Some have sold literal or metaphorical bunker supplies for the imminent collapse of civilization sure to come because of Y2K or sharia law or the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision or critical race theory or a plot to shutter churches permanently due to the pandemic or whatever. Many sectors of evangelicalism have become apocalyptic about everything but the actual Apocalypse.
Trying to learn how to make music.
The Psalm for the first half of this week in the Revised Common Lectionary is from Isaiah 11:1-9.
[If you don’t read daily from a lectionary, it is a practice I highly recommend. To me, it is much more helpful than most of those devotional books I’ve seen.]
From this passage in Isaiah I saw something I had never noticed before. I’ll paste in the first two verses, but my focus is on verse 2.
Isaiah 11:1–2 (ESV)
(v1) There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
(v2) And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
The Jews, during and after the exile, would have read this is a prophecy of the renewal of the glory of Israel as it had been in the time of King David. We now know that never happened, and we might choose to look it as if the exile had never really ended and the prophecy will be fulfilled in the eschaton, when Jesus returns to end the exile and sets the world right.
I see here six descriptions of the Spirit of YHWH—the one (I believe) we usually call the Holy Spirit—in three pairs. This Spirit rested and rests on Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And according to Paul and Luke, this Spirit is also available as the presence of God in our lives, enabling us in our journey with Jesus.
The paired attributes seem to be related to one another. The Spirit is the Spirit of:
- Wisdom and understanding
- Counsel and might
- Knowledge of the YHWH and fear of YHWH
[If you are a preacher and you haven’t yet prepared your sermon for Sunday, feel free to take this outline and give it your special treatment. Or lock it away until Pentecost Sunday, if you know what that is. If you work hard enough, you might be able to make it alliterative. Give the people some Bible.]
The Spirit gives wisdom and understanding. Lord, we need both. I’ve never met a person who is wise enough on his own. Or who has enough understanding. Life is full of puzzling situations and even fuller of puzzling people. If we had a source to help us understand the people and be wise about the situations, we would be in the catbird seat.
The Spirit gives counsel and might. That is, advice for the battle and strength to carry it out. I am getting weaker and weaker, but God’s arm is still as powerful as ever.
The Spirit gives us knowledge of God, and that knowledge of God will lead us into reverence. Philosophy is the art of thinking what God must be like and building that out into a system. That is where we get all these lists of supposed attributes of God. But true theology is the art of reading the Bible, which is inspired by the Spirit, and seeing who God really is. This is more about his desire to be in relationship with us than it is about his immensity and glory.
This knowledge of God makes me love him and want to honor him and serve him. This knowledge of God inspires trust in him, which is kind of what faith really is. This knowledge of God makes me loyal to him, come what may.
You never know what you’ll find when you dip into the scriptures. I hope this means as much to you as it does to me.
The Christian faith is not “kept alive” or “advanced” by mere repetition of normative doctrines or use of standard expressions—important as these may have been in the past and significant as they may continue to be in certain localities and situations and/or among certain people today. There is in the proclamation of the Christian gospel the need to be (1) constantly in continuity with the biblical revelation, both OT and NT, (2) continually in conversation with all the various presentations of that biblical revelation of both the past and the present—especially where a “sense of center” is retained, and (3) always endeavoring to contextualize that biblical revelation and its Christian message today in different localities, within differing cultural situations, and among people of diverse ideological perspectives.Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans: A Commentary on the Greek Text, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016), 188.
Religion is not just a technique for keeping our spirits up, a pious anaesthetic to dull some of the pain of real life. The central religious question is the question of truth. Of course, religion can sustain us in life, or at the approach of death, but it can only do so if it is about the way things really are.
John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos and Christianity: Questions to Science and Religion, Second Edition (London: SPCK, 2005), 95.
I started a new study of Romans about two-and-a-half weeks ago. I’m not going fast because I’m taking it down to the bare metal and my Greek is a little rusty.
I am impressed by Paul’s desire to proclaim the gospel of Jesus to everyone, whether they are cultured or not, whether they are receptive or not, whatever their ethnicity.
At the same time, he knew the necessity of contextualization for the specific receivers of the message.
It is no surprise to realize that we could learn a lot from Paul.
I’ve seen a million books titled “Four Views on” some part of theology. In general, those books are good reads if the spread of views is wide enough to make me think a bit.
Today I saw a book advertised titled “Four Views on Israel and the Church”. Sounds good, says I. Something I’m interested in.
So I looked see what the four views covered were:
- Traditional covenental
- Traditional dispensational
- Progressive covenental
- Progressive dispensational
- Chocolate covered peanuts
- Peanuts covered with chocolate
- Chocolate with peanuts inside
- Peanuts with chocolate outside
No wonder people have no theological sense.
I am a scientist and I am a follower of Jesus.
People often assume that I am in conflict because of this. They think that science and faith are in opposition.
I certainly do not think that.
In both science and Christianity, I am trying to understand the world we have. I’m looking for the truth. The truth cannot conflict with the truth.
I suppose people who cling to a young earth creationism have a conflict with science. But YEC is not Christianity; it is an aberration of belief, unwarranted by good biblical interpretation.
Truth found in the search requires a commitment to the finding. Thus, I am all in as a disciple of Jesus. My commitment does not waver. I will follow him.
Discipleship in Our Groups
Our pastor has laid out for us an ongoing plan for moving from being a good church to being a great church. There are five points of focus to accomplish that goal, the last of which is discipleship. Discipleship is an area in which our groups can have a major impact. Groups are tailor made for such a purpose.
Additionally, our denominational mission statement says that the church exists “to make Christlike disciples in the nations.” This is, of course, a reflection of what Jesus said as he was returning to the Father.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:16–20, ESV)
The primary task Jesus gave to the Eleven was to go and make disciples. By implication, that is also our main task. The church has many functions within society and within its own community, but the primary job is to go and make disciples.
It follows that the groups of our church should also be involved in making disciples. Among other functions of our groups, such as fellowship, accountability, encouragement, study, we must never forget to focus on discipleship.
What is a disciple?
- At the heart of it, a disciple is one who learns from another. In the context of the life of Jesus, a disciple is one who follows Jesus. For us, this following and learning does not take place so much in the face to face way it did for the original disciples of Jesus, but we still have a face to face relationship with him, mediated by the Holy Spirit that he sent to his followers after he left them.
- We have God’s Word, as well, to help us in our following of Jesus. The gospels and the epistles–and even the Old Testament–are full of instructions for how to follow Jesus.
- The bottom line is that real discipleship demands a level of commitment and loyalty far beyond the ordinary. To his disciples (and through them to us) Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, ESV) We must admit that this teaching does not leave a lot of wiggle room.
- A disciple is not casual about her or his relationship with God. For a disciple, that relationship is at the center of all of life. It does not mean that we abandon all our other pursuits and retreat to a monastery. Instead, it means having an orientation to life that has Christ at the center and God as the goal. Paul said, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, ESV) That’s the way a disciple lives.
But what does it mean to make a disciple? And how can we do it?
- Essentially, we take the raw material God gives us and process it to add value. That is, we start with Christians in whatever state they are in and provide to them the instruction and the motivation to become disciples, or to become better and better disciples.
- This making of disciples is not a cookie cutter process. Some people will grow through a group Bible study and some people will need one-on-one coaching. As group leaders, we need to be aware of the status and the needs of the people in our groups, and we need to provide—one way or another—what is needed to bring people to real discipleship.
But how does this affect the life of our group?
- It is important to consider discipleship a major goal of any gathering of the group. Even a purely social gathering can be an occasion for showing people how to live in a Christlike manner.
- Material for study should be chosen with a view toward helping group members grow in Christ. The primary focus should be on what God has to say to us.
- The leaders of the group should be continually assessing the growth of the group members. This may sound on the surface like it is judgmental, but in fact, this kind of discernment is crucial for any leader. Leading and teaching a group is a truly important responsibility in the church, and the task should not be taken lightly.
- Awareness of individual needs is something that develops as the group becomes more and more cohesive and people are freed to share the deep stuff of their lives. Usually this requires the leaders and the more spiritually mature members to open up about the issues in their own walks with Jesus. The less mature members will then be more apt to follow suit, and this is the state in which true discipleship begins. If the mature members seem to have it all together, the immature members will not be encouraged to share.
- Sometimes this will require the pairing up of two people in the group for mentoring sessions outside of the group setting. But it always takes a great deal of discernment and tailoring of teaching to accommodate the real world group you find yourself in and leading.
- There is always more to leading a group than could ever be written down in a job description. Leading a group is a tremendous responsibility; it is where the rubber meets the road. This is the place in church life where it is all about person-to-person relationships.
We hope to encourage you in your work as a group leader/teacher. It is a big responsibility, but you have many resources at your disposal. Most importantly, God is on your side. We must rely on him all the time and continually pray for our groups.
We have two main resources to lean on. We need the Word of God, and we need the Holy Spirit. It has been said that if we have the Word, but no Spirit, we dry up. If we have the Spirit, but no Word, we blow up. But if we have the Word and the Spirt, we grow up.
Carol in the early 70s, before I even knew her.
- She is just as beautiful today, if not more beautiful.
- Her hair today is lighter but still red. She has never colored it.