Thoughts from Canaan Thoughts on Theology, the Church, and the Christian Life... Thu, 30 May 2019 16:41:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thoughts from Canaan 32 32 94471012 Worship 101: From Preference to Proclamation Thu, 30 May 2019 16:40:09 +0000 The History of the Jews and Samaritans Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the nation of Israel was split in two by a civil war. Eventually, the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and many of its people were deported and scattered across the world. But they didn’t just empty the land, they

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The History of the Jews and Samaritans

Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the nation of Israel was split in two by a civil war. Eventually, the northern kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians and many of its people were deported and scattered across the world. But they didn’t just empty the land, they brought men and women in from other, far away lands and resettled them in Israel. As the years passed, these foreigners intermarried with the native Hebrews and they eventually became a new people: the Samaritans.

As the years turned into decades and those decades turned into centuries, the differences between the Samaritans and the Jews grew. Since many of the Old Testament books that the Jews (and us, as Christians) recognize were written after this split, the Samaritans had a much smaller Bible – only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. And since Jerusalem was in the south, in Judea among the Jews, the Samaritans didn’t worship at the temple that Solomon built. Instead, they built their own place of worship in the north, on Mount Gerizim. This was the mountain where Moses led Israel after freeing them from Egyptian slavery. And it was on Mount Gerizim that Moses read the blessings that God would give his people if they would remain faithful.

Two Ways of Worshiping

And if these differences between Samaritan and Jew weren’t bad enough… then you ought to consider the fact that when the Jews were coming back from exile in Babylon, certain Samaritans tried to keep them from rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple. And then, a few hundred years later, the Jews went up to Samaria and destroyed the temple that the Samaritans had built.

So, all of this led to a lot of animosity and hatred between the Jews and Samaritans – so much so that Jews thought Samaritans were unclean from birth and irredeemable. And likewise, Samaritans hated Jews with a burning passion. Imagine the US south during the mid-60s, segregation, name-calling, etc. This was the Israel that Jesus was born into.

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

So, when Jesus makes his way into Samaria one day and sits down at Jacob’s well, he’s like a white man in the late 1960s walking into the African American part of town, finding a diner, and sitting down at a booth. And while he’s at Jacob’s well, he meets a Samaritan woman. Now, it would be bad enough to speak to a Samaritan man but a Samaritan woman was as low as you got in the eyes of the average Jew. So, when Jesus starts talking to her, she’s not sure what to think. But as they converse, she begins to realize that there’s more to Jesus than meets the eye. She begins to wonder if maybe, just maybe, Jesus is more than your average Jewish man…

John 4:7-26

“There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’

She said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.’

The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.’ He said to her, ‘Go, call your husband and come here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.’

What about worship…?

The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He’” (John 4:7-26 NASB).

“Where Should We Worship?”

Now, we could spend time talking about this passage in a lot of different ways. We could examine the way Jesus evangelized. We could look at what he meant when he offered her ‘living water.’ We could see how he knew her heart and laid it bare before she had barely spoken a word.

But what I’d like for us to focus on is what happens after Jesus makes her a little uncomfortable over her living situation. In order to get the topic of conversation away from her and her issues, she tests Jesus to see if he’s just another one of those Jews who worships in Jerusalem and believes that anyone who doesn’t worship like him is worse than a dog. So, she makes a statement that implies a question: “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” And she’s asking, “What do you say? Is the only proper place to worship God in Jerusalem? Is God limited to that temple? What about the Samaritan temple here, on Mount Gerizim?”

And as she makes this statement, she says something that sounds remarkably similar to things that I’ve heard over the years…

“Our fathers worshiped with these hymns, and you people say that with that contemporary music is how men ought to worship…”


“Our fathers worshiped with these pews, and you people say that with those stackable chairs is how men ought to worship…”


“Our fathers worshiped at 11AM sharp, and you people say that 10AM is the time when men ought to worship…”


“Our fathers worshiped with this choir, and you people say that with that praise team men ought to worship…”

Dividing into Camps

Christians love to make themselves into Jews and Samaritans over issues of worship. They divide into camps and call the other side names and question their spirituality. They divide the body of Christ over the very thing that should unite us: worship.

And so, arguments arise. People get angry. And churches split over the question of how we ought to worship. We mustn’t allow worship to divide us!

But, you might say, how can we get through this? It is a thorny issue, after all.

You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But you cannot please all of the people all of the time. And why is that? Because we’re all different. We have different opinions and different tastes and different ways of looking at things. And that’s okay – in fact, that’s wonderful and it’s part of the diversity of the body of Christ.

The problem does not lie in our differences. The problem lies in the way that we deal with those differences.

The Error of Elevating Our Preferences

Too often, we elevate our preferences to a place of spiritual authority. We assume, “If this is the way that I prefer things – and I know that I’m saved and have a relationship with God – then this must also be the way God prefers things. Since Amazing Grace is my favorite song, it must be God’s favorite song too.” And then, we start looking for scriptures to support our position. And if you look hard enough, and you’re willing to strip a verse completely out of its context, you can find one that will support your preference. And once you’ve got that verse, then you feel justified in saying, “This is the way things must be because it’s the way God wants it.” When in reality, it’s just the way you want it.

“We Only Sing New Songs…”

And I see it happen on both sides of the worship divide. For example, I was talking to a pastor on Facebook a few months ago and he told me, “We don’t worship with songs that are older than 2-5 years old because the Bible says to ‘sing a new song.’” Now, it’s fine if you want to only sing songs that have been written in the past 2-5 years – I think it’s a bad idea but I don’t think it’s necessarily displeasing to God. But don’t act like you have some sort of biblical mandate to only sing those songs. You’re elevating your preference to the level of something spiritual. And it’s not. It’s just your preference – so call it that.

“We Only Sing Old Songs…”

On the other hand, I have talked to people who will say, “The Spirit isn’t in these new songs like it is in the old hymns.” And to that, I want to ask, “Where does scripture say that the Holy Spirit hides himself in particular songs?” Answer: It doesn’t. The Spirit indwells people and so, I can worship God with any song that proclaims his praises – regardless of when it was written. But, if this person just told the truth: I don’t like new songs, I like the old songs. Then it doesn’t sound as spiritual.

You see, most of the things that we argue about when it comes to corporate worship – whether which songs to sing or what kind of seats to have in a sanctuary or what name we’re going to call the congregation or any number of other things – these things are largely preference issues. And it’s fine to have preferences, we all have them. But we shouldn’t hide them in spiritual wrapping paper and claim that they aren’t just our preferences, they’re God’s preferences too. Because they aren’t.

Is Their a Standard?

Now, does this mean that anything goes? That we can start playing Highway to Hell as our new worship anthem? No. It doesn’t mean that at all. Recognizing our preferences doesn’t do away with that which is true.

Notice what Jesus tells the woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” In effect, he’s saying, “God is bringing salvation through a particular people and a particular place – namely, the Jews.” So, there is still a truth that exists. There is still a standard. God is an absolute God who holds absolute truth in his hands. And we’re not in the wild west where anything goes and nothing really matters.

The question we’re faced with is this: If most of the things that we want in worship are preferences, then where do we draw the line? How do we determine whether our worship is pleasing to God?

Jesus Give Us the Answer

Fortunately, Jesus give us the answer:

“Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus acknowledges that there is a standard. But it’s more fundamental and deeper than where she’s looking. She’s focused on the externals – the location of worship. And Jesus says, “There’s coming a time when you won’t worship God here or there.” In other words, “These externals are going to become irrelevant. All of the things that you’ve made worship about – all of the arguments that you’ve had and the fights you’ve gotten into – all of the division that have existed – all of the idols that you’ve erected – they’re all going to be leveled into the dust.”

There’s something deeper and more important about worship than your preference for contemporary music or my preference for traditional music. And what is it? What determines worship that is acceptable to God?

Jesus says, “The Father is seeking people who will worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Rather than being focused on all of our preferences, Jesus says, “There are two things that ultimately matter: One, are you worshiping in the Spirit? And two, is your worship true?”

Worshiping in Spirit

What does it mean for worship to be in the Spirit? Jesus promised his disciples that he would send his Holy Spirit to come and dwell with them forever. The Spirit would be a constant presence with God’s people. And he wouldn’t only be found in the temple at Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim – or in a church building. The Spirit of God would dwell within his people and so, wherever we go, he goes.

When we worship in the Spirit, we do so with an acknowledgement that he is here. We recognize his presence. We expect for him to move and speak and show us things. When we sing, we sing to him. When we pray, we pray to him. And as we hear the Scriptures being read and the sermon, we listen for his voice hidden in the words. When we worship in the Spirit, we realize that worship is not about us, our worthiness, or our preferences. It’s about proclaiming his praises to him and one another as he stands in our presence.

Worshiping in Truth

But Jesus also calls us to worship “in truth.” In other words, our worship should be based on what is true. And so, we ought to sing songs that proclaim the truth about God, his praises, who he is, and what he’s done. The standard is not what tickles your or my ears. The standard is, “What proclaims his praises truthfully?”

And if our corporate worship proclaims his praises truthfully – and if it acknowledges his presence – then it is acceptable worship to God whether it’s what you or I like or not.

For too long, we’ve acted as though we can’t worship unless we’re singing our favorite songs. But the reality is, our worship is not dependent on whether or not we’re singing our favorite songs. It’s dependent on whether we can sing these songs in the Spirit and in truth.

And I say all of this as someone who has favorite songs. I have preferences too. And sometimes, I’ve had to worship with songs that I don’t particularly like. When that happens, I have two options: I can furrow my brow, cross my arms, and complain about this ‘bad’ song. Or, I can worship God through whatever is true in the song, despite the fact that I’m not a fan of this or that lyric or of the melody.

A Call to Genuine Worship

If I choose to withhold my worship because I don’t like a song that the congregation is singing, who am I hurting? Only myself.

Now, with all of that said, I’ll make one further practical comment. Since we have a diversity of people with a diversity of preferences, we ought to acknowledge those preferences and make use of their richness. We ought to sing the best old songs and the best new songs, we ought to have moments of spontaneous worship mixed with prayerfully planned liturgies, we ought to celebrate and worship and praise with the full heritage that we’ve received from the past while never overlooking what God is still doing in our present.

In other words, we ought to quit worrying so much about which mountain we’re worshiping on and spend more time getting into the Spirit and proclaiming the truth of his praises.

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Searching for the Heart of Christianity: A Review of ‘A Change of Heart’ by Thomas Oden Tue, 28 May 2019 15:50:23 +0000 Luck? Coincidence? Or Providence? There are people who always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Some might call them, “lucky.” Others might marvel at the power of coincidence. But Christians believe that being in the right place at the right time is due to neither luck nor coincidence, but the

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Luck? Coincidence? Or Providence?

There are people who always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Some might call them, “lucky.” Others might marvel at the power of coincidence. But Christians believe that being in the right place at the right time is due to neither luck nor coincidence, but the providence of God. Such is the way Thomas Oden – a man who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time – described his life:

“No matter what my story has been for others, for me it has been a story of providential leading along a long road. By discovering the joy and meaning of consensual Christianity, my life has been enriched over two decades. It was by the grace of God that I had a change of heart and found what I had always been seeking” (Oden, A Change of Heart, 334).

My Encounters with Thomas Oden

I first encountered Oden through the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series that he edited. While I was in college, our congregation’s youth pastor had several volumes and I remember leafing through them, in awe of the many ancient authors quoted, and totally unaware of the story that lay behind the series’ creation.

Several years later, I came across Oden’s name again when I picked up a copy of his Ancient Christian Devotional. By this time, I realized that Oden and I had something in common – we both believed strongly in the unity of God’s church and wanted to see that unity lived out. And so, every time I saw a book with ‘Oden’ on the spine, I bought it.

That book-buying finally came in handy a few years ago, in my seminary doctrine class. We used his systematic theology, Classic Christianity, (a book I already had bought, as it turned out) where he wrote, “The only promise I intend to make, however inadequately carried out, is that of unoriginality” (Oden, Classic Christianity, xv). Oden’s goal was not, like so many of his academic peers, to come up with something new. Instead, he desired to recover something old – a classic, Christian consensus. He searched for that which St. Vincent of Lerins described as the faith “which has always, everywhere, and by all Christians been believed” (Oden, Classic Christianity, xv).

But that was not always Thomas Oden’s mission.

Thomas Oden’s Early Years

Oden began his life as the son of a lawyer in rural Oklahoma. World War II shaped his early years. And though he grew up in a religious home, while at university he became enamored by the political and religious Left. He consumed the teachings of Saul Alinsky and began to identify with “the revolutionary struggle” (Oden, A Change of Heart, 54). Politically, he identified as a Marxist. Religiously, he still considered himself a Christian but had lost his love for Scripture, prayer, and the hymns of his childhood. Oden seemed to be heading in a distinctly leftward direction. But change was on the horizon.

Oden’s Liberalism Shows Cracks

During the mid-1960s, Oden spent a sabbatical year in Europe. While there, he got the opportunity to talk to Bultmann about a book he’d written on Bultmann’s ethics. He stopped by Barth’s home and discussed his understanding of ethics, among other things. And he got into a conversation with Pannenberg about feminism. As he met and conversed with some of the leading Protestant theologians of the twentieth-century, something started to happen. Doubts about some of his beliefs began to emerge. And he wondered if, by running headlong into modern understandings of the Bible and Christianity, he had forfeited something far more valuable.

In the early 1970s, Oden encountered Will Herberg, a Russian Jew, who had had similar feelings to Oden as a young man. Herberg had been in the communist party while in Russia but had eventually rejected the Left and had become a major critic of communism in the United States. Herberg encouraged Oden to look back to the past, rather than only searching for answers in the ‘now.’ Oden followed his advice and was transformed.

Thomas Oden and the Pursuit of Orthodoxy

Oden would go on to become one of the foremost defenders of orthodox Christianity within the United Methodist Church. When many theologians were introducing novel concepts of God and Christianity based on feminist and other sociologically-grounded theologies, Oden was contending for the faith that was delivered once for all to the saints.

But Oden went beyond that. He was one of the foremost developers of (what has been called) paleo-orthodoxy. He looked intently at the writings of the early church and pointed toward that core of Christianity. In doing so, he hinted at a way through the myriad denominations and sects that have cropped up over the past two-thousand years and to a genuine Christian unity. This seems to have been his goal with nearly all of his final works – from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture to Classic Christianity to many of the other projects that took up his latter years.

Looking for Unity in the Wrong Places

This is the thing that most interested me about Oden’s life and work. My tradition, the Church of God Reformation Movement, has always valued unity. Unfortunately, we’ve often sought that unity by drawing lines in the sand. Tragically, our pursuit of unity has often led to division because we’ve sought unity in the wrong things.

The Key to Christian Unity

You can’t build unity on differences. We can only build unity on what we hold in common. Thomas Oden understood this and sought to discover that which all true Christians have held in common. But, at the same time, he never succumbed to the temptation of watering down one’s particular tradition and its distinctives. Instead, he grounded Christian unity in the core of the faith while giving people the room to hold to different views on secondary and tertiary issues. This is the basis of his classic Christianity. And if we’re going to pursue genuine unity, it needs to be the basis of our pursuit.

This is why Oden is so inspiring to me. He has shown us a way forward. And it’s a path that winds from the present, through the past, and into the future. Until we recognize what we have in common, we will never be able to walk arm in arm what lies ahead.

In Conclusion…

Oden is an engaging writer whose life intersected with many of the major figures and events of twentieth-century Christianity. If you want to see what Christian unity can look like lived out, look no further than this book. Not only did Oden meet with Barth, Bultmann, and Pannenberg – he attended Vatican II, was friends with J.I. Packer, and developed a commentary series that is valued and used by every branch of Christianity – from Orthodoxy to Pentecostalism. Oden didn’t just preach unity. He lived it. And his life, as recorded in A Change of Heart calls us to do the same.

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When an Evangelist Tries to Pastor… Tue, 28 May 2019 01:14:29 +0000 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of

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“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
– Ephesians 4:11-13

A Place for Everything, Everything in its Place

It’s obvious from the New Testament as a whole that God has gifted his people in a variety of ways. Not everyone has the same role in the body. And this is great news. No one has to do everything. Just as our physical bodies have parts that are equipped to perform certain tasks while being completely inadequate for others (just try to eat with your ear – it won’t be pretty), the body of Christ works the same way. Some people are great at explaining the Scriptures but terrible at comforting the suffering. Others can counsel one-on-one but would be paralyzed in front of a congregation. But when the body works as designed, it functions like Benjamin Franklin’s adage: “A place for everything, everything in its place.”

Unfortunately, things don’t always work as designed. There are times when things in our fallen world become disjointed and out-of-whack – even in the church. In particular, there are moments when people try to fulfill a role that they were never gifted to fulfill. When this happens, it can create problems and cause the progress of a local congregation to grind to a halt.

What exactly am I talking about? I’m talking about when an evangelist tries to pastor.

New Testament Leadership Roles

It’s obvious that Paul saw a clear place in the Church for evangelists and pastors/teachers. Ultimately, each of these roles has the same goal: to equip God’s people for ministry. But none can achieve this goal on its own. They need one another.

So, for example, the apostle enters an unreached land and prepares the way for the Gospel to take root. Then, the evangelist proclaims the Good News and calls people to a life of faith and discipleship. The pastor and teacher comes alongside these new disciples and works with them, training and teaching them just as Jesus did. And then the prophet drops in, speaking God’s word and continually calling his people to pursue what is right.

When these roles function as they should, they complement one another. They equip those who are in the congregation to live faithfully. And they build up the body of Christ.

But what happens when they don’t? In particular, what happens when an evangelist tries to pastor?

A Couple of Caveats…

Now, you might wonder why I’ve specified this malfunction. After all, wouldn’t a pastor trying to do the work of the prophet or a prophet trying to do the work of an apostle also have its problems? Of course! However, in my experience, evangelists trying to pastor seems to be much more common than anything else. And, as I read D.S. Warner’s biography, Birth of a Reformation, last week, I was struck by the fact that he was very much an evangelist. And, I believe, his calling as an evangelist colored the way that he viewed and understood the church – and not always in a good way.

Before I go any further, I do want to say that I don’t believe Paul’s designations of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are all mutually exclusive. There’s probably more of a gradient between these roles. I’m sure that people have gifts that fit within more than one role. However, I do believe that most people are more geared for either outreach or for building up the congregation. So, in this article, I’m talking about having a more outeach-oriented evangelist in the role of pastor/teacher.

Evangelists Preach to Save Souls

Finney’s Definition of Preaching

For a number of years, I’ve been curious about the history of the practices I grew up with – altars, revivals, campmeetings, etc. I’ve had concerns about some of these things for a while (for a variety of reasons) and I hoped that learning about their history might shed some light on how they could be used well. As I was doing research, I came across a book that covers the history of modern revivalism, beginning with Charles Finney.

I was struck by the way Finney described the ministry: “The great end for which the Christian ministry was appointed is to glorify God in the salvation of souls…all ministers should be revival ministers and all preaching should be revival preaching” (McLoughlin 87). In other words, for Finney and many others in the revivalist tradition, preaching was all about getting people saved. And so, a sermon was good if people got saved (or at least went down to the altar) and it was bad if nobody “moved.”

This is the result of an evangelist trying to pastor. His primary goal is to move people to “make a decision.” But what about when the majority of people that he’s preaching to have already made that decision? He ends up beating them over the head with the same message, week after week after week. And, over the long-haul, they’re left wading in the shallow side of the spiritual pool because they’ve never heard the fullness of God’s word proclaimed. This makes for a frail and anemic faith. It’s a faith that trades in sound-bites and out-of-context scriptures. It’s like walking on a treadmill – you may work up a sweat but you never get anywhere.

Is There More to Preach than “Repent!”?

The bad thing about this is that evangelists who pastor feel like they’re preaching the fullness of God’s word. After all, they preach from a variety of texts, both Old and New Testament. And they’re willing to confront sins that some might shy away from. But the problem is, the message every week is the same: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

And before anyone objects, I’m not saying that this isn’t an important message. It is! It’s vital! It is at the core of our faith. But once people have responded to it – once they’ve recognized the Kingdom and repented – they need to hear the rest of God’s word. They need to hear about who God is, who they are, how grace works, what worship looks like, how to pray, and on, and on. The topics are limitless!

But when you have an evangelist for a pastor, you will hear about those things rarely, if at all. And they will always be tangential to “Repent!” After all, a sermon on a doctrinal topic or the spiritual disciplines doesn’t get people to the altar like one on the dangers of Hell. And evangelists, like Charles Finney, judge the quality of a sermon by how effective it is at getting people to an altar.

The Evangelist’s Ideal Audience

But it’s not just the fact that robust preaching suffers when an evangelist tries to pastor. Evangelists, by their nature, focus on sharing the good news and calling people to repentance. Because of this, their ideal audience is a crowd of unbelievers. The problem with this should be obvious – in today’s world, most people who bother showing up on Sunday morning are wanting to encounter God and grow in faith. Sure, you may have some unbelievers in the crowd but the vast majority of people are likely there in good faith.

And yet, I’ve heard evangelist-pastors rail against the lack of faithfulness in churchgoers during a service on Wednesday night! The people who attend on Wednesday night are the core. They are the true believers. Why then, would you preach about a lack of faithfulness to the people who are most faithful? Because you are an evangelist who sees every crowd as a potential altar opportunity. Unfortunately, when you preach to the church like they’re a bunch of unbelievers, your understanding of the church (and theirs) will inevitably be impacted.

Evangelists Can Lose Sight of the Local Body

This is exactly what I saw in the life of D.S. Warner. From what I could gather, Warner never attended a particular congregation for any length of time. According to A.L. Byers, Warner got saved and within two years was doing the work of an evangelist, all without ever committing to a local congregation. Warner was a gifted evangelist. But he didn’t seem to have much of a concept of the local church – a place where a pastor (or elders) consistently preached the whole word of God and intentionally discipled his parishioners over the long haul.

How D.S. Warner Missed the Trees for the Forest

Warner’s understanding of the universal Body of Christ was robust and wholly Biblical – there’s only one church and it was founded by Christ; we enter the church via salvation; division is sinful and should be rooted out. Warner painted a beautiful picture of God’s people. But for years I’ve felt as though there’s something missing. And recently I’ve realized that the missing piece is the local congregation. Warner, ever the evangelist, was so focused on getting people saved and sanctified that he didn’t seem to give much thought to where they’d spend most of their time while on this earth – in a local congregation. I think part of the reason he didn’t give this much thought was that he himself didn’t spend much time in a local congregation.

Every NT Church Wasn’t the Same

And so, when he preached about the church, he almost always meant the whole body of Christ, not a local congregation. But these are two different things. Warner seems to have believed that, in the first century, every local congregation across the Mediterranean was completely uniform except for their longitude and latitude. But this simply isn’t true. There was tremendous diversity between congregations. And if you don’t believe that, just read the New Testament epistles or Revelation 2-3.

People Are Involved in the Organization of the Local Church

And though God oversees and organizes the body as a whole, how could we deny that he uses individual men and women at the local congregation level? After all, Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in all of the cities where he went (Titus 1:5). As you read Warner’s writings on the church, it becomes apparent that he only saw the universal body of Christ. He paid little attention to the local congregation and how it would function on a day-to-day basis.

But this makes perfect sense once you realize that he was an evangelist. He was focused on preaching two messages – sanctification (the fullness of salvation) and the unity of all believers (that big vision of the church as a whole). He wanted to get people truly saved. But as I read his biography, I cringed when I came across places where it seems like he rode into town, preached the gospel, and rode out again without helping people develop or get plugged into a local congregation.

The larger body of Christ needs local congregations. And local congregations need pastors and evangelists who will work together to accomplish what neither can do on their own.

My Big Takeaways…

Anyway, these were just a few thoughts that I’ve been having as I’ve studied the history of the Church of God Reformation Movement and the larger American revivalism that helped give it birth.

What are my big takeaways right now?

  • Evangelists and pastors are both needed but they need to do what they’re gifted to do.
  • Because of the last point, we need to reevaluate the modern role of pastor. Are we asking pastors today to do things that they really haven’t been gifted in? Should some modern pastoral positions be split up into multiple roles?
  • If we, as pastors, lean more evangelistic, how can we make sure that we’re truly discipling our congregations? If we lean more pastor/teacher, how can we make sure that we’re reaching out and not becoming totally inward-focused? How can we balance these two?
  • Finally, I believe that the Church of God Reformation Movement needs to go back to the Bible. We need to reexamine what it says about the church – especially local congregations. I feel like this has been a major weakness in our understanding of the church.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying this history of Modern Revivalism and I hope to have a review up by the end of the week. In the meantime, let me know what your experience has been with evangelists and pastors. Have you seen some of the same things that I brought up? If you’re a pastor, how do you balance the outward and inward focus? How do you make sure that your preaching proclaims the Gospel – and is accessible to the uninitiated – while still giving more seasoned believers something to chew on?


  • McLoughlin, W. G. (1959). Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham. New York, NY: The Ronald Press Company.
  • Warner, D. S. (n.d.). The Church of God: Or, what is the church, and what is not. Guthrie, OK: Faith Publishing House.

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Worship 101: What is Worship? Fri, 24 May 2019 14:54:59 +0000 What is Worship? What is worship? Why do we gather every Sunday morning at 9AM or 10AM or 11AM? What is the purpose of all the stuff on our stages? Why the piano? Or the pews? Or the pulpit? What compels us to get out of bed on a perfectly good Sunday morning, get dressed,

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What is Worship?

What is worship? Why do we gather every Sunday morning at 9AM or 10AM or 11AM? What is the purpose of all the stuff on our stages? Why the piano? Or the pews? Or the pulpit? What compels us to get out of bed on a perfectly good Sunday morning, get dressed, and drive to ‘church’? What is worship all about?

Now, you may be thinking, that’s a stupid question. We worship God because he’s worthy. And you’d be right. But sometimes, we can approach things so intuitively (or thoughtlessly) that we fail to grasp the ‘why’ behind them.

Is ‘Worship’ Too Familiar?

Let me give you an example. I learned how to read when I was in elementary school. And before long, I thought I knew what it meant to read a book – you pay attention to the letters on the page, you sound them out and understand what words they make, then you take all of the words in a particular sentence and come to an understanding of what’s being said. And when you’re done, you move on to the next sentence until you finish the book. Duh. That’s easy, right?

But when I was in high school, I came across a book by Mortimer J. Adler – a philosopher and teacher – How to Read a Book. It was over 400 pages – about how to read! Now, I thought I knew what reading a book was about – I thought I understood the ins and outs of reading. But after I read How to Read a Book, I quickly realized that I did not understand reading like I thought I understood it. I mean, before that, I could sound out all of the words in a book, I could get a general idea of what was being said, but Mortimer Adler taught me that there is a depth and richness to reading that goes far beyond merely letting your eyes move across a page.

So, maybe worship is like reading. Maybe we think we understand it but we’re really only scratching the surface. So, I ask again… what is worship?

Searching for Genuine Worship

I think our knee-jerk response – whether we want to admit it or not – is that worship is the musical portion of our Sunday services. So we say things like, “We have worship and then a sermon.” Or we complain about how, “Worship wasn’t very good today.” Or we wonder why we don’t use more of this or that kind of song in our “worship.” But is that worship? Really? No, it’s an important part of worship but singing does not equal worship.

Others might envision the way people “worship” a certain person or a certain thing or idea. We’ve all heard someone say, “He worships the ground she walks on.” Or, “he practically worships the Patriots.” And when someone says this, we know that they mean this person obsesses over that thing – they eat, sleep, and breathe it. They talk about it all the time. Their lives revolve around it. And there’s definitely an element of truth about this – genuine worship does consume us. But is this what we mean when we talk about Christian worship? Is it an obsession with God – like we might be obsessed with football or a political party? And even if it is, what specific actions would it lead us to? I mean, an “obsession” is a little broad.

Defining Worship at the Extremes

As we think about what it means to truly worship God – I think we’re tempted to go to extremes. We get so specific that we make it a single act – like singing. Or, we define it so broadly that worship could be everything – and if it’s everything, then it’s not really anything.

 So, we return to this question: What is worship? And is there a definition that is specific enough that we can know what it looks like in the real world while being broad enough to include everything that truly is worship?

Peter’s Thoughts on Worship

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples, wrote two letters addressed to the churches around the Eastern Mediterranean. And in his first letter, he reminded the Christians living there of who they were and what they ought to be about…

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.’

This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very corner stone,” and, ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. But you are a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4-10 NASB)

Our Identity Calls Us to Worship

Throughout this, Peter recognizes the same truth that we celebrate every Easter – God has done a definite and transformative work in our lives, as Christians. He has turned us from dead stones to living stones and is using us to build up a spiritual temple. And he’s made us priests with a responsibility to offer spiritual sacrifices; he has created a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to himself out of us – out of you and me. And he’s has moved us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. He has shown us mercy so that what we once were – not a people – we are no longer. For now, we are the people of God.

Now, it’s important to realize that Peter does not just inform us that we are no longer what we were. He also tells us that our actions have changed because we are made new. Think of it this way, when a person goes from being unmarried to married – things change. Before he was married, he could do whatever he wanted. He could spend his money however he wanted. He could go wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. But after he gets married, things change. And there are things that he couldn’t do before that he now must do – if he’s going to fulfill the vows he made during the wedding ceremony.

Worship is Service

So, what does Peter tell us that we have been equipped and given the responsibility to do? In verse five, he says that we are built up into this living temple so that we will “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” And this, naturally, leads us to ask the question, “What does he mean by ‘spiritual sacrifices’?”

Well, he may be thinking broadly – like Paul was when he wrote to the Romans and said, “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Interestingly, in that passage, Paul immediately goes on to describe different gifts that people have in the congregation – prophecy, exhortation, teaching, giving, showing mercy, etc. We can sum up all of these activities with a single word – service. And, in fact, the Greek word for ‘worship’ here is a word that literally meant ‘service.’

Worship is Active

And that’s great because it gives a little insight into what it really means to worship. Worship isn’t just singing and it’s not just being ‘obsessed.’ It’s singing in service to God. It’s an obsession that leads us to serve Him. Worship takes all of our gifts – our abilities to teach, to sing, to encourage, to give – and it directs them Godward. And as we serve him in those gifts, we are worshiping. This is both broad enough to encompass all the things that worship includes, but narrow enough to remind us that worship is not just anything. In particular, it reminds us that worship is active, not passive.

So, if I come to church and sit in a pew and enjoy the music and appreciate the sermon – but I never act, then I haven’t truly worshiped. We don’t gather together on a Sunday morning to enjoy ourselves. We come here to worship in service. Everything that we do on a Sunday morning – from the way we greet people when we walk into the building to the songs that we sing to the prayers that we offer to the way we respond to the word of God – all of it is an opportunity for us to worship in service. But it requires us to act. To, as Peter puts it, offer up “spiritual sacrifices.”

Worship Proclaims God’s Praises

Now, this gives us a really good picture of genuine, Christian worship – but there’s one puzzle piece missing. And that’s this: What should all of this service be accomplishing? How do we judge whether we have worshiped – or served – well or not?

Peter tells us in verse nine. God has transformed us and made us into a people – a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Another translation has “so that you may proclaim the praises of Him…”

So, with that in mind, all of the pieces fall into place: Worship is an active service to God – using all of the gifts that he’s has given us – that proclaims his praises.

Changing the Way We See Worship

When we understand this, it should change everything about worship. It should transform the way that we approach worship, the way that we actually worship, and the way that we evaluate worship. It should be the north star that guides us as we seek to truly worship the God who has saved and transformed us.

When we understand that worship is active, we will prepare for it. Worship isn’t like a movie that you go to or a concert that you attend. It’s not a passive event. It’s not something that you can rush out the door and stumble into – you don’t just come and sit in a seat and worship. Worship calls you to actively participate and that takes preparation.

Worship Calls Us to Prepare

Think of it like this, it takes more preparation to go to work than it does to watch a movie. I don’t know about you, but before I start working, I need a cup of coffee, I need to get in a ‘productive’ mindset, I need to avoid distractions, I have to do some things to get ready. But I don’t have to do anything to watch a movie. I can sit down wearing whatever I have on and turn it on and enjoy it. That’s the difference between approaching something that’s active rather than passive. And, if worship is an active service, then it requires us to prepare.

In fact, the Bible describes some of the most fantastic scenes of worship – Isaiah 6, Ezekiel’s vision, John’s revelation – and it describes the person worshiping as being ‘in the Spirit.’ They had come prepared to serve.

So, when we got ready to worship – do we prepare? Do we get in a worshipful mindset and pray for God’s presence and direction and guidance? Or, do we warm up our vocal cords so we can sing well? Do we prepare as we come by reflecting on how God has been at work in our lives over the previous week? Do we spend any time meditating on his character and his actions?

Have we prepared to worship? The more we understand that worship is active, the more we will understand our need to truly prepare before we worship.

Worship Calls Us to Participate

As we understand worship in this way, we will also participate differently. Everything that we do on a Sunday morning – from greeting the congregation to singing songs to praying to preaching – all of it is done as an act of service to God that proclaims his praises. And each of these things gives us an opportunity to do that. But we need to see it as something that we do together because worship isn’t about all people on a stage performing things for an audience in pews.

We – all of us, including every last person in every pew – is a member of one congregation. And the audience is not out there. The audience is up there. God is our audience and we – all of us – are performing something that is directed toward him. We are proclaiming his praises. Once we see this, then we’ll be free to sing a little louder, to raise our hands a little higher, and to say, “Amen” with a little more confidence.

Our Worship is for God

We aren’t doing these things for one another – we’re doing them for him. And if you’re thinking, “But I’m not a very good singer. That’s not one of my gifts.” Let me tell you, if God has gifted you with a voice – use it. That’s the gift. So, sing because he has blessed you with the ability to, whether you think you can do it well or not. He is not judging our singing based on how well we hit a particular note. He judges it based on how sincere our hearts are. And as people lead in prayer, you pray too. Remember, worship is active, not passive. As someone reads the word of God, you read along. Think about how the Scriptures apply to your own life and heart. Reflect on ways that God’s word might change your thinking or actions or words.

Worship is active, not passive. And we don’t gather to enjoy ourselves. We don’t come to hear songs that we like or a sermon that will make us feel good – or bad. We gather together every Sunday morning so that we can serve God by proclaiming his praises.

So, what is worship? It’s an active service to God that proclaims his praises to everyone around us!

Now, let’s get worshiping!

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An Idealized Portrait of a Brave but Imperfect Reformer: A Review of A.L. Byers’s ‘Birth of a Reformation’ Thu, 23 May 2019 18:45:49 +0000 Who’s D.S. Warner Anyway? As a child of the Church of God Reformation Movement, I strongly believe in striving toward holiness and unity within the Church. I believe that the Holy Spirit transforms us more and more into the image of Christ. I believe in “reaching our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one.”

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Who’s D.S. Warner Anyway?

As a child of the Church of God Reformation Movement, I strongly believe in striving toward holiness and unity within the Church. I believe that the Holy Spirit transforms us more and more into the image of Christ. I believe in “reaching our hands in fellowship to every blood washed one.” For me, these ideals are at the core of what it means to be a Christian. And though I’ve cherished the fact that our movement holds these two ideas at the center of its mission to the greater body of Christ, I haven’t always agreed with the way ‘Church of God’ people have approached advancing them.

I recently got in a discussion with some fellow Church of God ministers about the importance of unity and how we might achieve it. As we talked, my ignorance of our founder, D.S. Warner’s life became apparent. This isn’t to say that I know nothing about him. I’ve read Merle Strege’s ‘I Saw the Church’ and John W.V. Smith’s ‘The Quest for Holiness and Unity’ (though it has been a number of years ago). And I grew up hearing about Warner’s story in passing. But I’ve never read a straight biography of the man. So, I decided it was time to rectify that oversight by reading ‘Birth of a Reformation: Life and Labors of D.S. Warner’ by A.L. Byers. To put it simply, it disappointed me.

Warner’s Story from Warner’s Perspective

Before I get too far into the content of this book, I want to make a comment about the way it was written. This is not a book that is easy to read. Large portions of it are taken verbatim out of Warner’s diaries. Other chapters are filled with poetry and hymns. And then there are the long sections that recount campmeetings and revivals. The best parts were those places where Byers actually writes about Warner himself. Unfortunately, that’s not the vast majority of the book. Instead, most of the space is taken up with quotes from various sources – almost all favorable to Warner.

Honestly, this is one of the major drawbacks of this book – Byers didn’t have many sources to go off. It sounds like he based almost the entire book on Warner’s diaries (which only covered up until 1880 or so) and interviews with different people who had known him. There’s almost nothing from any of Warner’s opposition, who might give an alternate side to the story (except for some stuff taken out of a Winebrennerian Church of God history book). Now, this doesn’t mean that the book is bad. It just means that it’s definitely biased and not particularly easy or enjoyable to read. But, what about the content? Is the content rich enough to overcome the format’s weaknesses?

That depends. If you want to read the story of D.S. Warner from his perspective and from the perspective of those who adored him, this is a great book. It tells Warner’s story, from childhood to death. And it doesn’t attempt to be objective. In the first chapter, we read, “[Warner] was a Christian then whom perhaps none other ever lived who was more reverent, spiritual, and devoted.” That is high praise indeed. But did he live up to that description?

Noticing Warner’s Flaws

Now, before I say anything else, let me say this: I believe D.S. Warner was genuine in what he believed and did. I believe that he believed in his message and that he believed wholeheartedly in the dangers he preached against. Unfortunately, I also believe he was a human being who made mistakes and who was often unaware of his own faults.

I say this because, throughout his diaries, he rarely recognizes anything wrong in his actions or motives. When problems arose, when disagreements took place, when anything went wrong, he never acknowledges his part in the issue. Instead, it’s always someone else’s fault. In addition, he often speaks as if he is the standard of truth and incapable of being wrong.

Let me give you a couple of examples: he notes a Mr. Mahaffey who was “a smart man, well-informed in the Bible. Agrees with me on doctrine.” Elsewhere, he mentions a Mr. O-, a Campbellite, who he spoke with. He describes their conversation: “Had some talk, but a few Scriptures silenced his doctrine.” In another place, he mentions a man who was convinced to come hear him preach after being hesitant. He writes, “he did so, sat with his head down, doubtless felt the force of truth but was too honest to trifle with it; confess that I had preached nothing but Bible.”

Now, none of this means anything in and of itself. After all, these were in his diary and, I assume, they weren’t necessarily meant to be read by others. But, to be perfectly honest, I kept feeling as though there was a hint of pride in the way that he wrote about his dealings with others.

Leaving the Church of God for the Church of God

This feeling grew as I read about his separation from the Church of God (Winebrennerian). He, along with some other Church of God ministers who were teaching entire sanctification, separated from the larger Winebrennerian body and created the ‘Northern Indiana Eldership.’ This separation took place because the rest of the Church of God (Winebrennerian) would not accept their teaching on holiness. However, only a short time later, Warner separated from the ‘Northern Indiana Eldership.’ Why? He “proposed some measures by which that body might be made to conform more perfectly to the Bible standard with reference to government” and they rejected them.

Byers writes, “he realized, probably for the first time, that the new Eldership, bent on continuing their human organization, was a sect with which he must sever his connection, and he then and there did so.” Now, we might ask, what other differences did Warner have with this group? Surely he must’ve had other issues with them if he was going to separate from them and brand them “a sect.” But from what I can tell, there were no other differences. For someone who so valued unity, it seems awfully strange to divide because the rest of the group didn’t want to do things exactly like you.

A Strained Marriage and Divorce

From this point on, Warner seems to become more and more stringent and uncompromising. If his early diaries come across slightly proud, his latter writings included in this book can seem downright arrogant. For example, his second wife left him (the circumstances of which are too strange and convoluted to recount here). When she died, The Gospel Trumpet, Warner’s paper, printed an editorial that included these words: “Ah, we cannot help the conviction that had the dear woman never been alienated by the adversary to break her solemn vows… She would be alive, well, and happy today. But alas, all is past now.” Wow! That’s some kind of editorial! Now, I’m not defending Warner’s wife. I have no idea what actually took place between them. But this editorial seems wholly inappropriate and unchristlike – essentially claiming that she’d died because she left Warner.

Evangelizing Christians

Towards the end of the book, Byers recounts many of Warner’s evangelistic tours. These stories will remind you again and again of how much Warner endured. And yet, he pressed on. This is why I believe that he had complete confidence in his mission. But, in the back of my mind, I can’t help but think that he brought some of his problems on himself. Rather than truly reaching his hand in fellowship to the ministers and Christians that he found, he focused almost exclusively on the things that divided them. He called other believers names just as they did him. And then, when he preached, he didn’t point them to Christ but to the Church of God. Rather than focusing on the problematic things that different denominations or congregations did, he painted with a broad brush, condemning them all.

As I read about all of the opposition he faced, I couldn’t help but ask myself: How do you expect people to respond when you roll into town from who-knows-where, preach about how all of the local churches are leading everyone to hell, call people to “the church of God” (which everyone took to be another denomination), and then move on to the next town? Of course they were angry! They felt as though Warner and his crew were more focused on stealing sheep than preaching the gospel. And when you don’t understand Warner’s underlying theology, that’s exactly what it looks like.

A Friend’s Opinion

And lest you think this is just my impoverished opinion, C.W. Naylor, a friend and associate of Warner, came to a similar conclusion nearly 100 years ago:

“By classifying all religious movements except his own, including the holiness movements, as ‘Babylon’ and all their adherents as ‘Babylonians,’ he alienated his former associates and finally all denominational adherents. He vigorously condemned and bitterly attacked all those who did not agree with him even in matters of little importance. When aroused, and his emotions stirred, he became aggressive in attack and denunciation almost to abusiveness, and his language was often quite intemperate. By the use of such methods he further alienated his many friends and former associates, even his own wife, and needlessly made many enemies for himself and his cause. The chasm that came to exist between him and the other holiness bodies resulted very largely from his own actions and attitudes. Had his methods been different, his doctrines might have been tolerated if not accepted” (Naylor).

Warner’s Vision, Still Worth Pursuing

With all of that said, I don’t want to sound as though I’m saying that Warner was all bad. I still believe in his message of holiness and unity. I believe that God called Warner to spread that message – and that he used him in some mighty ways. But I also believe that he was human, with all of the flaws and imperfections that accompany our humanity.

Nevertheless, I think his message is a message that we still need to spread. But this biography calls us to reevaluate Warner’s methods. It calls us to reflect on what genuine Christian unity (rather than uniformity) should look like. It should provoke important questions about denominations, the essentials of the faith, church government, evangelism, and the interplay between the whole Church of God and individual congregations.

This is far from a perfect book – or even a perfect biography of D.S. Warner. But it does give us a window into his motivations, his methods, and his vision. And even if his methods were imperfect, his vision still stands as one of the most needed in our world. And so, it’s my hope that we would take up where he left off and carry that vision through the twenty-first century – calling all of God’s people to genuine holiness and unity.

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I 🖤 the Church of God Fri, 17 May 2019 17:10:12 +0000 I love the Church of God. And I’m not just talking about the universal body of Christ (though I love that too). I’m talking about the ‘Church of God Reformation Movement’ that began in 1881 when D.S. Warner and others looked around and noticed two glaring problems: the church was divided thirty-seven ways from Sunday

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I love the Church of God.

And I’m not just talking about the universal body of Christ (though I love that too). I’m talking about the ‘Church of God Reformation Movement’ that began in 1881 when D.S. Warner and others looked around and noticed two glaring problems: the church was divided thirty-seven ways from Sunday and many members of the church weren’t experiencing genuine, spiritual transformation.

So they preached the cure to those two problems: unity and holiness – and in doing so, they started a movement.

I love that movement. I love the Church of God.

Yes, I love her and believe in her despite her many idiosyncrasies. You know, like her insistence that she’s not a ‘denomination’ even though by every definition but our own, she is.

But despite that and my concerns about some of her past methodological decisions, I really do love her. I love the Church of God.

Growing Up Church of God

And it’s not just because she’s the church of my childhood. I mean, it is true that I grew up hearing stories of my great-grandmother experiencing God for the first time after hearing a Church of God preacher. And I heard how she went on to have a lively ministry in and around Jonesboro, LA. I grew up with two great-uncles and one aunt who pastored Churches of God.

Throughout my early life, my family attended Churches of God when we could and Nazarene Churches when we couldn’t. Every night, my mother read to me from the Egermeier’s Bible Story Book. And I can remember singing ‘Joy Unspeakable’ while standing next to my grandmother and listening to her aging and at times faltering voice belt out the chorus as loudly as she could – “It is joy unspeakable and full of glory, full of glory, full of glory!”

And then, when I finally came to faith in Christ as a teenager, the Church of God fed me. I devoured her books and pamphlets. My first ‘systematic theology’ was Russell Byrum’s ‘Christian Theology’, published in 1925 by the Gospel Trumpet Company. And when I wanted to get a degree in ministry, one of my first university choices was the same Church of God school that my father had attended decades before, Mid-America Christian University.

So I don’t think that it’s wrong to say that I love the Church of God because she was the church that raised me. She was. And I love her for that. But there is something more to my love for her.

I Love Her Message

I love the robust gospel she preaches and the value that she’s always placed on holiness and unity. And I happen to believe that, though times have changed since 1881, that robust gospel that they preached back then is the same message that we need today.

Though I must admit, I’m not sure that all of their methods would work as well now as they did back then. I don’t know how effective the Floating Bethel would be if it set today. And I don’t think that cranking up the old press and pumping out new issues of The Gospel Trumpet would create the buzz it did then. And then there are the things they did that I think we probably ought to avoid, like getting caught up in debates over neckties or the Book of Revelation.

Instead, I think what we need to do is reach back for the best of who we are – who we’ve always been – and let that shape our approach to today’s problems.

Called to Holiness

We need to remember that we are a movement that has stressed the importance of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We believe that God actually changes us – that he transforms us from the inside-out. He begins the work of making “all things new” right now, in my heart (Revelation 21:5). We should hold on to that as tightly as we can and strive to communicate it in innovative and exciting ways. And we shouldn’t just communicate it with our lips. This is a truth that must be seen to be believed. So we should live it boldly!

Called to Unity

We need to remember that we are a movement that has valued and preached the unity of all believers – even when we haven’t quite lived up to it. After all, this same movement that preached unity has also given birth to an incredible number of schisms and divisions through the years. To paraphrase James…

“…no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we preach unity, and with it we curse men who don’t believe/speak/dress/attend the same church/vote the same way/act exactly like us, men who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (James 3:8-10).

If we truly value unity, then let us live it. Let us reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one, whether the church they attend has ‘Church of God’ above the door or ‘Baptist’ or ‘Presbyterian’ or ‘Pentecostal.’ But again, this requires us to reexamine our methods and innovate. We face a world that is fundamentally different from the one that the early reformers faced in the late nineteenth-century. Today’s divisions look very different from those of 1880. Our approach should follow suit.

Looking Forward…

In other words, maybe we should focus on preaching and living holiness and unity in today’s world instead of trying to adopt the same methods and exact phrasings of our forebears.

But, you may be wondering, what would that look like? I’m not entirely sure. I’m still thinking about it. But I’m thankful to know that I’m not the only one thinking about it. And I believe that, together, we can once again be a catalyst to the larger body of Christ. And maybe – just maybe – we can see that universal body called to greater unity and a greater reliance on God’s Spirit.

Until then, I’ll just keep on loving the Church of God.

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From Bunkers to Beachheads… Wed, 02 Jan 2019 18:23:50 +0000 “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the

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“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Jesus

Those aren’t just words. They’re marching orders.

When Jesus left his followers, he left them with a mission. He left us with a mission.

But how many of us take it seriously? Do we wake up in the morning thinking about it? Or lose sleep over it? Do we care as much about this mission as we do about our jobs? Our politics? Our entertainment?

For too long, we’ve memorized the words but failed to act on them. We’ve hung up banners emblazoned with the verses but never bothered to consider what they actually mean for us. We’ve turned Jesus’ final command into little more than a platitude.

And in doing so, we’ve turned the Church from a beachhead to a bunker.

King Jesus and His Army

Near the end of John’s Revelation vision, he records seeing the forces of darkness coming against Jesus with one final onslaught. But their attempt is futile. Listen to what he says: “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14 NASB).

Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, overcomes all who stand against him. It doesn’t matter how numerous or powerful they may seem. He has the final say. And what’s more, he has a whole army with him. John writes that “those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” If you’re a Christian – if you’ve given Jesus your faith and faithfulness – then that number includes you.

And so, we stand victorious with King Jesus. Though that doesn’t mean the enemy has given up.

Satan will continue to kick and scream, pulling everyone down with him that he possibly can, until that final day when all things will be made new.

And until then we have a mission.

The Authority of the King

But Jesus didn’t just tell his disciples, “Go, accomplish my mission.” He began by saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

This authority was on full display in the gospel accounts where Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, calms storms, walks on water, multiplies the loaves, turns the water into wine, raises the dead, reads minds, forgives sins, and ultimately, rises from the dead himself. There’s nothing Jesus can’t do – because he holds all authority.

And the even more remarkable thing is that he gives his people that authority. Matthew records that when Jesus sent his twelve disciples out to share the gospel, he “gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (Matthew 10:1). And this point is further strengthened in Jesus’ final words – the words I started this post with.

He begins by saying, “All authority has been given to Me…” and he ends with this encouragement: “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

If both of these things are true, then we have an incredible reason to be bold. If Jesus really is with us no matter what, when, or where we are, and if he has all authority in creation, then what do we have to fear? Jesus has authority over people, over governments, over sickness, over demons, and even over death itself.

This reality is the reason that Christian martyrs all over the world have been able to face death with peace. They believe these twin truths: Jesus has authority over all things and Jesus is with us.

The ‘Bunker’ Mentality

Too many Christians live with a ‘bunker’ mentality. They’ve hunkered down in their churches, clutching their Bibles and hymnals for dear life. They occasionally peek out the window – but only long enough to note how bad things have gotten in the world. Their knees knock at the thought of meeting the very people Jesus most closely associated with – sinners, drunks, and IRS agents.

They don’t look or sound like people who are walking with the King of all creation.

This ‘bunker’ mentality has infected far too many Christians and even churches. It’s a way of thinking that leaves us looking at everyone who isn’t exactly like us with suspicion and hostility. It creates paranoia and fear. And once this mentality has fully set, it keeps us from experimenting and trying new things. It pours concrete on everything we do, setting it in stone until it’s either covered in moss or destroyed.

This ‘bunker’ way of thinking puts us on the defensive. But we’re supposed to be playing offense.

What would happen if an army – or even a football team – only worried about defense? No one wins ballgames or battles by thinking purely in defensive terms.

The Difference Between ‘Bunkers’ and ‘Beachheads’

When the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II, they didn’t set up bunkers. They didn’t build nice, solid structures where they could relax and enjoy one another’s company. They set up temporary defensive lines – beachheads – that would hold until they could amass a large enough force to press the battle forward.

Bunkers are primarily defensive structures. They’re built to hold a line against invaders. Beachheads are offensive. Yes, they provide defense for a time – but they’re never meant to be permanent. They’re jumping-off points.

For at least a generation, much of the Church in America has been developing a ‘bunker’ mentality. We’ve built our churches, established our traditions, and waited for people to join us down in the safety of our religious bunkers.

And it hasn’t worked.

Like armies and football teams, the Church can’t advance when we’re focused solely on defense – on protecting our traditions, our preferences, our “purity” – our whatever.

Shifting to a ‘Beachhead’ Mentality

Our mentality needs to shift. We need to drop the bunker mentality. We need to quit worrying so much about defense and protection. Jesus is with us. And he has all authority in heaven and on earth. If we can make this shift, then maybe – just maybe – we can begin accomplishing the task that he gave us of making disciples by baptizing them and teaching them everything he’s taught us.

The question is, how do we make the shift from a ‘bunker’ to a ‘beachhead’ mentality?

Listen to our Commander

Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” But too often we don’t live like it because we’re unaware of his presence. Going to church once or twice a week and saying a quick prayer before bed simply won’t cut it. If we aren’t purposely living in his presence, we likely won’t feel like he’s with us. We won’t sense his authority. And we will inevitably slip into a ‘bunker’ mentality.

We need to actively listen for his voice by engaging deeply with his words and developing a conversational prayer life. And like any relationship, this takes hard work. It takes commitment and it takes time.

Reading. Studying. Memorizing. Praying. Fasting. Meditating. All of these things – and more – are essential parts of the Christian life. They connect us to our Creator and King. And they will increase our confidence in his presence and authority in our lives.

Follow the Spirit

If the Spirit never asks you to do anything uncomfortable, you probably aren’t listening to him. God’s Spirit is active. He leads us to new places. He brings people into our lives who need the Gospel. His goal is the coming of God’s Kingdom to every man, woman, boy, and girl. And that’s the direction that he will consistently lead us.

There was nothing comfortable about the Invasion of Normandy. Soldiers faced explosions, screaming bullets, and death itself. But they followed their commanders because there was a mission worth accomplishing. Lives were at stake and freedom itself was on the line.

The Spirit of God is leading us to storm the Kingdom of Darkness. We have a battle before us. The question is, will we follow him?

On a practical level, I have to say that following the Spirit in small things is easier than big things. So start there. If he prompts you to ask your waitress, “Sounds like you’re having a tough day, how can I pray for you?” Then do it. If you sense that he’s leading you to speak to that homeless person or call that person that you need to forgive or set aside time to read scripture, let him have his way. Begin with small things and he will continually lead you to bigger ones.

Let Each Day Bring New Mercies

As you follow the Spirit, you will almost certainly make mistakes. You will say the wrong thing. You’ll end up in awkward situations. It won’t always go the way you planned. And that’s okay.

Faithfulness is better than ‘perfection’ – largely because we can’t achieve that kind of perfection. Like riding a bike, you just have to get on and ride. Yes, you’ll end up with some skinned knees and maybe even some broken bones. But you’ll never get anywhere if you spend your time staring at your bike – dreaming of how great riding would be or remembering what it was like back when everyone rode or wishing you could just have a car instead of a bicycle.

So listen closely to Jesus and follow closely behind his Spirit. And when you fall, let the Father pick you up, brush you off, and set you back in the saddle. For, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is [His] faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

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A Fantastic Introduction to Christian Metaphysics (A Review of William Hasker’s ‘Metaphysics’) Tue, 01 Jan 2019 23:03:57 +0000 Why Metaphysics? For most people, philosophy and Christian metaphysics are subjects that are best left to the ivory tower. They have little practical application and are too obtuse to be of any real use. And yet, they underlie everything that we believe and everything that we do. Whether we realize it or not, we are

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Why Metaphysics?

For most people, philosophy and Christian metaphysics are subjects that are best left to the ivory tower. They have little practical application and are too obtuse to be of any real use. And yet, they underlie everything that we believe and everything that we do. Whether we realize it or not, we are philosophical beings. The problem is that we seldom stop to reflect on what we really believe and why we believe it.

Over the past few years I’ve given more thought to philosophy and its purpose. And as I’ve read and meditated, I’ve concluded that there is a great deal of value in thinking deeply about philosophical questions. Last year I read ‘Philosophy of Religion’ from the Contours of Christian Philosophy series that’s put out by IVP Academic. Though basic, it served as a good introduction to the big questions about religion. For example, are there good reasons to believe in God? Are miracles possible? What place does religion have the ‘modern’ world? These are questions that every Christian should consider, give deep thought to, and come to conclusions regarding.

Since I wanted to dive more deeply into philosophy, I decided to read another book from the series, Contours of Christian Philosophy. This time I chose the book ‘Metaphysics’ by William Hasker. I’ve been intrigued by the topic of metaphysics recently as I’ve contemplated the fact that much of the disagreement between atheists and Christians comes from a difference in their beliefs about reality itself. It’s not so much a question of having evidence for God and not having evidence for God. it’s more a question about how we understand what is real and what isn’t.

Five Metaphysical Topics…

This question of the “real” is exactly what Hasker deals with in ‘Metaphysics.’ This fact is put clearly at the very beginning of the book, where Hasker writes, “’What is there?’ According to an eminent philosopher these simple words suffice to formulate the central question of all metaphysics.”

And so, Hasker spends five chapters examining free will, the mind-body connection, the nature of the world, and the nature of God as well as his relation to creation. In each chapter he examines the major schools of thought on each topic. He gives an evenhanded assessment of the various positions, including arguments for as well as objections against. And though it is fairly obvious where he falls at the end of each chapter, he is never dogmatic or preachy.

Do Humans Have Free Will?

I believe he makes a good case for the existence of free will despite objections from some philosophers and scientists.  Not only does he argue that determinism leads to a denial of all rationality, he also does a fantastic job of showing the incoherence of compatibilism (the idea that genuine free will can exist alongside determinism). With all of that said, he doesn’t let Christian free will advocates off scott-free. He recognizes that a belief in free will alongside belief in an all-knowing God begs the question of how God can know what will happen in the future without causing it. He gives the classic, Christian answer: divine timelessness. I’m sure that won’t satisfy everyone but it does satisfy me.

How Are Our Minds And Bodies Connected?

In the chapter on the mind or soul, Hasker first lays out the positions of dualism and materialism. Here you will find a standard case for both positions – with both their difficulties and strength. But then he submits an alternative to these two positions: emergentism. Whereas materialism says that human beings are made up solely of physical ‘stuff’ and dualism says that we are a spiritual being encased in a physical body, emergentism argues that our consciousness – our soul – emerges from our physical brain and nervous system. And though this might sound odd at first, Hasker relates the idea (convincingly in my opinion) to that of gravity. Gravitational and magnetic fields emerge from physical objects. But once they exist they are no longer necessarily tied to those objects. Hasker puts forward the example of a black hole which begins as a physical object whose gravitational field “squeezes the generating object out of existence” (Hasker p.75). Whether or not you find the comparison of the soul to gravity convincing I think it’s at least an interesting thought.

What Is Real In This World?

In the fourth chapter, Hasker examines the question of the ‘world’. He looks at both realism as well as idealism including forms of each. I found this chapter to be the least helpful. This is probably because to me, idealism seems to be self-evidently false. With that said it does include a few short words about the nature of the universe and whether it had a beginning or not. This is a question that’s important for metaphysics and for theology. After all, if the universe had a beginning then it seems to follow that there had to be a ‘beginner.’

Is There A God – And What Is He Like?

The final chapter of the book deals with the question of God. Hasker looks at naturalism, pantheism, panentheism, and theism. As always he lays out a fair case for each position and naturally concludes that theism makes the most sense of the world that we live in. But that is to be expected from a Christian philosopher.

A Christian Metaphysic?

In the epilog, Hasker looks at metaphysics from a more Christian perspective and notes that there are no real ‘Christian metaphysics’, though there are metaphysical answers that mesh better with Christianity. He concludes by arguing that Christian metaphysics must view God from a theistic perspective, must speak of creation as real and tangible, and must recognize the image of God in man.

In Summary…

Overall, Hasker’s book is a great first step in developing Christian metaphysics. Though I think it’s important to reiterate the fact that he is rarely if ever dogmatic. This is not a book of Christian theology. It is a book that calls us to answer the big questions of life. What is God like? What are we, as humans, made up of? Do we have free will or are our actions pre-determined? If you’ve never given these questions any thought, Hasker’s book will offer you an opportunity to do so.

Whether you read this book or not, reflecting on these questions is well worth your time. As Socrates once said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.” So start examining – and start living more fully.

You can pick up Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Contours of Christian Philosophy)on

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Seeing is Believing (A Review of Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case for Miracles’) Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:03:47 +0000 My Little Miracle By the time I was in sixth grade I’d rejected the Christian faith of my childhood and become a committed atheist. I believed there was no case for miracles or God. And during my senior year of high school, I was beginning to feel an almost imperceptible tug. Like a quiet whisper,

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My Little Miracle

By the time I was in sixth grade I’d rejected the Christian faith of my childhood and become a committed atheist. I believed there was no case for miracles or God. And during my senior year of high school, I was beginning to feel an almost imperceptible tug. Like a quiet whisper, it haunted me every night as I laid down to sleep.

“Does science really explain everything?” it asked. “What if you’re wrong? What if your childhood faith isn’t as childish as you seem to think?”

And then, one night, God gave me a miracle. I was trying my best to fall asleep when that quiet whisper returned. Only this time, it carried an image with it: the image of a book sitting on our kitchen counter. I didn’t know whether there really was a book on our kitchen counter. I certainly hadn’t noticed it before. But every time I pushed the image from my mind, it returned. So finally, in hopes of banishing the voice for the night, I went upstairs to look. And there it was.

It was Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith. Hoping to get back to bed, I quickly picked it up and asked the voice, “Now what?”

There was no reply. So I sat down, opened to the table of contents, and scanned. My eyes continued down the page until I read the heading for chapter eight: “I Still Have Doubts, So I Can’t Be a Christian.” There was that quiet tug.

For the past year or so I had been swimming in doubts about God and the universe and science and the Bible. Something inside of me wanted to believe – wanted to hope – but I couldn’t shake the doubts. So I flipped open to chapter eight and began to read.

Introducing ‘The Case for Miracles’

If you’ve never read any of Lee Strobel’s ‘The Case For…’ books, now would probably be a good time for me to explain how they work. Years ago, Strobel worked as an investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune. He was a committed atheist and skeptic but when his wife came to faith in Christ, he decided to put his journalistic background to use by investigating the claims of Christianity. Long story, short- he became a Christian. So most of his books involve him interviewing various experts about a particular subject in order to make a case for that subject. Hence, the ‘Case for…’ titles. The Case for Faith is all about objections people have to faith in God, particularly the Christian God.

So what happened after I read his interview in chapter eight of The Case for Faith? I realized that doubt didn’t have to be banished from every corner of my mind. God made himself known to me in such a powerful way that night, that I was able to cry out “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NRSV). And since then, I’ve believed. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t doubted. In the 15 years since that night, I’ve had plenty of questions – and yes, doubts.

In fact, my doubts have started multiplying recently. “Is it rational to believe in miracles? How do miraculous things happen? Can everything that happens in our universe be explained through science and reason? Is there still room for God in the world?”

Just in the last few months, I’ve picked up Craig Keener’s Miracles and Andrew Root’s Exploding Stars, Dead Dinosaurs, and Zombies: Youth Ministry in the Age of Science so that I could work through some of my questions. And though I read Root’s book and found it to be moderately helpful, I hadn’t gotten time to read Keener’s tome (it’s 1248 pages!) when I heard that Strobel was releasing a new ‘Case for…’ book: The Case for Miracles. So I pre-ordered it and waited.

And 4 hours after opening it, I’m not disappointed.

I Like His Style…

Like all of Strobel’s other books, The Case for Miracles will take you on a journey from one scholar to another – experts in a variety of fields – in hopes of discovering whether miracles are reasonable.

Before I examine the content, I’d like to say a word about the style. Strobel writes like a journalist. He’s engaging, readable, and makes the reader feel like she’s taking this journey of discovery with him. The questions he poses to the experts are often the questions that I had on my mind. There’s a reason the ancient philosophers often wrote dialogues – they’re easier to follow than a treatise. Strobel makes excellent use of the format to keep your interest.

So, what about the content? Does Strobel actually make a case for the miraculous?

The answer to that is probably debatable. If you’re committed to a purely naturalistic explanation of the world, then you likely won’t be convinced. Though I do believe that if the door of your mind is ever slightly open, Strobel might just give you enough to push it open further – even if it doesn’t swing wide.

So how does he make his case?

An Overview of the Case For and Against Miracles

Strobel begins by visiting Dr. Michael Shermer, a well-known skeptic who has written a number of books about science, skepticism, and belief. Shermer shares his testimony with Strobel. Though he grew up in a non-religious household, as a teenager, he became a Christian, though the faith didn’t stick. He eventually turned his back on religion and became an agnostic because of a lack of evidence for the supernatural. This first chapter acts as a sort of prelude to the rest of the book, setting up what is to come. In fact, all of the issues that Strobel deals with in subsequent chapters are originally brought up in this conversation.

After visiting with Shermer, Strobel interviews Dr. Craig Keener, a scholar known for an epic commentary on the book of Acts and for the book on miracles that I mentioned earlier. Keener shares his own testimony of moving from atheism to faith and then begins discussing the probability of miracles. He argues that the biggest argument against miracles (one perfected by David Hume) was based on circular reasoning and then discusses a number of miraculous healings that he’s collected in his research on miracles. And these aren’t just anecdotes. Many of the accounts that he brings up are highly credible and even medically verifiable. I get the feeling that this section of the book is like a very brief summary of Keener’s larger book, Miracles. This chapter made me want to immediately dig into that work.

Does Prayer Work? Do People Still Dream Dreams and See Visions?

Strobel leaves Keener and visits Dr. Candy Brown who has done research on prayer’s effectiveness. In the first chapter, Shermer brought up a study on intercessory prayer which showed that it had no effect. While Strobel talks with Brown, he finds out that there were serious issues with the methodology of that study. In addition, Brown introduces him to original research that she has done – and that has appeared in medical journals – that shows prayer can have a significant, statistical impact on the recovery of sick individuals. This chapter was definitely a highlight in the book for me.

After looking at the potential impact of intercessory prayer, Strobel goes to see Tom Doyle, a missionary to the Middle East, in order to learn about the prevalence of dreams and visions among Muslim converts to Christianity. Near the beginning of this chapter Strobel writes, “…more Muslims have become Christians in the last couple of decades than in the previous fourteen hundred years since Muhammed, and it’s estimated that a quarter to a third of them experienced a dream or vision of Jesus before their salvation experience” (p.141). I had maybe heard of this phenomenon once of twice before but I had no idea that it was as widespread as Doyle claims. These stories will give you chills. This chapter is another one of the major highlights.

The Two Greatest Miracles: Creation and the Cross

In chapters nine and ten, Strobel interviews Dr. Michael Strauss and discusses the improbability of the universe as we find it. Not only does science tell us that the universe has a beginning, it also tells us that the universe we find ourselves in seems to be perfectly fine-tuned for life. Even the massive size of the universe has a role to play here. This is a great couple of chapters but ultimately, it’s a summary of several arguments found in The Case for a Creator. While I agree with Strobel that once we believe God created the universe, it’s an easy step to saying that he can intervene in that universe, I don’t think this chapter adds to Strobel’s larger body of work. Rather than read these two chapters, just read The Case for a Creator.

Everything I said about chapters nine and ten could be applied to chapter eleven. In it, Strobel interviews J. Warner Wallace regarding the evidence for the resurrection. It’s good. And the resurrection is the miracle par excellence. But if you’re actually interested in learning about the evidence for the resurrection, why not just read Strobel’s The Case for Christ or J. Warner Wallace’s Cold-Case Christianity?

Addressing Doubts About the Miraculous

Strobel caps this book off with two of the most important chapters of all. The first one deals with the way that the supernatural embarrasses many modern, Western Christians. In it, he interviews Dr. Roger Olson. This conversation was electric. It made me want to throw the book down and start praying. We have such a tendency in the West to trust God for the invisible but not for the visible. We’ve broken our lives into a spiritual part and a natural part. But that’s not Christianity. It’s Platonism. God wants us to trust him with our whole lives. He wants us to live unashamedly aware of the supernatural. This chapter serves as a good reminder of that fact.

Chapter thirteen may be the most important chapter of all as it addresses the question: What about when the miracle doesn’t come? This hit home especially hard for me because a 52-year-old friend of mine passed away less than a week ago due to cancer. Hundreds of people around the country were praying for his recovery. But there was no miracle.

In chapter thirteen, Strobel talks with Dr. Douglas Groothuis, a Christian philosopher whose wife suffers from a progressive brain disorder that has taken her ability to speak and will eventually take her life. It’s obvious that Groothuis suffers along with his wife. He would love to see her healed. But it hasn’t happened. And yet, that hasn’t broken Groothuis’ faith. Instead, he looks to the suffering and lament of Jesus on the cross. He looks forward to the hope of resurrection. And he prays a prayer of “relinquishment” or acceptance (p.250).

Miracles are, by their nature, unusual. We won’t always understand why God does or doesn’t heal. But in Christ’s suffering on the cross, he recognize that he does not merely look down on our pain – he enters into it.

The Final Word…

Overall, The Case for Miracles is a powerful summary of the arguments for believing in miracles. And if any of the topics spark your imagination, Strobel includes a fairly lengthy list of other resources to explore.

The main drawback to this work is its bias. Obviously, Strobel is a Christian apologist who is making the case for the Christian God. He doesn’t mention the miraculous that may or may not occur among other communities around the world. And the ‘skeptic’ is only given a token opportunity to make his case at the very beginning of the book, before the barrage of apologetic missiles are launched. As a result, I doubt whether many committed skeptics will be convinced. But that’s not really the point of a book like this. These books are better for the doubting and struggling believer, for the open-minded seeker, and for the interested, young apologist.

Honestly, my biggest complaint is simply that it was too short. Strobel could expand each of these chapters into a full book of its own. Nevertheless, this is a great place to start exploring.

You can pick up The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernaturalon

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A Vision for Sunday Morning Tue, 13 Jun 2017 06:32:35 +0000 What is this? For the first time in over eight years, I don’t have a church home. I don’t know what you do when you’re ‘homeless’ but I begin dreaming of possibilities. I’ve been wanting to throw something like this together for a while. Obviously, there’s a lot that I could add. But this is

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What is this?

For the first time in over eight years, I don’t have a church home. I don’t know what you do when you’re ‘homeless’ but I begin dreaming of possibilities. I’ve been wanting to throw something like this together for a while. Obviously, there’s a lot that I could add. But this is a decent start. This is my ‘ideal’ Sunday morning service – a service filled with scripture and prayer and hymns and preaching.

And one day I hope to make it a reality. Now, on to the story…

One Sunday Morning…

“What am I even doing here?” I mutter to myself as I glance at the blinking clock on the dashbord. Ten til ten. I shake my head and take another look at the building in front of me.

Though it looks like a church – stained-glass windows, cross-topped steeple, and all – the sign out front simply says, ‘The Meeting House’. I shake my head and consider driving away but something tells me I should give it a try.

I’ve heard people talk about it. Friends who say it isn’t like other chuches. And though I’ve been tempted to visit several times in the past, something always came up. At least it seemed that way.

But now here I am. Sitting in the parking lot. The building directly in front of me.

And my mind races.

“Don’t you have stuff you need to do? It’s Sunday morning and there’s so much you could get done around the house. Who needs church anyway? I haven’t been since I was a kid – do I really need to go back now?”

But something in the back of my mind whispers, “Give it a try.”

So I do it. I get out and make my way across the parking lot.

Two smiling greeters flank the main entrance – an older man and a woman in her twenties. Both of them wear a blue polo with the same white ‘The Meeting House’ logo that appears on the sign out front. The man shakes my hand as he says, “Welcome to the Meeting House. Have you been here before?”

“No, I haven’t,” I quietly respond. He opens the door and and joins me as I make my way into the foyer.

“If you want to grab a cup of coffee before the service starts, you can head over there,” he points to an area where people are milling about and talking to one another. I see another person with the same blue ‘The Meeting House’ polo standing next to a table that houses a stack of cups and two coffee pots. My new friend continues, “Though the service is just about to start so you may want to go ahead and make your way to the sanctuary.” As he speaks he motions toward a large doorway that leads into a much larger room. Two blue-shirted greeters stand at either side of the entryway.

I thank him as I make my way toward the sanctuary. Music drifts into the foyer. It seems as though the service is about to start.

The people chatting by the coffee pots slowly break up and make their way as well. I hear someone’s voice coming from inside the room where we’re all headed.

“Good morning, everyone. I’d like to welcome all of you to The Meeting House. For those who may be wondering, we don’t put ‘church’ on the sign out front because we are the Church. This building is just a simple meeting house for the true Church – God’s people…”

As he continues speaking, I notice two large signs displayed prominently on the walls adjacent to the main entryway.

On one is written, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. – Acts 2:42“. The other one says, “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ – Matthew 28:18-20“.

I get distracted reading and nearly run into one of the blue-shirted ushers. He smiles at me, extends his hand to shake mine, and quietly says, “Welcome.” He hands me a tall piece of paper and points me toward a seating area that’s vacant.

Before I head in that direction, he motions to his shirt and whispers,”If you need anything, just let one of us know and we’ll do what we can to help.”

I make my way to the empty seats and sit down, finding one that’s on the edge. I’m still unsure about this whole thing and don’t want to get boxed in. I’m keeping my exits open.

I look down at the piece of paper in my hands and begin reading as the man on stage continues with his welcome. At the top of the paper is the same logo as outside. Underneath it I read:

“To the Church of God, grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus.”

Beneath the greeting, there are a variety of announcements about upcomings services and events followed by a chart that lists recent giving. In small print below the amounts I read these words: “If you would like to support ‘The Meeting House’, you can deposit donations in the two offering boxes on the back wall”. I glance back and notice them. Nice but subdued.

I look back down at the paper in my hands and flip it over. There’s a list of prayer requests at the top and a large empty space in the middle labeled ‘Sermon Notes’.  A perforated section sits at the bottom of the page that simply says, ‘Connect With Us’ and has a space for ‘name’, ‘e-mail’, and ‘phone number.’

I set the paper on the seat next to me and look toward the stage again.

“Would you join me in standing as we begin worshiping King Jesus this morning with a reading from the Psalms?” the man in front asks as the crowd rises and text appears on the projectors that hang on either side of a prominent, center-stage cross.

The pianist and two guitarists play as the congregation reads from the screens in unison:

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

As the congregation finishes reading, the song leader steps forward and leads us in singing ‘Rock of Ages’. The words appear on the front screens – and at the top, next to the title, there’s a number that signifies where to find it in the hymnals. I notice a few people who reach for hymnals and quickly flip to the right page. Others simply sing the words as they appear on the screens up front.

After the hymn, an older man makes his way to the center of the stage, bows his head, and begins to pray. He prays for a few moments extemporaneously and then closes with the Lord’s Prayer. Though I’ve never heard the Lord’s Prayer prayed the way he does. After each line he pauses – as if giving himself and the congregation a moment to reflect on what they’re praying. The entire congregation ends with a hearty, “Amen”.

The song leader again steps forward and leads the congregation in a song I’m unfamiliar with. The title is ‘There is Joy in the Service of the Master’. I quickly pick up the tune and by the end, I’m singing along with everyone else. As the song comes to an end, a young girl walks to the center stage, takes a microphone and reads a text that appears on the screens behind her.

But filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

The song leader bows his head and – spontaneously, it seems to me – prays that God’s Spirit would empower us to forgive and love as Stephen did. Everyone says “Amen” as he finishes and turns around to face the choir.

The choir sings two songs. One of them I’m unfamiliar with. The other one I know well, ‘It Is Well’. They played that song at my grandmother’s funeral. I nearly weep as they sing, thinking about her.

When the choir finishes singing, someone stands up from in the midst of the congregation with a microphone in hand and reads another text:

“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him’.

Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.‘”

When the reader finishes, he sits down and a middle-aged man steps up to the center of the stage with a Bible in hand. I can immediately tell that he’s the preacher.

“If this is your first Sunday with us, I’d like to personally welcome you. We’re in the middle of a series on what the resurrection of Jesus Christ means for the world – and each one of us. Today, we’ll be reflecting on the passage from John’s gospel that we’ve just heard…”

He goes on to preach for thirty or so minutes and just as I can feel him coming in for a landing, he draws everyone’s attention to a table that sits in the front of the sanctuary. On the table is a loaf of bread and a silver cup.

He continues speaking as he prepares the table.

“Before Jesus went to his death, he gave his disciples a meal. Some people call it the Lord’s Supper. Others call it communion. Still others call it the eucharist – a word that means thanksgiving. The name isn’t what’s important. It’s the meal – and the faith – and the prayers behind it – that matter. Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed, that the bread was his body broken for them.” The preacher breaks the bread in half and lays it on the table. “Likewise, he told them that the cup was his blood, poured out for them”. He raises the cup so everyone can see it.

“We’ve heard God’s Word this morning. We’ve listened to his promises. He’s told us that he’s gone to prepare a place for us and that in the meantime, he desires to empower us to live the way he did – in holiness and love. I want to invite each of you – if you’ve given your allegiance to King Jesus and the Kingdom of God – to come. Take the meal that Jesus has given. And as you eat and drink, reflect on what Christ has done, and what he’s calling you to do. And once you’ve heard his call – do it.” He pauses and then continues, as if suddenly remembering something, “And don’t forget – as always, if you ever need to pray with someone, you can come forward and talk with one of the prayer counselors on either side of the stage. That’s what they’re here for.”

I notice a man and woman stand on either side of the stage – all four wearing the same blue shirts from before. They stand silently, waiting for anyone who might come forward with a need.

The preacher bows his head and prays a short prayer – a plea for God to work out his Word in the life of the congregation. Then he asks for God to bless those who eat the bread and drink of the cup.

When he finished praying, the song leader returns to the stage and begins singing ‘Be Still My Soul’. The congregation sings as a line forms to take communion. I watch as people tear off small pieces of bread, dip it into the cup, and return to their seats to eat, reflect, pray, and sing.

Once everyone has had an opportunity to go forward, the preacher moves to the center aisle and reads one final text.

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

For it stands in scripture: ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,’ and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

After he finishes reading, the preacher addresses the congregation. “You are a chosen race. A royal priesthood. A holy nation. That is your calling in the world today. And thanks be to God, Jesus’ resurrection has made that calling not only clear but possible. Now, let’s leave this place like the people of God we are.”

As he makes his way out of the sanctuary, another man – a younger one – stands at the front of the sanctuary and tells the congregation that he has a couple of announcements.

“Tonight at 6:30, as usual, we have an opportunity for you to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus. We will be continuing a verse-by-verse study on the book of Jude. And make sure to bring the kids because they’ll have an opportunity to study the same passage in an environment geared for them.

Also, make sure to come back on Wednesday at 6:30 for an opportunity to grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus. Everyone will have an opportunity to share how God is at work in their lives, and then we’ll have a time of prayer for God’s continued movement in our lives, our congregation, and our community. We also encourage anyone who is able and willing to fast on Wednesday in preparation for our prayer service.

Finally, don’t forget that our doors are open every morning from 7:30 until 9:00AM for a special time of prayer and reflection. We welcome everyone. Now, pray with me as we close.”

He prays but doesn’t end his prayer with an “Amen”. Instead, he ends with these words, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. Go in the spirit and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

And the service is over. I stand up and make my way to the exit. People stop me here and there, introducing themselves and telling me how thankful they are that I visited.

As I walk toward my car, I can’t help but feel the same way.

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