Category Archives: Worldview

Bible Overview Series: Genesis

Genesis2

Genesis by Joseph Novak

Genesis: Under numberless stars an old man stands amazed; his wife cries out in the pain of childbirth, laughing.
(Ben Myers #CanonFodder Summary)

Book Summary Videos via The Bible Project:

Overview of Genesis by Jeffrey Kranz

The book of Genesis answers the question, “Where did all this come from?” Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and the first of the Penteteuch (the five books of Moses). Genesis is the story of how Israel began as a nation, but the author tells this story as a series of beginnings—starting with the creation of the universe (Gn 1:1) and narrowing down to one family: Israel’s.

Genesis opens with God creating the heavens and the earth, the stars, the plants, the animals, and humans: Adam and Eve. God places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but they rebel against God, introducing a curse of sin and death to the world.

Adam and Eve have children (including Cain and Abel), and those children have children. Eventually the human race becomes so violent that God sends a great flood to destroy the world, but He spares the only righteous man, Noah. Noah builds his famous ark to escape the floodwaters with his family (and many animals). After the waters recede, God promises to never again destroy the earth with a flood.

Hundreds of years later, God calls Noah’s descendant, Abram, to leave his family and journey to the land of Canaan. God promises to bless Abram with many descendants, and to bless all the nations of the world through him. Abram believes God’s promise, even though he is old and childless. God considers him to be righteous, and changes his name from Abram to Abraham. Later, Abraham has a son, Isaac.

Isaac dwells in the land of Canaan and has twin sons: Jacob and Esau.

Jacob grows up, tricks Esau into giving away his blessing, and then leaves town to live with his uncle Laban. He marries, has children, and lives with Laban for 20 years before God calls him back to Canaan. As Jacob returns to the land of Abraham and Isaac, his name is changed to Israel (35:9–12).

Israel has 12 sons, and young Joseph is his favorite. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and he becomes a prisoner in Egypt. His God-given ability to interpret dreams becomes valuable to the Pharaoh, however, and so Joseph is released from prison and made second in command of all Egypt. Joseph warns Pharaoh that a terrible famine is coming, and stockpiles food for the coming years.

Joseph’s predictions are correct: the famine reaches Canaan, and his brothers come to Egypt to buy food. The brothers reconcile, and Joseph provides for all the children of Israel to move to Egypt until the famine is over. The book of Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, whose last prediction is that God will bring the children of Israel back to the promised land. God begins fulfilling this in the next movement of the story: the book of Exodus.

Theme verse in Genesis

“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” —God to Abraham, Gn 17:7

Genesis’ role in the Bible

The stories in Genesis set the backdrop for vital theological principles in the rest of the Bible. In Genesis, we see how sin began, how God judges sin, and the beginnings of His work to redeem mankind.

Genesis also introduces Abraham, the ancestor of Israel through whom the whole world will be blessed. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the three chief patriarchs of the nation Israel (which gets its name from Jacob). Jacob’s sons and grandsons have their own families, which eventually become the 12 tribes of Israel.

Abraham believes God’s promises to him, and Abraham’s faith is reckoned to be righteousness (Gn 15:6)—that is, it satisfies God. The concept of righteousness by faith is repeated in the New Testament (Ro 10:10), and Paul states that all who share Abraham’s faith are the spiritual children on Abraham (Ga 3:6–9).

Genesis also sets forth several biblical themes that weave across the rest of the Bible:

  • God’s authority. God is the maker of all things, and He is sovereign over nature and humanity. We see His creative work in the first two chapters of Genesis, but we also see His sovereignty in choosing Abraham, blessing the Hebrews, and protecting Egypt from famine.
  • Man’s rebellion. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Eden, but that’s only the beginning. Cain presents an unacceptable sacrifice, the world becomes violent in the days of Noah, people construct the tower of Babel, and so on and so forth.
  • God’s judgment. God evicts Adam and Eve, He sends a flood to destroy the earth, and He rains fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 19). God is holy, and sin must be punished.
  • God’s preservation of life. God promises a descendant to Eve (Gn 3:15), He saves Noah’s family in an ark, He delivers Jacob from Esau’s wrath, and He allows Egypt to survive a harsh famine through Joseph’s wisdom.
  • Blood sacrifice. God skins animals to cover Adam and Eve after they sin (Gn 3:21), and He provides a ram for Abraham to take Isaac’s place (Gn 22). The blood sacrifice motif becomes far more prominent in the book of Leviticus.

It’s a grand book with many of the Bible’s most well-known stories, but it’s only the beginning.

Quick outline of Genesis

  1. The beginnings of all mankind (Gn 1:1–11:32)
  2. The beginnings of Israel (Gn 12–50)

Key terms in the book of Genesis

  • Covenant, promise, swear
  • Blessing
  • These are the records of . . .
  • Descendants
  • Land (especially the land of Canaan)
  • Sin, evil, wickedness

Key characters in the book of Genesis

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Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus?

One of my least favourite worship songs is Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth,
will grow strangely dim,
in the light of his glory and grace.

I understand what the song is trying to communicate: when we turn our eyes upon Jesus, what matters comes into focus, and what doesn’t fades into the background.  This is a popular sentiment found within much of the Christian sub-culture: the things of heaven matter, but the things of earth don’t.

That idea, however, is thoroughly dualistic and needs to be rejected, because it betrays a very fundamental Scriptural emphasis:

Becoming a Christian, and the process of learning what it means to “turn your eyes upon Jesus,” actually intensifies and sharpens our perspective of the things of heaven AND the things of earth. 

Like an Instagram filter, the gospel causes us to see everything differently–especially the “things of earth.”  We see…

Our lives differently,
Our jobs differently,
Our finances differently,
Our suffering differently,
Our relationships differently,
Our bodies differently,
Our responsibilities differently,
Our free time differently.

The beauty within this world becomes more acute.  But so does the world’s brokenness.   We see God breaking into the “now” in ways that we were blind to before, but we see overwhelming evidence of the “not yet”—both perspectives launching us into our mission to drive the gospel deeper into our hearts and scatter it into our neighbourhoods and communities.

When it comes to the things of heaven and the things of earth, Christians do not need to choose.  The answer, in Christ, is “yes!”

May I suggest this alteration?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face,
and the things of earth,
will grow clearer still,
in the light of his glory and grace.”

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The 10 Commandments of Work

If you haven’t yet heard of the exceptional Theology of Work project, it’s time you were introduced.

www.TheologyofWork.org produces materials that focus on “how the Christian life applies to ordinary work.” The aim of this project is so important.  I strongly believe the church needs to reclaim a grand vision of vocation that applies to all forms of work.  I believe Christians need to (re)discover how the “ordinary” (i.e. non-pastoral) work most Christians find themselves doing is critical to God’s redemptive story, and how their faith connects to those “ordinary” workplaces.

Recently, @TheoWorkProject posted some great reflections on how each of the Ten Commandments apply to the workplace.  You could probably read through them all in one sitting, but using them as a ten-day devotional may be a better idea.

The 10 Commandments of Work

 

 

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One-Minute Review: “Playing God” by Andy Crouch

Just finished reading Playing God by Andy Crouch.

Here’s my one-minute review:

 Capture

 

“What’s ‘Playing God’ all about?”
Playing God is a book that explores the complex issue of power; its uses, abuses, and potential for redemption.  Crouch’s overall thesis is that power is a gift from God that should neither be uncritically embraced nor fearfully avoided by Christians.  True power, Crouch believes, holds tremendous redemptive potential when channeled through humanity’s deepest calling to be image-bearers of the true God.  Playing God explores how corrupt and abusive  power is always rooted in idolatry and injustice, while making it clear that Scripture provides us with an understanding of power that can lead to life and flourishing for all.

“Should I read it?”
Maybe.  Given my personal passion for the topic (I devoted an entire chapter of my book Mere Disciple to the topic of power!),  as well as the depth and breadth of Andy’s insights on this topic, I wish I could offer a yes without hesitation.  However, Playing God is not a light read.  It’s very dense in parts, and I’m not sure it’s quite as accessible as I would have liked.  While Crouch does a remarkable job of dealing with a spectrum of issues tied to power, I’m not sure if Playing God would be a good starting point for someone looking to wade into the immensely important topic of power and our use of it.  I would never discourage anyone from reading through Playing God, but if you pick it up just realize that it’s going to feel like work some of the time.  That’s not the end of the world, but I could see some people not having the fortitude to push through some of the more philosophically dense chapters, and deciding to leave Playing God unread.  Which would be a shame, because Playing God offers inspiring, uncommon, and dynamic insights into how Christians in all spheres of life should understand and use power.

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How To Set Goals For 2014

As we move into 2014, many of us have already landed on one or two goals/resolutions for the upcoming year.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the cultural swell of wanting to do and be better for the New Year, and I think the New Year’s resolutions tide is one that Christians shouldn’t fight.

“Well I haven’t set any goals Jeff.  I kind of think goals are lame.  Do you really think Christians should set goals and resolutions? “

Yes.  Setting goals is an incredibly important part of life.  I’m always concerned when I meet people without goals.  What that tells me is that they’ve become completely comfortable with the way things are (internally and externally).  That’s not a good place to be in as a disciple of Jesus.

Goals reflect ambition, and ambition is a good thing.  Ambition is the desire to do and be better.  While ambition can certainly be twisted towards self-serving, sinful, and unhealthy ends, the solution is not to quell ambition.  Ambition (like every human desire) should not be deadened, but redirected to an expression that honours and glorifies God.  Godly ambition can be a tremendous force for good and God, and ought to be a something that every Christian cultivates.

“10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:10-14

“I want,” “I press on,” “straining toward what is ahead,” “I press on toward the goal to win…”

Sounds pretty ambitious to me.

So yes, you really do need to set goals for your life as a disciple of Jesus.  Goals are a declaration against the status quo.  Without them your growth in Christ will be inconsistent and negligible.

 

“Ok, so I should set some goals.  Where do I start?”

Jesus said that the most important thing we could do in this life was to learn to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:28-31).    Over the past five years I’ve used Jesus’ command as a template for discipleship.  The goals I set, and the goals I encourage others to set, come out of this discipleship model.

Using the categories of Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength are very helpful when it comes to setting goals because together they form a holistic vision for discipleship.  Setting goals in each area ensures I’m taking steps to give Jesus claim to and authority within every dimension of my life as I seek to live for him.

Heart goals help me focus on how I’m intentionally living out the way of Jesus in community with others.

Soul goals help me establish rhythms of rest, reflection, prayer, and worship that are critical to spiritual vibrancy.

Mind goals help me stay rooted in God’s Word and deepen my Christian worldview across a number of areas.

Strength goals prevent me from simply consuming spiritual calories, and force me to make sure I’m exercising my faith through serving and giving sacrificially.

If you haven’t set any discipleship goals for 2014 yet, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and write down some ideas that come out of the following questions:

 

  1. Heart: “How could I challenge myself to build strong, healthy, godly  relationships in 2014?”
  2. Soul: “What prayer, reflection, and/or Sabbath-keeping goals do I need to set so that I live with greater presence and purpose in 2014?”
  3. Mind: “How could I engage the Word of God everyday in a sustainable way that would help me deepen my understanding of the Bible and its implications for my life?”
  4. Strength: “What goals could I set in the areas of serving and giving that would push me beyond my comfort zone and lead to greater blessing for others?”

Jot down some ideas for each area and consider committing to one goal for the areas of Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength respectively.

It’s important to challenge yourself to adopt one goal in each area, because Jesus calls us to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength–not or strength.  While we each have a spiritual love language that comes more naturally to us, spiritual transformation in Christ comes only when we seek to grow in all of these areas.

Get to it!

Tomorrow I’ll post my own goals for the areas of Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.

 

 

 

 

 

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Prayer As Incubator

Personally, I’ve always struggled with prayer.  It’s not my spiritual love language (in fact, it may be my weakest!), and that’s led to prayer being associated predominantly with dullness instead of vitality for me personally.  I know prayer is something I ought to do, but it’s not something I often find myself wanting to do.

Despite my own weak and shabby prayer life, I can’t help but notice how prayer seems to be on the rise within Grindstone over the last year or so.  I can’t remember a time when people have been more interested in coming together to pray.  It’s definitely exciting, because the more I learn about prayer the more excited I get for how God is going to use this new hunger within our church and the communities we’re a part of.

One of my favourite windows into Jesus’ prayer life is found in Luke 5:16, where we read that Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  That one verse has really pushed me to rethink my own prayer rhythms and what they reveal about the state of my heart and my discipleship to Jesus.  If Jesus often withdrew to lonely (i.e. wilderness) places and prayed, in what sense can I call myself a follower of his Way when I seldom withdraw to lonely places and pray?

I recently taught on Jesus’ transfiguration found in Luke chapter 9.  I was specifically mining the passage for insights into the nature and purpose of prayer.  After several readings a metaphor jumped out at me that instantly helped me understand prayer in a way that was both new and exciting: Prayer is an incubator for spiritual growth, vibrancy, and power.

An incubator is an enclosed apparatus in which premature or unusually small babies are placed and which provides a controlled and protective environment for their growth and development.  It’s a place or situation that permits or encourages proper formation and maturation.

As I thought through the metaphor of prayer as incubator, holding it in my head alongside Jesus’ transfiguration, I began to see several ways in which this passage highlights how prayer acts as an incubator which God uses to do something in, through, and for us that would not be possible outside of the posture of prayer.

Over the next few days I’m going to post some thoughts about how the disciples’ encounter with Jesus in Luke 9 reveals how prayer is:

  1. An incubator for Intimacy
  2. An incubator for Identity
  3. An incubator for Mission
  4. An incubator for the Miraculous
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The Best Sermon on Love and Lust I’ve Ever Heard

One of the things that has served me well has been my habit of listening to 2-3 Timothy Keller sermons a week over the past year.  My practice is to listen to one sermon after another until I’ve worked my way through all 74, and then start over again.

At times, however, I come across one of Keller’s messages that is so good, I stay with it for a few days, listening to it repeatedly.  Last week I listened to Keller’s message “Love and Lust,” and have had it set to repeat every since.

I can say without hesitation is it the single best sermon I’ve ever heard on the topic.  In fact, it’s the single best “go to” resource on the topic I’ve ever come across.  I cannot imagine anyone who would not profoundly benefit from listening to it.

Do yourself a favour and download Love and Lust today (it’s free!).

Here’s the sermon’s description:

The Bible presents a more attractive and comprehensive view of sexuality than is generally understood.  The headings explored in this sermon include the integrity of sex, the challenge of lust, and the future of love.

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Is the (Institutional) Church Worth Fighting For?

Over the past few weeks I’ve encountered a number of people wrestling with the question of whether the church is worth fighting for. The “church” in question is the local, institutional expression of church, and not the “church” in the disembodied, cosmic, everyone-who-belongs-to-Jesus sense.

On the affirmative side of discussion, I found a few articles really encouraging. Brian Jones’ article reminds us that the church is a whore, but she is our mother. Matt Erickson shares why he’s not giving up on church. And Matt Pamplin’s most recent message really convicted me that I’ve spent too much of my life whining and complaining about the church, and precious little time investing in it to God’s glory.

As a pastor, I encounter the “I’m committed to Jesus/the kingdom/God’s mission, but not the [institutional] church” perspective consistently.  To be honest, however,  I find this talking point increasingly grating and tiresome.  Maybe it’s a lack of patience on my part.  Maybe now that I’m part of the “institution,” I just don’t get it.   Maybe I’m blind to the horrific injustices that a commitment to a local, kingdom-pursuing congregation perpetuate.

Maybe.

But maybe not.

Maybe I’m just realizing that the false (but convenient) dichotomy between Jesus/the kingdom/God’s mission and the “institutional church” is simply lazy and shallow.

Maybe I’m just finding the rejection of all things “institutional”  increasingly naive, short-sighted, and self-serving.

Maybe I’ve come to see just how seductive, insidious, and destructive a privatized Christian faith  outside of community is for all of us.

Maybe as someone who is passionate about discipleship, I see little evidence that a church-less Christian can thrive in this calling, despite their best intentions.

Maybe I’m just finding it increasingly vapid to position oneself as a follower of Jesus while simultaneously removing oneself from the only ekklesia dedicated to proclaiming and teaching the gospel of Jesus.

***

I think the institutional, local ekklesia of God is worth fighting for.  I think we’re kidding ourselves if we believe faith can flourish (and more importantly, mature) outside of a commitment to a rag-tag group of Christians trying to seriously (but imperfectly) live out the calling of Jesus together.

Yes, committing to a local church is difficult and demanding.  It will demand that you learn to forgive.  It will be difficult as you learn to pray for the enemies who sit in the same worship space as you.  It will demand that you invest time into relationships that offer little return on investment.  It will be difficult to portion a significant amount of the money God has entrusted you with.

I wonder if we assume these difficulties and demands are the very things Jesus intends to save us from?  If so, it will be a bitter pill to swallow when we discover that these are the difficulties and demands he’s saving us into.

***

If I’m serious about serving God’s agenda in the world and not my own, then I better figure out how to serve within a local, institutional church.  A commitment to a local church is, I believe, one of the few things powerful enough to heal us from our sinful self-absorption.   Yes, God doesn’t “need” the institutional church, but He seems heaven-bent on using it as the primarily conduit through which the gospel is proclaimed and fleshed out.  Speaking as someone who was part of the “down with the church, up with Jesus” movement, I cannot begin to quantify just how stunted my Christian growth was during times when I saw it as heroic and revolutionary to use the brick in my hand as a weapon of destruction/deconstruction instead of a tool for rebuilding/restoration.

***

It’s time to stop using the imperfections of the church to justify non-participation.  Discipleship to Jesus demands that we fight for the church by serving and loving Christ within the church.  Anything less is cowardly and selfish.

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What Is God’s Will For My Life?

David Platt has a great, concise response to the question, “what is God’s will for my life?” over at Relevant.

Platt does an excellent job of undercutting the presupposition undergirding this question.  Namely, that God’s will is something hidden and hard to find.

Setting aside Scripture for a moment, the idea that God’s will is something hidden betrays common sense.  If God desires and wills something…why would he not make it as clear as possible?  Why would he “hide it under a bushel”?  Why not reveal it in a shockingly clear and obvious way?

That’s exactly what we find God doing within Scripture!  In a sermon a few years ago (“Calling” from 08/21/2011), I tried to show that Scripture clearly and consistently reveals to us what God’s will is.  If you don’t have time to listen to the message, Platt’s gives you the TL;DL (Too Long; Didn’t Listen) summation in his article:

This is God’s will in the world: to create, call, save and bless His people for the spread of His grace and glory among all peoples. This will is not intended to be found; it is intended to be followed. We don’t have to wonder about God’s will when we’ve been created to walk in it. We have no need to ask God to reveal His will for our lives; instead, we each ask God to align our lives with the will He has already revealed.

“This will is not intended to be found; it is intended to be followed.”  That, for me, is the crux of the matter.  Could it be that our questions surrounding God’s will for our lives are often a way of avoiding being faithful and obedient to what God has made abundantly clear in Scripture?

But that question begs another: are we engaging God’s Word–and the gospels in particular–in such a way that we know what God has made clear?  I’m not sure how much of a difference engaging questions like, “What is God’s will for my life?” will make if we’re not.

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The (Anti-Gospel) Ethos of Fundamentalism

I’m presently reading Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. In chapter 5 (“Gestures and Postures”) Crouch traces the development of American fundamentalism and its failed attempt to be a gospel witness.  This failure, Crouch argues, came largely through fundamentalism’s condemnation of culture and its attempt to retreat into its own sub-culture.  In his summative remarks, Crouch identifies two elements within the ethos of fundamentalism that persist within too many churches and too many Christians:

1.  For fundamentalists, the idea of Christian holiness “came to be closely associated with negative choices–avoiding cultural activities like dancing or going to the movies.  I did not grow up in or near fundamentalist Christianity, but friends who did remember plenty of sermons about the dangers of the world, but none about the delights of the world.  Their unspoken assumption was that ‘the culture’ was something distinguishable from their own daily life and enterprises, something that could be withdrawn from, rejected and condemned.” (Crouch, p. 85)

2.  The fundamentalist’s basic posture is, therefore, “one of suspicion and condemnation toward any human activity not explicitly justified on biblical grounds and engaged in by fully converted Christians.” (Crouch, p. 85)

I believe the gospel radically frees us from this uninspired vision of “holiness” and truncated posture of suspicion and withdrawal.

When we grasp the gospel in its fullness, we begin the journey of becoming fully alive. As that journey deepens, God’s holiness comes to be defined not only by what God is not (i.e. sinful), but increasingly by what God is (i.e. beauty, love, grace, goodness, etc.).  My pursuit of holiness, therefore, comes to be increasingly defined as my growing into God’s goodness, beauty, grace and love, and not merely my growing out of sinful decisions and habits.

And as I deepen my awareness of God’s unfolding New Creation project being accomplished in and through Jesus and the church–and as I come to see my life as being intimately linked to this divine agenda–my posture becomes one in which I increasingly recognize that:

…there are “books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” This posture towards reality allows those with a biblical, non-dualistic worldview to fearlessly explore truth and open themselves up to any insight that has been “received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4–5).  From this perspective, all dimensions of learning [cultural engagement] and truth-seeking become an act of worship, not just those done within the margins of Scripture. (Mere Disciple, p. 34-35)

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