“Best” Reading…

September 15, 2008

So, I did the ‘swap’ with Fred today, and reluctantly handed off Kauflin‘s amazing WORSHIP MATTERS book in trade for UNCEASING WORSHIP by Harold Best.  I devoured the intro & first chapter at church (don’t tell!!!) this morning (I’m a very fast reader) and really liked the taste of it.  Anyone else read this?  If so, what did you think?

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(originally delivered at the University of Georgia WDA campus ministry)

Let me first admit to all of you — this is not an easy subject for me to write on. God’s love is a many sided thing, and as of late I have been receiving His hard love — discipline, correction, and rebuke. I have built up over the years a number of bad habits, which He is busy stripping me of at the moment, and I’m finding that rather hard to deal with. So, right off the bat, I don’t want you to think that the image of God’s love that I’m painting it all rosy, pie-in-the-sky by-and-by. Yet God’s love is real.

And yet again, I feel I have bit off FAR more than I can chew. I feel like St. Augustine when, it is rumored, he encountered a young boy on the beach that compared Augustine’s attempts to write books about God to the boy’s own attempt to pour the sea, bucket by bucket, into a small hole in the sand. This has led me to acknowledge outright that if I say ANYTHING tonight that speaks to you, it is not I. This is my attempt to pale the entirety of the Pacific into a small hole in the sand.

But seriously, I approached this subject asking myself, “How do I make this material new?” knowing that many of you will have grown up in the church, and may have heard it so many times that, sadly enough, you’ve grown cold to it. But I don’t know that it’s my job to make the truth new, so much as to remind you of it, so apart from a few new angles, that is exactly what I’m going to do.

As the third part in a series on God’s love, I thought I might quickly summarize. First, we talked about how God has shown His love for us in giving the law. He illustrated God’s love using his own fatherhood as an example. We saw that like a good father sets rules in place for my child for his protection and well being, that he might enjoy life within the boundaries that it was meant to be enjoyed, God did the same in his law. Next, we were spoken to about God’s love expressed through the prophets. We saw how again and again God’s people have played the prostitute, leaving our groom to chase after our lusts, and yet we saw how God has been faithful, working continually to call us back unto Himself.

Tonight as I speak to you, I hope along with Paul in Ephesians 3:14; “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” And in light of that, let me add — if you think you’ve got a grip on this “love that surpasses knowledge”, you REALLY haven’t yet even begun to understand. Read the rest of this entry »

Anyone who’s been following me on Twitter, BeenUp2, or Facebook is likely well aware that I have been in Gaithersburg, MD at the Worship God ’08 Conference hosted by Covenant Life Church/Sovereign Grace Ministries, and what an experience it has been so far!

I’ve been blessed to hook up face-to-face and get to know some fellow TheWorshipCommunity members, like Brad & Lowell from Clear Creek Community Church (who have taken me in like a member of their own church family), and other gifted and friendly worship leaders like Nate from Grace Church in Chapel Hill, Tim & Joel from Mars Hill Seattle, and Ryan & Jonathan from West Coast Revival, as well as the whole Sovereign Grace Music crew, who are incredibly friendly (when Bob Kauflin glanced at my name-tag and recognized my name he proclaimed “I AM SO GLAD YOU COULD MAKE IT!” then gave me a monster bear-hug… that definitely made me feel more than welcome).

One thing that really stands out about this conference is that, in spite of the foremention list of folks, this has really been a conference for the ‘average’ worship leader: very little ‘flash & bang’ or big production.  Worship has been led by real worship teams that lead on Sundays at various churches, leading mostly original songs written in-house at their specific church.  We’ve also been exposed to a WIDE variety of musical forms: bluegrass, jazz, rock, gospel, and combinations I don’t dare label, but which worked wonderfully (one team consisted of a Coldplay-esque rock worship band, accompanied by a violin & viola, drum-loops, record scratching, a black gospel singer, and a soulful blue harmonica player – oh, and they led almost soley old hymns… and for some reason, it wasn’t even that weird, in the moment).

I’ve got a great deal of content to share, but that will have to come later.  Needless to say, this conference has already been of great benefit to me, and I encourage any who have a chance to go in the future to do so.  More to come…

As it won’t be long before this blog moves over to SaintLewisMusic.com (in development), I thought I’d do a quick overview of some of the more popular, and more important blogs I’ve posted here over the past couple of years. Dig around, comment, link, and just have an all-around great time. Unquestionably, my number one blog has consistently been the text of a sermon I preached last year at our Youth Group, Inside Out. It’s called A GOD WORTHY OF WORSHIP, which has now been shortened into an article called WORTHY, featured at TheWorshipCommunity.com. More recently, I have added to this ‘series’ of worship sermons; WORSHIP [IS NOT ABOUT SINGING] part 1, & WORSHIP [IS ALL ABOUT SINGING] part 2.

My second most popular post here is related to the first – another message to Inside Out. It’s called THE MEANING OF LIFE, and is a teaching on our created-in-the-image-of-God-ness. Yes, that’s a word – I just said it, so it has to be!

Next in line were a few posts that are also some of my personal favorites. MISSING THE MARK addresses how one’s spiritual gifts can change the way in which they fulfill certain ministry responsibilities, in particular how one event re-shaped how I think of my own. LOOKING FOR POTENTIAL is a reminder to keep an open eye for certain signs of giftedness within your circles of ministry, and to encourage those gifts. Lastly, a few posts which, though they are not yet in the ‘top 5′ as far as popularity goes, mean a great deal to me. A FEW LESSONS LEARNED is a collection of things I’ve learned about leading worship over the past few years. DOING WHAT I WAS MADE TO DO is my reflection on a nearly perfect day. Lastly, ON BEING A WORSHIP CRITIC touches upon the temptation to trash those who don’t do it the way we do. In short, we should avoid that temptation. In long…well, you should read the blog! I also did a series on Apologetics as Worship, which began with UNBELIEF: ROADBLOCK TO TRUE WORSHIP. I address the faux CHRISTIAN VS. SECULAR MUSIC distinction, a phrase I find heartbreaking (THAT’S NOT WORSHIP), and EXCELLENCE & CREATIVITY.  Some more recent favorites include WELCOMED INTO HIS JOY, FINDING YOUR VOICE, and THE MAN BORN BLIND: GOD, EVIL & SUFFERING, which seems a very appropriate read, given recent events.

If you’ve missed any of those, be encouraged to play catch up, and jump in on the discussions – comments are still open. Let’s sharpen one another.

So be it!

In all seriousness, it’ s been a strange week. Though I never knew her personally (I had seen her before, but I don’t believe we’d ever met), we had a number of friends in common, and as it has many others, her music moved me deeply. Having followed her battle against cancer this past year or so, it really hit me hard yesterday to learn of the loss of Katie Reider. Apparently, there were many others her life and music touched as well, for it was the highest number of blog readers I’ve had since I started publishing my thoughts online several years ago (on Xanga – does anyone use Xanga anymore?). My prayers go out to her closest friends and family.

On the other side of the coin, I guess you’d call yesterday “bittersweet” – the source of my new-found “fame” (though I hope, in fact, that it expresses God’s fame): I’m excited to announce that my article “WORTHY” is being featured at TheWorshipCommunity.com, an new online Worship ‘magazine’ which facilitates discussion and community among worship leaders & worship musicians who are “in the trenches”, as some have said – those who are leading their congregations in worship in churches around the world every Sunday. I’ve made some wonderful connections, and new friends, during the time that TWC was merely an online forum, and I’m excited to see it grow, and take the obvious next step into a full-blown online publication. I’m also honored to have the featured article this week. Please swing by, read it, and be encouraged to comment!

Lastly, it was a good evening because I can see the release of Saint Lewis’ “Songs from the Hope Farm” e.p. immediately on the horizon. Very late last night my wife & I were putting the finishing touches on one of her originals, and it just excites me to see this small sampler (all of these songs – albeit more professionally mixed versions – will also be featured on our full-length c.d. expected early next year) of original worship material come together, and I’ve been really blessed by the positive feedback we’ve received on many of our songs these past few months. A very limited edition printing of the e.p. will be ready very soon, but until then please stop by our website-in-the-making: Saint Lewis Music.

May God’s blessings be evident, & His Spirit be near…

(originally delivered to WDA campus ministry at the University of Georgia)

“Lucky mud?” Is that all we are? Many of you, as college student, have likely encountered the innumerable unbiblical opinions expressed concerning who we are and what we are doing here. Richard Pratt, in his book Designed for Dignity tells the true story of a young woman who had left her husband and two children for another lover. The lover had recently thrown her out of his place, so alone in a hotel room, despairing the events that had led her to where she now was, she shot herself in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. The note she left on the nightstand simply stated, “Don’t cry for me – I’m not even human anymore. Ironically, just two floors down in that very hotel was a New Age convention. The gunshot couldn’t even be heard above the din of the crowd, who were all chanting, “I am God! …I am God! …I am God!

Sometimes we hear such rhetoric from the very same individual, such as when a non-Christian professor pokes fun of traditional religion and proclaims us masters of our own fate, yet at the same time believes that we are no more than the product of chance and law, so called “lucky mud.”

Even as Christians many of us have accepted the subtle lies of the culture around us, rather than the words of the very God who created us. We believe that we are entirely sovereign over our own destiny. We believe that work is merely a chore to be put up with and is only for the sake of sustenance. We believe that sensuality is the end all of everything, and that a marriage relationship that doesn’t bring us happiness is one to be abandoned, for surely our own happiness is God’s highest priority. In some cases, Christians even believe that we can abandon the Biblical story of Adam and Eve altogether, the very story that serves as a corrective of the many things we tempted to believe concerning who we are and what we are here for, and on which Christ’s very work as our redeemer, the second Adam, stands. Read the rest of this entry »

I first preached the following sermon at a WDA Campus Ministry meeting at the University of Georgia in 2002. I have been hoping to edit it into essay form to blog for some time now. My interest was rekindled after reading Fred’s fascinating blog on Sickness yesterday, hoping to balance some of the other writing I’ve been doing on the subject in my lengthy dialogue with the text of SUFFERING & THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD over at my other blog. It is a healthy reminder to myself, and hopefully many others, that all-to-often we ask the wrong questions. I hope this blesses, challenges, and encourages you…

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Let me set the stage. You’re in the backyard of a single-story brick home on a hilly eight acres of spring-green grass. One acre is a garden, freshly planted, and needing rain. Downhill, East of the house is a small creek-bed lined with maple, white oak, and buckeye trees that seem to form a wall protecting a patch of newly planted evergreens nearly hidden behind them. All around edge the yard are log fence-posts, with fields of wheat, tobacco, and corn crops on the other side. This particular day was dark, and it looked as though it may storm. In the backyard among all that beauty stood an 8 year-old boy who was lonely, angry, and alienated, and just wanted a friend. He had been teased a lot at school for being weird, and many of his “friends” only kept him around as a scapegoat. Though his parents were not believers, his mom had taken him to Vacation Bible School at a local church to help teach him “right and wrong.” There he learned enough about God to come to the conclusion that it was God who was to blame for all his pain. That day, as a storm was fast approaching, that young boy held a pocketknife to the sky and screamed, “Come down here because I’m going to kill you. He waited around for a few minutes, in tears, and when he decided God wasn’t going to show he returned inside. That day he lost what little faith he might have had and began to live his life as though God did not exist. Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Lastly, from this passage, the mature should be beyond the following: 1.) dead works (trying to earn one’s salvation through works rather than by faith), 2.) instruction about washings (the mature should already be baptized and have a clear understanding of the nature of baptism, both physical and spiritual), 3.) laying on of hands (the mature should understand the transference of gifts and authority within the church), 4.) resurrection (Jesus was raised bodily, and we will be too), and 5.) eternal life. Basically, these should no longer be stumbling blocks or issues for the mature – they should be beyond these 5 issues, and if they are not, they should be addressed now, so they may move on to more important matters of discipling and laying these foundational truths and practices in other’s lives. We should, as believers seeking to ‘grow up’ in Christ, solidify what we believe on these matters – seeking the Scriptures, and Godly counsel – in order to move beyond these basics, so we don’t feel the need to continually ‘debate’ or ‘discuss’ them again. These are simple teachings – things that are foundational to the Christian life, according the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

Since the one still needing milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, the mature believer should be the opposite. What does it mean to be “skilled in the word”? As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” To “rightly handle” the word is to be “skilled in the word”: treating God’s revealed Word with reverence, and respect, and interpreting and applying to one’s life (AND the life of others) with care and even fear, given how important it is to apply and understand them correctly (see 2 Peter 3:16). One does this by knowing and understanding the Word in context – historical & literary – so we truly understand what the original authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, intended to say. In ‘big words’, we call this “exegesis” – in day to day language it simply means, we should be willing to understand what God is actually saying in His Word, and careful not to read our own ideas into it. As we mature in Christ, this should become more and more natural to us.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 5:12-6:3

I see my calling as not only that of a ‘worship leader’, but rather a ‘worship discipler’.  In fact, I think the call of every believer is to ‘make disciples’, but it’s a hard road for many because we don’t understand what we’re working towards.  This current series of blogs will examine the 3 primary goals which amount to Maturity in Christ: Character, Attitude, & Lifestyle.  I hope you stick with me for the long-haul, and be encouraged to discuss!

There is a time by which a believer is no longer in need of discipleship, but should be given responsibility to disciple others – a time where he or she is no longer a student, but a teacher. This does not mean we/they stop learning, just as an adult does not stop eating food when he or she is no longer a child. If any of us stopped eating we would die, but an adult does – under normal circumstances – no longer need to be spoon fed like a child. He is equipped to feed himself. Biblically, we should each grow up to feed ourselves – to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). This doesn’t mean we’re encouraged to separate ourselves from fellowship with other believers (Hebrews 10:25), but only that there is a point at which we should no longer need the spiritual attention of a newborn – when we should then be giving, rather than merely receiving. We need to seek Biblical relationships which can encourage this growth to happen – to put ourselves in situations and environments where we can become self-feeders.

I have been reading though Bob Kauflin‘s excellent book, WORSHIP MATTERS: LEADING OTHERS TO ENCOUNTER THE GREATNESS OF GOD, and though I don’t have the book on hand immediately to quote from directly, one idea in particular has hung with me for weeks now and I simply have to share it.

Worship is an invitation to enter into the joy that the Trinity has experienced from eternity past.

It’s Edwards-ian in it’s depth and profundity, meaning that I may never entirely understand the concept, but it rings true on so many levels: it’s as though an idea comes at my feeble mind in so many directions at once that I can’t possibly see it from enough angles to wrap myself around it.

It all goes back to the Biblical truth that God did not create us out of loneliness or want, but out of an overflow of joy. God needs nothing, particularly relationally, as God is a perfect community – an unbroken fellowship – three who are actually one. When we are converted, we are adopted as His child through Jesus, and filled with God’s Spirit, and likewise when we LIVE worship, we are living in our Creator’s presence, through our Savior’s work, drawn in by the indwelling Counselor within, and we are stepping in the midst of that perfect eternal relationship – participating in the fellowship between Father, Son, & Spirit – which overflowed into the creation itself, and from which our own life-story flows. And even our bit in this grand story is all about Him, as I’ve written in my song ‘All in All‘; “You made me – sustained me. You saved and showed mercy to me. You called me, and sent me, but all in all it’s been all about You.

And that’s the wonder of it all: we benefit from the love God has for God – we find eternal security because the Father loves the Son, and the Son eternally stands to intercede for us – because we are filled with the good deposit of the Holy Spirit, and God can never be ‘against’ God. We can experience deep joy walking a life of worship, because when we do we – albeit in some limited, imperfect sense – feel the love a perfect eternal Father has for His Son (whom we are ‘in’) and His Spirit (whom is ‘in’ us).

Lord, let me grow deeper in that eternal joy!

So be it!

In part one, I explained in detail how worship was, ultimately, not about singing, but about a whole life – heart, mind, soul, and strength – given over to God. I explained how, in the most important sense, I was not a worship leader – that at least I was unable to actually lead anyone into the presence of God, for that is Christ’s job, and was accomplished by his work on the cross on our behalf. Lastly, our personal response to what Christ has done is simple: draw near.

However, If you are ‘in Christ’, you are in God’s presence, and part of God’s kingdom. And if that’s you, I’ve got an important, but possibly confusing message for you, if you’ll allow me a direct contradiction from my last teaching: Worship is all about Singing. Give me a few paragraphs to explain.

Last Sunday morning I led worship for the 11 AM service at church. Oddly enough, I was no where on stage. I had no microphone, never address the congregation verbally from stage, and played no instrument. I didn’t pick songs. I didn’t rehearse the band. I did absolutely nothing that would make you think that I was leading worship, but I was a worship leader, none-the-less.

Who of you is a ‘worship leader’? Not in the sense that Jesus is, by bringing us into the Holy of Holies, but in the sense in which we usually use the word? Which of you are called to lead others in corporately worshiping God? Read the rest of this entry »

“That’s not worship” or “They are not really worshipers” – there are few phrases which can come from someone’s mouth that sinks my heart deeper. Not that it might not be true: it is possible that there are people in any worship gathering whose heart is not turned towards God – in fact, given the nature of the flesh, there may be many of them. It may even, though I hate to think it, be whole congregations where few if any of the people gathered are worshiping the God of the Bible, as people tend towards worshiping a god of their imagination, instead of the God of revelation.

But how would you really know? Sure, there are outward signs, I guess – Biblical guidelines for what worship should look like, but those are broad and varied, and the Biblical descriptions no where say that it explains every aspect of what worship can or should look like. On top of that, there are Biblical examples of folks who may have done everything our accepted form of worship might expect to seem a ‘genuine worshiper’, yet their hearts were far from God – the worship was false.

I wrote a blog some time back on another aspect entirely of being a ‘worship critic’, but while thinking on this one I remembered one situation in particular that still stands out to me though it happened over 10 years ago. At the time I was attending a fairly conservative reformed church, and our corporate worship consisted of hymns played on piano, and singing – any song less that 150 years old there would be considered ‘that new one’ (and I only partially jest). I remember one occasion when a Pentecostal friend of mine visited on Sunday, and by the end of the service he was in tears. He said, “I’d never felt such a deep sense of the Spirit during worship before!” We sand songs like ‘And can it be’, ‘On Christ the Solid Rock’, ‘Be Thou my Vision’ (and those were the ‘rockers’!), off pitch and accompanied by a tiny upright – and there weren’t more than 100 of us in the room, and the Holy Spirit ruined that man in our midst.

You see, worship is about the heart, and it’s hard to discern the deep things of people’s hearts. Some of my deepest times of worship I seem outwardly expressionless, and sometimes when I’m totally ‘into it’, I’m actually TRYING to move my heart towards God, and my expression is pure will – not heart. That’s just to say, be very careful when judging other’s worship. It’s likely a far better project to judge the intention of our own hearts instead of the hearts of others.

amen…

If you want to keep up, please first read the INTRO, PART 1, & PART 2.

Even if you aren’t yet convinced that the Gospels are entirely trustworthy, the core of Jesus’ life can still be show reliable. Several historical facts must be accounted for by any attempted explanation of the origins of Christianity and, unless a person refuses to be open to the possibility of a God, the traditional Biblical understanding of Jesus’ life fits the ‘data’ well.

First, what took place which led a substantial number of the first century Jews to believe on Jesus as the Jewish Messiah in spite of the fact that he fulfilled very few of the Old Testament prophecies they expected the messiah to fulfill? Since none of us are first century Jews, this require a bit of background in order to recognize it’s full significance.

Prior to being, essentially, ‘enslaved’ by the Roman Empire, Jewish Rabbi’s expected not one messiah, but two; the first, “Messiah, son of Joseph”, was the suffering servant messiah prophesied of in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, who would suffer and die for his people; the second, “Messiah, son of David”, was the warrior-king of Isaiah 11:1-10, who would raise the Messiah Son of Joseph from the dead, and re-establish the Kingdom of God, and thus everlasting peace and justice, with His people, Israel. If you’d like more information concerning Jewish Messianic hope, please check out Arnold Fruchtenbaum and N. T. Wright‘s work on the subject. Anyway, due to the Roman occupation of Jerusalem beginning in A.D. 63, the Jews began to focus their primary attention of the second, Davidic Messiah (the warrior/king who would free them), and had largely forgotten the former. The Jews had had quite enough of captivity and desired a deliverer who would “…raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel…”, who would “…assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.” Israel wanted vindication, and awaited a messiah who would “vanquish the oppressors of God’s people.” Honestly, who sees their need for a suffering & dying messiah when one’s already under oppression? They wanted ‘saved’, and to them that meant that they wanted to be freed from Rome! Heres one that’ll shock many Christians; several came claiming to be this very messiah prior to, and even some after, Jesus. We have written records that mention, if not document the movements of several of these; Athronges, Simeon ben Kosiba (also Bar Kockbar), Simon ben Giora, John of Gischala, Theudas, Jesus ben Ananias, Judas the Galilean, his son (or grandson), Menahem (the leader of the Sicarii), and Eleazar ben Simon. {see Theissen and Merz} The basic story in each case is the same; a prophet would gather a band of revolutionaries, which would proclaim him king, then stage a revolt against Roman rule. In every recorded case this revolt was subsequently crushed by Roman armies and ended with the crucifixion of their so-called “messiah” (and often the crucifixion of anyone the could catch who was involved with the movement), thus ending the revolt. {Wright, “the Original Jesus”, pg.68-70} Like Numbers 24:18 states, “…his enemy will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong”, the Davidic Messiah will be a conqueror. Combined with Deuteronomy 21:23, “…anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse,” one can see that, from the perspective of a first century Jew, not only is a dead messiah no messiah at all, but a crucified messiah is a false prophet and under God’s curse. So, when a movement’s leader was crucified, the survivors knew that he was false messiah and either disbanded, or found another messiah to lead the next revolt, eventually to the same end. Why was this not the case with Jesus and his movement?

To begin with, Jesus’ self-understanding was seemingly more in line with the priestly role of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53, the Messiah son of Joseph, than the Davidic Messiah of Isaiah 11, which is most likely why Jesus’ is often portrayed in the Gospels as having a “messianic secret.” Though his actions were often symbolic and overtly messianic in nature, verbally Jesus seemed to keep his identity, for the most part, secret until it was too late for people to misunderstand his goals and still force a violent revolution upon him. For instance, in Matthew 16:13-20 (see also Mark 8:27-30, & Luke 9:18-21) Jesus and the disciples are gathered in Caesarea Philippi (the known hiding place of several other messianic-led revolutionary groups, consequently), and Jesus asks the disciples their opinions concerning his identity. Peter responds, “You are the Christ…“, and the first part of Jesus’ response is of the sort one would expect from a 2000-year-old religious tract; “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah (Peter)…” What comes next though, for the modern Christian, is often quite shocking; “Then he (Jesus) warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ (or Messiah).” Only in light of what the 1st century Jews hoped for does this make sense; Jesus accepted the role of the Jewish Messiah, but not in the sense that even his own disciples completely understood, and, in some cases (Judas Iscariot, most likely), even hoped for. In fact, Jesus almost always tells people to remain quiet in predominantly Jewish cities, most likely due to misunderstood messianic expectations, and only told individuals to spread the news concerning his miracles in the predominantly Gentile cities, where, since they had NO clear messianic expectations, he knew he wouldn’t be misunderstood. Peter himself showed threads of the Davidic hope when he rebuked Jesus for predicting his death (again – a dead messiah was no messiah at all!), and pulled a sword and attacked those who came to arrest Jesus, cutting the ear off of one of the High Priest’s servants. Eventually Jesus did verbalize his messianic claims publicly, but, to his disciple’s confusion and distress, not until he was in chains before Pontius Pilate and about to be sent to his death. Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 27:11; “Yes, it is as you say.” Quickly, his disciples disbanded. Believing their messiah to have been proven a fraud, and, having wasted possibly as much as three years of their lives, they go into hiding for fear that they too might be killed. But, unlike other messianic movements before (and after) them, Christianity continued, and in spite of immense persecution, and within four Centuries Christianity was the official religion of Rome. What can account for this?

History shows that the tomb in which Christ was laid was discovered empty, which is the foundation from which the early church argues for Jesus miraculous physical resurrection from the dead. On the Sunday after Jesus’ Crucifixion some of his women followers went to his tomb in hopes of anointing his body, but on arrival they discovered it empty. “Well,” one might say, “the early Christians just made this up to validate their developing religion!” For a few fairly simple reasons the empty tomb is not quite so easy to dismiss.

First, one would suppose that if the early Christians had been so quick to make up stories to justify their beliefs that they’d make them a bit more credible. If the authors of the Gospels we have in our Bibles were so inclined to play fast and loose with the evidence, why would they undermine their argument by having the empty tomb discovered by women if it were not true? You see, In first century Palestine women were not only considered second-class citizens, but, as William Lane Craig states in REASONABLE FAITH, “If a man committed a crime and was observed in the very act by some women, he could not be convicted on the basis of their testimony, since their testimony was regarded as so worthless that it could not even be admitted into court.” [Craig RF pg.276] That women were generally regarded as untrustworthy and not considered reliable witnesses would also likely explain why the church’s earliest creeds, particularly the one quoted by Paul in chapter 15 of his letter to the church in Corinth, mentions by name only the Apostle Peter and Jesus’ brother James. [Craig, Assessing the…pg52] If the story were fabricated by the early church one would not expect women to be the first to discover the empty tomb, for that would undermine the story’s intent: to convince people that Jesus was the Christ. The fact that it is reported that women discovered an empty tomb is unquestionable. That Jesus’ tomb was empty is also attested to the fact that we see no evidence of the veneration of his burial site, an ancient Jewish custom, except that of the women when they shockingly discover that Jesus wasnt there. [Wright.Original Jesus…pg.70] Though some have argued that people in general had merely forgotten where Jesus had been laid, given Jewish culture at the time of Christ this just seems unlikely. Even if one distrusts the Gospels’ story of Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathia, in spite of other ancient evidence to the contraire [The Historical Jesus – Theissen & Merz pg.500], one still must understand the degree of veneration the Jews had for their dead, especially those who had great followings and died heroically. In chapter 6 of Jesus Under Fire, Craig explains; “During Jesus’ time there was an extraordinary interest in the graves of Jewish martyrs and holy men, and these were scrupulously cared for and honored. This suggests that the grave of Jesus would have also been noted.” [Jesus Under Fire, Craig pg.148] Combined with the observation that the burial story is judged by many scholars to be from a fairly early source, that Jesus was buried in a known tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, or that at the least it is quite likely that many people knew the location of that tomb, is well attested. With that in mind, it must be mentioned that the Jewish or Roman authorities only had to produce the body of Jesus to stop the early church in it’s tracks — they didn’t, and couldn’t. In fact, they argued that the disciples had stolen the body, which at least implies that they knew of the tomb’s whereabouts and validates that that very tomb no longer contained the body of Jesus.

This raises a valid question, though; was it possible that Jesus’ body was stolen? First, if we allow the Gospels any credit historically, let us note that they record that a Roman guard (a group of men) were posted to keep watch over the tomb of Jesus, to make sure nothing of the sort happened. Also, since they would’ve been killed for not doing their jobs, it’s unlikely they could be snuck-by, or even bribed.

Secondly, though, let us ask ourselves – what had anyone of them to gain by the act? The disciples, or any Jews for that matter, had no expectation of an individual resurrection occurring outside the context of the general resurrection, and the sect known as the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, period. The Jews that did expect a resurrection, expected it to take place as a part of the ushering in of the kingdom in the end-times by the Davidic Messiah, and in THAT resurrection ALL who had ever died would be physically reassembled into new bodies in which they would live out the rest of eternity. An individual resurrection, even of the messiah, apart from the general resurrection was an unheard-of idea, and not a likely one to have been thought up by what would otherwise be just another band of revolutionaries mourning, what to them now would seem, another dead, God-judged, false messiah. Also, as William Lane Craig argues that it the theory that the disciples stole the body of Jesus is morally implausible, for the disciples seem to be generally moral individuals (not the type who would steal a body from a grave with the sole intent of deceiving others). It seems psychologically implausible, for the disciples were broken — they had given up on Christ, and were in fear for their own lives (not likely to pull off such a conspiracy), and lastly, the disciples sincerity is rarely doubted for they were all willing to die (and all but one did) for this messiah whom they claimed was raised from the dead. For these reasons, very few modern scholars argue that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. It is simply not believable.

Lastly, what could cause devout mono-theists, such as the Jews, to worship a man? Now, rather than go too in-depth with this, Im just going to skim the surface. The Romans took over Jerusalem in 63 B.C., and commanded that all who were under them worship their king. However, the Jewish people refused to worship anything but God, so they were killed in hordes. Finally, however, the Romans realized that at this rate they would have no one to RULE over if this practice continued so they made an exception but ONLY for the Jewish people no others. So, the determination of the Jews to not worship anything but God was so extreme as to exempt them from worshiping the Roman Emperor! Fast forward to a letter written by Pliny the Younger before 111 A.D. in it he refers to Christians chanting to Christ as if to a God. This may seem insignificant to some, but to a religion steeped in tradition, under conditions where, in order to retain their identity they would be forced to stand strong for their faith, it seems unlikely that, apart from a significant miracle of God, a people who would die rather than worship a man, were worshiping a man.

What could account for these three things?

  • 1.) What single event could account for a significant group of devout Jews, seemingly ignoring an important declaration of Old Testament law that anyone who is hung from a tree is cursed of God, continuing to uphold Jesus as the Messiah even after his crucifixion?
  • 2.) What could account for a significant group of devout Jews who were longing for a Kingly messiah to change their deep-set beliefs in who the Messiah was to be – a dead man?
  • 3.) What could make a significant group of devout Jews seemingly turn from their monotheism and worship a MAN?

The resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection attests to the truth of who Jesus was and what he did on the cross. It’s the only way I can make sense of it, and it brings me back to this person, Jesus, again and again.

And, as a result of seeing that there is good reason to trust in Christ, then there is also good reason to trust Christ’s word, and trust in the God who is revealed through Him. It takes a mind convinced that Christ is real, and that God showed his goodness & grace to us through Christ, to worship God whole-heartedly – with our whole heart, mind, soul, & strength. Trust in Christ, and trust in God, His father, and trust in His Holy Spirit, and WORSHIP with your whole life.

Amen…

For the first 2 parts of this series, see the INTRO, and PART 1.

Due to the incredibly huge nature of this next subject, I’m merely going to touch on this briefly, but when discussing the historical reliability of the Gospels, the time-frame in which they were written is an important factor to consider. Liberal ‘scholars’ often date the Gospels’ earliest manuscripts from 70 A.D., as with the Gospel of Mark, to 95 A.D., in the case of John’s Gospel; 40 to 60 years after the events recorded. Many argue that this is a long period of time, and that many facts could be distorted between the events being written about, and the act of writing them down.  But the fact is that at that time Israel was still an “Oral Community” — people were still reciting the entire Torah from memory. Combining that with the fact that many of Jesus’ teachings were formulated to encourage oral transmission by being spoken in essentially poetic form, in spite of what seems to us moderns like anything but up-to-the-minute breaking news, we can still be confident, even apart from any divine intervention, that the main body of the Jesus story would be rightly transmitted orally, even if those dates were valid.

But accepting such dates is even problematic. Methods for dating the Gospels are often spurious a grasping at straws. What one scholar uses to claim an early date another uses to declare an older one. For example, people using Liberal dating methods often date Mark’s Gospel after 70 A.D., primarily because of Mark 13:2; ‘”Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”‘ This is often interpreted to be a veiled reference to the destruction of the Temple and the Jewish-Roman war, and is used as evidence that Mark’s Gospel had been written after that event. It is assumed that any prophecy of an event that actually took place must have been read back into the mouth of Jesus after the even had taken place. Now the assertation that no one could under any circumstances predict the future in and of itself is very problematic. If any one of you were in the same situation as a person like Jesus, living in such a volatile age you could’ve likely seen the destruction of Jerusalem on the horizon. Given the political climate nearly anyone could have “prophesied” such an event rather accurately; it was obvious that something like the Jewish-Roman war was on the horizon — it took no miracle to figure that out. However, Mark 13:2, rightly understood cannot be a reference to the Jewish-Roman war because only the Temple was destroyed, not the entire city, as is implied by the verse. And even then, if that was intended to be a reference to the Temple’s destruction, that was what many Jews desired, so they could rebuild a VALID temple, because many viewed the current temple as less than perfect because it was built by a Roman and not a Jew. So, if this verse referred to a Temple destruction, it was more a THREAT than prophecy!

Another passage that is used to place a late date on the Gospels, yet again a Temple reference, is John 2:19-21; “Jesus answered them,”Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. Jews replied, It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are to raise it in three days? But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” Here, it seems, this reference to the Temple again had little to do with the Temple on the Mount of Olives, but rather was a reference to Christ’s own body and his future death and resurrection. Since none of these are references to the Temple destruction that occurred around A.D. 70, then using these references to date the Gospels post-70 is unjustifiable.

That is just to say this: the gospels were written in a community that was trained to pass along large bodies of tradition orally, the message of Jesus fit into the larger story of Israel in a way that made sense and would be easy to pass along, the individual sayings of Jesus were originally given in a fashion that encouraged memorization within that culture, and the dates between the events of Jesus life and their being written down were not nearly as long as many doubters would like us to believe.  That adds up to yet another very good reason to believe what was written about Jesus in the Bible.

Many blessings, and stay tuned for part 3!

What makes you feel valued – of worth? Gifts? A phone call? Has anyone ever sung a song for you (Happy Birthday, per chance)? Better yet, has anyone ever WRITTEN a song for you? Music is powerful – SINGING IS POWERFUL. I’m serious: guys, if you know you are ugly, and you want to get married one day, buy an instrument NOW! But, music – and singing – is not enough. What if someone wrote you a song, but then hit on your best friend? Wouldn’t be quite as cool, would it? In fact, you’d probably despise that song, and turn the radio station any time it came on. There is more to feeling loved – to being praised- than simply being sung about, or to. This is an important point: WORSHIP IS NOT – at least not in any ‘ultimate’ sense – ABOUT SINGING, and, in the most important sense of the term, I am not your “worship leader”.

Sure, I may lead people in song, and on my best days (or, hopefully, MOST days) I encourage then to sing to God, but that’s not necessarily ‘worship’, and at best that makes me a ‘lead worshiper’ or a ‘song-leader’, not a worship leader. My ‘official title’ here at the church, at least the one on my job description, says “Associate Music Director”, which is very appropriate, I think, and Biblical.

I know what some people THINK we worship leaders are trying to do. I’ve heard it. Haven’t you ever heard someone who was really into a corporate worship service say of the so-called ‘worship leader’; “he really led me into the presence of God”? Or were you the one who said it? Now, I think I understand their heart, and what they’re TRYING to convey, but they were absolutely wrong because NO worship leader today can do that! I can’t do that – I was never MEANT to do that! But, someone else was, and DID! Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Blog Love

February 22, 2008

Happy Friday! Just thought I’d spread some blog-love around before the weekend.

My friend (and one of my ‘bosses’, though that sounds so harsh & authoritarian), Fred McKinnon, has posted a pic of our new auditorium. It doesn’t represent the full room, but you can get a feel for it. I’m EXCITED!

I just discovered a very cool older post over at Fundamentally Reformed called THE RISE OF THE MODERN HYMN MOVEMENT, as well as a newer follow up post; MODERN HYMN WRITERS. Mandy, you should enjoy this. Being in a songwriting kick, myself, I found it fascinating.

One of my few living heroes, Tim Keller, has finished his new book THE REASON FOR GOD. Along with N.T. Wright‘s SIMPLY CHRISTIAN, this may be one of the best apologetics for the Biblical faith for post-moderns written to date. Good stuff.

Rich Kirkpatrick recently posted a very though provoking blog in his ‘Worship Mythbusters’ series entitled WORSHIP IS NOT ENTERTAINMENT.

I’ll be taking a much-needed blogging break until March 3rd.  Until we meet again!

Amen…and OUT.

Friday Blog Love

February 15, 2008

There have been so many good blogs and new resources published this week that I can hardly keep up!

First, Mark Altrogge over at The Blazing Center posted Hope for the Sin-Stained Worshiper. Though I’m sure no worship leaders that read this blog have EVER got into a fight with their wife on the way to church (at least I NEVER do that – um, right honey?), you may still benefit from this.

Jared Wilson at Gospel-Driven Church gives a helpful critique of the idea that ‘God shows up’ in the musical aspect of a worship service in a blog worth thinking considering: Call & Response.

Jordan at Worship Trench shares some helpful thoughts that are very relevant if you are, like us, in the process of moving into a new facility, and find your congregation in the midst of great change. Check out Walking the Tightrope for his thoughts.

Lastly, we’ve really been emphasizing, among our student leaders in particular, the importance of daily Bible study and quiet time – growing really familiar with God through his self-revelation in the Word. With that in mind, it is very important to consider what translation we are using and why. In light of that, I present Tim Challies’ The Beauty of a Good Translation and Adrian Warnock’s The ESV: a Bible translation for Everyone? Both give good reason why I choose the ESV over all the other options.

Have a blessed weekend!

Amen.