Category Archives: Church

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As Christians, we should have a modest view of technology within the context of ministry – not too lofty and not too lowly. In itself, technology does not have the power to change lives, but God can use technology (such as the printing press) to further His kingdom. We live in a unique age that requires a theology of technology, and we need to think before we embrace whatever is before us.

Rather than overdosing on technology, the Church should use it strategically. Some tools can save time, which in effect can produce more time to interact in person. Some tools can help us reach more people, which can start new relationships for the sake of glorifying God. But of course, these tools need to be used in moderation and within reason.

A unique feature of the digital age is that technology is available on a massive scale – not only who can own it, but where it can be used. Unlike the days of the printing press or even dial-up modems, new technologies are “omnipresent” in the sense that they travel with us in our pockets. Tragically, despite all of the contributions of the digital age, our gadgetry has led to the idolization of technology. Millions of people worship the newest device, while their other god(s) are quickly forgotten.

To avoid such idolatry, we must use technology for our purposes – and to prevent technology from using us. Like craftsmen, we need to master our tools, so that they can be used effectively for the kingdom. As with any tool, technology should be used in a way that helps rather than complicates. This requires thought and planning.

Here are a few ways that technology can be used in quick and easily manageable ways:

Evangelism/Outreach
• Spark conversation with a thoughtful quotation
• Respond to current events with a Christian worldview
• Share web links that are encouraging and gospel-influenced
• Introduce your church with a video
• Raise funds for social outreach efforts
• Praise God for what He is doing in your life
• Invite locals to a church event
• Advertise community events (e.g., a food drive)
• Tell the community about changed lives!

Discipleship
• Suggest Scripture passages to read
• Start an online discussion
• Invite members to an upcoming event
• Alert members to important prayer requests
• Encourage your congregation during the week
• Post videos about social justice issues
• Share what God is doing in your life
• Respond to others’ posts with Christian love and biblical truth

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but such ideas show that technology can be gospel-driven and glorifying to God. As a general rule, we should avoid technology that glorifies ourselves, and instead, strive to honor God. This is not always easy, but according to 1 Corinthians 10:31, this is what we are called to do in every area of life.

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In our current global milieu, we live in a “world of religions,” and increasingly, Christians are confronted with how to relate to these religions. Ida Glaser approaches these issues with clarity and authenticity in her book The Bible and Other Faiths: Christian Responsibility in a World of Religions. As a Jewish Christian who reaches out to Muslims, Glaser has firsthand experience in how crucial and delicate these matters can be. With an important contribution to Christian theology, Glaser helps Christians distinguish between primary and secondary questions, focusing believers on what we can genuinely know and cannot know from Scripture. In other words, The Bible and Other Faiths is an in-depth look at how the Bible speaks to our own personal interaction with people from other faiths.

In the first chapter, Glaser separates interfaith questions into two categories. On one hand, there are externally-focused questions that focus on judging other people: Are people from other religions saved? Is Jesus the only way to know God? Do other religions consist of any truth? These questions often dominate our religious dialogue, but Glaser argues that these questions may not be the “right questions.” (13) While this is somewhat controversial, especially for conservative Christians, Glaser says that these questions should be secondary to more pressing concerns.

According to Glaser, there is a second set of questions that “focuses on other people’s welfare and our own responsibility,” and it is upon these questions that she primarily focuses. (13) What is God doing among people of other religions? What does God require of us in response? How should we respond to other religions? And how to we apply the great commission and the great commandments to our interfaith context? Certainly these kinds of questions are related to the first kind, but this second set is more “urgent” in the sense that they affect our actual relationships with people.

Developing this further, the author outlines three major approaches to interfaith relations – or more specifically, how Jesus applies to other religions. These can be generally understood as exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. An exclusivist holds the belief that salvation comes through explicit faith in Christ alone; that God only offers special revelation through Israel, Christ and the Bible; and that Christ is Jesus of Nazareth. In light of its exclusive claims, exclusivism strongly emphasizes our personal need to spread the message of Christ. Without this message – and an affirmation of a particular doctrinal truth – a person will necessarily go to Hell.

An inclusivist allows for “anonymous Christians” from other religions because salvation is through Christ, but not necessarily explicitly. It is possible for a spiritual seeker to find Christ, even if they meet him through another religion or know him by another name. Special revelation can be found apart from Christ and Scripture, including the possibility of finding some truth in the sacred texts of other religions. The Christ who saves is visible in the person of Jesus, but is not limited to him. This perspective emphasizes the sovereignty of God and an individual’s response to the Holy Spirit more so than evangelism efforts.

A pluralist believes that salvation is available through all faiths, whether by denying the inconsistency of these religions or by diminishing the significance of such contradictions. Christ is “cosmic” in that He is merely one option among several. All religion, including Christianity, is humankind’s response to the transcendent. There may be mistakes within a particular religious system, but these are to be expected. For a pluralist, what truly matters is not doctrinal correctness, but a genuine response of faith to the transcendent God, whoever that God may be.

While Glaser does not express a particular view, she persuasively illustrates how each camp interprets and omits Bible passages in order to support their respective presuppositions. John 14:6, for example, can be read through the lens of an exclusivist, inclusivist, or a pluralist. An exclusivist would read this verse loudly and emphasize the word “the” in the English translation. An inclusivist would agree that Jesus is the only way, but would recognize the possibility that Jesus could be the only way, the only truth, and the only life in an indirect way. A pluralist, though uncomfortable with such a verse, would point out that this was true at that time and for those people, but does not necessarily apply to all cultures and contexts today.

While this may be troubling for some, Glaser shows the importance of interpreting biblical texts within their literary context. Her approach involves reading John 14:6 in light of John’s prologue in chapter one. As she does so – at least in my reading – she disqualifies the pluralist interpretation, weakens the insistence for an exclusivist interpretation, and validates the possibility of an inclusivist interpretation. Whichever position we may take, we find that this passage does not solve all of the issues that we might have hoped. At the same time, however, by reading a passage within its broader context, we are more likely to see how Scripture was intended to be read. Rather than taking a verse out of context for our religious (and sometimes vicious) purposes, it is essential that we read Scripture with caution and humility.

The book addresses many other important issues, but at its core, focuses on the Bible itself and what it has to say about other religions. Personally, I found this fascinating. If nothing else, The Bible and Other Faiths is worth reading for its helpful summary of Genesis.

Regarding the Old Testament, Glaser discusses the Pentateuch, historical books, wisdom literature, and considers their broader cultural context. While all of this was very intriguing, most significant may be her comments about the Tower of Babel and Abraham. She persuasively argues that Abraham may have originally known Yahweh as “El” from Canaanite religion, and that the Israelites gradually came to the awareness the their God was unlike the other gods that surrounded them. This of course, seems to suggest that people from other religions could gradually come to know God through God’s special intervention.

Concerning the New Testament, Glaser shows that other faiths were frequently present in the Gospels and Acts. The Parable of the Good Samaritan becomes much more poignant when you consider that the Samaritans were idolaters in the eyes of the Jews. Likewise, the fact that Cornelius’ prayers are heard by God should sober us as we consider seekers from other religions. While Glaser recognizes that modern religious systems such as Islam or Hinduism are not specifically addressed, she proves that the New Testament can provide more instruction than we might originally think – not so much in terms of philosophical argument, but in terms of loving others into the Kingdom of God.

In the final chapter, the author returns to her initial proposal that some questions are more important than others. In her view, in which she admits her own uncertainty, we cannot answer all of the questions with absolute certainty. The Bible was not intended to tell us everything that we want to know, but everything that we need to know – or what God wanted to make clear to us. Thus, as surprising as it may be, she does not state whether the Bible is exclusive, inclusive, or pluralist in its claims – for as she says, the Bible was not written with those categories in mind. For many, Glaser’s epistemic humility will be refreshing, while others may become frustrated.

As summarized in the final chapter, one of the main messages of the book is that our responsibility towards other religions is not always clear. However, we should continually search Scripture for guidance. Rather than making blanket statements about religions like Buddhism or Islam, the Bible provides us with insights of how to relate to specific individuals within different traditions. Scripture does not offer a single method, systematic approach to non-Christians, but reorients our own lives, so that we can minister more effectively to the people that we meet amongst the many world religions today. In other words, Scripture is more focused on people than systems.

It is important to recognize our ignorance when it comes to the Bible’s silence, and likewise, we must recognize our own inability to convert others to Christianity. It is better to focus on our own response – what the Bible does talk about – so that we can be faithful to God’s call and eventually lead others to the truth of the gospel. Even though we may not know all of the answers to all of our questions, it is still necessary to reach out to all people in all parts of the world, regardless who or where they may be.

For the most part, I agree with Glaser’s position, and I share many of her concerns. However, I wonder how far we can separate the two kinds of questions that she discusses at the beginning and end of her book. Granting that there is a difference between extrospective and introspective questions, a reader should question how different these questions really are. And since most of the book is founded upon this dichotomy, this is an important issue to raise. Glaser herself admits that the two are “related,” but they may be more related than her book seems to suggest. (13)

My primary concern is that she does not answer a fundamental question that many Christians currently struggle with – namely, is Jesus exclusive or inclusive? To illustrate this point, The Bible and Other Faiths teaches Christians how to interact with other faiths on a daily basis, but what happens when someone from another faith asks us an either-or question? Do we tell that person that we do not know, that Jesus is exclusive, or that Jesus is inclusive? Unfortunately, this book does help in that regard. While it helps us become more charitable, it does not help others by providing them with an objective answer to their most important question.

Even with this omission, however, Glaser offers a considerable amount of wisdom, and many Christians can benefit from reading this book. I found the book encouraging, instructive, and inspiring. Even though not all of my questions were resolved, a book like this that inspires further thought and investigation is definitely worth reading and re-reading. Most importantly, The Bible and Other Faiths focused my eyes on Scripture and challenged me to further search the text. Thanks to this book, I have been motivated to search my own heart and to change the way that I interact with people from other world religions.

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Regarding biblical study and the use of commentaries, Eugene H. Peterson uses a captivating illustration to demonstrate the reason why Christians should read commentaries. It is our way of entering into the vibrant conversation, of hearing many other voices and eventually expressing our own. I read this years ago, but I’ve never forgotten it. Since he says it better than I could, I’ll simply share his own words:

“…biblical commentaries have for too long been overlooked as common reading for common Christians… Among those for whom Scripture is a passion, reading commentaries has always seemed to me analogous to the gathering of football fans in the local bar after the game, replaying in endless detail the game they have just watched, arguing (maybe even fighting) over obersvations and opinion, and lacing the discourse with gossip about the players. The level of knowledge evident in these boozy colloquies is impressive. These fans have watched the game for years; the players are household names to them; they know the fine print in the rulebook and pick up every nuance on the field. And they care care immensely about what happens in the game. Their seemingly endless commentary is evidence of how much they care. Like them, I relish in a commentary not bare information but conversation with knowledgeable and experienced friends, probing, observing, questioning, the biblical text…. there is so much to notice, so much to talk over.” (Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book, 54)

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For those of us who write worship songs, it is easy to fall into the same patterns. By reading lyrics of other songs, especially well written hymns and songs from other cultures, we can be moved to think in new ways and to expand beyond our normal categories. For a sample, check out this hymn shared by Thabiti Anyabwile.

How Sweet and Awful Is the Place

How sweet and awful is the place
With Christ within the doors
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

“Why was I made to hear thy voice
and enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?”

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
that sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
and perished in our sin

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad
and bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
that all the chosen race
may with one voice and heart and soul
sing thy redeeming grace.

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“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
- Isaiah 7:14

Despite all of the problems that humanity faces on earth, God has promised to deliver His people. This promise was originally given to the Israelites, but He also promises to deliver us today. A loving God would never allow His people to be defeated.

Because life can seem hopeless at times, God also promised a visible sign of His deliverance, so that no one would miss it. The sign was simple, yet unmistakable: a young woman would give birth to a unique child that would bring God’s presence near closer to us. This prophecy was ultimately fulfilled when Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the son of God.

The significance of God’s promise is real and tangible. Today, no matter what problem we may face, we can know that God is with us! We do not need to doubt whether God will save us from our problems, but we can look to His promise of His Son. God has entered our world, and we are no longer alone. Even when others leave us, God is with us!

Prayer: Lord, please deliver us from the evil in our lives. Only you can save us from the problems of this world, and we thank you for sending Jesus Christ, so that we know You have not forgotten us. This Christmas, no matter what may we face, we believe and confide in You for our deliverance.

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“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”
- Isaiah 11:10

Isaiah’s prophesied to the people of God that a Savior was coming. Through an heir of Jesse, people from all nations would be saved. This was a message of great hope, and hundreds of years later, the people of God would see that the “banner for the peoples” was Jesus Christ.

By taking on human flesh, Jesus displayed to the world who God truly is. Jesus proclaimed rescue and safety for all those who come to Him, and He offered rest to the weary. For anyone that unites with Him, Christ offers spiritual peace by reconciling us to God. Jesus alone can provide the rest that we all long for.

The birth of Christ is a reminder God rules over all of creation. With foresight and divine control, God set His intent into motion hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth. Sovereign over all things, God knew far beyond what any human being could predict, for only God knows what the future holds. Nothing in human history is a surprise to God.

For us today, this is incredible news. Because the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in Christ, we can find great peace and comfort in the fact that God knows all things, and He is more than capable of taking care of us in our time of need.

Prayer: Father God, thank you for your sovereign will. Our plans shift, change, and fail, but yours remain forever. Thank you for your gift of salvation and for sending Jesus to be a banner for all the nations. This year, may Christmas be more than an American holiday, but may it be a reminder for us that you desire to save all kinds of people, from every nation. We acknowledge and believe that you alone are the world’s source of comfort and peace.

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In many churches, there has been a subtle change over the past decade. When we started using PowerPoint for worship, the majority of churches would use a slide for a verse, another slide for the chorus, and so on. Today, however, the trend is to use a slide for 2 to 4 lines — more like a snippet — in order to display larger font, include artwork, or show video of the band.

While this generally looks better and in a few cases is helpful, we should not accept it without question. One downside of fewer lyrical lines being displayed on a slide is that it makes it more difficult to memorize the lyrics. Rhymes are split between slides, and congregants have a more difficult time determining what is the verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and bridge. Also, it is impossible to “look ahead” to scan what lyrics are coming up.

This may seem insignificant until you consider the consequences it has upon our worship. In my own case, I have noticed that I close my eyes and raise my arms less because I need to be more concentrated on figuring out what words are coming next. As with all new media, we need to examine how such media affects the way that we worship.

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A friend recently asked me to explain what a hymn is, and it is a great question. Here are a few observations. Feel free to comment and add any of your own.

1. A hymn is not determined by when it was written. The date is irrelevant. Many hymns are being written today — usually more modern in style and easier to sing.

2. Hymns often consist of a progression of lyrics, thus the need for multiple verses. (e.g., progressing from the incarnation to the consummation)

3. Hymns are generally more eloquent and theological, and for that reason, they appeal to the cognitive part of us. Hymns inspire by reminding believers of specific doctrinal truths.

4. Hymns are usually laden with complex truths, which makes them suitable to pair with praise choruses that are often simpler and more emotive. We need to worship in both spirit and truth.

5. Hymns often repeat words, especially during a refrain — a trait that they share in common with praise choruses.

6. Hymns are not inerrant. Some are well-written and worth singing, while others are not. Some wonderful hymns have been treasured by the church and passed down for centuries.

7. Hymns acquire deeper meaning over time as Christians sing them in church, at weddings, at funerals, decade after decade. As a Christian sings them over the years, the truth expressed in the lyrics becomes more precious.

8. Older hymns often have a difficult melody line to sing and can be out of the vocal range of many people. The notes and style are not sacred, however, so musicians should feel free to adjust the melody and arrangement for the sake of the congregation.

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Driving through various parts of Chicago, I was reminded of how scattered and isolated we have become as a nation. This is nothing new, of course, but I realized again how many social and economic barriers we have created amongst ourselves. One block is home to one ethnicity, while across the street is another. As a society, we are not united as much as we think, but broken.

Admittedly, it is easy to criticize the Christian church for not being more multicultural and diverse. While there are usually good intentions within our churches, in actuality, very little is done. This is because there is not a quick solution or an easy program that will erase the societal boundaries that surround us. We face a nearly insurmountable task.

However… we serve an amazing God. Our God is constantly desiring to tear down boundaries between people groups and unite them in love. He is continually destroying the walls of hostility. He unites people through His love.

While we don’t have easy answers, we serve a God who has all of the answers. If our God could part the Red Sea, then He can work miraculously in our communities. But we need to believe. Step one in being more multicultural is trusting in a miraculous God.