Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas - from the letter of Philemon

A quick note - "cliff notes" are at the end...

This week I had intended to write a bit each day about this time of year.  In part it was going to be a time of reflecting on our cultural Christmas and how what it emphasizes is a far cry from the Bible and the reality of Emmanuel (God with us).  BUT alas it is now Friday and here is the first entry.  So, the thoughts I had for the week will not make their way into this entry (maybe later), it would be far too lengthy.  Instead I will highlight a few things from the letter to Philemon. 

Now I realize Philemon may not seem like a "Christmas text" - but the truths found within it flow out of the reality of the entire Christ Event (Jesus' birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and longed for 2nd coming), of which the Christmas season is a part. 

1) We are family.  For many the "holiday season" brings desires for enjoying time with family.  You know the drill; everyone makes it home for Christmas, a wonderful meal is shared along with laughter and the general sharing of life.  Our culture (as warped at it is) puts this forth as ideal.  Hmmm...perhaps our culture may not be that bad after all...  Yet the reality is, this idealistic picture is not reality for the majority of people.  E.g., the emptiness of missing a deceased loved one (recent or past), actual tension within the family, even dread of who will show up and say the wrong thing this time.  In thinking about this...I suppose our culture is up to its modus operandi (i.e., "M.O." - mode of operating) by "elevating family" during this time of year because that is where thoughts can drift (and let's face it, thinking of family is not bad in and of itself).  Yet in overemphasizing a 'good thing' a focus on Emmanuel is lost and we turn to fretting over family issues instead of being joyous concerning the truth of the Gospel and the impact it is to have.  (Please note, if your family situation is "ideal" then do not feel guilty...just be aware this is not reality for the majority of people.)
Therefore it is foundational to remember we are family "in Christ".  Paul uses the term "brother" (vs1,7,16,20) and "sister" (v2) in Philemon.  Interestingly both Philemon (vs7,20) and Onesimus (v16) are designated as "brother".  This is interesting because Philemon is a master and Onesimus is his slave...the social structures of our world (any culture) are flipped on their head due to the Christ Event.  

2) Our lives are to impact the world.  Somehow we have taken the idea of "peace" and changed it to be something internal and subjective.  The same is true with "faith" and "love" - things which we take to be very individualistic.  If "faith" and "love" and "peace" are individualistic...then the Christ Event does not impact the world as it was intended to do.
On the other hand, looking in Philemon, we can see Philemon was wealthy (v2 indicates he not only owned a home, but it was large enough for "the church" to meet there) and used his wealth for the Kingdom of God.  While it is true we do not know what he was like before coming into the Kingdom of God, we know his life after that fact was marked by "love" for God's people and "faith" in the Lord Jesus (v5).  Obviously this faith and love were not privatized, otherwise Paul would not have known of it.  Philemon's love and faith prompted him to do things for the Kingdom of God - which impacted the world. 
Paul uses "Jesus" to refer to Jesus of Nazareth 212 times in his letters.  I find it interesting (and instructive for us) how all but 12 of them include "Lord" or "Christ" (or a combination of the two) in conjunction with Jesus' name.  As we continue to grow in our understanding of what "Lord" and "Christ" mean...there is no option but for our faith to impact the world.  And this leads us to the fact of...

3) Love is the only sustainable force for change there is.  Our culture puts forth a variety of things as driving forces for change - e.g., desire for more, guilt, wanting to please someone else, coercsion.  None of those will sustain change in the long term.  
The structure of Philemon is chiastic (at least it seems so to me).
A) vs1-3
   B) vs4-7
       C) vs8-11
        c) vs12-17
   b) vs17-22
a) vs23-25
I won't go into all of those details except to point out how Paul could have commanded Philemon to do what he should have done (v8).  This is a reality of the Christian faith.  We serve a Lord (not a genie) and He demands we do things.  However, we must note all of those demands are undergirded by a statement of fact (e.g., 'be holy' in 1 Peter 1:16 because God is holy in Leviticus 11:44).  Dr. Lowery (a former professor of mine at Lincoln Christian University) would refer to this as "under every imperative there is an indicative" (or something phrased similar to that). 
So, we see how Paul could have commanded Philemon to "do the right thing," but instead he appeals to love...the only force that will sustain the change in Philemon Paul (and God) desired.  In that mode of thinking, to whom within the family of Christ can/should you write to affirm (vs4-7)?  We do not do this enough - I am convinced of this fact. 

In the reality of Emmanuel we see how Jesus left the riches of heaven to invade the slums of earth.  Why did He do this?  Because of love (and to establish a Kingdom).  So my question, what will the love of Christ compel us to do?  What will it compel us to do not just in this time of year...but throughout the year.  Because after all, if Christmas is true...then it changes everything

Cliff Notes: 
The Christmas season has been greatly distorted.  The reality of the Christ Event ought to impact everything.  In Paul's letter to Philemon we can see three truths which are inherent to this time of year. 
1) We are family. 
2) Our lives are to impact the world. 
3) Love is the only sustainable force for change there is.
3.a) So...write a letter (but read Philemon first). 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Give and you will be _____

I am perplexed. In “KJV bible-ese” I may be getting close to “undone” (cf. Isaiah 6:5). We are currently doing a series on stewardship at New Life. I do not know if it is because…well I just do not know – but I was not looking forward to it.

It is not that I am against talking about money (a while back in a sermon I suggested with a Kingdom perspective we do things differently: like seeking to live on less in order to support a “missionary” or if both spouses work seriously consider giving a salary away to help the “least of these” – or to meet needs and then give it away, etc.). I suppose what I do not like is how quite often the way giving is talked about within the church rubs me wrong. In typing that please understand I am seeking to be humble because I realize the way I go about things may rub people the wrong way as well. I want to learn from others and humbly offer some reflections for others to ponder.

With all of that said, in reading, praying, and studying for this past Sunday’s sermon I became – well I am not sure what I became. If you are still with me I am not trying to be confusing. I suppose my hem-hawing around is due to how my eyes are continually being opened by God’s Word…and sometimes I do not like what I see. Perhaps more accurately that last statement should be what I see both excites and disturbs me.

I cannot recount the number of times I have heard Malachi 3:10 utilized when encouraging people to “tithe”. Last week I read and re-read Malachi several times (a good principle for Bible study). I do not know how many times I had read Malachi last week before I realized what verse 10 said. The plea is for there to be “food” in God’s house.
(Disclaimer: this sermon did not focus solely on Malachi; at the beginning of the week I had a thought of looking at Malachi 3:10 at some point in the sermon…so during the week I read and re-read the book several times. I mention this disclaimer to state it is possible I am wrong…BUT PLEASE if I am, help me by showing me – just be gentle as I am seeking to be). Please note, I try to keep these somewhat brief so they are read in their entirety…so please either a) stick with me or b) look at the cliff notes at the bottom of the post (if I remember them).

Malachi 3:10 says, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Every verse has a larger context within a pericope, chapter, book, Bible. With this in mind if we quickly back up to 3:6 we read, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Another way of translating the end of verse six is “…O children of Jacob, have not ceased” or “…have not ceased to be the sons of Jacob” (Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: TOTC). We must remember Jacob’s name meant he was a deceiver (cf. stealing Esau’s birthright). So basically YHWH (the LORD) is consistent, but so too are the “children of Jacob”. In other words, God is consistent in showing mercy and grace while His people are consistent in rebelling against Him. Ouch!! (Did I mention Malachi was a prophet? Also, 47 of the 55 verses in Malachi are in 1st person form directed at Israel as a collective whole – this last from Hill & Walton, A Survey of the OT.)

Yet I am sure you noticed v6 starts with “for”. In the Hebrew text this is a ki-clause, which is very important for understanding what is taking place. Basically it gives a reason for something (e.g., Malachi 1:14 says YHWH deserves the best when it comes to offerings “for” He is a great King).

So, we need to back up a bit further – for the sake of time we will only go to Malachi 3:5, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.” The last part of verse five speaks loudly to issues of social justice. A casual reading of the Bible clearly shows God is concerned for “the least of these” – those who are in need and totally dependent on others for help.

So, we see God upset at the people of Israel for covenant unfaithfulness (e.g., Mal1:6ff; 2:10) which leads to (among other things) the oppression of people (e.g., Mal3:5). Not long after that we have God say (paraphrased) remember, all you have is Mine anyway…but if you bring in just the small portion of what I ask for…test Me…

Why does YHWH want the “full tithe”? Why does He say “test Me”? Is He promising a bigger blessing in that if you “tithe” He will materially bless your socks off to the point you are overwhelmed? This is often what is practically said (if not blatantly taught) with this verse – at least in my limited experience. Yet read Malachi 3:10 again, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing UNTIL THERE IS NO MORE NEED.

I put the last few words in caps to emphasize them ;). Firstly, “until” is a temporal conjunction – meaning it is “time-bound”. In other words, God will do something until something else is achieved; in this case when there is no more need. This raises an obvious question, what is the need? Secondly, remember why he wants the “full tithe” – for there to be food, period. Remember the “oppressed” back in 3:5?

At this point I will mention how Deuteronomy 14:28-29 states every three years the tithe will be used to feed the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow (and more other gracious acts were intended along the way). Hmmm…the last three of those are identical to Malachi 3:5. In fact, I think it is fascinating how the two sets form a chiasm (but I will not press the issue because these are two separate books…BUT it is really cool). Why did God say that in Deuteronomy? That YHWH may “bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” This in turn obviously means the needs of people will be met. What does He promise in Malachi when the full tithe is brought into the storehouse? He promises to “open the windows of heaven” until there is no more need. Whose need? My needs so I can have what I want? No. The needs of the oppressed are clearly the focus.

For the sake of length I will begin to wrap up. I would say this is “part one” – but sadly I have yet to do “part two” of an earlier post (it is not that I do not want to…well, I suppose stewardship plays a part in it). So, what does Malachi 3:10 teach us? God wants us to give back to Him (and I did not even go into “the tithe” concept – that is another issue…) not so He can ipso facto (by that very fact) give back all the more to us (He may do so…in fact it seems often He does – He is serious about needs being met). No, He wants us to give back to Him so that the needs of others are met.

While it is not popular in our culture, the Biblical principle seems to be “no one has too much and no one does without…or has too little” (e.g., Proverbs 30:7-9). This raises an obvious question, “What is too much and too little?” That is not the issue of this post. The issue is there are real needs in our culture and around the world. I cannot remember where I first read/heard it, but 26,500 children die EVERY DAY due to poverty related issues. This saddens me – but not as much as it should I am afraid…

What is The Church’s responsibility in that? Well, those 26,500 children fit squarely into the groupings of Deuteronomy 14:29 and Malachi 3:5. Look at our church buildings. Look at our cars. Look at our clothes. More and more I am becoming a man “undone”…

Cliff Notes:
1. Typical ways of talking about finances “in church” bother me…
a. I realize what I do may bother others – there is grace for all (thank God)

2. Malachi 3:10 – a personal promise to “give a little and gain a lot” or a command to give back to God what is His (the portion for which He asked in the OT) so needs can be met?
a. The focus is on physical needs of people being met.

3. We live in an affluent culture that will never say “enough”.
a. This is a hard teaching for me…

Monday, November 15, 2010

But I Am Baptized [pt2]

So...I was doing good keeping up with sermons for a minute...

Part two of this will be coming (hopefully in the not too distant future).

Do We Really Believe in the God of the Bible?

I realize this title may strike some of us as a bit odd. Yet it is a legitimate question. Now, I am not going to delve into issues of hermeneutics (studying the Bible / interpreting Scripture) and applying those findings to life. Well, not too much anyway...because any reading of the Bible automatically makes one an interpreter [and Theologian :)]. What I mean by not delving into issues of hermeneutics is I am not going to get into caricatures we make of God (e.g., a “Calvinistic” God or an “Armenian” God or a "Prosperity" God or any other “Type” of God we like to put into a Theological box…it seems He busts all of those).

What I mean by “do we really believe” is – do we believe He owns everything? It seems Revelation 4:8b and 4:11 are clear. God is Eternal (Rev4:8b) and has Created Everything (Rev4:11). Translation, God owns everything (e.g., Psalm 24:1; 50:10-11). This means we are stewards. Therefore, we have been entrusted with what is His to do with it as we please. EENNT!! I am sorry, that is incorrect.

God has not entrusted us with what is His to do with it as please (although humanity often does). God entrusted us with what is His with the hope of us doing as He pleases. Just what exactly is His? Everything. We are to be good stewards of our time…friends…material things…finances…thoughts… you name it, it fits into the blank.

So a basic question. With what do you struggle the most in being a good steward?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

But I Am Baptized [pt1]

This past Sunday, while continuing our Shaped By Worship sermon series, we considered the issue of baptism.  But before we even get directly into baptism let me ask two questions: 1) What has shaped you to this point in your life? and 2) By what do you desire to be shaped from this point forward?  While both questions are valid, they are certainly not equal. 

Question #1, "what has shaped you?" can (LET ME BE CLEAR - it certainly does not have to) lead to a victim mentality.  E.g., "Well I did ______ because of ______."; or "Two years ago _____ happened and so now I ______."
Now, I am certainly not so naive as to say events and circumstances of our past have no impact on us.  This would obviously be false.  Yet we cannot ignore the reality that "has shaped" is a passive phrase.  In other words, the focus is on something external to us which has impacted us in such a way that we are "just this way" now.  Obviously this is a simplification and my intention is not to minimize life-shaping and even life-altering events.  Yet I do want to move our focus to... 

Question #2, "by what do you desire to be shaped?" can (again it will not automatically) lead to an overcomer mentality.  E.g., "I know ______ happened, but I am a child of God and so I am to imitate Him; therefore I will _____." 
If we desire something that puts us in an active role.  Once again this is a simplification and I do not want to be read as indicating we can "take the world by the ears" and become whatever we want.  Yet the reality is, to a large extent, we are in the driver's seat when it comes to things which shape our life. 

So how does this relate to baptism?  Well, before we get into that we need to briefly look at the actual word.  There are a handful of things we need to note...
  1. It is a transliteration of a Greek word.  What this means is instead of taking the meaning of the word and bringing it over into English, the Greek letters have been brought directly (or correlatively) into English.  This should be clear when we see the Greek verb βαπτίζω close to the English "baptize".  This happens frequently in the Bible and a major drawback is words are then open (even moreso) to interpretation.  In the case of baptism it not only leads to confusion about how it is done (e.g., sprinkling, pouring, immersing), but it also leads to a loss of some significant nuances in the word...
  2. The Greek word(s) related to baptism are full of violence.  E.g., Josephus uses the verb for "baptize" to describe ships that were sunk in the Mediterranean Sea, Herod the Great drowning an "enemy," and even for a sword being plunged into another's body.  As I said, much violence surrounds this well as death.  These historical realities seem to be a "missing link," if you will, in understanding baptism today. 
With that (abbreviated) bit of background done it seems clear to me that baptism involves 1) being plunged under water and 2) death.  Yet it seems Christianity cannot even agree on these basics... 

In my "church heritage" (i.e., the Stone-Campbell Movement) a large emphasis has historically been placed on baptism.  After all, the leaders of the movement (which desired to unify all Christians, in whichever sect (basically denomination in our verbage today) they found themselves, in order to evangelize the world - cf. Jn17:20-23) desired to follow the New Testament Church as closely as possible.  I certainly applaud that intention...but we all know it is difficult (perhaps some of those difficulties will be a future post). 

In order to shorten this post I will quickly cut to the chase and end part one.  Often those in the heritage of the Stone-Campbell Movement (e.g., Christian Church, Chuch of Christ, Disciples of Christ) have focused on Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."  While I think it is admirable to do this, unfortunately due to differing Theological perspectives (e.g., Reformed, Arminean, Openness, etc.) there is a great deal of disagreement on a text which seems very clear. 

I am not going to focus on v38 because what flabbergasts me about this text is not what Peter says so much as the response to what he said.  In v41, "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."  That is amazing.  Yet a question that must be answered is "Why the response?".  Perhaps if we focused on the answer to that question the contention around baptism would dissipate and we would be able to utilize it as the tool/resource that it truly can be (and I believe was intended to be). 

Oh, you can read Galatians 3:23-29 as well as Matthew 21:23-27 to prepare for the next post.

Monday, September 27, 2010


This past Sunday we did something a bit different at New Life.  What did we do?  We remembered our baptism.  In part this meant reflecting on events surrounding (leading up to and after) the personal immersions (baptisms) of people at New Life. It could be described as ‘testimony’ time, but there was more to it than that…

There is too much to explain for a succinct summary. I had thought about posting the whole service on-line at (it consisted of praising God in song, confessional readings, confessional prayers, teaching on baptism (biblical and historical), "remembering" our baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc.), but due to the personal nature of some stories shared during the "remembering our baptism" part of the service I will not.

Sitting and listening to the stories of others I was struck that this needs done more often. What is “this” you may ask? Well, a better (more holistic) understanding of baptism is one. Yet another is remembering it (how has it shaped you; how should it shape you; etc.), which necessitates remembering and telling your story.

Hearing the stories of others is a part of living in community (to which Christians are called). This is so helpful because we may hear someone who (heaven forbid) had it “worse” than us and God saw them through the time; therefore we have a new found hope. In addition to that, we all know people; someone we know may be in a similar spot to a brother/sister in Christ and we only know that because of knowing their story. What then is the responsibility of the “story-bearer” (i.e., the Christian to whom God was faithful)? To share what God has done with the person who now finds himself/herself in a similar situation. It may in fact be the last thing needed for a commitment to a King and His Kingdom to take place.  

Oh yeah, and please do not make the mistake of thinking your story is "too much" or "too little" for others to hear.  God is bigger than everything; nothing is insignificant.  Let me clarify what I mean by “too little” - it is the false notion some may have that their story “isn’t any good because I grew up in Church and followed God then and still do now…”  THE TRUTH IS WE SHOULD ALL HOPE FOR MORE OF THOSE STORIES!!!  (I.e., people who have done their best to be faithful to God their entire life and never “walked away" from church or anything like that.)  There is power in someone who “gets it” at a young age…and continues to “get it” (in increasing measures) the rest of their life. 

What do you remember about your baptism? How has it shaped you? How should it shape you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Spirituality is becoming increasingly popular in America (and has been for quite some time); however church attendance is not.  I do not have the time nor the intelligence to delve into all the possible reasons why this is happening.  Therefore I want to pose a question: Is there an aspect of "spirituality" that does not fit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? 

In other words...
  • many "spiritual" people are concerned about the environment.  Shouldn't Christians be concerned about the environment and therefore doing their part in taking care of it? 
  • many "spiritual" people are concerned about acceptance.  Shouldn't Christians love people because they are made in God's Image and allow the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction and change in them? 
  • many "spiritual" people are looking for a connection with God without the hindrances imposed by "religion".  Shouldn't Christians be the most connected people to God there are because we have the Holy Spirit living inside of us?  Shouldn't Christians be willing to do away with "cultural Christianity" for the sake of the Kingdom of God? 
Those are only a few examples - but the basic question remains: Is there an aspect of "spirituality" that does not fit under the Lordship of Jesus Christ?  I do not think there is...if there is I want to know.  With that said, I do want to be clear on at least one point. 

Just because something is acceptable to "spiritual" people does not mean it is godly.  In other words, some "spiritual" views may need refined based on what the Bible says.  After all, the goal of spirituality - from a Christian perspective - is glorifying God.  I repeat, it is not the "thrill of seeking God" that should consume a Christian.  What should consume and propel a Christian is the thrill of being used by God so He is glorified. 

One last note, if you have "spiritual" friends who are not Christian, talk to them about their passion for spirituality.  What is important to them?  Why?  How did this become important to them?  What is the end goal of their passion?  While doing this (over the course of time no doubt) be in continual prayer asking God to show you how their passion fits into His desire for humanity. 

In other words, while all spiritual paths do not lead to a common destination...all spiritual paths have at least one thing in common - there is something BIGGER than us.  Our job as Christians is to allow God to work through us so those who are "spiritually minded" can see their ultimate fulfillment will be found only in God.  Why?  Because spirituality for the sake of spirituality is unending - there is always something "more" to do, or another "experience" to have.  Admittedly, while for Christians there is always more Kingdom work to do and the overwhelming presence of God is quite an experience...we have something others do not.  Acceptance and peace given to us by a Heavenly Father who loves us... 


Monday, September 13, 2010

Shaped By...

There are a variety of things which have had a hand in shaping the people we are today. While it is not proper to lay all the praise or blame for who we are at the feet of others, a reality is a) culture, b) teachers in school, c) current friends, d) past friends, and e) our home environment (along with many other factors) have played a part in shaping us.

A startling reality portrayed in Scripture is we become like that which we worship. This is behind the unsettling words of Isaiah 6 - "Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed..." Do not think for a second God made the people of Israel this way...they made themselves this way by worshiping deaf, blind, and mute idols (e.g., Isa44:9-20; and other places).

No wonder the world is such a self-centered and dangerous place. By worshiping things other than God we take on their characteristics. Tied into this is the reality that by choosing what it is we will worship (if it is not God), we have put ourselves in the position of "playing God" and therefore (in a sense) we worship ourselves too.

This is a reason "why" for the current sermon series - "Shaped By Worship". The implications of worshiping anything other than the "one seated on the throne" (cf. Rev4:2) are frightening. Merely look around at the world for indications...

The series will last for nine weeks, but it will certainly not cover everything pertaining to worship. My intention is to take a step back and observe a portrait of worship painted in Scripture instead of focusing on the individual brushstrokes. What do I mean by that? On Sunday we read aloud and listened to chapters four and five of Revelation. It is a beautiful scene if the portrait is observed, but it can also be extremely puzzling - even contradictory - if the brushstrokes are the focus.

E.g., Jesus (while not named) is identified as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" - but when John turns around he sees a "Lamb standing as though it had been slain". The brushstrokes are contradictory (Lion does not equal Lamb). Yet the portrait is magnificent. The foretold Messiah (e.g., Gen49:9) conquered not by destroying the "fleshly" enemies (as many Jews hoped the Messiah would) but by being sacrificed (e.g., Jn1:29); thereby giving us our modus operandi. [By the way - the real enemy Jesus faced on earth was spiritual; cf. Eph5:12.]

E.g., the Lamb is portrayed as having "seven horns" and "seven eyes". A brushstroke approach reveals a grotesque Lamb. Yet a portrait approach sees Jesus as completely powerful (7 is a number for completion and horns are a symbol for power) and completely wise (7 paired with eyes which are a symbol for wisdom). Hence Jesus is all-powerful and all-knowing - meaning He knows about the plight of everyone and is capable of intervening. Yet since He is all-knowing He may know intervening in the ways we desire are not in the best interest for the Kingdom of God (or us).

There is much more to the vision, but those will suffice for now. In keeping with the theme of worship we must not miss the Subject nor the Basis of it. God is worthy of worship because of who He is (Rev4:8) and what He has done (Rev4:11). Likewise Jesus is also worthy (Rev5:9-10).

The bottom line - when it comes to worship God has acted...we respond.

So, what are the things which have most shaped you to this point in your life?
How can true worship of God better shape you for His purposes?
How has God acted first in your life?
How can that reality shape you heading into your next gathering for worship?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What Should I Do?

The short answer to the title question - LOVE PEOPLE. We have no other option as Christians...

In this past Sunday's sermon a few examples from church history were given concerning what forms loving people has taken. I "wish" I knew more is so informative, so humbling, so challenging, so inspiring...

Also on Sunday I talked some about a Greek word, sodzo, which is often translated as "salvation" in the New Testament. Far too often many Christians think of salvation as some sort of future event for our souls. While there is some truth to that, it does not do justice to the the biblical portrait of salvation.

In a very broad sense, salvation can be seen as "spiritual" and "physical" in the Bible. Now, before I go further it is vital to understand a few things about how language works. Very simply stated, the context a word finds itself in determines its meaning in that setting. This is a reason why dictionaries have numerous definitions for a single word. In every day language no one attributes all possible meanings for "word" when I say I looked up the word equivocate in the dictionary. or May I have a word with you? The same "word" - but two totally different meanings. This is how language works...

With that said, the portrait the Bible paints concerning "salvation" is beautiful. Ultimately all the "bad" stuff will be gone as we live fully and unhinderedly in the presence of God. Yet we live with an "already and not yet" aspect to our faith. E.g., we may already be saved from our sins (e.g., they are not counted against us) but sin still affects us (e.g., choices of others harm us, our own bad choices, etc.) - this is the not yet portion.

Taking these truths (i.e., how language works and the "already and not yet") and applying them to "salvation" (for our purposes, sodzo) is mind-boggling. In Mark alone the Greek word occurs 14 times; three of them are clearly "spiritual" in meaning (cf. Mk8:35b; 10:26; 13:13), 11 of them are "physical" in meaning (cf. Mk3:4; 5:23,28,34; 6:56; 8:35a; 10:52; 13:20; 15:30,31,31). So clearly we see "salvation" is intended to be holistic. This is vital to understand as we love people.

E.g., the "bleeding" woman in Mark 5 desired to be "made well" (5:28 - ESV) - using the Greek word sodzo. Later, after she touched Jesus' clothing and her bleeding stopped, Jesus said her faith "made her well" - using the Greek word sodzo. Remember, this word sodzo is used frequently to talk about "salvation" in the more commonly thought of sense - spiritually (e.g., Mt1:21). What are we to make of this?

While trying to not lengthen this too much, we can see how the "bleeding woman" was in fact "saved" in a holistic sense because prior to this contact with Jesus she was alientated from all forms of community for 12 years. Most certainly we would agree community with God and and others is a huge part of salvation.

So a question to us will we "save" people? LET ME BE CLEAR...only God saves in the ultimate sense of the word. Yet when we look at the concept of salvation we see so much we can and must do... Initiating a friendship with someone and providing them a community that loves them is a part of "saving" them. Again, this is because we were made for community and not isolation. Furthermore, the community we initiate can play a part in allowing God to continue to work in a person's life as they submit to Him and are thuse "saved" in the spiritual (ultimate) sense.

Questions, thoughts, observations (both the word sodzo and the sermon from Sunday)?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who Am I?

There are a handful of questions we cannot afford to get wrong in this life. But now as I ponder that question "on the fly" I wonder if there are really only two 1) Who is God? and 2) Who am I?

The reason Who am I? is such an important question is because when we figure out who we are, the rest of life's questions (will eventually) fall into place/are answered...provided "who we are" becomes Our Identity that is.

I should have been blogging each week for this current sermon series titled (you guessed it) Who am I?) but alas I have not. Perhaps in the future I will wake up to what I ought to do with this blog...but until then I have to try and fill in gaps here and there.

As I have been upfront in the sermon series, I will be upfront with this blog entry. The concept I am following has been and is being taught by Shane J. Wood at Ozark Christian College. In "The Christian Life" class Shane structures the Christian Life (i.e., what followers of Jesus are called to live because of who they are) around the following chiasm. (Note: the chiasm may not be his exact words, but the concept(s) is/are the same.) (ANOTHER NOTE: unfortunately at this time I cannot get this to work as the chiasm I want on the blog...SO imagine no space between the lines and The Christ's Accomplishments indented further to the right than Jesus' Identity and Our Identity.)

Jesus' Works (words and deeds)
  • Jesus' Identity
  • The Christ's Accomplishments
  • Our Identity
Our Works (words and deeds )

The chiasm (which again does not look how I want it to right now) can also be illustrated like this:
Jesus' Works --> Jesus' Identity --> The Christ's Accomplishments --> Our Identity --> Our Works

The "-->" are intended to be directional arrows, which help us to see Jesus' Works (i.e., what He did and said) inform us about Jesus' Identity (i.e., the significance of Him being Him), and His Identity allowed The Christ's Accomplishments (i.e., the cross and empty tomb/resurrection) to be done. Our Identity flows out of The Christ's Accomplishments (i.e., we are who we are because of what Jesus has done), and Our Identity informs us what Our Works are to be (i.e., what we do and say). If we start with what we think, as Christians, we are to do and say without looking at what Jesus said and did...let's just say that is not good.

I encourage you to ponder the chiasm and flow chart. Ask questions about it. Pray about it. Comment on this blog about it. There is much more I want to say about it...but I at least needed to get this entry done for now.

in Christ - Brent

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Been Too Long...

Hi everyone, sorry it has been too long since I've posted. I have so many thoughts and things I would like to post - but at times (most of the time) I do not make the time to do so, or I shy away from them...

With that said I should have been posting regularly during the last sermon series I did at New Life; it was from the psalms and titled "When God is NOWHERE". The obvious implication of the last word is your God a) NOW-here or b) NO-where.

During the series some of the psalms at which we looked were lament psalms (i.e., a song written during a time of hardship in which the author is crying out to One (i.e., God) who can indeed change their situation). I know if I made a more regular practice of reading the psalms, and especially writing my own laments, I would be helped immensely. So, I encouraged us all to write our own laments. A pattern can be found by clicking on and then selecting the "Devotional Guide" titled "Why..." on 7/4/10.

I may revisit the psalms in some future posts...and even post some laments I wrote (as well as those written by others with their permission). If you would like to write your own lament please feel free to "comment" and do so.

Also please note this is not a vanity thing of "listen to my sermons" (I know I am not the best preacher)...BUT it is a plea to utilize God's Word for our continued sanctification. I believe the psalms can be a great help in this. And just maybe something you hear or read (by way of the Devotional Guides) may be of help. One thing we must do is realize we can be honest with God...and we need to be too.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Picture is Worth...

For those of you who may have found this blog from the New Life Christian Church website (, you may wonder why the picture...and what exactly is it?

The main focus of the picture is the statue of the "Servant King" - I do not know if that is the official name for the statue, but that is what I am most recently calling it. It depicts Jesus washing Peter's feet (cf. John 13). Let me rephrase that, it depicts the King of kings and Lord of lords (also the One in Whom creation is held together-cf. Colossians 1, the Lion of the tribe of Judah...Who is also a slain Lamb-cf. Revelation 5, the Alpha & Omega- cf. Revelation 1:8; 22:12-13, etc.) doing an extremely lowly task (understatement) of washing the feet of not just anyone, but one He knows will deny even knowing Him before the rooster crows (Jn13:38). Oh if only THE CHURCH would emulate this... So much more to say, but then again a picture is worth...

The statue is on the campus of Lincoln Christian University ( The photo was taken on the day I graduated from the Seminary there (5/15/10).

The little girl touching Jesus' hair is our daughter, Ellei. If her name looks weird that is OK (the meaning behind it is more than weird to our world) - it is pronounced just like Elle (el with a "long e" on the end). It is spelled that way because it is a transliteration of a Greek word which means "He is merciful" - the He obviously being God. A prayer of ours (Melissa and I) is Ellei will be shaped by the reality of God's mercy and she will continually share it with others in both her words and deeds...

So here you have our firstborn child reaching out and touching Jesus (think of the woman who was healed/saved by touching "the fringe of His garment" in Luke 8) as He is serving a boastful braggart who would soon deny Him (think of both those "in the world" and sadly even those in the church who focus on themselves, which is sadly all of us at times...). There is so much more to say, but then again a picture is worth...
(way more than a thousand words...)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Morning of Service

Friday night was a multi-congregational night of praise. Sunday morning was a multi-congregational morning (and early afternoon) of service. What a God-glorifying weekend :)

On Sunday four congregations in Emporia (First Congregational Church, First Christian Church, Community Church of Christ, and New Life Christian Church) got together to serve in God's name by picking up trash in Emporia. This is significant because service is another aspect of "worship". I and others look forward to more unified worship (praise AND service) in the future here in the Emporia area.

Also, a note for those who appreciate the Stone-Campbell movement...all 3 branches of the S-C Movement (called by some the Restoration Movement) were present for this worship "service" - and no quibbling over the style of worship! PRAISE GOD!!!

What else could happen in "The Church" if we continually, and humbly, tried to look at issues holistically? Perhaps an ever-increasing appreciation of and commitment to a King and His Kingdom will help...

Friday, April 30, 2010

A Night of Praise

I just got back from a night of praise at Hope Community Church here in Emporia. I cannot remember the exact number, but about six different groups (a combination of praise bands and bands) took turns leading whoever wanted to come in a time of praising God.

Jesus desires unity among His followers (e.g., Jn17:20-23)...and I cannot help but realize the Trinity was pleased tonight. The Holy Spirit was moving; the truth of Jesus' death - and more importantly RESURRECTION - were proclaimed; God was glorified (perceptions of Him were changed...).

I and others pray this is only the start of more visible unity among congregations in the Emporia area. There is a second half to this post - but I will wait for that until later. [To give a hint...praising God by music along with voices and raised hands is only one part of worship...]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The "Price" of Technology?

I am not too big on all of our technological advancements. Granted, many modern inventions have made life "easier" or "more convenient" - but that is a double edged sword (and I am not going to dive into that right now). But alas, we live this side of the Enlightenment when mankind somehow "figured out" we could continually get better, solve all the world's problems, etc. Oh yeah, and we don't need God anymore either...

Obviously not everyone thinks we have no need for God...but yet we cannot escape the fact we have been programmed by our culture to turn almost anywhere except to God first. When was the last time you were sick and instead of calling the doctor you first called the elders to have them come, pray over you and anoint you with oil? Did somehow demonic possession and oppression go out of style in the first century AD? [I.e., did Satan wise up and discover that was not working?] Or have we become too educated to believe in that anymore?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

What is the spiritual climate of our culture?

Lord willing this will be an ongoing post/topic which will both make some observations and ask questions of the culture in which we live. I have some ideas as to where it is going, but certainly do not know fully as of yet. A word of caution...some of what I will ponder may rub us the wrong way. That is OK, introspection is not easy...

Some scholars say all priests in the 1st century were Sadducees (other scholars say most if not all were). This is interesting to me because Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, angels, and spirits (e.g., Acts23:8). Side note, it is easy to remember this about them because since they did not believe in resurrection they were sad-you-see (Sad-u-cee). Anyway...

Since the priests were to be the mediators between God and man (cf. the Old Testament), what did this disconnect with reality (i.e., no spirits, angels, etc.) do to/for the people of the land?

Now for us today... What about religious leaders here in America? I am not saying there is a denial of angels, spirits, or resurrection...but does the teaching (or lack thereof) betray a lack of their importance...?

Hmmm...we will continue, I look forward to your feedback.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Here I am again for my monthly post. Hey relax, one a month is better than one for all of I am even early this month :) Seriously though, I do plan to be blogging more in the future. My hope is even more than one post this month!!

Question - what is it that keeps us so busy? More accurately, "What are it that keeps us so busy?" (granted the English is not best ;)...but I know there is more than one thing that keeps us busy). How do you set priorities for your life?

Until next time...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Too busy to remember?

A friend and I got together today for the purpose of talking about a future sermon series. While we worked on the series, we also talked about ministry in general, prayed, and basically enjoyed each other's company (in our talking it was so amazing to see/realize how much I have changed in a few short years...more on that in later posts).

We met at basically the halfway point between where we each live and serve. During my drive back to Emporia I was struggling with thoughts of "I need to be doing something productive" while my mind was going in multiple directions at once (reply if you hear me). Among things I considered doing were spending time in prayer for people and memorizing Scripture. While I did pray mind never got settled down enough for me to delve into areas which need intense prayer right now...nor did I ever work on memorizing Scripture.

So what did I do? I allowed my mind to roam...and what a marvelous trip down memory lane it was (e.g., remembering Ellei's birth and how breathtaking and beautiful it was to watch her come into the world, to be the first to hold her...and then pray for God's blessing on her life - and yes emotions were stirred in remembering that time even as I typed just now), and what a marvelous look into possible future events it was as well (e.g., potential workings of God based on what He has done in the past).

I am so glad I "stopped" and realized I did not need to "do anything." Apparently what I needed during the drive back to Emporia was to allow myself to remember and dream. In doing so I had affirmed to me once again (among other things) how I am loved regardless of what I do...and how God desires to work in the future is completely up to Him.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

So I am not the quickest at posting. I am still trying to get back into a bit of a pattern/routine after taking time off toward the end of 2009. Also I am having some major work done on me by the Holy Spirit.

I really wish there were more (well any for that matters) followers of my blog at this point. I say that because I have a question...

If there is no God...then why is there such a rush to help the people of Haiti? Could it be the Image of God we all bear “rises up” in times of great crisis as "we" are moved with compassion and cannot help but helping? Oh if we would but ask the right questions...Holy Spirit please help us to ask the right questions – we beg You.

Interesting to ponder is it not?