Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The What and Why of Membership

Church membership is often a sticky subject. So naturally, when we encourage people to take our Identity class and a requirement for membership - the question gets asked, why membership?

I think there are two concerns behind the question. 

The first is that membership is not a biblical concept. The thought is that if a subject does not appear in the Bible than it is either not a biblical concept or that the Bible has nothing to say about it. Therefore, one does not need to be a member of a church in order to honor God. Membership then is a foreign idea to faithful Christianity and thus not required but just traditional "religion."

There are a lot of subjects the Bible does not appear to talk about - dating for example. But to conclude the Bible has nothing profitable to say about it is to read it very narrowly. This usually is a statement from ignorance, not from careful study. Additionally, what we believe and do as Christians is also the result of 2000 years of believers' experience of salvation in Christ. There is 2000 years of material of believers who have wrestled with the implications of the gospel. Good theology draws the implications of the gospel not just from the Bible but from the history of the church.

Careful examination of the New Testament reveals the first Christians clearly knew who was a part of the church and who was not (Acts 20, Eph 2, 1 Cor 12, 1 Tim 3). When Paul refers to the "whole church" the leaders must have had a way of knowing if everyone was there or not and whether they were a real member (1 Cor. 14:23). Numerous passages that give commands to how all people should be treated also include language that says, "especially among those of the household of faith," (Gal. 6:10). Passages that talk about expelling someone due to egregious sin must have been formal members who were expected to live otherwise (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5). The reality is, in the New Testament, there is no such thing as a Christian who is not a member of a local church. In the early church after the New Testament was written, they probably became more strict about membership not less, especially in times of persecution since some members sold others out to protect themselves. The question was whether someone who denied Christ and betrayed fellow believers to death could be received back into the church. Suffice to say, it required some serious repentance and reconciliation. The bottom line is to not participate in the life of a body of believers is to not participate in the life of the head of the church, Jesus Christ. God has ordained that Christ operates by his Spirit through the local church. Being a member of a local church is part of what it means to be faithful to God.

The second objection is a fear - a fear that membership is a means of controlling people or of being legalistic and imposing a certain way of living the Christian life on others. Some people I have known object to membership because they have simply been burned by other churches or believers. They do not want to be hurt and they do not want someone to lack grace in helping them with their own temptations and struggles. This is where I think the obligation of pastors, elders, leaders within the church to care for the flock well, to serve people with love, grace, truth, and mercy is imperative (1 Pet. 5). It is not to "lord it over them." It is not to control church members but to be a vehicle for helping people experience freedom and love in Christ. I think some fear that if they are not a member they will experience more grace in their battles with sin than if they were a member and accountable to other people. They won't be vulnerable to being judged and criticized. Sometimes sheep bite and they bite hard. Some of these concerns are legitimate but to abandon community for fear of being wounded comes with the price of abandoning love which requires community.

Biblically, the lone ranger Christian is not better off but worse off. To commit oneself to a body of believers is actually to have greater access to God's grace through his Spirit among his people. In the Old Testament the greatest form of judgment was to be "cut off" from the covenant people of God (Gen. 17:14; Lev. 7:27; and many others). In the New Testament Paul speaks of believers leaving the body has being "handed over to Satan" (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 5:20). The reality is, if you want help to grow in your faith and experience more help and grace in your battle with sin, the best thing to do is to commit to being a member of a local church. We all need community and we can't just have any community. We need a community that embodies the faith, hope, and love of Jesus.

Membership then is simply to admit you need others to help be a better disciple of Jesus. It is to formally commit and covenant with God and others to love him and people better. It is to admit you cannot do it on your own and you need a place to find mercy, grace, freedom, and love in Christ. Membership is important then for us to be unified body of believers, to be a faithful people, to submit ourselves to others as we submit ourselves to Christ. Membership is therefore not something foreign to the Bible, but something that couldn't be more biblical.

For more helpful articles on this subject check out the following links:

Pastor Chris

Previewing Spring Classes at Dwell

Beginning in January we will have a new round of classes prior to our first service. We will have two rounds of them from January through May with breaks in-between.

January 5th through March 16th

Identity 1.0
This is a class we require for membership but one does not have to commit to being a member to take it. In the class we cover major beliefs of Christians with a focus on ours in particular. I have always had fun with this one and it has been one of our most popular classes. This is mostly a theology class with a little bit of an overview of our approach to ministry towards the end. We address topics like the Trinity, Incarnation, the church, sacraments, Bible, Sin, Salvation, and Eschatology (heaven, hell, new heavens and earth).

Catholic Epistles
This is what we call all the letters not written by Paul - James, Hebrews, 1-3 John, 1-2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation. Over the course of two months all of them will be covered and most of them only in one day. Hebrews and Revelation will get a little more treatment. This is a great one to drop in on a particular day if you are preparing for personal study, leading a small group or discipleship relationships through any one of these books.

March 30th through May 25th

Identity 2.0
This will be a new one I have had it in my mind to do. Some have asked for a follow up to Identity. So this is part of my response. Traditionally, many Christians in history have done a "what we believe" training for believers (Identity 1.0) and then a "how should we live" training (Identity 2.0). This class will basically walk through the 10 commandments, always with an eye to the gospel, but how the gospel enables us to live in manner worthy of the Lord. This is a class on Christian ethics. We will discuss lots of "hot topics." Sexuality, bioethics, consumerism, family issues, birth control, work, human life from cradle to grave. Should be quite interesting. I've got some serious preparing to do!

Early Israel
The second round of overview of books in the Bible will cover Joshua, Ruth, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel. We may move on to the Pentateuch (Gen.-Deut.) after that. It just depends on how the schedule and whats going on with our church. We may do something totally different for a few weeks.

Looking forward to it. If you are interested in any of these you can contact me or the church office.

-Pastor Chris

From Pastor Jason: Three Things to Look Forward to at Dwell in 2014

  1. Understanding and Using Your Gifts. As a leadership team we’ve learned a lot about our church in the past year. Particularly through the Natural Church Development assessment, we’ve discovered our collective need to understand and use our personal gifts. So this year I hope each of us will not only be able to say “I know how God has uniquely gifted me” but also “I am using those gifts to honor Jesus and love our church community.” More details will be coming at our Family Meeting on Sunday, January 26th at Noon
  2. The Bible. In 2014 I want to see everyone grow in their understanding and appetite for the Word. And so we will be organizing a church-wide reading plan and memorizing Scripture together. Each month we will produce a reading plan that will guide us through the Bible, two chapters a day. Additionally I encourage everyone to memorize a few key passages that we will be studying this year. We’ll add a verse a week so hopefully it will be an easy pace for those of us who don’t memorize very often. 
  3. The Same Ole’ Thing. I know exciting, right? But think about it. This is a brilliant truth about Jesus and his gospel and our mission … it stays the same every day, every week, every month, and every year. Though we hope to grow more and more in our understanding and faithfulness to these truths, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This ought to give us a great sense of confidence as another year begins. 

  • This Saturday at 10am, help out with taking down Christmas decorations...you WILL be rewarded with pizza!  
  • Church work day is coming up January 18th. If you like tearing down, ripping up, organizing and giving away, then we hope to see you there. More details soon. 
  • Family Meeting - Sunday, January 26th at noon, immediately following our service. Food and family business, praising God for the year that was, and looking ahead at 2014. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

January Bible Reading Plan

January 1st is the day to kick-off our church Bible reading plan.

We will have this again in your bulletins this coming Sunday, January 5th, but so you can easily access it online, we will be posting them each month on the blog! 

As Jason mentioned this past Sunday, Bible reading and memorization are more than just rote activities to fill our time; they are life-giving disciplines! As it says in Isaiah 55:10-11: 

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

May the Word of the Lord accomplish his purpose in you as you seek Him in study this year.
Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Three Great Christmas Passages

May God speak to you and your family of his Son through his Word this Christmas. Here are three great passage to reflect on this week …
  • Isaiah 9:1-7
    • "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given … “ (v.6)
  • Luke 2:1-21
    • "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (v.20)
  • John 1:1-18
    • "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (v.14)
Merry Christmas Church!

Peace ...
Pastor Jason

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Top 5 Books I read this year

I read a lot of good stuff this year but I did not read as much as I have in recent years. But I will give a few that really stick out to me (in no particular order).

1) Center Church, by Tim Keller

I started this book last December and finished it very quickly. But our Elder Board has been working through it together this year. I simply can't think of a better book out there on how to think through what faithful ministry should look like where you live. It is aimed at pastors and is basically a textbook so it is comprehensive. It will be a common resource for us sometime. His insights on contextualization, the church and culture, and the "missional church" are fantastic. Pretty much everything I have been wrestling with in ministry for the last five years is found in this one book.

2) The Cross of Christ, by John Stott

A modern classic on the subject of the atonement. Easy enough for anyone (in that it isn't bogged down by complicated jargon) but it is very dense. A must read when trying to think through what is meant by the claim "Christ died for our sins."

This book is the main reason why I didn't read a lot more this year because it was a monster. It deals with one of the biggest problems in our day - interpretation. He is funny, quirky, exhaustive, and precise. But this is by no means an easy read. Anyone who studied literary criticism or was bombarded by postmodern philosophy in college would benefit greatly from it.

4) Everyday Church, by Steve Chester and Tim Timmis

I am now using this book as training for our group leaders. Its simple, clear, and avoids some of the extremes among "missional church" guys. In some ways this book is Christianity 101, but it does depth and great questions to ask yourself, and your group, if you really are doing what you ought to be doing. We have a bunch of copies in the church lobby if you want to check it out.

I can't decide between the two so I will cheat and recommend 6 books and call five by using a tie (annoying I know). The first ought to be a must read because so many struggle with finding satisfaction in their work today. In some ways, work is the major idol of our day (definitely in Silicon Valley) because it is one of the primary ways we try to create meaning for our lives in a secular culture. This book is just good. We had a great time walking through it in our Faith and Work class.

The second, Redemption, is a very pastoral book in that it gently, lovingly, walks you through overcoming serious wounds and sins in your life. I really enjoyed it and am hoping and praying to have a group in our church walk through it in the future as a part of Redemption Groups for those struggling with abuse, pornography, eating disorders, or whatever else is preventing you from living life to its fullest in Christ.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Science and Faith at odds? Books and comments

Last month in our brief series on the Bible, I attempted to address the conflict so prevalent in modern society between science and faith (my sermon can be found here). I wanted to simply follow up, give a few basic resources for people to check out, and to attempt to clearly state the fundamental problem between science and faith.

Let me start with the fundamental problem. The problem is an issue of knowledge. Is scientific knowledge the only kind of knowledge that is trustworthy? Is religious knowledge purely subjective and therefore personal, unverifiable, and unscientific? This falls under the subject of epistemology. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, it is the philosophical subject of how we know what we know. Therefore, the debate between science and faith is ultimately an epistemological problem. The focus in the debate almost always revolves around the issue of evolution. Over time I have essentially focused on that issue less and less, because it is not the primary problem but a manifestation of the primary problem.

Virtually any book that seeks to defend Christianity against its critics addresses this problem of knowledge. What is frequently pointed out is that scientific knowledge has limits and is not as objective as it seems. It is merely pointing out the assumptions about the claim that the only legitimate knowledge is that which can be observed through natural phenomenon. In other words, the belief that we cannot know anything that cannot be subjected to a scientific test. Among several arguments I tried to give (however successfully) is that scientific knowledge must assume a rational order to the natural world. This is a philosophical assumption necessary for science to work. Science itself is a subcategory of philosophy and epistemology. It is not something that can be proven through a scientific experiment. But it is a faith commitment necessary to support science, and a highly rational one. Faith is a means to knowledge, as Augustine famously said, "I believe in order to understand."

Personally, I go for a view that science and Christianity are compatible and can reinforce one another. Be careful when drawing conclusions on my opinion of the theory of evolution from that.

There are numerous books that address these issues in much more detail and with great clarity. Alvin Plantinga is one of the most prominent but his stuff is very academic (even worse is my preference, T.F. Torrance). There are also numerous books that address specific issues. So let me give three accessible ones I have read.

Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress
This is the first one I would recommend because it is clear, has good introduction, and attempts to address lots of specific issues (even carbon dating). My main reservation is that he makes significant use of an analogical view of the natural world to matters of God and faith. Analogical views have limitations and people as Reformed as Poythress sometimes avoid them altogether (which makes me think he is simply trying to make the concepts easier to digest).

Reason for God by Tim Keller
This is a general apologetics book that has a couple of chapters relevant to this topic. They are very clear and easy enough to work through. He cites all the best sources on both sides. Keller is a bit non-committal on whether evolution is compatible with Christian theism. He does think evolution as the "grand theory of everything" is a serious problem that should challenged.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
This book addresses more of the worldview issues and the reasons why our culture has divided science and faith. Nancy is a part of L'Abri, which is the ministry founded by Francis Schaffer. She spends a significant amount of time critiquing evolution. What is good about this book stylistically is that it is has lots of personal stories. She even talks about how she helps her children at a young age process this stuff. But it's still a meaty book.

I hope you find my insights and these resources helpful in your quest for clarity on this subject.

For more detailed information you can check out these links. I am giving a variety of links with opposing views on the issue of evolution. There is good and bad in all of these.
http://biologos.org (pro-evolution) http://www.icr.org (anti-evolution)
http://www.discovery.org (Intelligent Design people, a diverse group of people who are not all Christians but many are, mostly scientists who question evolution's dominance as the only view)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Worship Jesus

This is such a great time of year. It’s impossible not to get wrapped up in the lights, sweets, and that old, old story of Jesus and his love. Hearing the story of Christmas, of Jesus' arrival on planet earth, of the coming of God’s Son is the great anthem of the holiday season. That story never gets old, does it? Ah, but it can grow familiar. The story can and often does move to a place of personal comfort. In other words we can get so used to hearing a message that we no longer really hear it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Reclaiming Peace this Christmas

Every year a word gets stolen from Jesus. Around Christmastime “peace” is highjacked from the narrative and mashed into the annual context, creating warm feeling inside for many Christmas patrons. You’ve probably noticed. Days after Thanksgiving friends and television shows and movies start using the word peace and sometimes more exactly “peace on earth” in equal fashion with terms like “cheer”, “merry”, and “the Christmas spirit”. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Expecting Jesus

Expectations have a snowball effect. You know what I mean? The longer a snowball rolls down a hill, the faster it goes and the bigger it gets. When I am waiting for something or anticipating something, the longer I have to wait the more powerful my expectations become. Sometimes this means I get more excited. Other times it means I am growing increasingly anxious, worried, or nervous. What I’ve discovered, regardless if I am expecting a big test, a doctor’s visit, or Christmas Day is that the more prepared I am the more pleasurable my expectations. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Every Gift Points Us to Jesus

It never failed. At some point, after football had been played, turkey had been passed around and devoured, but before the pecan pie had been enjoyed (pronounced “p-can” by the way), my mom or dad would break our Thanksgiving momentum. As I’m sure is the habit of many of your families, before dessert could be enjoyed we were invited to share one thing from the previous year for which we were thankful. It could be anything. A new bike. A new discovery. Or the simple ongoing blessing of family, health, and western democracy (every kid loves democracy, right?). You know what I’m talking about. At first it was frustrating–I just wanted some pie. But despite my pecan pangs this tradition always took on special meaning and life.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Books & Blogs for Helpful content on the reliability of the Bible

On how the books of the Bible made it into the canon:
FF Bruce, The Canon of Scripture

    This is a classic book that essentials walks chronologically through how the Bible came about. The last three chapters are the most important and where he gives his conclusions in light of the evidence. The rest in merely an overview from Moses to the present day. Despite being 20 years old and dated areas and more recent debates in scholarship, it is still a very good book.

Michael Kruger, Canon Revisited

   This is a more recent book that addresses different interpretations on how the Canon came to be. It gives more detail than Bruce on the basic content of some disputed works and early debates surrounding them. His argument is that the canon is self-authenticating but he still uses the tried and true criteria of "apostolic, catholic, and orthodox."

Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels

    This book was recently updated and one of the best out there on the subject. Jason and I studied under Blomberg but that isn't why we recommend this book. We recommend it, because its excellent scholarship. Blomberg is always fair and clear. He goes over many issues like supposedly contradictory passages but his main concern is demonstrating the gospels do present an accurate view of who Jesus really was.

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses

    I have heard this one is really good, and if serious scholars who question the truth of the gospels respect it - it must be good.

One of the foremost experts on NT manuscripts these days is Dan Wallace.
    This is a great summary article of the major issues and some great recommendations for introductory books on the subject.

Dan Wallace also has an extensive blog that goes into a TON of nitty gritty.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

From Pastor Jason: It's About to Get Crazy

Are you feeling it yet? I know I am. It’s November 19th. That means it’s almost Thanksgiving … Christmas … and then the new year. Yikes. It seems like right around the last week of November life kicks into warp speed. At Dwell there will be great opportunities to love our city, the CRC and Saratoga Subacute, and the folks in our gospel groups. Not to mention all the activities, traditions, and delicious meals there will be to enjoy with friends and family. And I’m sure things even pick-up at some of the places you all work. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Five More Questions from "The Good News and Marriage"

A few weeks ago I spoke about marriage, the gospel, and how the church ought to love and consider our LGBTQ neighbors and friends. In response I took your questions. The first five questions and answers can be found here ... the second set of five questions and answers are below. Thanks so much for your thoughtful questions about an extremely important subject. Let me know if you have any follow-up thoughts or questions!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

From Pastor Jason: A Few Big Thank Yous

Thank you to all those helped with another incredibly successful and generous evening of Harvest Carnival festivities. It was so good to watch you all love on our city.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From Pastor Jason: A Couple Updates

Thank you all so very much for all the congratulatory texts, cheerful Facebook comments, and most of all your prayers. Laura, Glori, and I were thrilled to have welcomed Jedidiah David Helveston into the world on Sunday morning (8:30 AM, 7 lbs 12.8 ounces, and 20 inches). I am also grateful that my son chose to show up on a Sunday when the Forty-Niners had a bye. Laura is doing very well and we're still not sure if Glori thinks she is now a big sister or a mommy. All answers to our prayers. Our hearts are full. Thanks for all the ways you have been in it all with us. Can’t wait for Jeddy to meet the Dwell family!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

10 Reasons Why You Need to Go to the Integrating Faith and Work Class

This Sunday we will begin a six week class on Integrating Faith and Work. The class will loosely follow Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor but it will also draw from some other great resources like Os Guinness' The Call and Andy Crouch's Culture Making.  The class begins at 9:30a in the small fellowship hall downstairs. But let me tell you why you should go.

1) You work too much
The pressures to work A LOT are great in Silicon Valley. This is the case for most of us, which means we have little margin for personal pursuits.

2) You don't work enough
Maybe because you can't find a job or maybe because you are giving minimal effort for a job you barely like.

3) You tend to think your job and your faith are not related
Is there anything really that the Bible has to say about a basic job where you punch in and punch out? What about a basic corporate job in tech where you are not faced with major ethical issues like in politics, medicine, or education? There is PLENTY that can be said.

4) You think you are going to change the world
Careful Google. Last I checked, God has the copyright on omniscience. But what does that mean on a day to day basis?

5) You think your company is revolutionizing the industry and how we live
Maybe it is. The iPhone has been a game changer but what does that mean for human flourishing?

6) You struggle with how beneficial your company's products are for humanity
Is it only missionaries and pastors that do work for the kingdom? Technology, and in particular software development, seem so disconnected from their effects on people. Is there really anything significant about that kind of work?

7) You think increasing profit is the most important way to serve your company
Profit margins are very important, but are there other ways to serve your company, investors, and God beyond a successful business?

8) You think the best way to honor God is evangelizing your coworkers
It isn't. Shocking I know. Come to the class.

9) You think being a good employee is all there is to it
It is nothing less than that but ought there be something distinctive about being a Christian at your particular job?

10) Because I am teaching it
And I get really discouraged when people don't show up for my classes. Sensitive, I know.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Four Things You Need to Know, Right Now

ONE | Harvest Carnival. You know it, you love it, and it’s here once again. Our annual Harvest Carnival is coming, this Thursday on October 31st (aka Reformation Day). Come, bring your friends, serve our neighbors, and enjoy a great night of games and candy. If you have questions or need more information, check out this page on our website.

Friday, October 25, 2013

10 Reasons Why You Should Go to the Overview of Minor Prophets Class

1) You wish you knew your Bible better.
Have you thought to yourself, "I wish I knew the Bible as well as they do."? Perhaps you have read the whole Bible but you really didn't study it or understand a lot of it. A brief survey over a book of the Bible is precisely what is done in seminaries to train people for ministry.

2) Having a basic outline of a book greatly enhances personal study and reflection
When I was in seminary we often had to memorize outlines for exams. At the time many of us felt like this was a silly exercise but in hindsight, nothing has helped me more in understanding the whole thrust of a book of the Bible. Outlines help you remember where passages are. They help you wrestle with the central themes of the book and the flow of thought so you can keep CONTEXT in mind when looking at a single verse.

3) Knowing the major themes of a book helps to understand its message and application
Every book in the Bible is written for particular circumstances and people. Paul does not use the word "works" in the same way James does. John uses contrasts like light and dark. An overview class helps you identify the major themes and how they may apply today.

4) You would like to more a more in-depth study but don't know where to begin
Included in our overview class is recommended commentaries and other resources that may help you probe a book more further.

5) You need a better understanding of how the parts fit into the whole
Many people may be familiar with certain verses or phrases in the Bible but they neglect knowing the context of that verse. Additionally, it is often difficult to see how a particular book contributes to the whole message of the Bible. An overview helps to explain why God gave us books like Nahum, Daniel, or Habakuk.

6) You don't have time to go through the whole Bible in a reasonable amount of time
The Bible is worthy of a lifetime of study and worthy dedicating time to parse every word for spiritual benefit. At the same time, a brief overview can be just as spiritually beneficial and in some cases better. A person can parse every word as lose sight of the forest for the trees.

7) You have never studied the Minor Prophets
Admit it. You never have. Christians these days are woefully ignorant of this portion of scripture.

8) John Lunsford is a good teacher
There are a lot of wonderful wise saints that sit in his class no matter how many times they have heard it before. It is always fresh and engaging. Get to know one of our elders and the older wiser saints in the class.

9) It will bring clarity to how God was working redemptively then and setting the stage for the coming of Jesus

10) You need to be reminded we are Israel, our society is Israel who have wandered and rebelled against God.
Only the arrogant and foolish think there are not things to be learned and sanctified by in the Minor Prophets. There is hope, but you cannot appreciate the hope if you don't work through all the horrible sin that the bulk of the prophets focus on. God's judgment always has redemptive aims but you can't appreciate it if you are not in touch with your flesh still waging war against your soul.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Questions and Answers from "The Good News and Marriage"

On Sunday I preached on "The Good News and Marriage." Prior to Sunday I understood this particular subject would be impossible to appropriately cover in a single morning. So I thought it would be helpful to ask you, the good folks of Dwell, what sorts of questions came to mind during the sermon. I ventured to answer ten questions, but soon realized that was more than I could conquer in a single post. So here are the first five questions and answers; I'll answer another five by the middle of next week. Thanks so much for participating! I hope you find these helpful and let me know if you have any additional questions ...

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Stop. And Listen.

One of my heroes, the late Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was addressing a room full of budding preachers. He was speaking about the importance of personal Scripture reading …

"Here I want to say something that I regard as in many ways the most important discovery I have made in my life as a preacher. I had to discover it for myself, and all to whom I have introduced it have always been most grateful for it. When you are reading your Scriptures in this way–it matters not whether you have read little or much–if a verse stands out and hits you and arrests you, do not go on reading. Stop immediately, and listen to it."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Recommended Books - Reason for God

I wanted to get into the habit of provided reviews of books that we recommend. Pastors often read more than the general population so of course we run into good and bad books all the time. But there are some books that stand out. Ones that we think will be of benefit for you. Considering our current series of "Rock and Hard Place" (which is attempting to address controversial issues facing Christianity today), it seems natural to recommend a book that addresses such questions.

There are plenty of books that address many difficult questions but if I had to chose the first one to go to it would be Reason for God by Tim Keller. This is the book that I think first put him in the more popular consciousness of Christians in America. It came out around the same time as other books by the "New Athiests," Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Hitchens' (God is not Great). Reason for God was also a New York Times bestseller. It is one of the more popular apologetics book to come out recently. For years many people have been recommending C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity or Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. But those books are dated a bit even though they are quite good. Reason for God is good because it addresses many of the current nuances of people's objections to Christianity and faith in God in a way that is accessible. The basic arguments don't change and are in fact as old as philosophy itself. But the way they are presented, their overall tone, and their concerns often do.

Let me give an example. The book begins with what I think is the most common objection. The objection is that their cannot only be one true religion and that it is arrogant to do so. Many may take a more strict logical approach to this objection by appealing to the historical truth claims of Christianity versus Buddhism, or that monotheistic faith is more rational than other views of God. Those may be true, but Keller pinpoints that the objection is more based on the perceived arrogance of claiming only one religion is true and that we cannot know which one is. He then demonstrates that such a claim about the nature of the world's religions is in itself an arrogant claim that assumes it has the one objective all-knowing perspective. All worldviews and religions are making claims about the nature of religion and how we can know that it is true. What matters is we realize our assumptions and recognize it is just as much as, if not more so, an act of faith to believe in this one or that one. But that doesn't mean there are not better reasons to believe in one religion or another.

Reason for God is separated into two parts. The first part address objections to Christianity and the second part addresses reasons for Christianity. The first part covers seven major objections: there can't be just one true religion, how could a good God allow suffering, Christianity is the enemy of freedom, why is the church responsible for so much evil, how can a loving God send people to hell, science has disproved Christianity, and you can't take the Bible literally. The second part covers seven reasons for faith in Christ: Clues of God (which are basic arguments for his existence), knowledge of God, the problem of sin, religion versus the gospel, the true story of the cross, the reality of the resurrection, and lastly the dance of God.

If I had any critique, it would be that some of the arguments for Christianity focus on making sense of basic Christian principles and neglect historical evidences that demonstrate such a belief is warranted. Its one thing to say Christ was crucified, buried and rose on the third day. Its a whole other thing to say what that means and how. Keller focuses on the later, rather than any historical evidence for the former like many other apologetic type books. The book does not deal with how the Bible came to be or whether we can trust it. But no worries (shameless plug) - I am doing a sermon series in November on those very subjects (Lord willing they will be profitable for you). By and large Keller is successful at achieving the basic aim of the book: faith in the God of the Bible is not crazy, but in fact quite reasonable.

What are some books that you have found beneficial for faith in Christ? Or ones that have been a source of great doubt?

Check out Reason for God by Tim Keller and share you insights with us. You can get it at Amazon or almost any major bookstore (Christian or otherwise).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Discipleship Training - Faith and Work, Minor Prophets

This November we will have several exciting new Discipleship Training opportunities!

Overview of the Minor Prophets - 8 weeks
John Lunsford will teach this class in the chapel. The class will cover  the OT books from Daniel to Malachi, but it will cover them chronologically—not the order they appear in the Bible. This will give a better sense of how God continued to reveal himself through Israel's decline as a nation and as emerging superpowers - Assyria, Babylon, and Persia - came into existence. The class will begin with Jonah, Amos and Hosea; followed by Zephaniah, Obadiah, and Joel; then Micah, Habakkuk, and Nahum; then Daniel, and finally Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah.

Integrating Faith and Work - 6 weeks
Pastor Chris will teach this class downstairs in the small social hall. There have been an abundance of books recently published on the subject of Faith and Work. No doubt this is related to people's increasing struggles with their jobs—a lack of fulfillment, the pressures of their job, or the social implications of their work. Work consumes a huge portion of our lives and we just don't talk about it enough from a truly Christian perspective. This class will encourage and equip you with the rich Biblical resources on this subject. The class will closely follow Tim Keller's recent book Every Good Endeavor.

The two new classes begin on November 3 at 9:30 AM, BEFORE the new service time of 10:45 AM. I hope you are able to join us for one them.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

From Pastor Jason: A Brief Note on Sorrow

I am not a very sorrowful person. That's probably not the most shocking statement I've ever made. Generally speaking I see things positively, happily, and with an annoying optimism. In some respects I think it's just my personality. In other ways it seems Biblical to me. After all the Jesus story is one that speaks of forgiveness, rescue, healing, restoration, freedom, and salvation … no matter what you have done, no matter where you go, and no matter who you are. Through Jesus there is always a way back to God.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Two Things to Pray About

One. Three of our worship leaders are in southern California this week. They are at a conference together considering the subject of worship in the local church. I am praying that God will use this time to encourage them, expand their vision for God's glory, and give them fresh ideas to equip our church to worship Jesus better. Please join me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On Deacons: a brief overview

The Elder Board has been working to put together a deacon board. In conjunction with that, I have put together a brief description on the role of deacon.
The New Testament speaks of two primary ministry roles in the church: elder (or overseer) and deacon (1 Tim. 3). I will focus exclusively on the role of deacon in this post. There are several primary to address, three being quite basic and the forth is often asked: 1) What is a deacon?  2) What does a deacon do?  3) Who can be a deacon?  4) Can women be deacons?
The word group associated with deacon (diakonos, diakoneo, and diakonia) is very common in the New Testament (100x). These words can be translated as serve, servant, assistant, ministry, office, helper, or deacon. The ESV translates the word diakonos as deacon, only four times (Rom. 16:1; 1 Tim. 3:10, 12, 13). It is most often rendered servant and at other times as minister. In Greek culture it was mostly used for a waiter or waitress, which was a job for a slave but not fitting for a free man. Interestingly, the word is not used much in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (aka LXX). Meaning, there is something different that happens as a result of the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ. The service one does is not only to meet another’s needs (1 Cor. 16:15; Acts 11:29) but for the proclamation of the gospel (2 Tim. 4:11) and for all gifts of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). This word group is different from doulos (bond-servant, slave, servant) in that doulos is the Christian’s utter subjection to Christ. Diakonos is to the church, family, and fellow-man. A Christian is a servant of Christ, serving others on Christ’s behalf and in Christ’s name.
It is apparent than that the decisive shift happens as a result of the ministry of Jesus. Consider how diakoneo is used in Mark 10:45 (par. Matt 20:28; Lk. 18:26) –– “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” What is important to understand is that the word itself and especially in the Bible, conveys not just the idea of humble service for the benefit of someone else, but that such service is voluntary. What is remarkably counter-cultural is that such service is not just done for superiors but for people deemed inferior - sinners, the poor, the widows, and the orphans. If the Son of God who came from heaven served us, then no one is beneath our service. It is no surprise then that this becomes Paul’s favorite term to describe Christian ministry.
So it is clear a deacon is about serving, especially in aiding the needy. But why does it get singled out as a formal position? There is the general sense of a deacon as any Christian serving God, the church, and their neighbor. But there is also a special sense of a Christian holding the office of deacon.  This is when a few people are singled out as full of the Spirit and wisdom for the edification of the body and proclamation of the gospel (Acts. 6:3). This distinction is often referred to as the general office vs. the special office. Those who hold the special office have been called by Christ and recognized by the body as having a high degree of gifting for serving the church.
What does a deacon do? Deacons are people who serve the poor (Stephen in Acts 6) and attend to bodily needs, but also spiritual ones as ministers of the Word. Often deacons have assisted with the administration of churches and sometimes deacons have become elders. So there is no strict limitation to what they can do. But most of the stress is on the fact that deacons are people who serve the body, tending to the physical needs, in particular of the poor and widows. The other primary distinction between an elder and deacon in 1 Timothy 3 is that an elder is “able to teach.” On a very basic level, deacons are better servants than speakers. An analogy can be made that they are diligent managers but not visionary executives.
But who can be a deacon? 1 Timothy 3:8-13 is the primary passage to examine. The list of qualities mostly entails being firm in one’s conviction of the truth of the Christian faith and living a lifestyle of sufficient Christian character which is demonstrated in their fidelity to their family and treatment of their children (if relevant). A deacon is to be tested and this probably means that enough is known that they can complete the tasks to which they are trusted. The last piece may be a little more obscure and controversial to some. That is, does 1 Timothy 3:8-13 prohibit women from being deacons (aka deaconness)?
There are two main passages of note: Romans 16:1 and 1 Timothy 3:11. A cursory reading of the NT shows that both Jesus and Paul worked with women in their ministries and to a degree that was counter-cultural to the people of their day. Most notable for the role of deacon though is that Paul mentions “Pheobe, a servant” in Romans 16:1 (the ESV includes a footnote that servant could be translated “deaconness”). Indeed it is the word diakonos that appears here. The form of the word and the syntax of the sentence is consistent with her possessing the formal office of deacon and not a mere helper of some generic kind. It is quite clear she served in an official capacity.
There are three exegetical arguments that argue against a reading of 1 Timothy 3:11 that excludes women. One, there is no “their” in the greek text. It literally reads, “likewise wives/women must be,” (ESV and NIV84 footnote that wives can also be rendered women). It has been translated with the possessive pronoun their because it can be inferred from the context, and because in English translations it has traditionally been rendered that way. The verse without the pronoun serves to both stress the conduct of a male deacon’s wife, and a female deaconness. Two, likewise is often used to introduce instructions to a different group of people (cf. 1 Tim. 3:8; 1Pet. 2:13-3:7). So it is more natural to assume it is including female deacons. Three, the admonitions to wives is remarkably similar to those given to deacons in vv. 8-10. If male deacons are only in view, it seems redundant if it is not also addressing female deacons before moving on to more instructions to men and the general charge to all deacons.
In conclusion, a deacon is a servant of God for the benefit of the body of Christ. This includes the general call of all Christians to serve each other with the ministry of the word or of deed. It also means the special office of deacon when the church singles out a particular individual with a higher degree of gifting and character in order to serve the needs of the body. It is common for the office of deacon to be focused on physical needs of people in and out of the church. But this does not exclude administrative or teaching gifts. Character is the primary test for the qualifications of a deacon, particularly demonstrated in how their care for their family. They should be a mature believer who has demonstrated character and competency.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Seven Realities from Henry Blackaby

God is at work. The nature of his work is that of reconciling the world to himself by his love through the work of Christ. As if that wasn’t amazing enough he welcomes his kids to join him in this work. How good is that? Henry Blackaby notices this divine activity through the life of Moses in his classic work, Experiencing God. Using the story of Moses as a backdrop, Blackaby discerns seven different realities about the nature of God’s work in and through his people. I trust you will find each to be a refreshing reminder of God’s power, grace, and love that will help you “live the full adventure of knowing and doing the will of God,” as the book’s subtitle suggests.

Reality 1: God is always at work around you.

Reality 2: God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
Reality 3: God invites you to become involved with him in his work.
Reality 4: God speaks by the Holy Spirit, through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal himself, his purposes, and his ways.
Reality 5: God’s invitation for you to work with him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
Reality 6: You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what he is doing.
Reality 7: You come to know God by experience as you obey him and as he accomplishes his work through you.
Let’s discovery the reality of what God is up to here in San Jose … jump on board!
Peace …
Pastor Jason

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Starting next week. We will post one question each week from New City Catechism by Tim Keller and Sam Shames. We hope you will look at it and use it for your own personal devotion and edification.

But let me give a brief word for those you unfamiliar or a little weirded out by the word "catechism." It is a word that people often associate with the Catholic Church and rote soulless memorization. The word means "instruction" and comes from the Greek word katecheo in Gal. 6:6; Lk. 1:4; Acts. 18:25; Rom. 2:18; 1 Cor. 14:19 (ESV renders it taught or instructed).  This might be surprising to you, but in fact the Catholic Church instituted their catechism during the counter-reformation as a response to numerous reformed catechisms developed during the Reformation. The first Catholic catechism appeared in 1566, 25 years after Luther and Calvin developed their respective catechisms (Luther's Large and Small Catechism in 1529, Calvin's Geneva Catechism in 1541). The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and Westminster Catechism (1648) are the most famous of them all with the former pre-dating Catholic catechism. The intent and purpose was that through them people would learn the basics of the Christian faith. Catechisms have been used in important periods of Christian renewal throughout history. The first would be the Apostle's Creed. Early creeds were another from of later Catechisms (it should be noted that some baptists have a problem with creeds and catechisms but there are Baptist catechisms you can google).

New City Catechism is a simple question and answer format that is intended to be memorized. It is short, only 52 questions (one per week of the year), and has a great web format with an ipad app too. Each question also contains a short bible passage, brief commentary from classic Christian works, short videos by great pastors around the country, and a brief prayer. I highly recommend you try it. You can even do it as a family since it has short answers easy enough for kids that are color coded within the longer answer for adults.

I would also highly recommend reading Keller's explanation of what Catechism is and why it is beneficial here.

Here is a helpful FAQ on how you can use it personally and with your kids.

You can check it out at www.newcitycatechism.com or just wait for our posts starting this Monday morning.

I pray you will find it edifying.

Pastor Chris

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

From Pastor Jason: Two Bad Reasons to Give God Your Money

Last week I shared the three lanes” of giving. I hope you found them helpful. Simply, these were three good reasons to give your money to Jesus and his mission. However I also think there are bad reasons to give. That’s right, giving isn’t always good. Think about it. Throughout the Gospels Jesus is incredibly concerned and focused on the motivation underneath an action (check out the Sermon on the Mount). It was about the heart. Consequently, there are certain and consistent compulsions that you and I often have toward giving that don’t exactly come from the best place. And I think these are less like lanes and more like pits. You know, like huge holes you can fall into. Here are two bad reasons to give: 
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To pay God back. Now you might say, “God has done so much for me, I want to give evidence to my gratitude by giving.” Amen. Go team! Agreed. However this can be a slippery concept. Sometimes this logic melts down to keeping score with God. He gives, you give. He gives, you give. And on and on. For starters, you can never really keep up with him. Additionally it supposes full knowledge of God’s generosity. And what’s more, generosity isn’t meant to be just a reaction, but a rhythm. Christians are to be generous, not just do generous things when the moment is right. Don’t fall into this pit.

To make a deal with God. You know you’ve done it. So have I. With the best intentions sometimes we put a couple bucks in the offering bucket while whispering the terms of our gift. The health of our kids. A promotion at work. And sometimes even with the intention of securing our eternal residence. In some respects this approach is the opposite of the first. You give, God gives. You give, God gives. And on and on. Though it may be subtle, giving that springs from this pattern supposes power and manipulation over God. We can naively believe that giving our money puts God on the proverbial hook. Just to be clear … God can’t be put on the hook. Watch out for this pit too.
May we truly become more and more generous people. And a more and more generous church.
Peace …
Pastor Jason

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

From Pastor Jason: The Three-Lane Highway of Giving

Generally speaking, I think of giving like a highway. And this particular road has three lanes. Most of the time Christians gravitate toward a particular lane. Similar to our driving style there is a context, approach, and speed at which we are most comfortable. However it’s not that simple. Think more about your driving habits. At different moments, on different trips and depending on where you are going you probably use different lanes. And every lane demands different behavior. Nobody likes that guy who uses the diamond lane with exit lane tendencies (Bless his heart). Similarly every lane of worshipful giving ought to be in the Christian’s generosity repertoire … at different points … at varying speeds … for different reasons … yet nevertheless always accessible. Here are three ways in which we should consistently give our money to Jesus and his mission.

Lane #1: When the Mood Strikes. Sometimes the desire to give just hits us. Perhaps God puts a person on your heart and mind, or you have a vision to see a safe event for the kids in your neighborhood, or you’ve just got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in your heart. Whatever the reason, sometimes we just want to give. And we should. But our generosity should never be limited by our desire to give.

Lane #2: When the Needs Arise. Other folks have a tendency to give only when a need arises. Maybe a missionary communicates a need for more support through a newsletter, or a school kid knocks on your door  and tells you that ten more chocolate bars mean five more textbooks that will change her life, or your church hands you a graph on a Sunday morning. Whatever the reason, sometimes a need arises and we give. And we should. But our generosity should never be limited by our awareness of needs.

Lane #3: In Our Budgets. Another approach to generosity is budgeting. This habit is birthed from the scriptural concept of tithing—setting aside 10% of your income on a regularly basis. By the way, a budget is an estimation of income and expense for a set period of time (I’m only thirty, I had to look up the definition). This is a disciplined approach that honors God by planning regular gifts, usually of the same amount and generally on a weekly or monthly basis. Whatever the amount or frequency, sometimes we build our generosity into our budgets. And we should. But our generosity should never be limited by our plans.
In summary, generosity should never be limited by our desire to give, our awareness of needs, nor by the plans we have made. The only limit to our worship through giving our money to Jesus and his mission ought to be the example Jesus has set before us. Interestingly, that road is narrow, few find it, and it has a small gate.

May we honor Jesus with everything we’ve got.

Peace …
Pastor Jason