In Honor of Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” 

Martin Luther King Jr.

The Passion Facade at Gaudi's Sagrada Familia

UPDATE: If you would like to expand your horizons on the subject of race relations and how the gospel effects us in the area of our biases, let me recommend the following books:

Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation  edited by Anthony Bradley

Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf

Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian by John Piper

Why bother with how you read the Bible?

An understandable document?

In our adult Education Hour class at Christ Church Santa Fe, we’ve started a series called God’s Story – Navigating the Bible without Losing the Plot. Its a 5 week series on hermeneutics, the study of how we know (or in this case, read) something.

Last week we discussed the various components of the Bible, noting that it was

  • composed of 66 books,
  • written by 40 known authors (some books we do not know the author),
  • covers a span of history from 1400 BC – 93 AD (the entire ancient near east and Roman world)
  •  Written in 3 different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek)
  • Its authors include: kings, peasants, men, women, slaves, free, fishermen, doctors, lawyers, philosophers, generals, artists, poets, rich, poor, and so on.
  • Its contents include: information about geography, authors, audiences, population, genealogies, and much more.
  • Its genres include: law, prophecy, poetry, gospel, history, letters, and apocalyptic.  And each genre has its own distinct way of being read (i.e. literally, figuratively, etc).

With all this to consider, Is a definition of the “the bible” that takes all this into account even possible?

My contention is, “Yes! It is possible.”  My synthesis answer taking all that into account was that:

The bible is a collection of literary works that record God’s word, to us, through others.

From here, I would like to propose a hermeneutical test: If in your reading the Bible, you never are offended or puzzled, you may not be reading it correctly?

Why? Because it is God’s Word to us – it isn’t a mirror of our own pre-conceived notions or preferences (so it should challenge and offend us at times), and it is coming from a perfect and good source – the Creator – to imperfect and “mixed-at-best” creatures (so it should leave us humble, be-wildred and questioning).

This is why it is important to recognize, understand, and when needed, de-construct how we read the Bible.  In preparing for this upcoming week I came upon this quote in Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard’s Introduction to Biblical Interpretation and thought it worth sharing here.  It gets to the heart of the tension between the ease of understanding the Bible at times (the perspicuity of Scripture) and the labor we need to exert in understanding the Bible at others.

“It presents a clear message to anyone willing to read it, and that is why people throughout history have understood its teachings.  This does not imply that it is a simple book or that anyone may grasp easily everything it contains.  The doctrine of the perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures, so stressed in the Protestant Reformation, always referred to that which was essential for right doctrine and living – not to every sentence in the Bible.” – Klein-Blomberg-Hubbard, Intro to Biblical Interpretation (149)

 

 The Bible is very much an understandable document, even if at times it requires more from us than we are at times willing to give.

What makes us safe with God? Or, the Blessed Assurance of a Basic Theology

What makes us “safe” with God?

I was thinking of this after reading one of Spurgeon’s devotionals the other day from Morning and Evening.  Assuming that someone cares that they are (or are not) safe with God, its a pretty important question.

“Pleasant it is to the believer to know that God’s eye is thus tenderly observant of that work of grace which he has begun. He never loses sight of the treasure which he has placed in our earthen vessels. Sometimes we cannot see the light, but God always sees the light, and that is much better than our seeing it. Better for the judge to see my innocence than for me to think I see it. It is very comfortable for me to know that I am one of God’s people–but whether I know it or not, if the Lord knows it, I am still safe.”

Now don’t hear what Spurgeon is not saying.  He’s not saying that, “You have no response to Him to make,” or “There’s nothing you can know about God, and what He is up to in your life.”  Read the quote below for his thoughts on that.

But what he is saying is something I have adopted as a basic, underlying philosophy to life.  Its actually the starting point of all theological explorations for me and I encourage others to adopt it as well.

God is God, and I am not

It really is just that simple.  If God is God, then there are going to be things that He not only does, but even knows – about the world, life, and even myself – that I am not only unaware, but unable to estimate in the same regard as He does.  When doubt creeps in for whatever reason, I can still and always trust that God is God, and I am not.

 “You may be sighing and groaning because of inbred sin, and mourning over your darkness, yet the Lord sees “light” in your heart, for he has put it there, and all the cloudiness and gloom of your soul cannot conceal your light from his gracious eye. You may have sunk low in despondency, and even despair; but if your soul has any longing towards Christ, and if you are seeking to rest in his finished work, God sees the “light.” He not only sees it, but he also preserves it in you. “I, the Lord, do keep it.” This is a precious thought to those who, after anxious watching and guarding of themselves, feel their own powerlessness to do so. The light thus preserved by his grace, he will one day develop into the splendour of noonday, and the fulness of glory. The light within is the dawn of the eternal day.”

- C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Day 5

Megamind: The Line Between Hero and Villain, Blurred in Blue

Megamind: Bad Guy Gone Good?

Megamind

What happens when your dreams come true?

At  Christ Church Santa Fe, we began a intermittent ministry of hosting movie nights during the summer.  I would put together a brief write up (called REEL Conversations) to help people think through the movie with discernment in order to see the redemption offered in it, which is a true reality for any movie. This is the write up for the movie Megamind.

I admit that I love animated movies like Megamind. This movie might just be in my Top 10 of all time. This movie-story is one where the lines between hero and villain are blurred, albeit in blue, but blurred nonetheless.  Who is the “bad-guy” (antagonist) and who is the “good-guy” (protagonist), anyway?

 Central to the story is the theme of identity and hope, and what happens when your wildest dreams finally come true.  Will it be enough?  Will your ultimate hope – the thing that drives all that you do – satisfy you in the end?

Most of us tend to live with the functional philosophy coined by the Neal McCoy country song, that “If you can’t be good, be good at it.”  You can’t escape who you are, so just be the best you that you can be.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do; just be the best that you can be.  Megamind comes into this early in his life and bases his life on being the best bad guy he can be.

Until one day he reaches the end.  He has accomplished all his goals.  He has reached all his dreams.  He has become the best at being bad.  And the reality sets in that there not only might, but must, be something more.

At the end of the day, we have the story about how a bad guy becomes a good guy, and the journey he takes to get there.  And that sometimes, what we thought we were all along and what we thought we wanted, might not turn out to be the total truth after all.

Questions to consider:

  1. Who is the good guy, and who is the bad guy?  What makes them so?
  2. What led to Megamind’s conclusion that his destiny was to become the best bad guy ever?
  3. When did things start to change for Megamind? What happened to make him become something he was not previously (consider the quote below)
  4. How did Megamind end up, and is there something you can take-away from this story for your life?

Quote to consider:

Thomas Chalmers, an 18th century pastor preached a sermon titled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”, where he argues that lasting change can only be found not by the denial of a desire, but by replacing it with a new one. He begins by saying:

There are two ways in which [one] may attempt to displace from the human heart its love of the world; either by a demonstration of the world’s vanity, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon simply to withdraw its regards from an object that is not worthy of it; or, by setting forth another object, even God, as more worthy of its attachment; so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon, not to resign an old affection which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one. My purpose is to show, that from the constitution of our nature, the former method is altogether incompetent and ineffectual and that the latter method will alone suffice for the rescue and recovery of the heart from the wrong affection that domineers over it.

In Christianity, what is it we’re really after?

A mixed media piece by Jason Edmond Beaird, reflecting on his personal reading of the Book of Job

This is a question that has popped up in my mind from time to time.  Its also a question I find helpful in thinking through many issues we can face – from household arguments to denominational/theological differences.

Its the simple question of “What are we really after?”

As Christians, we can sometimes take it for granted that we are doing what we are doing “for the glory of God”, when instead what we are doing is pursuing some other agenda, some other end, and merely slapping a “God-approved” label on it.  This is dangerous.  Just look at several GOP Presidential candidates who all felt “called” to be the next President, only to bow out months later.

Job’s answer to the question (though it wasn’t put to him quite the same way) is convincting:

“In my flesh shall I see God.” – Job 19:26

 

This came up from my reading C.H. Spurgeon’s devotional reading for today in Morning and Evening as he reflected on the cry of Job’s heart after suffering immensely.  I found it informative and challenging, and share it here with you.

 “Mark the subject of Job’s devout anticipation “I shall see God.” He does not say, “I shall see the saints”–though doubtless that will be untold felicity–but, “I shall see God.” It is not–“I shall see the pearly gates, I shall behold the walls of jasper, I shall gaze upon the crowns of gold,” but “I shall see God.” This is the sum and substance of heaven, this is the joyful hope of all believers. It is their delight to see him now in the ordinances by faith. They love to behold him in communion and in prayer; but there in heaven they shall have an open and unclouded vision, and thus seeing “him as he is,” shall be made completely like him. Likeness to God–what can we wish for more? And a sight of God–what can we desire better?”

- C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Day 10

*The graphic image is from Jason Edmond Beaird, who created the work with mixed media reflecting on his reading of the book of Job.  I found it through a Google search and found his piece both visually stunning, beautifully simple and right at the heart, emotively, of what I hoped to convey in this post.  You can see more of his work at: http://v5.jasongraphix.com/

Why I get excited about teaching the gospel…no matter what I’m teaching on specifically

Herman Bavinck

In case you ever wondered why I get so excited about the gospel, and particularly, teaching the gospel from any book, theme or issue from the Bible, here’s why:

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in this, that the creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and recreated by the Holy Spirit into the kingdom of God.”

Herman Bavinck

Book Review: Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

Well its time for another brief book review.  I recently finished Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft, published under the Re:Lit banner of Crossway books.  Leadership and leadership development is a passion of mine, so when books like this come out, I’m usually on top of reading them.  This one slipped by me though for a few months before I dived into it.

The reason is because this has been one of the busiest season of my life.  In addition to my full-time pastoral role at Christ Church Santa Fe, I continue to serve other pastors as a Research Consultant.  But also two months ago we welcomed our fourth child into the world in Luke.  We are excited, but to any parent the first few months are the hardest (re-adjusting to an infant’s needs, lack of sleep, etc).

In that context, Kraft’s book was a breath of fresh air.  I have to say that in the pages of Kraft’s book I did not read anything new, necessarily.  Kraft is coming from a Navigator background, and myself having come up through Campus Outreach, I recognized many of the principles from other great books (thinking of LeRoy Eims, J. Oswald Sanders, etc).

But there was more. Kraft also weaved in some good principles and examples from the business side of leadership principles.  While I said there was nothing new, what was refreshing was to see someone integrate the biblical principles, theology of resource stewardship, and the practical insights and outworking in a context where leadership and effectiveness is prized highly.

Kraft wrote this with a particular audience in mind – that of the vocational ministry leader.  Every book needs a focus, so he should not be faulted for that.  Everything that he talks about is applicable to anybody.  His definition of a Christian leader I found to be quite heplful and refreshing in making room for leaders of various sizes and shapes: “A Christian leader is a humble, God-dependent, team-playing [that's huge] servant of God who is called by God to shepherd, develop, equip and empower a specific group of believers to accomplish an agreed-upon [also huge] vision from God.” (24, Kindle edition).

You can tell by my inserted comments what I like most about Kraft.  He both affirms the role of key/Senior/Primary leadership, but also the “with others” context that permeates the Biblical witness as well as the experiences of many business leaders.  Look at Apple computers (my example, not Kraft’s): where would Apple be if Steve Wozniak hadn’t been working with Steve Jobs (or vice versa).  This was the biggest strength, in my opinion, of Kraft’s book.

The other most helpful section of his book were the sections on Formation (chs. 7 & 8 especially) and Fruitfulness (ch. 11).  These chapters alone are worth the cost of the book.  They are filled with great principles and packaged in a way that can be readily assimilated into whatever context you find yourself engaging as a leader.

Chapter 7 is especially helpful in forcing leaders to think through not just what they have learned (past tense) but at what rate are they currently learning (present).  The leadership dynamic that is most challenging – to leaders and their organizations – is resting on the laurels of previous work, accomplishments.  This is seen in the drastic statement that should never be the determiner of a course of action (though it should be informative to any course of action): “In my experience…”.  I am all for cataloguing experiences, learning from them and implementing them into the present for a desired future, but when they alone are what determines what is done, how its done, when its done, and why its done, we as leaders have effectively stopped growing, reflecting, learning and therefore leading.  Kraft’s thoughts in chapter 7 help shatter that paradigm, and for this I am most thankful for his work.

For all of its strengths, I do wish that Kraft had spent a little less time trumpeting thoughout the book his own personal philosophy of how he is seeking to be a purposeful leader.  I’ll explain that.  Normally, I think its a good thing when leaders know, own and share their personal passion.  For Kraft, his passion is to “develop leaders who develop leaders” essentially.  I share that passion with him.  But what can happen when we make statements like this is we tend to warp our definition of leaders to a particular type of leader.  The effect this can have is that other types of leaders are automatically discounted, not because they aren’t leaders, or not even senior level leaders, but because they don’t fit the mold of what pops into our head when we say “a leader who develops leaders.”  This is a systemic problem in a lot of discipleship-heavy ministries (especially college student ministries) that I think this rhetoric tends to merely exacerbate the problem, rather than speaking truth into it.

With that said, though, I can heartily recommend Kraft’s book, and would counsel any pastor or ministry leader to have it, digest it, and work it out, into your life and various ministries.  That one complaint is not indicative of Kraft’s whole work, just a disagreement on frequency of use and wording.  His thoughts, experiences and insights into leadership effectiveness for ministry leaders in the 21st century are extremely valuable and would assist anyone engaged in humbly leading others for the glory of God.

Worth it = Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft

Delegating discipleship?

Discipleship = The process of helping others to come along with you into God's story

I’ve been thinking about discipleship a lot lately.  Not only because its my primary focus at Christ Church Santa Fe, but because I’ve been confronted with a disturbing trend. What I have been confronted with is not merely the lack of training in or even exposure to discipleship, but a lack of desire, interest, or even willingness to engage in it. [Not talking about my church specifically, but things I'm seeing or conversations I'm engaged in on a broader level]

I’m not talking about “volunteerism” or “small groups”, but when someone is practically begging someone else to show them how to know God, walk with Him, grow in their relationship with God, there seems to be a tendency to delegate the task to others.

Where did we get this from?

The task given to the church – and that means all believers in Christ – is the task of discipleship (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).  Not schooling in a particular methodology, or training in a specific program or curriculum, but sharing our lives in such a way that others are growing closer into a relationship with God, or living out their relationship with God in maturing ways.

Its a call to enter into God’s story, live in light of it, and help others do the same. Is this really such a terrifying thing to engage in?

This quote from Stanley Hauerwas was helpful to me in thinking about this:

“We are called to be disciples and even to count ourselves among the righteous.  Our call is not a general admonition to be good, but a concrete and definite call to take up the way of life made possible by God’s redemptive action for us in the cross.  To be redeemed, as I suggested above, is nothing less than to learn to place ourselves in God’s history, to be part of God’s people.”

- Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 33

So you guys tell me, “How do we reverse the trend of delegating the responsibility of discipleship onto others, and take it up ourselves?”

Or in words that express this other picture, “How can we all take a part in helping others get up, and move into and live out their relationship with God?”

In helping others, everyone can play a part...even puppies.

What God has prominent in his Word, should be conspicuous in our lives

"Consider the lilies..." - Luke 12:27

I love this thought from Spurgeon. It deals with prayer and it is something that I honestly have largely overlooked.  Most discussions (or disputes?) about the role of prayer and God’s sovereignty stem from the philosophical side of things: If God is God, in charge and doing what He’s going to do, then why pray?  What can prayer accomplish?

But this line of reasoning completely misses the point of prayer altogether.  Prayer is conversation, not chips to be bartered with God to get our way at His expense.  Therefore, we see it pop up all thorughout Scripture.

We are to pray, to engage with God, to converse with Him.  This is the fundamental reason and purpose behind it. Not to get things from Him, or twist His arm and pester Him until things shake out the way we want them to.  “Consider the lilies of the field” Jesus tells us in Luke 12:27.  They don’t work, labor, and yet, look at how much God takes care of them.  Don’t doubt that He will take care of you too.

Prayer.  Its prominent in God’s Word because He wants it to be conspicuous in our lives.  He wants us engaged with Him.

“It is interesting to remark how large a portion of Sacred Writ is occupied with the subject of prayer, either in furnishing examples, enforcing precepts, or pronouncing promises. We scarcely open the Bible before we read, “Then began men to call upon the name of the Lord;” and just as we are about to close the volume, the “Amen” of an earnest supplication meets our ear. Instances are plentiful. Here we find a wrestling Jacob–there a Daniel who prayed three times a day–and a David who with all his heart called upon his God. On the mountain we see Elias; in the dungeon Paul and Silas. We have multitudes of commands, and myriads of promises. What does this teach us, but the sacred importance and necessity of prayer? We may be certain that whatever God has made prominent in his Word, he intended to be conspicuous in our lives. If he has said much about prayer, it is because he knows we have much need of it.”

C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, Day 2

Links to Various Teaching/Preaching

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Had the privelege of preaching with Martin Ban and Anthony Bianchini for Christ Church Santa Fe Christmas Day Service. We each took 2 minutes to reflect on Luke 2:10-12. Plus, it was very cool to see one my dad’s (Jim Gensheer) art pieces being used as the artwork for the bulletin (and Podcast).

Click the link, take a listen and share your thoughts.

Sermons: http://www.christchurchsantafe.org/media.php?pageID=6

Education Hour/Sunday School Teachings: http://www.christchurchsantafe.org/media.php?pageID=63