I’ve always lacked a clear process or plan when it has come to my personal Scripture reading. Actually I’ve prided myself in this practice (or lack thereof). It seemed really spiritual to just pick up my Bible and read; wherever the Spirit might lead. However, deep down I always looked at diligent and organized Bible readers as incredibly amazing. And so I’ve craved more discipline, but haven’t found my niche within the Bible reading plan world. Until now.
Just a couple of weeks ago I discovered the app “Bible Box.” After I got over its strange title, I found the iPhone application extremely helpful. It not only charts reading plans for users to follow and syncs with the YouVersion Bible application, but it allows readers to check boxes as we go–hence the name. And it also makes automatic adjustments if you miss a day … and yes, I’ve already missed a few days. I’m currently reading through the Bible chronologically and actually keeping somewhat on pace. And in the spirit of this new found, albeit it short-term success, I’d like to offer six ways to help you start reading your bible, better.
1.) Set a time. Like anything else, if you don’t know when you’re going to read and how often, you probably won’t. I like reading early in the morning, because that’s when Jesus read his Bible (just kidding). It’s different for everyone. Find a time that works best for you.
2.) Start small. Don’t get crazy. If you’ve never consistently kept a reading schedule don’t set out to read the whole Bible twice by the end of the year. I found great success a few years back by simply starting to read one chapter every weekday.
3.) Pick a location. This may seem silly, but similar to setting a time, picking a location helps prepare you for the routine and discipline of reading. I set my Bible and journal right behind my chair at the kitchen table. That’s my favorite spot to read. Where’s yours?
4.) Choose a method. The Bible Box isn’t for everyone, I understand that. Try another app. Or find a good book that walks you through Scripture (if you don’t know one shoot Pastor Chris a text and he’ll suggest three before you know it). Or follow along in whatever book through which we’re currently preaching. Or just start reading from Matthew 1:1. Or google “Bible Reading Plan.” The possibilities are endless, but you just need one.
5.) Tell someone what you’re up to. Accountability and encouragement are key ingredients to success.
6.) Pray for persistence and a knowledge of God’s grace. One day you will forget to read. In a couple months you’ll wake up and realize you haven’t read for a week … or two. Get back in the rhythm by remembering God’s gracious nature. The whole reason we read is to know God more richly and his grace more intimately. So let’s not allow the process of reading to become a religion unto itself. Let’s not miss God and his immeasurable grace in the process of reading his Word.
Whether you’re married or not, want to learn more about the crazy mysterious thing called “marriage?” Mark your calendars for a FREE (yep, free) Married for Life conference at East Valley Church, coming up September 6-8! Click here for more information!
I’m out in Michigan this week enjoying some overdue family time. Thanks so very much for all of you who prayed for me and fed me during those ten arduous days I was without my wife and daughter. I made it! It is so good to reunite with them and take in some of the goodness that is Lake Michigan. We’re missing you all … I promise. Here are few things I wanted to keep on your Dwell radar while I was away:
Discipleship Training.Be sure to check out our one of our upcoming Sunday morning classes. Starting September 8th Pastor Chris will be teaching a class focused on the themes from the book Everyday Church. Additionally, during the same hour one of our elders, John Lunsford, will be walking through the major prophets of the Bible.
What’s Down at Dwell? In the past couple of weeks Ken Tinsley and others have been sharing Dwell announcements in video form. They have been both informative, and in typical Dwell fashion, incredibly hilarious. Please make sure you are taking advantage of these videos to keep updated on events and community life. We’ll be posting this through social media and soon on our redesigned website.
Sunday Morning Schedule. As stated on Sunday, we are still working to finalize our Sunday morning schedule. Thanks to all of you who helped with this process by filling out the recent surveys. I’ll do my best to keep you informed throughout the rest of the process. We should be implementing our new times (if change is necessary) on September 8th.
I love being your pastor. Thanks for keeping me, Laura, and Glori in your prayers as we are away. Can’t wait to be back with you all soon!
The past few months our elder team has been reading through Pastor Timothy Keller’s book, “Center Church.” His emphasis is not only focused on developing healthy and gospel-centered churches, but more precisely on how church ought to be developed with respect to cities. After all, the story of Christianity begins in a garden (Genesis 2:8) but will end, in a manner of speaking, in a city (Revelation 21:10). Keller writes, “every church can and must become a church for its particular city–whether that city is a great metropolis, a university town, or a village.” Over the past few years many people have asked, what is the direction of Dwell? Or what is our mission as a church? These are really good questions. And aside from the fundamental aspects of worshiping Jesus and preaching the gospel–from the pulpit, the dinner table, and the cubicle–I think Keller has nailed our direction and mission on the head. We need to become a church for the people of San Jose. That’s what we’ve been up to. That’s what we are doing now. That’s what we will keep doing.
San Jose is diverse, innovative, creative, and beautiful … in my mind, unlike any other city on the planet. And so it seems fitting that an important step toward becoming a church for our city is actually knowing the city. Two key reports are helpful when attempting to gain a firm grasp on the demographics of this the capital of Silicon Valley. First is a 2010 presentation done by the city of San Jose. (You can view and download a pdf version of that presentation here.) And second is the Association of Religious Data Archives’ (or ARDA) latest report on religious life in Santa Clara County. (Their 2010 findings can be viewed here.) Having viewed each of these reports I thought it would be helpful to highlight ten interesting facts about our city.
There are 1.8 million people in Santa Clara County.
More than half of the folks in San Jose speak a language other than English at home.
39% of San Joseans were born in another country.
San Jose is “a city of thirds” … roughly 30% Asian, 30% Hispanic, and 30% White.
Half of the housing units in San Jose cost at least half a million dollars.
Households without children in San Jose are the majority.
We are getting older, but we’re still pretty young (35.2 median age).
150,000 people in Santa Clara County identify with Evangelicalism.
Nearly half a million people are Catholic in the county.
Over half the population in Santa Clara County do not claim any of the 236 religious groups in the Arda assessment.
This is my city. This is your city. This is the city God has called us to love, enjoy, dwell in, and with whom to share his good news. It can be a bit overwhelming to take this on as a whole. That’s a lot of people to think about. That’s a lot of information to consider. How can we possibly become a church for 1.8 million people from countless different countries and whose spiritual condition is incredibly tricky to calculate? The answer is simple: one person at a time. To be sure neither you nor I know all of these people. But we work with a few of them. We say hi to a couple of them when they’re walking into their apartment. That one guy exchanges a pleasantry or two with you every morning at the coffee shop. You sit together on the PTA board with that couple. All of these are good places to begin. Because after all the church is not a building, a service, an event, nor even a gospel group … it’s God’s people awake to his direction and mission in this world. Therefore everyday, individually and collectively, we have the thrilling privilege and responsibility to become the church our city needs, to the glory of God.
When change comes, we want answers. We want reasons and understanding, particularly if the change is costly–and change always costs us something. In this search our minds naturally take us to one of three places: ”God is teaching me something” or “I must have done something wrong” or ”This world is messed up.” All of these options make perfect sense. In Scripture we observe plenty of stories of change animated by God’s custom-fit plans for his people, change caused by human rebellion, and change due to the fallen nature of our existence. This morning, while wrestling with these three possibilities, I happened to read the first few chapters of Job. Talk about change. In a matter of moments the vast majority of Job’s possession were gone, his sons and daughters dead, and sores had broken out all over his body. Save for the crucifixion of Christ, this has become the story of suffering in Scripture. And yet in the face of such violent change it wasn’t what Job said, but what he didn’t say that proved his exemplary faith.
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In 1964 Bob Dylan released his milestone album, “The Times They Are A-Changin.” Apparently it was his first full length release of entirely original material. To most music critics his title track stands out above the rest. The song only lasted a shade over three minutes, but its impact has been felt ever since. Its powerful tone and lyrics summarized and even championed a larger narrative unraveling within American culture. It was controversial. It was rebellious. It was racial. It was political. It was risky. It was the leap that eventual solidified Dylan as Dylan.
A generation was in the middle of transition.
They wanted a voice.
Dylan spoke their language.
Regardless of your feelings or familiarity with Dylan (whom I know very little about), the lesson is valuable. When times are changing, people are listening. And different folks listen in different ways. For instance, in 1964 I’m sure those in their teens had a different response to “The Times They Are A-Changin’” than those in their fifties. Suffice it to say no matter what’s changing, different people listen differently. Some listen in fear; worried that forthcoming change will defeat what they value, trust, and enjoy. Others listen with abandoned hope; fully dependent on some sort of change, any change, because the status quo is killing them.
The former put up walls and resist change.
The latter dismantle every obstacle to change they can find.
Neither approach is inherently righteous.
Things change. Things are changing. Always. In our world. In our country. In our city. In our church. And in our families. Amid change Christians are not afforded the blind luxury to simply tear down walls or build them. We must consistently do the diligent work of listening. But not to popular musicians or culture icons. Rather, we incline our collective ear to the Lord. And that’s not always easy. Because the same God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever is also the God who is doing a new thing.
Last year I read the book, “Imagine.” The author, Jonah Lehrer profoundly and convincingly breaks down misconceptions about how creativity works. Throughout each chapter Lehrer catalogues the ability of different companies, leaders, artists, and musicians to create and why. One of those musicians was none other than Bob Dylan, truly a musical genius with unparalleled creativity and skill. The book spoke to me. It gave me a number of tools and great stories that have helped me in my own creative efforts.
After the book had been out for a few months it was pulled from bookstore shelves everywhere. Apparently the world’s leading expert on Bob Dylan (I guess besides Dylan himself) had accused and sufficiently proven that Jonah Lehrer had fabricated information in his book. In particular he had made up quotes from Bob Dylan to fit the book’s premise.
Dwell is changing. The world around our church is changing. How do we respond? What do we say? When should we remain silent? Should we build walls between us and the city? Or should we tear them down? You know, I’m not always sure. But I do know who to be sure in. And the last thing I want to do is make up something that God didn’t say and act as if he did. So, in the middle of each moment and season of change let’s keep listening.
Unless you don’t pay attention to anything in pop culture, you will have noticed that there has been a lot of hubbub about this show on HBO called “Game of Thrones.” It’s a show in the medieval fantasy genre that is quite dark. A recent article in USA today posed the question whether Christians should watch it. Since I have been watching it along with 5.5 million people, I thought I would throw in my opinion. My one disclaimer is that there is a lot of talk about what Christians should and should not watch and I am sure some have much more developed thoughts than mine (read this and let me know).
Let’s begin with this question: why does anyone watch it? Primarily, people watch because it’s a high-quality show based off a best-selling book series by George R.R. Martin. It has great plot and character development. It has complex story lines with complex characters where there are no clear good guys or bad guys. It has dragons, weird religions, sorcerers, and a mysterious frozen zombie horde. It has warring clans, revenge, political intrigue, and huge world where everyone is fighting for power. Did I mention it has dragons? Despite all of this, what we are exploring is whether a Christian should watch it.
There are some whose opinion it is that people should not watch anything with morally objectionable material. There are others who think this whole conversation is silly and irrelevant. It’s just a TV show. I think both are simplistic views. Lets start with the objections. It has a lot of sex, violence, sorcery, and seems to have no “redeeming qualities.” The sex is obnoxious most of the time and even some critics have coined the term sexposition to describe the cheap ways the GoT plot is advanced through sexual content (we always fast forward through it since we often watch it on a 10-15 minute delay). If you can’t stomach the violence in GoT, then you also shouldn’t watch Gladiator, Braveheart, or any other great movie involving war, especially war scenes involving swords. What might cross the line here regarding violence are the torture scenes, especially in Theon’s case (since at this point it seems to serve no purpose). As for the sorcery, I actually think the way magic is done in this show is brilliant. It occurs rarely, mysteriously, and often on the periphery. The viewer is not quite sure if these religions are real, and some characters in the show even disbelieve in any of the old stories about the gods (sounds like the modern world). Lastly, Martin seems to have created a nihilistic world in which “you win or you die.” Even when someone wins, the victory often creates more problems than it solves.
I think it should go without saying that if you think it is not beneficial for you to watch due to the content, then don’t watch GoT. If you struggle with pornography, hate violence, or are tempted to try some black magic because you think Harry Potter is real, don’t watch it. However, anyone who thinks this is a “meat sacrificed to idols” thing (1 Cor. 8-10) should consider that early Christians found it highly objectionable to go to the coliseum or even watch plays at amphitheaters (I don’t know exactly why, though some of the reasons should be obvious, e.g. death of your brother by lions).
However, I think looking at the moral content of the show is missing some deeper themes. Beneath the sex and violence are themes that are more revealing of the way people think about the world that drive those immoral actions. The first theme is what the producers are quoted as saying- that, in this world, “no good deed goes unpunished.” It’s a bleak outlook and it is what made the “red wedding” so tragic. Often times the flawed characters you are hoping will bring justice get killed first, which is quite depressing and infuriating. This world does seem set against good people- something virtually guaranteed in the New Testament with the teaching that a Christian who lives righteously will suffer and be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12; cf. Matt. 10:16-34). The second theme occurs on the other side of the sea. The whole storyline of the character Daenerys Targaryen to this point has essentially been a picture of overcoming oppression. It is a good picture of liberation theology and Marxism, where the oppressed often become the oppressors due to the corrupting force of power. She frees the 99% by brutality killing the 1% ruling the city. A third theme is that truly no one is innocent in this show. No matter who gets killed it is hard to argue they were an innocent person. How is this not consistent with a Biblical worldview concerning sin? Take Arya Stark as another example. As much as we are rooting for her, she is becoming obsessed with vengeance. The death of her enemies may be just, but it is unlikely it will occur through purely just means. Like GoT, the Bible contains a lot of “objectionable” material but that is partly what makes it so great. The rawness and honesty of it all. Often times the most obvious immoral act is just scratching the surface of the deeper and more sinister spiritual evil that motivated the act (2 Sam. 11). The book of Judges is a good parallel to GoT. In Judges, God seems to be on the sidelines and withdraws more and more as people get worse and worse. I will be impressed (and severely depressed) if Martin ends this series as bleakly as the book of Judges.
Regardless of its merits, let’s not forget GoT is a fantasy world and it’s entertainment. That doesn’t mean media does not affect us, but we shouldn’t blow it out of proportion. I do believe what we watch affects us, but not to the degree that thinking about sinning or actually acting on sinful thoughts does. I don’t think any Christian, regardless of whether they think their conscience permits them to watch it, should not feel remorse for the brutality of it. It’s horrible and Martin does everything he can to make you feel for his characters when they die. But that’s good story telling, and is not a sin in itself. I don’t know if the series will have an ending that will make up for all the brutality, I think it most likely won’t. What the viewer should watch for is what gives rise to their affections for a given character? Which do you resonate with and why? Do you struggle to resist the temptations of power, sex, or money, taking advantage of people along the way? Do you desire revenge? Are you prone to despair and view the real world as being as dark as this fantasy world? Or do you distance yourself perhaps too much from the real brutality and unfairness of this world, blindly thinking life is all bunnies and lollipops?
Let’s not forget there is no rider on the white horse in this series. There is no savior in the world of Westeros. But in the real world we have a hope beyond the brutality and unfairness, a great hope that the King of kings, and Lord of lords will one day establish justice for all eternity. The Bible ends with a picture of the world thrown into far more chaos, death, and immorality than the world of the Game of Thrones. Unlike the cries of the characters in GoT, the prayers of God’s people who have been mercilessly killed and martyred have collected symbolically as incense in a censer (Rev. 8:1-4). The censer is finally poured out as God’s wrath begins against all wickedness and evil and he finally brings the justice everyone has longed for. Prayers for justice will finally be answered. The only one who can wield such justice rightly will come, and “the meek shall inherit the earth,” (Matt. 5:3-10). He will come and vindicate all those who have loved their enemies and have trusted in him and his justice by faith. ”Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25) asks Abraham and all those who have experienced great evil and injustice. Revelation answers with an emphatic YES. The rider on the white horse, Jesus Christ, will come once and for all to establish a world without evil, suffering, and injustice because he defeated satan, sin, and death on the cross (Rev. 19:11-21). Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Because I don’t want to live if the Lannisters continue running the show.
Last night the elders and I sensed God’s leading to finalize our plans to end the Sunday morning gathering at Grant Academy. That means that on Sunday, August 4th we will begin to have a single weekly worship service at 9:30 AM at Dwell Willow Glen. We will continue to host a service at both the Children’s Recovery Center (CRC) and the Saratoga Subacute Facility (SSF) once a month. (In fact more exciting news is in the works concerning this important expression of our church. Stay tuned …) Though we are working on a few changes including Sunday morning times and scheduling in the fall, during the month of August we will stick with a 9:30 AM gathering and an 11:15 AM Sunday class hour for the entire Dwell family.
Though on the surface this may seem like a significant shift in our approach to ministry I think it is best to view this change as a refinement of our primary purposes, and strategies used to accomplish those purposes. We are seeking to share Jesus with our neighbors in Willow Glen … on Sunday mornings, through Gospel Groups, various events, and especially in everyday life and work. We are also still seeking to share Jesus with our friends at the CRC and SSF … through prayer, consistent connections, and monthly gatherings. And we’ll continue to share Jesus with our neighbors and friends downtown … through a pioneering Gospel Group, various events, and in everyday life and work. As we dwell in Willow Glen, at the CRC, at the SSF, and in downtown San Jose we will continue to share Jesus. By God’s grace he will continue to build his church. And last time I checked, not even the gates of hades can hold him back.
Dwell still urgently needs help with Kids Club and the Harvest Carnival! Please be praying that God would provide for these needs. And if you are interested in either of these ministries, please email Noelle at email@example.com.
There is no question Abraham is a massively important figure in the Bible. Naturally, the writer spends a large portion of chapter eleven talking about Abraham and his descendants. The story of Abraham begins in Genesis 12 (his genealogy appears in 11), climaxes in Genesis 22, and continues until his death in Genesis 25. In the Bible, he is the quintessential picture of a life of faith. God’s covenant with Abraham included two things: land and descendants. Both of these were hugely important to ancient people and intimately connected. Hebrews stresses Abraham took God at his word at every turn and obeyed God, having faith he would provide land and descendants. His life was a nomadic one and he never settled in the land God called him to but he never returned to the land he was called out of. Isaac and Jacob also had opportunities to return to their father’s homeland but did not, even though they too never really settled in Canaan. They all died in faith, which the writer argues reveals they were not trusting in a earthly homeland but a heavenly city built by God himself. God miraculously provided a son, Isaac, through Abraham’s wife Sarah even though both of them were close to death and incapable of having children. For years, Abraham struggled to follow God and was by no means perfect in trusting God, but he never gave up hope. The climax of his life is when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. It appears that God gave a command contradictory to his promise, but Hebrews testifies that Abraham believed God was capable of resurrecting Isaac. Romans 4:20-21 tells us Abraham’s great faith is demonstrated in that he considered the conundrum between God’s command and promise to be God’s problem to sort out. Abraham merely took God at his word and obeyed. Thus, while he never saw the full promises of God fulfilled, he saw them in part, for he was given a son and God always provided what they needed to stay in Canaan, particularly when the Hittites gave him a place to bury Sarah (Gen. 23:4). Isaac and Jacob both passed on the promises of God to their descendants and maintained faith throughout their lives, even though they faced their own challenges and struggles with God along the way.
By Faith demonstrated righteousness
What should be understood is not just the great faith the patriarchs had in God and his promises, but also that they were flawed characters whose faith in God enabled them to do what was right at critical times. They left Ur and never returned. Abraham permitted his nephew Lot to take the seemingly better land (Gen. 13). He did not take the spoils of war and tithed to the righteous worshipper of Yahweh, Melchizedek (Gen. 14). God considered him righteous on account of his faith (Gen. 15), and Abraham obeyed God when called to sacrifice his son (Gen. 22). Isaac ensured that the promises and blessings of God were passed on to his son Jacob, even though Esau was overlooked (Gen. 27:27-40). Jacob blessed his two grandsons by Joseph with the blessings and promises of God (Gen. 48). None of them realized the full promises of God, but all of this reveals they were not trusting in a temporal city, but an eternal one that God himself would build.
Enoch is an obscure biblical character that stands out in Genesis 5:18-24 (cf. 1 Chr. 1:3; Lk. 3:37). He is also quoted in a strange passage in Jude 14, but Hebrews does not rely on the same sources as Jude for stories about Enoch. Enoch is most well known for a strange event: that he “was taken up so that he should not see death.” The old King James renders it rather literally, “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.” The word metatithemi (taken up or translated) has the meaning of being transferred or put in another place, thus implying from earth to heaven. He walked with God, and as a reward for a life lived by faith, Enoch didn’t die (for the differences between “walked” and “pleased” see footnote).
Enoch’s life of faith was rewarded by presence with God. Enoch is the only person in Genesis 5 who is not simply mentioned as being born, having an heir and then dying. This points to the reality that God was providing hope for the faithful beyond the grave. This naturally transitions into 11:6 where it says, “without faith it is impossible to please God.” It is not because someone is righteous that God is pleased with them, but because they trust in God by faith he is pleased. The relationship with him becomes the source and motive for their personal righteousness by his grace through faith. But where some may go wrong here is thinking that belief in God in general is sufficient. This is inconsistent with Hebrews as a whole and the particulars of this verse. One must believe in the God of the Bible as he has revealed himself through Christ (Heb. 1:3). It is faith in this God that results in salvation for those who diligently seek him.
By Faith Noah
Noah is a much more familiar person in scripture (cf. Gen. 5:28-9:27; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5). Verse 11:7 harks back to 11:1, about believing in the unseen, with Noah’s faith that a flood was coming. He took God at his word and made preparations despite how ridiculous it seemed to his contemporaries. He feared God and became an heir of righteousness that comes by faith. The language of being an heir of righteousness has been used in Hebrews before concerning Jesus as the heir of all things (1:2). Like the other people mentioned so far, Genesis makes no mention of Noah’s faith, but merely that he found favor in God’s eyes and walked with God. Noah’s building of the ark both reveals the condemnation of the world and his faith in God’s word. Therefore, the flood becomes a symbol of the eternal judgment of the wicked and the salvation of the righteous (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20). Like Abel and Enoch, Noah’s faith and righteousness are inseparable. It is easy to look back into the OT stories and conclude God was pleased with some people because they were good. But God was pleased with them because they had faith in him and they acted in accordance with that faith. Their actions demonstrated their righteousness.
1 Hebrews consistently quotes Septuagint (LXX). The LXX is a Greek translation of the Old Testament commonly used in the first century. It has a tendency to make the language less anthropomorphic and exalting the transcendence of God. So in this case the anthropomorphic language of “walking with God” is translated from the original Hebrew to the Greek as “having pleased God.”
I was sitting in the middle of downtown Denver reading and drinking coffee. Not an unusual ceremony for me. However as I worked my way through Rick Mckinley’s great book,This Beautiful Mess something happened to me. At the time I knew I wanted to be a pastor. I knew I wanted to start a church. I just didn’t know where. But as I read Mckinley’s words, God spoke to me. At the very least I sensed a clarity of personal calling like I hadn’t before. Downtown San Jose was specifically laid on my heart and it hasn’t left.
A few years removed, the church God has entrusted me to lead could not be more different from the one I saw that day. For that I am seriously grateful. I saw a church plant in downtown San Jose comprised of gospel groups regularly meeting within the confines of 87, 280, and 101. I also saw folks walking to and from our gatherings every Sunday. What we’ve experienced is a gathering downtown of folks from many different stripes and zip codes. Not to mention other locations that meet in Willow Glen, the Children’s Recovery Center, and the Saratoga Subacute facility. Suffice it to say … I didn’t see this coming.
With such variation between the original picture and our current reality, all bets seem to be off. Of course this ministry mystery is relegated to missional expressions and strategies, not to the revealed clarity of God through his Word. That being said little else is guaranteed on mission beyond God’s persistent presence and his ongoing movement of renewal. Things change all the time. Dwell has become familiar with change. I used to think change happened in life. But not, in my short time on planet earth I’ve realized that life is change.
And so I’ve been wrestling with a question … are we doing everything we can to be as effective as we can be? Or perhaps put a different way … are we doing something that is frustrating our effectiveness? What do you think? Our church is unique. (Find one just like it and I’ll buy you a frappuccino.) Okay every church is a bit unique. But that means we must continually ask this previously stated question within our particular context and time.
I think we need to ask that question now.
God has seen fit to grow Dwell widely. Our four locations speak to this generous calling. In light of this broad expression of ministry we need a must compelling overall vision and compact strategy which effectively accomplishes specific purposes. In Willow Glen. In Downtown. And at the CRC and Saratoga Subacute. From my perspective a lack of cohesion has become increasingly obvious in the downtown Sunday morning gathering. The effort and energy and strategy of our gathering is moving in a different direction than the primary purpose of this location–to share Jesus and be good news to the folks who live there.
So to answer the question, I do think we are doing something that is frustrating our effectiveness to accomplish our purpose. We are an energetic and gifted bunch downtown, with an incredible collective heart for the good news and the glory of Jesus. But most who attend this service live and go to work outside of the downtown context. I believe this has brought a bit of internal conflict in each of us. All this being said, we are considering consolidating our Sunday morning gatherings–in Willow Glen and Downtown–to a single gathering at our Willow Glen location in order to more effectively and responsibility share Jesus in each of these areas of San Jose. Our commitment to share the gospel and be good news downtown remains. Through a more focused commitment to Kids Club, Summer Camp, and a new pioneering Gospel Group in downtown we believe we will do an even better job accomplishing our purpose than ever before. Not to mention the benefits our Willow Glen gathering will experience with an influx of our downtown Dwellers.
I am asking you all to pray. Today my family and I are headed down to New Orleans. Laura and I will have a couple days just the two of us and then we’ll join our extended family (and of course, little G) in Laurel, Mississippi to celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday. I want you to know that Laura and I will be in concerted prayer about this. About what’s next. About what’s best. Ultimately about what God’s will is for his church, Dwell. Please join us.
By God’s goodness and grace we will collectively discern his leading in yet another beautifully messy change. We are one church. May San Jose continue to be on our hearts in a refreshed and focused way.
Hebrews 11 is a well known chapter, and beloved by many Christians. It depicts the “heroes” of the faith. It begins with what characterizes faith (11:1-3), examples of faith from Abel and Noah (11:4-7), of Abraham and his descendants (11:8-22), of Moses (11:23-28), and of other OT saints (11:29-40). The dominant theme throughout Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus to various aspects of Judaism. This theme has not been abandoned, for the faith of these saints was in the promises of God which have been brought about by Christ (cf. 11:13-16, 39-40). We have a tendency to think that all these people had supernatural faith, but really it was not the quantity of their faith but its quality. Lets look more closely at what is said about faith in the first verse. The issue involves two key words: “assurance/confidence” and “conviction/assurance” (ESV/NIV). The root words are hypostasis and elenchos. Some may remember that hypostasis is a key word used by the early church fathers in settling debates on the Trinity and the Incarnation (recall the hypostatic union – two natures in one person). This word appears in Heb. 1:3 as nature(“he is the exact imprint of his hypostasis”), and in 3:14 as confidence (“if indeed we hold our original hypostasis”). So, is the old KJV right in stressing the objective nature of faith and rendering it “substance” (hypostasis) and “evidence” (elenchos)? Or are modern translations correct in stressing the subjective nature of faith and rendering it “assurance” and “conviction?” The problem here is when people tend to see this verse as a definition of faith. This is troublesome because it does not clearly state what the object of our faith is – Jesus Christ (cf. 12:2) – so people tend to describe faith as something to maintain in the absence of evidence. The overall context ought to be our guide in clarifying the sense of a word. Therefore, I think Ellingworth is correct when he states: “It is more natural, in the light of the chapter as a whole, to think of v. 1 as a summary of what faith does: faith binds the believer securely to the reality of what he does not (yet) see, but for which he hopes,” (Ellingworth, 566.) This combines the objective and subjective elements of faith. Hence both translations are correct, which the overall context ought to make clear.
Abel as the first example of righteousness by faith
It is worth making a brief comment about Abel (Gen. 4:1-10; cf. Matt. 23:35; 1 Jn. 3:12). Why was Abel’s sacrifice better than Cain’s? Some have speculated it was because of the type of offering that was given. Others have argued it was because Abel offered “firstfruits” and not leftovers. Neither is satisfactory because the crucial idea is that righteousness and faith cannot be separated. The sacrifices God approves of are not determined by the content of the offerings, but by the content of one’s heart. Biblically, it is clear that the righteous will live by faith. Because God says Abel was righteous it must be true that he obeyed out of faith. Not because he thought he was worthy, but because he knew God was worthy.
1 Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 566.
This chapter has two parts. The first finishes the section (8:1-10:18) on the significance of Christ’s sacrifice which inaugurated the New Covenant. The second works out the implications of Christ’s sacrifice for our lives (10:19-39). The law was not able to bring spiritual transformation in a clean conscience; the sacrifices did not clean the internal stain of human sin. Christ’s sacrifice accomplishes what the law and the sacrifices could not. Thus, Christ’s sacrifice is unique because his offering was obedience and his own blood (10:1-18). Obedience is what God always desired and this is what makes Jesus’ sacrifice applicable to everyone and effective for anyone. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone because his sacrifice is utterly unique. Because of this, we have the full assurance of faith to obey God in love (10:19-26). But we must be careful not to reject it through continuing in sin (10:27-31). This is the fourth warning of Hebrews and among the most difficult to unpack. The warning is that to continue in sin with knowledge of the gospel is to be worthy of God’s judgment. Unrepentant habitual disobedience reveals that one has rejected the gospel and is not a Christian. However just like before, the writer of Hebrews trusts his readers are not those people (10:32-39). Regardless of the positive characteristics he has seen they must continue to endure by faith.
The Implications of Christ’s unique sacrifice
Hebrews is not simply arguing for the superiority of Jesus Christ to Judaism, but to all religions and worldviews. If salvation from the human condition and access to God can not be achieved through moral or spiritual accomplishments, then no religious devotion is good enough. Christ’s sacrifice is “once for all,” (Heb. 10:10). He offered his body up “for all time,” (10:12). “By a single offering he has perfected for all time” those who are being saved (10:14). The finality and sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice not only makes the old covenant sacrifices obsolete, it also means salvation is found in Christ alone. The uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice is what makes its reach so universal. The hardest message to communicate today regarding Christianity (and the same one that got Christians martyred in the early church) is that Jesus Christ is the only savior. He is not just the savior for Jews, but also for gentiles. There is a plethora of reasons why people, and even Christians, do not want to believe this. How can Jesus be the only way when he has not revealed himself to all? God chooses whom he wills (Rom. 9). Nevertheless, Paul argues this is why God saved us and called us to evangelism (Rom. 10). How can all these good people who are so devoted to another faith be wrong? Their problem is not just moral, but spiritual. No one is righteous and no one does what is good (Rom. 3). At the same time, God alone is the judge; he will judge people according to the light they have received (Rom. 2:12-16), and he will do this in light of who Jesus is. Is it not arrogant to say you are saved and not any other person? One has not understood Christian salvation if it has become a source of pride and not humility. We are saved not by knowing more, or doing more, or by being good, but by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8-10) which enables us to do good.
One: An Apology. I owe you all an apology. As some of you have undoubtedly noticed I preach without notes. It is a matter of personal course because I have discovered that I think more clearly and preach more passionately when I am free from them. However in light of this fluid delivery I am susceptible to say things that are unplanned and unrehearsed. Sometimes that’s good. Other times it isn’t. Sunday after our Willow Glen gathering I believe God’s Spirit revealed to me that I said something which was unplanned and unrehearsed that should not have been said.
Near the middle of the sermon I made a flippant comment about yarmulkes. A yarmulke (or kippah), as many of you know, is an orthodox Jewish cap worn by many Jews even to this day. It’s a garment of respect and reverence usually worn during prayer, and sometimes worn constantly. In light of the serious esteem the Jewish culture has for this article it was foolish and inappropriate for me to refer to it with such levity. I am really sorry about that. Please forgive me for saying what I did.
Two: Our Friend Fernando. Thanks so much to many of you Downtown folks who gave so generously to our friend Fernando. He was really grateful to receive the money that you gave. It will enable him to fill up his bike cart and help his family through this difficult season of losing his mother. When we spoke with him yesterday he told us that his younger brother would be coming up from Mexico to live with him. He was excited but knew this would bring a lot of change. Please keep praying for all the transitions and grieving process that our friend will be going through in the coming months.
Three: Downtown. Just a quick reminder and announcement for our Downtown family. There will be a brief meeting immediately following the gathering on Sunday. We would love for all you to be there. We’ll shoot to get you to lunch by the regularly scheduled time. Thanks so much!
The last section talked about the New Covenant being superior to the Old. In this chapter, the author is addressing the ways in which the Old Covenant tabernacle and sacrifices were not the complete picture and that the New Covenant sacrifice is better. The first part describes the sanctuary under the Old Covenant (9:1-5) and the rituals (9:6-10); these were temporary and were not meant to be eternal. The author then progresses to Christ’s blood sacrifice as superior to the blood of animals (9:11-28). He recounts the description of the tabernacle and notes its temporary (i.e. earthly) nature (see footnote). The ritual sacrifices had temporary characteristics too, since they were only done once a year, had to be repeated every year, and only the high priest could enter the holy of holies — even he needed the covering of sacrificial blood. The ceremonial law was a blueprint for the heavenly reality of Christ that would bring about the reformation of Israel’s religion from external realities, to internal and spiritual realities of the heart. But the real issue was that these material forms of worship could not penetrate the human conscience and the heart. Inward transformation was necessary in order to bring free access to God for acceptable service and worship. This was effected through the blood of Christ offered on the cross. His resurrection and ascension prove he was not only from heaven, but also that his work of atonement was acceptable to God. Because Christ’s sacrifice worked on a spiritual level he is able to free us from the inward bondage and bring perfection to our worship.
The Earthly Copy and Blood Sacrifices
There are two concepts in particular that are especially important. The first is the need for blood sacrifices, as verse 9:22 makes clear. The nature of sacrifice within the Bible is different than in religious mythologies. Modern people struggle with the necessity of substituting the life of one living thing for the sins of another; a God who requires blood sacrifice seems cruel, and indeed many pagan deities were. But the principle is that the result of sin is death. Atonement through blood sacrifice served to restore divine relationship with the source of life himself. As reviewed above, the external ritual was not effective under the Old Covenant. The New was needed to bring the internal change and eternal redemption through Christ. The second concept is that the earthly form of worship was a “copy” of the heavenly one. Ancient people considered their temples to literally be houses for their gods that replicated the deities’ heavenly houses. Biblically, the tabernacle represented God’s presence among his people, and in the New Testament he dwells within his people, the church, through his Spirit. Jesus is the one who not only was the presence of God himself among us (Jn. 1:14) but also is our perfect high priest who dwells in the very presence of God eternally. Thus, believers have direct access to the Father, through the Son, by his Spirit.
1 The reason why he focuses on the tabernacle and not the temple is not entirely clear. Perhaps the temporary nature of the tabernacle as a tent versus the temple as a permanent building is why. But there is little textual cues for this. Regardless, he is making a biblical argument and the layout of the tabernacle was virtually identical to the temple. The theological and biblical argument is the same whether he decides to use the tabernacle or the temple.