The remaining colonists formed relationships with neighboring Wampanaug tribe who taught them to hunt, fish, and plant. Less than one year later, the colonists had collected enough food to feed the community through the coming Winter. They ended up joining the colonists for a three-day feast in honor of their bounty. This is what we celebrate today as “Thanksgiving.” (1)
A coming together against the current of the times to break bread and show gratitude. It moves beyond giving to a friend in need, or donating for a roundabout benefit, like tax write-offs. It extends to those who could be perceived as enemies–what Miroslav Volf referred to as the “other.” The Wampanaugs and the colonists had plenty of reason to hate each other. Had the tribe turned a blind eye, their inability to sustain themselves and lack of resilience would have wiped out the colonists. Instead, the Wampanaugs empowered the “other” to thrive. No wonder the colonists threw a three-day party to give thanks.
But it comes out from another party’s generosity. The colonists were thankful after being shown tremendous compassion. It’s charming to me that between the fear-mongering of Halloween, the consumerism that surrounds Christmas, and the debauchery that accompanies New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, of all the holidays (with the ironic exception of Black Friday) is somewhat free from the madness. For many, it stands out as a reprieve. Yes, Christmas should too. But culturally speaking, Christmas is entrenched with a materialistic message. Thanksgiving is still “safe” as far as most people are concerned. I wonder if it’s because of the generosity associated with it. Even the most self-centered persons will take a break from their self-indulgence to be thankful for something, even if it’s being thankful for all their stuff. In other words, thankfulness is still culturally engrained in the holiday. And it’s historically tied to generosity. Of course, it all disappears the next day when the stores open! But if you want to see a longer-lasting generosity, one has only to search the Scriptures.
When Paul wrote his very emotional second letter to the Corinthians, he kept attributing the church’s thanksgiving to the generosity of Macedonians (2 Cor 9:11-12). Earlier, he described them as being “in a severe test of affliction,” and yet that “their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (2 Cor 8:1-2)! To rephrase, the poorest of the poor were the most generous, and it was “overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:12). See that? Thanksgiving comes from generosity. But these people were very poor! Why did they give so much, when they had so little? And why, especially being poor, did their giving bring them so much joy?
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV).
This is the generosity that lasts the longest, and goes the deepest.
This isn’t to say people who don’t know God can’t be generous; we can all do acts of generosity—even self-sacrificial ones—without knowing God. Rather, the gospel changes our deepest motivations, and loosens us from our most prized resources. We loosen our grip on things that matter less. And as seen in the Macedonians, the gospel makes everything we own seem less important than it used to be.
And these have the most to be thankful for this week. In fact, Paul states earlier, that the reason you are given anything at all is so that “you will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
So when you enjoy the food, the family, the solitude, the air you breath this week–let it be a constant and thrilling reminder of the wealth you’ve received from God in Christ.
I leave you with a prayer of intersession from John W. Doberstein’s prayer book,
O God, who givest daily bread without our prayer, even to all the wicked, we pray thee that thou wouldst give us to acknowledge these thy benefits, and enable us to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
1- History of Thanksgiving. (2013). The History Channel website. Retrieved 12:56, November 22, 2013, from http://www.history.comhttp://www.history.com/videos/history-of-the-thanksgiving-holiday.
The “Good Life” is the life that everyone is after. It’s a vision of well-being that we’ve been taught to create or chase. Yet it’s usually on the other side of the fence where grass always appears greener. It’s the dream that captivates our imagination, and just as often breaks our hearts. Many of us might agree that the Good Life is as evasive as it is alluring.
But the Bible presents us with a far more satisfying picture. Jesus explained that a taste of the Good Life is here with us right now. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, he gave supernatural examples, situations, and case studies of the breaking forth of God’s kingdom in the present age—the Good Life of Heaven coming down into our world. All of this is now on display in Jesus’ most famous and memorable sermon.
Join us as we begin a series through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, starting September 21st.
Here is a list of the sermons we’ve done so far.
For what to expect, check out the schedule: The Good Life Series.
In the last month, my twenty-month old Abby has choked on grapes, split her lip, stepped in a mound of fire ants, sprayed herself in the eye with chemical cleaner, developed a disturbing preoccupation with electrical outlets and hot coffee, and has incessantly pestered temperamental dogs. And our boy hasn’t even been born yet!
If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that parenthood is the hardest thing ever. But strangely enough, as many parents will attest, it’s also the best thing ever. Because every difficult moment is outmatched by the joy of seeing her smile, pointing at a bug, giggling at me while hiding under the kitchen table, dancing to AC/DC, or cuddling on the couch. So yes, there are hard times on the parenting end, but there are way more good times to care about that. It’s the hardest and best thing ever. Which is why this Father’s Day will come with a certain satisfaction for me. Of course, that’s probably because I have a good dad, and love being a dad to my daughter.
For some, Father’s Day evokes a different response. It reminds some that they lost their fathers–perhaps through war, a car accident, or cancer–the men who used to make them laugh while making faces under the kitchen table, have left an empty table setting at dinner. Others have fathers who are there, without actually being around. These are the successful dads who love their work more than their family, and kids who’s only memory of their dad is that success is the most important thing in life. I think also of dads who lost their daughters and sons during the tragedies that unfolded at UCSB in Isla Vista on May 23, 2014. Daughters who once put a smile on the faces of fathers, and the unspeakable pain that has been left in their absence. I thought of Abby when these stories surfaced in the news. I had no words. The dawning of Father’s Day for some of these people isn’t just hard, it’s unspeakably painful. And there is no silver lining.
I wonder what some of these must feel when we applaud dads in church on Sunday. Not to take away from the dads who were faithful and the kids who are appreciative. Good dad’s are rightly celebrated. And Father’s Day is a celebration for many dads. But for some, it’s an annual reminder of despair. And as it draws closer, some of you are dreading the day.
In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul tells a bunch of Jewish Christians that they are no longer held to the ritual practice of their old “holy days.” The reason, he argues, is because these festivals, Sabbaths, and special days point them to something better: “the substance is the Messiah” (17b). This is loosely analogous, but when I read this text, I thought about Father’s Day. See, for many of you, this holiday reminds you that you don’t have a dad. For other’s it reminds you about how your dad has disappointed you, or was never there to begin with. But I want you to consider a new thought to fill your mind with this weekend. The gospel (good news) in the Bible is that when we are united with Christ by faith, we are brought into the family of God, and adopted by God the Father. We become HIS children. The apostle John exclaimed, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). It’s easy to think of your fatherlessness on this holiday, but in Christ, you have a perfect Father.
For others, Father’s Day is a continual reminder to some fathers of the loss of their child. No pat answer can remove that type of pain. But the gospel does offer you hope that all the turmoil and tragedy we’ve experienced–even the loss of a child–will somehow be reversed and turned inside out, when Jesus returns. I don’t know how that works, but those are the outlandish claims of God. The gospel is more than a pat answer. It offers deep hope.
There is also something else worth remembering for the rest of us. That Fatherly love of God is (sometimes) intangible until the family of God brings in those who hurt and gives them a family to belong. That’s what makes the gospel less than a pat answer for many people. Someone hurting may believe and experience the gospel of a Father to the fatherless by the power of the Holy Spirit. But a family of believer’s are responsible for driving that truth home.
This Father’s Day, let’s remember the fathers.
Remember the fatherless.
Remember the fathers who were robbed of their children.
Weep with those who weep.
Rejoice with those who rejoice.
And bring in those who have no where else to go.
Look around your church, workplace, comm group, recreation, and neighborhood. Is there anyone in your life who has a bad experience with Father’s Day? You have an opportunity. Celebrate by giving expression to the Father’s love.
With all the earlier discussion on the blog about orthodoxy, Biblical Theology, Scripture, and Bible study, it’s probably fitting that I also address preaching. For a few reasons…
Now, I am not telling you to go pester your pastor on every point of difference you have with their preaching. The congregation I belong to can certainly testify that I have not preached infallibly behind the pulpit, though I aim for nothing less! Mistakes will be made in the pulpit, because no pastor has perfect theology, and we are all learning together. I am also not advocating that you hound every church in the city whose theology you disagree with. That’s a waste of time, and won’t benefit anybody. What is beneficial is identify biblical preaching, because then you can immerse yourself in the life of that church, obeying the Word of God as it is preached rightly. As we progress, I’m certainly not presenting myself as the high standard—but I think we can and should have a baseline when it comes to preaching, and strive for it.
Perhaps we should ask, “What does the Bible think is ‘biblical’ preaching?”
By this, I mean, how does the Bible itself present preaching done correctly? We can find some examples throughout the Bible…
I’ll stop there.
From the Old Testament to the New Testament, a pattern emerges: explanation, teaching, and preaching (which is proclamation). In other words, the Bible’s own “opinion” of correct preaching is at least the explanation and teaching of the meaning of the Scriptures, and the proclamation of it’s truths.
Biblical preaching is expository preaching.
Mark Dever helpfully explained expositional preaching as explaining a Scripture’s main point, then explaining and proclaiming that main point in a sermon. Or even more succinctly, “Making the main point of the text the main point of the sermon.”
So according to the New Testament epistles (letters written to early churches), a church must include expository preaching as part of its worship gathering.
But, you say,
There are a lot of types of preaching! Some preachers preach for 15 minutes, others for an hour; some preach on a single verse, and others preach whole chapters or even books; in between these are so many different styles of preaching: storytelling, verse-by-verse, series, etc. How do you know which one is good?
I’ve heard some of my own friends elevate sermon styles over others, and denigrate others for preaching in a way that they do not like. Notice that this has nothing to do with faithful preaching, but preaching preference.
The requirement of faithful preaching is expository not stylistic. In fact, different styles of preaching are useful, as well as expository, that is, they can explain the Bible using different methods of communication. Here are a few (though not all)…
Let me “exposit” these three styles of preaching…
This type of preaching takes a macro-angle approach to the text, seeking to camp out on a single verse(s), and discover the meaning of the verse before forming an application. This type of preaching is easily identified because you’ll find the preacher moving through a book of the Bible from start to finish, in short increments–usually a verse or two at one time. The sermon is developed around the propositional truth (the main point) of that particular passage. Some books, because of their logical layout, are more natural to preach in this fashion, such as The Epistle to the Romans or the book of James.
Example: Ephesians 4:26 – the main point of this verse is to practice self-control.
Preachers of this style: John MacArthur, Chuck Smith, John Piper, Britt Merrick.
This type of preaching takes a wide-angle approach to the text. Instead of developing a sermon around the main point of a verse, it is based on the main theme that runs through a collection of verses—sometimes whole paragraphs—like a golden thread. Some books, because of their narrative nature, are more natural to preach in this fashion, such as The Gospel according to John or the Book of Esther.
Example: Ephesians 4:17-32 – the theme that runs through this passage is the elect of God which is also called the church, and it outlines how we should live accordingly. Another example of a dominant theme is “suffering” found in the book of Job. And so on.
Preachers of this style: Timothy Keller, Dan Kimball, Dave Lomas.
Topical preaching usually means that a topic is already determined, and the appropriate text is sought out for informing the topic and formulating the sermon. This type of preaching is like a prescription being aimed at a relevant issue at hand. I’ve done this before, when the Jesusita Fire raced through Montecito, CA., and many college students lost their rooms and belongings. Out of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and the situation, I was not about to continue in our verse-by-verse series through Romans. I prayerfully sought a word from the Lord in relation to suffering, and then students turned to pray with each other for those who suffered loss. Topical preaching allows us to address pressing issues in the moment of need.
Example: “What is Worship” (from Romans 12:1)
Preachers of this style: lots of people.
I say this, because there is sometimes push-back from people who call a sermon “unbiblical!” simply because they did not like the style of it’s preaching. We all have preferences when it comes to style, and that’s ok. But the standard we should hold up involves asking different questions of the preaching.
What to look for in a preaching ministry:
“America’s problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it. It’s bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in it’s place.”
This introductory remark encapsulates the main theme in Ross Douthat’s book, “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” that the undermining of Christianity in America today is due to a deep chasm of cafeteria spirituality left over by mainline churches in decades past.
This thesis comes through two sections:
Introducing the first section, the New York Times columnist prepares a rather exciting taste of the Church’s glory days through the beginning of the twenty-first century before issuing a scathing diagnosis on mainline churches for botching everything up. Douthat argues that the church typically wavered between accommodation and resistance when faced with cultural difficulties. A single, albeit notorious, example of this were the tired arguments over biological evolution and the book of Genesis which helped excuse the church to the margins of the scientific community. Conservatives and Evangelicals came out swinging on a variety of similar issues, but left a lot to be desired. In the end, the fundamentalism that emerged from the fight was “an anchor pulling American Evangelicals downward and backward” (125).
Churches soon stopped fighting, and accommodated culture attempting to win back those people they originally demonized, but lost even more for their cowardice on issues of truth and doctrine. To borrow another saying: if you’re for everything, you’re for nothing at all. Douthat opines that the “endless civil wars of fundamentalism” caused Billy Graham to preach “a more stripped-down gospel,” appealing to the lowest common denominator and downplaying secondary matters (139). This, he writes, marked an era where the spiritually malnourished were left hungry, unable to discern between good teachers and the charismatic circus acts that filled the void. The church lost their long-held cultural influence and left an empty space in their place that led hungry people to search elsewhere and charlatans of every nuance to supply whatever America desired. So in light of American’s constant spiritual cravings, “the waning of Christian orthodoxy has led to the spread of Christian heresy rather than to the disappearance of religion altogether” (145).
In the second section, Douthat explains the particular brands of “bad religion” that emerge from the chaos. Surprisingly, it all starts with Bart Ehrman, the renown New Testament text critic and author of Misquoting Jesus, where he attempts to explain that the text of the Bible is irretrievably corrupted. If you haven’t heard of Ehrman, you’ve probably heard of Joel Esteen’s prosperity “gospel,” Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” or Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love.” According to Douthat, these pseudo-Christianities grew out of the religious bacteria left by Ehrman’s deconstruction of the Bible. Ehrman’s popular books have since been solidly rebutted by his peers, but it didn’t matter. Once the credibility of Scripture got scrutinized on a popular level, the possibilities for privatized, individualistic religions were endless. Douthat’s report is riveting. The first 276 pages are a breathtaking tour of America’s spiritual depravity.
Douthat’s solution’s are perhaps a little sloppy. First he calls Christians to “shed the baggage of a vanished Christendom and speak the language of this age” (279). Assuming that is correct, how does one go about it? Among his suggested starting points are politics (284), homeschooling (281), moralism (288), and confessionalism (286). I will stand by the last one—a more robust theology and catechized church members can only be a good thing—but politics, homeschooling, and moralism are how we “speak the language of this age?” Fighting in public seats of power while removing children from public seats of learning…a little simplistic maybe? If the spiritual trajectory of a nation is as bleak as he so eloquently proposed, then surely the solution is more complex and arduous than merely homeschooling everyone. It’s not that his suggestions are bad; they are just a bit anti-climactic after such a poignant diagnosis.
That diagnosis is so good that I have to give this book a hearty four stars and an accompanying “must read,” for Douthat is gifted at using his pen against the rather sloppy religion of the West, and says all of the things we wish we knew how to say. For most of us, we’ll have to say those things as we read this book under our breath.
Purchase here: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics
Many of us want accountability, and rightfully so—we go to mid-week gatherings, we sign up for redemptive groups, we meet other Christians for coffee, we ask pastors for wisdom, we set up counseling appointments, and these are often with great effect—but not everyone who does this is as vulnerable, humble, and teachable as they need to be. So instead of “accountability” what we end up with is victimization. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who can check our blind spots, we surround ourselves with people to blame. Accountability is illusive, not because there aren’t people willing to bear our burdens, but because we sometimes expect those people to do for us what we are too prideful to do ourselves: repent of our sin.
When this happens,”accountability” is nothing more than a cheap buzzword that we think will save us if we say it repeatedly. “Accountability,” “Keep me accountable,” “Who are you accountable to, bro?” “She’s been keeping me accountable.”
Think about this. If you struggle with lust, you can probably entertain those lusts, even act them out, in secret for many years—perhaps for the rest of your life—without anyone finding out. What good is having a hundred accountability partners if you are better at hiding your sin than they are at keeping you accountable? I think we give other Christians too much credit in this regard: we think that others will check us on all the sin issues of our heart, and yet we are masterful at hiding such things! The only way our friends can really know how we struggle, and thereby work to restore us, is when we are brutally honest with the right people. But some in the church feel as if “accountability” will do all the work for them, kind of like a butler who launders their clothing while they are asleep. Yet they wake up to find their dirty clothes strewn across the living room floor because they don’t really have a butler, and they don’t know how to operate the washing machine by themselves. The problem with Christian accountability is not accountability, per se, it is the Christian who is not really willing to humble themselves, submit to others, and face the fact that they are worse than they think. We all are.
Instead of throwing around magic buzzwords, the Bible calls us to open our lives to fellow Christian’s who we trust and can speak into our lives. And it’s not enough to ask people to “keep us accountable”—we must also listen and heed the righteous judgment of others, while being honest with our shortcomings, sinful habits, and idolatry. This is true accountability. It’s a two-way street where all our crap is on the table, and brothers/sisters can gently show the blind spots in our lives. It is also a God-ordained means of sanctification, whereby God uses the community around you to conform you into His likeness.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16 (HCSB)
Pope Francis: “That is why the center of our faith isn’t just a book, but a history of Salvation, and above all, it’s about a person: Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)
Martin Luther: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony from scripture or by evident reason—for I confide neither in the Pope nor in a Council alone, since it is certain they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is held captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing it is not safe or right to act against conscience. God help me. Amen.“ (HT: http://goo.gl/JqSOu)
Pope Francis: “The interpretation of Sacred Scriptures cannot be just an individual academic effort, but must always be compared to, inserted within, and authenticated by the living tradition of the Church.” (HT: http://goo.gl/UXyb8)
William Tyndale: I defy the pope and his laws! If God spares my life, in a few years a plow boy shall know more of the Scriptures than you do. (HT: http://goo.gl/RjAvU)
As we mourn this moment, we do so with a hope that a Kingdom is arriving—a Kingdom that will right all wrongs, and turn all our sorrows into dancing. Until then, we look for ways to help others grieve with a hope beyond themselves.
You can find the full post here. Read it. Weep for brothers and sisters you’ve never met. Be unified with them in prayer. Maranatha.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able to comfort them that are in any affliction, through the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ASV)
The awful truth about Gosnell in words (The Atlantic)
The awful truth about Gosnell in video (3801 Lancaster)
The full details of the Grand Jury Report
9 things you should know about the Gosnell murder trial (Joe Carter)
8 reasons why major news outlets didn’t share anything (Trevin Wax)
There are some great books on spiritual growth, but Wilhoit’s emphasizes a heavy communal approach. Spiritual formation is described in Wilhoit’s own words as “the intentional communal process of growing in our relationship with God and becoming conformed to Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit” (23), and presents the local church as an irreplaceable necessity. Wilhoit asserts that spiritual formation is the central task of the church, and not a supplement. Instead of placing the loci of formation on a few specialized people or programs, he suggests that the local congregation “must resume the practice of making spiritual formation of their members into Christlikeness their primary goal” (10). This topic of spiritual maturity seems one of the more evasive practices of the church, because it is so easy to lob abstract theoretical grenades into the congregation that make little sense or are difficult to apply to the tangible sphere of recreation, family, and work. There are plenty of books on spiritual formation and discipleship that start with the imperatives of Scripture, but leave you to guess the implementation of those Scriptural truths. Granted, while no one wants to be mechanical or formulaic with spiritual maturity, it would still be nice to have a tangible push in the right direction, even if only to polish the rust from our orthopraxy. What I appreciated most about this book is Wilhoit’s practical insight into the disciplines of spiritual formation in community. Here’s a glance…
In the first chapter, Wilhoit quickly sets the groundwork for spiritual growth in the Gospel. A lot of groundwork!—seven pages are devoted to unpacking the meaning and implications of the Gospel for the Christian’s identity, so as to prevent moralistic therapy from pervading the process that he outlines in the book. This chapter is excellent, and can stand on it’s own, with anthems such as, “All our spiritual problems come from a failure to apply the gospel,” (32) and “the gospel is the power of God for the beginning, middle, and end of salvation” (27). These indicative truths serve as a divine railway to guide the reader into a practical set of imperatives designed for measured growth. What follows chapter one is a curriculum (ch. 2) made up of four responses to the gospel that are designed by Scripture to take a church through a holistic engagement of spiritual nourishment, discipleship, and formation. These four are receiving, remembering, responding, and relating. Each subsequent chapter is a lens for viewing the practices in terms of community and the local church. Spread throughout the remaining 8 chapters is the following narrative…
Wilhoit’s does not settle for anything less than seeking to become fully mature in Christ. He writes with a “already-but-not-yet” balance, while also seeking every facet of church life that can be useful for growth, and squeezing it until it bleeds.
He takes his cues from the early church, rather than pop-psychology, and the Scriptures, rather than pragmatic advice. The drive of this book is to experience Jesus Christ, rather than nurse a self-esteem, and the path Wilhoit sometimes take involves repentance and self-denial.
He establishes an in-depth curriculum for spiritual formation, and makes specific recommendations for how to carry out each of the goals presented. After describing these practices on a personal level, he shows what it might look like on a communal level, yet, without ever faulting to the formulaic.
The footnotes alone are worth the price of the book! At every chapter, he lists recommended readings that cover a variety of different approaches and backgrounds useful for the topic at hand. Even better, he includes a short excerpt on each book!
While I have not yet attempted to put this book into practice, and cannot vouch for its veracity, quite yet, it is to date one of the best attempts at formulating a “plan” for spiritual growth in the church I’ve ever read. My main complaint is that I have not been able to see it proven by experience, since this book is intended to cover a Christians’s lifespan, rather than a three-month programatic “discipleship” class. In a comical twist, it is an unverifiable hypothesis that can only be proven on the deathbed. For this reason, it is both a blessing and a curse. All considered, I must highly recommend this book for looking so far down the road.