and transparant this week with your struggles, you are in my prayers.

EFCA Theology Conference Session 7

The Theology of Sexuality Applied: Teaching/Training of Youth in the Home and the Church – Stan Jones

What are our Objectives in Sex Education and in Parenting?

To prevent immorality?

To equip and empower our children to enter adulthood capable of living godly, wholesome lives

Don’t focus too narrowly and negatively, such as focusing on only preventing sexual immorality and the ravages that illicit and irresponsible sex; this goal is too small, too limited, too narrow. Our most important goal in sex education should be to equip and empower our children to enter adulthood capable of living godly, wholesome, and fulfilled lives as Christen men and women, Christian singles, wives and husbands.

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

A Summary of Key Points in the Theology of Sexuality

We are embodied, we are gendered sexual beings, we are relational, we are made in God’s image, we are broken and twisted, we encounter objective reality when we have sex, we are souls under construction

We are souls under construction

Given/Discovered Constructed?

Given: Evolutionary Psychology Reproduction as an evolutionary impulse in the context of a meaningless universe; sex, like life, is meaningless

Atheist Delusions (David Hart)

The Five-Factor Model of Sexual Character:

Needs – Relatedness and Significance

Values

Beliefs

Skills

Supports

Twelve Principles of Christian Sex Education in the Family and Church

Principle 1: Sex education is the shaping of character

Principle 2: Parents are the principle sex educators

Principle 3: First messages are the most important

Principle 4: Seize those “teachable moments;” become an “askable” parent

Principle 5: Stories are powerful teaching tools

Principle 6: Accurate and explicit messages are best

Principle 7: Positive messages are powerful

Principle 8: “Inoculate” your children against negative beliefs

Principle 9: Repetition is critical; repetition is really, really important

Principle 10: Close, positive parent-child relationships are crucial

Principle 11: Sexuality is not everything; keep your perspective

Principle 12: Our God can forgive, heal, and redeem anything

EFCA Theology Conference Session 5

The Witness of Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles – Robert Gagnon

Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10

Romans 1:24-27: Opposed to some, or all, forms of same-sex intercourse?

Three main arguments made to discount Romans 1:24-27

  1. The exploitation argument: Paul only knew of exploitative forms of homosexual practice in his culture
  2. The orientation argument: Paul had no concept of a homosexual orientation
  3. The misogyny argument: Paul feared homosexual practice would upset male dominance over women

The plot structure of Romans 1:18-32

Stage 1. God’s power and divinity is manifested in creation

Stage 2. Humans suppress the truth and foolishly exchange

Stage 3. God’s wrath is manifested in giving over humans to self-degrading desires

Stage 4. These sinful deeds merit death

Intertextual echoes to Genesis 1:26-27

References to creation and Creator

Rom 1:23 echoes Genesis 1:26

Romans 1:26-27 echoes Genesis 1:27

The point of these echoes – idolatry and same-sex intercourse together constitute a frontal assault on the work of the Creator in nature, those who suppressed the truth about God visible in creation they went on to suppress the truth about themselves visible in nature

The argument from nature

The truth about God is visible and apparent in material creation (1:19-20)

The truth about God’s will for sex is visible in our gendered bodies (26-27)

Pagans do not have to have Genesis or Leviticus to be held accountable for this knowledge, they are “without excuse”

Innate desires are unreliable guides

The mention of lesbian intercourse in Romans 1:26

The mention of mutual gratification in Romans 1:27

The conception and practice of caring homosexual relationships in antiquity

Absolute nature arguments in the Greco-Roman world

Why Paul is not saying, “Don’t judge homosexual practice”

The one whom you obey, that it your Lord. Don’t say with your mouth that you follow God but then continue to serve sin, that is your Lord

What even scholars supportive of homosexual unions admit

1 Corinthians 6:9 (& 1 Tim 1:10) Opposed to some, or all, forms of male-male intercourse?

Meaning of malakoi “soft men”

Meaning of arsenokoitai “Men who lie with a male”

The Bible’s alleged ignorance of sexual orientation

Grego-Roman theories of a congenital basis for some homoerotic attraction

Differences with contemporary theories and beside this point

Did Paul get “nature” confused?

What even scholars supportive of homosexual unions affirm

The Bible’s Alleged Misogynistic Bias against Homoerotic Unions

Ignoring concerns for structural complementarity in ancient texts

Absoluteness of Bible’s prohibition suggest priority of gender over status

Women’s liberation as a stimulus for opposing all male homosexual unions

An absurd corollary

View of women in the Bible fares well relative to its cultural environment

Balance in Your Life?

Thom Rainer has posted an article written by Mike Glenn titled “Balance is Bunk.” In it he explains that there will never be balance to your life. This is something that I have been asking regularly since I accepted my role as associate pastor in Cheyenne. How do I maintain order in my life when my job is my life? When I leave church I spend time with people from church. When I’m not at church I’m thinking about and praying through issues going on at church. When it’s my day off I’m still spending time with people from church. When I go on vacation, I still hear about what’s going on at the church. It never ends! I’m grateful that during this season of stumbling around figuring out how I can best serve in this role, I have 2 other godly men speaking truth into my life and encouraging me to take the time I need. Right now I can make the church my entire focus, but what about when I get married? What happens when I have kids? Then my priorities would need to shift.

I appreciate what Mike said in his article, “Here’s the hard reality. All of us have multiple priorities. Each of these priorities has multiple and competing demands. Not only that, but most of these demands are mutually exclusive.” We can’t continue to please everyone, and we shouldn’t try to please everyone. There is 1 person we should work to please and as we work to please him, the other priorities will fall in to place.

I just started reading ‘What Did You Expect?” by Paul David Tripp. In it he says the only way to have a great marriage is to line up the vertical relationship first and make that the number 1 priority. If the vertical relationship to God is your primary focus, the horizontal relationship with your spouse will fall into place as the love and grace God has so graciously extended to your pours out into your relationship with your spouse. I think it’s the same thing with the church. If your vertical relationship with God is in the right place, that will flow out into the way you conduct your job in the church and the priorities will fall in to place. This does mean that at times you’re going to let people down but remember who you’re working to please, not man, but God.