Saturday, December 29, 2012

Mark Driscoll Defines the Kingdom of God

At its simplest, the kingdom of God is the result of God's mission to rescue and renew his sin-marred creation. The kingdom of God is about Jesus our king establishing his rule and reign over all creation, defeating the human and angelic evil powers, bringing order to all, enacting justice, and being worshiped as Lord. Tragically, there are many erroneous views of the kingdom that misrepresent the glories of God's eternal kingdom. The kingdom is not like the cartoonish inanity that shows heaven as a white cloud upon which we will sit wearing diapers and playing harps with wings far too small to carry us anywhere fun. The kingdom is not the naive dream of liberalism, that with more education and time sin and its effects will be so eradicated from the earth that utopia will dawn. The kingdom is not the deceptive dream of Christless spirituality where all learn to nurture the spark of divinity within themselves and live out their true good self in harmony. The kingdom is not the political dream that if we simply get the right leaders in office and defeat all the bad guys good will rule the earth. The kingdom is both a journey and a destination, both a rescue operation in this broken world and a perfect outcome in the new earth to come, both already started and not yet finished.
From Doctrine, Chapter 13. Kingdom: God Reigns 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Get into Heaven Before You Die!

Dallas Willard's book, The Divine Conspiracy, has been an extremely helpful and formative book for me.  Willard paints a beautiful picture of Kingdom of God and what Kingdom-life, in the here and now, looks like. 
"When Jesus directs us to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” he does not mean we should pray for it to come into existence. Rather, we pray for it to take over at all points in the personal, social, and political order where it is now excluded: “on earth as it is in heaven.” With this prayer, we are invoking it, as in faith we are acting it, into the real world of our daily existence...Within his overarching dominion, God has created us and has given each of us, like him, a range of will – beginning from our minds and bodies and extending outward.... His intent is for us to learn to mesh our kingdom with the kingdoms of others. Love of neighbor, rightly understood, will make this happen. But if we can only love adequately by taking as our primary aim the integration of our rules with God’s. That is why love of neighbor is the second, not the first, commandment and why we are told to seek first the kingdom, or rule, of God." ~ Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Here's a clip from John Ortberg interview with  Dallas Willard at last year's Catalyst West about what the church is getting wrong today. In a nutshell, Willard says we're getting the Gospel wrong.  Many people view the message of Christianity is getting into heaven when you die; Willard argues that Christianity is about getting into heaven before we die...

“Any new testament scholar would tell you, I believe, “What did Jesus preach?” They would say the Kingdom of God.  That’s not quite right, because what He preached was, the availability of the Kingdom of God; to everyone, where ever they were, and whoever they were. And so he announces this, and by His own presence makes it available.  And once you get that idea, you read the Gospel and say, ‘Hey that’s what’s happening....The important thing to understand is the Kingdom of God, is God in action.  That happens to turn out to be the same thing as Grace. So Grace now becomes a part of our lives. And we experience it with us, by faith.  We have to learn how to do this, because we’re usually in charge of what’s happening, and we have to learn how to turn loose of that, and how to live with God being in charge.”  ~ Dallas Willard

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Are we getting Jesus right?

"Perhaps even 'his own people' - this time not the Jewish people of the first century, but the would-be Christian people of the Western world - have not been ready to recognize Jesus himself. We want a 'religious' leader, not a king! We want someone to save our souls, not rule our world! Or, if we want a king, someone to take charge of our world, what we want is someone to implement the policies we already embrace, just as Jesus contemporaries did. But if Christians don't get Jesus right, what chance is there that other people will bother much with him?" 
~ NT Wright, Simply Jesus

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Two Gospels

"This is the man, this is him, whom you so often hear promised you, Augustus Caesar, son of the Deified, who will make a Golden Age again in the fields where Saturn once reigned, and extend the empire beyond the Libyans and the Indians" - Aeneid book VI , Virgil
This month is always a busy and hectic one: Gift giving, family visiting, party throwing, overtime working (especially for the hospitality industry), the holiday season is for many the craziest time of the year. This is a big reason we wish to remind the community that though we are bombarded by everything our culture has made this time into, it is also a great time to reflect on what this time really is, the season of Advent. And the Advent means the gospel has come in the kingdom movement of Jesus.

Pastor Heath has done a masterful job with the current sermon series, "Thy Kingdom Come" and after relistening to and reflecting on the many things and challenges made the past few Sundays I wanted to drop a brief encouragement to all, the Gospel of Jesus is truly really authentically genuinely good news.

The above quote would have the Roman readers of the time believing that the Emperor was the son of god and that his reign was one that would usher in a golden age. The reality however is that one fifth of the worlds population was under the rule of Rome and most of those held in an oppressive grip of domination, there was no golden age for them, no good news to be found in the rule of the supposed "son of the Deified".

Many today would have the world believe that the Gospel (good news) is to be found in the right education or political solution, in having enough money or in societal standing. Like the fallen Roman empire of old those who hear this version of gospel find no true hope in this message either, no real good news.

 The gospel of Jesus is that he has come and he is victorious. Jesus is Lord which means that Caesar  as any of the persons, leaders or "solutions" of our day, is not.

This season take time to remember what really matters and why we are really here, to build a kingdom that cannot fail, a kingdom of Shalom, the Kingdom of God. In Jesus true justice finds a standing in our world, beauty again flourishes, evil is bade to slither away once and for all. The hope, peace, joy and victory of the Kingdom of God inaugurated in the movement of Jesus is good news.

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christianity as Community, not Individual Piety

“Christian ethics is not primarily an individualistic, one-on-one-with-God brand of personal holiness; rather it has to do with living the life of the Spirit in Christian community and in the world.”

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Give the Gift of Church Planting!

Christmas at Grace Church of Dunedin

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
~ Jesus, Acts 20:35

Merry Christmas to all the friends, supporters, and encouragers of Grace Church of Dunedin

Christmas is always a fun (and busy!) time of the year - family, friends, Christmas songs, claymation, Rudolph, stockings, eggnog, shopping, Adam Sandler's Hanukkah songs, mistletoe, Christmas lights, sparkling grape juice, etc.  In addition to all those jolly activities, the times of corporate worship during Advent Season are always some of my most favorite.

A lot of Christians talk about keeping Christ in Christmas and come up with great ways to remember the advent of our Lord; but have you ever considered how Christmas and church planting go together?  Yes, as Christians, Christmas/Advent is a special/sacred time to remember the gift of Christ; but it should also be a time of remembering why he came! 

What is “the reason for the season?”
In our current teaching series, Thy Kingdom Come, we've been learning about the Kingdom of God, why Christ came and is coming again, and what it means to live in his kingdom in the here and now.  According to Isaiah 9:6-7, Christ came in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth; and with that Kingdom comes peace, redemption, and life as it should be (i.e., shalom). Verse 7 concludes with stamp of God's zealous promise to do it.  In the New Testament we learn that God's plan to "do it" is the through the expansion of the church, i.e., church planting (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:7-8; 15:41; 16:5; Matthew 16:18)!

Give the gift of church planting - give to the cause of the kingdom!
So, this Christmas season, may I encourage you to consider giving the gift of church planting.  There is still much Kingdom work to do; and the Gospel transforms lives and communities primarily through local churches.  As one leading missiologist, C. Peter Wagner writes, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."

Of course, you can give to Grace Church, because we are still a new church plant!  We still have a lot of goals that can only get done through additional and continual income.  But, as you know, we eagerly desire to come along side and help other young and new church plants, laboring intently to see lives redeemed and communities renewed.  We have given money and resources away to several new plants and organization during the past 10 months; the last recipient (of $1200.00) was Unveiled Church in New Port Richey.  (We are excited about what God is doing there!  Please pray for them!)

So, prayerfully consider if there's anything extra you can do this holiday season.  There's much Kingdom work to do!  As you are probably well aware, there are 3 Ways to Give to Grace Church.  Remember, every dollar helps, no gift is too small to make a difference in building the Kingdom!

On behalf of the other Grace Church elders, James Gleichowski and Steve Lee, we wish you and your family a most blessed Christmas! We also hope and pray that your partnership in building the Kingdom through church planting will mirror the redemptive love of our Savior who went to where the people were, cared for them with compassion, and spoke to them the good news of the kingdom.

Thank you for praying for and laboring with Grace Church!

grace + peace,

P.S. In order to receive your 2012 tax-deduction, your end of the year gift needs to be in by January 31, 2012.

For more on giving to Grace Church and questions about our budgets, please email

The Whole Sweep of Scripture - How to Read the Bible

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Misconceptions: Are We Getting the Story Right?

Christmas. It’s all about the good times right? Friends, family, candlelight church services, stockings, eggnog, shopping, mistletoe, Christmas lights…and widespread misinformation.

Yeah, Christmas definitely takes the lead in “the holiday with the most folktales and urban legends” category. In fact much of our Christmas nativity story is filled with outright unbiblical ideas!

The typical story we hear repeated is:
“On the evening of December 25th, about 2000 years ago, Mary, who is urgently needing to deliver her baby, rides into Bethlehem on a donkey. Although it’s an emergency, all the innkeepers turn them away. So she delivers baby Jesus in an outside stable. Then angels sing to the shepherds. Afterwards, the shepherds join up with three kings on camels, find the baby Jesus and worship the quiet newborn.”
What’s the problem? Well, this story might be almost entirely wrong. The events surrounding the birth have been retold so many times and in songs, in plays, books, and movies that most people have a distorted view of the true Nativity events. The only accurate record is found in the Bible, so we’ll be comparing the rampant Christmas misconceptions with the Scriptures.

Christmas Misconception #1 Jesus was Born in a Stable
Was Jesus born in a stable or in a barn? The Bible does not mention either of these places in connection with Christ’s birth, only a manger. Scripture simply reports that they laid Jesus in a manger because there was no room for him in the guest room (Luke 2:7). The Greek word used in Scripture is kataluma, and can mean guest chamber, lodging place or inn. The only other time this word was used in the New Testament, it means a furnished, large, upper story room within a private house. It’s translated guest chamber, not inn (Mark 14:14-15). There was a word for an inn (i.e. hotel) used in that day – pandocheion. Luke uses that word in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34, so he definitely didn’t mean that there was no room in the local Holiday Inn!

According to Bible archaeology experts, Jesus was probably born in the house of relatives on the bottom floor, underneath the normal living and guest quarters. This is because all of Joseph's family, perhaps with their wives and children, would have been in the same house due the census Caesar had issued (Luke 2:1-3). Your typical home during the time of Jesus’ birth was two-stories. The first level was kind of like a garage, and yes, it would be normal to have a few of your prized animals kept in there. The second floor would have been the living quarters - “the inn.” In order to give Joseph and his very pregnant wife some privacy, everyone probably decided to let Joseph and Mary stay in the first level. It was definitely a bit rough - not your ideal place give birth; but not a stable.

Does this mean we have to throw out our cheesy little Nativity scenes? Maybe; maybe not. But I do make an effort to explain to my children how it really went down. 

Other Christmas Misconceptions:
#1 Jesus was born in a Stable#2 The Innkeeper Turned Mary + Joseph Away#3 No Crying He Makes
#4 Mary, Urgently Needing to Deliver a Baby, Rides into Bethlehem on a Donkey#5 Three Kings, Riding on Donkeys, Come to See the Baby Jesus#6 Jesus was Born on December 25th

Oh come on now, don’t get your undies in a bundle! Just because we may have taken some of our Christmas traditions from pagans and get our facts wrong about the nativity doesn't mean Christmas is ruined. Just know your Christmas facts!

Merry Christmas!

Ray Vander Laan on “The True Christmas Story”

I’ve always been blessed by the ministry of teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan.  Here’s an old clip (not so good quality, but great content!) about the land of Israel and politics at the time of Jesus’ birth.

Ray Vander Laan weaves the archaeological evidence with biblical teachings and the historical record to contrast two kings: Herod and Jesus.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Cookie Drop Outreach!

Christmas Cookie Drop - Grace Church of Dunedin

Merry Christmas Grace Church! Last year we participated in our first “Christmas Cookie Drop” outreach and it’s that time of the year again!

Here's the Deal:
We would like for you and your family to bake some cookies, brownies, cup cakes, etc., package them up, attach the Christmas greeting card (click HERE), and deliver the bake goods to someone working on Christmas Eve. It could be the clerk at a convenient store, the firemen at a fire station, paramedics, hospital or emergency care facility employees, nursing home personnel, gas station attendants, police officers, etc…

Families can drop off the gifts anytime on Christmas Eve. You can drop them off on your way to our 6pm Christmas Eve Service, or do it on the way home, or do it any other time Christmas Eve night – whatever works best for you and your family.

Sign Up!
There will be a Christmas Cookie Drop sign up table in the back of church starting this Sunday (Dec. 9th). There you can sign up and determine/submit your cookie drop location. We will be keeping track of the drop locations and making sure that all the main locations get hit and that there’s no overlap or double-hits.

Advent is about Giving + Serving:
This is the time of the year we remember how our Savior “came to serve, not to be served” (Matthew 20:28). Our annual “Christmas Cookie Drop" is a simple, yet great, opportunity for you and your family to love + serve others by representing our gift-giving God! "...keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, for He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).

May the grace + peace of God be within you, upon you,
and flow through you this Christmas season.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Marriage + Gospel

There’s no joy like marital joy; and there’s no pain like marital pain.  Healthy marriages don’t just happen, they need to be cultivated.  Recently, Timothy Keller came out with a fantastic book on the subject – The Meaning of Marriage.  I highly recommend it.

Timothy Keller writes:
The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the Gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The Gospel is—we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared to believe, and at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.
The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.
Take the the time to listen to Tim and Kathy talk about marriage, covenant, compatibility, and love at the recent Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference.  It will be well worth your time…

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent and the Liturgical Calendar

Advent is a special time of the liturgical church calendar.  The purpose of having church seasons, such as Advent and Lent, is to create meditative rhythms in our life together.  These corporate and communal rhythms are all based upon that one true and sure foundation - Jesus the Christ!

The word "Advent" comes from the Latin, adventus and it's the translation of the Greek word parousia, which means "appearing" or "coming".

This season we remember that our King has come!  And he is indeed coming again (Revelation 22:20)!
May this Advent season be a special time of reflection + envisioning as you consider what it means to live life with Jesus as your king.

Rob Bell shares on the purpose of the church calendar and prepares us, particularly for Advent.  “Advent,” Bell says, “confronts this corrosion of the heart with the insistence that God has not abandoned the world, hope is real and something is coming.”  Here’s the full article…

Christmas is coming. It may seem like it’s way too soon to be talking about trees and lights and presents and eggnog and all that. But Christmas is the culmination of Advent, and Advent is about the church calendar and the church calendar is something we never stop talking about.

So that’s what I’m writing on here: Advent. But to talk about Advent, we need to talk about sound, and then time and then Spirit.

First, then, a bit about sound.

If you are quiet enough in your kitchen, you will hear a noise. It is a continuous sound, a long, droning noise with no particular beginning or ending. It has very little, if any, dynamic range. It may go up and down in volume, but those changes are rarely perceptible. It is the same flat noise, and it goes on and on and on, hour after hour, day after day. If it’s loud enough, it can grate on the nerves, but otherwise it’s simply there.
Making that sound, mostly unnoticed, there in the corner of your kitchen.

It is the buzzing of your refrigerator.

Now for another noise. I’m currently listening to the new Jónsi album, which I’ve had on repeat for a number of weeks now. From the first bleeps, squawks and chirps of the first song, the album is full of noises. Drums, voices, piano—the noises stop and start, come and go, they’re loud and quiet. Some notes sustain for a measure or two, others come and go within the second. The kick drum rumbles, the cymbals clang, the strings flutter. All those sounds work together to make something compelling, inspiring, beautiful, evocative, confrontative, urgent, hopeful, honest or peaceful—something that sounds stunning.

And so it is noise, it is the sound—but it is a particular, intentional arrangement of those noises and sounds that make it what we commonly refer to as music.

Two kinds of noise, two variations on sound—one we call music and the other we call refrigerator buzz.
Next, then, a bit about time, because time is a lot like sound. A song works because the noises and sounds and voices and drums are arranged with a precise awareness of time. Music divides time up into beats, giving time a shape, a flow, a pattern, a rhythm.

We’ve all experienced the low-grade despair that comes when our days blend into each other—wake up, eat breakfast, brush teeth, go to school or work or the office, change another diaper, do another load of laundry, write a check, fill a tank, cook a meal and then repeat it all over again the next day.
One day looks like the next, everything starts to feel the same, life starts to feel like the existential equivalent of refrigerator buzz.

And that, of course, takes us back to the Exodus. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?) The story of those Hebrew slaves being rescued from Pharaoh isn’t just a story about the God who rescues people from having to make bricks every day—it’s about the God who rescues people from other kinds of slavery as well. Namely, the one involving time.

Life in Egypt was comprised of making bricks for the Pharaoh every day, all day.

Bricks, bricks, bricks, eat, sleep, more bricks, bricks, bricks. Tomorrow will be just like today: bricks, bricks, bricks.

When the Israelites are rescued, however, God gives them commands, one of the most urgent being to take a Sabbath day a week, a day unlike the others. A day without bricks.
Six days you shall work, but on the seventh, don’t. Why is this so monumental? God gives them rhythm. But not the rhythm of sound, the rhythm of time. Life before was an interminable succession of sevens. Seven, seven, seven.

But now, their time is broken up, measured, arranged with a beat: six and one, six and one, six and one.

God is the God of the groove.

We need rhythm in our time—it’s what makes one moment different from another. It gives shape and color and form to all of life.

The first Christians understood this—that time, like sound, is best when broken up, divided and arranged into patterns and rhythms. And so they created the church calendar. A way to organize the year, a way to bring variance to our days, a way to find a song in the passing of time.

For example, Lent. For the seven weeks leading up to Resurrection Sunday, we practice sober awareness of our frailty, sins and smallness. It starts on Ash Wednesday when those ashes are traced on our foreheads in the shape of the cross, a tactile reminder of our origins in the dust. From there we come, and to there we will go.

You want to really live, the kind of living that drains the marrow from every day? Then start by facing your death, your weakness, your smallness. We spend seven weeks facing our death and despair and doubt, entering into it with the fullness of our being—heart, mind, emotions—we leave nothing behind.

We do this for a number of reasons, chief among them the simple truth that Sunday comes after Friday. Only when you’ve gotten through, not around “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are you ready to throw the only kind of Resurrection party worthy of the occasion—that Sunday when we run huffing and puffing from the open tomb, beating our pots and pans in that clanging raucous outburst that begins with those three resounding words: “He is risen.”

That day when all the amps are turned up to “11.”

But that’s not the end—don’t let your pastor start a preaching series on tithing or marriage that next week—because Resurrection is just the beginning. On we go to the season of Pentecost—the celebration of the Spirit, the One who moves in mysterious ways. Jesus is not with us in body, He’s with us in Spirit. He’s risen, but He’s also here, in ways that transcend language, and so reflect on this for a season, tuning your radar to the divine presence in every moment of every day.

And so we’re headed somewhere, we’re coming from somewhere else, and we’re doing it together, as a community of disciples, as a church.

Finally, then, a bit about Spirit. Because Spirit, it turns out, is a lot like sound and time.

The first thing Spirit does in creation is move. That tells us the deepest matters of the Spirit are constantly moving, shifting and morphing. The life of the spirit is a dynamic reality, taking us through a myriad of emotions, experiences and states of being.

Sometimes we’re exhausted, other times we’re overwhelmed with doubt. Sometimes we’re on top of the world and everything is going smoothly, other times we find ourselves standing in the midst of the wreckage, surrounded by smoldering flames, wondering how it all went so wrong.

What the church calendar does is create space for Jesus to meet us in the full range of human experience, for God to speak to us across the spectrum, in the good and the bad, in the joy and in the tears.

This is the crime of only singing happy victory songs in church (we often ask sad people to sing happy songs)—half of the Psalms are laments.

The math should move us on that. The Bible is not a collection of war chants from victors—it’s an incredibly varied collection of writings reflecting an intensely diverse amount of postures, moods and perspectives.
A lot like how life is, actually. Sometimes you’re furious with God, other times you’re madly in love.

The issue then, as it is now, isn’t just getting us out of Egypt—it’s getting the Egypt out of us.

Rescuing us from sameness, dullness, flatlined routine, reminding us that however we’re feeling, whatever we’re experiencing, wherever we are in our heart—the Spirit waits to meet us there.

And that takes us to Advent. Advent, then, is a season. Lots of people know about holidays—one day a year set apart. The church calendar is about seasons, whole periods of time we enter into with a specific cry, a particular intention, for a reason.

Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ. It’s about longing, desire, that which is yet to come. That which isn’t here yet. And so we wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because all is not right.

Something is missing.

Why does Advent mean so much to me?

Because cynicism is the new religion of our world. Whatever it is, this religion teaches that it isn’t as good as it seems. It will let you down. It will betray you.

That institution? That church? That politician? That authority figure? They’ll all let you down.

Whatever you do, don’t get your hopes up. Whatever you think it is, whatever it appears to be, it will burn you, just give it time.

Advent confronts this corrosion of the heart with the insistence that God has not abandoned the world, hope is real and something is coming.

Advent charges into the temple of cynicism with a whip of hope, overturning the tables of despair, driving out the priests of that jaded cult, announcing there’s a new day and it’s not like the one that came before it.

“The not yet will be worth it,” Advent whispers in the dark.

Old man Simeon stands in the temple, holding the Christ child, rejoicing that now he can die because what he’d been waiting for actually arrived.

And so each December, we enter into a season of waiting, expecting, longing. Spirit meets us in the ache.
We ask God to enter into the deepest places of cynicism, bitterness and hardness where we have stopped believing that tomorrow can be better than today.

We open up. We soften up. We turn our hearts in the direction of that day. That day when the baby cries His first cry and we, surrounded by shepherds and angels and everybody in between, celebrate that sound in time that brings our Spirits what we’ve been longing for.

From a Relevant Magazine article – November 29, 2010

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Mighty Caesar Augustus + His Finite Empire Vs. The Humble King of Kings + His Eternal Kingdom

Grace Church is about to begin a new sermon series entitled, Thy Kingdom Come.  We’ll be spending 5 weeks reflecting on the advent (coming) of our Messiah.  The word Messiah comes from a Hebrew term which means "anointed one." Its Greek counterpart is Christos, from which we get the word Christ.  Christ was not Jesus' last name! It was his title and his calling. The Messiah/Christ was a promised future king who would rule on David's throne, forgive sinners, restore justice and establish a forever kingdom of love, joy, peace, and love (e.g., Isaiah 9:6-7).  Jesus came teaching us to live in light of the coming kingdom (Matthew 4:17).  He taught us to long for and pray this coming kingdom.  And he was born so that he could die in order to bring forth this great kingdom.  This is what Christmas is all about!

I’m getting ready to preach tomorrow about two kingdoms – The Roman Empire vs. The Kingdom of God.  Many present day Christians do not comprehend the political, economical, and sociological context of Jesus’ day.  And for that reason, it’s hard to grasp the full message of the N.T. writers.  The message of Christ and the Gospel of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 4:23) was an incredibly volatile political message.  When you look at it through a historical lens, It is no wonder why the early was so persecuted and it is equally clear why the revolution of Christianity spread like wildfire through an oppressed people under Roman tyranny.

I found the following article by Doug Wilson, very helpful and I wanted to pass it along…
Who was this Caesar Augustus? Why does Luke bring him into the story? Much more is involved that a simple time indicator. Octavius as a young man was the adopted son of Julius, and the heir apparent. By the birth of Jesus he had assumed the throne, and was the emperor. In 40 B.C. a blasphemous coin was struck in Gaul which showed the two-headed god Janus, with Julius on one side and Octavius on the other. The inscription said, "The divine Caesar-and the Son of God." There was an Egyptian inscription which said that Octavius was a marvelous star, "shining with the brilliance of the great heavenly Saviour. Then, in 17 B.C. when a strange star appeared in the heavens, and Augustus commanded a twelve day Advent celebration, a ceremonial embrace of Virgil’s statement: "The turning point of the ages has come!" During the reign of Augustus, the cult of explicit emperor worship took firm root, especially in Asia Minor. This region was to become the center of persecution of Christians-and for this precise reason. Even his taken name indicates the problem. The ruling title Augustus was taken by him, which means "worthy of reverence and worship." He was, in short, homo imperisosus. Caesar Augustus was simply the last in a long line of ancient men who believed in humanistic empire. But God was sending another kind of emperor, and another kind of empire entirely. 
This is what gives force to Luke's juxtaposition. Given what Luke understood about Caesar Augustus, and the identity of the Christ, this story from his gospel has to be seen as a rivalry of kings. The fact that Christ was born in Bethlehem-thus fulfilling the prophecy of God-as the result of a command from Caesar (to tax!) has to be seen as a supreme irony. If the rulers of that age had known what they were doing, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). And of course, the problem was evident even earlier. Had they known what they were doing, Augustus would not have lifted his finger to tax the world. But he only did this because God lifted His finger-to save the world. 
God sent Christ to bind the strong man. "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth" (Luke 11:21-23). Luke knows what he doing here. Matthew records that Herod knew of the threat. But Augustus knew nothing of it, and Christ came to conquer the world-his throne is David’s and His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:32-33) This is the accusation against Him later (Luke 23:2). Luke also records the defiance of Peter and John-"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). They are quoting from a coin which ascribed this same saving authority to Augustus. The early Christians preached another kind of saving king, contrary to counterfeit salvation offered by Caesar (Acts 17:7). And we should note in passing that it is no offense against the magistrate to acknowledge that Christ rules over him (Acts 25:8). 
Christmas therefore reminds us of the fundamental antithesis. And in response, we have three basic options-we can affirm the antithesis (by faith alone), or we can blur or deny the antithesis, or we can misplace the antithesis. When it comes to the celebration of festivals like Christmas, our role is not to blend in with an unbelieving crowd. What does the holiday mean? It means the kingdom of God, not man. 
Where do we start? What are we to do? Begin at the beginning-do not run before you walk. Remember God’s Son, God’s word, God’s day.Remember the contrast of kings-remember the rival saviors. But we have a Savior, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11). And here is true potency-the power we have is in the name of our king. There is no other name which brings salvation.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Doing Community Together at Grace Church...

What are Grace Church Community Groups? 
Getting connected at Grace Church involves participation in both the Sunday morning Gatherings and a Community Group.  Sunday Gatherings are a time for worshipful celebration together, hearing the preaching of the Word, imparting the vision of Grace Church, and sharing in Communion.   Whereas, Community Groups are the primary way we, disciple one another, connect with one another, and live out the mission of Grace Church.  Community Groups are an essential expression of our church’s mission

Each Community Group will find their own rhythm - meeting regularly (either weekly or bi-weekly) to eat together, learn together, pray together, encourage one another, and be on mission together, living out the Gospel in real and tangible expressions.  Being a community-driven people means walking through life together, helping one another become fully-devoted followers of Jesus.

Why Community Groups? 
At the heart of the Community Groups ministry is the desire to see a community of believers who worship Jesus, love one another, and embody the mission & vision of Grace Church to make disciples.  Community Groups will be the place where the seeds of the preached Word (from the Sunday Gathering sermon) take root and become real as we consider how we may "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24).  In other words, our Community Groups will be a place where we encourage and challenge one another to live missional lives and to know Jesus deeper and in more personal ways.

The Practice of Living Missionally: 
Our Community Groups will aim at connected our members to call of God to “live sent” – commissioned by Christ to follow his Great Commission for the church (Matt. 28:16-20). 

The church is a community of God’s people gathered for his mission; and community, centered and driven by the Gospel, is the vehicle through which God’s mission is carried out.   As Gordon Fee points out in Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God, “God is not just saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather, He is creating a people among whom He can live and who in their life together will (tangibly) reproduce God’s life and character.”  We are to be on mission (i.e., missional) together!  It is the mission of the Gospel that is to shape our Christian community and activities. 

So our Community Groups will be encouraged to come up with outreach ideas for their group.  Here’s a list of some examples - 100 Ways for Community Groups and Individuals to Engage your Neighborhoods.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Love + Marriage + Singleness

Currently, at Grace Church, we are in a series on the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis called, GENESIS: The Promise.

In Genesis chapter 2, we are introduced to the human need for relationship as God says - "it is not good for man to be alone.”  There's a communal quality to humanity in which we only function properly and rightly when connected to others.  We are introduced to the need for relationship through a description of the pinnacle of human relationship - a marriage between a man and a woman.  In the beginning, relationship and human community was wonderful, safe, and full of love.  Genesis 2 concludes with man and woman living in God's paradise, Eden, and being comfortably naked and warmly secure within each other's presence. Everything was as it was supposed to be.

It would be wonderful if that's the kind of world we live in.  But Genesis 3 describes the account of how everything went wrong, how Eden was lost, and how God's good creation came undone.  Sin came in and immediately brought a disconnected and self-centered shame between the man and woman.  They covered themselves from one another, they hid from God, they blamed one another, and they longed for autonomy.  Along with this great fall came everything we hate – fear, embarrassment, shame, disconnectedness, and other types of relational pain.

Essentially, though we still long for healthy connectedness, human relationships became harmful and toxic.  And, as demonstrated with Cain + Abel, we have a tendency to hurt those ones who are closest to us.

We need God's healing and help. 

We need a Gospel pronouncement of hope and correction.

We long for healthy connectedness and only God can give it.

So, this Sunday, November 4th, Steve Lee will be addressing the pinnacle of human connectedness - marriage. Whether you are married or single, this Sunday's topic is an essential one; and all of us, no matter the season of life we may find ourselves, need the guidance of God's right way in interacting with others.

If you are married, you already well know the joys and pains of marriage; and you also know the help we need from God's word and our church community in order to have a thriving marital relationship.  This Sunday, and next week's Community Group discussions, will be a great assistance to you.

If you are single, this Sunday's message, and next week's Community Group discussions, can help you prepare for what's next in your life, equip you to come along side your married friends (offering prayerful and practical help), and enlarge your understanding of God's correct way of living in every category of life – including love, relationships, sex, and marriage.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on marriage or relationships, so…

Here are some recent, and very helpful, resources on Love + Marriage + Singleness:

You May Never Marry Right Person – How Our Culture Misunderstands Compatibility
Timothy Keller explains why the quest for compatibility seems to be so impossible.

7 Ways to Destroy a Marriage
Perry Noble shares 7 sure ways to bring great harm to your marriage.

The Truth about Marital Compatibility – For Singles and Married Couples
Phil Smidt shares 5 questions for singles and marrieds about compatibility.

The Meaning of Marriage – Introduction
The Introduction to Timothy Keller’s new book on marriage.

Lastly, here’s a wonderful interview with Tim and Kathy Keller about singleness, relationships, marriage, and sex…

Monday, October 8, 2012

How to Read Genesis?

Old Testament scholar and author John Walton (Old Testament Professor at Wheaten and author of Zondervan’s NIV Application Commentary on Genesis) offers some important reminders with regard to how we should approach a reading of the book of Genesis. First and foremost, says Walton, we have to approach Genesis for what it is, which is an ancient text.  Therefore, we must interpret it through a lens of what we know of the Ancient Near East and attempt to ask the questions the original author(s) would have been asking. 

Here’s a video with Dr. Walton explaining these very matters:

Related to the above video, John Walton discusses the content of Genesis 1 and how it should be read. The account in Genesis is not intended to be an account of material origins, says Walton. Therefore, if that is so, the Bible has no narrative of material origins—and if that is so, we don't need to defend the Bible's narrative of material origins against science's narrative of material origins.  I think it’s imperative that we ask contextual questions about what the original authors would have been trying to convey through the text of Genesis ch.1 and not laying on the text questions it wasn’t meant to answer (e.g., creationism vs. evolution, literal or non-literal, etc.).

Check out what Professor Walton has to say:

Monday, October 1, 2012

Q+A - Should Genesis be Read Literally and Historically?

First and foremost,  we have to approach Genesis for what it is, an ancient text.  Therefore, we must interpret it through a lens of what we know of the Ancient Near East and attempt to ask the questions the original author(s) and audience would have been asking, not what we (modern day readers) would be asking and wondering when it comes to the origin of all things.

So I think it’s imperative that we ask contextual questions uncovering what the original authors would have been trying to convey through the text of Genesis ch.1-11 (such as monotheism, human significance, and human and cosmological connectedness) and not laying on the text questions it wasn’t meant to answer (e.g., creationism vs. evolution, literal or non-literal, the age of the earth, the ever expanding cosmos, etc.).

There are many aspects of Genesis 1 that simply do not make scientific sense - for example, the sun was created on the 4th day when vegetation was created on the 3rd day.  When Christians speaks of 7 literal days and use the biblical time-line to date the age of the earth there are also significant scientific problems.  

Now, for those who really want to hold to a view of Genesis being literal history and a true account for the order of creation and the age of the earth, there are some suitable (but challenged) answers and/or theories to these questions. But to view the purpose of the Genesis text as answering these questions is a hermeneutical error.  Modern science did not play a role in the mind of the original audience.  We must be careful not to approach Genesis this way. 

As with all literature, there are interpretative rules which need to be applied.  For example, we do not read the newspaper the same we read Moby Dick and we do not read The Hobbit the same way we read Who Moved My Cheese.  Genre, type of literature, must play a big role.

Genesis 1 is song or a poem (rhythm and repetition), not historical narrative.  (for example):
  • the repetition of "it was good"
  • the building of the days - 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc...
  • the Hebraic symbolism of 7 - being the number of completion
In comparison, listen to the introduction to Luke's Gospel, which is historical narrative: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you..."
Clearly different and thus we must interpret them differently.
Also, something we must consider when reading Genesis, which is an Ancient Near Eastern piece of literature, are the other Ancient Near Eastern writing styles and cultures.  Archaeologist and other academic fields have uncovered many writings from times that predate the Hebrew culture - thus predate when our Bibles where written.

Most scholars agree, Genesis is an anthology - a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler or compliers (which one of them I believe to be Moses) over time. It is more highly unified than most anthologies, however, because all of the material falls into one congruent narrative. But it’s not like modern day history; it’s primarily a collection of what may be called hero stories – intermittent tales focused on a central character with whom the reader is to identify with – interspersed with genealogies. Even more specific, the first three chapters belong to a genre known as origin stories and the rest of Genesis also has affinities with the epic genre.

There are certain motifs that ring true in almost all Ancient Near Eastern literary findings on mythology, epics, and/or origins.  For example, in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Epic of Atrahasis, and and the Tale of Adapa we find very similar themes and motifs found in the Bible:
  • tricky and evil serpents 
  • gardens
  • food that gives and takes away life
  • floods that kill of human race except one man, his close family/friends and some animals 
  • In Sumerian list of the Kings we find lineages with extremely long life spans - indicating the significance of their rule
For more about the Bible and how it's similar to other ancient wittings, listen to "Hello, My Name Is..." (from the Grace Church podcast).

The bottom line...I think the question of whether Genesis, and in particular Genesis 1 -11, being a historically accurate account of what happened or not is not a hill we should die on!  That's not the point of the text.

The text is to be read theologically and typologically:
  • It reveals to us the Maker of all things, the origin of all life - God 
  • It reveals that all of creation was wonderful and good
  • It reveals that all of humanity is significant and is the pinnacle of all creation -  for we, and we alone, are created in the image of God
  • It reveals that all of humanity - since Adam means "man" and Eve means "woman", rebelled against God's created order; we were expelled from God's presence (typologically expressed as a "garden"); and the shalom of God (peace and perfect order) was replaced with a brokenness and an ever present evil.  Thus, it reveals that life is not as it should be.
I think Christians far too often get their undies all in a bundle over things that we should not be overly concerned with.  We end up looking foolish and, even worse, arrogant and spiteful because of this.

And let's be rational objective about both views...

If God is eternal and sovereign, as Genesis describes no matter how you read it, literally or non-literally, couldn't he create something outside of the scientific norms?  Couldn’t he have created plant life one day and the sun the next?  Couldn’t he create a rock that's a 60 billion years in a nanosecond?  Couldn't he have created species to have such strong DNA similarities with only small percentages of difference which separate a human from a dog?  Couldn’t he do that?  I think so.

And if God is eternal and sovereign, as Genesis describes no matter how you read it, literally or non-literally, couldn't he have simply chosen to reveal himself to the Hebrew people in a way that was culturally relevant - using symbolism and motifs they were already familiar with?  Do you even think that a finite people could even understand how the only infinite Being actually created everything?  Do you you think they, or we for that matter, could even understand how he actually did it all?  Don't you think there will be always be a wonder to how God works and how things came and come together?  I think so.

All the scientific questions are extremely interesting and worth peacefully discussing and contemplating. But let's NOT superimpose modern questions, that really make little difference in the whole scheme of things, onto these wonderful ancient documents that were meant to reveal the only true God who made everything, the purpose of humanity, what went wrong in the world (i.e., why there is death, pain, heartache, and suffering), and how, in the Gospel of Christ, promised in Genesis 3:15 and as N.T. Wright expresses it, God is putting everything in the cosmos back to rights again.

For more on the message of Genesis and how we can apply it's truth to our life - check out our teachings from our series entitled, Genesis: The Promise, on the Grace Church podcast.

Genesis - The Promise_horizontal_Grace Church of Dunedin_Churches in Dunedin

As always, grace + peace to all of you.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Intro. to Torah + Genesis

Genesis - The Promise_horizontal_Grace Church of Dunedin_Churches in Dunedin (2)

They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. Deuteronomy 32:47

Intro to the Torah:
The Old Testament and Its Divisions - The 39 books of the O.T. can be divided as such:
  • Pentateuch/Torah: Genesis - Deuteronomy
  • Israel’s History: Joshua - Esther
  • The Writings: Job - Song of Solomon
  • Major Prophets: Isaiah - Daniel
  • Minor Prophets: Hosea - Malachi
The division of O.T. books in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach) is a bit different from that in our English Bibles. (Ours finds its divisions by way of the second-century B.C. Greek translation known as the Septuagint.) The Hebrew Bible is divided into three parts:
  • The Law (Torah or “books of Moses”)
  • The Prophets (the Former Prophets, including Joshua through Kings [minus Ruth], and the Latter Prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve [the so-called Minor Prophets]),
  • And the Writings (the Psalms [including Lamentations], the Wisdom books [Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs], Daniel, and the four narrative books of Ruth, Esther, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles).
The Significance of Torah and A Vision of Jesus:
Torah – (Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, "Instruction"), also known as the Pentateuch (Greek: Πεντάτευχος from πεντα- penta- [five] and τεῦχος teuchos [tool, vessel, or book]). For the Hebrew, the Torah was to be much more than 613 laws to obey. The actual laws, along with the worship/sacrificial rituals within them, were very important; but the essence (that to which the Torah points) and “heart” of the law was always most important and it was to dominate one’s passions, working its way into every category of life.

See Deut. 6:1-9; 32:47; Psalm 1:2; 119:34, 77, 165, 174

Why? Torah was the very Word of God and so connected to its sovereign author that some rabbinical teachings even personified the Torah. Torah, being the Word of God, in their minds, preexisted creation and God created everything through his Word. Thus Genesis chapter 1 records God (Elohim) as speaking the cosmos into existence.

This is also why John introduced Jesus in his Gospel by saying, “In the beginning was the Word….Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). He linked, not only the Greek word logos (word) to Jesus, he also linked the Hebrew belief of things being made through Torah and that Torah was the light of the world (a common rabbinical teaching) to the work and essence of Christ himself.

The significance of all this is that the only to know and experience God for the Hebrew was through the Torah (especially after the temple was destroyed). John is/was saying the Torah has “now become flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:13); meaning, God is now closer than ever! Furthermore, another common rabbinical expression about the Torah was that it was the truth, the life, and the way! Sound familiar? In John, retelling of some Jesus’ last words to his disciples, he writes:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.
From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
~ John 14:6-7

The Book of Genesis:Questions about Title, Authorship, Date, and Original Audience:
The English title “Genesis” comes from the Greek translation of the Torah called, Pentateuch, and it means “origin,” a perfect title because Genesis is all about origins. The Hebrew title, Bereshith = “in [the] beginning”, from the first phrase in the book, serves as its title and is suggestive as to what the book is about. Genesis tells of the beginning of God’s story – creation, human disobedience, and divine redemption – while it also begins the Torah/Pentateuch, the story of God’s choosing and making a covenant with a people through whom he would bless all peoples (Gen 12:2–3).

In the strict sense, Genesis (and all of Torah for that matter) is written anonymously. But traditionally Genesis, like the rest of the Torah, has been ascribed to Moses and even labeled “the Books of Moses” (2 Chron. 25:4; Ezra 6:18; Neh 13:1; ect…). The other books of the Torah relate Moses' life and his role in bringing Israel to the borders of Canaan, and parts of these books are expressly said to have been written by Moses (e.g., Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:24). Genesis is clearly an introduction to the books that follow, so it is natural to suppose that if Moses was responsible for their composition, he must also have been the author of Genesis (cf. John 5:46).

Genesis reflects an origin in the second millennium b.c. For example, the flood story finds its best parallels in the Atrahasis and Gilgamesh epics and in the Sumerian flood story, which were composed in 17 centaury b.c.; while the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 find a parallel in the Sumerian King List, dated about 1900 b.c. As far as the patriarchal stories are concerned, many features show that they are at home in the early second millennium. Their names are typical of that period, and many family customs correspond to what is known from that era. The rise of Joseph to be vizier (the highest official in Ancient Egypt), though not mentioned in Egyptian texts, is quite feasible in the era of the Hyksos (Semitic rulers of Egypt, c. 1600 b.c.). Whatever date is preferred for Moses and the composition of the Torah, several centuries must have separated him from the patriarchs, during which the stories about them were presumably passed on by word of mouth.

The World of Genesis:
Genesis describes events in the ancient Near East from the beginnings of civilization to the relocation of Jacob's (Israel's) family to Egypt. The stories of Genesis are set among the oldest civilizations known to man (in ancient Mesopotamia).

The Division of Genesis:
The narrative of Genesis itself comes in two basic parts: a “prehistory” (chapters 1–11), the stories of creation, human origins, the fall of humanity, and the relentless progress of evil – all against the backdrop of God’s enduring patience and love – and the story of the beginning of redemption through Abraham and his seed (chapters 12–50), with focus on the stories of Abraham (11:27–25:11), Jacob (25:12–37:1), and Joseph (chapters 37–50).\

Things to Keep in Mind When Reading Genesis:
Most scholars agree, Genesis is an anthology - a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. It is more highly unified than most anthologies, however, because all of the material falls into the overall genre of historical narrative. But it’s not like modern day history; it’s primarily a collection of what may be called hero stories – intermittent tales focused on a central character with whom the reader is to identify with – with interspersed genealogies. Even more specific, the first three chapters belong to a genre known as the story of origins. Genesis also has affinities with the epic genre because the story is one of universal history (chapters 1–11) and the origins of the nation of Israel (chapters 12–50).