Category Archives: Ministry

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Hark, the voice of Jesus calling,
“Who will go and work today?
Fields are white and harvests waiting,
Who will bear the sheaves away?”
Loud and long the master calls you;
Rich reward he offers free.
Who will answer, gladly saying,
“Here am I. Send me, send me”?

If you cannot speak like angels,
If you cannot preach like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus;
You can say he died for all.
If you cannot rouse the wicked
With the judgment’s dread alarms,
You can lead the little children
To the Savior’s waiting arms.

If you cannot be a watchman,
Standing high on Zion’s wall,
Pointing out the path to heaven,
Offering life and peace to all,
With your prayers and with your bounties
You can do what God demands;
You can be life faithful Aaron,
Holding up the prophet’s hands.

Let none hear you idly saying,
“There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying
And the master calls for you.
Take the task he gives you gladly;
Let his work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when he calls you,
“Here am I. Send me, send me!”

Hymn # 318 from Lutheran Worship
Author: Joseph Barnby
Tune: Galilean
1st Published in: 1869

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Helpful comments from C.S. Lewis on experiencing the “art of worship” within familiar forms:

“Every church service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best– if you like, it ‘works’ best– when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it.

As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling.

The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God. But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping…

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question ‘What on earth is he up to now?’ will intrude. It lays one’s devotion to waste.

There is really some excuse for the man who said, ‘I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even, Teach my performing dogs new tricks.’

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put.

But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship.”

–C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (San Diego: Harvest, 1964), 4-5.

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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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What makes “Christian” art? This debate has gone on for many years, but at least in my circles, the discussion has not progressed very far. In some ways, this question can be misleading because there is not necessarily a single answer. There are at least 3 ways to define Christian art:

1. In terms of source: art made by a Christian individual or a group of Christians.
2. In terms of motive: art intended to minister to others or to glorify God in a general way.
3. In terms of message: art that communicates a message about the Christian God or is somehow influenced by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Considering the Oxford dictionary as an example, there are various alternatives when defining a word. A single definition is not more “correct” than another, so we would be better off describing what kind of Christian art we are talking about. As a result, the conversation can advance further when we avoid semantics and focus our discussion on a specific kind of Christian art.

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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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I think Jesus may have hacked into our bank account. Somehow, he always seems to know when my wife and I are low on cash.

Now that I am a seminary student, our cash supply is often limited, and at times, nearly nonexistent. But when we reach the bottom of the barrel, we are always provided for. This has happened over and over again. God knows all along what we need, and He is always there to help.

TV and prosperity preachers give such a bad rap to the ideas of blessing and prosperity. In the guise of fancy suits and gold rings, they spout heresy. God never, never promises us a new car or a new house. Instead, God promises that Christians will face difficulty and persecution because of the evil in this world. As Jesus said in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” In other words, life as a Christian is difficult.

However, because extremists twist the Bible for their own purposes, the rest of the Christian faith has shied away from talking about material and physical blessing. I am not speaking about a six figure salary, but when we have six dollars left in the bank, we need to be confident and trust that God will provide. We should not be fearful of believing that. Even when we are to blame for the situation we are in, God delights in rescuing those who repent of their ways and turn to Him for help.

No matter what day it is, God is faithful. Not only has God promised never to flood the earth again, but He takes no delight in flooding our lives with unnecessary strife. So we can truly pray, “Give us today our daily bread,” and be assured that God will provide everything that we need to get through the day.

While the bare minimum not seem like very much, it has an added blessing in that it reminds us of heaven. We can look forward to when their will no longer be tears, fear, or the pain of hunger. Luke reminds us of Jesus’ concern for the poor and needy, as he records the words of Jesus in Luke 6:20-23:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, exclude you, mock you, and curse you because of the Son of Man.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for behold,
great is your reward in heaven…”

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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.