Friday, June 10, 2011

The prep...

Last week I finished a short sermon series I had titled "Why do we do that?" which looked at the basic elements of our Church worship service. This included "Worship" "Missions" "Giving" "Communion" "Prayer" and "Study Scripture" I found it a very enjoyable series to prepare but at the same time a very difficult one. Any one of those topics could have been a very lengthy series, and quite frankly some of them might be one day. The purpose of the series though was to take a short journey through some of the basics. Now I am turning my attention elsewhere.

This weekend is very full for our church as we go through a church consultation process with our Fellowship. Much work has gone into this process in the background and this weekend we have a whole series of meetings with the team that has come in. The intent of this process it to help our church re-focus and help us to start pulling all in the same direction. This process has great potential to help us long-term. Short-term however, it helps me because I'm not preaching on Sunday which has allowed me some much needed prep time.

You see I like to plan things out. When I was in seminary, I did a fair bit of pulpit supply but rarely did I know much in advance and very rarely was I in the same place two weeks in a row. This meant many one-off messages. Now that I'm pastoring full-time and preaching every week I have an opportunity to plan further out. This planning out a whole series (10-16 weeks depending on the book we're working through) takes a lot of work on the front end but it allows me to work through what themes will get worked throughout the series. This is helpful, especially in some of the epistles where the writer is hitting on the same themes throughout the letter.

Anyway, the past couple weeks I've been preparing to preach through James in July & August. This has meant much reading and studying of the book itself and a number commentaries on it. Today I finished one of the hardest parts of this prep, outlining the entire book into individual messages. In someways this is difficult because it looks like James was intended to be a single, standalone sermon. It seems kind of strange to break it up into 10 parts but that is how we work through sermons these days. James is an interesting book, full of very practical stuff. One of the things that struck me in my prep was that one author postulated that James wasn't intending to convince one of the Gospel, acceptance of the Gospel is expected, rather, he's trying to tell how to live in light of the Gospel. There are some great challenges in James and I'm sure his original audience got as uncomfortable as many of us do when we hear what he has to say.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Why do we read the Bible?

I've recently heard it said that the Bible is the bestselling, most cherished, most owned, most loved and least read book in America. I'm sure if we could look into every home in we would find at least one in most houses. In some we might only find a tract or perhaps a Gideon Bible provided at a critical time in the recipient's life. If we a "good Christians" we likely have a more than one. We may have a heirloom family Bible. One of those big, old Bibles with worn & cracked leather binding and pages yellowed by the years. We may have a small Bible given to us in Sunday School as a child. We may have several different translations, collected over the years as different translations have been favored by different churches or Pastors. Technology has now made it possible for us to have umpteen translations that we can search and compare right on our phones. (Christianity Today had an interesting article about this last month)

A quick count of my own office came up with 11 different Bibles. I have 3 study Bibles (ESV, NASB, NKJV) I have several of just the text (ESV, NIV, Message) I have both a Greek NT and a Hebrew OT to remind me of the many hours I spent learning the original languages in seminary. I have a Reader's Hebrew/Greek Bible that has helps to make reading in the original languages a little easier. I have interlinears that put the Greek and English side by side to help me even more. Some of them are leather-bound of some kind, some hard cover, some paperback, I even have one, printed by these smart folks that is completely waterproof which I use when I'm outside in case it rains.

We must question why the Bible is such prevalent book. Why do we keep so many around? Is it because we like the look of leather-bound books? Why do we read it? Why do we go to church every week to hear it read, sing songs from it and about it and then listen to a preaching talk about? Do we like the stories? Do we find it engaging and entertaining? Do we believe it is the Word of God, communicated through His faithful servants wrote it, preserved it, copied it, translated it and made it available to us.

The Bible is to be our handbook for life. It tells us where we came from, how we ended up mired in sin, how God loved us enough to provide a way out of our sin, and finally how God is going to put everything back to rights. It tells us how we can have a relationship with God. It tells us how we should live our lives as people of God. It is something we are to study, and take to heart. We must do this because the Bible is to be the standard by which we evaluate our lives and the teachings we follow. 

If you haven't spent much time with the "Good Book" today is a great day to do so.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Prayer, not just a wish list anymore!

I've been working through a book called "Message of Prayer" by Timothy Chester from the Bible Speaks Today series. I have been challenged and enlighted by each chapter. Prayer is something that is assumed we know how to do. It is often described as simply talking to God. It is something we hear at meal times, in church services, at Bible study and we often muddle through on our own.

Now I'm a pastor and I have a seminary degree, that means I should have this stuff nailed, the truth is far from it. Prayer is an area that I must continually work on, develop and grow in. The truth is, as wonderful as it is to have the direct access to the throne of God that prayer provides, this side of eternity there is something lacking. Until that day there will be the barrier of my feeble humaness and my continued battle with the flesh that distracts and leads astray. Too often it is easy to slide into a pattern of simply coming to God with a laundry list of requests. To watch over our loved ones, our un-born child, our church, our school and the various people we know are going through various struggles. Bringing these things to God in prayer are important but prayer can be and is intended to be much more than *just* that.

That is one of the motivations for working through this particular book. Another motivation is an up-coming message I'm preparing on prayer. One message isn't going to cut it but I know I can never cover everything in one shot. This is something I'll circle back to again and again because it is so important. I finished the first hunderd or so pages and I'm really in awe of the depth and bredth of prayer. What I like about this book is that it is expositions on specific passages, all of them very familiar but seeing them through the lens of prayer has been a challenge and a joy. It is proving to be a blessing and something I must allow to digest.

More posts will be forthcoming...

Friday, April 15, 2011

What cost are you willing to pay??

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday and so we'll be looking at John 12 on Sunday. As I have been preparing I'm struck by the different reactions to Jesus.

We first have Mary, who anoints Jesus with the costly perfume, which we are told was worth about a year's wages. Let's put this in perspective. "Bethany" the village where this takes place means "House of the poor." It was located just a short distance outside of Jerusalem and so it was kind of like the little suburb where people who can't afford to live in the city live. This was not a village that was known for extravagance. Further, a year's salary, if we assume even a day labourer was a substantial sum. Today in BC the minimum wage is $8.75 which is $70 a day, $350 for a 40 hour work week, $17,500 for a 50 week work-year. That's a lot of money! Even more if that is all you've got. Where Mary got this perfume or how she managed to pay for it we're not told but she poured out this extravagant gift on Jesus without any expectation of anything in return. You see, she had already figured out who Jesus was and was willing to give Him the very best of what she had.

Judas on the other hand didn't understand who Jesus was. He had followed this guy for three years figuring He was going to lead a revolt & overthrow the Romans and when that happened, Judas would be in His inner circle. Judas had been getting impatient however, he wasn't seeing a return on his investment. Three years of following Jesus, going where ever he took them hadn't amounted to much yet so Judas had begun skimming a little out of the collective funds of the group. In the end he would betray the one he'd followed.

Then we see the religious leaders who, we are told in vv 9-10 were no longer content with getting Jesus out of the picture but were plotting to kill Lazarus as well. We've got to remember that political games and opportunism are nothing new. The religious leadership was made up primarily of two parties, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who didn't get along all that well. Lazarus was causing trouble for both of them though because many people were believing in Jesus because of him. Lazarus also caused big problems for the Sadducees because they didn't believe in a future resurrection of the dead and the presence of someone who had risen from the dead posed a slight problem for this conviction. These leaders were willing to go to any length to ensure that their way of thinking and the power they held were not challenged.

Finally, we have the crowds that welcomed Jesus with great fanfare as He came into Jerusalem. They waived palm branches and cried Hosanna! They were welcoming a king. They thought He was going to liberate them from political oppression. They missed that Jesus was coming to free them from a much greater oppression. When it became clear that Jesus wasn't going to do what they wanted Him to, His support quickly vanished.

The question is, do we give all we have? Do we hedge our bets and unscrupulously set aside for our best interests? Do we plot the downfall of anyone who opposes us or threatens our way of thinking, rather than consider we might be wrong? Do we enthusiastically cheer with the crowd and quietly scatter when it doesn't go the way we thought it would?

What cost are we willing to pay?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's in the Bible Vol. 5

OK I'm excited. This is a great series that I've been very impressed with for content and songs that I can't get out of my head.

We'll be adding this to our collection very soon!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Great book, great deal

Just a heads up! I got the flyer for Gateway Christian Books in Maple Ridge and they had The Big Picture Story Bible on sale for $12.99. We picked one up and are really impressed with it. It is well written and illustrated. It also comes with 2 CDs of the author reading the book. The authors have done a very good job at summarizing the Biblical narrative so that it is not just a collection of Bible stories but one continuing narrative.

Another children's book that does this well (but is much shorter) is What God Has Always Wanted: The Bible's Big Idea from Genesis Through Revelation which is a "read in one sitting" children's book that summarizes the big story of the Bible.

Too many Christian children's book are just fluff and it can be difficult to find quality ones. These two are definitely high caliber and will be read many times by our little Daykin tribe in the years ahead.

We also picked up two volumes of "Whats in the Bible" which were also on sale and a set of videos that also do a fabulous job at telling the story of the Bible. I have become increasingly aware of how important it is to teach the grand narrative of the Bible, especially to our children. It is not enough to teach the individual stories, we must teach the grand narrative that holds them all together. We must teach that they are all about God & His plan for all of us.

Lazarus, come forth! and its OK to cry

This week I'm preaching from John 11, the raising of Lazarus. This is an interesting passage with Jesus' escalating conflict with and rejection by the religious leadership. Given all that had happened in the previous chapters and the escalating attempts on His life He's headed out into the countryside for a little while. While He's gone, His dear friend Lazarus falls ill, very ill. 

What strikes me most in this passage is that well known verse, "Jesus wept."  Here is the God of the universe, weeping, not just at the death of His friend, He knew He was about to raise Lazarus, but for His fallen creation. It is a reminder that Jesus has experienced the pain of loss, much greater than we can imagine. As well, He is not some distant, uncaring God. Our fallen state grieves Him so much that He came to earth to live as one of us and die for us. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us.

Hebrews 4:14-15 (ESV)
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Jesus wept. He still grieves the lost. He is still God. He understands what we face in life far better than we can imagine.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Abide, remain, dwell, stick to and other synonyms...

I was asked a question this week by a member of my congregation about John 8, a passage I preached from a couple weeks ago. Her question was specifically about v31 and what it means to abide. John 8:31-32 reads "So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (ESV)  She had looked it up in the dictionary and found "to wait, to stay, to remain stable"

It is a reminder of two things 1) the Bible is not originally written in English and 2) Though some of the brightest and most godly men in the world pour themselves into translation work, language (and especially English) is a moving target. As such, some translations use words that are in the process of falling out of use. (side note: modern translations such as the NIV, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NLT are all good translations, none are perfect but all have been done diligently by men and women who have devoted much of their lives to such work and all of these translations can be trusted! That said, each translation is governed by a particular translation philosophy which influences decisions that must be made. That is why it is often good to check more than one translation if you're stuck on passage.)

The word that is in the Greek is "meno" and it has a broad range of meanings including abide, remain, stay, continue, belong, hold, keep on, dwell, and other ideas in that stream. "Abide" is one of those words that we just don't use much any more. The NIV translates it in this verse as "hold to" the NASB as "continue in" all of which are reasonable choices. What I find interesting is that just a couple verse later the same word pops up twice, translated as 'remain' "35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever." John 8:35 (ESV) There is clearly a sense of permanence in this passage.

As I thought about it more, I'm not surprised that a perfectly good word like 'abide' would be falling out of use. How many people 'abide' in the same home for their whole life? How many people are 'abiding' in their marriages with a sense of permanence, of sticking to it and holding on? How many of us have 'abiding' employment? We live in an increasingly temporary society and yet Jesus tells us to abide in His word. To hold firm to our faith in Him. To recognize e are not slaves who have no permanent place in the family, rather, we have been given the PERMANENT status of sons and daughters of GOD! 

May we all learn to hold on, to stay firm, to stick to it, to abide.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The rumble of the rain

Do you ever find that it rains hardest as you are walking from your office to home? I was sitting in my study one evening last week working on my message for Sunday when, just as I was about to pack up to walk home I heard a rumble. It started off as a quiet, low rumble but grew, and grew. I looked out my window and it looked like the whole parking lot was dancing. The rumble I was hearing was the rain hitting the roof so hard and in such quantity that the whole building seemed to shake. The thing is, I didn't have the car. Dana was working an evening shift, part of the reason I was working late. It had been quite pleasant, and dry, only a short time earlier but now it was quite UN-pleasant and VERY wet.

Now the reality is, God made us amazingly waterproof and a 10 minute walk in the rain isn't going to kill me, just make me uncomfortable. I don't like being uncomfortable. Its funny, I wrote only first line of this post that night, little did I know that only a day later, tragedy would strike the other side of the ocean. That for days, the media would be obsessed with showing us every piece of footage they can find of whole towns in ruin, of a whole country in crisis.

When you see images of whole towns swept away, getting a little wet on the walk home doesn't seem to matter much. It is yet another reminder that we live in a world that is fallen, broken and shrouded in darkness.

I preached on Sunday from John 8 where Jesus says "I am the light of the world." This past week reminded us all of how badly we need Him.

"For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now"
Romans 8:22

I'm just about to head out and what you know, it started raining again...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A few good flakes

Today's weather forecast is pretty typical for Metro Vancouver in March. Rain, with a chance of snow at higher elevations. Well I live above the lower but below the higher, right smack in the middle so as I looked outside this morning I saw rain and lots of it. As I was dealing with the garbage & recycling I noticed that there was a few snow flakes fluttering down. It got me thinking about how those few hearty flakes made it to the ground when so many of their compatriots had melted into simply large rain drops.

It got me thinking about these chapters of John I've been working through over the past number of week. In John 6 - 9 there are several points where many of those who have been following Him either turn away from Him and/or begin to have difficultly with His teaching. One of these times is in chapter 8 where in verse 31 He addresses those who believed in Him and as He challenges them, by the end of the chapter they are picking up stones to stone Him.

We see this throughout the Gospels, people follow Jesus, it gets hard, they flee. Few places is it more evident than at His arrest when his disciples scatter. This is true throughout church history and the history of many churches. When things get hard, when the heat is turned up, too many just melt into the masses.

Of course there has always been those who have stood firm and not turned away. Those are the disciples God is looking to use. It amazes me how God continues to use a few good flakes.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Is religion getting in the way of Jesus?

As I have been preparing messages over the past few weeks as I am moving through John chapters 5 - 9 I have been struck by the opposition Jesus faced from the religious. As I study the text and the background to it I am constantly challenged by the reactions of the Pharisees in particular. If one spends any amount of time reading through the Gospels you will see being labelled as"Pharisee" as bad. The thing is the Pharisees were very zealous for holding to the Law. It is likely that their movement is at least partly rooted in the reforms of Nehemiah who was disgusted with how far those who had returned from the Babylonian exile had back-slid. Judaism was in an interesting place by the time we come to Christ's ministry on earth. Israel was under foreign rule, pagan Greek & Roman religion was clearly present and the Jewish people had had to figure out how to live in the midst of all this.

Another group we encounter in the Gospels is the Sadducees. This group's way of dealing with the prevailing culture was to figure out how much of their faith could be boiled down to the basics so they could fit in. They held that only the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, were actually scripture. They also were quite accommodating to the ruling powers. When the Romans invaded to put down rebellion in AD 70 this group disappeared through being viewed as sell-outs by their own people or simply walking away from what part of the faith they kept.

The Pharisees on the other hand held to the whole of the First Testament. They were so concerned with keeping the law that they created their own set of laws to build a fence around the Law. They viewed the Law as a kind of cliff that you didn't want to dance on the edge of so they built fences to keep you away from the edge. They used these rules to clearly determine who was in and who was out. Transgressing their law meant you weren't holy enough or faithful enough, you didn't care enough about God's law to keep a safe distance from breaking it. You had to do the right things at the right times and in the right way. You also had to not do certain things, or go certain places or interact with people that weren't part of the religious "in" group.

It breaks my heart to be able to recognize booth of these groups in the church modern church. There are those who will boil our faith down to bare essentials, systematically taking away piece after piece until there is nothing left. There are those who set up rules, to help determine whose in and who is not.

I'm preaching from John 7 tomorrow and I was challenged by Gary Burge's comment on the chapter in his commentary on John. He says that there are two ways to approach this passage. The first, and most common is as encouragement to those who are also facing persecution. The second he says "Can Christians become religious debaters? Can they ever oppose a new thing God may be doing? Are they genuinely affected by the sinful impulses that permeate the audiences of John 7? John understands that even those who claim to  believe in Jesus sometimes choose to reject his word and deny his way (6:66). As an interpretor bringing this passage to my generation, I have to wrestle with the sobering truth of this possibility and its implications" (p.233)

Jesus challenged the religious norms of the day. He challenges us today. What will we do with that challenge?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Let in the light

I've been preaching through the Gospel of John for the past couple months and pondering some of the key images found in it. One is of course the Light/Darkness and the dichotomy between them. Christ came into the world as light into the darkness and if we have placed our faith in Christ we are to be walking in the light. The trouble is we like the darkness. We like the world and all it has to offer.

The trouble with darkness however is that our eyes adjust to it and we get used to it. Living on the West Coast we get pretty used to darkness during the winter. Living up against the mountains we don't see a lot of sun between September and May (OK I exaggerate a bit) and we kind of get used to being in the dark. This morning when I got up however, it was sunny so I opened wide the blinds. When my wife sat down with me for breakfast the sun was shining right in her face so she got up and closed the blind. It got me thinking about how often I close the blinds. In what areas of my life have I adjusted to grey skies with a 70% chance of greyer skies so that I can't handle direct Son-light.

"In Him was life and the life was the light of me. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" John 1:4-5