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Ultimate Generosity

July 15, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

Willow Glen Baptist and City Church are a generous group of people. I can personally think of numerous, great examples of when they have been generous to others and myself. And then I thought about why we are a generous people. I think it is because we are the recipients of ultimate generosity.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

It’s not just a simple verse to memorize, or a sign waved at sporting events.

It’s God, giving not of his excess but his one and only son. Given so that He could be the propitiation, or atoning sacrifice, on our behalf.

And in our generosity we reflect God’s ultimate generosity. And others see the power of the Gospel.

It is all about Jesus, and it is all about the Gospel.

He is risen – Just as He said!

April 24, 2011
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Keeping my Easter blogging tradition going. Posing my favorite Easter song.

Each Easter since I was in high school I have started my Easter day listening to Keith Green’s Easter Song. I can’t embed the audio here, but it’s worth a download from Amazon or iTunes.

As the song begins I remember hearing church bells ringing on Easter Sunday morning calling us all to come celebrate. I imagine Christ standing in front of the disciples shortly after his resurrection. The tears in their eyes as they realize that their friend with whom they had traveled, their leader who they had followed, and their Savior who they all worshiped was alive, just as He said. Their faith was strengthened. Their energy was renewed. They went on to preach the Gospel, build the church, and live lives dedicated to their risen Savior.

I hope this Easter that your faith is strengthened, and your energy is renewed.

Easter Song

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the word, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah

Hear the bells ringing
They’re singing that you can be healed right now
Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing
Christ, He will reveal it now

The angels, they all surround us
And they are ministering Jesus’ power
Quickly now, reach out and receive it
For this could be your glorious hour

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah, hallelujah

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the world, He has risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
He’s risen, hallelujah
Hallelujah

Music and lyrics by Keith and Melody Green

The problem with Rob Bell’s method

March 15, 2011

It seems appropriate to speak on the biggest issue in Christendom right now (at least its North American wing), which is whether Rob Bell is a universalist.

I haven’t read much of Rob Bell.  I couldn’t finish Velvet Elvis. I watched many of his nooma videos early on and initially loved them.  However, eventually I found that something was off.  It was extremely subtle.  He was engaging, asking great questions, persuasive, seemed to capture the heart of God for people, etc.  But there was one piece that first stuck after watching “Dust” for the third time.  The line was something like, “You can be like me.  You can do what I do.” He ended with, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.”

Over time, I have heard many critiques and have thought many of them were reactionary, overly harsh, and reeked of superficial dogmatism.  At the same time, I haven’t bothered to read much more of Bell and I don’t really care too.  In fact, I am upset I might have to read Love Wins in preparation for a sermon on hell this year.  My thoughts have been that there is something many of the pundits are not really getting at.  Bell quotes scripture and so do his opponents.  Why is one side right and the other side wrong?  That little move at the end of dust tells you what you need to know.

The move is the same move made by classic Protestant Liberalism.  The move is that Jesus is our ultimate example and we should be inspired to be like him because of his self-sacrifice.  What is not said outright is a denial of substitutionary atonement.  It is simply understated and put outside as difficult for modern ears.  The problem is a lack of clarity on what Christ’s atonement actually accomplishes objectively… our atonement for sin.  We can’t be like Jesus because we are sinners.  I think I can rightly say Jesus is only an example for those who place their faith in him and have received the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 3:21).  He becomes my example when he becomes my Lord who died in my place for me and accomplished for us what we could never do.

All of that is to turn you to the best explanation and critique I have read of Rob Bell’s erroneous theological method.  If you want specific criticism of specific points and flawed exegesis just go to DeYoung’s 20 page review.  I am sure he is thorough and I trust his exegesis.  But here is a brief and well articulated article on why Rob Bell is in the tradition of Schleiermacher to Tillich.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/april/lovewins.html

Integrating Faith and Work

March 8, 2011

This last weekend I had the privilege by God’s grace to teach on the relationship between Faith and Work at a Men’s Retreat.  What follows is essentially my presentation notes on the subject.  You can go to churchsj.com/media to find the podcast of the seminar.

There is a strong tendency to view the work of a pastor, missionary, Bible scholar, or anyone in “full-time ministry” as more holy then other kinds of work.  A result of this is that many people feel their work is primarily secular and while it may pay the bills, give them some personal satisfaction of accomplishment, it does nothing to advance the kingdom apart from witnessing to coworkers.  Personally, I have been there because I worked as a engineer for 8 years, have now been a full-time pastor for two years, and for several years did both at the same time.  I have struggled with this and have often thought many of these things.

The problem is basically threefold. One the false dichotomy of the sacred and the secular.  In reality, there is no such thing.  Everyone’s work is reflecting some worldview and “god.”  Two, one job is not more holy than another.  Manual labor is not more demeaning than intellectual work, a ridiculous and often subconsciously believed assertion.  Third, all of these fail to see the radical nature of Christ’s lordship over all things.

So let’s start in the beginning.  In Genesis 1:26-31 we learn three things.  One, all that God is made is good.  Nothing in the universe is innately evil.  Evil is in fact the absence of good.  The idea that manual labor is less than intellectual shows a failure to apply the goodness of God’s creation to all things.  Two, humanity, both male and female, are created in the image of God.  These means we are to reflect the God of Bible.  As God watches over, sustains, cares for creation, we are to do the same on the earth.  Third, God commissions humanity to fill the earth, multiply, and exercise dominion over it.  The point is, humanity builds culture and the earth is on a course to be filled with the culture of the kingdom.  The drama of this happening is the rest of scripture.  The reformers referred to the “dominion” as the cultural mandate.  What unfolds after the fall is that man seeks to build a city up to the heavens.  Instead of receiving the city of God by his grace coming down from heaven (Rev. 21).

Genesis 2 gives us a more detailed look at God.  I must give credit to Tim Keller for this.  He has given an excellent sermon on this point.  First, the Judeo-Christian worldview is totally unique on this point.  Other creation myths have the gods making humans to serve them and feed them because they are lazy.  They also have different classes of humans for the different kinds of work.  Manual labor is for lesser humans while more enlightened and refined work, particularly religious or intellectual, is for higher order of humans beings.  This still plays out very forcefully in the caste system of India and Nepal.  It plays out in part in our country by people avoiding work that requires sweating.  God does not make humanity to serve him, but to enjoy creation and work it.  We reflect God’s goodness by being creators and cultivators (Andy Crouch, Culture Making).  God himself does manual labor by fashioning Adam with his own two hands and gets dirty doing it.  No other creation myth does this.  Furthermore, Adam has a job prior to the fall and its not just praise music and preaching.  He is a gardening and biologist.  He creates culture by naming the animals and having a family.  He cultivates culture by caring for the garden, his family, and his relationship with God.  This are intrinsically good things.

Everyone knows what happens next.  Humanity rebels and gives into temptation.  The result is holistic depravity.  Sin has affected everything.  It does not make work evil.  It means work and its role in our lives is fractured.  Work and worship is fractured.  Prior to the fall, work and worship were one and the same.  Therefore we have these sinful responses to work: 1) the workaholic – we worship work.  Our achievement becomes our identity and we value people by their accomplishments.  2) the lazy bum – we think work is sinful.  We don’t like doing it and we avoid anything that is difficult and requires… well work.  3) the delusional – you think you are good at something you are not, or you think you are not good at something you are.  4) the oppressor – we abuse work and create injustices.  Take advantage of people, seek the most amount of profit to their detriment. 5) The thief and the pimp – we take certain jobs that are inherently sinful.  A corruption of our nature, of other people, and work itself.  6) the consumer – you just eat, spend, and measure everything in terms of CPI.  You work to accumulate stuff and treasures on earth.  Work is not a virtue but a means to an end.  7) the people pleaser – you only work to look good.  you only work when someone is watching or when you will get recognition.  8) the unemployed – you can’t find work and are embarrassed and demoralized and its out of your control because of the sins of other people.  Work gives us dignity, which means not having it brings shame.

The good news is God redeems work.  Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, and Paul all had jobs that God used for his purposes and bringing redemption to other people.  Moses’ skills learned in running Egypt later become used to build Israel into a nation.  Daniel becomes better at what the pagans do then the pagans which gets used to witness in Babylon.  Most importantly, Jesus was a carpenter.  Jesus’ redemptive work includes work itself.  It includes his obedience to the Father to do all he was asked to do.  It also includes that his work was both sorrowful and joyful.  Redeemed work must include the cross.  Work will be painful until Jesus returns, but it doesn’t have to be purposeless anymore.

The clearest passage on work in the NT is Col. 3:22-4:1.  How we work is a reflection of how we view our the Lordship of Christ.  Your obedience to your boss, the quality of your work, the way you treat your employees or your coworkers is a spiritual activity.  There is no such thing as a secular job for the Christian.  Your whole life is a living sacrifice, Rom. 12:1-2.

Furthermore, the kingdom of God will be in our resurrected bodies in the new heavens, earth, and New Jerusalem.  Andy Crouch in Culture Making makes the argument that the New Jerusalem requires many cultural activities, Rev. 21:15-27.  Gem stones require mining, carving, polishing, and all kinds of human activities.  The point is, the stain of sin will be removed from our work and cultural goods.  Work and worship will be reunited.  You will do what you enjoy doing and God will transform the work we do into something for the kingdom.  There is no reason to think there will not be computers in the kingdom.  The truth is, pastors will be out of job.  Carpenters will still have plenty of work to do (Is. 65).

The significance is that a carpenter can be just as called as a missionary.  Keller gives three basic questions to ask to discern your calling: 1) What are you good at? 2) Do others recognize that you are good at it (besides your mom)? 3) Do you have the desire to do it?  A forth question is whether God has provided the opportunity.  The previous three may be met, but injustices or circumstances in society may make it totally unfeasible.  Crouch gives an excellent question in discerning it, “where do you experience grace – divine multiplication that far exceeds your efforts?”

Work can be frustrating and difficult.  But Jesus Christ had a normal, everyday job and redeemed that too.  Work today will contain some pain and frustration.  However, like Jesus, we may find our calling where our joy meets the world’s pain.  Ultimately, we place our hope in Jesus’ resurrection and the kingdom to come when our perfect jobs will finally come.  Until then, we the church are the first fruits of the kingdom and should live like Jesus is Lord over our desks and hammers and homework.

Erik Burklin: From China

March 7, 2011

Service with a smile…

I’m sitting in the unheated church building somewhere in the countryside of Sichuan freezing.  It is 39 degrees outside and raining today.  Even though I am wearing thermal underwear I can feel the bone chilling cold sensation creep up my legs.  My feet are numb.  I look up and notice a man with a baseball cap coming toward me; he pours steaming hot water into a Dixie cup.  He gives it to me and smiles…he doesn’t know any English but he loves Jesus and knows I am cold.  I tell him xie xie (thank you)…he waves it off as if to say, “don’t mention it.”  I drink the hot water and feel it warm my body.  Simple hot water has never tasted so good!

While we have come to serve the brothers and sisters with much needed training I experience service with a smile.  I am humbled…another important lesson learned in China.

“I have come NOT to be served but to serve.” – Jesus (Matt 20:28)

Erik Burklin: From China

March 7, 2011

Service with a smile…

I’m sitting in the unheated church building somewhere in the countryside of Sichuan freezing.  It is 39 degrees outside and raining today.  Even though I am wearing thermal underwear I can feel the bone chilling cold sensation creep up my legs.  My feet are numb.  I look up and notice a man with a baseball cap coming toward me; he pours steaming hot water into a Dixie cup.  He gives it to me and smiles…he doesn’t know any English but he loves Jesus and knows I am cold.  I tell him xie xie (thank you)…he waves it off as if to say, “don’t mention it.”  I drink the hot water and feel it warm my body.  Simple hot water has never tasted so good!

While we have come to serve the brothers and sisters with much needed training I experience service with a smile.  I am humbled…another important lesson learned in China.

“I have come NOT to be served but to serve.” – Jesus (Matt 20:28)

 

 

Windy Night Poetry

March 2, 2011
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As the wind powerfully howls in the darkness,
So my soul cries out to You oh God.
As it weaves it’s way through the leaves on the trees,
So I move through the wilderness in search of Your peace.
But the wind with no guide no true sense of direction,
Can’t compare to the hope that I find in your truth.
And the wind when it leaves has no home to go on to,
But I know through your grace that my home is with you.