Corporate Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


Yesterday I made the point that competition is a fundamental motivator for many aspects of our culture. By harnessing my natural desire for recognition and reward, competition typically pushes me toward higher achievement. The underside of this spiritually is that human greed is nurtured and celebrated instead of crucified. The result is a compromised life spiritually for the individual. Today I want to explore a couple of the ways that competition affects us corporately.

When we introduce the concept of competition we automatically create winners and losers. We create categories of in and out. Whether in sports, honor societies, 500 Clubs, or even in churches, we find ways to create the category of other so we can feel better about ourselves.

This doesn’t please God. Jesus cleared the temple in Matt. 21:12-13 because gentiles were literally squeezed out of what should have been a house of prayer for the nations. Paul is also clear that one of the many things accomplished in Jesus’ death and resurrection was the abolishment of national prejudices (Eph. 2:11-22). Competition creates the category of other, which is sometimes less than, but akin to an enemy. We’re told to love our enemies, not conquer them (Matt. 5:44; Rom. 12:9-21).

Identifying the underside of competition might also impact our view of evangelism and cultural engagement. When I became a believer in college I treated apologetic encounters as a chance to prove myself and beat the other person into following Christ. Of course it never worked no matter how much I brushed up on my arguments. People intuitively took a defensive posture. This wasn’t ever taught by any of my mentors but something I assumed on my own. Perhaps if we identify how our culture shapes us we can send new converts down an altogether different path to begin with – one that overtly celebrates humility instead of subtly nurturing pride and triumphalism. [Read more...]

Personal Competition and the Disciple of Christ

Today’s post is by Aron  Utecht. Aron is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. He’s also  written Putting God in His Place: Exalting God in the iCulture with three colleagues, which is about how western cultural assumptions steal God’s glory. You can contact Aron at ontheirshoulders.com.


It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Most of us have been told that at one time or another, but usually as a way to mollify a loss. Closer to the truth, we all want to win. Sometimes desperately.

It isn’t just sports that stoke my desire to win. In addition to the entertainment industry called professional sports, competition is something that impacts us every day of our lives. Competition is also an underlying motivator in education, and is the principle driver of our economic system. Even our politics are often more about competition than what is truly best for all.

The conventional wisdom is that competition is good. It pushes us out of our natural slothfulness toward excellence. This is often true. But there is a dark underside to completion that can go unnoticed. It’s a dark underside that if we’re not aware of it can compromise our life as disciples of Jesus.

Consider Ephesians 5:3, where greed is grouped with impurity and sexual immorality. The believer is instructed to avoid any appearance of these.  Yet everywhere I turn, my greed for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade is nurtured and encouraged. The economic system of capitalism is particularly good at harnessing human greed, which Paul calls idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Does this mean that if I’m successful in business that I’m an idolater? Well, maybe. Maybe not. What it means for sure is that sin is battling against me more than I realize. Simply living in the system I do will shape my thinking, and my spiritual formation, and if I don’t intentionally find ways to push back against those influences, they will undercut my spiritual life, and my faithfulness to Christ.

Competition harnesses my desire for acquisition, accomplishment, and accolade. But instead of nurturing these impulses I should be crucifying them.

I’m not trying to create a new rule, or say that we should drop out of life and refuse to participate in our economic system. But I do think we need to be attuned to the influences in our lives, and push back accordingly. By identifying how competition affects me negatively I can keep things like sports and academics in perspective. Keeping that perspective can be exceptionally difficult when money is involved though.

Regardless of the difficulties, spiritual health demands that I push back on the sin of avarice. I need to constantly check my motives, and ask myself often: Am I too emotionally involved in sports? Does my academic achievement reflect my love for Christ, or my love for recognition?  Is my business big enough to support my family? And, perhaps even… Is my church big enough to glorify God as we are?

Unfortunately, I don’t have to weigh any of these for very long to find myself wanting.

Tomorrow I’ll explore some of the ways that competition affects us corporately.


Aron is married to Jenn, and father to Abigail, Elizabeth and Benjamin. They live in Beulah, ND where he is the Sr. Pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church. Aron has an MDiv from Denver Seminary, an MA in American History from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and loves to study the Bible. Aron doesn’t have free time, but if he did he would enjoy cycling, camping, and exploring the outdoors with his kids, in addition to reading on theology, history, culture, and leading better in ministry.

Satisfied in Christ

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

The Samaritan woman at the well was not the most popular woman in town. She had been married five times and was living in sin with a man who was not her husband. As far as everyone in town was concerned, she wore the proverbial scarlet letter of shame. Thus, when she needed to draw water from Jacob’s well, she made sure to do so at high noon, when everyone else would be indoors. On this particular day, she was surprised to discover a wearied man sitting alone beside the well. The man was Jesus.

John 4:1-9:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

Oftentimes, preachers will turn this passage into a call to evangelism. They’ll say, See? Jesus talked to the lowliest of the lows—an untouchable—and we should too! So, be like Jesus and reach out to someone in need!

Now, it’s true that we should look beyond the scarlet letter whenever we’re witnessing to sinners in need of saving; however, that’s not the point of this passage. The point is that this Samaritan woman was in desperate need of something that only Jesus could provide. And we—all of us—are sinners in the same boat. We are in desperate need of something only Jesus can provide. It’s living water! The theme of this passage is not how-to evangelism but all-satisfying Savior.

Jesus has much to offer this woman, and she doesn’t even know. On a seemingly endless quest to satisfy the longings of her soul, she chased the idols of her heart only to receive emptiness. [Read more...]

Maps, Cobblestones & Mortar and Spiritual Parenting

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

A few summers ago I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Rome. It was an amazing trip, including an after-hours private tour of the Vatican museums. I stood in the normally quiet Sistine Chapel and listened to an art historian explain in great detail (with no apparent axe to grind) how Michaelangelo’s masterpiece, “The Final Judgment” indicates that the great artist was heavily influenced by Luther and Calvin and was likely himself a Protestant. Not the kind of thing you hear every day!

Another odd thing about this trip is that the travel agent responsible for my trip rather monumentally fouled up the arrangements for the trip. I got to the airport and wasn’t a ticketed passenger! I had the remarkable experience of walking up to a ticket counter and saying, “Round trip to Rome, leaving today, please.” Thankfully, the plastic that I whipped out had enough to cover it while awaiting reimbursement!

When I got to Rome I had, of course, a map. It was one of those maps designed for tourists, with all the major sights blown-up and arranged for easy finding. One evening I and my companions set out to find a particular restaurant located on a small side street somewhere in the hustling and bustling city. I knew of the restaurant because my sister had eaten there only a few short months earlier and highly recommended it. However…

The restaurant was not there. In fact, the street itself was not there. I stood at an intersection, map unfolded, getting my bearings. Yes, I was oriented. The street should be right… there! Alas, no street. The reality of what stood before me made a liar of my map. Either the cobblestones and mortar had shifted and moved in the intervening months, or my map was wrong. Those were my two explanatory options.

Now, the conclusion I must reach is obvious, isn’t it? Maps can be wrong. They might not accurately or fully depict the cobblestones and mortar that are actually there. So I resolved that never again would I allow myself to be deceived by a fallible document like a map. They are clearly worthless. They cannot be trusted. People who trust in maps are gullible. Far better to forego the use of a map and just wander out and find things yourself, with only cold, hard, reality to guide you. Better to not use all the sorts of aids and guides people use when preparing for a trip. Not just maps, but language helps like Rosetta Stone or common phrase dictionaries. Better to just get on the plane, arrive, flag a cab, get dropped off on a street corner and make a go of it. That’s the only way to make sure you won’t be deceived. Right?

Rather silly conclusion, isn’t it? Yet that is exactly the conclusion many people reach when they discover that ancient Christian traditions, particularly the great creeds of the church, can be wrong. Upon learning that tradition is not infallible, they decide that tradition is worthless. Having rejected Roman Catholicism’s hyper-trust in tradition, they decide, with the Anabaptists, that creeds are of no use at all. “No Creed but Christ!” they cry. One might as well decide that all maps are worthless. After all, they might mislead you. [Read more...]

Life is Short… Why be Good?

Today’s post is by Tina Williams who blogs at Everyday Surrender.

I have encountered many times in the last several years the attitude of “Life is short…why be good”. Generally speaking when this is directed at me it is because the person is aware of my faith. One of the reasons I have such a hard time with this is that I know there is nothing I can say to allow them to feel what I feel or convey the awe of experiencing God’s presence. That can only come by their seeking Him in an effort to personally experience Him and a relationship with Him.

One of the obstacles of this debate is the way nonbelievers view Christians and the way they live their lives. The preconception that they just follow rules and keep up the appearance of being good. I will be the first to admit that this view is true in some cases, as when I was a child I remember being dropped off at church every Sunday because it was the right thing to do, and beyond that there was no mention of Christ in my childhood. So I definitely understand the view that Christians go to church on Sunday mornings to appear good. It does happen. But on the flip side, are you then prejudging all Christians? Are you subconsciously saying that it is not possible to have a personal relationship with Christ because you have seen others just go through the motions? I know I did.

As soon as I was old enough to recognize the charade I wanted out and managed it. After all, if it was just a matter of believing then I could do that without keeping up appearances and playing the game. It was my incorrect, sinful response to an unfortunate situation. I have the advantage now of seeing both sides of the argument and understanding why others, who have not experienced Christ, deny it’s possible. I did.

After exiting the game of charades with distaste, I lived most of my life how I wanted. After all life is short, right? I believed I was a “good” person. A moral person. [Read more...]

The Surprising Depth of Idolatry

Today’s post is by Chris Thomson. Chris blogs at This Oughta Be Good

“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” – 1 John 5:20-21 (ESV)

“An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone. An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention and money to it effortlessly.” – Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones

“You’ve distorted your deepest wish by trying to make it into your savior, and now that you finally have it, it’s turned on you.” – Tim Keller

I have always known I have idols. The First Commandment is hard to miss. But it wasn’t until the past couple of years that I have realized just how deeply embedded idolatry is in my life. As my faith has grown and matured the Holy Spirit has brought about new conviction and enlightenment when it comes to objects of my heart’s affection. All of us have readily identifiable idols. These are things that Tim Keller calls “visible surface idols”. They include things like money, career, relationships, health, sex and food. We know that in their originally intended form they are good things. But we also have a pretty good idea that when our sinful desires twist their purpose and their place they begin to control us and become a poison in our lives. As Matt Chandler says, “We have made good things into ultimate things.”

The deeper idols in our lives are not as simple to discern but they are the disease that produces the surface idols. They include things such as power, control, approval and comfort. This is where God has really been working on me. Two of the biggest deep idols in my life are my desire for approval and control.

The first one should have been obvious to me long ago but it wasn’t. I was the high school valedictorian and voted “Most Intelligent” and “Most Likely to Succeed”. Those were nice things but the price was being continually ridiculed by many of my classmates for a majority of my junior high and high school lives. My identity was being “the smart kid” so I consciously vowed to not let that define me in college and beyond. Although I removed the surface idol, I didn’t realize it remained deep inside. So, as I got into my career and began meeting more failures than successes despite hard work, I began to experience depression. My intelligence had turned into my own “little savior”. I still knew I was smart and that meant I could have power, and ultimately comfort, because I could make myself be successful. Even more than that, I felt I was entitled to some measure of success. My identity and self-worth had gotten tied up in what I could do for myself. Britt Merrick’s words ring so true at this moment:

Christian, define yourself exclusively and radically as one beloved of God. Every other identity is an illusion and is false. [Read more...]

The Male Gossip


Today’s post is by Amber Van Schooneveld. Amber is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration (Group, 2008) and blogs regularly at Clever Phrase Here.

Close your eyes and picture a gossip. Whom do you see? I see a cluster of spinsters in old lace gloves sweetly spitting vitriol over tea. Perhaps I read too much Agatha Christie. But even if you don’t have visions of British spinsters, your vision is most likely female. Am I right? Counter to our preconceived notions, in my (unfortunate) experience there are just as many male gossips as female gossips.

The men, however, don’t have the benefit that us ladies do of hearing much direct exhortation against gossip. Can you imagine a men’s retreat in which this was the lineup?

  • 9:00 a.m.: Becoming a Man After God’s Heart
  • 10:30 a.m.: Strength Like Boaz
  • 12:00 p.m.: Drum Beating (I assume this is what you do at any good men’s retreat)
  • 1:30 p.m.: Taming Your Gossiping Tongue

I can’t.

Despite our feminine visions of the gossip, the Scriptures are directed as much at the male gossip (let’s call him Carl) as at the female (let’s call her Sheila), such as this passage in Proverbs:

“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him…[the seventh] a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16, 19)

It’s easy to be taken off guard by Carl. Sheila gives you cues. She’ll move closer, lower her voice conspiratorially, and begin, “I love Sasha, but…” And that’s when you know it’s coming. But Carl gives you no such preparatory warnings. In a firm and perfectly audible voice, he can casually defame another’s character (or gossip, if you will).

In my limited experience, that’s Carl’s struggle. He doesn’t dish with you about situational gossip. (“Did you see how tight her pants were today?”) He goes for the character. (“Neal is a real micro-manager.” “Jessica is such a control freak.” “Patrick doesn’t take anyone’s ideas seriously but his own.”)

And it doesn’t only happen in the workplace. It can happen in ministry too, disguised as well-meaning concern. (“You know, Allan is a real nice guy, but I just feel like he really lacks discipline.”) And even in the home. (Enter any number of dinner table discussions between a man and his wife in the hearing of the children.)

Sometimes one legitimately needs to address a character issue and seek the counsel of another regarding it. But much of the time our so-called “venting” is just good ol’ fashioned down-home gossip. (Even when said in a deep and manly voice.)

Satan was the first gossip. (“Did God really say?”) And the effect gossip has today is the same as this first utterance of gossip: It drags others down with you. Cheery Chip (perhaps like Eve) might have been going on his merry way thinking cheerful thoughts, when Carl corners him and plants a different strain in his mind, maybe noting an annoyance with a friend. “Jim is really getting on my nerves. He can really be self serving sometimes.” [Read more...]

Godly Fear, Amplified Grace

Today’s post is by Chris Poblete. Chris is the Executive Director of the Gospel for OC, a network committed to bringing glory and honor to God in our neighborhoods and cities. Follow him via TGoC on Twitter and on Facebook.

There I was, listening to a sermon that a good friend had recommended to me. My friend was living in sin at the time, and he confessed that this particular sermon rocked his world. Naturally, I was excited to hear the message that so gripped my friend. But as I listened, the pastor went on to say, “I’m tired of grumpy ol’ fundie Christians judging this person and that person. In the Old Testament, that may have been okay, but try to find that in the New Testament. Try to find an angry Jesus in there.”

Really?

I was so bummed to hear these words. My jaw dropped, and my heart broke. Could this world use fewer self-righteous and judgmental finger-pointers? Of course. I’ll give him that. But once we imply that the God of the Old Testament is grumpier and rowdier than the mild God of the New Testament, we find ourselves sliding down a slippery slope to foolishness and a me-centered, anything-goes theology.

In Revelation 14, Jesus returns on a cloud with a sickle in his hand to reap the harvest. He’s accompanied by an angel with another sharp sickle. This angel is commanded to “‘…gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.’” Then we are told that “the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.”

I didn’t know what a bridle or stadia is either. Apparently, though, when you do the math what’s described here is over 180 miles of a 5-feet deep bloodbath. The graphic imagery signifies the slaughter of the enemies of God. Indeed, these pictures should give us godly sorrow and anguish that others will have to suffer under God’s wrath in such way. After all, the apostle Paul echoes those sentiments (Romans 9:1-3). And yes, God is not wishing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But this point is also clear: New Testament God is still angry about sin, and he will see to it that divine justice will have its day. [Read more...]

A Tale of Two Fictions

Today’s guest blogger is Dr. Brian Mattson, Senior Scholar of Public Theology for the Center For Cultural Leadership. You can fan his Facebook page (Dr. Brian G. Mattson), follow him on Twitter (@BrianGMattson), and read his blog (www.brianmattson.squarespace.com).

Greetings! I want to begin by thanking Aaron for the opportunity to hold down the fort on his blog this month. I hope he has a wonderful, restful, and energizing vacation from blogging, and I will do my best to continue his tradition of producing excellent content on Blogging Theologically.

My plan is a fairly simple one. I am going to write fifteen blog posts this month as a discrete series. Taken together, they form what I am calling 15 Meditations on the Apostles’ Creed. Following two introductory posts on the nature of Christian tradition, each subsequent post will be a simple meditation on an article of the creed.

But allow me to begin by addressing the question: Why Tradition? The Apostles’ Creed represents for the entire world of orthodox Christianity a tradition passed down from the early church to us as an articulation of the basics of Christian belief. The questions are: Do we need it and why?

I believe the answer to the former is yes, and the latter question will be taken up in the next post. But there are two basic pitfalls that we must endeavor to avoid, both to the right and to the left. Let me illustrate these pitfalls by telling a “Tale of Two Fictions.”

The first comes to us from the early 5th century. In A.D. 404, a church leader by the name of Tyrannius Rufinus wrote this account of what happened after Pentecost and the Twelve Apostles prepared to embark on their respective ministries:

As they were therefore on the point of taking leave of each other, they first settled an agreed norm for their future preaching, so that they might not find themselves, widely separated as they would be, giving out different doctrines to the people they invited to believe in Christ. So they met together in one spot and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, compiled this brief token, as I have said, of their future preaching, each making the contribution he thought fit; and they decreed that it should be handed out as standard teaching to believers.

This brief description purports to tell us the origins of the Apostles’ Creed, and the account became the near universally-held view of the church in the Middle Ages. It was taken for granted that the Creed was written by the Apostles themselves, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A more detailed account comes to us from a 6th century sermon:

On the tenth day after the Ascension, when the disciples were gathered together for fear of the Jews, the Lord sent the promised Paraclete upon them. At His coming they were inflamed like red-hot iron and, being filled with the knowledge of all languages, they composed the creed. Peter said, “I believe in God the Father almighty…maker of heaven and earth”… Andrew said “and in Jesus Christ His Son…our Lord” … and James said “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit… born from the Virgin Mary” … John said, “suffered under Pontius Pilate … was crucified, dead and buried”… [et cetera].

This story, as I said, won almost universal acceptance in the Middle Ages. The thought that the Apostles themselves were directly responsible for the Creed named after them is warming and enticing. Alas, it is, as renowned scholar J.N.D. Kelly puts it, a “pious fiction.” It is a story invented at some time or another in an attempt to vindicate the authenticity and theological purity of the creed. It is an attempt to read a more fully developed theology right back into the pages of the New Testament itself, indeed, to put its content directly onto the lips of Christ’s appointed spokesmen. Its intent is, indeed, pious, but fiction it remains, nonetheless. [Read more...]

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Today’s post is by Don Barton. Don is a Canadian ex-pat and founding member of Hills Bible Church in Mont Albert, Victoria, Australia. You can find him on the Hills Bible Church blog and follow him on Twitter (@HillsBC).

Rain 2

I was sitting in my office today next to a large window that overlooks a small garden and the gated entrance to our property. I heard the bell ring and looked out to see a very well dressed attractive woman somewhere in her mid twenties, carrying an umbrella. It was raining and it was apparent that she had been out in the rain for some time. She caught my eye and smiled.

I nodded and went to the intercom which connects to our gate. I greeted her with a cool, “Yes?”

“I’m from a local community group and I would like to invite you to an event we are planning.” she responded.

I had noticed she had some literature in a folder she was carrying. “Can you leave the information in my mailbox?” I asked.

“No worries.” And she left.

In spite of that quaint Aussie phrase, I did worry. Was I being too cold, too defensive, too suspicious? I thought to myself, there is something incongruous with a large brick and iron fence with a locked gate and the “Who is my neighbour?” question of Luke 10. So I quickly went to the mailbox to see what she left. Perhaps it would be an invitation to attend a local church – I’ve never received one before – perhaps this time.

“The local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses invites you to attend a convention…”

I suppose that I wasn’t surprised. But I was disappointed. How I had wanted her to be a Christian who was sharing the gospel, the good news about Jesus, with her neighbours. Come to think about it, that has never happened to me, either in a door knocking situation or in a one-on-one.

Why is it that we Christians, who have the greatest story ever told, are so reluctant to share it with others? Here is this zealous young woman, so sadly misled by a heresy that will keep her from knowing the Jehovah she claims to serve, braving inclement weather to share what she has with others – with neighbours – with strangers.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Originally posted at the Hills Bible Church blog.

Learning From the “Queen of the South”

Solomon meets the Queen of Sheba, on the Paradise Door of the Florence Baptistry. Photo by Richard Fabi

Today’s post is Matt Ford, pastor of Fountain of Life Fellowship, in Fountain Valley, California. Matt is a contributor to the Gospel for OC blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewbford.

Ever since Adam, the sinful life has been full of excuses (Gen. 3.12). Sadly, my own still echo with regularity. Recently I came across one sentence from Jesus that rather exploded my status quo and pushed me to more integrity in searching myself and more passion in seeking the Lord. Surprisingly, I need to learn from the “queen of the South.”

The Matthew 12 conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is not friendly. The leaders are consistently accusing Jesus, conspiring against Jesus, condemning Jesus, and testing Jesus. They certainly do not appreciate Jesus, will not sincerely seek Jesus, and have not the slightest desire to worship Jesus. Towards the end of the back-and-forth, Jesus responds by dropping a bomb of a sentence that would’ve devastated His original hearers and will give us pause as well if we will listen.

Matthew 12.42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

To help our understanding of this sentence let’s consider it in four parts: 1) the judgment, 2) the witnesses, 3) the example, and 4) the value.

1) Jesus promises a judgment day.

Just think about it for a moment. There will be a judgment. The judgment will include a judge who will weigh our lives in His balance according to His standards. Oh, how that should effect and determine our lives now.

2) The judgment day will include witnesses.

According to Jesus, the judgment will include witnesses. And here’s something incredible – the witnesses will come from across the very ages to testify towards a just judgment. The “queen of the South” is the queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10; she lived centuries before “this generation” with whom Jesus is dealing. And yet Jesus insists that, on that day of judgment, she will testify against them towards a just verdict. [Read more...]

10 Things I’ve Learned Between My First Book and My Fourth

Today’s post is by Daniel Darling. Dan is the Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church, the author of iFaith: Connecting to God in the 21st Century (reviewed here) and blogs at DanielDarling.com.

As I write this blog post, I’m working on my fourth book. My first book, Teen People of the Bible, was published in the Fall of 2007. Even though I was a professional writer and editor for around 6 years before it was published, I feel like my biggest leaps forward have happened since I first put letters on the page for my first book and today. Here are my ten lessons:

1. Getting a book contract is not a destination, but the beginning of a journey. We work so hard to get a publisher, an agent, a bestselling author to notice us that we forget the book contract is not the end point. It’s the launching point. After you’ve gotten signed your name on the contract and you send it back to the publisher, now the hard work begins. You actually have to craft words that inspire.

2. Editors are your best friends. When I turned in Teen People, I thought it was the greatest piece of literature since Hemingways’ For Whom the Bell Tolls. Actually it was woefully inadequate, chopping in many places and needing much editing. The publisher was so kind in gently helping me through this. I’ve since learned that having a team of people edit your work before you turn it in makes your publisher happy and gives you a reputation as a professional.

3. Writing is part inspiration, part perspiration. Those of us who write write because we enjoy it, because we can’t do much else. We write because God has given us something to put on paper to inspire others. But let’s not sugar-coat this. Writing is, as my old boss used to say, “stinkin hard work.” You don’t always feel like writing. You feel like checking Twitter, eating a Cinnamon, or calling your long-lost friend from New Jersey. You must discipline yourself to write (something I’m still struggling with).

4. You don’t know what you’re book is about until you’re finished. This sounds weird, but its true. I had a vision, an outline of my chapters, but it wasn’t until I began actually thinking and processing the book’s ideas that I got the concept for Teen People of the Bible. And it wasn’t until I “put my pen down” that I actually knew what God wanted me to write in that book.

5. You first preach to yourself. If no one ever read anything I wrote (a distinct possibility in those early days), I would still have been a richer person for having gone through the pain of writing a book. I learned so much about the Scriptures, about God, about myself. I feel writing has made me a better person. [Read more...]

Tipping Sacred Cows

Today’s post is by Amber Van Schooneveld. Amber is the author of Hope Lives: A Journey of Restoration (Group, 2008) and blogs regularly at Clever Phrase Here. She also has bad luck when travelling to Canada.

Recently, my husband and I said words that got people hopping at our small group. We were feeling ornery. I’ve never written about the topic because I don’t want to be stoned for tipping over a sacred cow. But in the interest of open and honest discussion, I’d like to broach the topic with you:

A close, personal relationship with God (or Jesus)

This phrasing is so very prevalent in much of contemporary Christianity. You can hardly go to a church, retreat or Christian bookstore without hearing about this close, personal relationship that we are told is the heart of Christianity.

Here is my bias so you can understand why such phrasing concerns me: I am a copy editor at heart. I highly value accuracy. Second, I’m a strong proponent for sola Scriptura. It’s the primary guide we have in a world of fallible humans and changing culture. So if it isn’t explicitly in the Scripture, I’m wary of it.

In the second half of the 20th century (as far as I can tell), we developed the vernacular around this concept that we can have a close relationship with Jesus or God. (I think it might date back to this video. :) ) This idea was extrapolated from many verses such as John 15:15, Philippians 3:8, Psalm 59:16-17, and many others. We didn’t really have one succinct way to express these concepts, so we developed a vernacular around it that, while not necessarily being incorrect is also not found in the Bible. (There is no verse in the Bible that talks about having a close, personal relationship with Christ or God the Father in so many words.)

I see this shift in our focus as a positive balance away from a focus merely on outward piety to a focus on genuine belief.

But here is the crux of the matter: Now, several decades later, this vernacular has stuck more than the original Bible verses it was derived from. This is always troubling for this reason: Rather than beginning with Scripture and deriving our meaning from it, we begin with the concept, a close, personal relationship with Christ, and then approach the Scriptures to derive meaning out of them that fits within our pre-constructed framework. We are not coming to the Scriptures empty-handed to see what they might teach us; we are coming to the Scriptures pre-loaded with our thesis and looking for verses to support it.

Any scholar could tell you that this is bad scholarship. And it leaves us so very open to read the Scriptures based on our own current culture and worldview. [Read more...]

Problems with Premillenialism by Matthew Svoboda

I used to go back and forth between Amillennialism and Historic Premillennialism… Now, because of many of the reasons below I am seeing any form of Premillennialism as less and less of a viable option. I know that highly offends some people, but let’s be graceful and deal with the points I raise below.

1. Premillennials insist on a “literal interpretation” of Eschatological/apocalyptic literature. It is my belief that not only is this wrong, but they cannot even hold true to their own convictions. Premillennials want to take some of Revelation (chapter 20 for instance) literally, while they easily allow for other parts of Revelation to be interpreted symbolically. Revelation should have a balance of literal and symbolic- but it seems silly to me to be someone who always harps and insists on “literal” when, at times, you don’t think twice about interpreting symbolically. How about some consistency? According to biblical and non-biblical apocalyptic literature the genre demands symbolism. Most Premillennials simply do not do justice to Revelation when they insist on all of the literalism (especially since they don’t necessarily follow through on their own claims). To be fair- this isn’t every Premillennial. If someone is absolutely convinced that Revelation 20 occurs after Christ’s return I suggest Dr. Grant Osbornes commentary- he at least does justice to the symbolic nature of the book of Revelation.

As I will demonstrate in a few points below- when I deal with certain texts- that Premillennials want the “plain, straightforward, literal interpretation of Revelation 20,” yet, they reject a plain, straightforward, literal interpretation of many other New Testament texts that deal with Eschatology. So, Premills insist on a literal interpretation on apocalyptic literature, which is meant to be symbolic, and yet reject a straightforward reading of texts that are not apocalyptic. Obviously, no Premill will say that is what they do, but as I will demonstrate it seems to me that is exactly what they do. [Read more...]