Friday, January 25, 2013

A Greeting for Social Ostracism

Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen, [and, kai] the strangers in the world of the diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, because of the obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. -1 Peter 1:1&2

The Book of Acts in the New Testament is a very exciting read. It is full of visions, miracles, riots in the streets, prison breaks and many other action packed scenes of suspense and intrigue. In fact when one reads Acts it seems as if the followers of Jesus have indeed "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6). The picture painted in these pages is one of following Jesus to an inevitable life of suffering and persecution. Acts reveals a couple reasons why the early Christians were marginalized and unwanted. The preaching and teaching of the Gospel of Jesus in some cities brought the selling of idols and sacrifices to a halt, disrupting and harming the local economy. This is why the silversmiths (crafters of religious idols and relics) in Ephesus start an uproar in the streets to silence Paul's ministry (Acts 19). Another form of hostility toward the Jesus movement came from the Jews who according to Acts 17 "became jealous" of Paul's success in converting so many that they actually aligned themselves with "some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob and set the city in an uproar"(vs.5). What is interesting is that many of the persecutions and attacks against the early church did not come from officials working for the Empire, but from the populace. One early second century graffiti discovered in a Roman guard house shows a man with a mule head being crucified while another man stands in front looking up at him with arms raised. The caption in Greek reads, "Alexmenos worships [his] god". As Joel Green points out in his excellent commentary on 1 Peter,
...this iconographical and literary evidence brings to the surface general attitudes and practices of harassment...(pg.9)

People were not happy with this new community. They were seen as people who did not belong. They were viewed as atheists who cared nothing for the gods and because of which brought with them their disfavor (Green).

1 Peter is a letter written to a region not under direct fire of the Emperor, as in the areas surrounding Rome, but to a people suffering "social ostracism as a form of persecution instigated by popular sentiment". So Peter begins his letter with a great encouragement, they are indeed strangers but they are chosen to be so. They are in exile, but their exile is temporary, for this exile is actually because of God's victory in Jesus to bring about the restoration of the cosmos and humanity. Eden is open again, even while they suffer in Babylon. Babylon was a word used to refer to Rome. John loves to use this image in his letters and especially in his 'Revelation'. They are chosen according to God's mission and vision which he has held all along (foreknowledge). God has always had a plan to see evil done away with, to have the serpent destroyed (Gen. 3:15). The Exodus of old was but a shadow of the true and ultimate rescue of the world. In Jesus all is put back to rights, God is in charge again and evil has no more foothold in which to take stand. So Peter tells the churches that they are in exile, but also have a new home, "in the sanctification of the Spirit". This is also referred to as the "life in Christ". All who follow Jesus find a new life and residence, no longer in the cycle of sin and death, no longer in the throws of evil, but a life of freedom in the Spirit of God himself (see also Ephesians 2:6).

This is all made possible because of the obedience of Jesus and the "sprinkling of his blood". The work and sacrifice of Jesus means evil has been exhausted on the cross, the just demands of God have been satisfied and humanity can again enter into fellowship with their creator. The cross of Jesus means that God is victorious over evil after all and the creation he fashioned is not hopeless and lost, but is being restored and will always be a beautiful and very good world. The death and resurrection of Jesus means that the covenant has been fulfilled revealing that God is indeed wise and faithful. Jesus was sent to do a job and he obeyed, even to his death on a cross. This was the plan from all eternity past in the Father's foreknowledge and demonstrated in the life of the church as residents as in his spirit as his chosen people.

A suffering and marginalized people, when they suffer for doing the good of the Gospel (1 Peter 4:16) will have a grace and peace in "fullest measure", for they are living as Jesus lived, they are serving a kingdom that will never fall and a God that resurrects the dead. Peter wants all who are persecuted and ostracized to know that by doing so they are bringing Eden to Babylon. This is a letter very much for us. We are the ones called to live the life of the Spirit in the here and now, to serve the Kingdom of God in a broken and twisted world. This will at times mean we become unwanted and outcasts. This means that we will be called to align ourselves with those our society says are without hope or a lost cause. For our cause is to see the movement of Jesus succeed in the complete eradication of evil from our world. To see all who are hungry and suffering, who are oppressed and hated come to the peace and grace found only in the good news that the kingdom has come in Jesus.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our nation has come a long way in regard to racial hostility. One man, Dr. Martin Luther King, led the way, humbly bringing truth where pride had blinded so many. May we continue to learn from his heroic example...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Plant Churches?

"A vigorous and continuous approach to church planting is the only way to guarantee an increase in the number of believers, and is one of the best ways to renew the whole body of Christ."  ~ Timothy Keller

Listen to Timothy Keller on Why Plant Churches?  You can also read the article here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Marriage, Relationships, and the Importance of Forgiveness

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate 
hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another 
and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
And above all these put on love, which binds everything
in perfect harmony.
~Colossians 3:12-14

A series of articles last year caught my attention.  It was by a married couple and they were sharing their struggle of the husbands' addiction to porn and the wife’s difficult task of forgiving and aiding her husband.  It reminded how important and powerful the role of forgiveness plays in any healthy and successful marriage.  Here are the articles…

They’re well worth the read. I was especially moved by Rachel’s heart to forgive her husband.  Here’s a portion of the article…
At the same time as John was presented with the decision to turn from addiction, I was faced with a similar choice: forgive him for what he had done, or not? Before all of this happened, I used to think I would forgive anyone unconditionally, especially those close to me. But when he confessed, I was hurt more deeply than I had ever imagined possible. He had promised to love and cherish only me on our wedding day, and yet, after only four months of marriage, he had broken that very promise.
I didn’t know how to respond.
I knew I should forgive him, but there was a part of me that didn’t want to do so. I didn’t want to trust him, or even let him look at me, much less be vulnerable and open with him. I feared he would just betray me again.
ARTICLE_Porn1So I prayed.
I wanted to forgive him, but I didn’t know how. What would true forgiveness look like? How would I act? Would I ever be able to fully trust him? I asked God many, many questions that night, and He responded. He told me I had two choices: I could be hurt, angry, bitter, closed off and never trust my husband again, or I could truly, wholeheartedly forgive him and trust that God had brought us together for a reason. God made it clear the first choice would result in further damage to our marriage, alienating us from each other and preventing reconciliation and healing from even beginning. The second, however, would allow God to begin healing the damage immediately. It would still be a process, but it wouldn’t be delayed or drag on.
But what did that choice mean?
It meant forgiving him. Trusting him again as if he had never betrayed me. It meant handing over my heart once again and letting go of all of the anger, hurt, and bitterness. It meant moving on and having honest conversations. It meant being vulnerable and open with him. It meant exposing myself to possible rejection. It meant being selfless and putting his needs above my desire for control or my pain, putting the good of our marriage above what I felt was good for me. It meant letting go of my right to get even. It would be extremely hard and would require sacrifice, but it would be worth it.
After a few days of deliberation and struggle, I chose to forgive him, and it was quite possibly the most difficult decision I have ever made. It required me to believe in him again, to trust him with my heart and give myself to him again. On that day, I chose to let him in and asked him to be open with me about his struggle so we could fight it alongside each other by working through the issues and deep wounds caused by his addiction.
I have never looked back.
Wow, what a powerful story of forgiveness and marital reconciliation. 

Forgiveness only happens when one takes the time to think through your actions, emotions, and feelings and honestly say, “I was wrong” and “I am sorry;” and it means you take responsibility to confess your anger, self-centeredness, preoccupation, dissatisfaction, etc….  Forgiveness only happens when one accepts these sincere apologies and does not bring up past hurts as a club of resentment.  Moreover, it is the ability to release an offense and not hold a grudge. 

Pondering the Apostle's words, “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13), how can we forgive as God has forgiven us?  I know no other way but by embracing the message of the cross.

The cross means, at the least, that God so hates evil and injustice that he was/is willing to come suffer himself in order to end it.  And in doing so, through the cross, God also reveals his relentless love for people corrupt with evil and injustice, by Jesus bearing the guilt and shame of their sin. God hates evil - he will not and cannot tolerate it and one day he will bring everyone before him to give an account; but, at the same time, he overcomes evil in the human heart through love and forgiveness – this is the promise to those who receive the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both of these truths, God’s justice and forgiveness, are absolutely essential in our understanding and application  forgiveness.

Author and professor, Miroslav Volf puts it perfectly:
Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans and exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of [the Cross] for long without overcoming this double exclusion....When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is freed to rediscover the torturer's humanity and imitate God's love for that person. And when one knows that the love of God is greater than [my] sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of the justice of God and so rediscover one's own sinfulness. (Volf, The Spacious Heart)
May God, through the Gospel, soften our hearts so we never exclude one from receiving forgiveness.  And may this pattern of forgiveness begin in our marriages.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Heath's Top Five Bible Study Helps

#1.) The Holy Bible - A Few Different Translations:
First and for most, the best resources for Bible study is the BIBLE!  And the best way to understand the message of the Bible is to ready/study a number of Bible translations at the same time. 

As you know, that the Bible wasn't written in English.  It was originally written in  Hebrew and a little bit of Aramaic in the Old Testament and Greek in the New Testament. A translation tries to render the original language into clear, accurate, and current English. Comparing a couple or a few different translations really helps the reader grasp what's trying to be communicated.

Here are some recommended translations - NIV, NASB, ESV, and The Message (which is a paraphrase, but still a good and trusted resource).

The ESV Study Bible was created to help people understand the Bible in a deeper way—to understand the timeless truth of God’s Word as a powerful, compelling, life-changing reality. To accomplish this, the ESV Study Bible combines the best and most recent evangelical Christian scholarship with the highly regarded ESV Bible text. The result is the most comprehensive study Bible ever published—with 2,752 pages of extensive, accessible Bible resources. 

This helpful book has so many aids to help guide you through Scripture: a section-by-section outline of the Bible, 119 articles, a "Rapid Fact-Finder" to key people, places, events, and teachings, and more. Plus…it has pictures!  Yea for pictures!

#4.) Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary
A Bible dictionary is very important for looking up not only key Biblical terms to help you understand an unfamiliar term, but this Bible dictionary has a vast amount of archaeological & historical data, color pictures (yea!) and maps, outlines and concise summaries for each book of the Bible and information about its authors. 

By Gordan Fee and Douglas Stuart
OK, so I snuck in two suggestion as one...but this book series helps people to understand the genres of the Bible, how the Bible was translated, the structure and order of the Bible, how to read the Bible as a whole, and more. These are very helpful book by some very sound authors. 

Read, Read, & Re-Read!
The problem for most Christians isn't that they can’t understand what the Bible says, it’s that they don’t read the Bible as much as they could (or should).  Laziness is your biggest enemy in understanding the message of the Bible!

Devote your mind and heart to this book and it will never let you down (Psalm 19:7-14). Its truth is too powerful and its Author are too glorious to ever let that happen!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New FREE Study Bible App

I believe that one of the best ways to start off the New Year is by resolving to have a renewed commitment to a Constant, Lifelong Christian-Learning.  God has blessed us with many resources to assist us in this exciting endeavor!

One of the latest and most recent additions to these wonderful resources is the Faithlife Study Bible AppThe FSB connects readers to their communities with theRead the Bible in a Year plan. It comes with the remarkably transparent Lexham English Bible translation, plus 1.4 million words in articles and study notes. The free download also includes the 1.6-million-word, 2,800-article Lexham Bible Dictionary; approximately 400 photos, videos and infographics in rich media; and three layers of study notes. The FSB features shared reading plans, notes and documents, smart searches, highlighting and the option to choose from major Bible translations, such as the NIV 2011, NKJV, KJV, ESV, NRSV and NASB95.

Authors Charles Stanley, Timothy Keller, and N.T. Wright are some of the FSB’s many other contributors. The FSB can be accessed anywhere from iPhones, iPads, Android mobile devices, Kindle Fires, Macs, PCs, Logos Bible Software, Vyrso Christian eBooks, Proclaim church presentation software and   

Check it out!

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Importance of Constant, Lifelong Christian-Learning

"Where no attention is given to teaching, and to constant, lifelong Christian learning, people quickly revert to the worldview or mindset of the surrounding culture, and end up with their minds shaped by whichever social pressures are most persuasive, with Jesus somewhere around as a pale influence or memory." ~ Tom Wright, Acts for Everyone, Pt. 1
There are many ways to keep our Christian learning up.  One of the best ways is regular Bible reading.   And it's a great time of the year to mention it.  Getting into the habit of reading the Word daily is a common New Year's resolution for many Christians. There are plenty of Bible reading plans out there that guide you through reading your Bible. You may not even want to read the Bible all the way through, but rather use the year to focus on a specific portion or biblical topic. Find a reading plan that works for you.  

A great place to start - Bible Gateway Reading Plans.

Also, be sure to check out my Bible reading plan. This unique reading plan is something I continue to come back to.  For me, it has worked out wonderfully and I continue to grow in my biblical comprehension of the whole sweeping storyline of the Bible by sticking to this regular reading plan - Grace Church Bible Reading Plan.

It takes discipline to open up the Bible every day. May God enable us to read his Word faithfully.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

To Love is to be Vulnerable...

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket - safe, dark, motionless, and airless - it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."
~ CS Lewis, The Four Loves

Ten Books You Should Read in 2013

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”  
~ Erasmus

It's the start of a new year and a great time to make some "reading" resolutions and goals for 2013!  As we are learning on our January series, Creed: You Are What You Think, everyone believes something about God, therefore everyone, in one way or another, is a theologian. The question is not whether you do theology or not, but whether or not you are good at it!  And it's not a question of whether or not your beliefs are being shaped, but whether or not your beliefs are being shaped by the right resources!

Here's a list of some highly recommended books.  Hopefully you can knock these 10 books off during the next 12 months.  (Most of them are quite short in length. These ten books are in no particular order.) Read them on your own; but better yet, read them with a friend.

May 2013 be a rich year of transformation and growth!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Helps From Tim Keller To Know What You Believe and Why You Believe It

Here's a very helpful interview with MSNBC journalist Martin Bashir and Timothy Keller covering much of Keller's material from his New York Times Bestseller, Reason for God.  The interview lasts for a half hour, followed by an hour-long Q&A with Dr. David Eisenbach, who presents questions from the audience.  It's kind of long, but check out the time chart below to jump to a particular topic.

Q&A with Martin Barshir
0:18 – Why did you write Reason for God now?
2:22 – Are faith and reason contradictory?
5:35 – Is God just a projection of our cultural circumstances?
9:10 – Is belief in God a mental defect?
11:39 – Is it narrow to believe in one God? Is everyone else going to hell?
18:30 – Is the Bible trustworthy?
23:59 – What about the behavior of so-called Christians?
30:33 – Are you resolutely convinced today that Christianity is true?

Q&A moderated by David Eisenbach
35:25 – How could God allow evil and suffering?
44:04 – Is there any reason to believe in God in a chaotic world?
45:48 – Does giving a reason for faith undermine its value?
48:49 – Does it take faith to be an atheist?
50:48 – What does Christianity have against homosexuals? Are they going to hell?
57:29 – Why is Christianity so exclusive?
1:03:58 – What do you believe about politics?
1:11:25 – How do you get to heaven?
1:13:13 – Why would God make people who sin?
1:16:58 – Why did God put that tree in the Garden of Eden to begin with?
1:19:34 – What happened for you to have so much peace?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What is the Gospel?

"The Gospel" is the be all and end all catchphrase of Christianity; but, oddly, the meaning of the Gospel is something heavily debated and many Christians find themselves not being able to articulate or explain what the Gospel of Jesus Christ actually is. 

This should not be the case. According to the Apostle Paul, the Gospel is of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3) and that it is by the Gospel that we are saved (1 cor. 15:2).  With that said, the Gospel is one of Grace Church's Core Values and it's emphasized as the driving force within our mission + vision.

Listen to Grace Church Values #2 - The Gospel

CREED: You Are What You Beleive

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord… The Apostle’s Creed

The Latin word, credo (from which we get our English word creed), simply means I believe. It's the first word of The Apostles' Creed - an ancient articulation of central Christian beliefs. Throughout the history of church, and in particular, throughout the early history of the church, the Christians formed and embraced creedal statements to clarify the Christian faith and to distinguish true content from error or false representations (e.g., The Apostle's Creed, The Nicene Creed, and The Athanasian Creed).

Though the creeds serve a great purpose in summarizing central Christian truth, they are not Scripture; rather, as with all theology and sound beliefs, the ancient Christian creeds were shaped by Scripture.  

What do believe?  

What's shaping your beliefs?

Everyone believes something about God, therefore everyone, in one way or another, is a theologian. The question is not whether you do theology or not, but whether or not you are good at it!  And it’s not whether or not your beliefs are developing and being shaped, but whether or not your beliefs are being shaped by the right resources!

So where do you look for truth?

What has and is shaping your understanding about God?

Throughout this teaching series in January, we will be learning how to think and live theologically – highlighting each week that a proper and ever developing view of God radically shapes our living.  And, in our Community Groups, we will be working through the Apostle's Creed together.  Great times are ahead!

"May the Lord as His blessing to reading, hearing, and doing of His holy Word."  Hope to see you at each Sunday Gathering!

January 6th - Theology + Scripture
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

During this study, we will begin this series with the only proper starting point for discovering and understanding God - HIS HOLY WORD.  What is the Christian view of Scripture and its authority?   How did God give it to us?  How are we supposed to understand it and apply it?

January 13th - Theology + Humility
1 Peter 5:5-6
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Pastor Randy, from our sending church, Grace Christian Fellowship, will be preaching on this Sunday!  As we continue to develop and evolve in our understanding of God, not only does our view of God change, but our life is changed as well.  An ever increasing understanding of God inevitably brings correction, perspective, and blessing into our lives.  In essence, a sound theology leads to a robust doxology!  How does an increasing and enlarging view of God produce humility in our lives?  What is humility?  Why do we need it? How do theology and doxology go hand in hand?

January 20th - Theology + Peace
Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

An ever reforming and expanding belief in God enlarges our understanding of who God is and helps us understand what His rescue mission, the missio Dei (e.g., John 3:16), for the world is.  When our belief is sound, our living can be sound; and, like the Apostle Paul, we can experience an inner peace that powerfully enables us to thrive in any situation.  What is Christian peace? How can a healthy view of God help us in our difficulties and trials?  How can our understanding of God’s character bring about peace in our lives? 

January 27th - Theology + Love
Colossians 4:14-17
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. ...Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus...

Steve Lee will be sharing the Word this Sunday and challenging us to understand that an ever expanding and improving belief in God, when done rightly, produces humble, worshipful, peaceful, and loving people.  Far too often, Christians come across as either fundamental jerks or namby-pamby liberals! Jesus was neither Jesus was full truth and grace.  He was firm in his beliefs and just as firm in his love and acceptance of others!  Theology is nothing more than the pursuit of knowing and experiencing God more; and as we do theology, we become more and more like him.  How should a better view of God produce love within us and enable us to live out the greatest commandment?  What is the Christian understanding/definition of love? How is it different from other types of love?  What does it mean to love God?  What does it mean to love others? 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Kingdom Community: Disciple Making and Curse Reversing

"From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand". ~ Matthew 4:17 (NASV)
Being raised in a Baptist home as the son of a preacher I can say that I have no idea how many church services and sermons I have witnessed and been a part of, how many "alter calls" I have heard or how often it has been pressed on me to know that Jesus died for my sins. In fact every year for my birthday my grandmother sends me a five dollar bill and a tract containing Romans Road... "just in case".

Yet of all the sermons and preaching, I can honestly say that growing up I never heard anything about the Kingdom of God. As an adult I find this amazing, especially since the phrases, "Kingdom of God", "Kingdom of Heaven", and "the Kingdom" appear so many times in the Gospels. I am even more amazed that I have grown up hearing so much about the "Gospel" yet very little about the "Kingdom".

The majority of the Evangelical church culture is under the opinion that the Gospel is "the good news". But this begs the question, "the good news of what?". The term Gospel is the word εὐαγγέλιον, meaning "good news". We have already spent some time discussing the context of the word, Gospel. The Roman machine was an empire of domination conquering a fourth of the Earth's population. The Empire assured her conquered oppressed peoples that they were better off as Romans, that now they would have the "Good News" of the Roman Peace. Rome would provide justice and usher in a new era for humanity better than anything before in history.

Jesus and the early Christians would take the term Gospel and apply it to God's covenant and mission. The good news was not found in Rome, but in Jesus. Jesus was Lord, Cesar was not.

Jesus movement begins and stays as Kingdom movement.
The above text, Matthew 4:17 is very telling about what Jesus thought and taught. Notice the text does not say "this is one of the things Jesus began to teach...", or "for a little while Jesus taught...". No. "From that time" refers to Jesus' public movement. Jesus went into the wilderness and succeeded in defeating the Satan (Matt. 4:1-11) and upon returning hears the news that John the Baptist, who was himself leading a revolution movement never before seen in Israel, has been arrested. According to Matthew, it is then that Jesus begins his public ministry. So from the time he goes public he preaches that the Kingdom of God is here, and this is the foundational, essential message of his movement all the way to the cross and beyond.

The Kingdom community, making disciples.
Matthew then tells that the proclamation of Kingdom by Jesus is involved with the action of recruiting and making people disciples. After telling of the message of Jesus' public movement, Peter and Andrew are called and come follow Jesus. Matthew then again reads in verse 23 that "Jesus was going around Galilee (with his disciples) preaching the gospel of Kingdom and healing every kind of sickness and illness".

The Kingdom coming was the true good news and this was evident from the fact that wherever the Kingdom Community went, disease and sickness were no more. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God was here and proved that this was the Gospel by demonstrating the power of God's Kingdom. God's Kingdom was now at work reversing the curses of sin and death that had been hanging over the planet since humanities disobedience and expulsion from the garden in Genesis 3.

Gospel according to who?
A startling conclusion I have come to from reading the Gospels is that what most Christians say the Gospel is is something very foreign to the historical gospel demonstrated in the New Testament works with Gospel as their title. Jesus was born and he did die, yes. But like every other human, his life was more than a beginning and end.

What did Jesus dedicate himself to?

What was his vision and mission?

If one uses the new Testament, and particularly the Gospels, to answer these questions one will find a Good News containing more than individual salvation and forgiveness, more than atonement and a promised entry into heaven upon one's death, more than what most Churches in our culture preach it is. The Gospel is the Good News of the Kingdom, that it has come in Jesus and that we are apart of its glorious victory.

The Cross is the great climax of history where Jesus claimed victory over sin and death and secured for himself a people. Not a people for a heavenly afterlife however. Through his death Jesus exodused a people out of darkness so that they could continue his movement of bringing light to a broken world until He returns bringing a consummated Kingdom of God to earth - where "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

We, his eternally blood-bought people, are bought and purchased for the good works of the kingdom (Ephesians 2:10). It is our prayer that Grace Church of Dunedin will be a people conscious of our identity as the community of the Kingdom, a community bringing the good news to Dunedin and surrounding communities.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How Not to Read Your Bible in 2013

What kind of resolutions have you made for 2013?

Getting into the habit of reading the Word daily is a common New Year's resolution for many Christians. There are plenty of Bible reading plans out there that guide you through reading your Bible. You may not even want to read the Bible all the way through, but rather use the year to focus on a specific portion or biblical topic. Find a reading plan that works for you.  

A great place to start -

Also, be sure to check out my Bible reading plan - Grace Church Bible Reading Plan.

It takes discipline to open up the Bible every day - may God enable us to make 2013 a year of great Bible reading for us!

Matt Smethurst and the Gospel Coalition just posted a great article to help guide us in our Bible reading and Bible reading resolutions for 2013...

How Not to Read Your Bible in 2013
When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You're motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God. 
Yet this isn't the first time you've felt this way. You were entertaining pretty similar thoughts 365 days ago. And 365 days before that. And 365 days . . . you know how it goes. 
So what's going to make 2013 different? What, under God, will keep you plodding along in April this year when staying power has generally vanished in Aprils of yore? From one stumbling pilgrim to another, here are five suggestions for what not to do in 2013. 
1. Don't Overextend 
"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars!"

This hackneyed high school yearbook quote is bad advice for most things, Bible reading plans not excepted. If you shoot for and miss the "moon" of six chapters a day, you won't quietly land among the "stars" of three. You'll just be lost in space. 
It's better to read one chapter a day, every day, than four a day, every now and then. Moreover, the value of meditation cannot be overstressed. Meditation isn't spiritualized daydreaming; it's riveted reflection on revelation. Read less, if you must, to meditate more. It's easy to encounter a torrent of God's truth, but without absorption---and application---you will be little better for the experience. 
As Thomas White once said, "It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither." I think that's pretty sage advice for Scripture reading, too. 
2. Don't Do It Alone
When it comes to Bible reading consistency, a solo sport mentality can be lethal. Surely that's why many run out of gas; they feel like they're running alone. To forestall the dangers of isolation, then, invite one or two others to join you in 2013. Set goals, make a commitment, and hold one another accountable. Turn your personal Scripture reading into a team effort, a community project. 
A daily devotional, too, can function as a helpful companion and guide. D. A. Carson's For the Love of God (Volume 1; Volume 2) and Nancy Guthrie's Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament are two excellent options. 
3. Don't Just Do It Whenever
Every morning we awaken to a fresh deluge of information. We've now reached the point where, I've heard it said, an average weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than Jonathan Edwards encountered in his entire lifetime. I don't know if that's true, but it sure makes me think.

It is imperative, then, to set a specific time each day when you will get alone with God. Even if it's a modest window, guard it with your life. Explain your goal to those closest to you, and invite their help. Otherwise, the tyranny of the urgent will continue to rear its unappeasable head. What is urgent will fast displace what is important, and what is good will supplant what is best. 
If your basic game plan is to read your Bible whenever, chances are you'll read it never. And if you don't control your schedule, your schedule will control you. It's happened to me more times than I care to admit. 
4. Don't Live as if Paul Lied
Did you know Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That's what Paul believed, anyway: "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:16). 
What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament is for you---to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to give you hope. 
Few of you will conclude Paul is simply mistaken here. Good evangelicals, after all, are happy to take inspired apostles at their word. But does our approach to our Bibles tell a different story? Do we act as if Numbers or Kings or Nahum has the power to infuse our lives with help and hope? 
Whenever you open your Bible, labor to believe that God has something here to say to me. Whatever I encounter in his Word was written with me, his cherished child, in view. So pursue God's graces on the pages of Scripture this year. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow everywhere await. 
5. Don't Turn a Means of Grace into a Means of Merit
Your Father's love for you doesn't rise and fall with your quiet times. If you are united to Jesus by faith, the verdict is out, and the court is dismissed. You're as accepted and embraced as the Son himself. Period. 
To be sure, you'll desire to hear and follow his voice if you're truly one of his sheep (John 10:1-30; cf. 8:47; 18:37). Not always and not perfectly, of course, but sincerely and increasingly.
So as another year dawns, commit yourself anew to becoming a man or woman of the Word. But don't overextend, do it alone, just do it whenever, live as if Paul lied, or treat means of grace like means of merit. 

Your Bible is one of God's chief gifts to you in 2013. Open, read, ruminate, and obey. May you be ever transformed into the image of our incarnate King, and may he alone receive the acclaim.

Twenty Myths about Bible Translations

Daniel Wallace, author of Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, has been blogging about some popular myths on the subject of Bible translations.

Myths like: a word-for-word translation is the best kind, modern translations have removed words and verses from the Bible, and words in red indicate the exact words spoken by Jesus.

You can read what Wallace thinks about these myths, along with many others, in his posts Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation and Five More Myths about Bible Translations.