Tuesday, February 25, 2014

From Pastor Jason: Four Questions to Ask Yourself to Help You Find the Best Way to Serve

There's a strange misconception in the Church. Not just our church, but in every church. It comes in the area of discerning gifts or calling or areas of service (however you’d like to describe it). It’s a tempting concept and it suggests that what you love to do is irrelevant to service. The lie is that what you love to do is beside the point. Many times we believe that in order to serve others and honor God it has to hurt or cost us something. To be sure serving Jesus often does. But that doesn’t mean that every time we serve Jesus or his church it has to be a burden. Our service is ultimately for God’s glory and our joy!

So … one way to take the next step in determining your own personal gifts and discovering a place to serve with our ministry and this city is simply to ask these four questions …

1.) What do I love to do?
2.) How do other people benefit from what I love to do?
3.) How is God honored by what I love to do?
3.) What’s stopping me from giving it a shot?

I dare you to ask these questions and see what God can do … with you and within you … with us and within us … for his glory and our joy.

Peace …
Pastor Jason


ICYMI - Pastor Chris' sermon from Sunday
Events coming up: Ladies' Bunco Night, Men's Retreat, and Golf Tournament
SJSU CRU - Short videos are being used to change lives. View for yourself!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Another Look at the Virgin Birth

Pastor Jason recently preached on Matthew 1:18-25, a key passage on the virgin birth (perhaps more accurately called the virgin conception). I have recently been reading Michael Bird's Evangelical Theology, so I thought it may be good to share some insights I gained from Bird on the virgin birth.

The virgin birth is embedded in the earliest Creeds as an essential historical event in the Christian faith. But it has not always been an easy thing to believe and many have doubted it. Exploring the objections can give us a fresh perspective, helping us to realize there is nothing new about people's skepticism today.

The first is an exegetical objection. The reference to Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23 seems rather dubious as if Matthew didn't know his Bible very well and needed a proof text for covering up Jesus' scandalous birth. The word rendered "virgin" in Is. 7:14 more commonly refers to a young maiden, a woman of marriagable age (who in that day was likely a virgin). In the very next chapter of Isaiah, his son is born of a "young maiden" and is given the name Immanuel. The child was also supposed to be born during the time of Ahaz and Isaiah's son fits the basic qualifications. So where does the word "virgin" in our translations come from? Centuries later, when Jews translated the Old Testament into Greek in the 2nd century BC (aka the Septuagint, abbr. LXX), they translated it as virgin and nearly all translations carry on with this tradition.

This criticism overlooks how the New Testament writers and first century Jews read scripture; Matthew was Jewish after all. It is basically imposing modern interpretative methods too rigidly on ancient people. It neglects that Old Testament prophecy was often read typologically. Meaning there are patterns and types that appear throughout the canon of Scripture. God's people get in trouble and God's sends a deliverer for them (Moses and Judges). He acts in human history to save his people (the Exodus). Each event points forward typologically toward an ultimate deliverer. Thus, the translation is not without merit. What Matthew is doing with Isaiah 7:14 is saying that God is acting again just like he has before, but now with the ultimate Deliverer. It is a narrow reading of Isaiah 7:14 to merely look at it through the lens of precise predictive prophecy and miss the literary elements within Isaiah and typological elements in the OT. The identity of the servant of God in Isaiah doesn't end with 7:14. More and more pieces fit together as the book progresses and lesser servants are ruled out until a more complete picture comes into focus.

A second criticism is that the ancient world commonly had stories of divine and human intercourse producing heroes (Hercules). Bird puts it rather humorously, "You can guess what ammunition this gives the skeptics: the birth of Jesus is an early Christian plagiarism of pagan mythology, blah, blah, blah … Jesus never existed …blahcetera, blahcetera." (Kindle location 8158).

The problem with the second criticism is simple. There is no evidence that Matthew or Luke are dependent on other sources for the birth narrative. It's pure speculation. Just because there are similarities in other accounts does not mean they share sources. What works against this criticism is that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are distinctively Jewish, thus giving no indication of other sources. Other ancient mythologies have a god having sexual intercourse with a human. The Gospels have nothing like this. There is no divine-human hanky panky going on. It is just saturated with a thoroughly Jewish and Old Testament worldview.

Bird argues that what we need to look at is how others have denied the virgin birth. On the one hand, a denial of Jesus' human origins reinforces a worldview that denies the goodness of creation and makes Jesus some kind of visible ghost. More importantly, this view strips Jesus of his Jewishness. It reinforces Greco-Roman philosophy and prejudices among the cultural elites against Jews and Christianity's distinctively Jewish origins. It makes the message of Jesus one of "clicking our intellectual shoes together and by repeating three times, 'I can be all I want to be,'" (Bird). On the other hand, a denial of Jesus' divine origins makes him some kind of spiritual guru giving sage advice and denies that God acts in history through the story of Israel for the whole world. It means to deny that God has begun remaking the world already. Here Bird quotes NT Wright,

Actually, the strange story of Jesus’ being conceived without a human father is so peculiar, particularly within Judaism, and so obviously open to sneering accusations on the one hand and the charge that the Christians were simply aping the pagans on the other, that it would be very unlikely for someone to invent it so early in the Christian movement as Matthew and Luke. But there’s more to it than just that. The virginal conception speaks powerfully of new creation, something fresh happening within the old world, beyond the reach and dreams of the possibilities we currently know. And if we believe that the God we’re talking about is the creator of the world, who longs to rescue the world from its corruption and decay, then an act of real new creation, anticipating in fact the great moment of Easter itself, might just be what we should expect, however tremblingly, if and when this God decides to act to bring this new creation about. The ordinary means of procreation is one of the ways, deep down, in which we laugh in the face of death. Mary’s conception of Jesus has no need of that manoeuvre. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” The real objection to the virginal conception is not primarily scientific. It is deeper than that. It is the notion that a new world really might be starting up within the midst of the old, leaving us with the stark choice of birth or death; leaving us, like the Magi, no longer at ease: leaving us, in other words, as Christmas people faced with the Herods of the world. (Kindle Locations 8222-8233).

What we lose with denying the legitimacy of Jesus' peculiar and miraculous origins is the triumph of God over evil. Reducing it to something explained through a biological conundrum is to lose part of the story's transcendent power. Reducing it to some spiritual platitude we lose its power to speak against death, evil, Satan, and the "Herod's of the world."

Bird points out there is another nativity scene in the Bible (Revelation 12:1-11), which is often overlooked. He likens to something directed by Quentin Tarantino: a woman writhing in labor (who represents Israel's entire story of struggle) before a dragon seeking to destroy and devour the child. Yet the dragon is defeated and the child ascends to the throne.

Nearing a conclusion, Bird says it so well.
"The annual celebration of the birth of the Savior that Christians around the world commemorate year after year is a bold profession that the despots of this age, political or spiritual, are living on borrowed time. What is more, the victory of God’s Messiah in Bethlehem and Calvary is replicated in the triumph of God’s people, who conquer evil through the strength of their testimony. The birth of Jesus is God reaching down into human life so that humanity can become the fist that shatters the dynasty of evil, once and for all." (Kindle Locations 8266-8270).

The reason Christians have affirmed the virgin birth, is not because they can explain exactly how it happened, but because they cannot deny it historically, experientially, or theologically. All the evidence surrounding the virgin birth reveals no one would have invented it. We are left to merely testify to it. It is a story too real to be easily believed, and too powerful to be easily denied.
Bird, Michael F. (2013-10-29). Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Kindle Locations 8069-8295). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

From Pastor Jason: 5 Things to Stop and Pray About Right Now (or At Least Sometime Today)

Here are a few things you can be praying for with your Dwell family, about your Dwell family, and as a Dwell family …

  1. Please be praying for our children’s ministry, Little Dwellers. Pastor Chris and Beth Thompson are working hard to organize, plan, and develop this ministry. 
  2. Please be praying for our gifts. This year we would love to see every person at Dwell take the next step in discovering how God has uniquely wired them to serve the church and our city and honor Jesus.
  3. Please be praying for our deacon team who has begun to work and pray, seeking God’s direction for serving the body.
  4. Please be praying for our local government as mayoral candidates are campaigning for the June election. 
  5. Please be praying for our February missions focus: San Jose State CRU

Peace …
Pastor Jason


Catch up on the sermon series: Three Years.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

From Pastor Jason: Seven Things to Do When God Speaks to You

Sunday was one of those Sundays. I don’t know about you but it was just different. From my perspective—up on stage experiencing it all with you—God was speaking to many of us. The word sank deeply. The truth hit you in between the eyes. Something forgotten or avoided was brought to the forefront of your mind. A few of you have even shared with me through texts or emails or in person what God has been saying to you. I imagine there are more. And so today I wanted to give you a few ways to respond that I have found personally helpful when God has spoken to me …

One | Thank him. I know it’s basic. But don’t forget to thank him. The God of the universe spoke to you! He spoke to you! He stirred your heart, highlighted his truth, and gave you his gracious attention and love. No matter what he said, it was a gift.

Two | Write it down. Few things bring clarity to a thought like writing it down. You may not be a fan of keeping a journal or diary. That’s okay. Grab a Post-It note. Open up an app. Blog about it. Write it on your hand. No matter what the medium when we write things down it helps us to remember and articulate our thoughts beyond vague sentiments.

Three | Seek clarification. It’s important to make sure we’ve heard God correctly. Talk to your spouse. Share it with your Gospel Group. Pray. Read Scripture. But … let’s also be honest. We can be pretty good at muddying crystal clear waters. Sometimes instead of just doing what God has clearly said we can foolishly delay. So seek clarification. Unless it is perfectly clear. In that case, move on to #4.

Four | Respond. Confess sin. Stop sinning. Ask for help. Embrace that idea. Apologize to your kids. Have coffee with that coworker. Invite that neighbor to dinner. Simply put, it’s time to be doers of the Word.

Five | Tell someone. Update the community. Bring your brothers and sisters into the experience and process with you. Undoubtedly it will not only encourage us, but it will help each of us with our own processes of listening and responding to God. Let the church be the Church.

Six | Worship Jesus. It might be obvious, but God is officially up to something in your life. It’s a gift. It’s grace. It’s for your joy! It’s for his glory. So worship Jesus with a glad heart.

Seven | Listen again. There’s more where that came from.

Can't wait to hear more about what God is doing in your lives.

Peace ...
Pastor Jason


Miss Sunday’s message? Listen here!
Men’s Retreat - full amount is due this Sunday. Have your money for Jean, please!!
Ladies Bunco - It's on for March 15th gals. RSVP here if you haven't already.
**NEW** Curriculum coming to our Little Dwellers in the Toddler Room! Our 2 & 3 year olds will now enjoy a craft or activity along with music by "Songs for Saplings" paired with a Bible verse and a devotional reading from author Sally Lloyd-Jones. Check out these new resources here and here

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

From Pastor Jason: Jesus Knows What's Up

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:31-37, ESV)

Jesus never allowed outside influences to divert his main activity and agenda. He had a plan. He had a purpose. And humbly he followed his Father’s plan and purpose all the way to the cross, and then back again to the Father. That’s the big picture. But this passage from Mark 7 (one of the chapters in our reading plan today) gives us a picture of Jesus' attention to the intricate details of this plan and purpose. Did you notice?

The crowd brought Jesus “a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment”. They begged Jesus to heal him. Then they stood there, probably waiting for Jesus’ powerful, amazing, and game-changing response. But instead of wowing them, Jesus took the man aside, away from the crowd, and healed him privately.

To be sure we ought to be constantly mindful of the communal aspects of Scripture and the gospel. Especially as western Christians we have a tendency to overlook this important aspect of God’s purpose and plan. But let’s not swing the pendulum too far. God and his good news are still deeply personal and private. And, of course, Jesus knew this. 

When Jesus brought the man aside he certainly had in mind his timing for making his kingdom agenda and identity public. But he also made a point to graciously and personally connect with this single individual. 

Happy reading!
Pastor Jason

Sunday's Sermon: Genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17)
Men's Retreat: Sign up yesterday!
Dwell Ladies' Bunco Night: Mark your calendars for March 15th at 6:30pm
Golf Tournament: Mark your calendars for May 24th