Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Family Worship Weekends

There's a beautiful story in the gospels of parents bringing their children to Jesus so that he would bless them. The disciples shooed the children away, thinking that God's work through Jesus was too important to be wasted on these little ones. But Jesus rebuked them, and even used the faith of the little children as an example for his disciples.

Too often, we in the church have an attitude toward the children that resembles that of the first disciples. We want someone else to watch our kids so that we can go into the sanctuary, where God is really at work. We think of children's ministry as free babysitting. But that's not Jesus' heart for kids, and it shouldn't be the heart of the bride of Christ, either.

At Ember, the people who serve in Children's Ministry aren't volunteers. They're pastors. That's what we call them, because we believe that it is their God-ordained responsibility to shepherd the children for the hour+ that they're in their care. It's far more than just volunteering your time, it's loving kids in the name of Jesus. It's how we embody Jesus' call, "Let the children come to me", 70 generations later.

We also think it's crucial that kids see how their parents receive the word of God and respond to him, so on a regular basis we have Family Worship Weekends. (I say this like we've been doing church for a long time.) Family Worship Weekends are where we close down all Children's Ministry and bring all of our kids into the sanctuary to worship with the adults. The goal is for families to learn how to worship together.

It may take us some time to figure out how to do this well, but we believe this is an investment in the long-term health of the kingdom of God, as well as in the spiritual development of the youngest generation of Christians. This Sunday I'll be preaching a Children's Sermon, in addition to our regularly scheduled sermon from the book of Jeremiah. Come join us...and bring your kids! Sundays @ 5pm, 401 E. Schrock Rd.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sermon Recap: Return! Return! Return!

This past Sunday night at Ember I preached a sermon called Return! Return! Return! It was the third message in our series on Jeremiah, called Run with Horses. The text was Jeremiah 3:6-4:4. I originally preached the sermon in three parts, broken up by a song of reflection and communion, but you can listen to it all the way through in the sermon player on this blog.

The point of the message was that God is calling us to return to him, but we can't come back to him on our own terms. We must come back his way, and his way involves three commands to return.


First of all, we must return in repentance. We can't pretend like nothing has happened. We don't get to ignore the fact that our sin and idolatry has severed our relationship with God. We have to admit that we are wrong, that we have sinned, and we must be truly sorry for it. We can't get back to God unless we first repent of our sin.


Secondly, we must return through grace. We come back to God by walking through his grace. We don't make it back to God by our own moral goodness. We can't restore our relationship with him through our own guilt, promises to reform our ways, or our good deeds. A restored relationship with God only happens because of God's grace, manifested by faith in his Son Jesus Christ.


Finally, we must return to God. The goal of our return is God himself, and a renewed and restored relationship with him. He's not taking us back to some over-idealized version of the past. It's not that we're going back to a time before we had all the baggage we do now, it's that we're finally moving forward with all of our baggage in tow, but now God himself is with us to carry it, redeem it, and use it for good.

This is how we return to God. And he is always ready and excited for us to return. As he says at the end of this passage, "If you will return, then return to me."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ember Monday

Our third service is in the books! It was a really sweet time of worship and communion. The band played one of my personal favorites: But For You Who Fear My Name by The Welcome Wagon. It's probably one of those songs that you have to get used to before it can become a worshipful encounter, but it's worth it! Garth was rocking it out on four different instruments: the banjo, acoustic guitar, piano, and pump organ! All at the same time! ...Okay, maybe not at the same time, but he's still awesome!

The sermon was on Jeremiah 3, and I broke it up into three parts. Each part went with one of three "Return" statements from the passage. We celebrated communion during the sermon, which was the first time we had done that as a church.

All in all it was another great time of worship. This coming weekend is our first Family Worship Weekend, where we have all the kids with us in the sanctuary for the service. I get to write my first ever children's sermon! I'm so excited...and I have no idea what I'm going to do for it!

God has been so good to us. We're praying for his continued faithfulness on this faith venture. If you want to hop on board with us, come out and worship with us this Sunday. God is on the move, and we're doing our best to keep up with him!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Justin Verlander Should Win the AL MVP

I know the baseball season isn't over yet, but that hasn't stopped anyone from arguing about who should win the American League MVP award. Clearly, at this point in the season, Justin Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball. This is where JV ranks in the crucial pitching categories (via

• 1st in AL in W (19)
• 1st in AL in IP (209.2)
• 1st in AL in SO (212)
• 2nd in AL in ERA (2.28)
• 1st in AL in WHIP (0.88)
• 1st in AL in W% (.792)
• 2nd in AL in CG (4)

That's Cy Young material, no doubt about it. But what about MVP material? That's the hot debate at the moment. Should a pitcher win the MVP award? Starters only pitch in about 35 out of 162 games, so why should they be taken seriously as MVP candidates?

I think, at this point, Justin Verlander should be given strong consideration for AL MVP. Not only is he more valuable to the Tigers than any other player is to their team, but he has also dominated the other MVP candidates this year. Take a look at how he's performed against the leading AL MVP candidates in 2011:

Adrian Gonzales (BOS) 0-6, BB, GIDP, 2 KO
Michael Young (TEX) 2-4, 2B
Jose Bautista (TOR) Hasn't Faced
Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS) 1-7, BB, KO
Curtis Granderson (NYY) 0-4, BB, 2 KO
Dustin Pedroia (BOS) 0-7, KO

Total 3-28, 2B, 3 BB, 6 KO

The leading MVP candidates in the American League are hitting a combined .107 against Justin Verlander with six strikeouts. Their on-base percantage is a combined .194, and their combined slugging percentage is .142. Add those two last numbers up and you get a combined OPS of .336.

Justin Verlander has dominated--and that's an understatement--the best hitters in the league. In 28 head-to-head matchups with the leading MVP candidates in the AL, Justin Verlander has blown them away. If you're looking for a reason to vote Justin Verlander the American League MVP of 2011, look no further than his stats against the other candidates for the same award. Give that man the trophy!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sermon Recap: Broken Cisterns

This past Sunday at Ember we continued our sermon series through Jeremiah with a sermon called Broken Cisterns. The text we looked at was Jeremiah 2:1-3:5. The sermon audio has been posted to the sermon player on this blog, which is where you'll be able to find all of our sermons until we get our podcast up and running.

The point of the message was this: Where you go when you're in trouble (or distress, or depressed, etc.) is the clearest indication of who you're trusting for salvation. The god of your heart is to whom you cry out in distress, "Save me!" The trials of our lives reveal the idols of our hearts.


Our idols are the things that we cherish and desire more than God. Tim Keller absolutely nailed it when he said:
[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.…An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’…If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.
When trouble comes, we react to our circumstances based on what is in our hearts. If our hearts love money, sex, power, or any other false god, more than God himself, then that's where we'll look for rescue when we are in distress. Trouble reveals trust.

The only hope we have is that Jesus Christ would transform the desires of our hearts through the power of the gospel. All of our idols are broken cisterns--there is no life in them. But we have access to God, the spring of living water, through faith in his son Jesus Christ. And it is through faith in Jesus that we learn to desire the ever-present spring more than the empty and broken cisterns.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ember Monday

Last night was our second service at Ember. It was a really good time of worship, and the personal highlight for me was when the band played All the Poor & Powerless by All Sons & Daughters. It was the last song of a four song set, and when it was over, my heart was screaming for more worship! We were also really blessed to hear Charlie play the trumpet-like-it's-hot, and I'm pretty sure I heard him and Garth singing really loud at the end. Maybe next time we should get those guys some mics!

I preached a sermon called Broken Cisterns from Jeremiah 2. I hope to post the audio later today, but I'm catching up on some long-neglected yard work. Some things just don't get done when you're planting a church in your "spare" time!

I'm really enjoying this time in our church's young life. There are a lot of challenges that go along with church planting, and I'm trying to see those challenges as opportunities to see God come through and for the gospel to happen. There are also a lot of joys, like worshipping together, learning, growing...even seeing that Ember sign out on the street! I've waited a long time for this church to start, and I'm extremely grateful to God for all that he is doing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What God Hates

You've probably heard this before, but it's something we all need to hear again and again: God loves you. He does. He gave up everything so that you could be reconciled with him. He gave his son Jesus, who willingly became just like us, to die as the ultimate sacrifice for everything that keeps us far from God--our sin, our idolatry, our pride. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid the spiritual penalty that we owed, so that, by aligning ourselves with Jesus through faith, we can be reconciled with God in this life, and enjoy eternity with him in the life to come.

Maybe you grew up thinking God hates you, or that he's angry with you, or that he's riding on some cloud with a lightning bolt in hand just waiting for you to screw up. But God doesn't hate you, he hates the idols that steal your heart away from him. He hates the sin that so strongly tempts you, and which ultimately destroys your soul. He hates the lies of the devil that deceive you. As much as God loves you, that's how much he hates the idols of your heart.

Tonight at Ember we're going to start talking about idols. This isn't going to be fun, but it will be freeing. I believe that God is ready to wage war against the idols of your heart, and his intention is to rescue you from their cunning deception. Prepare yourself: This could hurt. Tonight, 5pm. 401 E. Schrock Rd.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's Happening at Ember this Sunday

Last Sunday night we launched Ember Church, and 70 adults joined us for worship, along with 14 kids. It was truly a special time of hearing from God and responding to him in worship. Our launch team has been so encouraged by what God did that first weekend, and we're looking forward to what he's going to do this weekend, and on into the future.

This Sunday night we're going to be talking about the second chapter of Jeremiah, where God rails against the idolatry of his people. I've become convinced that idolatry is the core problem of humanity, and the reason that we commit the sins and evil that we do. Idolatry isn't limited to the physical act of bowing down to idols, but rather it includes the sinful desiring of that which is not God--placing God-substitutes on the throne of our hearts. And as we'll talk about Sunday night, the idolatrous desires of humanity have not changed one bit in the past 4,000 years.

You and I are idolaters. We deeply desire things that are not God. We kick Jesus off the throne of our hearts and invite God-substitutes, false gods, to take his place. As David Powlison has said, "The core insanity of the human heart is that we violate the first great commandment. We will love anything, except God, unless our madness is checked by grace.”

I believe that what is ultimately holding you back from living for God is not weakness, but idolatry. What keeps you stuck in sinful patterns of behavior is not some kind of mental or emotional weakness, but the idolatrous desires of your heart.

The Jeremiah series, which we've called Run with Horses, is going to be all about idolatry. Running with horses means living unencumbered by the weight of idols. If you want to live for God well, and be the man or woman he is re-creating you to be, then you must give up your idols. This Sunday night at Ember we're going to talk about how to do that. Come join us, and begin the process of ridding yourself of those heavy and worthless idols that are keeping you from living for God. Sunday. 5pm. 401 E. Schrock Rd.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sermon Recap: The Divine Interruption

So maybe you've heard that we had our first Ember Church service this past Sunday. The sermon was on Jeremiah 1, which is the calling of Jeremiah to be a "prophet to the nations". (You can listen to the sermon in the Ember Church Sermon Player, located conveniently to the right of this post.) Jeremiah was terrified of being a prophet because of the horrible fate that most prophets suffered at the hands of the rulers and the people. But God reassured him: "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and I will rescue you."

The point of the message was to say simply this: God is with those he calls. Whatever task to which God has called you, he will be with you through it. I find this reality playing out in several ways in my life right now.


First of all, I'm a husband and a father. This is the primary task to which God has called me. Breena's husband. Father of Cyrus, Eisley, Ezekiel, and Bexley (coming soon). As any husband and father can attest, this isn't always easy. Communication breaks down between Breena and me. The kids hurt each other or disobey us, or refuse to eat their dinner, or constantly ask "why? why? why?", or...this list goes on forever. All that to say, in order to be a godly husband and father (what God has called me to be), I desperately need God's presence and strength to be with me and to rescue me in difficult times. And he is there, living within me in the person of the Holy Spirit, waiting to fill me with the patience, courage, and wisdom I need.

Secondly, I'm the pastor of a new church, called by God to lead a congregation of people in following Jesus. I'm new to this calling, so I don't know exactly what I'm doing yet. But I can already see how much I'm going to need God's presence and strength to lead well, to preach well, and to pastor well.

If God isn't with me, I'm sunk. This life I'm trying to live, the person I'm trying to be and become, all falls apart without God's presence and strength. Like I said in the sermon, if you're succeeding in life based on your own skills and abilities, then you're not living God's life for you, you're not dreaming his dream for you, and you're not answering his call. To live the life God has called you to, you need him to be with you. And he is. God is with those he calls.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ember Reflections

Last night we held the first ever Ember Church service, and that was the fastest hour and fifteen minutes of my life! God really showed up, spoke to us, and moved our hearts. Bryce, who was running the sound board in the back, said at one point in the service, "Things were just going along normal, then all of a sudden, BAM! The Holy Spirit was just everywhere!"

I was sitting in the front row so I didn't really have a good vantage point on what God was doing in the hearts of those behind me, but from what I've heard, he was powerfully ministering to many folks last night. My facebook feed was blowing up with Ember excitement from a lot of folks who were there, so I know God was doing some cool stuff.

The most powerful moment for me was Breena's video and her song. If you haven't seen the video yet, you can watch it below. After we showed the video, she sang Your Great Name by Natalie Grant. That was the first time she ever sang in front of a group, and to do it after that video...I'm so proud of my wife!

I couldn't even look at her while she was singing because I didn't want her to cry. ...Okay, fine, me. I didn't want to cry, so I didn't look at her. There were several moments during the service where I thought I was going to start with the waterworks, but I somehow managed to keep my composure.

So many people put in such excellent service. We have an amazing team of talented servants who are passionate about Jesus and this church. Someone came up to me after the service and said, "I can't believe this was your first service. It seems like you guys have been doing this for a long time." That's a testament to the hard work and talent of our team if I've ever heard one!

If you want to listen to the sermon, you can find it in the sermon player to the right of this post. It was the first in our series on Jeremiah, and as God assured Jeremiah, he assured us: I am with you. That's what I'm really taking away from last night: God is with us.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Today Is the Day

Today marks the end of a long journey, and the beginning of a new one that will, God willing, last for the rest of my life. Today is the first service of Ember Church, and I couldn't be more excited. I have absolutely no idea how it's going to go, what God is going to do, or who will even show up. Maybe all that mystery adds to the excitement.

I've been praying that God would move powerfully, not just tonight, but through our church whenever we gather together to worship Jesus. I believe that, of all the things we do on earth, worshipping Jesus as a community is the least normal, the least mundane, the least trivial. I believe when we gather to hear God's word and respond to him in worship we should expect great things from God. He wants to speak to us. He wants to meet us in our worship. He wants to show up powerfully. This is what I'm praying for today.

Free Dinner After the Service

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Scars that Prove

Somewhere along the way we got this idea that God is really interested in giving us a good, easy life. That he wants us to be happy. That he wants us to deal with the least amount of pain possible. That suffering has no part in his will for our lives.

Maybe those things are true, but the reality of the world that I live in, and the reality of the person that I am, is that there are parts of my deep heart that are violently opposed to God. There are yet-unredeemed parts of my being that rage against God when things don't go the way I expect they should go, or when I don't get what I want, or when I perceive that God has not delivered on a promise that I tried to manipulate him into making to me. Sin is simply a part of who I am, and it will take God at least the rest of my natural life to transform me into the image of his Son.

Transformation is painful. It's one thing to give up some sin that you don't really care about, it's another thing altogether to repent of the ways in which your very personality, and way of thinking, has been corrupted by the sins you commit and the sins committed against you. That's the transformation that leaves a mark on your character.

God is good. And I've got the scars to prove it.

This is a sort of paraphrase of the things that Paul wrote about his own life with God to the many churches that received letters from him. God hit Paul where it hurt him most time and again. He even once said to a man about Paul, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." He's done that with many of the great saints of church history.

God wounds us because only by being wounded can we move through healing toward godliness.

Suffering is the definitive mark of a disciple of Jesus. After all, we follow the one who was crucified on our behalf. And like what Jesus suffered on the cross, the suffering we endure will one day be redeemed by our Heavenly Father.

I believe that God is currently trying to root out all the sinful desires, all the idolatry, and all the wickedness from your heart. That's what he's doing to me. And it hurts. But he's doing it in order to make us like his Son. He's doing it because he's good; I've got the scars to prove it. And if you stick with God long enough, if you stick with him through the crap of your life and engage with what he's doing in the midst of it, you too will be marked with the scars that prove the goodness of God.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Five Days to Launch

We're just five days away from launching Ember Church, and I couldn't possibly be more excited! God has been gracious enough to steal all my anxiety away, and now I just want to gather together with others to hear from him and worship him. After all this planning, I want to finally see what Ember will actually look like! And the glimpses I've had along the way make me pretty freaking excited to do this for the rest of my life.

I'm believing God for big things. I have an expectant faith that he wants to and will move in powerful ways in central Ohio, and that one of the many instruments he will use to accomplish his amazing purposes is Ember. I can't wait to see the gospel take over central Ohio, to bring wayward sons and daughters home, to set people free from bondage, to rescue the unborn from death, to revive your heart and pull you out of your boredom, to reconcile people back to each other and to God, and to see sinners find forgiveness and extend it to others.

I believe that God has a good deal more in store for you than you could possibly imagine. I believe the truth and new reality that he is speaking over you is so audacious and ostentatious that it would make your ego blush. I believe that God is unashamedly conforming you into the image of his son. Yes, God wants to make you like Jesus. And I believe the only way for you to fully receive the benefits of God's will for your life is to engage Jesus with all of your heart, to embrace his character and his authority--to receive his word over you and respond to him worshipfully.

This is why we have church worship services. We gather together to worship the one who is more powerful than death, not because we have to, but because this is the only time we get, and the only place in the world where we can be together, as the body of Christ on earth, to hear a word from him whose words are life, and to be filled by his Spirit within and among us as we respond with hearts full of gratitude and love. I can't wait to do this with a church called Ember. Come and join us this Sunday. 5pm. 401 E. Schrock Rd.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Ministry of Subversion

In case I haven't blogged about this enough, this coming Sunday is the first worship service of Ember Church! God has brought us through a lot in the past few months, and we've seen both his tenderness and his strength. I could not be more excited to go to church this Sunday evening!

Our first sermon series will be through the book of Jeremiah, which is actually the longest book (highest word count) in the whole Bible. Obviously, we won't be hitting everything, so I'm going to be doing a little sermon supplementation on the blog from time to time. Today I want to write about some of the things we won't have time to talk about this coming Sunday.

Jeremiah the Subverter

Jeremiah grew up under the reign of King Josiah, who was, quite possibly, Judah's most righteous king. He put a lot of religious reforms into effect, and brought the people back to worshipping the one true God. He outlawed idolatry and destroyed the shrines of the various false gods that had been leading the people astray for almost a century.

But Josiah's grandfather Manassah had pretty much sealed the fate of the country when he encouraged and participated in child sacrifice. There's just no coming back from that. So even though Josiah was leading a revival, God called Jeremiah to declare a message of judgment and condemnation against the nation. His prophetic ministry subverted the reforms of the king. God called Jeremiah to say, "Time's up!" The reforms of Josiah were not enough to save the nation. Even though he was, in many ways, the ideal king, Josiah was unable to stem the tide of God's judgment against Judah.

Predictably, Jeremiah encountered resistance throughout his life. (It seems, though, that he was never opposed by Josiah.) People don't like to hear negativity; they detest those who pronounce judgment. But Jeremiah remained faithful to his ministry of subversion and his message of judgment, and God carried out every word that he spoke through Jeremiah.

Near the end of his life, on the other side of God's judgment (executed through the siege and destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon), Jeremiah was finally able to offer a message of hope. We find these words in chapter 31:
"The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. ...I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. ...For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
There is hope on the other side of judgment for Judah and Israel. But the exile to Babylon was not the full extent of God's judgment. When the people returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, it became clear that, though they had returned to the Promised Land, God had not returned to them. They were still in a spiritual state of exile. This is because the judgment of God had not been fully executed.

That's where Jesus comes in. Jesus suffered the full judgment of God for the sins of Israel, Judah, and the whole world when he died on that Roman cross. We live on the other side of God's judgment. It has already been executed, and his own son took the full penalty of it because God loves us beyond measure. And then God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. He declared Jesus guilty of our sin. Jesus endured the sentence of our sin by dying. Then God declared him innocent by raising him from the dead.

And so we have hope--a real, living hope--because we have a real, living Savior. And we enter into this hope not through some rigorous moral exam, but through simple, childlike faith that Jesus is who he said he is and did what he set out to do. And we demonstrate this faith by repenting of our sin, receiving full pardon, and living under the authority of Jesus, who now reigns over all creation as the Resurrected King.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I don't know where you're at today. I don't know what setbacks you've encountered recently. I don't know what you're going through right now. Maybe you're having a crisis of faith--in God, in people, in yourself. Maybe what was once so certain has become hazy, gone out of focus like a bad photograph.

I've had a lot of fun planting Ember Church, but I'd be lying to you if I told you that it was easy. Church planting is hard work, if for no other reason than that the devil is opposed to it. We've experienced setbacks. We've gone through trials. We were cruising along the highway going 65 when all of a sudden someone put a speedbump on the interstate. Every church planting team goes through this. Every established church goes through this. Heck, every family, every corporation, every school goes through this. It's a part of life.

What makes it especially difficult for a church planting team, though, is that you begin to ask questions like, "Is God still with us? Does he want us to quit? Are we doing the right thing here?" What was once so certain becomes hazy when we get hit by the trials of life. It happens. Trials happen. It doesn't mean that God has abandoned us. Quite the opposite, actually. Any team that's doing God's work and fulfilling his purposes for their community will experience resistance from Satan.

The enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy. He wants to steal your joy. He wants to kill your spirit. He wants to destroy the work of God in your life. That is always his aim. He wants you to doubt God's call on your life. He wants you to doubt God's presence with you. Don't. Faith is trusting in God despite the mounting evidence. Faith sees with eyes that look through circumstances and see the living God, standing in the midst of it all, inviting you to his side. Faith sees the true, deeper reality, that God is--that he simply and fully is--and in that finds overwhelming joy.

In one of the most incredible passages in the whole Bible, Peter puts it like this:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,

who through faith are shielded by God’s power

until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In all this you greatly rejoice,

though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith

—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—

may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Though you have not seen him,

you love him;

and even though you do not see him now,

you believe in him

and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

for you are receiving the end result of your faith,

the salvation of your souls.

That's 1 Peter 1:3-9. You should probably read it again.

You have been given an entirely new life, a life that is rooted in a hope that lives because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. You have been given an inheritance that can never wear out or be destroyed--an inheritance that Jesus is keeping for you in heaven.

God's power shields you from the wiles and lies of Satan through your faith in Jesus Christ. This protection lasts for more than a moment--it lasts from this moment until the day Jesus returns in power and glory to judge and reign on the earth.

Because of this...rejoice! Greatly rejoice! Even though you're going through crap right now, that crap has come so that you have the opportunity to persevere--so that you can see just how genuine your faith in Jesus is. And rejoice, because this crap too shall pass.

You haven't seen him; and yet you love him. You haven't seen him; and yet you have put your trust in him--the resurrected King of the cosmos. And when you press into that reality, into what is really real and truly true, then you will be filled with an inexpressible joy because, in that, you are receiving what your faith has promised, the salvation of your soul in the here and now.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Inerrant or Infallible

There has been some recent discussion over a small part of Ember Church's statement of faith. When declaring our beliefs about Scripture, we state this:
We believe that God sovereignly provided human beings with the sixty-six books of the Protestant Canon as his written revelation, and that these books are authoritative for all Christians, infallible in all matters of faith and practice.
The part I've put in bold is the statement in question. Within some evangelical circles, saying that the Bible is infallible in all matters of faith and practice is code for theological liberalism. Let me say, definitively, that neither I nor Ember Church are "theologically liberal". Neither are we "fundamentalist". Instead, we consider ourselves historically orthodox in the Protestant, evangelical tradition.

Why, then, does our Statement of Faith not declare the Scriptures to be "inerrant in the original manuscripts"? For many evangelicals, the inerrancy of the Bible is a "watershed issue", meaning that it is fundamentally definitive of evangelicalism, and a hill on which one should die. Inerrancy is not a position that should be compromised, and anyone who does is slipping toward theological liberalism.

I think this is untrue. In fact, I understand infallibility to be a much stronger position on the Bible than inerrancy. Let me explain why.

The Questions of the Enlightenment

Inerrancy is an apologetic doctrine. That is to say, it is a belief formulated in defense of Scripture. Inerrancy is not so much motivated by the desire to explain Scripture, but rather to defend its authority and accuracy as God's revealed word. Inerrancy is evangelicalism's attempt to answer the skeptical questions of modernism and the Enlightenment. "The Bible is so full of contradictions and errors," cry the skeptics! "No it's not," retort the believers, "it is without error in the original manuscripts."

But I believe that the questions of the Enlightenment are designed to trap believers. When the skeptics tried to trap Jesus with trick questions, he skillfully evaded them and turned the tables on the doubters. Inerrancy, however, tries to answer the trick questions of the Enlightenment, whereas infallibility says to the Enlightenment, "You're asking the wrong questions." The precision of details and the length of days have absolutely no bearing on what God is trying to communicate in his word.

It's as though the Enlightenment has come along and said, "If football is the perfect game, then why can't you hit a home run in it?" And we've gone ahead and tried to explain just how one might hit a home run in football. Their questions are nonsense, and we need not spend time addressing them. When the doubters questioned Jesus about paying taxes, he turned the tables on them and said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and give to God what is God's." I believe the doctrine of infallibility, properly understood, does likewise.

The Standard of Error

Who decides what is error and isn't? Should an ancient document be judged by modern standards? Who gets to set the standard of errancy?

God sovereignly ordained the Scriptures to be written in premodern times, long before the advent of modernism, the Enlightenment, and the supremacy of science. Paul, Isaiah, and Moses had different standards of error and definitions of precision than the team of scientists that flies people to the moon. This seems so obvious as to go without saying, and yet I see that people on both sides of the aisle--both skeptics and believers--are demanding that Scripture conform to the precision of modernity. Isn't it more remarkable that the Bible was written over a period of 1500 years by dozens of different people in wildly divergent cultures and environments, all forming one cohesive story which explains life and all of history from beginning to end? Isn't that so unfathomably amazing that whatever tiny errors of precision (according to the standard of modern science) are absolutely inconsequential?

Just as it is nonsense to apply the standards of baseball to the game of football, so it is nonsense to apply the standards of modern science to the content of Scripture. The Bible wasn't written last year. It was written on scrolls and parchments by shepherds and itinerant preachers long before printing presses, copy machines, and ctrl+c ctrl+v were invented. You don't have to defend the Bible. Anyone who knows anything about ancient manuscripts and literature knows that the Bible is the gold standard.

And that's one of the main problems I have with inerrancy--it looks to a standard outside of Scripture. It says, "there is no error." But as John Frame says, infallibility declares of Scripture, "there can be no error." In other words, the Bible, not the Enlightenment, sets the standard of error. The Bible is its own standard.

Original Manuscripts

As an apologetic doctrine, inerrancy is intellectually weak in that it points to "the original manuscripts" as being without error, but we no longer have any original manuscripts. They no longer exist. In my opinion, then, inerrancy is an incredibly weak position apologetically, because we can't produce the evidence to substantiate our claim. We are, in effect, putting our faith in some documents that no longer exist.

Moreover, we are also unintentionally undermining the very good science by which we reconstruct the Scriptures through the manuscripts we do have--and we have a lot! The New Testament, in particular, is, by far, the most well-attested ancient document in the world. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to early and reliable manuscripts. For a rundown on how the science works, check out this post. This is a strength of Scripture to be embraced, not a weakness to be ignored.

The Historicity of Christianity

One critique of what we have in our Statement of Faith is that it doesn't account for history. But our faith is fundamentally historical. The Gospel is the account of the historical crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Christian faith is rooted in Jewish history. Because infallibility allows the Bible to set the standard of error, we believe that everything the Bible says happened, happened.

In conclusion, infallibility is a richer, more robust understanding of Scripture than inerrancy. In fact, infallibility includes inerrancy, but only according to the standards that Scripture itself ordains, and not according to the standards of skeptical modernity. The way that I understand infallibility is that, rather than being code for theological liberalism, it is actually more theologically conservative than inerrancy because it allows the Bible to speak for itself, on its own terms; it honors God's sovereignty in his decision on the where and when and how and by whom of biblical authorship; and it honors God's power in preserving, for the church, a superabundance of ancient manuscripts from which we can get a solid understanding of what was written in those elusive original manuscripts.

If you've managed to make it through this ridiculously long post, I'd love to hear your feedback. You can either leave a comment or send me an email.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Sermon Prep

One of the things that I learned in seminary is that every preacher's sermon preparation process is different. Mark Driscoll recently shared that he spends about an hour of prep, and then preaches for an hour as he externally processes the text. That's great for Mark, who has a photographic memory, but it sure ain't gonna work for me. I don't have a photographic memory and I'm not an external processor, so my sermon preparation takes a lot longer than one hour.

The first thing that I do is prayerfully choose a text. Because Ember is going through books of the Bible, I'll generally read the whole book through at least once. (I read Jeremiah once the whole way through, but for a book like Titus, which is going to be our second series, I'll read it through several times.) Once I become familiar with the whole book, I'll break it up into sections. I've had to be choosy with Jeremiah, so I picked those sections which I felt were, a) most preacheable, and b) presented a holistic picture of the book.

The first page of my notes on Jeremiah 1
Once I've picked a text, I print it out in a format that I can mark up and take notes on. As you can see from the pictures, I take a lot of notes. I'll write down everything I think of, from the antecedents of important pronouns to insights that I glean from the text. This is probably the most important step of the process, as I am hoping to fully immerse myself in the Scripture I'll be preaching. I want to know it inside and out. I want to hear the voice of the author. I want to feel the heat of the sun under which he first penned or spoke these words. I want to feel the heart of God as he reveals his word through that author. I want to know the author's world, and the first audience's world, so that I can know how this text makes sense in my world.
The second page of my notes on Jeremiah 1
I let Fee & Stuart's core principle drive me as I study the text: The Bible cannot mean what it never meant. I want to understand how it was God's word to those original readers so that I can know how it is God's word for me and my congregation. This is the process of exegesis, which basically means that the preaching is trying to draw the original meaning out of the text, rather than to put his own meaning into the text.

After studying I go through what I call The 7 Good Questions, which, apparently, I've never posted here at the blog. This is a fuller process of exegesis of which the above is the answer to just one of the seven good questions. The seven questions are:
  1. What am I reading?
  2. What do I see?
  3. What is the literary context?
  4. What is the historical context?
  5. What is the biblical context?
  6. What is the principle?
  7. How do I apply this?
After answering those questions, I move on to what I call Sermon Notes, where I put together a structure and flow, come up with a title and a big idea, pull out the key verses, and write a brief synopsis. Then! Finally! I begin writing the sermon after, once again, inviting the Holy Spirit to fill me, to speak to me, and to speak through me. I'll generally go through two or three revisions of the sermon before I feel good about it. The last step is to preach it, either to my wife or to a wall, and then make any final changes. It's a long process, but it's a lot of fun for me, and well worth the time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

First Sermon Series

One of the things that I hope will become distinctive about Ember is our preaching style and philosophy. I think it's important for us to preach biblically and exegetically, which means that we'll spend a lot of time working our way through whole books, or major sections, of Scripture. We won't be doing a lot of topical preaching, though that may be necessary occasionally.

Our first sermon series is going to be a 12 week journey through the book of Jeremiah. The series is called Run With Horses, which is the name of an excellent book by Eugene Peterson, as well as a powerful metaphor taken from Jeremiah 12:5. It was that verse and that concept that set me on the course of planting this church almost a year ago.

I've finished the first three sermons and am working on the fourth one today. Writing these sermons has been such a joy, even if they are all taken from texts in the second most depressing book in the Bible! I believe that God has drawn me to Jeremiah because he wants to wage war against the idols of our hearts, and idolatry is the primary concern of Jeremiah the prophet. The insights that I've gleaned so far have been extremely challenging, and I can't wait to preach them to you.

God wants to wage war against the idols of your heart. Come join us for our Jeremiah series, and get on the winning side of that war. The first service is August 14 @ 5pm, 401 E. Schrock Rd.