---Porch Chat Blog

 

Predestination or Free Will? Or Sovereignty or Human Responsibility?

Or Tyler, Not This Again?

by Tyler Goens

 

 

In church at Sunday, we talked about Pharaoh of Exodus, particularly his “hard heart.”

 

In at least 18 times in 10 chapters, this man is diagnosed with a hard-heart; it’s on full display, the charts are up. Although HIPPA wasn’t invented yet, it wouldn’t matter anyway, everyone can see his issue. But a careful reader notices some different reasons for this heart condition.

 

For example: You see, nine times in the story,
 

1) The Lord Hardens Pharaoh’s Heart 9x: (4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1, 10:20, 10:27, 11:10, 14:4, 14:8).

But then, three times in the story,
 

2) Pharaoh’s Hardens His Own Heart (3x): (8:15, 8:32, 8:34),

Another three times in the story
 

3) Pharaoh’s Heart is Already Hard/Unyielding (3x): (7:14, 8:19, 9:7)

And then finally, three additional times, the text says…
 

4) Pharaoh’s Heart “Became Hard” (3x): 7:13, 7:22, 8:35, (without reference to who is doing the hardening).

 
So which one is it? Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
 

 

Juggling God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

 

When we come to dilemmas in the Bible, I assume the Bible is always right and I’m the one who needs to adjust. I may not figure everything out, but I believe that I can trust this book. And so when I come to two or three truths in the Bible that are difficult, I think of the idea of juggling is helpful (shout out to Dr. Lyons for this metaphor). Juggling only works when, the three or four or five balls are simultaneously moving together. When talking about the P word, Predestination, as well as “free-will,” there are also three truths that we need to juggle.

And sometimes, these truths seem to contradict each other. But they’re all spoken of in scripture.
 

 

Truth #1: God is completely sovereign over everything, including human decisions.

Truth #2: Humans are responsible, moral agents, and

Truth #3: God is not the author of sin or evil.

 

 

These three truths, if held in proper tension, will help us rightly understand divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
 

 

First truth to juggle:
 

 

Truth #1: God is in complete control over everything and everyone, sovereign over all, including human decisions.

 
The universe was made and exists for Him, and He is supreme over it.
 

Sovereign Over Nature

Millard J. Erickson points out that to our Old Testament authors, “it is virtually inconceivable that anything could happen independently of God’s will and working.” He continues by showing us how expressions like “it rained” are not found in the Old Testament, but instead are replaced by statement like “God sent the rain” (Erickson). God is seen as the active cause of nearly all the weather in the OT. For example, God “sends hail” on Israel’s enemies (Ex 9:18,23, Josh 10:11, Ps 78:47) The grass grows because God causes it to do so (Ps 104:14), and God feeds the animals (Ps 104:27-28). Even the roll of the dice is said to be in God’s hands in Proverbs 16:33. Remember that next time you’re at Seven Feathers Casino.

 

As moderns, we attribute everything that we see to science. And this isn’t all bad, it’s led to a lot of good things. However, the doctrine of providence teaches that there’s more than what we can see physically with our eyes and with a microscope. We couldn’t see God’s creation process (we weren’t there), we can’t see his current preservation and governance over the entire universe. God is no less God because we know that there’s a water cycle, no less God because we know that antibiotics can heal infections. He like a computer programmer who creates the program, the natural cycle, but continues to actively play a role.  

While the ancient mind attributed everything to God or the gods, our modern minds typically attribute nothing to the supernatural. Both perspectives are culturally conditioned (and on the world stage and historical stage, the western, atheistic, secular perspective is in the minority). So I don’t think it’s primitive to believe what the Bible says about God’s control over nature.
 

 

Sovereign Over People

 

In what ways does God govern and control human beings? As mentioned earlier, the biblical authors speak of God as the ultimate king, and this king controls all others kings. Consider the strong language of Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” This is evident in God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, using the king of Assyria as well as king Cyrus as his “pawns,” humbling king Nebuchadnezzar, and in countless other examples as well. The decisions of kings and rulers, even the foolish ones, somehow do not escape His plan and purposes.

 

The idea that we have free-will, and God is a “gentleman” who would never violate our will, is certainly not biblical or rational. Rationally, we recognize that there are times to go against the will of those we love (say child who runs into a street, only to be snatched back to avoid death by a semi-truck).

 

We see this in the New Testament in regards to salvation. Though the gospel is extended to all, we read a number of strong claims on God’s choice in regards to who actually responds to the gospel message. No one can come to Jesus unless they are drawn by the Father (Jn 6:44). “The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to pay attention” to the message Paul was preaching (Acts 16:14). God grants repentance (2 Tim 2:25). God “predestined [Christians] according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11).” Even in the salvation process in which one chooses to put his or her faith in Christ, the Bible gives God gets all the credit for even this right decision and act of faith. In some strange yet remarkable way, God works alongside and through the will of the person, so much so “that the person freely makes the choice that God intends.” (Erickson). God is sovereign over decisions made for Him. We can’t boast or take credit for anything.
 

 

Truth #2: Humans are responsible, moral agents

 

The Bible presents human beings as morally responsible agents, meaning they have “the power or ability to make decisions and act on them intentionally.” (S.R. Obitts). All throughout the Old Testament, “human responsibility is assumed. Carson gives six examples of this presupposition in the OT: 1) People “face a number of exhortations and commands,” 2) people “are said to obey, believe, choose,” 3) people ”sin and rebel,” 4) “humanity’s “sins are judged by God,” 5) “people “are tested by God,” and 6) “people receive divine rewards.” Carson’s observations could continue into the New Testament, as we see the gospel invitation and moral imperatives extended to its audience. Thus, though divine sovereignty is a scriptural reality, it is equally as true that human beings are responsible for the decisions that they make. Human beings are not puppets. No one can say that God (or Satan or biology) made them sin.
 

Truth #3: God Is Not The Author Of Sin

 

What is God’s relationship with evil? In scripture, God is described as one who is grieved by sin. “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one (Jas 1:13).” He is describes as one who hates “robbery and wrong, (Isa 61:8)” and even in a few places, God is portrayed as hating those who do evil (Ps 5:5). God is light, and in him there is no darkness (1 Jn 1:5). God is holy (Isa 6:3). Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:15). So somehow, God is control of all things, sovereign over all, and yet, he doesn’t get his hands dirty. He doesn’t create sin or evil.

 

Let’s look at three examples of how this works in scripture: Joseph, Judas, and Jesus.
 

 

Joseph

 

For example, one of the most common starting points to this discussion occurs in Genesis chapter 50, as Joseph tells his brothers that they need not fear his retribution. The reason for this is that though the brothers “meant evil” against him, “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. . .”(Gen 50:21). The tension is acutely felt in this text, for as D.A. Carson says: “Joseph does not minimize the ugly fact that the brothers with evil intent did indeed sell him. The text will not allow the brothers to be classed as puppets and thus to escape their guilt. On the other hand neither does it picture God as post eventu deflecting the evil action of the brothers and transforming it into something good. . .” Both God and the brothers have “specific intentions in their respective roles in the same event” but these intentions are not the same. Though the brothers had evil intentions, God’s intentions were good, and His were ultimately victorious in the end.
 

 

Judas

 

The second case study in scripture is found in one of the Bible’s most notorious sinners: Judas. There is little doubt in the minds of the gospel writers that Judas is a guilty betrayer. His sin is such that it would have been better for him to have never been born (Matt 26:24). The progression of his willful sin is quite apparent. Satan put the idea of betraying Jesus into Judas’s heart, and then enters him after he takes the morsel (Jn 13:2, 27). However, Carson notes that Judas is still not a puppet of Satan, for Jesus speaks to Judas saying: “What you are going to do, do it quickly.” In other words, Judas’ guilt and personal responsibility for his actions is painfully obvious.

 

However, Judas is not an independent agent working outside of God’s will. In some sense, Psalm 41:9 is seen as referring to Judas and his evil actions, yet coming about “because God in his ultimate control has arranged things that way so scripture may be fulfilled. . .it is contrary to the theology of the fourth Gospel to conclude from this [situation] that God ‘merely used his evil act to bring about His purpose. . .’” (Carson). No, the whole Gospel of John is leading towards God’s ultimate plan to “lift up Jesus” on the cross. And Judas willingly plays a part.
 

 

Jesus

 

In the same vein as the previously two case studies, one simply needs to look at the crucifixion of Jesus to see the collision of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. As understood by Peter (and/or Luke), the heavy responsibility and blame for the death of Jesus lies on humanity (Herod, Pilot, the Jewish people, and the Gentiles). But, the predestination language is strong as well, for Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” and those responsible for these acts were doing “whatever your [God’s] hand and plan predestined to take place (Acts 2:23, 4:27-28).” Humanity cannot escape its responsibility for the worst sin in human history, yet Acts 4:28 says God predestined it all. Wow!

 

Carson’s concluding points on Judas are also appropriate for the two other examples mentioned. He says: “In the case of both [the prophecy of] Caiaphas and Judas, therefore, divine ultimacy even behind evil actions is presupposed. But divine ultimacy operates in some mysterious way so that human responsibility is in no way mitigated, while the divine being is in no way tarnished.” Does this make sense to us? It is difficult to understand how God ordained and orchestrated these evil events, from Joseph’s to Judas’ to Jesus’ situations, while at the same time, humans remain the ones bearing the guilt for these actions. Carson used the word mystery, a word quite appropriate to the dilemma in which we find ourselves.

 

Sometimes God’s sovereignty scares us, but I find the opposite to be the case. If God is not in control, then something or someone else is, and that something or someone else is far less trustworthy than he is!
 

 

– Pastor Tyler

 

 

When You Don’t Like the Sermon Or Speaker

by Tyler Goens

 

What should we do when the sermon isn’t. that. good. . .?


We’ve all been there. We’re in church, and our least favorite speaker walks up on stage, and we’re instantly bummed. “I really enjoy it when Pastor X teaches, but Pastor Y is so (fill in the blank: boring, dry, young, old, annoying, shallow, academic, arrogant).”  I feel like we have a number of good communicators here at River Valley Church where I pastor, but even still, people often ask me who is teaching at our various campuses before the weekend services, connecting with certain communicators and literally avoiding others.  
Before I judge them, I’m often the same way. In fact, I’m probably worse. Not only do I constantly critique other communicators, I don’t like half of my OWN sermons! Pastors have both the blessing and the curse of always evaluating a teaching for improvement. This is a good thing when it comes to helping people improve (if they’re open to that), but it’s a bad thing when my Sunday morning feels more like the classroom and less like a place of worship.  For the record, I think pastors should be the BEST communicators in the world. But this particular post is for hearers of the Word, which is ideally all of us.
So, here are a couple of questions to run through our minds when we’re thinking about less than stellar sermons or speakers.

1) Was the sermon true?


More important than being inspiring, interesting, entertaining, or funny is whether or not what is said it true. Is it real, does it correspond with reality? This can be applied to more than just sermons, like secular presentations, podcasts, or TED talks.  St. Augustine once said: “All truth is God’s truth.” So no matter where it comes from, no matter who says it, if it’s true, I can receive it because truth comes from God. Truth will always be good for me, even if packaged poorly.        

2) Was scripture read?


In line with the truth value mentioned above, I then look to whether scripture was read. Isaiah 55:10-11 says: “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Paul tells his disciple Timothy:
“the Holy Scriptures. . .are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. . .” 2 Tim 3:15b-16
And “until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture. . .” Paul, 1 Tim 3:13a
So even if the speaker is flawed (likely), or boring (possibly), if scripture is read, then there is value in the teaching.  There is spiritual food to be eaten and enjoyed, even if the chef isn’t Gordon Ramsey or Doug Higuera or Allison Bolen. Plus sometimes, when we aren’t as entertained by the speaker, we’re more prone to actually process what was read and said.        Sometimes, while listening to a “bad sermon,” I’ve thought through some interesting tangents and implications based on the scriptures referenced. This exercise is encouraging and edifying. Other times, I’ve arrogantly said: “I didn’t get anything out of today,” then I’m arrogantly assuming the scriptures didn’t apply to me (while they most certainly did).   

3) Do I have a judgmental bias against this speaker?


As Voddie Baucham often says: “If you can’t say ‘amen,’ you better say ‘ouch.’”  This is one of those convicting “ouch” statements. Often, a bad interaction, a prior history, pride, or arrogance will wrongly influence my reception of their someone’s teaching. Have you noticed that with your favorite teachers, you usually love all their sermons? They can preach no wrong. Before they even walk on the stage, you’re on the edge of your seat, excited and ready to receive. But conversely, when you know that your least favorite Pastor X is preaching, before he even starts, you’ve already determined that you’re not going to like it. It’s a vicious cycle.
But maybe the problem isn’t with Pastor X. Maybe the problem is with me, with my heart, with my prideful, judgmental, critical disposition.

4) Were others around me encouraged by this sermon?


We should be very careful here, that we don’t fish for or project our negativity onto others. We should really ask questions of people around you, without letting our biases be known. We might ask a friend or family member: “What did you think about the teaching? What stood out for you today?” Often, after I hear a sermon I wasn’t that impressed by, I’ll go to my life group, and people will be raving about it. God spoke to them, encouraged them, and challenged them through this teaching. It’s a helpful reminder that the sermon is for us, not just for me.  

5) Does this speaker love our church? Do we love them?


Lastly, and finally, we have to remember Jesus’ great command: “love one another.” When a preacher is speaking, love covers a multitude of communicational sins. When I’m out of town on Sunday, I always try and go to church. In other cities, I’ve been to churches where, from my perspective, the preaching was sub-par (to put it nicely). These guys will never podcast their teachings. But the congregation loves their pastor(s), and vise versa. This man has probably officiated their weddings, been with them in the hospital, prevented marriages from divorce, buried their parents. He’s faithfully served his congregation for years.  And so while I’m rolling my eyes at the corny jokes, the people are rolling in laughter. And they’re receiving immense spiritual nourishment from this man who loves them and who they love.   Consider the love that a communicator has for his or her church.  Sermons take a long time to create. Have you ever prayed for your least favorite pastor?  I suspect if you start doing this, you will benefit more from their teachings. Either they will get better, or you will get better (your heart), or maybe both.          
Thanks for reading! What are some principles that you have thought through while dissatisfied with a teaching, homily, or sermon? (Of course this won’t apply to people from the campus where I teach regularly 😀 )

-Tyler
03-05-19



 
 

 

 

 

Two Scripts: Some General Thoughts on Identity

by Tyler Goens

 

 

In the third grade, I played Christopher Columbus in our classroom play.

  I won the audition for role because one of my friends, also auditioning for the part, didn’t know the difference between the italics in a script (what you’re supposed to do), and the normal text part of the script (what you’re supposed to say). He would read out loud the parts he was supposed to act out: We would be reading our lines, and he would say “read with emphasis,” “wave arms wildly.” I followed the script more carefully, and got the role. It’s one of my greatest accomplishments in my educational career. I think this Columbus plays are probably on the decline these days (hopefully no old pictures or old tweets surface of me playing this part), tv shows are not, as Netflix, Prime, and Hulu battle for dominance. And each tv show, or really each actor (and actress) needs a script. These scripts guide the actors in what they’re supposed to do, and say, and even how they should feel and relate to others. Even actors that ad-lib and improvise do so within the confines of who they’re supposed to be in the show. In the real world, all of us live by “scripts” as well; we all memorize ways of thinking, living, and feeling. Like memorizing music or lyrics or parts of the play, we are trying to figure out what our lines are for life, how we are supposed to function. We experience the expectations of our culture and expectations for sexuality. These scripts, these values and ideals, have been marinated into us for decades.

But in this post, I want to pick one script, the one I think is most popular for us, particularly Millennials and Gen Zers. I’m calling this: “The secular, “authentic self” script.” By secular, I mean “separate from religion,” the modern way of thinking without any supernatural emphasis. And I want to contrast this secular script a “biblical script.” It’s probably no surprise that I (the pastor) find the biblical script is more interesting, and so let me try and convince you, too! For both scripts, we’ll ask four questions: “1) Who am I? 2) What’s my purpose? 3) What’s wrong with me? 4) And how do I fix it?”
 

First Question:

1) Who AM I? (secular script)

 

Would you say knowing your character is important for a play? What if I was supposed to play Christopher Columbus but I really started playing Superman? Or imagine if Daryl on the walking dead started acting like SpongeBob SquarePants. That wouldn’t make a lot of sense, right? So if these actors need to know their part, their place when it comes to fiction, how much MORE important is it for us to know our part in real life! So many of us have no idea who we are. We’re trying to figure it out. Who are we? What is most important for us? What are we about? Who is this person looking back at me in the mirror? There are lots of ways that people try to answer this question: Some people think “I am my money, I am what I make.” Some think “I am what other people think about me, my reputation. My group” Some say: “I am a Democrat, I am a Republican.” I’m a Trump Supporter. I’m a Bernie Bro.” “I am my friend group. I am my family. I am my last name.” Others say: “I am what I do,” I am a good student. Or, I am a bad student. I’m a musician, I’m a sports stud, I’m a first teamer, I’m a gamer, I am my hobbies.”

But the most popular answer today, the answer to the question in the secular, authentic self script, is this:

I Am. . . .Who I FEEL I Am.

“I am my attractions, desires, wants: I am what I feel. My identity is found in my heart, in my emotions. I am my longings. I am my sexuality. I am what I sense and experience around me.” The Glee Cast revived Roxette’s Listen To Your Heart, which I used to always listen to at the roller skating rink: “Listen to your heart// When he’s calling for you//Listen to your heart//There’s nothing else you can do.” You have to follow your heart, that’s your role, that’s your part in this play called life, you are who you feel you are. And who knows me best? Certainly not someone OUTSIDE of me. The person who knows me best is me, in the secular script. “I am what my heart tells me I am.” According to this script, I am defined by my attractions. If I am attracted to women, I’m straight. If I’m attracted to men, I’m gay. If attracted to both, I’m bisexual. If I feel love for multiple people, I’m polyamorous. If I don’t feel sexual desire, then I’m asexual. If I don’t like categories, I’m pansexual. To question this or to lovingly come alongside and suggest others ways to think about identity is seen as harmful and repressive.

This doesn’t just have implications for sexuality, but also for the various other emotions that we often feel. If I feel like a failure, then I must be one. If I feel like “I’m a big deal,” then I must be. If I feel like no one likes me, if I feel like I’m a victim. If I feel distant from people, or from God, then I probably am. If I feel like you don’t like me, then that’s what’s true.
 
The secular script often situates morality along emotional lines as well. If you ask someone why something is morally wrong, like racism, for example, often the reasoning will have more to do with intuition: “Well it just feels wrong!” 
 

1) Who Am I? (Biblical script)

 
Who knows me best? In the biblical script, it’s certainly not me. It’s God, God knows me FAR better than I know me.
Psalm 139:1-4, 6: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. 2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. 3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do. 4 You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. . . 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!” Just as a cardiologist knows more about my heart than I do, and the dentist knows more about my teeth than I do, God knows more about ALL OF ME than I do. He has a far better perspective and vantage point on my life, my desires, my future, than I do.
 
Genesis 1:27: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” The Latin word here is Imago Dei. There have been millions of words written for thousands of years trying to explain those two words. But the simplest way to put it is that, in some way, we resemble God. In some ways, we are like God, in a way that animals and plants are not. Like God, we have relationships and morals and mission. I am given both dignity, and responsibility to treat others with dignity. This is why we can make a rational argument against things like racism, not first because it FEELS wrong, but because is actually IS wrong! In the biblical script, we are made in his image and THIS is what gives us value, worth, and dignity.
 
The second question we’re asking is this:

2) Why Am I Here? (secular script):

“I am here to highlight me and discover who I really am.” In the secular script, it doesn’t really matter what our origins are. Some take a more atheistic perspective, some believe in a Creator God, others believe in aliens, but none of that is really that important, because I’m here to “make my own meaning.” God, science, or ET are all tools to help me attain this goal. Lettie Lutz, the bearded lady in the Greatest Showman, sings: “I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.” Katy Perry says we’re going to hear her Roar, she’s making her voice heard, and so should we. We might try and make the world a better place but often, we’re doing it to get people’s attention on us.  Does anyone remember Myspace? Good times. Myspace, and now Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are means of highlighting myself. Forget firefighting and criminal justice, every middle schooler in the whole world now wants to be a famous Youtuber.

“I’m here to be seen, and to make my own meaning.”
 

2) Why Am I Here? (biblical script)

 

“I am here to highlight GOD and discover who HE really is.” Instead of being here to highlight me, I’m here to highlight God! To make him look good. Not to make me look famous, but to make God look famous. Not for me to look good, but for God to look good. Back to God’s image, he makes us male or female, for a reason. Men, you will reflect and honor God a little differently from women. And ladies, you too will reflect God a little differently from men. Society wants to blur those lines and say that we’re the same, but we’re not. And that’s a good thing! We’re equal in value and worth, but men and women are not the same. Zooming out, we are here to love God and love others, no matter if they follow the biblical script or not. Our lines to memorize are “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” No matter who that neighbor is, no matter how much they annoy us, no matter if they have a different view of sexuality, we are here to love everyone as God does.

The third question in the secular script is:
 

3) What’s Wrong with Me? (secular script)

 

Now, because the question is so complicated, there are a number of options for the answer. Option 1 is kinda the Orpah-esk answer: What’s wrong with me? Oh honey, nothing is wrong with you! You’re just fine. You just don’t believe in myself enough.” If anything, “You’re too scared of others to be the true you.” (many see the biggest problem as outside authority figures, rules, THE MAN, or the system).

Option two, what’s wrong with me? “Everything. I am hopelessly flawed; I can’t do anything right.” Option two reminds us that we don’t always believe Oprah, or ourselves. We have a sneaking suspicion that something is VERY wrong with us, living with a constant low-grade (or high-grade) guilt and anxiety. Most of us know all too well that we are broken; we don’t need people or pastors or parents telling us. We already know deep down. And if we believe option two , their typically aren’t a lot of ways to find our way out. We’re lost.
 

3) What’s Wrong with Me? (biblical script)

“I am broken by sin and selfishness.” The biblical paradigm for sin is immensely helpful for understanding what is wrong with us. St. Augustine called it “incurvatus in se,” to be curved inward on oneself. In fact, it’s interesting to look at the secular script through that lens, a total self-absorption that is always looking INWARD for clarity, freedom, and peace instead of looking in love to God and others. My biggest problem, in the biblical script, is that I’m most concerned about myself.

Final question:

4) How Do I Fix What’s Wrong? (secular script)

 

Answer: “I need to be authentic, I need to be true to me, to look inward and discover myself.“ As T-Swizzle once sang: “I’d like to be my old self again, but I’m still trying to find it.” We fix what’s wrong by doing what feels right, by
 
1) Trusting our hearts,
2) Isolating ourselves to find ourselves, in a kind of self discovery, a season of experimentation, and
3) Embracing our desires. If anyone challenges us in this process, they’re to be ignored or discarded.
 

4) How Do I Fix What’s Wrong? (biblical script)

I can’t, at least not on my own. But the fixing, the restoration, happens through:

1) Trusting Christ’s Transformation of us. God is training me, as a Christian, and you, if you are a Christian, making you look and act more like Jesus. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” –Romans 8:29 So we were created in the Image of God (Imago Dei), but that “Image” got distorted by sin, and so now Jesus is restoring us in HIS image (Imago Christi). This is God’s main plan for our lives. Although where we’ll go to school, who we might marry, what our future will look like is important to us, God is less concerned by these specifics. God is less concerned about what we do, and more concerned about who we are becoming.
 
2) Next, we Surround ourselves to “find ourselves.” Where as the secular script sometimes encourages an isolated, self-discovery process, the biblical script starts with “it’s not good for man (humans) to be alone.” -Genesis 2:18 We need each other to help us think through these difficult desires and thoughts. You may think that no one can understand you, and that people won’t accept you if they knew what you were really feeling. THIS IS NOT TRUE. There are people in the church who will love you and walk with you through whatever you’re facing in these areas. And of course, take all your anxiety and cares to God, because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). 
 
3) Finally, we should Doubt our desires.
Where as the secular script looks for help inside the heart, Jeremiah 17:9 says this about our hearts: The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” Woah. And I think we’ve all experienced this. We’re crazy about that person, and then a week later we’re like: What did I ever see in him or her?”
 
Doubting our desires doesn’t mean ignoring them, nor stuffing them down, nor pretending they are not there. Rather it means doubting that your desires are going to provide what they promise. For example, I am sexually attracted to many beautiful women. But I doubt that pursuing these attractions will be good for me and those around me. When I run my desires through the biblical script, I realize this sexual desire for other women is both a symptom of God’s good creation (beauty), AND a symptom of my impulsive, “curved inward-ness,”(selfishness). 
 
I desire to have ice cream every night, but I don’t because I doubt that desire will produce long-term, good things in my life. I desire to never use an alarm clock, but I doubt this is good for productivity and work. Sometimes I want to punch someone in the face when I’m mad at them, but I doubt that impulse will solve my problem with him. I want to be sexually active with my fiancé, but I highly doubt that premarital sex will be good for our relationship in the long run. Outside of God’s intended purpose for sex, within the marriage promise, I doubt that desire is what I really really want.
 
How many of you have ever had a friend that was not very trustworthy? Maybe they borrow stuff and don’t return it, maybe you’ve told them secrets and somehow, they get out to others. Maybe they always conveniently forget their wallet at taco bell, they never do their part in the group project, so you have to pick up the slack. You rightly doubt that friend, right? You rightly view them with skepticism. They are not trustworthy.
 
Many of us doubt God, we struggle to believe in him, that’s normal and a natural part of the faith process. But you know what’s REALLY not trustworthy? The secular, authentic-self script. This way of living is not our friend. As a society, we’re more depressed, anxious, lonely, and isolated as ever. Following our heart isn’t working. So maybe it’s time to start to “doubt” the secular script. Even though it’s inside of all of us, it’s a lame script, it’s not fulfilling, it’s not a good story. It’s not delivering what it’s promised. You know what’s much better? A loving creator makes us, gave his life to save us from ourselves, and gives us a new story that’s so much better than we could create for ourselves.
 

It’s still difficult, it’s still hard, but it’s the most fulfilling life possible.

 
-Tyler        
02-20-19
 
 

 

 

 

 

5 Underrated Benefits to Reading (Not Tweets) 

by Tyler Goens

 

We live in interesting times.

  On the one hand, people are reading more than ever. Literacy rates have never been higher. In the west, we constantly skim through text messages, tweets, posts, and news updates on our phones. From this perspective, we’re always reading. Yet on the other hand, countless in our culture didn’t read a single book cover to cover in 2018. From this perspective, we’re never reading. Today, I want to give us five reasons to re-prioritize book reading, in a way that is really different from the reading we do on our phones.      
 

1) Reading Develops Patient Perseverance.

It’s takes time to work through a book, especially a good one. In our cliff-notes culture, we often don’t feel like we have the time or energy to work through the entire book. Now, sometimes this is a good thing, as some books are not worth reading and still others are 100 pages longer than they should be. But when we’re reading a good, influential book, perseverance is developed in us as we push through it.  Our attention spans are expanded.
 

2) Reading Helps Us Slow Down and Focus.

Karen Swallow Prior writes: “Consider what reading requires of the body and mind: stillness, rest, reflection, focus, attentiveness.” Have you ever tried to read and multi-task? I never understood people who could eat and read, or worse, drive and read at the same time. Gulp. I can’t be doing or hearing anything else, even if this requires earplugs or headphones with instrumental music to tune out the chaos around me. There is something to the very act of sitting down in a comfortable chair, with a cup of coffee and the phone set to “Do Not Disturb” that is so good for our souls. In our fast-paced world, prioritizing these moments becomes even more important.          

3) Reading Increases Brain Activity (Especially in Children)

There are a number of scientific studies demonstrating the value of reading to children and reading by children.  Most notably, their brains seem to activate in healthier, more productive ways. Compare this with some of the research showing the potentially negative impact of smart phones, tablets, and television on childhood development. One basic difference between reading and watching is the active vs passive construction of mental maps/images. When someone is reading or hearing someone read, her brain is required to actively imagine what is happening. When someone watches tv or plays video games, his brain is simply receiving the picture passively.         I don’t think it’s that different with adults, either.  The smartest, most creative, most enjoyable people to talk to, are typically those who read more than they watch. Many of my most intelligent friends don’t even have TVs or Netflix accounts. I’m not saying that TV is bad, I’m just saying that reading is quite clearly and scientifically better!     
 

4) Reading (Older) Books Give Us Increased Perspective

In an English translation of Athanasius’ book On The Incarnation, C.S. Lewis writes the introduction. In it, he encourages people to read more old books, humorously acknowledging that if people take his advice, it could impact his own livelihood. But why should we read “dead guy” books? Lewis says: “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

Reading older material helps identity our “blind spots.”

Every culture and time period has these blind spots, things that future cultures will look back on and wonder: “Why in the world did they think that? How could they do that?” Our contemporary culture is no different. If we’re always and only skimming through tweets, breaking news, current posts, we’re actually severely limiting our perspective to a modern, western, (usually) secular way of looking at things.
 

5) Reading Helps us Better Know God.

Isn’t it so interesting that our (Christian) faith centers around a book? We don’t worship this book, but we love it because through it, we see Jesus. So one of Christianity’s great legacies is the promotion and teaching of literacy throughout the Roman empire and beyond, so that people could meet God in His Word.  John Calvin puts it like this: “Why read scripture? Because by doing so, we come to know Jesus Christ truly, and the infinite riches which are included in Him and offered to us by God the Father.”   Before I was with Corina, I often put myself in places where I could see her, talk to her, observe her (maybe that’s creepy). But the place to see and talk to and observe God, to get the infinite riches of relationship with him, is in the quiet solitude of scripture.
 

Our Next Steps: In light of this –

1) Read a little bit of the Bible each day, and 2) pick another book to read as well. And what is the best book for me to read next? The question makes me think of other, similar questions like: “what kind of exercise is best?” or “what is the best Bible translation?” The best exercise is the kind you’ll do (and enjoy), the best Bible translation is the one you’ll actually read (and enjoy). And so your next book is the one you’ll finish (and enjoy).  But sometimes we get more pleasure out of accomplishing a greater challenge, so keep that in mind as well.
 
Happy reading, friends!
Tyler        
01-29-19

 

 

 

The Serpent Slaughters 

by Tyler Goens
 
       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hate snakes, especially rattlers, and I don’t think I’m alone. Interestingly enough, there are lots of “snakes” in the Bible, really deadly ones.

 

This week in our Exodus series, we’re in chapter 2.  Last week, we talked through chapter 1. Pharaoh sees that the people of Israel are growing and multiplying, an image of fruitfulness promises in Genesis to Adam and Eve, to Abraham’s family, even the Ishmael. He orders that all the newborn baby boys be drowned in the Nile. But the problem here is deeper than someone on a power trip.  All throughout scripture, there is the image of a king, represented as a snake, serpent, or dragon, trying to eliminate a deliverer-figure.

 

Serpent 1: The Talking Snake.

The beginnings of this theme start in Genesis 3:15, where the serpent is bent of the destruction of humanity. He deceives the first humans to disobey God, sending us into a tailspin.  God’s response to the problem is sometimes called “the first gospel.”

 

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent. . .15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:14-15

 

So God promises that there will be a deliverer figure, but there’s also the image of the snake or serpent or dragon who seeks to destroy this baby (or these babies).  

 

Serpent 2: Cain.

And what happens on the next page of the Bible?  Cain and Abel are the first baby boys ever born. Year later, Cain gets very envious and very angry at his brother. And what does God tell him?  “Dude, be careful, sin is crouching at your door” (TGO translation). God’s warning is through the image of a snake, coiled up, tail rattling, ready to strike its foolish victim. Cain does not listen, and he kills his brother Abel. The snake strikes through Cain, killing Abel and metaphorically killing Cain too. So the snake wins the first battle. But Adam and Eve have another son, Seth.  A new deliverance-figure: someone who calls on the name of the Lord with his family.
 

Serpent 3: Pharaoh.

In Ezekiel 29, God calls Pharoah a dragon, or a sea monster.

 

3 Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself.” 4 But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales.”

-Ezekiel 29:3-4

So Pharaoh thinks he’s big and bad, believes he controls the Nile and throws babies into it. But God says that he’s got his sea monster tags, and is going fishing. Bad news for Pharoah.

 

Painting Pharaoh as a fishy sea monster shows he’s not just an evil ruler; he is a part of a larger tradition of being (serving) the serpent. He’s doing the bidding of an ancient evil.

 

Serpent 4: Goliath.

Who’s another serpent or dragon-like figure bent on the destruction of God’s people?  Who’s another arch-nemesis in the Bible? Goliath of Gath, the Philistine hero of epic proportions. It’s harder to see in English, but 1 Samuel 17:5 describes Goliath’s massive armor as a “coat of bronze scales.”  The word for scales is rare and is used for fish, dragons, serpents, and yes, Pharaoh. Goliah is yet another evil threat to God’s people.

 

And most of us know the story. A small, ruddy boy named David takes him out with a slingshot right in between the eyes, and then cuts off Goliath’s head with his own sword.  The dragon is defeated, the serpent’s head is crushed, as promised in Genesis 3:15.

 

Is the war over? Unfortunately not, and here’s where things get deep and sinister.

Because who’s the next dragon like, evil figure?  

 

Serpent 5: David himself (and Joab and Solomon)

 

Sadly, David himself embodies serpent-like tendencies as a person of power.

“Then the Lord raised up against Solomon an adversary, Hadad the Edomite, from the royal line of Edom. Earlier when David was fighting with Edom, Joab the commander of the army, who had gone up to bury the dead, had struck down all the men in Edom. Joab and all the Israelites stayed there for six months, until they had destroyed all the men in Edom. But Hadad, still only a boy, fled to Egypt with some Edomite officials who had served his father.“ 1 Kings 11:14-17

 

What happened? Under David’s authority, General Joab tries and kills all the men of Edom. In this, he’s more like Pharoah than Moses, and more like the dragon than the deliverer.  But what happens? It’s a familiar theme.There’s a young boy named Hadad, and he flees to Egypt with some royal officials for asylum. He grows and matures, and plans a return. David eventually dies, his son Solomon takes over. Solomon turns away from the Lord, worships idols, marries hundreds of women, and enslaves people. So God sends Hadad to fight against Solomon.  Sadly, God’s man and king, God’s deliverance-figure “David” has embodied dragon-like characteristics, along with his son. David and Solomon were supposed to be God’s royal people who blessed the world, but they start to look suspiciously like Goliath, Pharaoh, and Cain.

 

Well, what goes around often comes around. That’s not necessarily a karma-like belief, but it is generally true.

 

Serpent 6: Athaliah.

 

In 2 Kings chapter 11, a lady named Athaliah gains some power and begins to kill off all of David’s great great grandkids. This is especially problematic, since God promised that someone from David’s line would be a king forever, a savior.  So Athaliah, not a good name for your daughter, almost succeeds in killing everyone in David’s family. But, baby Joash, one of the few remaining descendents of David, is kidnapped and hidden for 6 years in a small room so that he can live. He eventually becomes king, and the Davidic line is safe again.

 

Serpent 7: Herod the (not so) Great:

 

Then, we get to the Christmas text: Matthew 2:16-18. The Wise men (Magi) come to Jerusalem, run into Herod, and freak him out by mentioning a new king is around the block. We know him as Jesus, the ultimate deliverer, the promised snake-crusher of Genesis 3:15. Paranoid Herod identifies is like the serpent in ordering the death of all the little baby boys under 2 years old in Bethlehem.  Joseph, Jesus stepfather, if you will, flees with Jesus and Mary into Egypt, getting asylum there until crazy Herod dies. This reminds of more of Hadad, more of Moses, more of young David, than it does any of the kings or rulers of Israel.

 

So what is happening here?  Jesus is not only embodying the script of the innocent, deliverer-figure, he’s also taking on the sins of his great grandfather David, and Solomon.  He’s taking these sin and the consequences for them onto himself. The things that Cain, Pharaoh, Goliath, David, Solomon, Athaliah did to others, are now being done or directed towards Jesus.

 

These patterns of violence and genocide, Jesus himself goes through this, and though he avoids death as a child, he goes through death as an adult, taking it all onto himself without ever becoming the dragon, without ever retaliating and fighting back with violence.  And through suffering as an innocent victim, he subverts the whole process, actually conquering the dragon(s), crushing heads through his death and resurrection.

 

Serpent 8: Satan

 

Revelation 12 kinda buttons the whole theme up by tying all the evil serpent-like figures to the prime one, namely Satan himself. In this way, Serpent 1 and Serpent 8 are the same figure.

 

A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman. . .was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. . . .Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon,and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.”  Revelation 12:1-9

 

There’s a lot going on here, it’s Revelation, which means there are lots of symbols and images and themes clashing together. But what’s clear is that the serpent, the dragon behind all dragons, the evil behind all evil, is Satan himself.  The child, the deliver behind all deliverers, the good behind all good, is ultimately Jesus. But before Jesus’ victory on the cross, lots of other people imperfectly filled the role, like Moses, like young David, like the angel Michael. Satan is cast down to earth here in this passage, showing us that although Jesus already won the war, the battle still rages.

 

The best way to illustrate this is to say that World War II was decided at D-Day on the beaches of Normandy, France.  But the war would continue to rage almost another year in Europe until the official victory was attained.

 

We find as the people of God in between D-day (Jesus’ death and resurrection) and V-Day (Jesus’ return). We know how it all ends, but we’re in the middle of the process as the battle still rages.  

 

Additional Serpents:

We still see horrors where dragon-like figures brutally kill, like Hitler in Nazi Germany, like Stalin in the Soviet Union and Mao in Communist China.  We saw the Rwandan genocide. We see violence in the cartels below our border and gun violence in our own country. Perhaps the most underrated genocide in our country of the last fifty years is the millions of killed children through abortion. Make no mistake, Pharaoh throwing infants into the Nile, and Herod spearing little children is no more primitive than what we allow today in our country. (Although I acknowledge that there is so much deception and desperation behind this issue, making it difficult to talk about rationally).  

The serpent is alive and well, the dragon still deceives and destroys today, warping humans into his own image.  But the deliverer is alive as well as well, and he will win. And may he use us in ways that bring that deliverance to others through the Good News! And we await the day, like Romans 16:20 says: “the God of peace will crush Satan underneath your feet.” The slaughtering Serpent and his serpents will be slaughtered once and for all. Let it be so.
 
– Pastor Tyler
 
 

 

 

 

Vowing To Not

Write Vows

by Tyler Goens
 
 
…There’s an interesting trend of people writing their own marriages vows instead of using traditional ones.
 
Or maybe I’m just noticing it more as all my friends are getting married: ring by spring, baby! While I’m always happy for people on their special day, personalized wedding vows always felt a little off to me. I used to just chalk it up as my own lack of emotional sensitivity (which is probably still a part of the problem).
 
However, I recently heard Pastor Sam Allberry say on the Gospel Coalition Podcast, partially joking but partially serious: I’ll only marry a couple if they DON’T write their own vows. The vows will entirely miss the point of what the whole ceremony is about. They’ll write vows about how they feel. [But] we [already] know how you feel. We don’t need seventeen stanzas of bad poetry to know how you feel on your wedding day.” -Sam Allberry (click here for full podcast episode). 
 
Now, on the one hand, the traditional wedding vows are not found in scripture; they’re not inspired by God. Traditional vows won’t strengthen your new marriage any more than a well-placed, motivational poster will strengthen your work environment. They’re both just symbols and signs. BUT these things have their place. And if we agree that the ceremony is important (Pinterest boards and pocketbooks currently confirm), then what we do and say here matters.
 
From the Bible’s perspective, marriage is not just something that happens between two consenting adults. Marriage is a life-long covenant between two sexually different persons, in which the two become one, resembling the relationship that Jesus has with his people (This doesn’t allow us to treat LGBT+ people with any less dignity, even if we respectfully disagree on this point.)
 
But, I think many wedding ceremonies miss the big picture of what marriage is supposed to represent. A wedding isn’t primarily about highlighting the individuality of the bride and groom, or the (untested) love the couple professes. As Russell Moore says, those gathered at the wedding at not “just guests at the party,” they are witnesses of what is happening. Why do weddings need witnesses? We attendees represent the “Body of Christ,” the people meant to help and the hold this couple to their life-long vows.
 
Because there is NO WAY anyone can predict what is coming for these two: the turbulence, the temptations, the trials. The couple most certainly can’t, and so flowery and flamboyant pronouncements of life-long fidelity just aren’t that valuable. EVERYONE feels good on the wedding day (except the ex-boyfriend), but what happens when, five years (or months) later, strong feelings fade? (And it’s always a matter of when not if). What do you look back upon? Anything anchored in wedding-day butterflies and feeling of infatuation will be long gone.
So what does anchor us? Not vows of self-actualization, but a vow of self-sacrifice: a simple promise (in front of an accountable community who will hold us to these vows). I love what Louis Mead says, a Dutch-American philosopher about marriage. Long quote but worth the read:
 
“When I make a promise, I bear witness that my future with you is not locked… in the hand I was dealt out with out of my parents’ genetic deck. When I make a promise, I testify that I was not routed along some unalterable itinerary by the psychic conditioning visited on me by my slightly wacky parents. When I make a promise, I declare that my future with people who depend on me is not predetermined by the mixed up culture of my tender years… I’m well aware that much of what I am and what I do is a gift or curse from my past, but when I make a promise to anyone, I rise above all the conditioning that limits me. No German shepherd ever promised to be with me, no computer ever promised to be a loyal help. Only a person can make a promise, and when you do, you are most free.” -Louis Mead
 
Why “most free?” In the instability of impulses and in the fleeting nature of feelings, we are often conditioned by our past and our biology (unpopular fact). But when we are anchored to a simple promise, in the presence of many witnesses, then we are free from the feelings of the moment.
 
So why do I like the following traditional vows better than anything anyone else comes up with?
They are external to me, not something that comes from within me. They are a great resource that comes from outside of me. Our culture constantly preaches that whatever feels right, deep down, is that which needs to be pursued at any and every cost (Think every Disney movie). In my opinion, Christian weddings could demonstrate respectful, counter-cultural, disagreement with this philosophy. This wedding day is not primarily about how we feel, but to celebrate and witness what God has done for us, what promises we make to each other, and the witnesses holding us to these promises.
 
What makes a wedding significant, notes Russell Moore, is not it’s differences from other weddings, but what makes them all the same. The decorations, the dress, the venue, the food are not what makes a wedding significant, but rather the eternal realities to which the wedding point. I think traditional vows are a great way in the ceremony to keep the same, significant meaning of marriage on full display.
 
The Declaration of Consent (Book of Common Prayer):
 
Name: Will you have this man to be your husband; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?
 
I will.
 
Will you have this woman to be your wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
 
I will.
 
– Pastor Tyler
 
 

 

 

Favorite Five Books in 2018

by Tyler Goens

Well, being that 2018 is my last (full) year as an unmarried man, I used to it do something surprising: Actually complete a New Year’s Resolution. I did reach my goal of reading 100 books. Contrary to popular belief, they were not all Dr. Seuss books (only half).

 
  Some people might think I’m bragging by telling you all this, and maybe secretly I really am. But the purpose of this post is to 1) highlight my favorite five books of the year, as well as to 2) motivate YOU, (yes, you!) to set a book goal for 2019.   Maybe for you it’s 6 books (one every two months), maybe it’s 12 books (one per month), maybe it’s 50 books (one per week), but why not set a book goal and create an action plan for it? I have a few unique opportunities in my job for extra reading, but there are audiobook resources like Audible and Librivox that any of us can use during exercise, a commute, or working around the house.  
 

Favorite Five Books in 2018



Joel Fuhrman, Fast Food Genocide: How Processed Food Is Killing Us And What We Can Do About It

  Were you expecting a health and food book? Me neither. But it was extremely impactful in my life to take more control over my eating practices and habits. I’ve gradually lost about fifteen pounds this year, and I feel a lot better (mostly) avoiding most processed foods and growing a newfound love for veggies. Recommended for anyone trying to eat healthier!  

Andrew Marin, Us Verses Us: The Untold Story of Religion And The LGBT Community

  As our church went through The Broken Series earlier in the year, I was asked to teach on Same-Sex Relationships. One well-researched, staggering statistic stands above the rest in this book: 86% of the LGBT people came from a faith community. 86% of LGBT people have spent significant time in church. And most of the respondents said they didn’t leave the church for theological reasons; they left because of how they were treated. We can still hold to the traditional, historical, sexual ethic AND love our (gay) neighbors as ourselves. Recommended for Christians seeking to love, understand, and reach out to the LGBT community.  

Jonathan Franklin, 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea

  This is a true story of the survival of Salvador Alvarenga. While fishing 100 miles off the coast of Mexico, Alvarenga gets caught in a massive storm, and his engine dies. He proceeds to float for 438 days for over 6000 miles, until arriving at the Marshall Islands, where he is rescued. No joke: google it (because everything on the internet is true). But seriously, he survives by eating fish, sea turtles, and most importantly, birds thinking they found a place to rest on his boat. Recommended for anyone who likes (true) survival stories!  

Matt Cater and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson,

Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom?

  Many of us know about the incredible Charles Spurgeon, the prince of preachers who would speak to thousands and thousands without a microphone 19th century London. But few of us have heard of Thomas Johnson, a slave who after the Civil War, became a pastor in Chicago. Through God’s providence, Johnson attends Spurgeon’s pastors’ college in London, desiring to go to Africa to share the gospel with his native people. The two men become really close friends, and through their relationship, we get a glimpse of the kind of suffering that both of them endured. This is a work of historical fiction, although the main characters and storyline are anchored in reality.  

Carl F. George and Warren Bird, How to Break Growth Barriers: Revise Your Role, Release Your People, and Capture Overlooked Opportunities for Your Church

  This book is massively important for changing the paradigm of church leaders from solo caregiver to developer of lay leaders. Leading to frustration, limitation, and burnout, the solo caregiver model only goes so far. But this book stresses the value and importance of giving away ministry by training up others in their gifts and talents. Although the “how-to” title might cause us to roll our eyes (understandably so, with the plethora of click-bait “how-to” titles shouting for our attention) this content is incredible, helpful, and immensely spiritual/pastoral. Jesus said it was good for him to leave, because then he could send the Holy Spirit, who would live in every believer. Why then do we, as church leaders, try to do solo ministry when even Jesus didn’t see it as the best, long-term strategy? Recommended for every ministry leader!  

Runner Ups:

Donald Whitney, Praying the Bible David Bennett, A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus Tim Keller, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Bob Goff, Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People Lynn K. Wilder, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way out of the Mormon Church

Thanks for reading! What were some of your favorite books this year?
 
Book List This Year
(If any of these look interesting, feel to message me and ask if I think they’re worth reading!)
 

December 2017

Preston Sprinkle, Grace//Truth 1.0: Five Conversations Evert Thoughtful Christian Should Have About Faith, Gender, and Sexuality

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

Corrie Ten Boom with Elizabeth and John Sherill, The Hiding Place

Mark A. Yarhouse, Homosexuality And The Christian: A Guide For Parents, Pastors, and Friends

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

Andrew David Nasselli, Kevin Bauder, Al Mohler, John Stackhouse, Roger Olson, Four Views on The Spectrum of Evangelicalism

F.B. Meyer, Expository Preaching

Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God: Recent Scientific Discoveries Reveal the Unmistakable Identity of the Creator

Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives

The Power Of Words And The Wonder Of God, Edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor

The Bible (various translations, finished from the previous year)

Mario Puzo, The Godfather
 

January

Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy

Abby Johnson, The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories

Alan Briggs, Staying Is The New Going: Choosing To Love Where God Placed You

Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Dirk Maggs: The X-Files: Cold Cases

Joel Fuhrman, Fast Food Genocide: How Processed Food Is Killing Us And What We Can Do About It

Spurgeon’s Calvinism, Ed. Stephen Mccaskell

Eugene Peterson, As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God

Alfred J. Poirier, The Peacemaking Pastor: A Biblical Guide To Resolving Church Conflict

Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eye Witnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony

Chris Carter, Joe Harris, Dirk Maggs: The X-Files: Stolen Lives

Caleb Kaltenbach, Messy Grace: How A Pastor With Gay Parents Learned To Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

Andrew Marin, Us Verses Us: The Untold Story of Religion And The LGBT Community

 

February

James Calvin Davis, Forbearance: A Theological Ethic For a Disagreeable Church

Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos.

Alan Jacobs, How To Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds

William H. McRaven, Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe The World

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves: An Exploration of the Nature of Love

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith

John Scalzi, The Dispatcher

Paul Hegstrom, Broken Children, Grown-up Pain: Understanding the Effects of Your Wounded Past

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

 

March

Scott Daniels, Seven Deadly Spirits: The Message of Revelation’s Letters for Today’s Church

Jennifer Forde, Sam Bungey, West Cork: Every Countryside Has A Darkside

N.T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer

A.J. Swoboda, Subversive Sabbath: The Surprising Power of Rest In A Non-Stop World

J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, And Human Life: The Nature of Humanity in the Bible

 

April

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age of Colorblindness

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, Helping Without Hurting In Short-Term Missions

Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches

Donald Whitney, Praying the Bible

N.T. Wright, Paul: A Biography

Alastair J. Roberts and Andrew Wilson, Echoes of Exodus: Teaching Themes of Redemption through Scripture

Ryan Huguley, Eight Hours Or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster

Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.

 

May

Preston Sprinkle, Fight: The Christian Case For Non-Violence

Michael Horton, Introducing Covenant Theology

Larry Crabb, The Marriage Builder, Creating True Oneness to Transform Your Marriage

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor And Yourself

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Volume I

Rosaria Butterfield, The Gospel Comes With A House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World

 

June

Larry Osborne, Sticky Church

Sam Chan, D.A. Carson, Evangelism in a Skeptical World: How to Make the Unbelievable News About Jesus More Believeable

Lynn K. Wilder, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way out of the Mormon Church

Chip and Dean Heath, Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard

 

July

Rob Bell, Blood, Guts, and Fire: The Gospel According to Leviticus, Part 1

John Grisham, A Painted House

Tim Keller, The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

R.C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord

Martin Buber, I and Thou, Trans. Kaufmann

D.A. Carson, The Sermon on The Mount: An Evangelical Exposition of Matthew 5-7

Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief

F.F. Bruce, Acts: A Bible Study Commentary

John MacArthur, Jesus’ Pattern of Prayer

 

August

Brad Griffin, Jake Mulder, and Kara Powel, Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church

N.T. Wright, Paul: A Biography (Second time through)

Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

Amy E. Jacober, The Adolescent Journey: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Practical Youth Ministry

Jonathan Franklin, 438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea

Ajith Fernando, The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life

Michael Clarkson, The Age of Daredevils

Howard Marshall, Acts: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

Darrell L. Bock, Acts: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament

Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church: From Cultural Relevance to Gospel Resilience

Joe Ehrmann, InSide Out Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

 

September

Chris Voss, Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Thor Heyerdahl, The Kon-Tiki Expedition, By Raft Across the Southern Seas

Ken Lozito, Genesis: First Colony

Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Rob Bell, Blood, Guts, and Fire: The Gospel According to Leviticus, Part 2

Zack Eswine, The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus

 

October

Peter Bogdanov, We Met Jesus: Stories of Healing in Community

Bradley Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told: A Sociologist Shatters Myths From the Secular and Christian Media

Matt Chandler, The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex and Redemption.

Cynthia Hammer, Lord Hear My Car, Why Lord?

Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Volume I.

Viktor E. Frankel, Man’s Search For Meaning.

Francis Chan, Letters to the Church

First and Second Epistles of Clement, Translated by J.B. Lightfoot

The Epistles of Ignatius

Scot McKnight, Praying With The Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today.

 

November

D.A. Carson, The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story.

John Stonestreet, Brett Kunkle, A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World

Tim Keller, The Prodigal Prophet: Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy

Matt Cater and Aaron Ivey, Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson,

Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom?

On the Duties of the Clergy, Saint Ambrose

Bob Goff, Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People

John Stott, Sermon on the Mount

Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount (The Story of God Bible Commentary)

 

December

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Volume II.

Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

Carl George, Warren Bird, How to Break Growth Barrier: Revise Your Role, Release Your People, and Capture Overlooked Opportunities for Your Church

Thom S. Rainer, Becoming a Welcoming Church.

David Bennett, A War of Loves: The Unexpected Story of a Gay Activist Discovering Jesus

Larry Crabb, The Papa Prayer: The Prayer You’ve Never Prayed

The Greek New Testament

Psalms and Proverbs (LXX Greek)

 

 
– Pastor Tyler
12-24-18

 

 

Controversial Christmas Carols

by Tyler Goens

Christmas is rapidly approaching.

 

And you know that that means: it’s time to start evaluating Christmas’ religious language and songs in our pluralistic society (or is that just me?) Although President Trump has made “Merry Christmas Great Again,” something tells me these debates will still continue. Will people say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” (oh the horror)? But if you really want to pour gasoline on public discourse, start talking about Christmas carols in the public schools. “Because there should be separation between church and state,” so the argument goes, “then some of these beloved Christmas carols just aren’t appropriate for our children to sing.”

 

Typically, the argument back to those who want to kill the carols goes something like this: “Knock it off, Ebenezer! We’ve maintained these traditions and songs for years. Plus, are Christmas carols really THAT controversial? It’s not like we’re proselytizing in the Christmas program. What’s the big deal?”

 

There is something to this argument, the conservative impulse to protect traditions is often valuable. It’s the second part of this argument that I’m going to take issue with. In fact, in the unexpected shift of the century, I’m going to align with the secularists on this one, in this way:

 

 
Christmas carols are not simply feel-good, nostalgic traditions. They are explicitly, exclusively and unapologetically “Christian,” so it makes perfect sense that not everyone wants to sing them.
 

 

Put differently, the argument on the right (even the non-religious right) is: “This is not a big deal.” But I think this is wrong; I think it IS a big deal. Three simple, controversial carols, ringing in the background, illustrate this.
 

 

Three Controversial Carols

 

 

1) O Come O Come Emmanuel

I’m thinking particularly of verse two (which is sometimes avoided in school plays or church services):

 

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free, Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

 

So what’s the big deal here? No less than four things:

 

“Thine Own. . .Thy people” The hymn argues that Jesus has a special, particular, chosen people who he loves.

 

Free. . .from Satan’s tyranny. . .” The hymn argues that humans, in a deep sense, are slaves to Satan. Jesus confirms this uncomfortable reality in John 8:34: “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” We are not ultimately the land of the free, in the spiritual and moral dimension. “From depths of hell Thy people save. . .” Because we’re slaves to sin, the song continues by telling us that we are headed for hell. Some see hell as deserved judgment, others as deserved consequences of selfish living, but whatever it is, the carol asserts that we need saving from it.

 

“Give them victory o’er the grave.” Jesus has the power and authority to resurrect us from death.

More could be said here, but let’s move on the perhaps the most beloved Christmas carol.
 

 

2) Silent Night

 

The first two verses are relatively tame. But my favorite verse is verse three:

 

“Silent night, holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light, Radiant beams from Thy holy face, With dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth, Jesus Lord, at Thy birth”

 

The most controversial, explicitly Christian claim here is this: the cute, little, baby Jesus is “LORD at Thy birth.” It’s difficult to have a paradigm for us for us today, we don’t have kings or masters or lords in any real sense. In the Bible, there are countless emperors and kings who went by this title, but most notably, God throughout the Old Testament is referred to as LORD. The argument? Little baby Jesus is Lord, he’s king and master, He’s God. The implication? We are not. We are not the masters of our own destiny, we are not autonomous individuals, we are not the center of the universe. In fact, more controversially, if Jesus is Lord, creator, and king, then there is a real sense in which he OWNS me. Talk about controversial. Even as a little baby, Silent Night says that Jesus is my master and has authority over my life and all things.

 

One more example will do, although I’m sure some of us are getting twitchy already.
 

 

3) Joy to the World

 

Verse one says this: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing!”

 

Along with Silent Night, Joy to the World declares Jesus the King of all the earth, to be welcomed, received, loved, honored, and cherished by all the earth. Unlike the innkeeper of the Christmas story, the hymn commends every heart to “prepare him room.” The carol asserts that Jesus belongs in our hearts and in our praise.

 

So, next time someone says Christmas songs don’t belong in public school performances, I hope you won’t use the “it’s not that big of a deal” argument. It IS a big deal. These carols are saying something significant and earth-shattering, something I believe with all my mind and heart: Jesus is King, and we are not. Why wouldn’t this be controversial?

 

 
– Pastor Tyler
12-11-18

 

 

Hiding Baby Jesus

by Tyler Goens

 

I’ve always found the tradition of stealing baby Jesus from a nativity set slightly funny.

 
Some people get offended and upset, but I can’t help but laugh. As long as he’s returned eventually, sometime before Christmas, preferably.  I remember one time, at Simpson University, someone kidnapped baby Jesus from the massive nativity set, and the administration offered a reward for his safe return. I may be misremembering this, but I feel like it was around a $100 reward! (Simpson people correct me if needed.) Anyway, the criminal was not brought to justice, but baby Jesus was returned safely before Christmas.
 

Have you ever seen or heard of people who intentionally hide baby Jesus from their nativity sets until Christmas Day? It’s an interesting practice (although it can distress young children, wondering if baby Jesus got lost or kidnapped or eaten by Buddy the dog). Waiting for baby Jesus to come actually reflects the ancient church practice of Advent, which seems to be making a comeback in “non-denom” church circles. Advent just means arrival, but Advent on the church calendar refers to the fourth Sunday BEFORE Christmas (which is actually the “New Year,” the first day, on the church calendar).
In Advent, we take around a month to wait for Jesus, to prepare ourselves for his coming. Like the carol cries: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel!”
But why has the church done this for centuries? Why do some wait to display baby Jesus? Why do we sing about Emmanuel (Jesus) ransoming Israel if we believe this already happened?
Three Reasons to Celebrate Advent:

 

1) We prepare for Jesus’ first arrival as an act of re-remembering, re-imagining, and reenacting such a significant event.


Jesus’ birth (the incarnation of God) is so loaded and charged with meaning that the early church decided to take an entire month out of the year for us to better grasp it. Now, you might ask, “Where did they learn to do this?” The answer has to be Israel itself, in the Old Testament. Israel’s yearly feasts and festivals were designed to celebrate significant events, like the Exodus out of slavery (Passover), Esther’s foiling of Haman’s murderous plot against the Jews (Purim), victory over the Greeks and the cleansing of the second-temple (Hanukah). And there are many more that could be mentioned.
So as David and Isaiah and Jeremiah participate in Passover, they never got to actually see God’s plagues, the parting the Red Sea, the leading through the dessert with clouds and fire. They weren’t born yet. But they still celebrate the events as if they were there. And they say things like “God, you delivered US from Egypt. We waited for your deliverance, and you came through.”
In a similar way, the early church designed a church calendar around not around the life of Israel, but around the life of Jesus. This is why many Christians celebrate Advent, Christmas, Lent, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Sunday, and Pentecost. These events are so significant that the early church felt the immense value to taking time each year to reflect on each.
So with Advent, should we chose to accept it, becomes a time when we re-experience the birth of Jesus. As Scot McKnight said last year on his podcast: “If this is done in faith, rather than route, repetitious routine, if this is done in faith, with an alert mind, we can be spiritually formed to look more like Jesus.” As we think about and celebrate his life, we experience transformation in our lives. Advent is the entire season when we enter back into the first-century experience of waiting for the Messiah to come. In the same way that David, Daniel, and other Old testament heroes entered into the experience of the Exodus, so we enter into the experience of Jesus’ entrance into humanity.

2) We prepare for Jesus’ daily arrival in our hearts.

 

As Jesus prepares to depart from his disciples, he comforts them by saying this:I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” -John 14:18. The context of this verse is in a discussion about the Holy Spirit. On Christmas Day (probably not December 25), Jesus mysteriously limited himself by taking on a physical, human body. The man Jesus could not be everywhere at once; he could not communicate with everyone at once. But when he ascended to heaven, he remedied this problem by sending the Holy Spirit to us. The Advent season then becomes a time to reflect on and thank God for his daily arrival, his daily presence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Are there things distracting us from the arrival of Jesus in our thoughts, prayers, attitudes, and emotions? Advent becomes an opportunity to root out these distractions, and refocus ourselves on Jesus’ daily Advent in our lives and schedules and spaces.
 

3) We prepare for Jesus’ second Advent.


After Jesus ascends into heaven, angels tell the disciples: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:11
We believe Jesus will return like he left, not like he came. In other words, Jesus isn’t coming back as a little baby; he’s coming back as Judge and King. This is good news for those who are prepared, we long for his return and for all things to be made right. But this is really bad news for those who have ignored or disregarded Jesus. Christmas then because a kind of condemnation, damning evidence for the prosecuting attorney, that we had no interest in King Jesus or his kingdom, but were too preoccupied in our own kingdom. Scary stuff. If this is you, please take this Christmas season to think on the Jesus’ first coming. If we don’t love that Jesus came the first time, we certainly won’t love Jesus’ second-coming. But if we do love his first-coming, recognizing the great significance therein for our own lives, this the second-coming of Jesus will be the greatest day of our lives.

The true meaning of Advent, of Christmas, is that Jesus is King and I am not. May we all have a December focused on these things!

 
– Pastor Tyler 
11-25-18

 

 

Jesus’ Brother On Conservatism and Liberalism

James 1:26-27

by Tyler Goens
 
 

One day, while eating dinner at someone’s house, I noticed something very interesting about one of my more progressive friends.

 

He was extremely conscious of social injustice; he won’t shop at Wal-Mart, eat at certain restaurants, or buy particular products because of how workers, the earth, and even children are treated. But, on a (seemingly) unrelated note, as the conversation moved to entertainment, he shared how much he loved a new show, a show with lots of nudity and graphic sex scenes. This felt so odd and off to me, from a Christian perspective. As I drove home, swinging by Wal-Mart to pick up a pair of cheap running shoes, James 1:26-27 dawned on me. James, the (half) brother of Jesus, says this: Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” –James 1:26-27

 

Forgive the oversimplification, but I recognized that my friend was more concerned about “orphans and widows in their distress,” and I was more concerned about being “polluted by the world.” In our actions, my friend and I didn’t share BOTH of James’ concerns. But James says pure and faultless religious is to care about others AND to care about personal piety/purity.  

 

It seems to me that most of my progressive friends care about the socially disenfranchised, where as my conservative friends care about personal morality and responsibility.  Again, I’m generalizing, but the reverse is often true: My progressive friends are less concerned about right living (morality), and my conservative friends are less concerned about right giving (charity). And BOTH my conservative and progressive friends perfectly resemble verse 26, Those who. . .do not keep a tight rein on their tongues [and their tweets] deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”  

 

Twitter is so discouraging to me, especially after school shootings or things like the Kavanagh hearings. I’m not super bothered when political pundits spout off; they get paid for clicks, ratings, and rants. It’s when my Christian friends post stupid things, demonizing their conservative or liberal opponents, discipled by social media (more liberal) or Fox News (more conservative) or Youtube (who knows?) rather than Jesus. When we do this, Jesus’ brother says our religious is worthless.

 

But pure-in-heart-Jesus-people care about public justice (“widows and orphans”) AND private holiness (“keep oneself from the world’s pollution”). The way we treat others as a society is vital.  The way we privately think, feel, and act is vital. The kind of media we consume, the kinds of organizations we support; it’s all connected.

 

My plea for Christians today, during this election cycle, is to 1) keep a tight rein on our tongues (and tweets), being slow to speak, slow to become anger, and quick to listen and 2) Recognize our tendencies to lean more towards either moral or social concerns and 3) Think critically about how we can be more holistic in how we follow Jesus in our areas of deficiency.

 

By all means, turn your ballot in today (if you live in Oregon, and go to the polls if not). But my vision for Christians is that we wouldn’t take our cues from conservative or liberal commentators, that we wouldn’t blindly take in OR blindly swing from our parents’ politics, but fully seek God’s vision for our lives and communities. We serve James’ brother, the King of the Jews.
 
 
– Pastor Tyler
11-05-18