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Archive for January, 2016

In Spirit and Truth: What Does that Mean, Exactly?

spirit and truthtBy Andrew Sheffield

In Spirit and Truth:  What does that mean, exactly?

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23-24)

In the “worship wars” (read: style wars) of the past two or three decades, this passage has played a central role.  On all sides people use these verses to make their cases—some argue that the “spirit” component of worship is missing from services that use only traditional hymns, and therefore contemporary music must come in to rescue the church from dead worship; others claim that Jesus’ statement endorses charismatic practices; still others argue that “truth” is missing from contemporary praise and worship music, directing us back to hymns as the answer for our worship woes.

Obviously, not all of these perspectives can be true.  And in fact, I would argue that all of them miss Jesus’ point and thereby miss an essential truth about worship.  Recall the occasion for these words:  the Samaritan woman has put to Jesus the issue of where right worship of God should take place—in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerizim.  And in His own infinitely wise way, Jesus thwarts her expectations, and, rather than answering her directly, He makes a much, much larger point.  He tells the woman that physical location no longer matters in worshiping the Father; rather, spiritual orientation matters.  And in fact, Jesus’ point here goes even further than issues of location; it touches on the very definition of worship.  For, up to this point in the history of Israel, worship has been centered around the physical acts of sacrifice and offering, in the physical place of the temple.  But Jesus says here that physical places and even physical acts are not the heart of worship:  rather, spiritual, unseen realities define true worship.

Without delving any deeper into this text (there are volumes of truth here), think about just this point:  the governing realities of true worship are spiritual, not physical.  To put this another way:  God looks not at the outward appearance, but at the heart.  Or, another way:  “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”  Sound familiar?  These are all ways of stating the truth that worship is more about unseen realities than about seen realities.  The unseen realities—who God is and who we are in light of Him—should be our consuming focus.

Be sure that I’m not saying that physical realities are completely meaningless or that there is some great divide between physical and spiritual—because we humans are both physical and spiritual, so any spiritual realities we experience are mediated through our bodies.

But if our chief focus is on the things we can see or touch or feel—the aesthetics of the place where we meet, the style of music, or even our emotional state, for example—then we will miss altogether the spiritual realities of true worship.  The battle we must fight in our worship (and indeed in our entire Christian life) is the battle to fix our eyes on the unseen things.

So the next time we gather—and every time we gather—remind yourself that your physical experience is not the ultimate judge of whether your worship is spiritual and true; rather, the orientation of your heart is what will make your worship genuine.

 

~Andrew

Posted in: Worship

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Your Greatest Threat

Commencement Address for Faith Christian Academy’s Class of 2007

It is an honor for me to address the graduating class of 2007, even though, frankly, I am not very adept at the hoo-ra-rah, motivational addresses that many graduates would probably expect.  I often tell the church I pastor that one of the reasons I preach from the Bible every week, Sunday after Sunday, is because without the Bible I honestly would not have anything to say.  I am not a profound person.  I am not very talkative.  I am definitely not a good story-teller. And I am not very wise in worldly matters.

As a speaker you often fret because you want to say something meaningful and memorable.  But for this occasion some of that consternation has been tempered because I was reminded this past week that a graduation ceremony is a much like a wedding ceremony:  Nobody ever remembers what the preacher says anyway.

It does not seem that long ago when I sat where you seniors now sit.  I graduated from high school in 1985.  But I guess that is another sign of old age when twenty-two years ago doesn’t seem that long ago.

1985 was an interesting year.  The price of gas was, if I recall, about seventy-seven cents.  The postage stamp had just been raised to twenty-two cents.  A woman by the name of Madonna started her first road tour.  Trivial Pursuit was all the rage.  Dynasty, Dallas, The A-Team, and Hill Street Blues were the top-rated television shows.  The Mac computer was one year old.  Desktop publishing was just becoming a reality (I had to type my reports on a typewriter with lots of whiteout, or if you were lucky, you could use the newly marketed erasable typing paper – which, by the way, didn’t last very long.)  Al Gore had not yet invented the internet.  No DVDs, iPods, or cell phones.  No caller-id and certainly no flat screen TVs.

Yes, the world has changed much in twenty-two years.  And who can imagine what the world of 2029 will be like?

For the next few moments I will make a meager attempt to articulate for you the greatest challenge facing you in the new world into which you will shortly be thrust.  And, by way of inference, I hope to demonstrate to you how this school – your education – has prepared you for this challenge.

I will address you in a style you are now familiar with – in the style of Classical rhetoric – by way of proposition and proofs.  My hope is that the logic is sound and convincing.

I believe the greatest threat you face is the most subtle threat ever to face a generation.  Your greatest threat is not a rogue terrorist, or a renewed cold war with Russia or China; it will not be an economic recession or hyper-inflation; it is not global warming or any other environmental concern.

My premise simply stated is that the greatest threat facing your moral, intellectual, and spiritual well-being is the culture of amusement, the culture of endless fun and infinite distraction.  I am, of course, not the first to suggest this.  It was “prophesied” in the 1950’s (about the same time as the advent of television) by a non-Christian, Aldous Huxley in his book Brave New World.  Huxley argued that in the future men will not be controlled by inflicting pain, but by inflicting pleasure.  He saw that people would come to love and adore the pleasures and technologies that undo humanity’s capacity to think.

Huxley’s premise was revisited in 1985 by Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death.  Postman saw that Western culture had moved away from the printed word to the electronic image, and subsequently turned all of public life and discourse into a form of entertainment – everything from education, religion, and politics (I would even add to that list eating – our children need Happy Meals just to get them to eat their hamburgers).

A related premise can also be found in Allan Bloom’s 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind which is a scathing critique of American institutions of higher learning.  And from a Christian perspective, Mark Noll sounded a similar alarm in 1994 with his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  According to Noll, the scandal of the evangelical mind is, ironically, that there is no evangelical mind anymore.  Christians have simply stopped thinking.

So Christians and non-Christians alike have recognized that the culture of amusement and entertainment has made a coup de taut over America’s mind, without a shot ever being fired or an ounce of blood shed.  The constant indulgence of amusement and entertainment has sucked the intellectual and spiritual life right out of us.

And the reason the threat is so insidious is because it is virtually impossible to take seriously.  If I were to warn you about a terrorist threat or a grave environmental concern you could see the obvious harm.  But how do you warn somebody about fun?  About having a good time?  About such trivial things like TV, internet, and iPods?  Would you take a doctor seriously if he said to you, “I have some very bad news for you: You are going to die a slow, pleasure-filled death.”?

But the effects of the culture of amusement have been absolutely devastating upon the mind, soul, and faith of this generation.  You are entering into a world that has not only lost its desire to think, but the actual capacity to think!  You will be immersed in a culture controlled not by thinking but by feeling.  It is not swayed by arguments or logic, but by images and sound bytes.

Although there are many examples, I offer to you two proofs of the closing of the American mind; one example from political discourse, the other example from religious discourse.

In the world of politics we would only have to go back about one hundred and fifty years to the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  These debates represented the typical political process in American at that time.  Debates such as these were immensely important in deciding critical issues facing the country.  In many ways, these debates represented America’s pastime.  It was a diversion from their work.  They could leave their fields for a break from the hard labor.  One could even argue that these debates were a form of entertainment in the 19th century.

Lincoln and Douglas actually debated each other many times, but the format was always very similar.  Douglas would speak first for an hour.  Lincoln was given an hour and a half for his rebuttal.  To which a half hour was given for his response to Lincoln’s rebuttal.

One such debate took place on October 16, 1854 in Peoria, Illinois.  During this debate Douglas took three hours to state his political positions.  At Lincoln’s turn, he noted that he would need at least as much time as Douglas and that the time was already about 5 p.m.  So he suggested that the audience take a break to be refreshed by dinner and return for the conclusion of the debate.  When the audience reconvened after dinner, Lincoln spoke for four hours.

Let’s put the political candidates aside for a moment and focus on the audience.  Who in the world were these people who could endure seven hours of political oratory?  Were they professional politicos or party-hacks?  No!  They were just common, ordinary citizens who had the fortitude and desire to follow seven hours of political propositions, proofs, and logic so as to be a properly educated voter.  By any of today’s standards, these people possessed extraordinary attention spans!

Soon we will face our own Presidential elections.  It is remarkable how vastly different the format will be.  Typically, the first candidate will be given five minutes to state their position.  The other candidate will be given one minute to rebut.   Is it possible to present serious political discourse in five minutes?  Absolutely not!  Thus, serious political discourse is reduced to sound bytes and images.

Why are these debates so short?  For one, political discourse makes for terrible television.  But more importantly, American’s don’t have the desire or capacity for such serious discourse!  Who would sit and watch seven hours of real political debate on television?  The closest we come to serious political discourse in American is found on C-SPAN.  But who watches C-SPAN?

I tell you, Americans have not only lost their desire to think, they have lost their capacity to think.

 In the world of religion, I suppose we would only have to go back to Colonial America and cite such men as Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield among many others.  Many of Edwards’ sermons are still in print today.  And I can tell you that his sermons are taxing even to the most astute theological minds of our day.

But I would rather go back farther to an even more primitive people.  To a people who had none of the technological advances or media stimulations that we enjoy today.  I want to take you back to the remnant that returned to Jerusalem during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (circa 5th Century B.C.).  Let me share with the description the Bible gives of one of their assemblies.  I read from Nehemiah 8,

8:1 And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law.[1]

Nehemiah and the other scribes taught the people literally from “early light” until midday – a minimum of six hours!  Nehemiah 8:7-8 states that during that time Nehemiah and the other scribes, “explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. 8 And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”

These people listened to six hours of biblical exposition!  Could you find one congregation in America that could endure such a mentally challenging feat as listening attentively to six hours of biblical exposition?  As a preacher myself, I can tell you that many preachers would be run out of town if they dared to preach more than twenty minutes!

I tell you again, we have lost not only our desire to think, but our capacity to think!  We simply cannot bear the heavy burden of thinking anymore.

Now I know I must shortly conclude this address, for I am sure I have already taxed our delicate attention spans.  But I need to explain that I am not against having fun.  There is a place for fun and amusement.  However, from personal experience I can tell you that life is not always fun.  Life is full of moral, social, political, and theological complexities that require the hard work of thinking.

As seniors at Faith Christian Academy you are successfully graduating from an institution that has trained you to think.  You have been compelled to read widely, to reason logically, and to speak articulately.  I believe you are eminently prepared to rise above the prevailing culture and lead it.  You will be like cream that rises to the top!

Many of these students have said that they will never be able to watch a movie or listen to a commercial the same again.  They are always evaluating and probing it for the worldview behind it.  Seniors, you graduate from this institution equipped to think critically so that you will not fall prey to political pundits or slick election sound bytes.

In a word, you have been trained to think as Christians.  You now must learn what it means to be a Christian lawyer, a Christian doctor, a Christian politician, or a Christian astronomer.  But you have been given the tools to discern what that will mean in whatever field God leads you.

We bid you farewell with the great expectation that you will make a lasting impact upon a deeply broken culture.  So, on behalf of the faculty and the staff, I salute you!  I tell you a job well-done!  May God graciously and abundantly bless each one of you!

Thank you.

 

Copyright © Timothy P Juhnke

[1]New American Standard Bible . 1986; Published in electronic form by Logos Research Systems, 1996 (electronic edition.) (Ne 8:1). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

Posted in: Pastor Tim, Uncategorized

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A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael

Book by Elizabeth Elliot, Revell 1987, Review by Susan Verstraete

When Amy Carmichael heard the call to missions, she never looked back. She gave up the option of marriage and motherhood and set sail for India in 1895, where she would remain for 53 years without furlough. At first, she planned to teach the gospel town by town to women oppressed by the caste system, poverty and superstition.  But things changed when she met a little girl named Preena, a seven-year-old sold by her own mother to become a woman of the gods—a temple prostitute.

The first time that Preena ran away from the Hindu temple, her mother brought her back. The authorities branded Preena’s hands with hot irons as punishment. Still, when the child found another chance to escape, she seized it and ran to a Christian woman who took her to Amy. Preena immediately climbed into Amy’s lap, and they both fell in love.

Amy could not return Preena to the temple; that was unthinkable. But she was torn. The Tamil had a saying—“Children tie the mother’s feet.”  Might Jesus be asking her to give up teaching His Gospel as an itinerate missionary to settle down to the menial labor of caring for this child? Amy prayed for clear direction. Within three months, four more homeless children had found their way to Amy’s bungalow.  She had her answer.  The one who had given up motherhood for the cause of Christ was now required to embrace it for that same cause. Her feet would be tied “for the sake of Him whose feet once were nailed.” She wrote, “If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work’ I can best help others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and the exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

By obeying God’s call to the seemingly-menial labor of motherhood, Amy Carmichael established an orphanage that is still active over 100 years later. Thousands of children have been saved from a life of poverty, neglect and idol worship. She said, “Missionary service is a chance to die.” Elizabeth Elliot’s biography is an unflinching look at the woman she calls “my first spiritual mother” and an illustration of what it means for a fallible, headstrong woman to progressively die to self.

This book is available through Amazon ($12.00 paperback) or through the Mid-Continent Library system.

 

Posted in: Book Review

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The Love of a Mother for Her Son

By Sherrie Holman

Cold blue points of light in a silent winter’s sky,
The strength of waves beneath the dawning creation,
The whispers and the shadows of lives gone by,
And silently within the womb – love’s celebration!

Beginning the love of a mother for her son.

Her thankfulness only God can measure
For the gift received, though only for a short while.
She gazes in rapture at the tiny earthen treasure;
Her full heart forces to her lips an adoring smile
Capturing the love of a mother for her son.

The rude world loudly beckons; but she turns it down
To answer the sweet demands of charity, and she is blest.
Her home, her husband, and her posterity are her crown.
Softly embraced, enveloped in peace, there is time to rest,

Deepening the love of a mother for her son.

Now a youth with eyes whimsical and bright with zeal,
Yet blind and prey to nefarious powers that assail.
She defends with light and truth, his tender heart to seal
With heaven’s promises which are trustworthy to prevail.

Proving the love of a mother for her son.

Prayers have shod the young man’s feet for the run;
He presses onward endowed with unseen shield and sword.
Because, for the want of brave men, the world is undone;
It is there that Providence counts worthy to record.

Owing to the love of a mother for her son.

Posted in: Women's Ministry

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