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Why Theology Matters

                C.S. Lewis once said that good philosophy should be done if for no other reason than bad philosophy exists. We could take that thought and say “Good theology should exist if for no other reason than bad theology does.” This is why our theology that has emerged from the Bible through the centuries is in fact trump card when it comes to theological discourse in our modern-day churches.

                We can have numerous other experiences with God and have all sorts of thoughts about God, but if it contravenes Biblical teaching or the theological contours of the first few centuries of the church, then we should decide in favor of the churches historical theology rather than the theology of one person’s personal experience. My point in this is not to reduce the thinking of the church, but rather to increase it. Getting back in touch with the great thinkers of Christianity through its history will provide us the impetus for fresh wisdom in our present.

                C.S. Lewis also pointed out that the experiences that one individual has may in fact be powerful. Yet, the theology of the church is like a map of all the experiences of all the Christian minds through the centuries. If we want to get somewhere, perhaps getting to the water of experience can be done by the person who has had experiences, but getting across the ocean is best left in the realm of the map and mapmakers.

                Theology matters immensely today because a whole load of junk exists out there right now. How many times I have witnessed various strands of Gnosticism (an early 1st and 2nd century heresy) creep through the social groups of churches? Or, the overwhelming anti-supernaturalism of the enlightenment. Perhaps also we could talk about the shabby work of the Fundamentalist movement that still controls whole sectors of American Christianity. Even more so, the denominations such as Lutheran and Methodist, where certain local churches, have given up their Lutheran and Wesleyan Heritages. Luther and Wesley would be sore to associate with some of them.  

                My simple reflection for the day is to dive deeper into our Christian heritage. We can think we are right guides and good leaders and wonderful Christians, but without that heritage, our foundations will be slim. 😊

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Moralistic Preaching – Left Wanting

Bearing a heavy weight together, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55479 [retrieved July 6, 2017]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kom%C3%A1rom554.JPG.
Moralistic Preaching leaves listeners in a place of immaturity. Before getting much further, let me define ‘moralistic preaching’ and lay out some qualifications as well.

Moralistic Preaching is preaching that regularly focuses on telling listeners what to do and what not to do. It is not so much the picture of a shepherd with staff in hand guiding the sheep, but the picture of the ‘New Sheriff in town’ who roams with his pistols and shotgun making sure order is kept. Perhaps the hard to define word in the definition is “regularly.” How much is regularly? With that one issue ‘out there,’ let’s move forward anyway. When a preacher spends most of their sermons telling people what to do and what not to do, I think they have (given a few qualifications) failed their listeners. Moreover, there is a difference between moralistic preaching and preaching that lays out moral principles.  It is clear that many a sermon leans into a conclusion which warrants action. But sermons need to be more than mere moralistic preaching.  

Why do I think this? I think this for a number of reasons.

 

  1. Moralistic Preaching focuses too much attention on the “What” and little to no attention on the “how.” Teaching people “what” to think by drilling in a long list of rules and obligations, is a lot easier than teaching people “how” to process moral problems. If every time a person comes to a crossroads or difficult situation, and they are told what to do. They will never figure out how to process consequences. They will not have developed there sense of ‘self.’ They will not have utilized their God given talents. In sense, they will have failed at what it means to be human.   
  2. Because of number 1 above, people who only listen to moralistic preaching, seldom become autonomous thinkers. In other words, they rely so much on the preacher to determine what is right and wrong that when they come across the complex and varied scenarios of everyday life, they will not have the tools to process.
  3. It misses the main point of the Gospel. Certainly, there are rules in the Bible. Yet, there are communities too. Communities that are called to develop the fruit of the spirit. Communities that are reached through epistles that weighed into moral problems without constantly commanding and telling. Rather, they used methods of persuasion to draw people around to their point of view.
  4. Moralistic Preaching has the tendency to ‘guard its turf.’ If a preacher cannot be asked inquiring questions about their sermons, then they may have bought the lie that they are the determiners of all truth.
  5. Moralistic Preaching is boring. Listening to preaching that commands all the time is frankly mundane. Heard one, you have heard them all. Moralistic Preaching thinks it can solve every personal problem from the pulpit as well. Yet focuses so much attention on what a narrow percentage of a given population (congregation) is dealing with, while failing to address the whole population. That population is then taken captive by the one who is being ‘covertly’ addressed through preaching.  
  6. Moralistic Preaching can take advantage of those who lack the tools to process complex information. Some people place ultimate trust in their preachers. That means someone is going to take seriously what the preacher is saying. If the preacher is saying ‘junk,’ then the person is going to live out a junky Christian life.
  7. Moralistic Preaching plays into the stereotype from non-believers that Christianity is just a list of do’s and don’ts. All the commands in Scripture are framed in particular contexts. They offered the people a level of order, a level of revelation about God himself. What are we doing with that revelation?

Now, about those qualifications. Certainly, a sermon here and a sermon there which says “do” or “don’t” is not all bad. There are times to ‘tell it like it is.’  Yet, these should be few and far between. A shepherd guides the sheep. Moreover, one of the grandest plans God has for the world is to create thoughtful and virtuous people. When I say “thoughtful” I mean to say of ‘sound mind.’  When I say virtuous, I am saying of ‘good character.’ Both a sound mind and good character are developed through time and testing out one’s current ‘skills.’ Pastors and preachers alike need to give their congregations a gift. Namely the gift of having the tools to process life. The ability to think critically. Just think of Jesus. He did not spend all of his time moralizing. Rather, he often used analogy and metaphors from nature and he kept his audiences guessing. They were often left unsatisfied at his answers, because his answers were always leading them somewhere and not just giving them a stop-gap answer.

All for now.  

Pastor Isaac

 

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Are Your Beliefs Solid? A Challenge.

Photo Credit and Rights: http://natashawisconsin.com/

Since Seminary is over, I decided to write down which areas of learning I want to continue to advance in. One of those areas is logic and philosophy. Therefore, I have a plan to study logic, along with about four other subjects about 15 minutes a day each. If more, then great! Yet, this helps me to make sure I advance. While I was studying logic today I was thinking about the kinds of discussions I have had over the years.There were times where my beliefs about a given topic were not well formed (even if I thought they were). Moreover, I constantly hear the Christian tag lines about certain beliefs and assumptions that ‘all Christians’ are ‘supposed’ to hold. Very often the reasons given for a given belief are few or weak. Having done this myself, and having to eat my words later, I have done a lot of work over the years to carve out the false or weak beliefs and think again about why I think something is true or false. 

The Challenge: My challenge to whoever is reading this is to get a sheet a paper (or open up a Word document) and write down about 10-20 beliefs that you hold. You could talk about your beliefs in God and Jesus or what you think about the End Times, Creation, and Baptism. You could write down what you think the relationship between faith and science is or how Christianity and Government are supposed to interact. You could discuss why think Catholicism has much or little going for it doctrine wise. You could write your beliefs about marriage, abortion, capitol punishment, and even cloning. 

Step 1 – Reasons: After you have written down your beliefs, go back through and list the reasons you have for those beliefs. Come up with 2-4 reasons why you think each belief is actually true. Be hard on yourself here. Take the time to invest in yourself and see if what your beliefs are actually founded on anything. If you keep saying “Well, that is what other Christians believe” then you have to dig a little deeper. Sure, many Christians might believe something, but your personal Christian circles do not guarantee something is true.

 Step 2 – Take the Other Side – Now that you can readily see what reasons you have for a given belief, go back through the reasons and see how strong they are. In other words, take some time to ponder each of the reasons. Can those reasons stand upon their own? Or do they rest upon other assumptions? Will that last when you challenge them with opposite reasons? Can a friend see through those reasons? What would God say to those reasons? 

An Explanation: The reason for this exercise is not to cause anyone to give up ‘cherished beliefs’ but rather to be more responsible Christians. We are told to ‘be transformed by the renewing of our minds’ (Romans 12:1), and the God that we serve is the God of truth. Therefore, we have the responsibility to do a little ‘service check’ once in a while. To scrape off the barnacles and see if our boat can really float. 

If you find one of your beliefs is rather weakly backed up then you may need to do some homework. Perhaps there are great reasons for a given belief of yours. But, you need to investigate and understand why it is backed up. Moreover, perhaps some of your beliefs do need a little refining. If you have something incorrect, it is time to mature and give it up or develop it. 

Ok….Get Started!!!

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Turning the Tide…Sort of

Used with Permission
https://www.instagram.com/iamnatashabou/

There are many Christian voices clamoring for how to “turn back” the nation to Christian values. I am not usually impressed with the mainstream response of how. It usually involves “going back” to the “good old days” and has a lot of “do” and “don’t” along with it. It also includes throwing stones at the establishments that be.

The subject of change in Christian circles often revolves around “turning the tide.” What is perhaps rightly recognized is that our culture has persons, ideas, institutions, religions (and non) that create forces or pressures (tide) in American culture that are much different than when the Christian religion was clearly the dominant influence. Christians still make up a majority of persons in America, but the impact we have is much smaller in comparison. Perhaps “turning the tide” is the wrong idea altogether?

In Panama

When I was in Panama a couple of summers ago, one of the first things I did was to go to the ocean. As a youngster, we traveled to Florida and swam in the ocean yearly. I would say I am a pretty good swimmer. Panama was different. We arrived at the resort in Panama late afternoon. After being the in the water for a short time, a whistle was getting blown at me. “Get out of the water! The tide is changing…resume in the morning.” I was stunned. I thought, did he know how well I can swim? He didn’t care. He knew the tide, and he knew it was greater than my abilities. So what did we do? We did what we could elsewhere until things changed. Let’s keep reflecting on water and waves to zero in.

When we were allowed in the water the waves were actually very large. As I watched my daughter and cousins play in the sand, I tried to fight against the waves at the edge of shore. The power was incredible and the sand and sea shells scraped against my skin and my balance was never stable. There was nothing I could do to stop these waves from coming and going. But something did work.

I began to sense the timing of the waves hammering forward and drawing back. Instead of fighting the waves I let myself enjoy them and flowed with them. Certainly, the fight was a good workout, but it could not go on forever. With a new sense of timing and rhythm figuring out my motions became easy.  Moreover, with a good pair of goggles I could explore the ocean floor and have an extra adventure along the way.

My advice to those who are fighting; buy a surfboard. Realize that flourishing can still happen in environments that may not be construed to our perfect favor. Perhaps, as we give ourselves the time to discern the waves, we will find the right rhythm, purpose, and strategy. One that is not destined for ruin. And, at the end of the day, let’s remember that the tide will one day turn again.  

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Living Water – Vision Pt. 1

Credit: https://natashabou.com/

Over the last few months the Elders and I have journeyed together through the book “Grace to Lead.” The book is especially good for thinking broadly about what it means to be a Christian, a Church, or a ministry. My hope was that the book would set our sites in the right direction as we think about Living Water’s direction in the years to come.

My hope as a Pastor is to “contend for the faith which was once and for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). This verse is speaking about the contents of the faith. Every Church better be clear that we are representing the Biblical faith. The faith that was infused with the work of the Holy Spirit. An example of this is Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s own perception of the Reformation in the 1500’s. Both of them thought they were doing nothing new, but rather calling the Church universal to be more faithful to ‘The (original) Faith.’

Anyway, for any ‘visioning’ process, we have to be infused with Scripture, prayer, and a cosmic vision of Christ to the whole world. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14 NIV).

The priority of the Church in every age is taking part in contending for the Faith, making disciples, loving the broken, and bringing forth kingdom clarity in a confused world. We best not forget these things in our own visioning.

In part 2 I will go into more details on our Elder Retreat and the lessons we have learned.

 

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National Day of Prayer with Bruce Fischer

A couple weeks ago was the National Day of Prayer. This nationally organized event gets Christians together in each State for a time of shorts speeches and focused prayer on the areas of influence in our society.

One of the areas of influence is the Military. Living Water Church’s own Bruce Fischer got an opportunity to share some words as well as lead everyone at the Capitol steps in prayer for the Military and our country.

It is important for Christians to integrate into the various sectors of society for the purpose of shining a light. Thanks Bruce for all you do!

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A Celebration of Women

As found on http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46111
He, Qi. Annunciation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46111 [retrieved May 16, 2017]. Original source: heqigallery.com.
Since it was Mother’s Day, I thought I would highlight some of the women in the Bible. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

1.       Mary the Mother of Jesus: Jesus’ mother is not just considered a mom, although that role was incredibly important. She is also considered a great example of faith. She is the New Testament counterpart to the man of faith in the Old Testament. Both Abraham and Mary said, “Yes” to God’s plan for their lives (Luke 1:38).

2.       Junia the Apostle : Junia is often considered the first woman apostle (See Romans 16:7). To be considered an apostle, and in her case a significant one, meant her ministry was significant. Her ministry would have been considerable in the early church in both leading and teaching.  

3.       Priscilla the Instructor: Priscilla is the wife of Aquila in the Bible. Priscilla’s name is always mentioned first. This primacy likely implies that her ministry was more significant than her husbands. Back in those days, husband’s names were always mentioned first, and here we find several reversals. In other words, she was very prominent. She and her husband are even responsible for furthering the education of the great leader Apollos (Acts 18:26).

4.       Phoebe the Deacon: In Roman’s 16:1, we learn of this “deaconess of the church.” To be a deaconess meant you had official responsibilities. Paul considers Phoebe a real asset and blessing to all the churches.

5.       The Four Daughters:  In Acts 21:9, we see Philip the Evangelist’s four daughters “who prophesied.” Although this is a short mention, it is an important detail to notice. These four daughters were all given a special gift for the body of Christ, a gift of very high importance. Their gift and subsequent task, was to speak forth the word of the Lord.

Let us not forget the incredible women of the Bible! Let us not forget that God still blesses, gifts, and graces women to do incredible things in our own day!

 

Let us not forget the incredible women of the Bible! Let us not forget that God still blesses, gifts, and graces women to do incredible things in our own day!

 

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Another Look at Eden

Photo Credit: https://natashabou.com/

The Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve are often idealized. They are seen with all the glory of heavenly perfection by much of Western Christianity. However, there are difficulties to seeing Eden as a perfect place as well as seeing Adam and Eve as being perfectly made. If everything was perfect, how does sin enter in? If Eden was perfect, how could there be a tempter? If Adam and Eve were perfect, how could they give into the temptation? Wouldn’t perfect people lack the desire for evil? I think there is a better way of thinking about Eden.   

Would it intrigue you to learn that the Christian church has not always thought Eden was perfect? Instead, Eden was looked at as simple, primitive, and good. The book of Genesis itself never calls the Garden perfect. It only says it was “good.”

The whole narrative of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 is built on the idea of progress. God progresses his primitive creation through the stages (“Days” 1-6) into the shape He desires. This means that the creation did not start off in finished perfection. Let’s take a quick tour.

On “Day” one, there are no humans, no plants; nothing but light. “Day” two comes along, and God furnished his primitive project by adding the atmosphere. On the third “Day” He adds dry land and water. On this same “Day,” he had the “earth bring forth vegetation” (Genesis 1:11).   

“Day” 4 continues with the growth of the universe. “Day” 5 God says, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures.” Again, we have this idea of “bring forth” present. In other words, God let the creation do the work. The water, with God’s supervening activity, brought forth the creatures of the sea. “Day” 6, after the sea creatures developed, God says the same about the creatures on land, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures.” Whether over a short or long period of time, this creative activity is not in an instant.  

After much progress (“Days” 1-6) we arrive at the peak of God’s developmental activity, humans.  We are not told ‘how’ God did this, but rather just that he did (Genesis 1:27). Chapter 2 gives us a few more details. In Genesis 2:5, it says, “And the trees were not yet on the earth, and every herb of the field had not yet sprung up; for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground. In fact, in 2:6 we learn that a spring (or mist) watered the land to help bring forth living things. These verses carry the implication that after God brings forth matter, he works with it (sea, land, etc) to bring about more of His creation.

This brings us back to humanity. In 2:7 we are told that “God formed Adam from the soil (or dust) of the earth.” In 2:8 we learn that God “planted a garden.” The ideas of “forming” and “planting” are not instantaneous. Time and formation are involved.

 We have such incredible imaging tools today that it is easy to distort the primitive picture of creation that Genesis originally gave. Instead of every part of creation popping up as if God used a magic wand, we see His more creative and continual power which forms and shapes the natural elements, and even lets the creation participate in furthering new life through time.

And Sin?

I said earlier that a “perfect” garden with “perfect” humans creates some difficulties on the subject of sin. If instead of “perfect” we have a primitive garden with early and simple people, then we can postulate that God clearly knew they were going to sin. God knew humans would sin. By definition they are imperfect. Thus, when Adam and Eve sinned, they could not disrupt God’s plan. Any plan that included humans, would include their weaknesses too. Yet, God used the continual straying of human nature to begin his maturation process. This is not just of the physical creation. It includes the whole human person. God knew from the very beginning he was going to mature humanity to the point where they could taste of the ‘tree of life’ who is Jesus Christ the Lord.

 

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All The Truth

One’s heart and soul desire truth for the order, clarity, and beauty it offers. Truth is desirable, for an accepted lie makes a fool. Since false options are ever present, truth is admirable since it holds its own in any arena. Most of us would not know it though, for given the positions people hold about liberal, conservative, religious, non-religious, Protestant, Catholic, and more, we remain without ears. Bias causes deafness.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an expert interviewed on television only to have the commentator conclude by saying, “That cannot be true because they are a ________.” You fill in the blank. Certainly, we are well aware of other’s biases, but lack the reflection to label our own. Questioning experts is not the problem. Having no alternative intelligence to offer is. Let’s check ourselves. When is the last time you took intentional time to openly hear the other side of a debate?

A Catholic may say, “Well we cannot trust them because they are Protestant.” On the other side, many Protestants practically hold out a cross to anything called Catholic. In a different sector, so many American Christians look at the whole scientific enterprise with suspicion and caution because they think one theory poison’s the well. Whatever my own view on the subject of evolution, I am getting tired of correcting Christians who think the theory teaches we came from apes. It never has! On the reverse, some outspoken scientists act as if no religious person could ever be in line with the modern science and still believe in God. Strange fictions indeed.

The danger of deafness when it comes to politics, religion, or science is the soon coming conspiracy theories it breeds. No solid research, just the rumor mill. Instead of conjuring up conspiracy theories from our ignorance, we could adopt a different view about truth. All truth is beneficial, all truth is admirable, wherever it is found. With a dictum like this in mind, we have only begun our wildest adventures.

For instance, I am not Catholic in the way most people understand the term, but if the Pope or a local priest speaks the truth, then it would be silly to oppose it simply because of where it came from. I sure hope they would do the same when listening to me as a Pastor. Continuing on, if an atheist scientist discovers a new planet, it would be silly of me to think that it must be false simply because of its source. We do ourselves a disservice when we reject truth simply because of where it comes from. Will others adopt our faith if we misunderstand the basics of the natural world? Will others adopt our political views or scientific understandings if we cannot see truth that is right in front of our eyes elsewhere? It certainly cannot help our causes.

With any adventure, danger is ever present. Let’s conclude with a nominal danger about this approach. We might begin with CAUTION; THIS APPROACH WILL CAUSE DISRUPTION TO THE SMALL WORLDS OF BIAS WE PREVIOUSLY HUNG OUT IN. A disruption we all could use.

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7 Minute Seminary – Easter Morning

A great training resource comes largely out of the Seminary I attend. Asbury Theological Seminary created what they call the 7 Minute Seminary. Experts on numerous subject answer a given question and the rule is to finish in about 7 minute.

Here is the YouTube link to their videos (tons of them). https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1CBE0DD656B9BC0F

I am not saying everything in all of them you will agree with, but there is much to learn from.

Here is one to get started on Easter and the Resurrection.

 

Blessings.