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My twenties were filled with weddings. Every summer, and sometimes in the winter, there were weddings to attend. I would go to Target, buy and wrap a nice salad bowl, put on my suit, and hope for something good to eat at the reception. Sometimes I would walk away thinking, “Wow, that was great!”

But after a while, I got tired of weddings. As I sat and watched a ceremony, my thoughts began to shift from, “Wow, this is such a big moment for them!” to, “They seem a little immature to be doing this”, “They seem too volatile to last very long together”, and other criticisms.

Those fleeting thoughts of pessimism are sadly coming true . It’s now that stage in life when people are actually getting divorced. 

It’s strange how a divorce makes itself known on Facebook: a new profile picture, an old last name, or a new relationship status. When I notice it, I realize something awful has just happened. It’s a silent earthquake. People are hurting and I had no idea.

The next wedding I go to, I know I’ll feel a much greater sense of “Gosh, I sure hope this goes well. I hope they really try to work the hard stuff out.” And I’ll probably pray for them.

In response to the sadness of these divorces around me, I want to share the two things I’ve learned in five years of marriage because I think it can help people to stay together.

Lesson 1: I don’t understand very much about my wife.

I’m not saying “Women are from Venus”. Forget my inability to sympathize with the emotional intricacies of the menstrual cycle. That’s not what I’m saying. Guys are no easier to understand. I’ve had roommates (men from Mars like me) and they didn’t make half as much sense as my wife. She is one of the most candid, reasonable, and sensible people I’ve ever known.

Despite how much sense she makes as a person, sometimes I’m completely lost as I try to make sense of her. This lostness isn’t her fault; it’s because I’m a lousy relational cartographer.

Map-making is a lot like marriage. Your spouse is the land. You are a map-maker/voyager who travelling with your map, correcting it when you go wrong.

800px-ColombusMap[1]

My map looks really bad at times. It probably looks like Columbus’ map of “the Americas” in comparison with a modern satellite image.

Just like Columbus, I’ve made a map that is really accurate in some respects (check out Africa!) but is inaccurate in other ways because its based on my assumptions about “How She Is”.

Yet that same map, as misshaped and messy as it may be, is crucial for being a good husband. Neglecting it, flawed as it is, will only make things worse.  Don’t ignore it and don’t throw it out. Revise it.

This leads me to the other thing I’ve learned…

Lesson 2: I need to understand her better.

In sixth grade, I remember making a North American map. By that time, I had mastered the continental US shape (kindof like a rhino plus Texas). But the new thing all the students had to do was draw and label Canada’s provinces correctly. This was on one of those giant pieces of butcher paper that really exposed how bad kids draw (especially me).

Even at the tender age of eleven, I realized there were two ways to do that map: I could make a smoothed-out splotch of a country or I could draw it with all those jagged edges and inlets that give a map its authenticating nuance. Even if I was wrong and created a dozen bays that don’t exist, it still looked more real.

For a relationship to work, you need to scrap that elementary school, smooth-lined map of your significant other. And when you start to draw those jagged edges, don’t fake them!  Those assumptions lead to conflict when the real person doesn’t match up. Your relationship is what happens when you actually live out of love based on what you really know about the other person.

I think the most rewarding thing about marriage is standing back from it and just looking at how special your relationship is. I think God loves to see people engaged in understanding each other and loving the other in all their uniqueness.

 1 Pet 3:7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way.

James 3:13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

In this survey, I asked my friends on Facebook to respond to some questions I created about the Bible. The questions deal with one’s view of the Bible as a text as well as one’s view of the Bible’s contents – what it teaches.

I found the answers extremely interesting. I will try to convey why.

Before I do that, I want to say that this survey did not allow multiple answers, except the last question. People didn’t like this because they hate being squeezed into taking just one view. But I still want to do that because  I don’t just want to know what people think is the right answer. I also want to know the way people think about their answers. I want to see how the unique contours of people’s opinions shape what they read.

For instance, I think anyone who’s reading Revelation is going to see aspects of the cross, the present, and the future.  In fact, the angel told John to write down the things he’s about to see, things in the past, present, and future. So if a person agrees to that, they might just be showing me they remember that passage. In that case, I don’t just want correctness of memory; I want candor of opinion. In this case, most of the respondents focus more often on the future. That’s good to know.

There is so much disagreement about Revelation…and the rest of the Bible. So we need to know how people see themselves in the midst of those debates — because that knowledge actually helps us to understand the disagreement a lot more and be less disagreeable overall.

Anyhow…here are my summary thoughts on the data:

1) Reformed & Dispensational Theology

There is a definite Reformed undercurrent to many of the responses. First, to see the Bible as the disclosure of God’s “redemptive plan” is a Reformed approach. Many of my friends are Reformed in their theology, so that makes sense.

But also, some people saw the Bible as the story of God making a kingdom. Most dispensationalists see it that way. But of the two guys I like most, one is a dispensationalist who focuses more on the Bible as redemptive history…the other is a Reformed theologian who focuses more on the kingdom!

Either way, the ‘redemptive plan’ idea makes the most sense to most of my friends who took the survey. And it’s good to know how people are thinking about the entire theme of the Bible!

Also, many people see a covenant in either Genesis 1 or 3. Technically, God doesn’t ‘mention’ the term ‘covenant’ until Genesis 6, when he tells Noah he will make a covenant. That could be a right answer…and it was my answer. Yet people don’t always answer the question they read as much as they answer the question they process as they think of an answer.

2) Inerrancy

People commonly answered very strongly for complete biblical inerrancy. What is shocking here is that most conservative scholars who are firmly in the ‘inerrant’ camp characterize inerrancy as the infallibility of the original manuscripts, not the Bible we possess per se. The transmission of the manuscripts, the selection of which manuscripts are best, and their translation into English are all areas where mistakes can be made.

However, most people answered that the Bible they possess is inerrant. Good to know people believe God doesn’t make mistakes…but it would be better to teach on how human mistakes can play a role in the process of delivering God’s Greek and Hebrew word into 21st century English.

3) Israel!

I know many people have very opinionated views on Israel. It was fascinating to see the answer to the question of whether Israel is ‘like’ the church. To see how close the divide is was very interesting to me. I’m still not sure about what that divide means, though. People tend to slightly say ‘God’s relationship with them is like his relationship to the church’ more often. I agree. But I imagine many disagree not because they see no connection, but because they are cautious not to be supercessionists (in a crude nutshell: those who think the church replaced Israel).

4) The Gospel (in Acts)

Hugely interesting. I encourage everyone to just read those accounts in Acts and decide for yourself. This should be very important to people and I enjoyed the diversity of answers. Still, I do think there is a right answer. We can learn a lot from the apostles in how we present the Gospel. That’s all.

5) The Minor Prophets!

Yes! This is really what I want to know about. I want to teach on the Minor Prophets now! Much more now, because of how so many confessed they are unfamiliar with them.

Now here’s the kicker, as I begin to study the Minor Prophets, I have an awesome gateway into how people view the entire Bible. That helps me craft teaching that not only teaches the prophets, but teaches it in a way that can be much more sensitive to how people view what the Minor Prophets are saying in the big story of the Bible.

I am definitely going to do this more. I hope you enjoyed looking at this and I would love to get (and interact with) feedback in the comments section!

A CT blog that struck my attention today is by Ed Stetzer, a pastor, professor, executive, and writer from Tennessee. The post is about multi-site churches. Essentially, multi-site churches have a pastor preach in a church with a camera that telecasts the message to other congregations which align themselves under the church government of the original church.

The Multi-Site

“I am critical of the multi-site done poorly, and I am in favor of the multi-site done well…”

Stetzer is circumspect about the idea. He has criticized multi-site churches in the past. In that post, he mentions three areas where they could fall short: fulfilling pastoral responsibilities (esp. caring for members), creating Christian community, and producing new leaders and teachers.

I would add one more concern: the inability of the congregation to observe the example of the pastor. It’s possible for a pastor to delegate responsibilities of governance and care to other people, but it’s impossible to delegate relationships. Yes, the pastor must be with his congregation to know them… and they should know him, too! For the congregation, the consistency of the pastor’s life is the necessary background of his sermons.

Can It Work?

In his post, Stetzer writes that a multi-site church responded to his concerns.

They wrote to him showing that, especially in response to his third concern, their multi-site church has reproduced many leaders. In his words, their lead pastor “…demonstrated that [a] multisite like this can build leaders who aren’t called to be the primary pastor, while simultaneously developing leaders who have the right make up to be the key vision caster.”

While I agree with Stetzer’s concerns about multi-site churches, I don’t agree with him here.

Pay attention to the wording: “…this can build leaders who aren’t called to be the primary pastor…” Because the word “called” is in the passive voice, the sentence is ambiguous. Who is not calling? What if God is, but the church isn’t? It would be better to say, “This builds potential leaders who cannot become the primary pastor.”

The multi-site church’s biggest flaw is that it prohibits that possibility. A willingness to engage in church-planting, rather than strict adherence to the multi-site model, would change that. Church satellites could become actual churches as leaders took on local responsibility for preaching and leadership. This would make real leaders — not just potential leaders.

The Church as Engine

Stetzer continues by saying that, while these people can’t be lead pastor, the multi-site model develops, “… leaders who have the right make up to be the key vision caster.” I don’t know what a vision caster is. The Bible doesn’t ever refer to that. I think it may be a synonym for lead pastor. If it is, these leaders must necessarily leave the multi-site church and either start another church or find another church in order to utilize that ability.

Is the video screen experience worth preserving at the expense of creating & installing local pastoral leaders?

I think it’s better to acknowledge a leader when one exists. Acknowledge the benefit of a local lead pastor who grew up in the church (if he truly is competent for the task) over the one that comes in through a screen.

Stetzer concludes with suggesting a model of, “…regional multisites that are leadership development engines, sending out planter pastors and campus pastors (depending on the gifting and call of the pastor) to start churches or sites that reach lost people and develop more such leaders.” In this suggestion, Stetzer commends multisite churches to remain so. Rather than encouraging leaders to be given lead pastor responsibility within the church in a satellite locale, he wants them out of the multisite. They need to start their own churches.

Something to Shoot For

The idea of confining churches to remaining multi-site at the expense of giving over satellite congregations to God-given leaders seems unnecessary.

If a church grows really fast and wants to have another site…fine. But I think this is a temporary stop-gap at best. Let’s turn these multi-site churches into church plants that can grow and flourish with local overseers who lovingly shepherd them and apply the Word to their lives every Sunday.

Think of it like this: if Paul lived today, would he still let Timothy be the pastor of the church of Ephesus? Or would he rather just have Timothy introduce Paul’s broadcast Sunday morning, run a small group, and make all the hospital visits around Ephesus?

Two Sermons Downloads

Last year, I preached my first two sermons. The first was on James 1:2-6, which is James’ explanation of how to be when going through trials. The second was on Colossians 4:5-6, and covers the way we share our lives with non-Christians.

The outline for the first sermon “How to Make it through Trials” is:
1. Consider your trials as joy
2. Pray to God for wisdom
3. Expect God to provide it
Click here to listen

The outline for the second one “How to Witness with Wisdom” is:
1. Live with wisdom
2. Speak with graciousness
Click here to listen

My Eschatology

It’s all here anyways…right? :)

Those of you discuss theology much with me understand that my beliefs on most of theology are a mash-up of two theological camps: Presbyterians and Baptists. So when you read my Eschatology Statement you will find views that don’t fit well in Covenant or Dispensational systems. I want to point out why I have written what is here. My main goals in interpreting the Bible, especially Biblical prophecy and making theology from it are as follows:

1) Establish the historical, literary, grammatical meaning.

Every part of the Bible was written especially for a contemporary situation. The writing itself was written in a specific genre which the people in that situation would have understood (poetry, narrative, prophecy, covenant). The historical situation, the literary genre, and the grammatical meaning give us the clues we need to interpret what God was saying when he said it and what he meant people in that moment to understand.

Since Revelation is not a narrative (story), I don’t assume that it is necessarily a linear chronology from start-to-finish. It is apocalyptic and prophetic, and these genres are often non-linear. For that reason, I don’t spend a lot of time sorting out the three sequences of judgment through plagues. They may be a recapitulation of each other…or a sequence of three. But within the genre, an argument could be made for both.

On the other hand, I do take Revelation to present a literal fulfillment of the promises made to Israel in the covenants of the Old Testament. Why? Because these covenants stipulate physical terms that must be kept. Just because Revelation is apocalyptic and prophetic doesn’t the make physical promises made in the covenant genre change. So we have a license to look for literal things when promises made in the past necessitate us to do so. Apocalyptic and prophetic literature can be both futuristic and literal, but it requires that we understand those future literal ideas within the language of symbols.

2) The Bible develops revelation in a progressive way.

The people of God throughout history understood God more and more as he revealed himself verbally. New truths God teaches don’t contradict past understandings; rather, they build on them.

When God told Abraham he was going to bless him, he expanded on that blessing in later conversations with Abraham. When God first revealed his laws to Moses, he expanded on them later. All this is to say you must understand the first things before you are able to understand later things. If someone picks up a Bible and reads that Jesus is the “Christ”, whatever meaning they have will be limited to what they know of the “Messiah” idea as developed in the Old Testament as God taught Israel about what the Messiah would do and who he would be. God progressively reveals more of himself from the beginning of the Old Testament into the New Testament.

3) Understand the permanent nature of the terms Biblical covenants.

When God makes a covenant in Scripture, like he does to Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David, that establishes 1) something we know about God and 2) a commitment we expect God to fulfill. Since God is trustworthy, if he makes a promise in physical terms (“…all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood…” “To your descendants I have given this land” “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you”)…he will keep it in the terms he made it.

This is an important aspect of prophecy, as they are often predicated on the fulfillment of prophecies. He may do other things as well, but he will do no less than keep his part of the terms of the agreement. Paul describes this as he writes to Gentiles about to the future restoration of Israel (Rom 11:25-29):

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery–so that you will not be wise in your own estimation–that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in;and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB. THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

4) Many of the terms of Biblical covenants are necessarily physical.

It is a mistake to understand fulfillment of covenant in terms apart from the ones used. If one were to speak with Abraham today, asking him, “To whom was this land of Canaan promised?” He would say, “To my descendants, of course!” And he would be right.

Despite thousands of years transpiring in the meantime, we must expect God to fulfill his promise in the covenants in the same physical terms which he agreed to. That is not to say that God will exclude Gentiles from a future with Christ. It is only pointing out that excluding ethnic descendants of Abraham from inheriting what was promised to them would be a revocation of the promise.

If I told my wife, “I am going to give you a car” and the next day, I gave her a car and I also had a new car for myself, that wouldn’t be wrong. What would be wrong is if I gave her nothing. With that said, I encourage you to check out my doctrinal statement understanding some of my presuppositions for why I say what I do.

Also, my eschatology statement may change a lot before I die. It certainly will change afterwards!

ImageNeither side of the gay-marriage debate appears to understand the consequences of the precedent it supports. The conservative and progressive sides want the Supreme Court to establish a precedent that goes completely contrary to what they would want if that precedent were exercised under a different set of circumstances.

The conservative support for DOMA essentially establishes a precedent that says, “Depending on what the majority of Americans agree is moral, the Federal Government should determine what marriage is.” In 1996, the majority was clearly on their side. But when the time comes that a majority of Americans think gay-marriage is morally OK, how many conservatives would stick with that precedent? They would abandon it immediately! It would be lamented as a massive imposition of Federal power for the Federal government to ‘redefine’ marriage in such a way.

On the other hand, the progressive argument that the Supreme Court should not only strike down Prop 8, but do so when Federal law supports it, puts massive power in the hands of the Supreme Court to decide State and Federal law on a topic (marriage) which the Constitution does not address. For the Court to extend its power over Congress, which enacted DOMA, and the Executive, which still enforces it, is exactly the power that proponents of ObamaCare did not want the Court to wield.

Imagine the Court not only striking down ObamaCare, but, in the same decision, making it illegal for the state of Massachusetts to provide its similar healthcare program, Commonwealth Care, on the state level. Wouldn’t progressives in Massachusetts and D.C. be outraged? You bet they would. The Supreme Court has no right to tell states how to administrate health care. Yet progressives assume the Court has the right to overturn the will of the people of the State when it comes to marriage.

The best solution, to me, is for DOMA to be struck down but Proposition 8 to be allowed to stand. That way, individual states can call marriage whatever they want. The Federal government has no right to define marriage for individual states since the Constitution is silent on the matter. And the Supreme Court has no right to overrule Proposition 8 for the exact same reason: it is a violation of states rights since it reaches beyond the scope of the Constitution.

I hope God gives the Court wisdom to sort the wheat from the chaff in this important debate.

Personal Criticism

This is my application of James 3:1-12. First, I had to interpret the culture of the passage and the passage itself.  In this, I tried to step outside my own culture, interpret it, and then try to impose the principles in the passage onto my culture. I wrote it for a class.

~

My personal native culture places a strong emphasis on accomplishing personal success without sacrificing time to enjoy life’s pleasures. The people with whom I associate are generally at least middle class, have some political understanding, often share my religious beliefs, and have successful careers in a variety of professional arenas. Those who do not share my racial background often still share similar assimilation into American culture consisting of TV, sports, music, and movies while also maintaining firm views about which elements of this culture are best and worst. Most have fairly well-defined political views, too.

My culture enjoys a candid criticism of someone in politics, religion, society, or even family, who is bothersome or annoying.

In the case of James 3:1-12, James instructs Christians, both those who want to speak to the church and those who don’t, to reflect on the purity of their speech, particularly with reference to other people. Most of his instruction may seem agreeable to most people in my culture, but an outsider might notice a lot of incongruity between James’ commands and the speech patterns of many in my culture.

In my culture, a well-put complaint garners praise and agreement. On Facebook and in person, my friends and I often register our observations about other people. Now, most often, these are thankful, but sometimes, we bring up the mistakes of others in a critical or mocking way. These criticisms function as a type of ethical catharsis. We all feel like we have high standards and people’s mistakes that fall short should be reproved or at least announced. Doing this validates who we are, the choices we have made, and the goals we have for our future.

As long as the person we criticize isn’t a dear friend or associate of ours (or as long as we keep their name anonymous if they are), few in my culture would be personally shocked or offended by hearing or reading a rant against someone else (especially someone in the public realm). Moreover, if the person complaining did so humorously enough, others would praise and agree with him or her. The more profound and adept the complaint is, the more praise will follow. And the more successful a person is, the more likely people in my culture will readily accept the harsh critique of someone of whom the person does not approve.

James’ approach to speech would challenge this aspect of my culture. He does not tolerate a person blessing God and cursing people made in his image. While few of my friends and associates would go so far as to verbalize a desire to send someone to hell, the absence of any corresponding comments to moderate or balance their critique essentially defines the person by their flawed action. My culture often fails to admit that even seriously flawed people are made in God’s image. Moreover, they often ignore their own deep-seated personal shortcomings.

James’ admonition to examine everything one says as to whether it reflects back on one’s spiritual identity would lead to a great amount of verbal redaction if people in my culture were to fully obey it. If a person sees a flaw in someone else, the Christian response would more often entail a prayer on that person’s behalf or a private exhortation rather than a public rant.

Furthermore, if someone wants to be a church teacher, especially as a vocation, they must demonstrate a level of self-censorship not often practiced in my culture. It would serve a person well to elicit the views of other people, who could offer constructive criticism or advice to that person, on how well that person controls their tongue. It would also serve a congregation well to pay as much attention to a young person’s ability to control their speech as their ability to teach before commending that person to pursue a career in a church leadership position. It is not merely a person’s knowledge or ability to discern ideas that makes them spiritual, but their ability to know and discern their own motives, speech, and conduct.

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