KHC Advent Series 2016

advent-2016

Advent, from the Latin word adventus meaning arrival, is the 4-week period prior to Christmas.  Advent is a time of preparation and expectation for the coming of Christ, the time before the actual celebration of the “joy to the world” that God’s incarnation becomes.  It is a time to ponder the great sacrifice that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, made for us by coming to earth as a vulnerable infant.  He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and rose from the dead for us.  He saved us from our sins and eternal damnation because of His great love, and adopts each person who is awakened to the gospel into His family.

During the Advent Season we will take the time to reflect on the themes of an awakened HOPE, which gives way to an abiding PEACE, which blossoms into a fragrant JOY, which causes sacrificial LOVE to flourish.  This will prepare KHC to be ready to engage a world that Christ has entered.  To faithfully remember the narrative of what God has done will empower us to look forward to a preferred future with passion and purpose.

The Meaning of the Advent Wreath

An advent wreath can be a teaching tool and a reminder for Christians of the true meaning of Christmas.  Traditionally, the Advent wreath symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent.  It is typically a circular candleholder that holds five candles. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday until all of the candles, including the fifth candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve/Day.  Each candle customarily represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

11/26-27 Hope: Romans 15:12-13

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.” It is not a blissful ignorance or wishful thinking but a subversive cheer that refuses to let circumstance triumph over courage, doubt overcome faith, or adversity conquer compassion. This is not easy; it is not our default setting. When we hit brick walls, the first emotion that naturally arises is generally not hope. Hope requires a strength that comes from focusing on a greater vision than what is wrong. We may not have every problem figured out, but we serve a God who loved this world enough to join us in it. We trust that when Jesus said, “Behold, I am making all things new,” he meant it.

12/3-4 Peace: Luke 2:7-15

Biblical peace is a more than a cessation of wars. It is a reconstituting of reality where mercy and justice reign, power becomes subservient to hospitality, and governance is driven by grace. Biblical peace is a culmination of a rescue plan that God initiated through amazing grace. Advent invites us to see the peace of God as a way of life.

12/10-11 Joy: John 16:20-24

Joy can invade our hearts unexpectedly. It jumps out at us from behind sunsets, peeks out in the smile of a stranger, and takes hold in a child’s laughter. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit biologist and philosopher, once wrote, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” If this is true, every moment of joy is like a little Christmas in our lives. Advent is not only a time when we hope for the coming of Christ in great history-changing events. It is also a time where we hope for those little moments of joy, and invite God to use us as instruments of joy for a lost and broken world.

12/17-18 Love: 1 John 4:7-11

In the fourth century, Saint Augustine wrote, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.” Advent gives us space to step back and reorient our lives to receive God’s love and share God’s love. When we are able to take the focus off ourselves we begin to see the needs of others.

KHC Advent Series 2016

The Gift of God’s Judgement: Our Election Crisis and Opportunity

I wanted to post something about the election — and ask, what needs to be our response moving forward? A few weeks ago I asked a question in my sermon referencing the election, “How did we get here?” I also quoted David Souter, retired Supreme Court Justice as saying that the greatest hindrance to an ongoing vibrant democracy is “civic ignorance.” I do believe that at some level we’re all responsible for the choices we had in the election. The first article I posted in this space was by Tim Stafford, a freelance writer and Senior Writer for Christianity Today Magazine. The article is titled After the Nightmare and can be found here. (Not everyone will share his specific views.) I’ve replaced that article with the one below by Joe Rigney, a professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary. The article was posted on the Desiring God website. I think both articles draw the same conclusion but Rigney is more even in his criticisms. From my understanding Rigney’s basic thesis is that whichever candidate wins/won the presidential election, it’s God’s judgement and we Christians should embrace it as a gift.  The second sentence of his article says, “What should we do when faced with two candidates who fall so radically short of basic decency, honesty, and integrity?” (I used that line in the same sermon referenced above.)  In replacing the last blog post with this one I am trying to embrace our current reality — without trying to identify with one candidate or the other. (Again, that’s why I switched the article.)  Read Rigney’s article. You may or may not agree, but I think the important thing is that we should be able to engage in humble, civil dialogue about our differences and do whatever is necessary to help our president elect be successful — and for the cause of Christ to flourish. KHC is serving a larger community with very diverse political views. I hope we’re able to listen well.  I do think Rigney’s article speaks to both sides of the isle…

2016-election

It’s no secret that American Christians are conflicted about this election. What should we do when faced with two candidates who fall so radically short of basic decency, honesty, and integrity?

To begin with, we need to remember that decisions about voting are a matter of prudence and wisdom. Biblical truths and principles must be brought to bear, but when we’re dealing with applying convictions in our twenty-first-century context, we’re making decisions upon which Christians can (and will) disagree. We may disagree strongly; we may try to persuade and exhort others to see things our way, but there is no “Thus sayeth the Lord” about what action to take this November. (For a fuller perspective, see the helpful article “How Should a Christian Vote?”)

But if voting is a matter of prudence and wisdom, we need to have as clear a view of our times as we can. To that end, here are a few observations about the choice we are facing in our present moment.

Recognize God’s Judgment

If you listen to Christians who support the Republican candidate, they’ll argue that the Democrat’s election would push this country over the cliff. She’ll undoubtedly appoint liberal activists to the Supreme Court who will further erode our rights and freedoms. Religious liberty will be curtailed, and more unborn children will die as abortion is further enshrined in our national culture.

Christian supporters of the Democratic candidate feel the same, in the other direction. If he is elected, they argue, then we’re giving control of our nuclear codes to a man with the self-control of a five-year-old. More than that, we’re treating his race-baiting, demagoguery, and treatment of women lightly; we may disapprove of them, but we’re still willing to overlook them and put him in office. In both cases, supporters of one candidate see the election of the other as pushing us over the cliff, as taking us past the point of no return.

But what if we find ourselves in agreement with both sides? The election of either candidate represents a colossal failure on the part of this nation. We could go so far as to say that the election of either one of them is evidence of God’s judgment on America. But that’s not the whole story.

The reality is that the fact that we’re faced with this horrible choice is divine judgment. It’s as though God is saying to us, as he did to the ancient Israelites in the book of Amos, “I sent you two grossly unfit candidates, and still you would not return to me. I sent vileness from one party and corruption from the other, and still you would not return to me” (see, for example, Amos 4:6–11).

God is holding a mirror up to America, as it were. He is showing us who we are as a nation. We may not like what we see, but the two major party candidates represent us well. Lies, corruption, selfishness, unbridled ambition, shameless sexual immorality — all committed with a high hand. That’s our nation. God is giving us the leaders that we deserve.

Manage God’s Judgment?

If the choice between these candidates shows us who we are, and if that is evidence of God’s judgment, then the one thing we must avoid is trying to manage or finesse God’s judgments. This was Israel’s temptation throughout her history: embracing Assyria to ward off Egypt or embracing Egypt to ward off Assyria.

When we attempt to manage God’s judgments, we become reactive. Out of fear of one evil, we embrace another. Instead of acting from a confident trust in God’s goodness in the midst of a cultural crisis, we panic and slide to one extreme or another. Instead, as Christians, we ought to embrace the judgments of God.

Embracing God’s judgments sounds odd to our ears. “How could we embrace something as painful and awful as divine judgment?” But this is because we misunderstand God’s judgments. As someone once said, “God’s judgments are not when things go wrong; it’s when God starts to put things right.”

Embrace God’s Judgment

What would it mean to embrace the judgment of God in our present moment? At least three things.

First, it starts with repentance for our sins. Judgment always begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). Sins that are celebrated without shame in the wider culture are almost always present and active in the church, even when they are hidden. Removing the log from our own eyes is the prerequisite to speck-hunting in our neighbor’s (Matthew 7:3–5). Heartfelt repentance for our sins is where we must start.

Second, embracing the judgments of God means drawing a line somewhere. Perhaps we could begin by expecting our candidates to measure up to basic standards of decency, honesty, and integrity. When Jethro urged Moses to appoint rulers in Israel, the list of qualifications was short: fear God, be trustworthy, hate a bribe (Exodus 18:21). By almost all accounts the two major party candidates fail that test. And what’s more, they fail it with a brazenness and persistence that is shocking. There is a high-handed shamelessness to the dishonesty, corruption, and wickedness that, in my judgment, renders them morally unfit to govern.

Third, embracing the judgments of God means that we refuse to peddle lies and falsehoods on behalf of disgraceful politicians. We refuse to use platforms given to us by God for gospel ministry to carry water for the dishonest and corrupt. It means we stop pretending “he is sensitive to the things of the Spirit” or, like King David, “a man after God’s own heart.” It means we stop pretending “she is deeply committed to the vulnerable” when she is an outspoken and persistent advocate for the legal killing of unborn children. Whatever prudential decisions we make in the voting booth, as Christians, we must refuse to sully the name of Christ by trafficking in falsehoods on behalf of wicked politicians.

What we know for sure is that it is an opportunity for us to turn our hearts to God through Jesus Christ. He is exalted. He dwells on high. And he will be the stability of our times.

What It Will Mean for Some

None of the above dictates how we should vote. But many Christians may find wisdom and prudence leading them to an independent or third-party candidate. At least three additional reasons may press them in this direction.

First, they want to maintain their integrity. They don’t think they could look themselves in the mirror if they voted for candidates that are as morally unfit as the two major party candidates are. They share the spirit of Alexander Solzhenitzen, who said, “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

Second, for years, conservative Christians have been told that they are simply shills for the Republican Party. They’ve been told that they should vote for any candidate with an (R) after his name provided he pays lip service (however insincere) to the issues that matter to us: the sanctity of human life, religious liberty, and God’s design for marriage (among others). The present election may be a great opportunity to prove those accusations false.

It may also be an opportunity for progressive Christians to consider the same from their side; the fact that there is no comparable movement against the nominee of the Religious Left is saddening, given her adamantine support of unfettered abortion, her defense and enablement of her husband’s debauchery, and the overall mendacity and corruption of her family empire, from email servers to favor trading to covering it all up.

Finally, for some Christians, refusing to vote for the two major party candidates may serve as a signal. A large block of votes for alternative candidates might signal to the major parties that there are available votes, provided they nominate acceptable candidates. Or more importantly, it may serve as a signal to God that they see what he is doing. He is shaking America so that only the unshakeable will remain.

Whatever this present crisis proves to be politically, what we know for sure is that it is an opportunity for us to turn our hearts to God through Jesus Christ. He is exalted. He dwells on high. And he will be the stability of our times (Isaiah 33:6).

The Gift of God’s Judgement: Our Election Crisis and Opportunity

Happy Reformation Day!!

October 31st is Reformation Day. Next year will be the 500 year anniversary of Reformation Day. Following is a blog post by Stephen Nichols — who also hosts an excellent podcast entitled “5-Minutes In Church History.” Check it out here.

reformation-day

A single event on a single day changed the world. It was October 31, 1517. Brother Martin, a monk and a scholar, had struggled for years with his church, the church in Rome. He had been greatly disturbed by an unprecedented indulgence sale. The story has all the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Let’s meet the cast.

First, there is the young bishop—too young by church laws—Albert of Mainz. Not only was he bishop over two bishoprics, he desired an additional archbishopric over Mainz. This too was against church laws. So Albert appealed to the Pope in Rome, Leo X. From the De Medici family, Leo X greedily allowed his tastes to exceed his financial resources. Enter the artists and sculptors, Raphael and Michelangelo.

When Albert of Mainz appealed for a papal dispensation, Leo X was ready to deal. Albert, with the papal blessing, would sell indulgences for past, present, and future sins. All of this sickened the monk, Martin Luther. Can we buy our way into heaven? Luther had to speak out.

But why October 31? November 1 held a special place in the church calendar as All Soul’s Day. On November 1, 1517, a massive exhibit of newly acquired relics would be on display at Wittenberg, Luther’s home city. Pilgrims would come from all over, genuflect before the relics, and take hundreds, if not thousands, of years off time in purgatory. Luther’s soul grew even more vexed. None of this seemed right.

Martin Luther, a scholar, took quill in hand, dipped it in his inkwell and penned his 95 Theses on October 31, 1517. These were intended to spark a debate, to stir some soul-searching among his fellow brothers in the church. The 95 Theses sparked far more than a debate. The 95 Theses also revealed the church was far beyond rehabilitation. It needed a reformation. The church, and the world, would never be the same.

THE CHURCH’S TRUE TREASURE IS THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST.

One of Luther’s 95 Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of tradition. Tradition always brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God. It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism. Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.

So we celebrate Reformation Day. This day reminds us to be thankful for our past and to the Monk turned Reformer. What’s more, this day reminds us of our duty, our obligation, to keep the light of the gospel at the center of all we do.

Happy Reformation Day!!

6 Social Media DON’Ts For Church Staff & Leaders

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In this election cycle it is easy to get caught up in political discussions online.  If you’re a leader in the church I think it’s important to keep in mind that what we say online WILL reflect back on the church where we’re involved.  The following article is a reprint by Katie Viscontini who serves as the Business Development Coordinator at Vanderbloemen Search Group…

If you’re a church leader or a church staff member and you’re an active social media user, way to go! Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Instagram, or Snapchat, you’re using today’s main communication tools to share your voice, connect with friends and family, and/or encourage others.

However, don’t be fooled into thinking that whatever you post on social media doesn’t reflect on your church (and ultimately on Christ). It does. Gone are the days where folks can assert that “the opinions shared here are my own,” on their Twitter bio. That may be true, but you better believe that everyone reading your opinions will connect them with your workplace, your church, and your beliefs.

YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE IS A DIRECT REFLECTION OF YOUR PLACE OF WORSHIP AND MINISTRY.

The truth is, social media is a powerful tool, but it is also a two-edged sword. This is especially so if you work in a church. Avoid any potential pitfalls by not committing these 6 social media mistakes.

  1. DON’T think anything you post is temporary. 

Social media is fast-paced and fast-changing, so it’s easy to think what you’re posting isn’t a big deal. But once you’ve published something on the internet for all to see, you should consider it permanent. And much like tattoos, something permanent requires a huge amount of discretion before acting on it.

DO remind yourself, “What I’m posting is permanent” when using social media.

  1. DON’T post questionable photos.

Everyone has different opinions on what might be considered “questionable” in a photo, but in general, use good discretion and remember again that what you’re posting is permanent. In Romans 14, Paul tells us to, “decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” Some photos are meant to be texted to friends or emailed to family, not put on social media for all to see. In general, when in doubt about a photo, just don’t post it.

DO ask yourself before posting a photo, “Am I comfortable with this reflecting back on my church?”

  1. DON’T act on knee-jerk, emotional reactions. 

It’s so easy to be misunderstood or to misunderstand others when communication is over the internet – you can’t hear tones of voices, see body language, or know where something is coming from. Because of this, it’s never wise to act on a knee-jerk emotional response. Hold your tongue and pray before you respond to something. Many people have typed something in the heat of the moment and greatly regretted hitting that “send” button later.

DO memorize James’ advice: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

  1. DON’T get involved in heated debates.

It’s okay to have strong opinions, but you’re far more likely to do damage than good when you get involved in heated debate on social media. There are more constructive ways to share your messages and share Christ’s love than engaging in Facebook disputes. Again, remember that anything you share reflects on your church, and that while we are called to be wise as serpents, we are also called to be “gentle as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

DO tell yourself, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15: 1) before engaging in social media debates.

  1. DON’T be a negative Nancy.

CHURCH STAFF & LEADERS SHOULD REMAIN POSITIVE AND ENCOURAGING ON ALL OF THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS.

Anything you post that could be construed negatively could reflect badly on your church or on the hope you have in Christ. Instead, focus on this admonition from Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

DO use your social media presence to encourage others, share positive things, and ultimately point to Jesus.

  1. DON’T attack other believers.

Too many church leaders have fallen in the public eye. Worse than that, usually they are also torn to shreds by other believers. When we criticize other believers, non-believers may see us as hypocritical. Even if you strongly disagree with someone’s actions, remember that Jesus died to forgive even the worst of sins. Because we have been shown grace, we must also show grace to others. Jesus said that the world would know we were His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). Don’t compromise this witness.

DO focus on those you want to emulate rather than those you disagree with.

Because everything they post reflects on their church, on Christians, and on Christ, church leaders and church staff members simply must exercise extreme discretion, humility, and empathy in their social media presences. Just as Solomon asked for wisdom as the most desirable possession he could have, may we all seek the same wisdom in what we post for the world to see.

How can you use your social media accounts to glorify God and grow the Kingdom?

6 Social Media DON’Ts For Church Staff & Leaders

The Difficulty of Community

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Last Sunday the sermon was intended to unpack one of our core valuesBUILDING a strong church family that meets consistently in various small group settings to “do life” with one other.

You can listen to or download the notes here.  What follows is an article by pastor, theologian, and author Tim Keller regarding the difficulty of community.  It’s intended to supplement the sermon…

by Tim Keller

Many things in our culture work against the maintenance of real community. We are conditioned in countless ways to think and act as individuals only, not as members of any body, and even our individual relationships are ‘thinned out,’ based on images rather than presences. Since this is the opposite of how we are supposed to live as Christians, let’s look at how just one cultural reality contributes to this—contemporary communication technologies.

Images and Presences
The electronic media radically ‘compress’ time and space. Just thirty years ago it was expensive and difficult to make a long distance call to another country. Today we are able to stay closely in touch with others from another continent with little effort or expense. In a highly mobile society, this means that fewer and fewer of our friends and loved ones are actually fully present to us. We get their words and images only, not their embodied selves.

Media can also create the illusion that we have community with people that we don’t know at all. TV and film viewers come to see actors and other figures on the screen as friends. Because we see them, even experience them in one dimension, we get the impression they are in an intimate conversation with us. Online contact can give us even more of a sense that we are in a real community. But through these media it is easy to project an image that is not real at all. The NY Times ran an article recently on a young mother who attracted a loyal following through her unremittingly sunny and celebrative blog about marriage and child rearing. When she was injured in an accident, many readers sent gifts totaling nearly $100,000 within a couple of weeks. When the Times reporter asked some of the donors about their generosity to someone they ‘did not know’ they responded, with a snort, that they did know her, that they made no distinction between online friends and ‘physical’ ones. And yet the article ended with a kind but honest statement by the blogger’s sister, who noted that while she her relationship with her husband and her children ‘wasn’t perfect,’ in the blog she chose only to focus on the positive. Her sister knew her in an embodied, fully present (soul and body) way. The blog readers had an illusion of intimacy.

As great as it is, God did not simply send us the Bible, a message through the communication medium of writing. If that was all he could do for us, salvation would ultimately be in our hands—it would have been up to us to follow his instructions. But instead, God also came himself, in the flesh, to be fully present to us in Jesus Christ. It is only through his being fully present with us that we could be saved by grace.

In the same way, we must learn to be fully present in community with our neighbors and with our Christian brothers and sisters. It is not enough to simply show up at a church service where you live physically, but then try to maintain all your closest relationships with friends and family members who live far away. God made us embodied beings—the body (though it is weakened by sin) is a great good. God was so positive about bodies that he himself assumed a body in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If we are going to give and receive grace from each other, we have to get it the way God gave it to us. We have to be involved in accountable friendships and deep relationships with other people where we live.

Individual and Communal
There is another way that communication technologies affect us. They divide the world into parts that can be easily customized into patterns that fit individual taste. We see this in how our news comes to us. Go to Google News—there is a brief paragraph on a terrible disaster with thousands killed, next is the latest on Paris Hilton, next is a sports scoop. There is nothing to force you to give sustained attention to any one subject. You pick and choose what you as an individual want to know.

In music, you once had to buy full albums but now you choose only the song you want on your iPod. What is the effect of this? Classical musicians have noted a new trend in the last several years. At concerts, many listeners now come late—for the second piece, and leave before the last one. They come for the products they prefer, as if they were selections on an iPod. Before the advent of media, people coming to a concert thought of listening to music as an experience of community. They were paying attention to art as a corporate body. Now we come to concerts thinking of ourselves as individual consumers.

Communications technology is only one factor among many that had done this to us. Ancient people thought of themselves primarily as members of a family or a clan. They could not imagine prosperity and good for themselves apart from the prosperity and good of their community. Today we can’t even think of ourselves as members of an audience. Ancient people thought of their relationships with their family, clan, people, and neighborhood as covenantal—the relationship was more important than their individual needs. We think and act first and foremost as individual consumers. Our needs are most important. If they are not being met, we go elsewhere to have them met.

I recently learned of a man who lives about three hours from NYC. He has not found a church in his area that he likes. So one Sunday a month he takes a train to New York, goes to Redeemer, eats at a restaurant and sees sites, and then goes home. The rest of the Sundays he watches or listens to religious programming. Sound extreme? It’s not too distant from the experience living in the city, but only attending Redeemer services, and not becoming involved in the life of the community—becoming personally accountable and responsible for others.

This is harder for us than it was for our ancestors, because we are conditioned to be deeply afraid of covenantal relationships. And yet the Bible tells us we were built for covenantal relationships. We want and need to have other persons unconditionally, unselfishly committed to us, and we to them. Christian theology tells us we were made in the image of God, and that God is a Trinity. Jesus said he never did anything, said anything, or accomplished anything without his Father. The persons of the Trinity are absolutely one—each person does everything with the others. We were meant to live like that. Sin, of course, makes all human community difficult and at times painful. But it is suicidal to avoid all food just because sometimes some of it can be ‘bad’ and make you sick.

Shared Experience
I am saying that community is no longer natural or easy under our present cultural conditions. It will require an intentionality greater than that required by our ancestors, and uncomfortable to most of us. But building Christian community is not simply a duty. It should not be a distasteful act of the will. Community grows naturally out of shared experience, and the more intense the experience, the more intense the community.

I hope no one sees this article as a broad-brush dismissal of communication technology. My wife Kathy is one of five siblings, none of whom live closer than hundreds of miles from any of the others. Yet they email one another virtually everyday. That’s a thoroughly good thing. Nevertheless, the power of their relationships lies not in the current emailing and the phone-calling, but from their many years of sharing the same home, beds, room, parents, schools, experiences—all fully present to each other. What makes an aggregation of people into a community is that they are drawn together around some common object. Weaker community can be created by a common interest, such as a hobby, a sports team, a musical genre. Stronger community comes together around deep beliefs and causes, or powerful common experiences, like going through a flood or battle together—and surviving. There have been countless ‘buddy movies’ about some group of misfits who are extremely different in all kinds of ways, but then they are thrown together into a life or death situation. When they come through it together, it becomes the basis for a deep, permanent bond, stronger then blood.

When Christians experience Christ’s radical grace through repentance and faith, it becomes the most intense, foundational event of our lives. When we meet someone from a sharply different culture, race, or social class but who has experienced the grace of Jesus Christ through the gospel, we don’t see the differences first, because we are looking at someone who has been through the same life and death situation as we have, since in Christ we have spiritually died and been raised to new life. (Eph 2:1-6; Rom 6:4-6.) And because of this common experience of grace—now a deeper identity marker than our family, race, or culture—when we come together, we find we ‘fit’! ‘As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house’ (1 Peter 2:4-5.) Like stones that already have been perfectly shaped by the mason, the builder simply lays each next to the other and they interlock into a solid and beautiful temple. When we speak to others who know God’s grace, we see that their identity is now rooted more in who they are in Christ than in their family or class. As a result we sense a bond that overcomes those things that, outside of Christ, created insurmountable barriers to our relationships. Jesus has knocked them down.

So, hard as it is to build strong community, especially in our time and place, we have tremendous resources. We have many things against us as we try to build Christian community, especially in a place like New York City. But there is no alternative.

The Difficulty of Community

Bible Literacy

bible-literacy

Gospel-Centrality

King’s Harbor Church identifies as a “gospel-centered” church. What do we mean by that? The word gospel means good news and is not simply the entry point into the Christian life but it is also the foundation and power that shapes all we do as followers of Jesus Christ, both in our daily lives and in our experience as a community of Christ-followers. We never outgrow our need for the gospel, it is necessary for both salvation AND sanctification.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only the fire that ignites the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing each day.

The gospel is the gloriously great announcement of what God has done through the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ to satisfy (or settle) the opposition against sin which God’s holy nature requires and to secure unrestricted access to God that includes the free gift of eternal life, a free and perfect righteousness for all who trust in Christ alone for salvation, the empowering gift of the Holy Spirit, and a coming new creation free from decay, disasters, disease, evil, sin, and death.

Therefore, the gospel is central because it is not what God requires it is what God provides. The gospel is not an imperative, demanding things we must do. The gospel is an indicative, declaring what God has done. The gospel is not about human activity; it’s about divine achievement.  The gospel is not a moralistic “Do!” The gospel is a merciful “Done!”  The gospel is not good advice – it’s good news!  We want the gospel of Christ to inform and empower all that we do to the glory of God.

This weekend we will be in Luke 24. Verse 44 states: “Now [Jesus] said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (emphasis added).

What Jesus is saying is there is one central theme and message that is consistently embedded by all 40 writers of the Bible over the 1,500 years that it took to write it: God, our Creator, desires to have a relationship with us. From Genesis to Revelation God continually calls us to know Him and to trust Him. Theologians have called this central theme of the Bible the “scarlet thread.” This is also what it means to be gospel-centered.

The Literary Genres Contained In The Bible

The Bible consists of several different literary genres including poetry, legal, historical, wisdom, narrative, letters (epistles), prophecy, and apocalyptic literature.  Two less prominent genres include parables and discourse. It is quite helpful to understand that correct interpretation (exegesis) of these genres takes into consideration the purpose and style of a given book or passage of the Bible.

In the sermon this weekend I will mention the different genres of literature in the Bible. My thought for this blog post is that it would be good to have a short summary of each of them that you can refer to help you in your interpretation and study of the Bible — plus some thoughts on how to interpret it.

Narrative

This is the most basic genre. It is where the author is describing events. This is the genre of books like Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Ruth, Esther, Acts and other places where there is a story being told.

  1. Take it literally.
  2. Treat it as a story. Find out what is going on, who the main characters on and why things are happening the way they are.

Discourse

This genre is a sermon, a prayer, or any other long speech. The book of Job has a lot of this, but there are also examples in the Gospels, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and in the book of Acts.

  1. For the most part take this literally. The exception to this is if it contains another genre like a parable, a poem, or a prophecy.
  2. Determine the main point of whatever the person is saying.
  3. Take things literally, but don’t believe everything that people say. In the book of Job, for instance, there are a lot of things his friends (and wife) said to him, that are simply not true. If you know who is speaking you can determine if what they are saying is true or not.

Poetry

Poetry is the genre of Psalms. It is full of symbolic language and is full of emotion.

  1. Look for repetition. In ancient times, repetition was used for emphasis, so pay attention to the things that are said more than once.
  2. Look for parallelism. Sometimes (especially in Proverbs) an idea will be stated and then restated either as its opposite or from a different perspective. The two ideas are basically saying the same thing
  3. Be careful not to take the figurative parts literally. Look for the comparisons being made by the figures of speech – those are the lessons.

Prophecy

The genre of prophecy is found wherever there are prophecies. These books are easy to recognize: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, etc. There are also prophecies in the Gospels, the Epistles, and Revelation.

  1. When you come across a prophecy see who it was given to originally (Israel, Judah, everyone). Interpret it first in light of the original hearers of the prophecy.
  2. Consider if the prophecy has already been fulfilled.  For instance, biblical scholars have seen as many as 365 prophecies in the Old Testament that were fulfilled through the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
  3. Sometimes people read too much into prophecy. Prophecy is not meant to be a map that lays out exactly what will happen in the end times. It is there primarily to draw us to repentance and help us to be ready for when Jesus Christ does return.
  4. Because of the symbolic nature of prophecy, there are many ways people have interpreted it. We need to be alert and keep watch for the signs of Christ’s return. But, ultimately, we do not know when it will be or what it will be like. There are far too many debates and arguments over one person’s interpretation of the end times vs. someone else. Eschatology (the study of the end times) should not supersede soteriology (the study of salvation). Our focus is and should continue to be the lost, not the last days.

Epistle

The epistles fall under the bigger category of discourse. These are the letters that were written either to single individuals or groups. The majority is found in the New Testament, although there are some in the Old Testament as well (i.e., Nehemiah). They are addressed to a specific group for a specific purpose.

  1. Find out who the author and the audience are.
  2. Read the epistle in light of what the author was trying to say to the audience.
  3. Try and figure out why the letter was written in the first place. What was it written in response to? You can actually answer a lot of these questions, simply by reading the epistle and looking for clues as to who it is written to and why it was written. Thoughtful observation is the key.

Gospel

There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are written as witnesses to Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  1. The Gospels record Jesus’ ministry to four groups of people then (and now) in the world.
    • Matthew was writing to the Jewish people and the deeply religious of our day.
    • Mark was writing to the Romans who he knew would be impressed with leadership and action. In our contemporary culture Mark’s Gospel would be attractive to business people and entrepreneurs.
    • Luke was a Greek speaking to the Greeks. The Greeks loved culture, beauty, and ideas. Luke fills his book with insights, interviews, songs, and details that fascinate the inquiring mind.
    • John wrote to everyone, because everyone needs to meet God and only Jesus can reveal Him.  In this book we meet an absolutely powerful God in human flesh who controls and rules the Universe He created.
  2. Look for what each author emphasizes in his gospel. What are the important events or discourses that are recorded? Why are these recorded?
  3. Try and read them with a fresh perspective. We have been so inundated with the story, that we can easily forget what it must have been like for the original hearers would have felt as they heard these Gospels. As you read them, forget the ending and put yourself in the shoes of someone reading it for the very first time. What would stand out?
  4. Compare with the other Gospel accounts. Because there are four Gospels, there are many things that are repeated in different Gospels. As you compare and contrast what is said in the different Gospels, you can get a sense of what each individual author was trying to emphasize.
  5. Unless you are reading a parable or allegory, or someone is using a figure of speech take these books literally.

Apocalypse

Apocalypse is the genre of revelation. It is something big revealed to someone. This is similar to prophecy although in an apocalypse the events being described are of a large scale. This genre can be found in the book of Revelation and also parts of Daniel.

  1. The goal of this genre is to get a big picture understanding of what is going on. Because of all the figurative and symbolic language there are certain things that we simply will not be able to know until they happen. We don’t need to understand every single detail, but merely let the pieces come together to show us a picture of what is to come.
  2. Generally speaking, it is not necessary for this genre to be taken literally.
  3. As you read, try and see how you would live your life differently if you had an eternal, God-prevails focus.

Wisdom Literature

Wisdom literature is basically Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, although there are other sections throughout the Bible. This is the genre of wise sayings and the wisdom of man.

  1. Proverbs – These are not promises. They are basic and essential truths that will help you live out your life in a godly manner.
  2. Job/Ecclesiastes – There is wisdom in these books, but it is found at the end. Job’s friends spout out their false theology, which God rebukes at the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes gives a cynical view of life, but then comes back at the end and points to God as the only one who gives meaning to life.

Parable/Allegory

Parables are short stories that have a moral to be learned. Allegories also are short discourses, but are different from parables in that they have more than one point of comparison. These are mostly found in the Gospels.

  1. Look at the situation or question to which the parable/allegory is in response to. How does this answer the situation/question?
  2. For a parable find the one key point being made and don’t try to see more than is there. For an allegory look for the main point and see how each of the points of comparison adds to the main idea.

Ethical Instruction

Generally speaking, proverbs, laws, and promises are placed in this genre.  These are found throughout the Bible, but there are a lot in Deuteronomy, Leviticus, and of course Proverbs.

  1. Proverbs are not promises and should not be taken as such.
  2. Promises are not universal. See who they are for and if they apply to you.
  3. A lot of the Old Testament laws were only for the people back then. As a general rule, we need to follow the Old Testament laws that are also found in the New Testament.

 

I am grateful for the teaching and writing of T.J. Friend from whom the interpretation section was adapted.  His blog can be viewed here.

Bible Literacy

The Fruit of Repentance

fruit-of-repentance

When church discipline is enacted there is a biblical process that needs to take place. Forgiveness usually comes quickly.  Reconciliation and restoration, however, take time. Think of the whole process like an arc moving from forgiveness to reconciliation to restoration.  For the process to move forward biblically and constructively the fruit of repentance needs to be present in the life of the person who is under discipline. (Remember, discipline is not something done TO a person but FOR a person.)

The following is a theological examination of the Fruit of Repentance…

Repentance is a decisive reorientation of one’s life away from self and toward God. Commenting on Matthew 3:8 John Calvin writes, “Repentance is an inward matter, which has its seat in the heart and soul, but afterwards yields its fruits in a change of life.”[1]

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.  –Matthew 3:8

“…They should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”  –Acts 26:20

When John the Baptist told the Jewish people that they must bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance, what did he mean?

Following are three questions that will help to understand what the Bible means by fruit:

  1. What is repentance?

The Greek verb that is translated repent in the New Testament is metanoia. The word literally means to think after. It suggests the idea of thoughtful reflection regarding a deed after the commission of it. In the case of a sinful action, the idea would be a retrospection of the act and the subsequent feeling of godly sorrow that leads to repentance (see 2 Cor 7:9-10).

Thomas Watson, an English Puritan (1620-1686) said, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”[2]

Repentance involves a God-initiated resolve to acknowledge the wrongful conduct and surrender ourselves to the empowering grace of God, which alone will accomplish in us and through us what we have never been able to accomplish on our own.

Dan Allender, a contemporary Christian educator and author, writes that repentance is “an about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender…[that] involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.”[3]

Paul writes that, godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10). The repentance of this text is life reformation, not mere grief over the act.

  1. What is the significance of the expression, “in keeping with repentance”? (NKJ: worthy of; AMP: consistent with)

The expression in keeping with is the Greek word axios and originally had to do with objects that were of equal weight, i.e., one item corresponds to another in weight. The metaphorical use in the NT may be employed regarding actions — either good or bad.

The change of life that is characteristic of repentance must correspond to the gravity and nature of the offence. Otherwise, it is not biblical repentance.

  1. What is implied by the phrase, produce fruit?

The Greek word for fruit is karpos and means “the visible expression of [God’s] power working inwardly and invisibly, [and] the character of the fruit being evidence of the character of the power producing it (see Mat 7:16). Just as the visible expressions of hidden lusts are the works of the flesh, so the invisible power of the Holy Spirit in those who are brought into [a] living union with Christ (see Jn 15:2-8, 16) produces ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22).”[4]

In addition to the fruit of the Spirit what does it mean to produce the fruit of repentance? Here are a some signs of fruit that will typically be found in a truly repentant person:[5]

  • Repentant people are willing to confess all their sins, not just the sins that got them in trouble. A house isn’t truly clean until we open every closet and sweep every corner. People who truly desire to be clean are completely honest about their lives. No more secrets. Christian psychologist and author Larry Crabb defines integrityas pretending about nothing.[6]
  • Repentant people face the pain that their sin caused others. They invite the victims of their sin (anyone hurt by their actions) to express the intensity of emotions that they feel — anger, hurt, sorrow, and disappointment. Repentant people do not give excuses or shift blame. They made the choice to hurt others, and they take full responsibility for their behavior.
  • Repentant people ask forgiveness from those they hurt. They realize that they can never completely “pay off” the debt they owe their victims. Repentant people don’t pressure others to say, “I forgive you.” While forgiveness itself is a decision, the process of seeking forgiveness by the offending party is a journey. All that penitent people can do is admit their indebtedness and humbly request the undeserved gift of forgiveness.
  • Repentant people remain accountableto a small group of mature Christians. They gather a group of friends around themselves who hold them accountable to a plan for honest living. They invite the group to question them about their behaviors.
  • Repentant people accept their limitations. They realize that the consequences of their sin (including the distrust) will last a long time, perhaps the rest of their lives. They understand that they may never enjoy the same freedom that other people enjoy. Adulterers, for example, would be wise to place strict limitations on their time with members of the opposite sex. That’s the reality of their situation, and they willingly accept their boundaries.
  • Repentant people are faithful to the daily tasks God has given them. We serve a merciful God who delights in giving second chances. God offers repentant people a restored relationship with him and a new plan for life. Consider Hosea’s promise to rebellious Israel:

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.  —Hosea 6:1-2

The conscientious student of the Bible is led to conclude that any repentance, without the full compliment of the elements that define that term, is simply not a biblical repentance.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, & Luke, Vol 1.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance, Banner of Truth, 1999: 18.

[3] Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart, Navpress, 1990: 217.

[4] W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol 2, Revell 1940: 143.

[5] Adapted from the article Six Signs of Genuine Repentance by Bryce Klabunde.

[6] Larry Crabb, Finding God, Zondervan 1993: 16.

The Fruit of Repentance