Saturday, November 28, 2015

Reading Guide for ADVENT 2015

Advent means coming or arrival; especially the coming of that which is eagerly awaited. For the Christian church, the Advent (which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas) is a season of worshipful expectation and anticipation. Traditionally, Advent is divided up into four reflections (Hope, Peace, Joy, Love) which culminate into the Christ reflection on Christmas Eve. (We celebrate and observe these reflections through the Advent Wreath each year.)

Let’s prepare our hearts and seek the Messiah in the Scriptures this Advent season. 

Here’s a reading plan during Advent.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

ADVENT 2015 - "Let Every Heart Prepare"

Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition; and the purpose of having church seasons, such as Advent and Lent, are to create meditative rhythms in our life together. These corporate and communal rhythms are all based upon the true and sure foundation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lord and King of all!

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is always the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve, December 24th. It's a season marked by expectation + anticipation in preparing to celebrate the coming of Jesus.  Traditionally, Christmas begins with Christmas Day, December 25, and lasts for 12 days (The Twelve Days of Christmas) until The Day of Epiphany, January 6, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity and/or Jesus’ Baptism (depending on your Christian denominational traditions).

The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival." The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation will one day be put to rights. That is a process in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate.

ADVENT 2015 at Grace Church:
This Advent, 2015, we are meditating on this simple, yet intricate idea: LET EVERY HEART PREPARE as we spend the four weeks of Advent looking at how each of the four Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, + John) introduced the birth/coming of the Messiah.

Some Advent Reflections:
This Advent season, spend some time reflecting on the following questions:
  • What are you waiting for?  What’s the next “big thing” you want to see happen in your life? 
  • What is it that you think will complete you and make you happy? In other words, what are you hoping, longing, and preparing for? 
  • Does the way you answer these questions match the way you live? If not, what needs to change?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Questions to Help us Practice Gratitude

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

Happy Thanksgiving Grace Church! God is good; and we have much to be grateful for.

Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of the practice of gratitude, something we neglect far too often. 


Keeping in consideration the biblical fact that every good gift is from above, here are some reflective questions to help you (and your family) practice gratitude this Thanksgiving:
  • What person are you most grateful for this year and why?
  • What happening or event are you most grateful for this year and why?
  • What life lesson are you most grateful for this year and why?
Thank you for being a part of the Grace Church family. You are a blessing! I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family and friends. 

Grace + Peace,
P. Heath

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Practice Gratitude

We have so much to be grateful for. 

Everywhere we look, in every conversation, in every dollar earned, spent and given, in every moment lived, and in every emotion experienced, we have much to be grateful for. Oh sure, there are always things not going well in everyone’s life; but in spite of and even in the midst of those inevitable troubles and pains, God has been and is very good to us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

Take a look around.  Try to count all the “good” things in your life. You’ll lose count!

Thanksgiving reminds us of the importance of the practice of gratitude and appreciation, something we neglect far too often.  Sometimes, the source of our angst and underpinning frustration (with just about everything!) is due to our lack of perspective. We have much to be grateful for.  May we learn to see, acknowledge, and be grateful.

We have so much to be grateful for!

May we give God the praise of thanksgiving that he is so worthy of receiving.  May we look at our loved ones, acknowledge the blessing they are to us, and be grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving,
P. Heath

Friday, October 30, 2015

Creeds, Confessions, and Catechisms...

At Grace Church we are beginning to incorporate more confessions, catechisms, and creeds into our Sunday Gatherings. Since confessions, catechisms, and creeds are new to some of us, it is important that we discuss what they are and why we use them as a church. 
Rather than reinventing the wheel, I would like to point you to an oustanding article by Dr. Carl Truman. Read it! It's time well spent. Click the link and enjoy - "This We Believe" - by Dr. Carl Trueman

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Jesus is the Better...

*** I am indebted to Timothy Keller for this post.  I first heard him say something like this (and probably better!) at a Gospel Coalition Conference.
"And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning HIMSELF." ...then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about ME in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” ~ Luke 24:27, 44-45
Jesus is the better Adam. In Genesis, Adam chose to rebel, broke fellowship with God, and failed in the Garden of Eden. In the Gospels, Jesus, the second Adam, walked in obedience and did not fail his test in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Instead of hiding from God and covering his shame, he went before God in prayer and covered the shame of all who were in the first Adam.
Jesus is the better Abel, who was innocent yet lost his life to his own kin. So too, Jesus’ blood was spilled at the hands of his Israelite brothers.
Jesus is the better Noah. Just as Noah built the ark to save people from the flood, so too Jesus became the true ark who absorbed the wrath of God so that all who would enter him would have eternal life.
Jesus is the better Abraham, who answered the call of God to go to a foreign country and walk in obedience by faith. And just as Abraham was told to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac, God the Father would one day sacrifice his one and only son Jesus.
Jesus is the better Isaac, who carried wood to the place of his sacrifice just as Jesus would carry his cross of wood to Calvary.
Jesus is the better Jacob, who wrestled with God and walked away limping. Jesus wrestled with God in Gethsemane, and though wounded and limping, walked away from his grave blessed and victorious.
Jesus is the better Joseph, who after suffering was appointed to the right hand of the King of Egypt and extended forgiveness and provision to those who betrayed him. So too, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God, extending grace and providing for us who also betrayed him.
Jesus is the better Moses. Just as Moses was the mediator between God and man and gave us the Law, so too Jesus is now the only mediator between God and man, giving us the Law of the New Covenant, which is not engraved on stones but is written on our hearts.
Jesus is the better rock that was struck in the desert, giving us water for everlasting life.
Jesus is the better bread that has come down from heaven.  Just as the Israelites were fed in the wilderness by heavenly manna, the Christian is continually preserved by Jesus’ body.
Jesus is the better pillar of fire.  Just as Moses and the people were led by a pillar of fire in their wanderings toward the Promised Land, so too Jesus is the light of the world who leads us home to the true Promised Land.
Jesus is the greater Samson, who in his last feat pulled the coliseum down upon himself and his enemies. Jesus pulled down the wrath of God upon himself and spared his enemies.
Jesus is the greater Boaz. Boaz redeemed Ruth and brought her and her despised people into community with God’s people. So too, Jesus redeemed his bride, the church, from all the nations of the earth and gave them an eternal community.
Jesus is the better David. Just as David killed the giant Goliath, who defied God and taunted his people, Jesus slew the giant Satan at Calvary and comforts the people of God.
Jesus is the greater King David.  Rather than staying home from war, Jesus went to war. Rather than committing adultery like David, Jesus saved the prostitute and gave her back her dignity. Rather than covering up sin by murdering Uriah, Jesus, the true light, exposed sin and saved the dying criminal crucified beside him.
Jesus is the greater Solomon, and, because of his wisdom, when he taught it was not as one of the scribes.
Jesus is the better temple of God that we enter to worship the Lord.
Jesus is the greater Elijah, who, after defeating the false prophets of Ba’al, offered up the sacrifices at Mt.Carmel. So too, Jesus exposed the religious frauds for who they were and, rather than offering a sacrifice to prove Yahweh is the one true God, he is Yahweh’s sacrifice.
Jesus is the greater Nehemiah. Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, but Jesus ushers in the city known as the New Jerusalem.
Jesus is the greater Esther, who risked her life by entering the palace of king Xerxes.  But Jesus gave his life at Pilate’s palace.
Jesus is the better Job. Job suffered as an innocent man under the onslaught of Satan, and so too Jesus suffered as an innocent man and bore the wrath of God, the wrath of Satan, and the wrath of mankind. And just as Job’s friends were of no use to him in his agony, Jesus’ disciples slept when he was in great distress.
Jesus is the greater Jeremiah, who in exile was known as the weeping prophet just as Jesus, the man of many sorrows, wept at Lazarus’ grave and over those living in exile in their own land.
Jesus is the greater Isaiah, who saw some future events unfolding. So too, Jesus has perfect knowledge of eternity past and eternity future.
Jesus is the greater Hosea, who married an unfaithful, whoring wife yet pursued her in love. Jesus does the same and more for his unfaithful bride, the Church, every hour.
Jesus is the greater Jonah. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish because he ran from the will of God, and, by God’s power, he appeared again and proclaimed God’s Word, which led to the salvation of the Ninevites. But Jesus spent three days in the grave because he ran toward the will of God, faithfully preached the gospel, and appeared three days later, which led to the salvation of the world.
On and on it goes. Jesus is not only the true and greatest of all the people in the Bible - He radically recycles everything in the Old Testament according to his person and work. 
He is the better prophet.
He is the better High Priest.
He is the better King of all Kings.
He is the better lamb to be sacrificed.
Jesus is the better.

May we see Jesus -- his death, resurrection, and reign -- as the fulfillment of all God's redemptive activities! 
May we see HIM as better. 
May we follow HIM as he is superior to all else.
May we receive HIM as our Christ. 
And may we share him with those around us.

Reading the Bible for All Its Worth

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

Though it, at times, can be hard to understand, and though many people use it to bring division, the Bible is one of God's best gifts to humanity.

Dig into it.
Pursue the truth within it.
Treasure it within your heart.
Explore God's Self-Disclosure.

Embrace the Christ it unveils (every page points to him!)
And share it with those around you!

Here are some thoughts and tools to be equip you to better read and understand the Bible:

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Spiritual Disciplines + Practices

One way Christians have spoken about embracing the journey of learning how to follow Jesus - to be Christian - is to incorporate routine spiritual disciplines and/or practices into your life...

What are spiritual disciplines?
  • The disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us. ... They are God’s means of grace.” ~ Richard Foster, Celebration of Disciplines
  • Henri Nouwen saw the disciplines as a means “to create space to meet with God that you other wise had not planned on.
  • M. Robert Mulholland described them as “things that intrude into our lives to align us with God’s purpose.”
  • My favorite description…Douglas Rumford said they were “a means to develop soul memory for reflexive spiritual responsiveness.”
Another way of referring to the disciplines is to call them spiritual practices. Spiritual practices are exactly what their name suggests; they’re ways to be deliberate about matters of the soul. A spiritual practice is a tool for becoming aware of God within the normalcy of life—it injects the sacred into elements that could otherwise seem just everyday.

Dallas Willard, in The Spirit of the Disciplines, compiled a list of spiritual disciplines + practices he believe were modeled in the life of Christ. He also placed these disciplines into two categories: the disciplines of abstinence (or “letting go”) and the disciplines of activity.

Disciplines of Letting Go
These practices allow us to relinquish something in order to gain something new. We abstain from the busyness of life. We stop talking for a while to hear from God. We give up buying another material possession to experience God more fully. First Peter 2:11 warns us to “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” Identify what is keeping you from experiencing greater strength and perspective.
Do you talk too much and end up gossiping or complaining?
Are possessions controlling you?
Are you too worried about what others think?
Are you, at times, overcome with anxiety?
Are you usually stressed and easily angered?

Here are some of the disciplines that will help you LET GO and become more dependent on God.

Solitude—Spending time alone to be with God. Find a quiet place to be alone with God for a period of time. Use the Bible as a source of companionship with God. Listen to Him. Remain alone and still.

Silence—Removing noisy distractions to hear from God. Find a quiet place away from noise to hear from God. Write your thoughts and impressions as God directs your heart. Silence can occur even in the midst of noise and distraction. But you must focus your attention on your soul. This could mean learning to practice some forms of meditation; but it could also mean changing your life is rather simple ways…talking less or talking only when necessary and in it’s place quietly thinking about God. And it could mean turning off the radio, the music, the podcast, and the TV.

Fasting—Skipping a meal(s) to find greater nourishment from God. Choose a period of time to go without food. Drink water and, if necessary, take vitamin supplements. Feel the pain of having an empty stomach and depend on God to fill you with His grace.

Frugality—Learning to live with less money and still meet your basic needs. Before buying something new, choose to go without or pick a less expensive alternative that will serve your basic needs. Live a simple, focused life.

Secrecy—Avoiding self-promotion, practice serving God without others knowing. Give in secret. Serve “behind the scenes” in a ministry that you are assured few will know about.

Sacrifice—Giving of our resources beyond what seems reasonable to remind us of our dependence on Christ. Choose to give your time or finances to the Lord beyond what you normally would.

Disciplines of Activity
Dallas Willard writes, “The disciplines of abstinence must be counter-balanced and supplemented by disciplines of engagement (activity).” It’s choosing to participate in activities that nurture our souls and strengthen us for the journey ahead.

Study—Spending time reading the Scriptures and meditating on its meaning and importance to our lives. We are nourished by the Word because it is our source of spiritual strength. Choose a time and a place to feed from the Word of God regularly.

Worship—Offering praise and adoration to God. His praise should continually be on our lips and in our thoughts. Keep praise ever before you as you think of God’s mighty deeds in your life.

Song Scripture has many references to singing praise and prayer to the Lord. There‘s something significant about the fact that whenever we gather, historically, God's people sing. It’s a weekly practice for most of us—even if you don’t sing, you’ve still shared an experience with a group of people, and that is at the heart of what happens when we sing: sharing an experience with God and one another. It’s a profoundly countercultural practice. Song can also to be done on your own. Read psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs from the Scriptures; or sing along with a favorite praise song or hymn.

Prayer—Talking to and listening to God about your relationship with Him and about the concerns of others. Find time to pray to God without the distraction of people or things. Combine your prayer time with meditation on the Scriptures in order to focus on Christ.

Fellowship—This is mutual caring and ministry for one another within the body of Christ…meet regularly with other Christians to find ways to minister to others. Pray for each other. Encourage one another.

Confession—Regularly confess your sins to the Lord and other trusted individuals. As often as you are aware of sin in your life, confess it to the Lord and to those you may have offended.

Submission—Humbling yourself before God and others while seeking accountability in relationships. Find faithful brothers or sisters in Christ who can lovingly hold you accountable for your actions and growth in Christ.

The Secular + Sacred Combined
The spiritual disciplines + practices are a tool for becoming aware of God within the normalcy of life—it injects the sacred into elements that could otherwise seem just everyday. They make room for God the Holy Spirit to fill us and shape us in simple and spiritually refreshing ways. So in applying just some of these spiritual disciplines + practices, we find that the lines can be blurred between those things spiritual and what is secular.

Incorporating these disciplines + practices into our daily routine reminds us: 
Gratitude can happen when we’re mowing the lawn.
Worship and grocery shopping are compatible.
God can be pursued and experienced during your daily commute.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Intelligent Mysticism

Following Jesus is not simply learning to believe certain things nor is it only spiritual experiences. Following Jesus will always involve both the mind and the heart -- a kind of intelligent mysticism of sorts…
“It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…of living union and communion with the exalted and ever-present Redeemer…He communes with his people and his people commune with him in conscious reciprocal love…The life of true faith cannot be that of cold metallic assent.  It must have the passion and warmth of love and communion because communion with God is the crown and apex of true religion.” ~ John Murray, Redemption Applied
Intelligent mysticism. Wow, now give that some thought. An encounter with God is a mixture of the affections of the heart and the convictions of the mind. In other words, our choice isn't between doctrine or experience, nor is it between knowledge or spiritual power. Encountering God involves both; in fact, when done well, they actually stimulate one another.

How about you? Are you emphasizing one over the other?

What are some ways you can cultivate an intelligent mysticism in your daily life?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Help with Understanding the Message of Revelation

The final book in our Bible, Revelation, with all its elaborate (and let's be honest...CRAZY) visions, can be quite difficult for the modern reader and disciple to both navigate and understand.

Here's a helpful summary, overview, guide to better understand the book and its wonderful message that Christ is KING over all.

Also, there are also many wonderful commentaries and resources; but may I recommend one in a particular: The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation by Vern Sheridan Poythress.
You can find it HERE for free! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Dig Deeper into Sunday's Text - Luke 24:13-35

Dig deeper into Sunday’s message with our study + discussion questions based on Luke 24:13-35 and the August 16, 2015 sermon, Jesus + The Disciples (The Road to Emmaus) which is Part 11 of our Encountering Jesus teaching series…

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dig Deeper into Sunday's Text - August 9, 2015

Dig deeper into Sunday’s text with our study + discussion questions based on John 4:1-42 and the August 9, 2015 sermon, Jesus + The Samaritan Woman which is Part 10 of our Encountering Jesus teaching series…

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dig Deeper into Sunday's Text - August 2, 2015

Dig deeper into Sunday’s text with our study + discussion questions based on Matthew 8:23-27 and the August 2, 2015 sermon, Jesus + The Disciples (The Calming of the Storm) which is Part 9 of our Encountering Jesus teaching series…

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Is Homosexuality a Sin? Resources to Help You Better Understand the Issue(s)...

At Grace Church, all are welcome to come and discover Jesus with us, to worship with us, to find community with us, and to explore what God’s Word has to say. So, as a church set and centered on unifying on the historic Christian faith and welcoming all to come, including those with different perspectives on homosexual relationships and gender issues, it's imperative that we grow in our understanding of this ongoing discussions and debates.

The topics of human sexuality and gender aren't as simple as some people think or claim. And though the Bible lists many sexual activities as clearly wrong, there are many genuine Christians who are making a case that monogamous and committed ("marital') homosexual relationships are not forbidden in the Scriptures. Their claim is that the Bible passages referring to homosexuality are referring to other sexual pervasions (e.g., multiple partners, practicing bi-sexiality, rape, prostitution, the ancient practice of pederasty, etc.) or they claim the passages referring to homosexuality in the Old Testament's holiness code (Leviticus chapters 17-27) do not apply to New Testament Christianity (see Acts 21:25). 

Here are the Bible passages concerning homosexuality: 
  • two references to homosexual rape -- Genesis 19:5, Judges 19:22
  • three references to intercourse between men -- Leviticus 18:21-22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:27
  • one reference to intercourse between women -- Romans 1:26
  • one seems to be a reference of male prostitution and/or pederasty -- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (this could be argued to refer to homosexuality in a general sense)
  • and one seems to be general -- 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

At our church, we have brothers and sisters on both sides of this interpretive dispute. And though we may not all agree, we are, nonetheless, committed to the process of discovering and exploring God’s Word together, even if it means, from time to time, that we will respectively agree to disagree. If we center ourselves on what has always unified the church, Christ and him crucified, there will always be a sense of mutual edification and community with one another.

To better help inform you about how Grace Church is pursuing this debated topic, be sure to listen to What is Grace Church's Stance Toward LGBT Christians? and a recent sermon entitled, Jesus + The Centurion

Additionally, here are helpful resources from some Christian leaders and teachers on the whole subject of homosexuality, LGBT, and the church...

"Traditional Interpretation" - Resources making a biblical case for all homosexual behavior being sinful and, therefore, not God's best for humanity:

"Non-Traditional Interpretation" - Resources making a biblical case for monogamous and committed homosexual unions:

Also, here's an example of Christians disagreeing on what the Bible says concerning this issue yet, nonetheless, remaining committed to pursuing Christ-centered unity together as they continue to dialog and seek truth: 
One other book, which is worth your attention, doesn't really fall under either of the categories listed above and is probably the closest to my own personal approach to the issue(s). It's called People to be Loved by Preston Sprinkle. Definitely worth checking out.

Additionally, Preston did a two part review of Ken Wilson's book, A Letter to my Congregation, and, in my opinion, handles some of Wilson's errors and highlights moms of his strengths quite well. You can read them here:
Lastly, Preston also wrote a two part review on Kevin DeYoung's, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? You can read them here:

Personal note from Pastor Heath: 
If you are wondering where I (Heath) land on the issue, after much reading, after many conversations with gay, straight, bi-sexual and transgender individuals, after much consideration and prayer, I still think, despite the sexual propensities of some, all forms of homosexual relations are not God's best for humanity. And though I'm quick to agree with those who recognize the interpretive possibilities of passage such as Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:8-10 (and others), the overarching paradigm for sexuality set forth in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 of the complementary male and female marital unions and sexual relations, and then seeing this paradigm running throughout both Old and New Testaments, seems, for me, to be a hard argument to beat. I say this knowing that it is contentious to some and possibly hurtful to others; but that is not my intention. I am not a homophobic bigot. I will never shun or shame a brother or sister who has differing view on this issue. I'm open to change my views if convinced by Scripture. And, furthermore, I will never shun or shame a friend who comes out as gay or bisexual or becomes transgender. These are complicated and sensitive matters. We need to meet each other with love and forbearance. Assumptions and traditions need to be challenged by the Word of God. And we need to maintain a sincere desire to learn and grow together. Let's keep going!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Digg Deeper Into Sunday's Text - July 19, 2015

Dig deeper into Sunday’s text with our study + discussion questions based on Luke 7:1-10 and the July 19th, 2015 sermon, Jesus + The Centurion which is Part 7 of our Encountering Jesus teaching series…  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dig Deeper into Sunday's Text - Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dig deeper into Sunday’s text with our study + discussion questions based on Matthew 2:1-12 and the July 12th, 2015 sermon, Jesus + The Magi which is Part 6 of our Encountering Jesus teaching series…  

Friday, May 22, 2015

What's Pentecost Sunday?

Pentecost Sunday falls on May 24 this year (2015) and it is generally honored in liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, etc.), and in many other Protestant churches as well. Pentecost is not as well-known or as popular as the Christmas and Easter, though it commemorates a watershed event in Christian history.

But many Christians don't know why the day is special or what is celebrated. 

Unlike Easter and Christmas, when colorful eggs, Easter bunnies, Christmas trees and Santa Claus are harbingers of the upcoming Christian holidays, there are no such social/secular markers for The Day of Pentecost. So, for those who need a quick and basic understanding of what Pentecost Sunday is, we have listed 10 things you should know about the Christian observance of Pentecostal Sunday.
  1. Pentecost Sunday marks the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.
  2. Pentecost Sunday occurs 50 days after Easter/Resurrection Sunday.
  3. The Bible records the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-13.
  4. The Day of Pentecost came 10 days after the Ascension of Jesus Christ.
  5. The Day of Pentecost is also known as "the birthday of the Church".
  6. Pentecost fulfills Jesus' promise to send the "Counselor" and "Spirit of Truth" in John 16-5-15.
  7. Pentecost launches the large-scale spreading of the Gospel after Jesus' ascension. Acts 2:41 records that after Peter spoke to the crowd after receiving the Holy Spirit, some 3,000 people were baptized.
  8. Pentecost Sunday is not linked with the Pentecostal movement. (In fact, many Pentecostal churches make little to no fuss over Pentecost Sunday.)
  9. Jews also celebrate Pentecost, but not for the same reason as Christians. The celebration by Jews of Pentecost is to observe God giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai 50 days after the Exodus. The Pentecost in Jewish tradition takes place 50 days after Passover.
  10. In many mainline Western churches, Pentecost is usually represented with the color red, which symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Ruth: The Cycle of Kindness

The Book of Ruth is a fascinating and stirring novella about a young, childless widower named Ruth meeting and marrying a gentleman named Boaz. It was truly a match made in heaven (pun intended!) and an absolutely beautiful story.

In the story of Ruth, God, through ordinary and everyday means, works mightily to accomplish his Jesus Mission; and the story reminds us that the darkest and loneliest times in life are not times to give up or to stop doing what is right. No, quite the opposite. It's in those dark and lonely times that we must trust in God all the more. For it is in the It is in those dark and lonely times that God often does his most loving and powerful work!

The Book of Ruth - General Info about Date, Authorship, and Original Audience: 
The story of Ruth is placed by the narrator in the time of the judges, but no indication is given as to when in this several-century period it took place. If the genealogy at the end of the book has no gaps, the events would best be placed in the second half of the twelfth century, roughly contemporary to Jephthah and Samson. [1]

The book is named for its main character, Ruth, a Moabite widow who married the Bethlehemite Boaz. She became an ancestor of King David (4:17, 22) and thus an ancestor of the Messiah (Matt. 1:1, 5–6). The author of Ruth is never named in the Bible. According to rabbinic tradition (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 14a–15b), Samuel is the author. However, some say this is unlikely, since Samuel died before David actually became king, and it seems that Ruth 4:17–22 implies that David's kingship was an established fact at the time of writing.

In the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, the book of Ruth finds itself placed in The Writings, the third and final portion of their canon. Traditionally, the five shortest books in The Writings – Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentation, Ecclesiastes, and Esther – were/are referred to as “The Scrolls” and were/are read during the five major festivals – Passover (Song of Songs), the Feast of Weeks (Ruth), the Ninth of Ab (Lamentations), the Feast of Tabernacles (Ecclesiastes), and the Festival of Purim (Esther).

The Story:
Ruth is placed during the dark and tumultuous times of the Judges (Ruth 1:1). In Judges, people did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25) which lead to “the cycle of sin” which was repeated throughout the book:
18 Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. ~ Judges 2:18-19
There’s also a cycle in the book of Ruth – a cycle of kindness/mercy (hesed) is displayed throughout the book by Ruth, Boaz and YHWH. A simple thematic division of the book of Ruth could quite possibly be – The kindness of Ruth (ch. 1), the kindness of Boaz (ch. 2), the kindness of Boaz and Ruth collide (ch. 3), and the kindness of God (ch. 4).

The story sets out in the period of the judges, Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons leave Bethlehem because of a famine to Naomi and her daughters-in-lawsojourn in Moab. Naomi's husband, Elimelech, dies there. Mahlon and Chilion, the sons, marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Ten years later the sons die too, leaving no children. Naomi has lost her family and devastated (1:1–5). Learning that the famine in Israel is over, she decides to return to Bethlehem; Orpah stays behind, but Ruth, after expressing her love and loyalty to Naomi, accompanies Naomi back to Bethlehem (1:6–22). At harvest time, Ruth goes to glean in a field that happens to belong to Elimelech's relative, Boaz (2:1–23). Naomi knows he is an eligible kinsman-redeemer. Following Naomi's daring plan, in a midnight encounter at the threshing floor, Ruth, at great risk to herself, boldly asks him, as a redeemer, to marry her (3:1–18). After a closer kinsman refuses to take Ruth, Boaz redeems all the property of the deceased and marries Ruth (4:1–12). They have a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David (4:13–22). Ruth is no longer a childless widower and Naomi has a family again. 

The Jesus Mission in Ruth:
The Jesus Mission is what the message of Old Testament points to. Typically, the pointing is subtle; but nonetheless, it's the underpinning theme and purpose throughout it. Simply stated, The Jesus Mission is the plan of God to make right and correct the wayward world. Throughout the writings of the Old Testament we can begin to see the hope of Christ, the One appointed by God to crush evil and sufferings, take shape. And coming Christ/Messiah is coming to put an end to sin and all its horrible ramifications. This plan is first revealed in Genesis 3:15 where God promises to put an end to the rebellion and perverted-nature of sin by crushing the serpent's head through the seed of the woman. And thus begins the line of Christ, “the seed of promise.” This line (Gen. 11) can be traced to Abraham when God makes a covenant promising that through Abraham “all the peoples on the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 11:3). Ruth & Boaz are two of the many individuals included in God’s Jesus Mission (Matthew 1:1-6).

As a foreigner and ancestor of David (4:17, 22), Ruth is a forerunner of the universal blessing and supreme act of kindness/mercy that Christ's redemptive work has ushered in. Many Old Testament prophecies anticipate a new King David (e.g., Jer. 33:15, 17; Ezek. 37:24; Hos. 3:5; Zech. 12:7–10) reigning over Israel and incorporating the Gentiles into his benevolent empire (e.g., Isa. 55:3–5; Amos 9:11–12). This expectation is fulfilled in David's “son,” Jesus the Christ or Messiah (cf. Matt. 1:1–6; Luke 3:31–33; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3–5).

In him, the “gospel” preached beforehand to Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Rom. 15:8–12; Gal. 3:8), that all nations will be blessed, is fully realized (Rom. 4:9–12; Gal. 3:7–9, 14).

Through Christ, David's throne is reestablished forever (Acts 15:16; Rev. 3:7; 5:5; 22:16) and his reign is universal (Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 1:5; 15:8–12). In him, people from all nations and the entire cosmos become redeemed from the corruption of sin and death – which is the ultimate of merciful redemption!

The Controversy: 
The book of Ruth is not without controversy though. There are apparent sexual connotations in the “threshing floor” scene in 3:1-15. Our English translations have a difficult time articulating some of the phrases – and for good reason! The phrase “uncover his feet (NIV)” in vs. 4 and 7 in Hebrew is an euphemism for the male genitalia. (For example, the same Hebrew wordings appear in 1 Sam. 24:3 which is translated “to relieve himself” – referring to King Saul going pee in cave.)

In addition, the Hebrew wordings which are translated “lie down (NIV)” in vs.4 and “lay down (NIV)” in vs.7 are almost always used to denote sexual relations.

This is not the only controversy or apparent breaking of God’s law in the book of Ruth. There’s the issue of Ruth being a Moabite, which is not even addressed in the book! In Deut. 23:3-6, the people of Israel are prohibited from welcoming the Ammonites and Moabites into the assembly of God. Elimech and Naomi’s move to Moab, their allowance of the sons to marry Moabite women, Bethlehem’s welcoming of Ruth, and Boaz’s marriage to Ruth (a Moabite) isn’t even addressed in the slightest!

Also, the outworking of the laws concerning re-marriage, levirate marriage and kinsman redeemer seem to be very loosely adhered to.

Interesting….what are we to make of these apparent violations of God’s Law?

Mercy/Kindness as "The Heart of the Law":
Barry Webb, in Five Festal Garments, gives us some insight into these apparent violations of God’s law and a little background in the purpose of the book of Ruth helps. Traditionally, the book of Ruth is/was viewed as one of the 5 Old Testament books (known as “The Writings”) which were liturgically read during the 5 festival Hebrew seasons. Ruth was read during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) which was the time of harvest and a time commemorating the giving of the law to the Israelites. Webb writes:
“Life is always more complex than law alone can handle, and what we see in Ruth is custom that reflects the spirit if not the letter of the law, and in doing so distinguishes between its lesser and weightier matters. Ruth is a Moabitess, but she is also a widow and a landless alien who has taken refuge under YHWH’s wings. And the author of Ruth apparently takes the view that, in such a case, it would be inappropriate to invoke the ban on Moabites. This ban on Moabites was no more intended to exclude someone like Ruth than the ban on the Canaanites (i.e. Ammonites) was to exclude someone like Rahab, and, if we are to take the book as a guide [to live out the law of God], Boaz is a model of law-keeping rather than law-breaking. In other words, the book identifies the spirit of the law as kindness [Hebrew - “hesed” which is also translated as “mercy”], or more specifically, loving-kindness.
So, the reading of Ruth during the Feast of Weeks would have been a tremendous way to remember the importance of not legalistically (and therefore, improperly) living out the law of God, but rather living out the spirit of the law. And the spirit of the law is and always has been love – particularly, loving-kindness which always displays itself in acts of mercy to those around us!
…but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19:18
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8
Here are some great resources to help you better understand the Book of Ruth:

[1] Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary : Old Testament

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Walking with Jesus Through the Events of Holy Week...

A Better Way to Understand Sin...

Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony….God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be. (Indeed, that is why God has laws against a good deal of sin.) God is for shalom and therefore against sin. In fact, we may safely describe evil as any spoiling of shalom, whether physically (e.g., by disease), morally, spiritually, or otherwise. Moral and spiritual evil are agential evil – that is, evil that, roughly speaking, only persons can do or have.  Agential evil thus comprises evil acts and dispositions. Sin, then, is any agential evil for which some person (or group of persons) is to blame. In short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking. 
“Culpable disturbance of shalom” suggests that sin is unoriginal, that it disrupts something good and harmonious, that (like a housebreaker) it is an intruder, and that those who sin deserve reproach. To get our bearings, we need to see first that sin is one form of evil (an agential and culpable form) and that evil, in turn, is the disruption or disturbance of what God has designed. 
In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.

Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Gift of God's Law

As we enter into March we also enter into a new teaching series at Grace Church. The Gift of God's Law will introduce us into the biblical topic of God's law. And it will aim to shed light not only on why God gives his people law, but also on what his various laws actually invite us to do.

The good news of the Gospel of God's Kingdom is that everyone is welcome to come into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23-25); and this invitation to enter the Kingdom is a gift. But, although all are welcome to freely enter, no one may enter on their own terms or in their own way. There is a King. Therefore, there is a law. There is a right way to live. And this too is a gift.

Come and see. Let's discover the gift of God's law together.

...this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome...
1 John 5:3

March 1st - The Law + The Mess
Heath will be sharing on how God's law is a gift. It aims to keep sin at bay and it continually invites to live life as it was meant to be (Psalm 119).

March 8th - The Law + Belonging 
Chuch will be sharing on the 1st commandment (Exodus 20:3) and how it creates a paradigm to understand the entirety of God's law.

March 15th - The Law + Love
Heath will be sharing on how love is the summation of the law for all time and in every culture (Matthew 22:36-40).

March 22nd - The Law + A City on a Hill
John will be sharing on how God's law propels us to speak and display truth, grace, and justice -- to be a people of influence and renewal (Matthew 5:14-16).

March 29th - The Law + The Shalom of God
Heath will be sharing on how the law exposes our sinful inadequacies and reveals our need for Christ as Savior (Romans 7:7-25).