By David Wise
My family and I got back from vacation yesterday and came in early excited to watch the sermon from Andy and Dave. We’ve been going through questions posed by the church and their topic was worship. During the sermon they talk through a variety of aspects of worship and they also answered some practical questions about our church’s specific worship setup and practice on Sundays. They did a great job dialoging about something so important and if you missed the sermon I would highly recommend checking out the video.
The sermon reminded me of a personal experience I had while on vacation. So often we leave for San Diego (where my in-laws live) and I’m exhausted from work, school, and the drains of everyday life. While we’re on vacation I always unplug from my phone, email, and social media, and while disconnecting is good I usually don’t fill that void with God. I’m often so tired and weary from long hours that I just want to be lazy for a week. That wasn’t the case this time though. I went into the week of vacation with the mindset that I wanted to encounter and experience God however possible.
This was a great way to focus during the week and to look for opportunities to engage spiritually and not just relax all week. Although the week was full of great things, my favorite moment happened early in the week during sunset. My in-laws have a great home with a gorgeous view of sunset. Since my phone was put away for the week, I determined to soak in the sunset visually and as a form of worship. I sat on their back patio thinking about how great God is for giving us sunsets. There’s no point or purpose besides the way the earth rotates as it orbits the sun. They vary based on weather, clouds, moisture, and other scientific factors, but all of those things combine to form a visual symphony of colors splashed against clouds.
I sat on the back patio, for an unknown length of time, memorizing the colors as the sun sank lower and lower into the horizon. I thought about God creating everything the way He did in the past, but also reflecting on how loving He is to give us moments like this one. Each time I closed my eyes I made the decision to close the shutter on my mental camera and to capture those pictures in my mind for as long as I remember them. Usually I would be taking pictures with my phone and trying to find the perfect on to post on Instagram. Instead, this time I committed to keeping the images solely for myself, to make it a memory between God and me.
This was one of the most worshipful experiences I’ve had recently. The opportunity didn’t have to be forced; it was simply a change in my heart and perspective to be open to everything God was already doing around me. As Andy and Dave said in the sermon, ducks don’t have to be told to worship. They worship because it’s what they were created to do. I was also created to worship and sometimes that happens with people on a Sunday morning, but also it also happens on the back porch watching the sun set that God has arranged for that time and place.
How do you worship and what can you do to pay more attention to the opportunities all around you?
The doctrine of hell is a terrible doctrine but it is also a just doctrine. Although someone else may have coined those words, the first time I heard them was from a seminary professor as he talked about hell with tears streaming down his face. There was something so refreshing about sadness and grief at the topic of hell and not the normal hellfire and brimstone that typically accompanies this difficult doctrine.
As we talked about hell yesterday in the sermon, I found myself overcome with grief throughout the entire week leading up to Sunday. I wasn’t nervous about offending those who see things differently, but was more so nervous at turning away someone who has not yet decided to follow Jesus. During the sermon I found it difficult to make eye contact with people I don’t know well, all out of fear of preaching condemnation to someone who doesn’t understand God’s grace.
The question that was posed was so full of context and preconceived notions that it was impossible to answer without touching on all of the doctrines present within itself. As such, hell had to be discussed and although it was difficult, I believe it was absolutely necessary. Without questions of this nature, it’s possible to unintentionally avoid the topic of hell.
I love preaching about the narrative portions of Scripture. My mind is naturally drawn into story and I love relating stories from the Bible into our individual experiences. Since this is my personal preference, I know that I can stay away from other forms, and unintentionally, I can neglect to cover concepts and topics that are absolutely necessary. Hell is one of those topics that’s all too easy to miss or glance over but it’s so important for us as Christians to understand the implications of hell on eternity.
If we never talk about the reality of hell, we’re left with a single-dimension view of a 3-D landscape. There’s no depth or texture and we will never form a complete understanding of eternity. Without an understanding of hell, we will limit the necessity of Jesus coming to earth. Without the doctrine of hell, it wouldn’t have been necessary for Jesus to die on the cross. If we leave hell out of the faith then we don’t understand what grace means or how much mercy God has. Without a full picture of God’s story and plan, we see what’s directly in front of us but not what’s beyond this life.
As we touched on yesterday, hell was not created for mankind but for Satan and his demons. It is not God’s desire for any person to perish, but for those who rebel against God (by refusing to repent and place their faith in Jesus) then there is no other option than separation from God. A holy God cannot be in the presence of sin and hell is the only place where God is not present.
The importance of understanding all of this is not to condemn the world but to refocus church on her mission. We have a personal responsibility to bring the gospel message to all people in all places and introduce them to Jesus. God is not an angry kid with a magnifying glass wanting to fry every ant imaginable. He wants everyone to repent and turn toward Him and sharing the gospel is our opportunity to partner with God in this work. I realize this may be redundant to the sermon yesterday, but until we accept and obey this we’ll continually minimize hell and work our way around a doctrine that is both terrible, true, and absolutely just.
God, as the creator of the universe, did not have to send His son to assume our sins but He chose to because of His great love for us. So often we think about hell and we wonder how a loving God could send people there, but this loving God doesn’t want to send anyone there. Instead He sent His Son to demonstrate His great love for us. As we accept the truth of this message our response should be to share it with the world around us. This isn’t about condemnation, hellfire and brimstones, or any other doomsday street preaching; this is about sharing the great love of our God. Sharing that God doesn’t want anyone to perish but everyone to repent. Repentance comes through placing faith in Jesus and leaning into a relationship with God. What would our communities look like if we embraced the message of God’s love and shared the hope we have?
Due to the projector quitting in the middle of church, here are the verse references and quotes used in the sermon, as well as my bibliography.
Original question posed:
“Why did God, knowing that man would sin and fall short of his path, place man in the world and thus doom a great potion of humankind to an eternity of suffering and pain in Hell, while only a relatively small portion of humans in history have accepted his gift of heaven, or even had the chance?”
1 John 3:20
2 Peter 3:9
Language about hell seeks to describe for humans the most awful punishment human language can describe to warn unbelievers before it is too late. Earthly experience would lead us to believe that the nature of punishment will fit the nature of sin. Certainly, no one wants to suffer the punishment of hell, and through God’s grace the way for all is open to avoid hell and know the blessings of eternal life through Christ.
Ralph L. Smith – Holman Bible Dictionary p. 632
Would you have thought to rescue sinful people from their sins by sending your Son to take on human flesh? Would you have thought to enter creation through the womb of a young Jewish woman and be born in a feeding trough? Would you have thought to allow your created beings to torture your Son, lacerate His flesh with whips and then drive nails through His hands and feet? Parents, imagine it.
I’m almost sure I would not have done that if I were God.
Aren’t you glad I’m not God?
It’s incredibly arrogant to pick and choose which incomprehensible truths we embrace. No one wants to ditch God’s plan of redemption, even though it doesn’t make sense to us. Neither should we erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with us. As soon as we do this, we are putting God’s actions in submission to our own reasoning, which is a ridiculous thing for clay [us] to do.
Francis Chan Erasing Hell p. 136
Alcorn, Randy C. Heaven. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, ©2004.
Alcorn, Randy C. If God Is Good–: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books, 2009.
Butler, Trent C. Holman Bible Dictionary: With Summary Definitions and Explanatory Articles On Every Bible Subject, Introductions and Teaching Outlines for Each Bible Book, In-Depth Theological Articles, Plus Internal Maps, Charts, Illustrations,. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers, ©1991.
Chan, Francis, and Preston M. Sprinkle. Erasing Hell: What God Said About Eternity and the Things We Made Up. Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2011.
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2013.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994.
Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009.
As we started our Questions & Answers series, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t answer your questions without providing resources for further critical engagement. If we, as elders, pray, study, and answer Biblically, but we don’t spur further involvement by the congregation then we haven’t fulfilled our pastoral responsibility. There is no shortage of answers to any question, but finding answers is not the only important aspect. Understanding an answer is the only way for our faith to truly grow.
I’ve met many Christians who don’t know why they believe what they believe. Throughout their lives, they’ve heard countless answers and explanations for questions they’ve had, but repeating someone else’s answer is not the same as actually understanding the possible answers and forming an educated opinion on their own.
Over the next few weeks as we look to Scripture to answer difficult questions, my hope is that each member of our church will dig further after every sermon. If people walk away agreeing with everything presented but don’t take the time to further their own study, then the series will be a failure. There are too many Christians who know someone else’s answers to a list of questions, but they wouldn’t be able to articulate why they actually believe those answers. That’s not only troubling, it’s dangerous.
One of the reasons that young people leave church after high school is that “their faith” was never actually their own. The faith was borrowed from a family member, friend, or pastor, and when they get on their own, the answers they believe are not deeply rooted; they are shallow and lack proper grounding to flourish through adversity.
This isn’t just a problem in teenagers any more. It’s one of the reasons we see young adults leaving churches in favor of something else. Faith has to be interpersonal. There must be ownership, and to have ownership there must be understanding. We cannot take ownership of that which we do not understand. This is the case for faith, church, the Bible, and even God. This is why it’s so important to question everything and not to accept one person’s answers without searching on your own so that the answer becomes yours.
This is our hope over the next month: to make our faith our own, to understand how the Bible is the inspired word of God, how God works in the world and through sin, how we respond to a holy God, and what happens in the end. Each week we’ll provide the list of resources we looked at, but don’t just look at the list, interact with the books we mention, read them and question their content, meet for coffee with those who understand things better than you, grow deeper in your faith, and make sure it truly is yours.
Welcome to the questions. Let’s jump in and search for truth together.
In case you missed the sermon, here is the video:
Bibliography from Questions and Answers Week 1
Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Christianities: The Battle for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1.
Geisler, Norman L. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1974.
Sailhamer, John. How We Got the Bible. Zondervan Quick-Reference Library. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub., ©1998.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, ©1994.
Information about the Gospel of Barnabas
Information about the Gospel of Judas
Information about the Infancy Gospel of Thomas
Information about the Gospel of Thomas
David Bowden Spoken Word “I Believe in Scripture”
Let’s take a trip back to the year 2000. Things were different then. AOL was still the best way to get on the internet, one could get through airport security without taking off their shoes and there was no such thing as a smart phone. In the latter half of the year 2000, I was a senior in high school. Things for me were difficult at home, I was trying to figure out what exactly I was suppose to do after high school and was overall just in a strange place.
I was involved in youth group and my church. It was there God cultivated growth in my spiritual walk. He did this through time in the Word, my friends who loved Jesus and loving, caring adults. I want to spend some time on that last one: loving, caring adults. Adults who loved Jesus and poured into me with time, love and wisdom. My youth pastor Henry and my small group leader Michael were those guys for me.
These men invested a ton of time into me and I just don’t mean at church.
These men went out of their way to connect with me outside of church. During my senior year of high school, after every Wednesday night youth group, my youth pastor would take myself and two other guys out to get chicken fingers and fries. EVERY WEEK for a YEAR! My entire junior and senior year I would hang out at my small group leader’s house with his family. He invited me in to be a part. These men invested in my life. I knew if I had a problem they would be there. If I needed to talk, they would be there. If I just wanted to hang out, they would be there.
These men were there. Their example has taught me the importance of just being there for others. They showed me Jesus in practical and impractical ways. Both my youth pastor and small group leader did a lot of teaching. The teaching I remember most from both of them was not the things taught in youth group or small group. The best things they did for me was just being there. Showing up. Being available. Showing me Jesus in the way they lived their lives.
Many students are a lot like me when I was in youth group 15 years ago. There is still a need for positive adults who love Jesus to be available and show the students Christ’s love. They yearn for adults who will listen, love, and be available to them. It can be as simple as having a conversation and building a relationship with a student on Sunday. We all can do that to some capacity.
God used the men who poured into me to set the trajectory of my life toward loving Jesus. God used them to literally change my life. I could have gone a tone of different directions after high school, but the path these men help set put me on the path of loving Jesus.
By David Wise
Yesterday we wrapped up our series through the book of Acts. We had a special service at Lost Creek Lake for outdoor worship and a few individuals from the church shared how God has been moving in and through them. I love opportunities for people in the church to share, but even more than that, I love when people in the church view the church with personal commitment and a shared sense of ownership. Each of the three people who shared are at different stages of life but they are all a committed part of the body of Christ. This is their church and they’re excited to be a part of what God is doing.
Wrapping up the book of Acts is always inspiring to me because there is no “The End” at the end of the book. The final scene ends with Paul continuing to preach the gospel at every opportunity, even while under house arrest in Rome. This reminds me that the church age began when Jesus ascended to heaven and it continues until He returns. Each of us has an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than ourselves as individuals. We’re all called to be a part of this thing called the church, and even if there are problems, issues, or differences, we are called into community for a purpose: so that we do the will of God. To do God’s will we have to work together as one body and fully engage in the work of the church. Hearing the three people share at the lake was a great example of what it means to be a part of the church, but I was also reminded of something I observed while on an anniversary getaway with my bride.
A few weeks ago, we were in Bend celebrating our 9th wedding anniversary. I got up early and went to a local coffee shop. As I was standing in line at Thump Coffee, I noticed that there was only one guy working behind the counter and the line before him was overwhelming him. Three regulars asked him what they could do to help and at first he brushed it off. They asked again and he admitted he was desperate for help. They jumped up and started unpacking bagels, taking orders, giving change, and helping him. They made the long line dwindle in a matter of minutes. It was one of the clearest cases of community I’ve ever seen. The regulars weren’t forced to help, but they love that coffee shop and they had been there enough that they had a vested interest in the community they’re a part of.
What a perfect picture of how churches should all operate. No one person can lead everything and thus there is a need for people to surround the leadership. It doesn’t matter if it’s worship, the lead pastor, kids, youth, grounds crew, janitorial, or first-impressions. We all should have such a vested interest in the church that at first sign that we can help we jump in. This means we have to be willing to ask for help and to accept assistance. The coffee shop worker turned the help down once or twice and then he realized that he needed other people. I’m sure these three guys would have rather sat and enjoyed their coffee. Instead, they gladly served and they made a difference, not just for the worker, but also for me to see their visual demonstration of what it means to belong to something. Simply beautiful.
This is what the church should look like: everyone jumping in together for a reason and with a purpose, so that we can do the will of God. We are all called to be a part of the church and that means more than just showing up to something once a week. A while back I got an email from a member of the church and she was sharing her thoughts about what it means to be a part of the church.
I was praying this morning for babies, adoptions, fatherless children, single moms, moms of drug addicted children, grown children, pastors, church leaders, and myself, of course….whew…the list was long, I even pictured God pouring himself another cup of coffee. OOPS, that was me who poured myself another cup of coffee. Anyway, this is what I believe it is to be a covenant member of RVCC:
“I don’t go to RVCC because they have good music. I don’t go to RVCC because they have a young pastor that reminds me of my son and inspires me to be a better person. I go to RVCC because it’s MY church. It’s me. I am the church, and it is my family. I am intricately interwoven into the very fabric of that body of believers, and that body does not actually function effectively unless I am a part of it.”
We don’t simply gather together to go through the motions. We gather to be the church, the body of Christ, to do the will of God. We may not always all agree and get along, but we’re called to participate in the work of God and that happens through the church. As God moves us as individuals, He moves us into community and outside of ourselves. We cannot fully be everything He desires of us if we’re not actively engaged in community and that happens through the church. As we MOVE for the rest of our lives, may we continually jump in and serve wherever there is a need. May we take a vested interest in what the church is doing, and may we share what God is doing with those around us.
By Andy Herndon
The past few weeks we’ve been talking about the one eared Mickey Mouse of youth ministry. That is, often times youth ministry exists outside the circle of a church while still being attached to it. Go here if you missed it. As a youth pastor I want the youth ministry to be a part of the church as a whole, not something that is on the fringes but integrated within the family of God. As much as I enjoy Mickey Mouse I don’t want him to define our youth ministry.
Last week I wrote about our youth’s experience at camp and a few things I took away from that week, go here for that post. I listed four observations about the state of teenagers today regarding family, the world, a teenagers need for trusted adults and a teenagers desire for truth.
Each week I’m am going to address one of these observations and what we as a community of believers can do to help, encourage and love our young people in regard to those particular issues.
This week I am going to address the family. By family I mean a teenager’s home situation. As I have said before, so many of our teens come from difficult family situations, though this isn’t true of all our teens. We have several who come from amazing families who love Jesus. Unfortunately, those teens are the exception, at least in our group.
Divorce, drug use, abandonment, neglect, abuse of every sort and kind. This is the baggage our students check into youth group with each week. They carry it around and they let it define who they are. I’m not going to list statistics because I think we’ve all heard them before. We know families need Jesus. Many of us, including myself, have come from difficult family situations. So what can we as a church do to help and encourage those young people who come from difficult family situations? Here are a few things in my own life that have helped me personally.
Be Available as the Family of God
I remember being 21 years old and on my own. My family relationships were severely damaged and I had no where to turn for community or support. My church became my family. Several older believers in my church took me in. Even if it was just going out to coffee or lunch, the church became my family. I spent holidays and vacations with my community. In times of crises, emergency or my car breaking down they were there for me.
Model Unconditional Love
None of us come from the perfect family. We all have our challenges and conflicts, but it’s how we handle them that makes a family successful. Seeing families and believers around me that had challenges yet still loved each other unconditionally was priceless. So many of our students feel unloved or conditionally loved. They come from a mindset that says if you do good, I will love you until you do something bad. This is contrary to the Gospel which says you are loved despite the bad.
Invite Young People In
As you get to know our young people within the church, invite them into your life. Whether it’s a group of ladies scrapbooking together or you and your family getting together at the park for a BBQ after church, invite our young people along with you from time to time.
My pastor in Las Vegas did something that was so valuable for me. He invited me into his family. He knew of my dysfunctional and toxic family situation. He knew I never saw what a family that loved Jesus looked like so he invited me to be a member. After church on Sunday I would go to his house, have lunch, play with his kids, watch football and fall asleep on their couch. I spent Thanksgivings and Christmas with them. They became my family.
We are the family of God. So many of our teens have no idea what a true family is. Let’s show them the love that love. This will look different for different people but I would ask that you would pray as to how you could show a young person what it means to be in the God’s Family, the church.
Last month I was in Portland for seminary and one of the days I was walking through downtown when I walked by the Justice building. This large stone structure jutting up amongst all of the other other buildings in this concrete jungle, but this one had something that caught my eye. One of the edifices had a quote etched into its side.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Last summer we went through the book of James and one of the most moving sermons I’ve ever preached was in the midst of that series. We read James 5:1-6 and talked about the personal application.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
James 5:1-6 (NIV)
At the time, the sermon was so personally convicting that I changed purchasing habits, becoming more concerned about everything we purchased. A friend’s crockpot went out so we bought them a “new” used one because we couldn’t be sure where the new ones were made. I wanted to buy all of my clothes used to avoid sweat labor, we switched to all fair-trade coffee, chocolate, and anything else that might be supplied from unethical sources. The passion continued through Christmas as we made conscious shopping decisions and participated in Advent Conspiracy (Worship Fully | Spend Less | Give More | Love All).
A year later though, things were drifting back to the beginning. Although coffee and chocolate is still fair trade, I’ve found myself buying more clothes on impulse, for the kids and me, without thinking about the source and the consequences of my purchases. This has been a slow and steady shift away from conscious decisions and into mindless consumerism. Although I fight against the pull, it happens so naturally and injustice takes a place on the shelf, gathering dust next to all the former passions. This should not be.
The Gospel calls us outside ourselves to the needs of others and that includes the physical ones. Jesus didn’t just come to earth to reveal Himself as the Messiah, He came and healed people (theologically we can argue about the reasons for those He healed) but he provided something physical for those in need. He continually talked about taking care of the least of these and he reverberated all of the cries for justice found throughout the Bible.
The truth is, injustice is all around us. Perhaps it manifests itself in different forms, but it is pervasive and seems to be all-consuming. Whether it’s in the single-parent who can’t escape from poverty, the working family who can’t afford healthy groceries, the person denied for insurance because of a pre-existing condition, the 11,000 children who will die today from preventable causes, the children with malaria or parasites who are lacking access to the $4 pills that we could make readily available, the sex slaves sold into prostitution and forced into deplorable conditions and situations, the wife and children abused physically at the hands of cowardice, or the people held under the oppression of civil strife and unjust governments. Whatever the injustices, they are everywhere (even in our own backyards), the question is, “what are we doing about it?”
Last week Natalye and I took a weekend to Bend for a late anniversary trip. While we were there we had some great conversations and one of them was about buying ethically made products. Her question was how we move beyond talk and into action. While on the trip I think God answered it, at least the beginnings to a more complete answer. We found a Patagonia store. They sell clothing and outdoor equipment and they are a company that strives for fair treatment of their entire supply chain. Although their clothing is more expensive, they guarantee it for life, offer free repairs, and replace damaged goods. They make sure their raw goods are ethically produced, and they pay their garment workers fair wages.
We could buy all of our clothes from Patagonia, or one of the other few companies who strive to the level they do. The reason we often don’t is money. We’d rather spend less on shorts that wear out but were a “good deal” than to make sure workers receive fair wages. The same is true in every sphere of our lives: electronics, food, household items, and even investments. We often don’t think about the source of items and how justice is involved in our consumption, but this has been a calling that I am beginning to respond obediently to.
Instead of buying whatever we want when we want it, my family has started thinking about where things come from. If we can’t be sure about the ethics of the source, then we can wait and find a fairly made product. That can’t be enough though to simply work toward ending one form of injustice, my life has to be about bringing justice to all through whatever means possible. While in Bend we found a picture with a Bible verse on it, we hung the picture above our television so that we’ll be reminded of this core value in our lives.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
All of us might be passionate about ending a single form of injustice, but injustice is more than just the single side of the visible manifestation, injustice is all of it and the Bible makes it clear that injustice has no place in a gospel-centered worldview. We have to realize our responsibility as the church to end injustice and help the least of these, as the gospel changes us the Holy Spirit moves us. How are you moving? Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. How can we work toward bringing justice to everyone?