Hanukah and Christmas

As a Jewish Christian, I celebrate Hanukah and Christmas.

Hanukah occurs in December.  I think that Hanukah has become a modern Jewish substitute for Christmas (presents are given).  Originally this festival celebrates the Maccabees’ defeat of the Greeks in 165 BC. The Greeks had stopped the sacrifices at the Temple.  They were oppressing God’s people and trying to bring an end to God’s one true religion.  But the Maccabees trusted in God and defeated their enemies.  It was just like the time of the Judges and other Old Testament events when God defeated the enemies of his people.

After 100 years or so of independence the Jews were then dominated by the Romans.  During this time Jesus came and died for his people’s sins.  Later, the Jews were defeated by the Romans in 70 AD, and the Temple was destroyed.  The Zealots had seen themselves as modern-day Maccabees.  If they trusted in God, God would defeat the Romans, they thought, and save his people.  But having rejected their Messiah, they were not trusting in God, and they were defeated. Continue reading Hanukah and Christmas

Listening to the Sermon

Here is an excerpt from a fantastic article from The Briefing on preaching sermons and listening to sermons entitled: “The dilemma of preaching and hearing God’s word” by Peter Greenwood.  The whole article can be read here.

“How do we ‘hear’ a sermon, as opposed to merely being entertained by one? Why do we prefer the ‘application’ of the text, to the ‘understanding’ of the text? And why do we yearn for the ‘take home’ message?

We live in a fast-paced world of instantaneous news, fast food, and information at our finger tips, in the shape of smart-phones, computers, or whatever the latest gadget might be. In this world, we are Continue reading Listening to the Sermon

Stranger Evangelism

Photo credit: Susan NYC, some rights reserved

I’m always amazed at the capacity we Christians have for justifying our own sinfulness and apathy.  I have done my fair share of stranger evangelism in the past.  It’s not easy, but almost always rewarding (and easier than you think it will be!).  Stranger evangelism is basically the idea of walking up to someone you don’t know and sharing the gospel with them.  This could take the form of door-knocking or walk up evangelism at University or the shopping centre, etc.  But it’s amazing how many reasons Christians can suddenly think of as to why we shouldn’t do it!

This week I was out at the University campus, not doing stranger evangelism, but inviting strangers to Continue reading Stranger Evangelism

Thinking Theologically

Photo by Jacob Bøtter. Used under the Creative Commons license.

Recently I preached a sermon on Jesus’ death, as part of our doctrinal series on the gospel.  At one point I explained four different models of the atonement.  All four models come from the Bible.  First, Jesus’ death is an example for us to follow ().  Second, Jesus’ death is a demonstration of the love of God ().  Third, Jesus’ death is a victory over death and the devil
().  Fourth, Jesus’ death is a substitutionary sacrifice for sins
(; ).

All four models are Biblical, but only one of them is adequate to explain the atonement sufficiently.  Continue reading Thinking Theologically

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,

24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

A Welcoming Church

I visited a church recently.  It was a good church.  The Bible readings were good.  The Bible teaching was outstanding.  The prayers were good.  But my experience was not great.  It was not a welcoming church.

When I walked into the front door of the church, there was no sign and there was no one there to guide visitors to where they should go.  In this large church complex I couldn’t see where the congregation was.  As I walked further in there were a bunch of people milling about who were from another congregation.  I stopped and looked around.  Where was this congregation I was looking for?!  I kept searching and down a corridor I found it.  Not a great start.

Continue reading A Welcoming Church

Evangelism: Words vs Deeds

Let’s face it: we’re chicken.  No one likes being ostracised, ridiculed, or shown hostility.  So we often stay quiet and don’t evangelise our friends and family.  However, I must say that reactions of ostracism, ridicule and hostility are actually quite rare.  But we fear it nonetheless.

What I want to deal with here, though, is something I have come across in every church I have attended.  There is a rationalisation common amongst Christians that says if we live a good life before others, that will be enough.  Recently Duane Litfin wrote an excellent article on this topic in Christianity Today (“Works and Words: Why you can’t preach the Gospel with Deeds”).  He says: “How often do we hear these days, with passion and approval, the famous dictum attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary”?”

As someone who grew up in the Jewish religion, let me tell you that I would not be a Christian now if the Christians around me held to this view.  I grew up knowing nothing about Jesus whatsoever.  The actions of Christians around
me told me precisely nothing.  I could not know about my sin, and Jesus’ death paying the penalty for my sin in my place, by looking at the behaviour of Christians.  That notion is patently ridiculous.

I thank God for the godly Christians who told me about Jesus.  Their behaviour was indeed different and was one of the things that led me to ask them about their beliefs.  Behaviour is indeed important.  But it is no substitute whatsoever for preaching the gospel.  We have to use words.

To quote Litfin again: “The belief that we can “preach the gospel” with our actions alone represents muddled thinking. However important our actions may be (and they are very important indeed) … they are not “preaching the gospel.” … If the gospel is to be communicated at all, it must be put into words.”

An example from Litfin: “Imagine you have been assigned the task of communicating the following idea to a particular individual: Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great at the Macedonian court between 342 and ca. 339 B.C. Unfortunately, you discover that your pupil has no previous knowledge of either Aristotle or Alexander, what a tutor is, what Macedonia is, who Christ was, or consequently, what B.C. means. What’s worse, you do not have the verbal code available to you. Your pupil does not speak your language, and you do not speak his. All you have available are nonverbal channels of communication. How would you go about your task?

Your assignment would be impossible. You cannot communicate this type of content nonverbally. What facial expressions, or gestures, or eye behaviour, or actions could express information about Alexander or Macedonia or B.C.? The nonverbal code is incapable of bearing this kind of weight. You require a verbal code—that is, words and sentences and paragraphs—to convey your meaning. Without them, your task is undoable.”

I would love honesty from my fellow brothers and sisters.  Don’t say that you will just try and evangelise through your actions.  There is no such thing.  People are only saved through hearing and believing the message of the gospel, in words.  Admit that you are scared, and then we can do something about that and move forward!  I find evangelism scary.  But it is always such a blessing to share the good news of Jesus with others.  And when someone accepts the gospel and is saved – there is nothing better.

 


Posted May 30, 2012.

Bible Readings at Our Church

Being a pastor is a strange job sometimes.  Using the Word of God we cajole, exhort, challenge, correct and rebuke.  Those of us with a critical mind constantly see things where, as a church, we could be doing better.  Often I feel like I am criticising and challenging, and rarely ‘encouraging’.  (Fortunately godly Christians often take such challenges as encouragement!)  So in this post I hope our readers don’t mind me praising our church for once!

I remember long ago, when I was at what was an excellent church, being surprised by the attitude to the Bible reading.  When someone was leading the prayers up front, there was a reverent silence.  No one would come into the room, but wait at the door.  You could hear a pin drop: no one spoke.  However, when the Bible was being read there was Continue reading Bible Readings at Our Church

The Spirit of Prophecy


says:

“Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

When John falls at the feet of the angel, he rebukes John, telling him to worship God alone.  God has spoken through the angel, but God also speaks through John and other Christians.  The angel is merely a “fellow servant” with John and his fellow Christians who hold to the testimony of Jesus.  This is “the spirit of prophecy”.  That is, John and all Christians who bear testimony to Jesus are also proclaiming the word of God, just like the angel.  Testimony to Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Continue reading The Spirit of Prophecy

10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

Headings in the Bible


Modern Bibles have headings in them.  The headings are there to help break up the Bible into sections and to summarise what those sections are about.  But headings are not part of the Bible.  It irks me when people read the Bible at church or in Bible study groups and they read out the headings.  The headings are not the Word of God!

These days Bibles often have study notes as well as headings.  The problem is that the authority from the actual Word of God starts to ooze over into the headings and study notes!  But they aren’t the Word of God!  Of course such things can be Continue reading Headings in the Bible