Category Archives: Church Stuff

Lenten War

I think it’s a fair assessment to say that many Christians play defense when it comes to their spiritual life. They wait for problems to arise and then pray or fast in order to combat them. I believe that Lent is a season that puts us on offense. The spiritual disciplines practiced during this season enable us to wage war on the enemy, namely Satan, but also our own flesh.

In one of his sermons on Lent, Leo the Great said, “For what is more accepted than this time, what more suitable to salvation than these days, in which war is proclaimed against vices and progress is made in all virtues?”  (Sermon 40.2). Leo continued in this sermon to say that fasting is not enough. To that we add works of piety. He’s talking about going on offense.

If we were to stick with the three basic disciplines, fasting, giving, and prayer then we’d have all that we need to combat “all that is in the world” (1 John 2:16). Jesus succeeded where Adam and Israel failed. Through the power of his resurrection we have the ability to succeed in these areas as well.

 Adam (Loss)Israel (Loss)Jesus (Win)
Lust of the FleshGen 3:6Num 11:1–9, 31–35Matt 4:2–4
Lust of the EyeGen 3:6Deut 6:13–15; 1 Cor 10:7–8Matt 4:8–10
Pride of LifeGen 3:6Deut 6:16; 1 Cor 10:9–10Matt 4:5–7

Fasting combats the lust of the flesh. The lust of the flesh is our baser desires. It’s what drives us to do the things that feel good even when they’re not pleasing to God. When we fast, we deny our physical desires to keep our appetites under control. We control our desires rather than allowing our desires to control us.

Giving combats the lust of the eye. The lust of the eye is at the root of jealousy, envy, and covetousness. It’s inherently selfish. Giving, with the right heart, is selfless. It focuses our attention on helping those in need rather than on fulfilling our wants.

Prayer combats the pride of life. The pride of life is thinking more of ourselves than we ought to. It’s exalting ourselves above God and pretending that we are in control. Prayer is a recognition that we aren’t in control. It’s turning to the one who stands above us and can make a real difference in our lives and the lives of others.

These three basic disciplines are all that we need to emerge victorious in the spiritual war against our enemy, but we can add many other works of piety into the mix. Leo speaks of clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and showing our humaneness to the sick, exiled, and orphaned.

Whatever disciplines we choose to practice during the Lenten season, let us practice them with an eye on the victory of Christ in his resurrection. It is in the resurrection that he defeated the final enemy, death itself!

B”H

Lenten Discipline

The Christian life is about discipline. Not only, but largely. I’ve often heard it said that a disciple is a disciplined one. Lent is a season of increased discipline in anticipation of celebrating the event that made our discipline possible in the first place, namely the resurrection.

Apart from the resurrection of the Lord Jesus we’d be without salvation. Jesus saves us from our sin and for God’s glory, conforming us into his image by the power of the Holy Spirit, the very power we need to live disciplined lives!

One might argue that discipline is possible apart from the resurrection. There are pious people of every faith who live disciplined lives, even those faiths that reject the resurrection. That’s true enough. But discipline for the sake of discipline isn’t what we’re after, is it?

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and scribes for honoring God with their lips while their hearts were far from him. King David cried out to God and said that if burnt offerings alone would please God then he would offer them. The LORD speaking through Isaiah told a wicked Judah that their various disciplines (offering sacrifice, observing new moons, and keeping the Sabbath) were abominable.

What’s the common denominator? The posture of the heart. The Pharisees traditions in and of themselves weren’t the issue. Their traditions trumping true devotion to God was. Their hearts were far from him. David acknowledged that God wants sacrifice, but he wants it being offered from those with broken spirits, broken and contrite hearts. Judah’s practices were abominable because they were tainted with the filth of oppression and injustice.

The kind of disciplined lives that Jesus made possible through his resurrection is the kind of life that can only be lived with a new heart. With a heart oriented toward loving God and loving others. Lent is the season in which we ramp up the disciplines that strengthen our love for God and neighbor.

The Sermon on the Mount gives us the keys to success. In Matthew 6:1–18 Jesus instructs his disciples on the types of disciplines that he expects and the heart posture from which he expects them. “When you give to the needy… and when you pray… and when you fast…” All of these disciplines are a given, but Jesus wants them to be done differently than the hypocrites do them. He wants them to be done in secret so that the Father can reward. It’s not the action in and of itself. The hypocrites do the same things. It’s the heart behind the action.

So let us be disciplined in this season to a greater degree. Let us thank God for new hearts and serve him and others through our giving, prayers, and fasting. And let’s do it with an eye on the Paschal feast, where we celebrate our Lord and the event that made it all possible!

B”H

Sobornost & Katholikos

Andrew Louth:

The word sobornost’ is derived from the word used in the Slavonic version of the creed to translate katholikos, ‘catholic’. It appears that some of the older texts in the Slavonic Creed simply transliterated katholikos as katholichesky, as did the Latin version and virtually all European versions, but in (or maybe by) the fifteenth century katholichesky was replaced by soborny.

It is often said that soborny is derived from the word for a council in Slavonic, sobor, but I suspect the truth is more interesting. In replacing katholichesky, the Slavonic translators went back to the root meaning of katholikos, which is formed from the Greek kath’ holon, ‘according to the whole’, and took the word to mean something like ‘taken as a whole’, ‘gathered together’. So they used the word soborny, an adjective derived from the word sobrat’, ‘to gather together’. The word for council or synod, translating the Greek synodos, meaning a ‘coming together’, a ‘gathering’ and hence ‘council’, is sobor, so the use of soborny in the creed suggested that it is in a council that the Church manifests its nature.

In a remarkable way, then, the word soborny makes a link between the Church as catholic and the Church as conciliar: between the Church as proclaiming a truth that concerns everyone, and the Church as constituted by being gathered together by God.

Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology, 93.

Home Library/Office Tour

I wanted to do this for a while. I had some time today. One day I’ll get a good camera and give this thing some real production value.

 

B”H

The Pinnacle of the Gospel?

I started reading Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited the other day and I’m in agreement that what we’ve come to call “the gospel” is really something else altogether. He’s quite right to point out that the gospel is about much more than personal salvation. On page 24 McKnight says, “I encourage you to pull out a piece of paper or open up the flyleaf of the back of this book and scribble down your answer to t his most important question before you read one more word: What is the gospel?” So scribble I did. Here’s a photo of what I wrote in the back of the book (because I’m too lazy to type it all out):

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So my working definition (and this is just a summary) includes Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, the message he preached about the kingdom, our victory over sin and a life enabled for good works in obedience to God. I’m sure McKnight’s definition will be slightly different and perhaps he’ll highlight things I’ve neglected and neglect things I’ve highlighted, but I think my working definition is a decent summary of the gospel as we see it in the Bible.

But that brings me to the point of this post. As I began chapter 4 of the book McKnight says that we should turn to 1 Corinthians 15 and begin there because that is the closest we come to a definition of the gospel in the New Testament. That got me thinking about how I’ve always viewed this chapter, especially the early parts of it. I’ve always described this as Paul’s summary of the Gospel. In other words, if Paul were to sum the gospel up in a pithy statement it would be the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But that leaves so much out, so I started to wonder if this is best described as a summary.

Perhaps we can view 1 Corinthians 15 as the pinnacle of the gospel. The focal point perhaps. Jesus’ sinless life, Spirit-empowered ministry, preaching of God’s rule and Israel’s restoration, etc. all led up to his death and subsequent resurrection. These events were the culmination of his ministry and the vindication of his message. Paul doesn’t have much to say about Jesus’ ministry at all but it makes sense that he wouldn’t. He gets right to the high point because without the death/resurrection Jesus would have been another failed messianic claimant.

I will note that this pinnacle is also the basis for Paul’s telling believers that they can live a Spirit-filled life in Christ. And that without this focal point our lives mean nothing. So he spends plenty of time talking about the latter part of my working definition but that’s all predicated upon our resurrected Lord.

B”H

An Inspirational Promo

I was just perusing the Westminster Bookstore website and I watched their quick promo video. Aside from being impressed by the production quality I was inspired by the vision and mission of the bookstore itself. It exists for more than to furnish students with the materials needed for their courses at WTS. It’s not just another bookstore in the niche theology market. It truly exists for the edification of God’s people. I never gave much consideration to the thought and care that goes into the decisions on which volumes to stock but I can assure you that I’ll never be able to not consider it again. I will be praying for this ministry (because that’s what it is) and I’ll be making a more concerted effort to support them with my spending even if I pay a dollar or two more at the end of the day. Here’s the video that inspired me:

B”H

Doers Do

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all the years I’ve been involved in Christian ministry it’s that doers do. Plenty of people talk about what they’d like to do and never end up doing much of anything. Doers on the other hand do what it is they’d like to do and then talk about it afterwards.

I mentioned to my pastor and his wife the other night how a friend of a friend asked me how my life has changed since my ordination. I explained that it hadn’t. I’m doing all the same things that I was doing before I got ordained. Why? Because they need to get done.

I’m all for strategy and implementation but I’m the type who’d rather apologize than ask permission. In other words, when I see something needs doing, I do it. If I do it wrong then I’m quick to say I’m sorry and make the necessary corrections, but if I waited around for a green light then the thing might never get done.

I’ve come to know a lot of folks who wait for the proverbial green light and then make all kinds of excuses when the work is left unfinished. They’ll say that they were never told how to do the task. They’ll say that they were never given the go ahead to do the task after they’d been told how it should be done. They’ll say that someone or something got in the way of the task being done properly. Whatever the excuse, they’re not doers, which is why they don’t do.

I’m reminded of Paul’s exhortation to be doers of the word and not hearers only. Likewise, I think of James saying that faith is proved in actions. There’s no secret or mystery to ministry (well, there is, but I’m talking about the practical outworking of ministry). Just do it, to quote a Nike slogan.

B”H

Forsake Not Assembling

I cut a guy’s hair yesterday who shared with me that he grew up going to church and that his grandmother and aunt are very religious and keep urging him to get back but he’s just not there yet. Fair enough. I can’t tell him when he’s gonna be ready. But then he said that he believes in God and prays daily but just doesn’t want to go to church because he’s got some issues with it. That’s when I told him that we all have some issues with it, but I like to get together with others love the God that I love so we can worship him together.

To my mind it makes little sense to hoard my love for God in private devotions while never displaying it in public worship. Plus, there’s strength in numbers. The author of Hebrews tells us that when we gather we’re to encourage one another and stir each other up to love and good works. That’s something that’s much less likely to happen when we’re isolated.

In any event, I saw that he was convicted. What he’ll do with that conviction is anyone’s guess. I just hope he’ll find himself assembling with believers somewhere sometime soon.

B”H

On Preaching the Word

As someone who loves theology and biblical studies I’ve come to realize over time that it’s simply best to preach the word in a congregational context. What I mean is simply this: Preach the text and let all the theology flow from it. Don’t spend too much time speculating. Use the information gained from biblical studies to illuminate it but don’t make biblical studies the focus to the exclusion of what the text is saying.

I’ve learned that trying to turn Bible study (at least in the two churches I’ve been a member of) into miniature seminary lectures isn’t greatly effective. The glazed over eyes are usually the best indication that it’s not hitting home. And that’s okay. People who want seminary lectures should by all means attend seminary. The average believer that I’ve encountered just wants to know what the Bible says and find ways to apply it to life.

Your experience may very well be different. If it is I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let me know.

B”H

Upgrade

Okay, so here’s the deal… My church’s laptop—which we depend on for most things audio/visual during our services—had a busted screen. Someone sat on it or put something heavy on top of it, but whatever happened, the monitor was useless. The aging laptop was slowing down anyway and it was high time that we upgraded. For the past year I had been using my personal laptop (a late-2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pro) to do most of the heavy lifting. I still used the HP to record the audio and display the Scriptures (sometimes, depending on which program I used). I also used it to record the offerings.

So anyway, the church has been saving our pennies for a while now and we finally had enough n the reserves to purchase a new machine. I opted to get a refurbished mid-2012 13″ MacBook Pro. I chose this particular model for a very important reason: Upgradability! This is one of the last models of the MacBook Pro series that can opened up and tinkered with. My personal computer is what it is and it will never be anything else because everything inside of it is soldered down. Not so with this one.

So in addition to the MBP I picked up some extra RAM, an SSD to replace the optical drive, and a bracket to hold the SSD. I also procured an inexpensive set of precision screwdrivers to make the upgrade happen. So after watching some YouTube tutorials I opened up the MBP and made some changes. Here are the specs of the computer when I first brought it home:

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 11.34.37 PM

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So I opened the MBP up and swapped out the stock 4GB of RAM for a whopping 16GB of RAM. This was to aid in multitasking, which is something that occurs every church service. I then replaced the near useless optical drive with a 250GB Samsung SSD. After that I cloned the 500GB HDD onto the SSD and then reformatted the HDD. So now the operating system and applications are on the much faster SSD while I’m using the HDD for storage. There were some issues with trying to set up a RAID array but I won’t go into that because it makes me mad to think about it. Long story short: no RAID! So here are the specs after the upgrade:

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I didn’t realize that RAM was 1333 MHz when I purchased it but it’s not that big of a deal. Sure, 1333 MHz isn’t as good as 1600 MHz, but 16GB is way better than 4GB! So I’ve spent all of my free time today installing the necessary programs on our new computer and now I’m ready to load it up in the bag and have it ready for it’s unveiling in church tomorrow. God is good!

B”H