Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Duncan boys


Duncans, originally uploaded by Tom Sawyer Photography.

On this Father's Day, I am grateful God made me a dad.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology

Wayne Grudem has written what I consider to be the best Systematic Theology available for today's church. Evidently, some believers in the UK feel the same. Enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Evan Duncan's first wedding video

Lauren Harper & Adam Barger | Wedding Teaser from Evan Duncan on Vimeo.

The Truth is Uglier Than We Think, God is More Beautiful Than we Realize

My friend, David Wayne, the Jollyblogger who is also a pastor in Maryland, is fighting cancer. Maryanne and I know David from our time in Florida when we served with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. David, in this post, is reflecting on his friend, Michael Spencer, and Michael's recent death. David's words challenge our views about death and dying. Somehow, we evangelicals end up with magical views. We somehow think that perhaps God owes us something - an "easy" death. But David reminds us that we live in a fallen world. This blog from David is so good, that I thought I'd just go ahead and re-post it here.

***

I've finally found something I feel strongly enough about to write on.

Denise Spencer wrote a post a couple of days ago about Michael Spencer's last days and the upshot of it was that his last days were ugly and painful. His last days were not the peaceful beatific kinds of days we often hear about of Christians who pass into heaven peacefully with visions of angels and loved ones. In fact, nearly from the time he was diagnosed till his passing he never had a good day.

Denise begins her story with excerpts from several death stories she had collected where people had a kind of beatific death and how she is so tired of them because she and Michael had nothing of the kind. Here's a summary:

Where were the visions? The angels? The heavenly music soundtrack? Michael fought a hard fight and he died a hard death. And that was that.

She shares her hopes that Michael would have had a respite and her subsequent anger at God over the whole thing. It's hard to read, and yet essential to read.

I left a comment over that was started growing into one of those blog comments that is longer than the post, so I cut it a bit short and decided I would come and finish it up over here.

Denise's story opened the floodgates on many thoughts and emotions I have had over the last year and a half, thoughts that may be appropriate to share now. If you read the "death stories" that Denise has collected, then read Michael's story and then read some of the comments on that post from palliative care nurses you will see that these stories of the blessed death that we like to float in Christian circles are a tiny minority.

Indeed I have seen and heard of a few myself. My stepfather's death was relatively peaceful and I and my family were with him at the time. He had been sedated and in the middle of the night started a breathing pattern that my mom recognized as the death rattles and she called us all in. His death rattles were relatively short and he seemed to pass away peacefully. I recently heard of a friend who died who was sedated, woke up and said "he's here" and then went to sleep and passed very quickly.

On the other hand I can remember traveling from Florida to West Virginia to be with my grandfather. We were too late, he had passed away minutes before we arrived. But when I saw his body passed away it was in a twisted and contorted shape and had an expression of obvious pain. It seemed clear to me that he did not die quietly and peacefully.

I am well behind Michael in my own battle, but the stories Denise shared have a lot in common with the stories I hear, on another level. I find that very few Christians are able to accept that we live in a fallen world. Thus, we tell the beatific stories, whether they be stories of blessed deaths or miraculous healings and speak of them as if they are the norm to which every Christian can aspire and should expect.

The truth is much uglier than that. Most deaths are ugly. Very few of even the most faithful Christians are healed. In his book I Told Me So, Greg Ten Elshoff writes

Terminal cancer wards are full of patients who believe things we all know to be radically improbable. They believe that they will be one of the very, very few who fight back and win-or that they’ll be the recipient of a miracle healing in response to the prayers of friends and family. It’s not just that they believe that they could get better-that God could perform a miracle on their behalf. In this they’re surely correct. No. They believe they will get better-that God will perform a miracle on their behalf. Nearly all of them are wrong. And anyone familiar with the statistics is well situated to see that they are. But-and this is the most salient part for our discussion-nobody corrects them. In fact, they are encouraged to persist in these highly improbable beliefs.

I have been uniquely blessed in that I have only had a small minority of counselors who fit the mold of Job's counselors. Most of the people who surround me ask how I'm doing, tell me they are praying for me, stay quiet and listen and engage in normal conversation with me as if I were a normal human being.

But one Job's counselor has a multiplied effect. These are the ones who come with something to say. Most are loaded with advice on some new horrific diet I should eat or some obscure alternative theory. Then there are the spritual Jobians. My first spiritual Jobian had a story of a weird undiagnosed disease that he thought was AIDS, but when he finally got right with God in the midst of this the diagnosis came in that it was nothing significant and he moved on. His message to me was that if I would get right with God I would be healed.

All of this kind of stuff mirrors what Denise was trying to convey. She didn't put it this way, but Christians know the glory story but they don't know the cross story. The glory story is that the Christian path is one of glory, observable, overcoming, obviously seen glories as the Christian triumphs over all his enemies. Thus, the Christian has ears to hear the stories of miraculous healings and beatific deaths because those are glory stories. These people live in a world where we can practice a mechanistic kind of magic with God. For the health freaks, if I would just I would just imbibe a magic potion concocted by nutritional wizards then like magic I would be healed. In the spiritual version, a performance of certain rituals of self-exam followed by the prescribed repentance and obedience would free me from my physical ailments. In any case, whereas doctors are reticent to describe what brought on the cancer simply because the factors that can contribute to any given cancer are innumerable, the glory-story folks know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I brought this cancer on myself and it is up to me to reform myself physically or get right with God. In each case, suffering is not something a Christian should have to endure and God's only role in it His deliverance of us from it, if we will meet the conditions.

The cross story says that suffering is the path of the Christian. If you are a Christian, more than likely you will not go gently into that good night, and I am not using that phrase in its original context. In the original context Dylan Thomas urges us to rage and fight against death until the last moment. What I am saying is that if you are Christian your death and maybe even the years leading to it, may not be gentle.

That is the ugly truth I want to write about and I will try to write some more about in coming days is that we still live in a fallen world. We should no more expect an easy life and death than did the apostles who often died gruesome deaths, nor should we expect greater ease than the many Christians throughout most of history who have met Christ face to face at the end of starvation, disease, or persecution.

The ugly truth is that the fall still applies and the fall means that the Christian path is a cross bearing path - if you are a Christian expect that life will be harder than you initially imagined it would

The beautiful reality is that the fall cannot obscure God. God is near and dear to the broken hearted. Often in the midst of great pain one senses the presence of God - I know I have. It's not something that can be seen or articulated and in fact those who watch you suffer would probably conclude that God is not there. But the theology of the cross teaches that God hides Himself in suffering, He does not display Himself. I think that's one of the big differences between glory story people and cross people. The glory-storyists want God to display Himself - obviously, to the sight, publicly, in spectacular ways. The cross people believe that God is a God who is quiet, hidden away, is masked in His creation, but is especially made known in suffering.

I'll write a bit more on this in the days to come. I would like to address some of the ways we Christians are less than helpful when we latch on to alternative healing techniques, charismatic healing techniques, falsely optimistic patterns of hope and the like. The truth is that these are distractions, not only for the suffering, but for the rest of us too.

The thing that distinguishes the suffering Christian is that Christ is with Him - nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

A Time of Prayer...Won't You Join Us?



On Wednesday night, the elders of CVC along with our Co-Teaching Pastor Search Team and the Leadership Team met for an extended time of prayer. We were led in worship by Brian Howell an Bryan Karas. We read scripture together. And we prayed. I made some notes as we prayed. And below are some of the prayers expressed to God as we search for the man God has for us. Please use these prayers as inspiration for your own as you join us in praying for God’s man for this important role in our church.

***

Elders, Search Team, Leadership Prayer for the co-teaching pastor - 6/16/10

O Lord, sympathize with us in our weaknesses. Teach us to wait on You, Lord. Clear the clutter from our minds to clearly sense your direction, guidance, and will.

May we increasingly be truly Your church. Enlarge our borders. May we pray about each decision we make. May we see souls saved, lives changed, and countenances lifted. Draw people so their lives will be changed by Your Word. May we have a humble and contrite spirit. Help us understand what it means to fear You, Lord.

Rescue hearts and lives in this city. May we be a beacon on this hill. Make us one. We surrender our will to You. Please give us a supernatural, Christ-like humility – a Christ-like submission to the will of the Father. Send Your reviving power to us as individuals and to our church and to NE Ohio. Have mercy on the lost in this city.

We so desperately need You. We ask for wisdom that will be way beyond ourselves. Grant us a sovereign protection from great sin. You began a good work in us here at CVC; be faithful to complete it.

Provide direction for us for which candidate we should invite. As we trust in You with all our heart, please guide our paths. We want Your choice. Build the unity we need to find the man to be the leader of CVC, Your church. Make our pastor known – that CVC as a church and the pastoral candidate will both know Your perfect will. May there be no confusion or dissension as we seek God’s man for this position. May we know that we know that You have given us the man for CVC. Teach us not to rely on any man’s gift sets, on anyone’s human abilities. Help us find a man who fears You.

May You help the search committee, the Leadership Team, the Elders, the staff and the congregation discern the heart of this man. Make it obvious for us, Lord. We don’t want to rely on the wisdom of the world. We aren’t looking for the best looking, the one with the most degrees, or the best orator. We ask for wisdom that is not worldly. May we know a supernatural unity because You are not a God of confusion, but of peace. We call on You because we don’t know. So, please make Your will unmistakably clear.

May we make a call to the leader that would be used by You to help bring about a revival in NE Ohio. Help us find a man who seeks You, knows You, and will push others to do the same. And give this leader Your heart. Raise the man up who has Your heart. May the man You are calling to CVC be a man who knows Your Word inside and out, that it is etched in his heart. Give us a man who will be seeking Your will for the church. Speak to him clearly. Please put the desire to serve here in NE Ohio into his heart, too.

Bring us someone who is passionate for You, who will walk closely with Jesus, who has You as most important thing in his life, and who is a man after Your own heart. Give us a pastor who will boast in You so that many would come to know You. 1Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:7-9 convict us; put the characteristics found there in the heart of our overseers, pastors, and elders. May these character qualities be in our next pastor with humility – that he not seek to accomplish ministry on his own but that he values community since iron sharpens iron. May this man seek after You.

May his wife have a heart to serve with him here and may his children know You and live a life worthy of the gospel. May his wife blend into church. May the kids blend into the church. May the move go quickly. May they find the right house in the right neighborhood. May we all experience an easy transition for the man, our staff, and the church.

Help us walk in faith. Show us. Lead us. Be our Pastor in this process, Lord. Let us hear Your voice.

I Know That I Know - A Study in I John: Connections (5)

To keep my connection current, I will…

… trust in Christ. 2:1-2

Jesus is your advocate.

2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

My little children, I am writing this letter to you so you won’t sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case in the presence of the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the One who does what is right.

advocateparacletos – one who pleads another’s cause, counsel for the defense

Jesus is always taking up our cause – our case – in the presence of God the Father.

Jesus is our Advocate. It means He’s our defense attorney. Satan prosecutes believers night and day before the Father due to sin. The Bible calls Satan our accuser (Rev. 12:10). So, Jesus intercedes and pleads with God on the basis of His own work on the cross.

If you are guilty of a crime, you need to get a lawyer who pleads for you. And that’s what Jesus does.

And here’s why we can be confident. He is righteous. He’s not going to say to the Father, “Rick, didn’t know what he was doing.” He’s not going to say, “Just let Rick off with a lesser penalty.” He won’t argue that way. He will plead His own merits before the Father. He will say, “See My hands, My feet, My side, My brow. See the wounds on My back. I paid the price for Rick. He doesn’t have to pay.”

Jesus is your advocate.

Jesus is your propitiation.

2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 1:1 - 1 John 2:2 (ESV)

Jesus died to take upon Himself the wrath of God that we should have suffered because of our sins against God. He sacrificed Himself not only for us, but for the sins of the whole world. He is the propitiation.

propitiationhilasmos – an appeasing, a sacrifice that bears God's wrath and turns it to favor

As the perfect sacrifice for sin, Jesus turns away God's wrath.

Think about the fact that between now and the day you die you will commit too many sins to count. I know you don’t want to and that you’re working on sinning less (or at least I hope that’s true!). There will come a day when you will commit your very last sin. That means that your sin is finite. But what about God’s grace? What about the propitiation of Christ Jesus? That is infinite! Propitiation is never ending. Grace is greater than all our sin. And propitiation will last for eternity.

I mentioned this last week, but I feel the need to say it again. The longer I live as a follower of Christ, the more I am seeing my depravity. The big stuff – the blatant sins – that’s not the problem. But my heart, my motives…

And when I think that I’m a pastor who has studied the Bible for so many years, I should be so much more holy than I am. I’m ashamed. I am more selfish and self-centered than I really want to admit. I am more lazy and undisciplined than I should be. I am far more easily hurt than I should be. My motives are worse than I used to think. I hate my sin.

I’m understanding more and more what John Newton said, “I am a greater sinner than I ever thought I was and Jesus is a greater Savior than I’ve ever known He is.” This is why we love Him. This is why we worship Him.

Christianity is not "You must do," but "Christ already did." We spell our faith this way: "DONE," not "DO."

Are you living in the freedom of the gospel? Or are you in bondage to religion? Real slavery is living your life to gain favor. Real freedom is living your life because you already have favor. Because I possess the benefits of the gospel of Christ, I don't have anything to prove or anything to protect. We need to hear less about all we need to do for God and more about all Christ did for us.

My sense is that only a few of us are really excited about having Jesus as our Advocate and Propitiation. We have such a small understanding about the holiness of God and the greatness of our guilt. We don’t understand the intensity of God’s hatred of sin and how much undeserving we are of His mercy. So, we don’t really see how desperate our need is for Him to be our Advocate and our propitiation.

My college coach, Larry Schmittou, gave me a scholarship to play baseball at Vanderbilt. He saw me playing on a summer league team and took a chance on me. My parents never could have sent me to Vanderbilt. Today, tuition and fees alone are almost $40,000. My coach made it possible for me to get a great college education. He did for me what I could not do for myself. And as I reflect on what my coach provided, I am grateful and I want to connect. A few years ago, we drove through Nashville when Coach Schmittou was then president of the Nashville Sounds pro baseball team. I wanted to stop and take in a game and thank him. So, we did. It was fun to sit there and to reconnect with my old coach.

See, one reason we don’t connect with Christ is that we don’t appreciate enough what He’s done for us. Start each day with the thought that you are accepted, that you have an advocate, that Jesus has taken the wrath that you should have taken.

This week, there will be opportunities for you to connect with Christ and to bless His people.

Will you keep your connection current? Will you pray, “Lord, let me be fully present in all my relationships today. Love through me. Let me love others well. Today is not about me. It’s about You and Your kingdom. Help me help someone today.”

If you will live that way – in the light, confessing your sin, rejoicing in Jesus as your advocate and propitiation – then God will use you in someone’s life. You will have friends that will be moved. Deeply.

When you end your day, you will be filled with a sense of gratitude to God. You can say to God, “Wow. Thank You. You really answered my prayer about being used by You to help someone today.”

That connection with God will give you a grateful heart, a joyful heart. There is great joy when you keep your connection current with God.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I Know That I Know - A Study in I John: Connections (4)

To keep my connection current, I will …

… say I’ve sinned. 1:8-10

1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we claim that we're free of sin – that our fallen nature that pulls us toward sin is now powerless over us, we're only fooling ourselves. To say we have no sin means that we’re denying the truth about us. The truth isn’t in us.

1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

If we will say what God says about our sins – that we have missed the mark, that we have fallen short – then God can always be trusted to forgive us. God always does what is right. He'll forgive our sins and cleanse us from all the wrongs we have done.

confesshomologeo – to say the same thing, to agree with

When I was a high school basketball player, back in the 70s, the officials would blow a whistle, call a foul, and the player had to raise his hand. Now, I was point guard. I believed that if you were able to foul 5 times before you fouled out of the game, then you should use 4. So, lots of time, I had to raise my hand in front of the whole crowd as if to say, “Yep. It’s me. I fouled that guy.”

This is what confession is like. God’s Spirit blows the whistle. He convicts us of sin. We just need to raise our hands and say, “Yes. It’s me. I sinned. I was wrong.”

1:10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar – we are contradicting God. And that proves that His message really has no place in our hearts.

Do you see the sin in your own life? Let’s not say we’re “struggling” in areas. It’s just a way of softening the blow. Do you see the sin in your own life? Or do you deny it? Do you justify it? Do you explain it away?

Sometimes we see our sin and instead of owning it, we blame others for it. “If he was nicer to me, if she understood my opinion, if he wouldn’t act that way or if she wouldn’t dress that way, then this wouldn’t be a part of my life."

As our young adult pastor, Andy Sikora says, “If you want to walk in the light, if you want the fellowship that’s only available in Christ, you’ve got to own your own sin.”

When it comes to connecting with God, it’s important to know that there is a difference between relationship and fellowship.

If you are a believer in Christ, if you have trusted Him as your Lord and Savior, your relationship with God cannot be disturbed. You have been made a child of God. And once in the family, always in the family.

What kind of mother or father would dare to disown a child? My sons are Duncans. They always will be. Our relationship is secure. They will always be my sons and I will always be their dad. No matter what they say or do, they are still in the family. The relationship is secure. They can be sure they are in the family.

Our fellowship, though, can be disturbed. When they mess up, they can disappoint their dad. And until they own up to the mess up, the hang-out time, the goofing off at meals, the conversations in the car will all be disturbed.

The same is true with God. When we confess our sins, we aren’t confessing to restore the relationship with God. That relationship is secure even when we sin. But when we sin, we break our fellowship with God. As our Father, He loves us enough to discipline us when we sin. Our prayer life is hindered by our sin. So, we confess to restore our fellowship with God.

See, when we confess our sins, we are confessing sins that have already been forgiven. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, “It is finished.” All of our sins – past, present, and future – were judged on the cross. Jesus paid it all. So, now, we say, “I agree with you, God, that my pride, my sloth, my greed, my anger, my deception, my lukewarmness, my un-radical life is sin. Thank you for forgiving me.”

When we confess in this way, the fellowship – the connection – is restored.

One of our problems is that we don’t make a habit of confessing our sin. We excuse it. We hide it. We rationalize it. We don’t take the time to deal with it. So, sin after sin after sin builds up and the fellowship is broken.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

I Know That I Know - A Study in I John: Connections (3)

Joy increases when we keep our connection current. In these next verses, John gives us three principles about increasing our joy and keeping our connection current. We’ll look at the first principle today.

To keep my connection current, I will…

… walk in light. 1:5-7

1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

God is light. Light can be referring to truth. Light can be referring to life. Light can be referring to holiness. Since this chapter is about dealing with sin, as we’ll see later, I think that the word “light” here likely refers to God’s holiness and purity.

1:6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

If we claim to have a connection with God but we keep on stumbling around in the darkness, we’re obviously lying. Staying in the dark means that we don’t really have a connection with God. We’re not living what we claim to be living.

Some in the church say, “I know God. I believe in Jesus.” But yet they live in darkness. What’s the darkness? Well, what are you doing, where are you going, what are you saying that you really don’t want your parents, your kids, your friends in Christ to know about? Any magazines, websites, TV shows, films come to mind that you think Jesus would call dark? Any drinking, partying, bar-hopping, friendships come to mind that you think Jesus would call dark? Any attitudes, gossip, motives, greed, materialism come to mind that Jesus would call dark?

Darkness breaks connection. If there is no spiritual joy in your life, you are walking in the darkness.

1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

This is the verse that is engraved in our weddings rings. When Maryanne and I aren’t doing very well in our relationship, we know that one of three things has to be true: 1) I am not walking in the light; 2) she is not walking in the light; or 3) neither of us are walking in the light. But if we are living in the light, since God Himself is the light, then we have connections not only with God but also with each other. The blood of Jesus cleanses us and keeps on cleansing us from all sin.

What is walking in light? We’ll, there’s the light of the Word. There’s the light of the Holy Spirit. There’s the light of the counsel of other believers.

When we “walk in light,” our lives will be open. We won’t have hidden sins. We won’t be living as hypocrites – pretending to be someone we’re not. When we “walk in light,” this will result in deeper ad deeper connections with God and others.

Maybe you are reading this today and you are not as connected to Jesus as you used to be. You’re not in the light. You’re in the dark. You’ve stopped reading the Bible as much as you used to. Instead, you’re taking in the world’s influence. You’ve stopped listening to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Instead, you’re defend yourself and convince yourself that it’s not really darkness. You’ve stopped listening to the voices of people who love God. Instead, you’re hanging out with the wrong crowd. God brought you to this blog today to say, “It’s time. It’s time once again to walk in light.”

I Know That I Know - A Study in I John: Connections (2)

We have found that lots of people at CVC have doubts about their salvation. “How can I know that I know that I’m going to heaven, that I have eternal life?” When you lose your connection with God, you can lose your assurance of salvation.

Assurance is a privilege. It’s one of the highest blessings that you can know in this life. True believers can sometimes wait for a long time to get assurance. Sometimes, it can be very difficult for a true follower of Jesus to gain assurance.

But as it says in the Bible, it’s the duty of every believer to make our calling and election sure. Why? We’ll have greater peace and joy, greater love and gratitude, and increased strength and obedience to God.

In the book of I John 1, we learn about the joy of connecting with God. And it’s this connection that gives us an assurance of salvation – that helps us know that we know.

John was one of Jesus’ closest followers. In his gospel, the story he wrote that explains the life of Jesus, he calls himself, “The disciple that Jesus loved.” He had a connection with Christ that was close. After Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven, John became a leader in the early church in Jerusalem. He was there several decades.

But shortly before a.d. 70, John left Jerusalem before the Romans came and destroyed the city. John probably moved to Ephesus (which is modern western Turkey). By the time he wrote this letter, he was an elder statesman, an older man. For John, even sixty years later, those memories of his connections with Christ were permanently etched on his mind as if the events had just happened. He writes,

1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life —

John starts by pointing to Jesus. He talks about the pre-existence of Jesus – that Jesus existed from the beginning, from before the beginning. John says, “We heard Him with our own ears; we saw Him with our own eyes, we touched Him with our own hands. Let me tell you who He is. He is the Word of life.”

1:2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us —

Eternal life not only refers to life in heaven. But it also refers to a quality of life – the kind of life that we can have right now. Real life is found in Jesus. The Father and the Son have this kind of life and when we are in connection with God, we can know this kind of life, too.

1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

We saw Him. We heard Him. And now we're telling you about Him. Why? So you can have a connection with us. And we are connected with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.

Several time in this section of scripture, we see the word “fellowship.”

fellowship – koin┼Źnia – association, community, connection, joint participation. In this context, fellowship is both vertical (fellowship with God) and horizontal (fellowship with others).

1:4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John says, “We’re writing this to you because we want you to enjoy this, too. We want you to fully share our joy. Your joy in Jesus gives me more joy in Jesus.

John lets us know that he wants us to experience more than just forgiveness of sins and a ticket punched to heaven. That’s certainly true for every follower of Jesus. But there’s so much more. The people who are forgiven end up in vibrant connection with God. And there’s more. The people who are forgiven end up in vibrant connection with each other.

John is interested in increasing our joy.

Communing with Christ brings us great joy. When you connect to Jesus, your heart is so revived by His presence that you know real joy. In His presence, there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11, ESV).

Life in Christ is not just a code of ethics. It’s having a close connection to Jesus. Yes, there is a code of ethics; there is a right and wrong. But if that’s all you think following Jesus is about, then you’ve missed the point. Being a passionate follower of Jesus is having a connection with God that produces joy. It produces a joy in your heart that you can’t find anywhere else.

If your life in Christ is joyless, then you’ve missed it. As the old Westminster Catechism says, “The purpose of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Fresh Air: A Christian Rap Album Review

DaSouth published a review of Alan's album, Fresh Air. Nice.

by Christian Treborn Monday, 14 June 2010

***

I love how free indie artists can be with their lyrics, beats, style and overall sound. Alan C. definitely has creative freedom and isn’t ashamed or afraid to rap about the hope of Christ and the love of God. Having such attributes makes each song authentic; not sugar coated, and not watered down. In a stuffy room known as hip-hop, Duncan uses his craft to bring a breath of “FRESH AIR” to the industry – mainstream and underground. This album personifies Jesus Christ, especially as an alternative lifestyle to what we hear and see on T.V. and the radio.

1. MOVIN - Opening with “Movin”, it immediately feels like I’m rocking with Sage Francis or perhaps Mike Shinoda. Alan C. Duncan has that independent, gritty, raw style that might not embrace the radio waves, but you can tell his goal isn’t to sell records, but to share the truth without compromise. His flow resounds with the percussion, and “Movin” would be a great song to experience in a live setting.

2. FRESH AIR - “Fresh Air” starts with an underground feeling, and as the beat kicks in Duncan just flows with no remorse; “I’ma bring word like a messenger, and yes I clean air like an air freshener.” If you haven’t seen the music video for this you need to. There is something about that indie sound that just soothes my soul and pleases my eardrums. The “Fresh Air” video adds to that as well.

3. BELIEVE ME featuring Joanna Duncan - His lyrics question society and the way people live and think. If you have ears, it is hard to not hear and not listen to what he has to say. He might talk about God and Jesus within each song, but he isn’t preaching.

4. PLEASE featuring Joanna Duncan - Having the vocals of Joanna Duncan adds to the flavor of his music. “Believe Me” & “Please” dive into some deep conversation and having her singing in the background lightens the heart of the listener. It makes it a bit easier to chew. Even when he is simply having a conversation asking you; “If He ain’t the only way, then why did He die? If He isn’t really God, then how did He rise?” It’s like that.

5. STILL WAR - “Still War” has some controversial lyrics, but again, he isn’t afraid to be real and discuss topics most Christians might find taboo. “A Conversation” talks about having a baby and escaping the burdens of having it – perhaps out of wedlock. The lyrics go back and forth and the revealing at the end is touching and heart wrenching.

6. A CONVERSATION – simply put, it’s a conversation between two people talking about the struggles of one’s life. As the caller reaches out to his friend, the friend gives a worldly reply to every concern the caller has. After a deep conversation, the caller ends it by explaining that the end result wasn’t his choice and not what he expected. Not to give it away, it will make you pause and think.

7. TOO LONG featuring God’s Child, Patrick Davis, Jacqueline Davis, & Joanna Duncan - After opening the minds of the listeners, Alan C. Duncan uses this song, which has some keys and strings to continue working on the hearts of the listeners. This song is the cornerstone of the “Fresh Air” album. This track has a natural feeling and creates the perfect atmosphere for each artist to bless the track. I wouldn’t say this song is poppy enough for radio, but it is definitely worthy to be a single to help promote the album.

8. DYING FOR YOU - As we approach the end of the album, “Dying For You” presents the final stretch of the race, as we’re running out of wind. Duncan addresses everything with a reasonable answer to any question - Jesus Christ. He uses this song to illustrate what Christ has done for all of us. If you aren’t awake to the blatant facts throughout the album, then you will be after this song.

9. BACK (a cappella) – This track would be great to hear live perhaps at an open mic. In lyrics you will see how Christ was missing from the tomb, and now he’s back. Yes, he has risen. He is alive.

10. MOVIN (N Remix) – The album concludes with an a cappella called “Back” & a remix of “Movin” which has minimal instruments to help personify the lyrics and their context. I think both would be great for producers to sample and add to. I really appreciate him bringing back this song at the very end to reiterate the content and what this album is all bout, being a breath of Fresh Air in out daily lives and keep on Movin – for the LORD, pressing on and sharing the gospel. “So put the focus on the windows and away from the mirrors, and when we do this that’s when the calling of the Lord will be clear.”

Honestly, I was disappointed with this album ending after only 10 tracks. I could have easily listened to an additional 5 tracks. On the upside, it makes me want to re-listen to the album another few times, which is what I did. I loved being able to experience the album as a whole again. Like watching a film again, I was able to catch certain things, such as words, rhymes, and punch lines that I might have missed or not noticed throughout each song during the first listen. Once I knew what to expect, I was able to appreciate the music even more. It absolutely has re-playability; I just think it would have been better with a few more songs.

I Know That I Know - A Study in I John: Connections (1)

There is great joy when you keep your connection current with God.

I was recently in a meeting with some spiritual leaders from other churches here in NE Ohio. Before I went into the meeting, I prayed, “Lord, let me be fully present in this meeting. Let me love these other leaders well. This is not about me. It’s about You and Your kingdom. Help me help someone today.”

One of the leaders began to share about some challenges in his life. We all listened and shared a few words. At the end of the time, I looked at him and said, “I want you to know that I believe in you. You are a good friend, a good leader, a good dad, a good husband. I’m better because of you.” And my friend was moved. Deeply. We gathered around him to pray.

When I left the meeting, I was filled with a sense of gratitude to God. I said to God, “Wow. Thank You. You really answered my prayer about being used by You to help someone today.”

That connection with God gave me a grateful heart, a joyful heart. There is great joy when you keep your connection current with God. If you had asked me on that day, “Do you know that you know that you know God?” I would have said, “Absolutely! He answered my prayer on the spot. I know that I know that I know God and I know that I know that I know He knows me.”

Now, I’m not presenting myself as the greatest at always keeping my connection with God current. Later in the week, I was in another meeting. And someone in the room was visibly shaken. And I totally missed it! In fact, the others asked, “How could you miss that?” If I had been as connected with God in that meeting, then maybe I could have helped another person. But on that day, I missed out on the joy I could have had if my connection with God was as current as it could have been.

How about you? How is your connection with God? Do you know that you know that you know God and do you know that you know that He knows you? If you don’t stay connected, you will lose joy and others will lose blessings.

I John 1:3-4 says, “That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

Clearly there is an unmistakable relationships between connecting with God (fellowship) and joy. So, will you connect with God today?

Monday, June 14, 2010

CoExist: Jews First (5)

Question: Why was Jesus pierced, mocked, forsaken, despised, rejected, wounded, crushed, oppressed, and afflicted?

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Isaiah 53:5-6 (ESV)

This is what theologians call substitutionary atonement – that Jesus was the substitute Lamb of God who died in our place for on sin on the cross. We should be judged for our sin, but we trust Jesus as savior and make Him Lord because He who was innocent was judged in our place.

This is why Jesus would dare to claim, “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” Take a look at all the world’s religions and you won’t find another sin-bearer. All the other religions have a “be-good/earn-enough-points” orientation. The Jesus way is admitting that we can’t be good enough – that we can’t earn enough points. He, Jesus lived the life we couldn’t live and paid the price we couldn’t pay.

The goal is not to turn Jews into WASPs – into White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. The goal is not for Jewish people to lose any of the richness of their culture or heritage or history. The goal is to help Jewish people to trust in and to follow the Rabbi of rabbis – Jesus, the Messiah.

Sometimes, people call these followers “Messianic Jews.” These are culturally Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Messiah. Many messianic believers attend messianic congregations. We have one here in Cleveland, Tikvat Israel. Services are structured along the lines of synagogue worship in music and liturgy. Messianic Jews usually still observe Jewish holy days and ceremonies along with their Jewish family traditions.

But for a Jewish follower of Jesus, the holy days and ceremonies and traditions and music are richer and fuller. Jesus came to give life and give it more abundantly. In His presence there is fullness of joy.

So, when we invite a Jewish friend to follow Jesus, we aren’t asking our friends to lose their Jewishness.

The longer I live as a follower of Christ, the more I am seeing my depravity. The big stuff – the blatant sins – that’s not the problem. I am a pastor. I have studied the Bible. I should be so much more holy than I am. I’m ashamed. I am more selfish and self-centered than I really want to admit. I am more lazy and undisciplined than I should be. I am far more easily hurt than I should be. My motives are worse than I used to think. I hate my sin.

I’m understanding more and more what John Newton said, “I am a greater sinner than I ever thought and Jesus is a great savior than I’ve ever known.” This is why we love Him. This is why we worship Him.

Christianity is not "You must do," but "Christ already did." We spell our faith this way: "DONE," not "DO."

Are you living in the freedom of the gospel? Or are you in bondage to religion? Real slavery is living your life to gain favor. Real freedom is living your life because you already have favor. Because I possess the benefits of the gospel of Christ, I don't have anything to prove or anything to protect. We need to hear less about all we need to do for God and more about all Christ did for us.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Evan Duncan











































Balcony View
Originally uploaded by Tom Sawyer Photography
Evan at Legacy Village

Ryan Duncan








































Ryan Duncan
Originally uploaded by Tom Sawyer Photography
Ryan on the day Alan's Fresh Air song was filmed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Alan Duncan


Dreamer, originally uploaded by Evan.Duncan..

Alan is coming out with a new song, Dreamer, a beat produced by Evan.

CoExist: Jews First (5)

Another way to relate to your Jewish friends is to:

Share with your Jewish friends.


In recent weeks, we’ve been learning about the 5 solas of our faith. Sola scriptura. Sola fide. Sola gratia. Solus Christus. S oli Deo Gloria. We’ve learned that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Works won’t work to save us because all of our righteousness is like filthy rags to God. So says the Jewish Bible in Isaiah 64:6. No matter how hard we try, we can’t be good enough.

So, at some point we have to share Jesus with our Jewish friends. Or else we’re not really very good friends. If I was in danger and you knew the way of escape and never told me, then I’d question your friendship.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. So, we must lovingly, carefully, prayerfully share Jesus with our Jewish friends.

Probably the first step is to ask. “So, what do you believe and why do you believe that?” And then listen. Don’t argue. Listen. Ask more questions. Remember, you’re building a friendship and God’s Spirit will let you know when it’s time for you to share Jesus. Your heart will probably start beating really fast and you will whisper a prayer, “O God, don’t let me ruin my friendship, but here goes...” And the amazing thing is that He’s promised to give you His words to speak when you need them.

If you’ve written your 700 word story, start there. We talked about that last year. Just tell about your life before Christ, how you came to know Christ, and then about your life after Christ. Be brief, baby; be brief!

How else will you share? That depends on the relationship and on the type of Jewish person your friend is. If she or he is secular, you may want to get the GODISNOWHERE CD and talk about reasons it’s reasonable to believe in God.

But if they believe in and have a respect for the Tanakh – the Hebrew Scriptures – then you might want to try something like this: Get a card or a piece of paper and write down these words…

They have pierced my hands and my feet… They stare and gloat over me… They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots… My tongue sticks to my jaws... All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads. “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him…” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Hand the written words to your friend and ask a simple question, “Who do you think this is describing?” What would we say? [Jesus!] You might be surprised. Your Jewish friend might just say “Jesus,” too.

Then ask, “Do you know where these words are written?” And they might just say, “In the New Testament.” And you can say, “These words are actually in the Tanakh – in the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s from Psalm 22.”

Look again at those words. These words are describing the crucifixion, the passion of the Christ. While on the cross, Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And these are the opening words to Psalm 22, a Psalm that talks about pierced hands and feet.

What is amazing about this is that these words were written about 1,000 years before Christ. And yet Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. What makes it even more amazing is that historians tell us that crucifixion wasn't even invented until about 600 BC! Normal capital punishment for Jews was stoning. Nobody had ever been crucified when this was written. It took 400 years before execution on a cross was invented and it was written 1,000 years before Jesus died on the cross. Yet here, it is described in vivid detail.

There’s more. You could write these words on a card, too.

He was despised and rejected by men… He was wounded… He was crushed… He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth… He was numbered with the transgressors.

Do the same thing. Ask, “Who do you think this is describing?” Your Jewish friend might just say “Jesus.” You follow up, “Do you know where these words are written?” And your Jewish friend might again say, “In the New Testament?” And you can say, “These words are actually in the Tanakh; it’s from Isaiah 53.”

Isaiah was written around 700 years before Christ. And Jesus fulfilled these scriptures perfectly.
Psalm what? Isaiah what?

Psalm 22: 16b, 17b, 18, 15b, 7-8a, 1a (ESV) and Isaiah 53:3a, 5a, 5b, 7a, 12b (ESV)

And this is just a beginning. There are dozens and dozens and dozens of OT prophecies that are fulfilled by Jesus Christ. In a post on this blog dated June 6th, I have listed 67 OT prophecies that ancient rabbis identified as being "Messianic," meaning that they speak about an "anointed one" - a special person anointed by God - to carry out work ordained by God. I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Bible's Messianic promises.

Peter W. Stoner, a mathematician who wrote a book called Science Speaks, calculated the odds of Jesus fulfilling only 8 of the Messianic prophecies as 1 out of 10 to the 17th power (a 1 followed by 17 zeros). This is equivalent to covering the entire state of Texas with silver dollars 2 feet deep, marking one of them, mixing them all up and having a blind-folded person select the marked one at random on just one try. Fulfilled prophecy is powerful evidence that the Bible is divine rather than human in origin, and using the Tanakh to point a Jewish friend to Jesus can have a powerful impact.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I know that I know

We're going to begin a new series this weekend: "I know that I know." Please join us. You won't want to miss this series. This weekend, we will study I John 1:1 -2:2 and deal with how our connection with Christ gives us assurance of salvation. 5:30 pm Saturday. 8:15, 9:30, 11;30 am Sunday. Ask Jesus which friend you can invite this weekend. Then, invite them! Please pray for me as I prepare and as I share. Pray for your own heart to be open to the Lord. Pray for hearts to be drawn to Jesus. Pray for a revival in NE Ohio. I hope to see you soon.

Alan C Duncan - Fresh Air


Article by Sara Macho from the Sun News

Rap lyrics do not typically strike a cord universally, but how about vignettes about God’s saving grace, salvation and forgiveness?
These themes are present in Alan C. Duncan’s music.

As a Christian rap artist, Duncan says his songs have the ability to connect with a range of listeners.

“What I try to do with the music is have someone in mind who maybe doesn’t already believe in Jesus Christ,” Duncan said. “That’s who I think about when I write my music. I am giving a Christian message in my music. I am very up front about Christ being the only means of salvation. I just try to say it in a way so I’m almost preaching to myself.”

Always an athlete at both North Royalton High School and Malone College, Duncan said no one was aware of his private, poetic writings. Towards the end of high school, he created a piece that was roughly seven minutes long. He shared it with close friends and family.

His father, the Rev. Rick Duncan of Cuyahoga Valley Church at Wallings Road and Interstate 77 in Broadview Heights, asked his son to perform the rap at a parish event. It would be the first time strangers would hear his religious ditties.

It caught the attention of Sellers Johnson, an inner-city Christian rap artist with the stage name “God’s Child.” He asked Duncan to perform and record a song in studio. The experience led Duncan to study Bible and theology at Malone College and continue to write and record tracks.

Armed with a laptop and recording software, Duncan would sit in his dorm room and create the tracks that eventually would appear on his first album, “Fisherman,” released in 2004 on iTunes.

After “Fisherman” hit the airwaves, Duncan immediately began work on his second album, “Fresh Air,” which aims to sound different than any other music people currently hear.

The album features the voice of Duncan’s wife, Joanna, whom he met at a church function, and his mother-in-law playing the flute. There are also hints of piano, guitar, live acoustic bass and a child’s toy organ from the 1950s.

“The music out there now isn’t fresh,” Duncan said. “The lyrics are getting old. It isn’t encouraging. If anything, it is doing more damage. I try to be as Scripturally accurate as possible,” Duncan said. “I cross check my references with others and try to say things in a way that will resonate with people.”

Duncan gets much of his creative motivation from knowing that his songs have an impact on others. Through his ministry, Duncan has performed for audiences in West Africa, Alabama and a host of clubs. He also connects by mail to an incarcerated man.

Above all, Duncan is confident he has found his calling.

“My father has been very supportive,” Duncan said. “It probably isn’t the easiest things in the world for a person in his 50s, but he recognizes my work as a vehicle and a tool that can reach people in a way that he can’t.”

-Sara Macho, Sun News
credits
released 26 February 2010
Alan C. Duncan: Lyrics, Vocals, Production
Joanna Duncan: Vocals
Nancy "N" Kapsar: Keys, Organ, Flute
Rufus Jones IV: Violin
Tito Santiago: Production
Ben Crespo: Production
Eddie Tomecko: Guitar, Bass, Percussion, Mixing


Executive Producer Alan C. Duncan
Recorded by Alan C. Duncan in the Blue Room
Additional Recording by Eddie Tomecko, Joshua Aaron
Mastered by Virgil "T.R.U.E. L.I.F.E." Byrd
Graphic Design: Alan C. Duncan
Photography: God's Child
license
All rights reserved
feed
Feeds for this album, this artist

Hurt before fruit

Mark Driscoll wrote this blog post and it resonated so deeply in my heart that I thought I'd just repost it here:

Who's on Jesus' team? Who's the last guy listed? Judas. That one hurt. Do you think it hurt Jesus? Years feeding this guy, loving this guy, training this guy, praying for this guy, investing in this guy. This guy betrays you with a kiss for thirty pieces of silver so you can get murdered. That hurts. Do you think it hurt the disciples? "Judas? We thought he was our friend. He was in our community group with Jesus. He murdered Jesus." Imagine somebody in your community group murders the leader of your community group. Does that affect the community group? Yeah. What in the world? It hurt. You think the disciples had some late-night conversations, "What happened with Judas? What happened? I mean, what, he was stealing money from our ministry the whole time? The guy was a con man? He didn't even love Jesus, are you serious?" It hurt.

You think it hurt the followers? You think for a while there were rumblings? "Maybe Judas is the bold one. Maybe Judas is the courageous one. Maybe Judas is like the Old Testament prophets, and he's up against Jesus and the disciples because they're wrong." Religious people are already criticizing Jesus. Do you think they love Judas? "Yeah Judas, throw some rocks at him. We don't like him either." I'm not glad that he hung himself, but it did simplify things. Had Judas not hung himself, he might have started his own ministry, his own church, competed with the disciples. We could have had war. We could have had war. I'm so glad he didn't plant a church, start a ministry, just go do somewhere else what he was doing with Jesus.

God uses evil for good.

See, there are sheep, there are shepherds, there are wolves, and some lead as shepherds, others lead as wolves. Judas was a wolf. It hurt. But in the providence of God and the sovereignty of God, God used it for good. God did not make Judas sin. He sinned of his own accord. He was ripping Jesus off. He opened his heart to Satan. He has nobody to blame but himself. But in the providential sovereignty of God, God used it for good. Hurt became fruit. Genesis 50:20 says that "God will take what is intended for evil and use it for good in the saving of many lives." Judas' betrayal and murder of Jesus was intended for evil, and God used it for good and the saving of many lives. A few billion of us today claim to be Christians, and say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. God took the worst horror and made it the greatest gift. That's how God works. Romans 8, "God works out all things for the good of those who love him, and are called according to his purpose."

Have you ever been betrayed? Have you ever been absolutely devastated by someone who is supposed to be a friend? God could use that. God wants to use that so that it's not just hurt, but that hurt becomes fruit. You've been raped: work it through, help the rape victims. You've been cheated on: work it through, help those who have been sinned against. Your dad left: work it through, become a good dad, and train others to be good dads. Your spouse has committed adultery: work it through, help those who have been devastated by adultery. You got cancer: use it to help others who are battling cancer.

Hurt becomes fruit. And I'll tell you, this is the painful part of ministry. I mean, I can honestly tell you, there are people I pray for every single day because it's just a deep, brutal, non-stop ache in my soul. They're not walking with Jesus. They're shipwrecking their own life, doctrinally, maritally, sexually, financially, whatever it is. It's just bad. It just feels like a noose around the neck that they've picked, and they're determined to self-destruct. It hurts, and you want good for those people but ultimately, God can turn the hurt into fruit. And that's a painful lesson for all leaders.


Assurance of salvation

This coming weekend, we begin our series "I know that I know." It's a study of I John where we learn that we can know that we have eternal life (I John 5:11-13).

With this in mind, I thought it would be good to publish a section of A Faith to Confess, a confession of faith that we affirm at CVC.

A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689
Rewritten in Modern English
©1975, Carey Publications, Ltd., 75 Woodhill Road, Leeds, U.K., LS16 7BZ

CHAPTER 18 - THE ASSURANCE OF GRACE AND SALVATION

1.ALTHOUGH temporary believers and other unregenerate persons may be deceived by erroneous, self-engendered notions into thinking that they are in God's favor and in a state of salvation - false and perishable hopes indeed! - yet all who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to conduct themselves in all good conscience according to His will, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace. They may rejoice in hope of the glory of God, knowing that such a hope will never put them to shame.

Job 8:13, 14; Matt. 7:22, 23; Rom. 5:2, 5; 1 John 2:3; 3:14, 18, 19, 21, 24; 5:13.

2.The certainty of salvation enjoyed by the saints of God is not mere conjecture and probability based upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith based upon the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the gospel. It also results from the inward evidences of the graces of the Holy Spirit, for to those graces God speaks promises. Then again, it is based upon the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of adoption, for He bears His witness with our spirits that we are the children of God. Such witness results in the keeping of our hearts both humble and holy.

Rom. 8:15, 16; Heb. 6:11, 17-19; 2 Pet. 1:4, 5, 10, 11; 1 John 3:1-3.

3.The infallible assurance of salvation is not an essential part of salvation, for a true believer may wait for a long time, and struggle with many difficulties, before he attains to it. It is not a matter of extraordinary revelation, for if he makes a right use of the means of grace, and is enabled by the Spirit to know the things that believers receive freely from God, he may well attain to it. It therefore becomes the duty of every one to be as diligent as possible in making his calling and election sure. By doing this he will experience greater peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, greater love and thankfulness to God, and an increased strength and cheerfulness in dutiful obedience. These things are the natural outcome of the assurance of salvation, and they constitute strong evidence that assurance does not lead men into loose living.

Ps. 77:1-12; Ps. 88; 119:32; Isa. 50:10; Rom. 5:1, 2, 5; 6:1, 2; 14:17; Titus 2:11, 12, 14; Heb. 6:11, 12; 1 John 4:13.

4.True believers may find that their assurance of salvation fluctuates; sometimes more, sometimes less. They may prove neglectful in preserving it, as for example, if they give way to some particular sin that wounds their conscience and grieves the Spirit; or a strong temptation may suddenly spring upon them; or God may see fit to withdraw "the light of His countenance" and cause darkness to envelop them, a course He sometimes takes even with those who fear His name. Yet, whatever happens, certain things inevitably remain with them - the new nature which is born of God, the life of faith, the love of Christ and the brethren, sincerity of heart and conscience of duty-and by reason of these and through the work carried on by the Spirit within them, the assurance of salvation may in due time be revived. In the meantime the same influences preserve them from utter despair.

Ps. 30:7; 31:22; 42:5, 11; 51:8, 12, 14; 77:7, 8; 116:11; Song 5:2, 3, 6; Lam. 3:26-31; Luke 22:32; 1 John 3:9.

***

May God grant more and more people at CVC and in NE Ohio the blessing of assurance of salvation.

CoExist: Jews First (3)

Let's take a look at how to relate to “your Jewish friends.”

Some of us might be a little prejudiced. Some of us might tend to be somewhat anti-Semitic. Let me just go on the record to say that any talk about the Jews killing Jesus is foolish. The Jews didn’t kill Jesus. We did. Our sin did. God the Father gave us God the Son to die in our place for our sin. So, to blame one race of people for the death of Jesus is just biblically illiterate.

I want to share with you four simple principles that I think we should all take to heart if it’s going to be Jews first for us.

Learn from your Jewish friends.

Never forget that the Jewish people are God’s chosen people. Here’s what God said long ago to the Jews.

You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you… Deuteronomy 7:6-8a (ESV)

Someone said, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” Why did He choose them? No reason. Just because. Unconditional love.

But there is a specific function that God has for the Jewish people.

[The LORD says to His people, Israel], “I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6 (ESV)

The Jewish people are blessed to be a blessing to the world – to Gentiles, people like us. We have a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people: 1) the belief that there is one God, 2) the preservation of the Old Testament scriptures, 3) a rich history of interpretation and explanation of the Old Testament scriptures, 4) an adherence to the moral law – the Ten Commandments, and 5) an example as a people about how to persevere in the face of suffering and evil.

If we would have more conversations with Jewish friends, we’d understand the Jewishness of the Bible better. The Bible is a book birthed in Judaism. Ultimately, we’d have more insight about Jesus. We’d be better followers of Jesus.

Pray for your Jewish friends.

The Jewish people have been a suffering people, a persecuted people over and over and over again. They suffered in Egypt under the Pharaohs during the time of Moses, they suffered under the Romans in the time of Christ, they suffered under Hitler during the Holocaust, and now, they face the constant threat of terrorism from Muslim extremists.

We need to pray for our Jewish friends. It’s biblical.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!” Psalm 122:6-7 (ESV)

I’ve heard it said that God blesses the people that bless His people. So, put praying for the peace of Jerusalem on your prayer list.

I don’t think that means that God wants us to blindly support Israel no matter what. The Palestinians are people God loves, too. “For God so loved the world…” He loves the Jewish people with a special love. They are His chosen people. But justice and mercy and security are on God’s heart for the Palestinians, too.

So, when you pray for the peace of Jerusalem, you’re praying for the peace of Christians, Muslims, and Jews because they all are living there.

And one more thing before we leave this idea. Pray for specific Jewish friends by name. Are you burdened about some particular friend?

In Romans 9:1-2, Paul actually says that he wishes that he could be accursed if his Jewish brothers and sisters could be saved. Are you that burdened? Am I?

Move toward your Jewish friends.

The idea here is to be in relationship with Jewish people. Cook out with, serve with, play with, hang out with Jewish people.

This idea was convicting to me this past week. For some of us, it’s not been Jews first, but Jews last. Maybe not intentionally. But we’re not thinking about our Jewish friends.

I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
I Corinthians 9:19b, 20a, 22b, 23 (ESV)

Circle that word “servant.” Move toward your Jewish friends by serving them.

I’ve been thinking about some of my Jewish friends a lot more this week. Andy, Julie, Sandy… How can I move toward them? Not pushy. Not trying to cram Jesus down their throats. But lovingly, gently, patiently serving them.

Who do you know who is Jewish who needs you to move toward them? What could you do to serve someone soon?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

CoExist: Jews First (2)

Let me say, I don’t see myself as some kind of expert on Judaism. I did some research this week. There are 13-14 million Jewish people in the world today. About 40% live in Israel and about 40% live in the US.

If you’ve been around the church for a little while, you’re probably somewhat familiar with biblical Judaism. But the Judaism of today is different. After Rome destroyed the Temple in A.D. 70, Judaism changed pretty significantly.

For example, the temple sacrifices of Passover lambs was stopped. The yearly entry of the high priest into the Most Holy Place stopped. The rabbis replaced these and other rituals of the temple with symbols and liturgy and spiritual disciplines like repentance, prayer, and good deeds. When the Jews scattered from Israel, the home became increasingly important for religious and cultural life.

Judaism has three main branches or movements.

Orthodox Judaism. God is personal. The Torah (Scripture) and its mitswot, or “commandments,” are divinely revealed. The Torah is unchanging, a focal point for study and living. Orthodox Jews usually hold to a more literal interpretation of Scripture, a distinctive dress code, dietary laws, and strict Sabbath observance.

Reform Judaism. This branch tries to adapt to modern times by encouraging diversity and egalitarianism. Reform Judaism adopts a modern, higher-critical approach to the Hebrew Scriptures and sees the Scriptures to be a product of human reflection, not a result of divine inspiration. Social justice and ethics are more important than specific doctrines or rituals.

Conservative Judaism. The third major branch, falls theologically between Orthodoxy and Reform. Conservative Jews accept tradition but with an openness to change. Conservative Jews understand the Scriptures to be the words of God but would also see God's revelation as an ongoing process, not confined to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures alone.

The "Tanakh" is still important. What’s the “Tenakh?" It’s the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament Scriptures. Tenakh is a Hebrew acronym. The Hebrew Bible has 3 parts. The Torah ("Teaching", also known as the Five Books of Moses). The Nevi'im ("Prophets"). The Ketuvim ("Writings"). Take the first letter from Torah, the first letter from Nevi'im and the first letter from Ketuvim and you get TaNaKh.

Even though we share many things in common – a belief that there is only one God who is personal, holy, transcendent, immanent and who has revealed Himself in the Old Testament – there are some major differences.

Our God is triune. We sing a famous song.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty.
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee.
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,

So far, our Jewish friends could sing that with us. But they couldn’t honestly sing that last line.

God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Do we worship the same God? Well, not if you’re worshipping the one God who exists in 3 persons, Father, Son, and Spirit.

Not only do the Jews hold the Tenakh in high esteem, Jews also hold the Talmud (“learning”) in high esteem. This is a massive collection of teachings (both oral and written) from rabbis over the centuries. This was given its final form about A. D. 500. Medieval scholars and modern scholars work have further shaped Jewish thought. So, contemporary Judaism thus rests on the Jewish Scriptures (what we would call Old Testament) plus the Talmud and more recent thought. Judaism is built on the commentary of the rabbis, both past and present.

Judaism values individual expression of thought. Dialogue is important. Community is important. The synagogue is a house of study, prayer, and assembly. The rabbi really has not vested authority over that congregation. He’s a scholar-teacher, a transmitter of Jewish heritage. The rabbi speaks to the people, not for the people.

But if you really want to know what some individual Jewish person believes, you have to talk to that person. Of course, that’s really true for any faith.

So, let me encourage you and me to ask questions of your Jewish friends and simply be a learner. Build friendships with Jewish people. You won’t regret it.

CoExist: Jews First (1)

I like Mike and Mike. How many of you know what I’m talking about?

I’m talking about Mike and Mike in the Morning. It’s a sports talk show on ESPN Radio. Some people love the show and some hate it. The show has a kind of an Odd Couple relationship between Mike and Mike. Mike Greenberg plays the role of a kind of needy nerdy guy. Mike Golic plays the part of a "man's man." He’s a former NFL player and likes to "tell it like it is." Golic was born here in NE Ohio and attended St. Joseph High School and the University of Notre Dame. Golic is Catholic. Greenberg was born in New York and graduated from Northwestern. Greenberg is Jewish.

They disagree about a lot of stuff and that is what makes the show fun, at least for fans. But even though Greenberg is Jewish and Golic is Catholic, I’ve never heard them disagree about religion.

Judaism and Christianity have a lot of things in common, but these two faiths are radically different when it comes to Jesus.

Greenie and Golic will argue about just about anything. Who’s right and who’s wrong is a big deal on the show. But the Jewish/Catholic thing never gets talked about on air and I’m guessing it never gets talked about off air either. Why not? Well, we all know momma said, “Nice people just don’t talk about religion and politics.”

But I think it goes deeper than that. Most Americans think this way, “Just be a good guy. What you believe doesn’t matter really. Jewish, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian… what difference does it really make? Whatever faith you hold, just be good and you’ll be all right in the end.

Here’s the problem. What education, entertainment, and culture says about truth, about eternal life, about the way to heaven is influencing some of us more than what Jesus says about this.

But Jesus still says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6, ESV). He’s saying, “There’s One Way. And it’s Me.” He’s not leaving the door open for a Buddhist way or a Muslim way or a Baptist way or a Jewish way. There’s one way: The Jesus Way.

If Golic is really a follower of Jesus, then the Bible says that a priority for Golic is to get the good news about Jesus to Greenberg – if he hasn’t already. Getting the good news about Jesus to Jewish people must be priority to every follower of Christ.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Romans 1:16 (ESV)

Share it