A recounting of a young boy who had a vision of Heaven was turned into a book and now into a Movie. I have not read the book, but what I have to say fits any incident fitting the vision of heaven experience.
I think that visions can happen, though that does not mean that case by case we should not be aware that it’s possible someone just had a vivid dream. But what is a little off is 1) needing some extra confirmation of heaven (though it is encouraging to have it, we shouldn’t need it) and 2) thinking that there is new truth revealed to these people for the Church.
This is not to say that experiences can’t be of great encouragement. But it does seem that an individual’s vision can give us more surety of the reality of God than how he has spoken to all of us. And though we want to affirm that God speaks to our hearts in many ways, and through many means, we should be careful when we take what we feel God is saying to essentially be equivalent in it’s authority to His Word, a Word which we are to interpret our experiences by, and not interpret it by our experiences.
To defend this, let’s go to the Bible where two apostles talk about Visions. Paul talks about being caught up to the third heaven and he chides the Corinthians for caring more about visions, gifts and experiences than about growing closer to Christ in holiness. But the most Amazing text is in 2 Peter 1:16-19

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts

Did you catch that? The vision was an affirmation of the truth of the Gospel. He doesn’t dismiss its power. But Peter says that the scriptures as MORE sure than that! Let me be clear as crystal… the point of this passage is not to DOWNPLAY the significance or validity of experiences (certainly the mt. of Transfiguration was meant to strengthen their faith) but to RAISE us to new heights in appreciation for how amazing, how incredible is God’s Word! If we are in practice finding more validation in individual experiences, (for though many of us would say we don’t, yet really we do) lets us raise our appreciation for the Holy Spirit’s power in scripture. Let us go there to find nourishment to live whether or not God gives us experiences.
Lastly let’s be careful about adding on to scripture. It is very common to take someone’s experience and decide that it is revealed truth from God on par with scripture that is for all the church to believe. If this boy saw angels in a certain way in his vision, that may very well have been part of the vision but I think it’s a bit sketchy to start making extra biblical conclusions about the nature of heaven from anything but the Bible. I say this because revelation warns us not to add to scripture, and Paul says not to go beyond what is written. To be encouraged by a vision or revelation has a place in our lives. To be given new information that is for all the church for all time (not specified for you or your immediate context) I think you would need to petition the church to reopen the canon so that the new additions and revisions you have to the word of God can be put in there. But since few of us are as bold to do that, and those who have done that began Mormonism, Christian Science, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, let’s make sure that we are not looking to visions to revise and improve the Bible. We do not believe in an open Canon, so lets’ not act like we do.
In conclusion, Experiences and visions can happen and are great when they do. But they are always under and submissive to the Word of God both in their affirmation to our hearts and to truth.
So I probably won’t see it in theatres, but if you want to I’d say go for it and be encouraged.

Why Youth Ministry?

Posted: October 7, 2013 in CE/Youth MInistry

Recently while using a website to look up Bible verses, I saw an ad saying “Is youth ministry biblical? Take our survey!” The name of the organization made it clear that they thought youth ministry was not biblical, that it took away from the family’s God given role. This is one of the most frustrating things for those of us who work in the church. It is seen to be that the conservative, traditional position must be to have everyone worship together, and at all times, and to have no specific ministries to people with certain developmental needs. Sometimes they will demand that a scripture citation be given to support having a separate ministry for youth, and will attempt to cite scriptures showing that the family is where spiritual formation should be happening for growing souls. (the name of this blog!)
Now, I’m totally against progressivism altering the Christian faith. I adhere to biblical inerrancy and would never bow to the cultural relativism that is causing evangelicalism to lose it’s distinctiveness on many fronts. And so it breaks my heart that these complaints against youth ministry are coming not from the progressive, Christ of Culture side of evangelicalism but from the Gospel centered, Christ against/transforming culture side of evangelicalism.
This despisement of youth ministry rests on a number of premises which I disagree with.

First, the notion that, if we cannot find youth ministry in Scripture, we must concede that it is not God’s will. Many roles and functions of the church today are not found in Scripture. For example, a lead pastor is nowhere to be found, simply a collection  of Elders. Church secretaries are completely absent, as are anyone whose job it is to maintain the church property. We do not see any position besides Elders and Deacons in the local church, nor do we see any ministries such as marriage counseling, a worship team (volunteer or paid), an orphanage, or specific ministries for dealing with grief or for outreach to specific populations, or to pregnant teens, etc. with the exception of widows.

All these I have listed are ministries and positions I would totally support. I think they are consistent with the ministry given to the church. They are not against the churches call, and aid her in fulfilling the great commission. Nor do they require structures or denials of Biblical principles. Yet no one is crying out, for the most parts, that these practices are against a biblical view of church.

Second, the notion is that, since every text that mentions children specifically gives the responsibility of passing on the faith to parents, that it is the family who has responsibility for passing on the faith, and though the church may augment the family and support them, they do not have a God-given responsibility.
The hermeunitcal error here is to assume an exception in a text when none is give. If we have numerous texts where the church, and the authorities therein, are called to account for all the sheep God has entrusted to him, and we have texts that say they are to guide them, train them to obey, than it would be only natural to assume that all the church includes, well, all the church. To mention the certain groups this would include would be needless, than the text would read ” shepherd the flock that is among you; men, woman, widows, husbands wives, children and everyone else”. For example, every text about who wives are to submit to in authority is related to their husbands. Does this mean that a woman who,is married, is a wife. And they therefore do not need to be submissive to the authority of the church, since no text specifically outlines that, included in the church, are wives? of course not! but this is what we do. The reason we do not see children mentioned specifically as a church responsibility is because they are considered as part of the church, and to delineate each group of the church whenever the church is commanded to do such and such would be ridiculous. Again, to be clear, UNLESS we have an exception given in the text, OR we have a statement of exclusivity in another text (i.e. if it said “wives, be submissive ONLY to your husbands, children, be obedient ONLY to your parents (not the church or governing authorities) we should not assume that because a families responsibilities include elements of the faith, that means that we can restrict the churches role.

Lastly, much of this is an attempt to restore the family as the center of the Christian life against other institutions. Institutions like the schools, government, etc. These other institutions are extrabiblical at least in terms of any role in moral, faith, and personal development, and do not have divine authority in these areas. However, the church is biblical, and definatly was ordained by God for those reasons. It’s place in a believers life is central, and is given such terms as “the bride of Christ”  “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” Such grandiose terms are not used for the family. In fact, the signifigance of the family draws largely on the fact that marriage is a type of Christ and the church.
Something is amiss if in seeking to be profamily we relegate the Bride of Christ to a subordinate position in the Christians life. Youth ministry does not ignore parents God given responsibility to develop their children’s faith, but it also takes seriously the churches charge to shepherd EVERYONE in it’s flock. We never see Christ talking about valuing the church to much, and in fact, he sees himself as one flesh with the church.

My conclusion is that many of these views place family as more important than the church in an attempt to call families to their God-given duties. They also fail to understand the central nature of the body of believers as central, not just supportive, to the Christian life. The church is not merely a gathering of believers, it is a divinely ordained and eteranal instiution that we are all called individually to be connected to. Lastly, we should not assume that texts that speak about shepherding everyone in the flock or caring for the local church can have exceptions applied to them that are not in the text. DOn’t get me wrong, family is amazing, but do a quick church on how the bible talks about family, and how the bible talks about the church, and look at the amazing terms and priveleges the church is given. Notice also how instuctions to churches are primary in the epistels, and instructions on how to interact with family or at work or with government come after.

The church is central to the life of every believer, once a young person has professed faith, their membership in the universal church is alongside of the other believers in their family, and they are accountable to the church as a beliefver, and the church is accountable for their soul. It is not the family who is a member of the church, each believer is a member themselves.

Why church history?

Posted: June 12, 2013 in CE/Youth MInistry

I’ve been asked this question before, why study church history? What purpose does it serve?
The answer to that question may also serve to answer why we study history in the first place.
But before I get going on it, let me say this. I am shocked when people ask me that question, but still think it’s important to learn secular history in the schools. They’d feel bad if an Amreican student didn’t know about Abraham Lincoln, George washington, or important events like the fall of the berlin wall or the civil rights movement, but how can this be? I mean, how could we think the history of the Nation or people we belong to, whatever that may be, takes precendence of our history as God’s People, the church? Our primary people, our primary nation or kingdom we belong to, is the church. And our students grow up being able to list almost all the presidents but couldnt’ even name the most Major persons from Church histroy such as Augustine or Luther? for shame.
But i digress. The point is that if the history of our secondary people group matters, it only follows that the history of our primary people group matters.
But the reason for history is often stated as “we need to know how we got to where we are.” Or something like “being aware of our roots keeps us connected to our past” which I think is not the important point.
Or a statement is made such as “those who don’t learn from Histories mistakes are doomed to repeat them.” I think this gets closer, though cheesey.
The reason why history is such a valuable study, why my dad says all the best insights come from the history guys, is that reality is always far more complex than we could theorize. Thus as we experience it, our concept of it is deepened. History is the secret of weaning from others experiences, corporate or individual, just as we would learn from our own experiences. When this ceases to be the goal of historical study, it becomes nothing more than learning stories to satisfy curiosity. But in learning from experiences, oh the richness, the insight we gain that we could not with all our theorizing. We see how beliefs we hold dear have been held in the past, what has led to their demise or what dangers that belief system holds. We see what patterns emerge and so are aware of them, able to discern patterns in social reality just as there are patterns in nature. We see what makes great movements start, what has been in all of them, and what makes them fall apart. All of us makes us so wise as if we actually had lived for hundreds of years. But, just like our own personal experience, it is learning from it that matters. Thus history, if it is a blind fact science, is useless. Philosophy and reasoning must come in for it to become practical.
So I urge us all to know history, and to see the patterns that happen so we can better interact with the world God has put us in.
May the church go forth!

Normalization of sin, as I would describe it, is when sins that were considered in the minds of most, let’s call it the “culture” stop being seen as wrong. Then believers, who may agree that is is a sin, still hardly see it as a major sin anymore. They are so effected by what culture views as right and wrong, that though they still say it is wrong, they no longer really feel too much conviction over it. The gradation of how henious a sin is is determined in large part by whether the culture actually views it as wrong.
For example, our culture use to view sexual sins very seriously. Thus back then, when even the thought of sexual sin crossed someone’s mind, there was a sort of “no no no no, I’m not that kind of person” reaction to it. Today, perhaps, there still remains a little bit of this in regards to a married person lusting after another, but even there it is being normalzed. The point is, that, as in the old days even the crossing thought of premarital relations was avoided becasue “no, i’m not that kind of person” not it’s readily entertained, even if recognized as wrong.
This goes for many other things as well. Lying is no longer viewed as that big a deal. Sure we acknolwedge it as wrong, but because it’s become normalized, when we’re caught in a lie, we dont feel shocked at what kind of person we’ve become.
And thus we become desensitized to sin, at least certain sins. Whereas we will be shocked to find even a trace of racism in ourselves or others, we are shocked and the person is seen as backwards morally. But when a person is caught in a repetitive web of lies, his character is rarely losing in the eyes of most. Even when someone is caught with “smut”, he loses little in regards to his being seen as morally backwards.
Thus it is the culture, and not God, that helps us to decide which sins are so heinous that a person should avoid them at all costs. and thus when workign with youth, or adults who are caught up in culture, only those sins still acknowledged by the culture are seen as having the power to make someone in need of desperate help.
What is the remedy? We need to no longer let culture play down for us the seriousness of sin, especially of those sins that are greatly serious. We see politicians caught in outright lies, and then when they are forced to confess, there is almost no talk of how this politician is not even fit to run a gas station because his word is untrustworthy. We need to come down hard on sins with church discipline, one of GOd’s mean of grace. Our people will not come to us for help with sins, for the most part, that they don’t see as having a negative effect on their lives and community. And they, we, to be honest, are fine with allowing those sins in our lives that don’t have these effects in our minds. But have they do, and it is up to us to call out in each other the sins and their grave danger. To help a person see not only that lying is wrong, but that it places him on the same standing as a worthless man as does a sin of racism. To help them see that the revulsion they should feel at longing after a woman besides their wife should be the same “no no no no no no, I will not be that person” revulsion we would feel if we felt attracted to a a family member.
Of course this goes for many sins that have become normalized, and are now acceptable. I do want to make it clear that I’m not saying all sins are equal, that would be incorrect. THough any sin is enough to cause someone to need Christ to reconcile them, various sins have different effects on our relationship with God, encur greater or lesser discipline, are more damaging, etc. But that standard is determined by God’s eternal standard, and should never be compromised because society has started to “wink” at it or be okay with it. We should not allow the culture to determine which sins require church discipline, or someone stepping out of leadership.
Morality is not subjective. And if we treat it as such we will only allow our churches to suffer the same effects the culture is experiencing. If we continue to rely only on our consciences to tell us when we are wrong, than we can expect these consciences to continue to do what they have done for centuries, reflect the sensiblities of the times, not the truth. But if we are ready to alight our feelings to God’s word, we would find conviction of a very strong nature in places where our culture would mock us for being so concerned. But, in reality, their mocking is small compared to the price to pay if we do not take these great sins with the right weight.

I do not understand the way the world goes on it’s work,
I can’t place how they get along or what they all a quirk,
sometimes the foundness of a day is all that I can grasp,
That One little bit of reality that anchors me till the last.
It’s changed it’s ins and outs so much since I was just a kid,
Or maybe everything’s the same and its me changed and not it.

There seems a steady influnece of letting things just go,
to think is too much work so truths what the masss “know”
to question it i’m afraid would put me up agains thewall
and no one would change anyway so why even tryt all?
and if the did, am I sure, that Iam even right?
I stay up wondering while fall asleep each night.
If smarter men, older, more experiene and informed do o aree,
than what trust can I from the thoughts that come from me?
this leaves me tossed out on the sea without an anchor to hold fast,
Is trut is all so hard to see how can any of us last?

The truthis real and so we must set our heart at east
It may be if I can not fully know truth, but yet it can know me
And what I know though small in part, imperfct and impure
Still what I know can bring me joy and guide me somewha here.

I need not, but tobe known by that which unseen.
And a small taste of Him will be all he world to me.

First Poem in years!

Posted: December 2, 2012 in Devotional/Poetry

I use to write poems all the time. Many to girls I never gave them to (:
I stopped… but I  need to get back in touch with my emotions and my mentor suggested at least one a week.
here goes!

Slipping through the amber fields
remembering what I use to feel
when just a boy and days where young
and my mind could just rest in fun.
I know the days are not long off
when we shall never sneeze or cough
or chemicals be offset in our brain
and no more crying, not more pain

But somehow that day seems to be
more a dream and less a reality. My heart can’t contemplate the sounds
or the endless praise that will resound
What’s real to me is the earth before my eyes,
Where there is nothing which does not die
But still I find that while I’m here
I give in far too much to fear

how can I get my heart in mind to nest
On that glorious everlasting rest?
For if my heart could rest in paradise
then I could bear it when I am despised,
When failures mount like volcanoe’s flow
and the only appropriate response is woe

O on that rest may my soul be fixed
through all the worst that this life is,
Through broken heart and wounded mind and not getting past all that I’ve left behind,
to live every day as if I’d been to the place,
Even though I haven’t… that is faith
Oh how to get to that state and remain,
It may take much effort and much pain

But be that all  as hard and long as it may, It’s worth it to have a heart fixed on that day,
Would saw alight my heart  free as a dove
To be free for the great sacrifices of love
That may take not only my life away,
but the things I cherish every day.
My dreams and hopes and little plans,
then they could be into his hands.
Can we get here? I do despair!
Please lift up a brother in error!

So I can run through fields and not think,
I’ve simple times when my heart wouldn’t sink,
But through all of the difficult pain,
of broken heart unmended brain,
look at fields and storms and trees,
at rocks and butterflies and bees,
And feel so sure of that final day
When all these things will be remade
And so my heart, whatever condition is around
Is filled with the coming heaven’s righteous sound!

 

 

Preface
I will be mostly referring to idolatry as it’s condemned in the second commandment. I know some would say the ten commandments are no longer binding on Christians, whilst some would say they are, still others would say that they are not binding but still represent God’s moral will. However, this shouldn’t stop the relevancy of the discussion of what idolatry is. If we take the stance the ten commandments aren’t for us today at all, idolatry is still condemned in the New Testament, unlike, say, Sabbath breaking which is not clearly condemned for NT  believers. Thus, regardless of one’s stance on the revelence of the OT law on believers today, what follows should still stand. Certainly the concept of idolatry as used in the New Testament should be seen as having roots and how it’s defined in the old, just as others day.

 

The second commandment reads like this.

Exodus 20:4″You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Our brothers and sisters in the Catholic and Lutheran churches combine the 1st and 2nd commandments to make them simply one commandment. That is, Have no other Gods before me and make no idols. Thus, in those traditions, as long as one is not making them to worship another God, graven images are okay.
But the natural reading is that they are two separate commands, and that the second commandment, no idols, is not simply giving detail to the first, no other God’s before me. Thus, it is not only wrong to create an image of another being to worship, it would be wrong to create an image of the true God and worship that.

This is more relevant then we realize, and would make sense if we think about it. In the story of the Golden calf, when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai to find the Israelites commiting such an abomination, he was appalled. But the feast was, at least by Aarons declaration, a feast to the true God. So why would the God be mad if they were worshiping Him? Well, do you see anything wrong and having a day of worshiping God, and what you are calling God is a statue of a dumb animal?

Idolatry is terribly wrong, because God is real. It is wrong to image God as you want him, be it in art form, or in your own head, and worship that. God is God, and we all try to adjust our idea of him to fit what we want him to be, and interact more with our idea of God then with God himself. We say we worship the true God of the bible, but we want to make him manageable, understandable, and so we make an image of Him. This seems most prevalent in Dt. 4 15-18 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth

The reason given for not making any image is connected to the fact that they saw no form.  This distinction of our God, that, though indeed his works in our world may certainly be representing by us in ways, he must not be, gives respect to him as a real being, beyond anyone’s imagination and deserving never to be so minimalized into an image, be it of a man or a beast. Likewise, the sin of the Northern kingdom was not only their constant worship of other gods, though that was true, it was also the two golden calves Jeroboam had set up.
Idolatry is not simply the worship of another god. Idolatry is imaging God in some way. By representing him according to your own fancy instead of letting him remain who he is. We do harm to people’s spiritual lives when we tell them it is only worshiping another God that is wrong, it is wrong to worship the True God as an idea, a symbol. He is a reality. And when we begin to worship only our idea of God, well, it becomes very easy to worship him, doesn’t it? Because then he’s exactly the kind of God we want, but we must not be like that.
When we worship God as he is not we commit idolatry. When we wish God was other then he was, we commit idolatry. That is why “Covetousness is idolatry.” Covetousness is not idolatry because it makes a God out of what you covet. That would not be a breaking of the 2nd commandment, as idolatry is, but of the 1st. It is breaking the 2nd commandment because when I desire that God had made me different, or had placed me better in society, or had allowed me to have whatever it is my neighbor has in terms of talents, relationships, or experiences, I am saying I wish God was other then he is. This is greatly dangerous. To Covet is to long for God to be your idea of what he should be, and refuse to delight in the real one. But there is only the real one, and only in delighting in him, can we have worship and joy.
So should we use images in worship? I’m not saying the commandment covers that. But it certainly covers images of God. We have a real God who is so beyond comprehension, any imaging of him we do brings him down to the level of our ideas. And this must be avoided. God has never shown us his form. Do not give him a form just to make it easier on yourself, to make God more tangible and manageable. He cannot be managed. He cannot be mastered. He can only be known by who he is, and not by what we think he is. May we not image him and so keep ourselves from knowing him.