Category Archives: Theology

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Language has never been a science. It is mysterious, beautiful, and often confusing.

All of us are dependent upon language for communication — whether it be verbal or non-verbal. As language becomes both more diverse (due to globalization) and more unified (due to mass media), we are caught between understanding and misunderstanding.

Historically, Christians have recognized that God primarily speaks to us through His word. He spoke the world into existence, He spoke to the Israelites throughout the centuries, He sent His son into the world to fulfill the Word, and He continues to speak to his people today.

We do need to look far before we realize how “slippery” language can be. When people use language, there is always a degree of uncertainty when it comes to meaning. It is no wonder that there are so many cases of misunderstanding between people. The nature of language itself, because it is not scientific, often leads to such misunderstandings.

Left on our own, we are often misled or confused. We define words differently, speak them differently, use them differently, and so on. In order to truly understand language, of course, we need someone to guide us as we interact with language and interpret it for ourselves. We need to ask questions, seek clarification, and truly interact with the speaker.

Thankfully, we can be assured that God’s Spirit does just that. In speaking of the Spirit of God, Jesus calls Him a “helper” and assures that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things.” In other words, the Holy Spirit is a teacher that can clarify our confusion, unveil what is veiled, and satisfy our need for knowledge.

In our day, many scholars want to deconstruct language, both religious and non-religious, and question whether we can truly determine a meaning from a text. For example, some point to textual criticism and the many variants used in Christian scripture. How can we truly know anything if language is so slippery?

In response, we must first admit that language is mostly effective. Otherwise, we would not use language at all. The argument that language cannot communicate meaning is self-contradictory, so we cannot hold on to that argument for very long.

Secondly, we do not need to deny these difficulties, but we can embrace them. If language were purely scientific and self-evident, we would have no misunderstandings, we would lose some of the beauty of language, and the Spirit would have no role in helping us understand what has been spoken.

As we come to God’s Word, it is essential, then, that we ask for the Spirit’s help. Interpreting the text is not simply an intellectual puzzle to be figured out. It is an exercise of listening to God’s voice as He speaks to us through His word.

As any married couple knows, true listening involves the heart, even more so than the mind. Communication is not simply the deciphering of language, but the heart-felt interaction with what is being said. Only then do we truly listen.

May this be true of us as we listen to God speak to us.

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In his closing comments at the Arise Arts Conference, Brian McLaren complimented Christian artists for “using the arts to better the church.” Most of us could agree with that because over the past 30 years the Church has made huge strides in music and arts in the church. There has been an improvement in quality and diversity, as seen in our churches and the success of contemporary Christian music.

Following his brief compliment, McLaren challenged Christian artists to use the arts to “better the world.” His challenge resonated deeply with me. Far too often, we fall into the temptation of using art to improve our local, personal context. We only think within the walls of the Church. In reality, though, art can transcend that and become much more. Our art, in short, should be selfless.

Through art, we can do amazing things. Just to name a few… We can personalize strangers. We can spread light. We can help people feel compassion. We can invoke emotions. We can bring people into the redemptive story.

>>> By the way, be sure to check out Taylor Birkey’s blog and his post about the arts conference. He is a fellow Taylor grad that graciously helped me attend the conference, and his blog is definitely worth checking out.

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Psalm 16, a golden psalm of David, is quickly becoming one of my favorite psalms.

One of my favorite parts is verse 2, where David writes, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, I have no good besides you.’ ” It is a simple reminder of how God should be exalted above all else in our lives — not out of legalistic obligation, but because He truly is the only good in our lives. Everything that is good comes from Him.

If we claim Christ as our Lord, we should regularly remind ourselves of that commitment. Matthew Henry had this to say about Psalm 16:2: “Have you said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord? Say it again then, stand to it, abide by it, and never unsay it. Hast thou said it? Take the comfort of it, and live up to it. He is thy Lord, and worship thou him, and let thy eye be ever towards him.’’

His suggestions could benefit us all. If we claim Christ as our Lord: say it again, stand to it, abide by it, never unsay it, take the comfort of it, and live up to it.

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Yesterday, at about 2:30, a doctor told my wife, “Worst case scenario… you die.”  They were worried about a blood clot in her leg.  Needless to say, we were at the hospital for 8 hours, but the test results showed that nothing was wrong.  She went home without needing any treatment at all.

As some of you know, this scenario has happened before.  In late August / September, two doctors were worried that I could be dying, but it turned out to be a relatively minor condition.  Yet another time this year, God has changed our red flags to white.

Not only is God good, but He must also have a sense of humor.  We ended up leaving the hospital last night laughing quite a bit.  Even when our car didn’t start in the parking garage (not a pleasant surprise!), God helped us get home quickly.  Strange, but God has creative ways to get through to us. 

The moral of the story is:  Don’t let false starts get you worried.  Be confident that “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  (Philippians 1:6)  And remember that no matter what, God will bring you home.

Please keep us in prayer tonight and tomorrow.  My wife will begin labor, and although it won’t be easy, please pray that the pain and discomfort is as minimal as possible.  For me, just pray that I can eat something and that I don’t faint!

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My wife and I are anticipating the birth of our first daughter, EGJ. (Her full name is top secret for now!) Her arrival could be anytime from now until May 11th, and I am thrilled to the point of tears. Our baby is just about to begin her journey, while I am continuing on mine. What a crazy, miraculous world we live in.

Significant events, such as a birth or a death, force us to revisit the topic of life. Most days we slide on by, carrying on our regular activities, but once in a while we have a chance to slow down and ask once again, “What is life really about?” Thankfully, from a Christian perspective, we can narrow it down quite succinctly:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We beg you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

With only a few words, Paul words summarizes the meaning of the cosmos: (1) God was, and is, reconciling the world to Himself; (2) God does not count our sins against us; (3) and we have been given the message of reconciliation. Everything else should be influenced by those truths.

On a given day, we tend to forget about one or more of those aspects. We forget about God’s global perspective and the breadth of His salvation. We forget about the problem of sin and how God extends His mercy to us. Or we forget to beg others to be reconciled. On some days, maybe we forget all three.

Life is a jumble of activities, but let us never lose sight of what life is about. Whether you are breathing your first breath, driving to work, kissing your spouse, or saying your farewells, it all begins and end with God. The joy of life is that we can all be reconciled.

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Every disciple of Christ is called to ministry; it is a calling for everyone. Our response to that call, however, usually involves either feelings of inadequacy or self-sufficiency:

(1) Some disciples feel inadequate to be serving on behalf of Christ. Whether because of limited education or lack of experience, these disciples often feel as if someone else could do a better job. They are constantly second guessing themselves.

(2) Other disciples feel fully prepared to be serving. Because of their training, experience, or resume, these disciples know what ministry is all about. They have learned some successful tools of ministry and know what they need to be successful.

We tend towards one extreme or the other, yet both are equally treacherous. In both cases, the minister subtly places confidence in himself. Success (or failure) is dependent on what a person knows or does.

Paul had a strikingly different view of ministry. Our confidence, wrote Paul, “is ours through Christ. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” (2 Cor. 3:4-5) Unlike many, Paul never boasted about his talents or ministry accomplishments. He gave total credit to God.

Paul’s attitude, although foreign to our entrepreneurial culture, is realistic. We are nothing in ourselves, and we do not deserve to claim anything for ourselves. Our competence comes from God alone.

The idea that God “has made us competent” is more powerful than some of us may like to accept. It means that anyone — anyone — regardless of their background, can be a minister. Ministry has little to do with us, but everything to do with Him. Once we get over our own personal feelings, this powerful truth can elevate us to new heights in ministry.

So in response to His Word, may God grant us the humility that we need for effective ministry — that we would see ourselves as completely incompetent apart from Christ — and may He empower us with unspeakable confidence in Christ to accomplish more than we could ever imagine on our own.

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Several weeks ago I wrote that art does not create truth, but “uncovers truth,” as an artist chisels away stone.  In other words, art discovers truth, but does not create it.  Whatever the form, it is important that art never gets so self-consumed that it loses sight of the original Source of Truth.

On the other hand, maybe even “uncovering” is giving ourselves too much credit. My reason for second guessing myself is this A.W. Tozer quote from “Theology Set to Music”:

Hymns do not create truth, nor even reveal it; they celebrate it. They are the response of the trusting heart to a truth revealed or a fact accomplished. God does it and man sings it. God speaks and a hymn is the musical echo of His voice.

Tozer had a humble view of worship songs. They need to be seen for what they are. Songwriters and songs do not create truth. As Tozer states, “God does it and man sings it.” We are responding to the truth that God has created.

The question that remains is this: Do new arrangements of words reveal truth? Can our minds be edified in a new way through new songs and new lyrics?

On one hand, I want to say yes.  Our minds need words and arrangements of words to help us comprehend ideas.  As human beings, our thoughts are directly connected to our vocabulary.  Conversely, if we are limited in our exposure to language, we are limited cognitively. 

However, I think Tozer is emphasizing something deeper here. While words are crucial to our understanding of truth, God can always transcend language. After all, He is the God of burning bushes, talking donkeys, and babbling tongues. Ultimately, then, Tozer offers a helpful reminder that it is the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us, not our human creativity.

For this reason, worship songs are responsive. Our task as songwriters is not to create a new message, so that others can “better understand.” Rather, we have the joy of helping others celebrate the truth that already exists.  Our worship should be a musical echo of God’s voice.

God has already done it. Now it’s our job to sing it!

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Although I haven’t read much of Karl Barth’s writings, thanks to Richard Mouw’s blog, I discovered these deeply penetrating ideas in his Prayer and Preaching.  Among many other pieces of advice, Barth offers the following advice regarding preaching:

Do not indulge in allegory; exercising one’s talents on the Word hinders it from sounding out clearly. One should also beware of intruding one’s own individuality or enlarging on one’s personal experience by using illustrations or parables drawn from events in one’s own life.

Barth’s emphasis on the sufficiency of God’s Word is a refreshing reminder that we are messengers of the Good News, but not the authors.  We must remain true to the text without adding a plethora of our own ideas and life experience.  As I would summarize his ideas, in a sermon, people should hear from God, not an entertaining speaker.

His comments also relate to how we view creativity in the Church.   In the midst of illustrations, videos, dramas, songs, PowerPoints, artwork, and so forth, we should always be cautious of “indulging” in those things.  One sign of this is when we are more excited about the medium than the message.  The two should never be confused.

There is a fine balance.  On one hand, we should use all of our talents to communicate God to others, and this includes our creativity; but on the other, we should be careful to distinguish between God’s Words and our words.  Because God’s Words are immensely more valuable, it should not disappoint us that we are merely messengers.  We do not need to make things “more exciting” with what we add to the message.

There is a lot to think about here.  Obviously, Barth’s ideas can be taken too far, and maybe at times they could seem impractical.  However, I think it’s a fair reminder that everything we do — whether preaching, teaching, creating, or serving — should be subservient to God’s Word.  When it comes to the end of the day, our actions should ultimately point others to God rather than ourselves.

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“Tom Beaudoin reveals four themes that shape the theology of many Postmoderns: (1) all institutions are suspect; (2) personal experience is everything; (3) suffering is spiritual; and (4) ambiguity is a central element of faith.”   (source)

To respond to each of these, it would seem that the Church should:  (1) embrace people more than programs; (2) focus on interactive, communal worship; (3) provide more opportunities for service; and (4) explore more gray areas in our teachings and discussions.

What do you think?

To be effective as ministers of the Gospel, we must be contagious.

God’s Truth needs to be something that we breathe, something that we ache with, something that we love. If we don’t feel it within our soul, we desperately need to ask ourselves why.

Whatever our ministry, we need to passionately live out the Gospel. We are not living because of facts about God, we are living because of the love of God. And this can only be communicated through passion. Remember that people rarely fall in love with facts, but they do fall in love with love.

Along these lines, Matt Chandler offers some great advice in this brief Resurgence video.  He shares advice for young preachers, but even if you don’t preach, his suggestions are still valuable.