Neither Poverty nor Riches

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Neither Poverty nor Riches is a thorough and thoughtful book by Craig Blomberg as part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. It is an insightful survey through all parts of Scripture. We are currently in a preaching series on finances at Venture Church, and I thought it would be useful to highlight Blomberg’s closing summary. He closed with five conclusions, and later added an application to each point.

  1. “Material possessions are a good gift from God meant for his people to enjoy.” If wealth is a good gift, not an evil one, it’s ok to pursue it. As we understand the possessions to be a gift from God, however, we will want to share with those in need, particularly those with little control over their circumstances.
  2. “Material possessions are simultaneously one of the primary means of turning human hearts away from God.” Aware of this, giving of our possessions away guards us against the temptation to place too much value on our possessions.
  3. “A necessary sign of a life in the process of being redeemed is that of transformation in the area of stewardship.” Since generosity is characteristic of a Christ follower, we should see an increased desire to give. Eventually, generosity can become part of our nature.
  4. “There are certain extremes of wealth and poverty which are in and of themselves intolerable.” Therefore those with a surplus should work hard to help at least a few people in poverty.
  5. “The Bible’s teaching about material possessions is inextricably intertwined with more ‘spiritual’ matters.” The biblical ideal is holistic aid, both physical and spiritual needs, so we should give to organizations that reflect this ideal.

These concluding statements summarize Blomberg’s observations of how each part of Scripture teaches about money. This is obviously difficult to summarize with five statements and applications! These statements do, however, give a useful framework for understanding biblical instruction on finances.

To fully understand these statements, pick up the book here. In the meantime, dive into God’s Word and discover what it teaches about money. And join us this January as we investigate four passages from Scripture that focus on this important topic.

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Christmas in a Barn

Untitled designSometimes, I just need to break the routine. Do something unusual. Gain a new perspective. That can be especially true at Christmas…and I love Christmas! I turn on the Christmas music early. I love Elf. And It’s a Wonderful Life. And The Nativity Story. I use a real tree…and an artificial tree. Get the point? I enjoy Christmas!

In the midst of a busy season, though, it’s easy for the Christmas season to become routine and miss the annual opportunity to think deeply about Immanuel – “God with us.” Several years ago, I found myself at home alone one evening during the Christmas season. I turned on some music, lit up the tree, started a fire, and picked up a small book by Michael Card, Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ. Here’s what I read:

Christmas is a struggle for my wife and me. Our ongoing war with the world seems to intensify as the decorations go up all over town. there is His name, in every window. Sometimes there is even a statue of His sweet infant body, lying in some straw with shepherds and wise men standing around with blank porcelain expressions. (I’ve always thought their faces convey the attitude of the world toward Christmas: blank, dazed, and bewildered.) If people today would just look at the birth of Jesus “straight on,” they would be puzzled that we should celebrate the horrific birth of a baby who was born to die. The contradictions should be more than the world can take. If Christianity could just be seen for what it is — a paradox and a mystery. The beginning in that dirty stable is one of the greatest mysteries: the plainness and greatness of Jesus, the grime and the glory. Wise men with gold in their hands and shepherds with sheep dung on their shoes. A smelly stable below and a shining star above. The birth of a gentle Lamb who was the fiercest Lion.

But the world doesn’t seem to struggle with these contradictions. They join in our season of celebration unruffled and oftentimes more joyful than we.

In an attempt to preserve some of this perspective, it is our family tradition to pile in the car and go to a real working barn, with horses in their stalls and a barn cat on the prowl for its prey amongst the hay bales. Together, we read the Christmas story by candlelight. The odor and the dark seem to press in against the fragile light of our candle. The horses stamp they feet against the cold and look at us sideways, as horses must, as if we were a little “off” for being there in the middle of the night.

The shabbiness of this setting reminds us of that other shabby place Jesus chooses everyday to be born: the human heart, a place more filthy and cold than any stable. All this comes so much closer to reality for us than the singing Christmas trees or the huge services. They may have their place and might become a genuine part of the real celebration, but not without the smell of the straw and the bewildered animals who seem almost about to speak. A baby and a barn. Only with these things can the celebration be truly complete.

It’s been many years since I read those words, and I’ve never made it to the barn. This year will be different. At Venture Church, we were dreaming about how Christmas could be a bit different this year. Out of the routine. Something unusual. A new perspective. A baby and a barn.

So we are making plans for a Christmas Eve gathering in a barn. It will be simple. It will be humble. It won’t smell like pine and cider. But we will gather in a barn to sing carols and read the Christmas story. And I hope some of us leave with a new appreciation of mystery – the grime and the glory – of Immanuel, “God with us.”

Understanding the Book of Proverbs

WALK WITHWe recently began a series on the Book of Proverbs at Venture Church. In the introductory sermon, I gave a couple of insights on how to approach and understand Proverbs. I mentioned that the proverbs are (1) memorable (written to be remembered, not to thoroughly cover the topic), (2) descriptive (they describe the path of wisdom, they are not promises from God), and (3) poetic (often written in Hebrew parallels with vivid imagery).

This short summary captures a bit of the hermeneutics of Proverbs, but there are helpful sources available for a more complete understanding.

Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart give the following parameters in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth:

  1. Proverbs are often parabolic (i.e., figurative, pointing beyond themselves).
  2. Proverbs are intensely practical, not theoretically theological.
  3. Proverbs are worded to be memorable, not technically precise.
  4. Proverbs are not designed to support selfish behavior — just the opposite!
  5. Proverbs strongly reflecting ancient culture may need sensible “translation” so as not to lose their meaning.
  6. Proverbs are not guarantees from God but poetic guidelines for good behavior.
  7. Proverbs may use highly specific language, exaggeration, or any of a variety of literary techniques to make their point.
  8. Proverbs give good advice for wise approaches to certain aspects of life but are not exhaustive in their coverage.
  9. Wrongly used, proverbs may justify a crass, materialistic lifestyle. Rightly used, proverbs will provide practical advice for daily living.

Another helpful approach is included in Introduction to Biblical Interpretation by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard. They first remind us that “this literary form’s commands or prohibitions present absolute demands for obedience not tentative suggestions for consideration. Readers must  respond to them with seriousness.” It is easy to lose the force of the commands of Proverbs when appreciating its poetry. These are not just helpful sayings, they are divinely inspired as God’s Word.

They also point out the passion behind the proverbs. “The student must approach wisdom speeches as if listening to a woman passionately pleading with passing crowds to follow her advice. That very passion underscores the seriousness of her advice — how crucial for people to obey it, and how menacing is the danger that stalks those who do not.” They conclude by writing that we can capture the form and content of a proverb by completing this sentence: “This shouting woman urges me to….”

Also, if you’d like to dig a bit deeper, this journal article from Greg Parsons may be helpful.(shared with permission)

One more resource: “Read Scripture” has an informative and entertaining video overview of the Book of Proverbs. I have enjoyed their book overviews and their treatment of Proverbs does not disappoint.

At Venture, we have issued the “Proverbs Challenge.” Since there are 31 days in both July and August, we have encouraged everyone to read a chapter of Proverbs each day for two months. And in the spirit of pursuing wisdom, we are asking everyone to prioritize church attendance, where we will preach wisdom from the Book of Proverbs each Sunday in July and August. I pray God will use his Word in our church, and I invite you to join us on the journey as we “Walk with the Wise” through the Book of Proverbs.

4 Things You Can Do Today to Share Jesus

evangelism-608x459Many Christ followers want to point people to Jesus, especially in these crazy times we live in. Recently, we were challenged at Venture Church to pray for three people who have not put their faith in Jesus.

But the thought of sharing our faith can be terrifying! I’ve often chuckled at books that make it sound easy, like you “just walk across the room,” “tell someone,” and simply “invite our friends on a spiritual journey.” (Good books to read by the way, just follow the links!)

Today’s cultural context of pluralism and political correctness makes pointing people to Jesus even more intimidating. Why would we share the gospel if the content of belief is irrelevant? If all roads truly lead to God, why bother offending someone or risking ridicule? But if Jesus meant it when he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me,” we should take seriously our call to share the gospel.

The ultimate goal is that every Christ follower will understand the gospel and have the boldness to share it with others. To quote the great Leo Marvin,Dr._Leo_Marvin however, we often take “Baby Steps” to arrive at that goal. Here are 4 things you can do today to share Jesus with people around you:

  1. “Share” the gospel. Social media can be a good platform for getting the word out. It’s a casual way to identify yourself as a Christ follower, and it further spreads the message of the post. The simple step of “liking” a Facebook post from your church or “sharing” an interesting blog extends the reach of the post exponentially.
  2. Be friendly. Smile at people, greet people, strike up a conversation with your neighbor. Resist the societal pull towards isolation. One caveat, however, don’t be friendly in order to “win people” or with the goal of converting them. Just be friendly. If God is at work in this person’s life, he will draw them to himself. We just need to communicate love and be ready to tell the story of the gospel when opportunity arises.
  3. Ask questions. It’s the old adage: “Everyone’s favorite subject to talk about is themselves.” Develop the art of asking questions. Caring for people is so much better than arguing over beliefs. And don’t jump to your own story, don’t try to out-do your friend’s story. Just listen.
  4. One final tip: pray. If you are praying consistently for people to follow Jesus, you are more likely to find opportunities to invite them to church or have a spiritual conversation with them. God works in response to prayer!

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You may think, “I’m no Billy Graham” when it comes to sharing the gospel. None of us are! Hopefully all of us will grow confident in sharing Jesus with those around us. In the meantime, take a few baby steps to point others to Jesus.

 

The Mystery and the Mission

FVYV2NWHEBN9EWK.MEDIUMThose who follow Jesus are called to mission. That’s clear.

The mission is fueled by a mystery. What? Not very clear.

When we see the word “mystery,” we usually think of our favorite investigative show. Depending on your generation, you may think of Sherlock, Shawn and Gus, Scooby and Shaggy, Monk, Columbo, Matlock, or some may even think of Jessica Fletcher. A mystery is a problem to be solved, a “whodunit” scenario. The game, it is famously said, is afoot.

In the book of Colossians, however, Paul writes of a different sort of mystery. The gospel is a mystery because it has been hidden for ages and generations, but is now revealed. We don’t need Nancy Drew or Encyclopedia Brown to figure this out — it is a mystery revealed. Throughout the Old Testament, people tried to understand what was being foretold -even the prophets themselves according to 1 Peter 1:10-12. When Jesus finally came, the gospel was revealed. And his last piece of instruction was to share the gospel with everyone…all people, all nations. In the early church, the gospel spread to the Gentiles. God was doing a great thing.

So Paul writes that “God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery…” Notice how Paul piles up lavish descriptions of the mystery: great, riches, glory. We know something powerful is coming. And Paul reveals this mystery:

“Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

It’s a message of inclusion, Gentiles are part of God’s kingdom. It’s also a message of indwelling, Christ IN you is the hope of glory.

And this mystery fuels Paul’s mission. In the surrounding verses, Paul rejoices in his suffering for the  sake of the church, he labors, and he struggles. Why? This mystery is great, rich, and glorious, and it’s worth giving your life to share it with others.

Venture Church is preparing for a Missions Sunday. And there is much to celebrate! We like to think of ourselves as a small church with a big vision. And it shows up on Missions Sunday. We will celebrate our guest speakers Jonathan and Tracy Shoemaker, church planters in Lisbon, as well as people within in our church body who are assisting church planting ministries in Liberia, our upcoming trip to build a house for a needy family in Mexico, opportunities to serve in global missions with E3 Partners, the church planting missionaries we support in Ireland, and a young adult preparing to do missions work in eleven countries in eleven months through an experience known as “The World Race.”

A great mystery has been revealed to us: Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Our mission is to reveal this mystery to the nations.

The game is afoot!