When God Leads by Closing Doors

door green closed lock

This past Sunday at White Fields Church, we began a new series called Upside Down, which may or may not be a reference to Stranger Things, but definitely comes from what was said about the Christians in Thessalonica, that “these people who have turned the world upside down have now come here also.” (Acts 17:6)

Upside Down Sermon Graphic-2

One of the interesting aspects about the church in Thessalonica is that Paul never actually intended to go there. His plan was to go somewhere else: to the province of Asia. When that didn’t work out, he tried to go to the region of Bithynia. In other words, going to Thessalonica, in the province of Macedonia, wasn’t even Plan B, it was Plan C! And yet, God did an amazing work there, so much so that Paul tells the Thessalonians that they are his glory and his joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:20)

Closed Doors that Changed History

David Livingstone, the great missionary who brought the Gospel to the interior of Africa, originally wanted to go to China as a missionary, but it didn’t work out. That’s how he ended up in Africa. The rest is history.

William Carey, who pioneered the modern missionary movement in India, originally planned to go to Polynesia.

Adoniram Judson, who brought the gospel to Burma, originally wanted to go to India, but the doos were closed.

Closed Doors and God’s Leading in My Life

I spent 10 years as a missionary in Hungary. They were wonderful, fruitful years. But I didn’t originally intend to go to Hungary.

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss how God led each of us to Hungary. Spoiler alert: Mike didn’t intend to go to Hungary either. Watch the video to find out where we were each intending to go, and how God led us, and how we feel about our plans not working out.

We are also now podcasting not only our sermons, but these Sermon Extra discussions every week as well. You can find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify.

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Do All Babies Go to Heaven?

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A question that many people wonder about is the eternal destiny of children who die in infancy. Furthermore, if we believe that life begins in the womb, what about those babies who are aborted?

Having never had the chance to hear, understand, and believe the gospel – what happens to their souls? Is there some special mercy of God which is available to them?

Aside from the anecdotal evidence from 2 Samuel 12, in which David expresses his belief that he will be reunited one day with his deceased son, from a theological perspective the basic question really comes down to this: While we are all born with a fallen, sinful nature, is it this sinful nature which incurs God’s judgment, or is it rather disobedience, which is based on knowledge?

A decent argument can be made for the latter, from many places in the Bible, not least of which is found in Romans 1-2, where the wrath of God is clearly stated to be incurred by rebellion and disobedience, which are based on knowledge of God and knowledge of right and wrong. Deuteronomy 1:39 also states that infants do not have knowledge of good and evil.

We should also consider how this applies to those with cognitive disabilities.

This brings up several questions, such as whether there is such a thing as an “age of accountability” at which a person becomes responsible for their actions and choices before God? Our human laws certainly deal with people based on knowledge and understanding. If God does also, how is that age of accountabilty determined?

Here is a brief discussion that Pastor Mike and I had on this topic in our Sermon Extra video for one of the messages from our “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…” series:

“I will rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me.”

A while ago I sat down with Pastor Jeff Figgs for the Expositors Collective Podcast. Jeff and I both host the Calvary Live call-in show on GraceFM (which also podcasts its episodes).

Jeff grew up with a speech impediment, and in this episode we talked about the power of ministering out of weakness, and how doing so causes us to depend on the power of God.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was defending himself against accusations that his many weaknesses and hardships with proof that he wasn’t really spiritual. In response to this, Paul said that God spoke to him, telling him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8). Paul concluded: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

For more on this subject, check out the message I recently taught at White Fields called, “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Does Not Answer My Prayers”

Here’s an excerpt of the discussion I had with Pastor Jeff Figgs. You can listen to the entire episode here on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Neil Armstrong is Cool, But Buzz Aldrin is My Hero

July 20, 1969 was the day that the Apollo 11 mission successfully placed two men on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin on the moon, July 20, 1969

While Neil rightly gets much of the attention for being the first to set foot on the moon, with his famous, but accidentally misspoken phrase, “This is one small step for [a] man, but one giant leap for mankind,” Buzz Aldrin is the one I look up to the most.

A Committed Christian

At the time when Buzz Aldrin went on the Apollo 11 mission, he wasn’t only an astronaut, he was an elder at his church: Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas.

Communion on the Moon

In total, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours on the surface of the moon, much of which was televised and was, unsurprisingly, the most-watched television event of that year.

During their time on the moon, Buzz Aldrin asked for a moment of silence, so he could celebrate in his own way: by reading some passages from the Bible and taking Holy Communion.

The passages he had written down on a piece of paper to read on the moon were John 15:5, where Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” and Psalm 8:3-4: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”

A handwritten card containing a Bible verse that Buzz Aldrin planned to broadcast back to Earth during a lunar Holy Communion service, featured in a space-related auction in Dallas, Texas, 2007. (Credit: LM Otero/AP Photo)
A handwritten card containing the Bible verses Buzz Aldrin read on the moon. (Credit: LM Otero/AP Photo)

Here’s how History.com recounts the events in their article, “Buzz Aldrin Took Holy Communion on the Moon. NASA Kept it Quiet”:

As the men prepared for the next phase of their mission, Aldrin got on the comm system and spoke to the ground crew back on Earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he said.

Then he reached for the wine and bread he’d brought to space—the first foods ever poured or eaten on the moon. “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” he later wrote. Then, Aldrin read some scripture and ate. Armstrong looked on quietly but did not participate.

 

The communion bag and chalice used by Buzz Aldrin during his lunar communion. (Credit: David Frohman, President of Peachstate Historical Consulting, Inc.)
The communion bag and chalice used by Buzz Aldrin during his lunar communion. (Credit: David Frohman)

Buzz’s Big Take-Away

In a video message which was broadcast back to Earth from the spacecraft as they made their way back from the moon, Aldrin recited the passage from Psalm 8:3-4.

Here is the video of that message. He begins reading the Psalm at 2:49.

Punching Conspiracy Theorists

There are many people who believe the moon landing never actually happened and is part of a conspiracy on the part of the United States government to show their supremacy over the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

One version of this conspiracy theory says that director Stanley Kubrick filmed the whole thing on a soundstage, and then was so upset by what he had been forced to do, that he hid a confession in a later film: The Shining. In Stephen King’s novel, on which the film was based, the room which is the epicenter of the bad vibes in the hotel is Room 217, but in his film adaption of the novel, Kubrick changed the room number to Room 237, supposedly because the moon is roughly 237,000 miles from Earth.

You can read a list of moon landing conspiracy theories here, but most have been thoroughly disproven.

In 2002, Buzz Aldrin was ambushed by Bart Sibrel outside of a hotel in Los Angeles. Bart called Buzz “a coward and a liar and a…”. He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because Buzz, then 72 years old, punched Bart in the face. Fortunately someone was recording; here’s the video:

While this wasn’t Buzz’s finest moment, nor his most Christian response, it’s easy to understand Buzz’s frustration. It reminds me of the time when Paul the Apostle cast out a demon from a girl in Philippi after becoming “greatly annoyed” with her antics. (Acts 16:18)

On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I’m impressed with Buzz Aldrin, who was himself, uncompromisingly, as a Christian, on the world’s biggest stage. In our current age, all of us have a platform; are you using your platform to be an ambassador for Christ? May God give us the courage and wisdom to do so, and to do it well.

Upcoming Expositors Collective Events

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The Expositors Collective is a growing network of pastors, leaders, and laypeople which exists to equip, encourage, and mentor the next generation of Christ-centered preachers through two-day interactive training seminars, a weekly podcast, and ongoing mentoring relationships.

Howell, New Jersey: Sept. 20-21, 2019

Our next event will be in Howell, New Jersey on September 20-21, 2019 at Cornerstone Calvary Chapel.

Click here for more information and registration.

Upcoming Events in 2020

If you can’t make it to Howell in September, considering joining us at one of our events in 2020:

  • February 21-22, 2020 – Las Vegas, Nevada
  • May 8-9, 2020 – Seattle, Washington
  • October 2020 – Honolulu, Hawaii

These 2-day interactive seminars are for young men and women ages 18-34 who feel called to teach God’s Word and would like to receive instruction and ongoing mentorship in this area. If that’s you, then you won’t want to miss this – or if you know someone else who would benefit from this, send them our way!

For more information and to sign up, go to: expositorscollective.com
On the website you can see a list of some of the Bible teachers who will be coming to the event to serve as group leaders and speakers.

Spaces are limited, so sign up soon!

How Should We Understand the Song of Solomon?

photo of couple facing each other during golden hour

Earlier this year I added a page on this site where readers can submit questions or suggest topics (click here for that page). Recently I received this question:

I have big trouble with The Song of Solomon. It’s often used for looking at marital intimacy, but I’m always thinking: ‘Which wife is Solomon talking about?’ He had so many. And it seems as if having all these wives was just a way of committing adultery (legally). So then I don’t understand why people use these verses to look at the loveliness of marriage?

I referred to the Song of Solomon this past Sunday in my sermon titled: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who Does Not Affirm Some People’s Sexuality”, which was the final installment in our series called “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…”.

The Song of Solomon is important theologically because it extols marital intimacy, showing romantic love as being for the purpose of enjoyment and the binding of spouses together, not only for the purpose of procreation. This stands in contrast to many ancient (and modern) views on sexuality which extol asceticism (the denial of pleasure) and eschew physical pleasure.

What We Know

According to the first verse of Song of Solomon, this is a song written by Solomon. This would make it one of the 1005 songs that Solomon wrote (1 Kings 4:32), but the title “Song of Songs” (S.o.S. 1:1) is a superlative, meaning that this is the best of all his songs.

Based on 1 Kings 4:32, it is assumed this song was written early in Solomon’s reign.

It is a lyrical poem, and the main character is a “Shulamite woman”. Shulamite simply means “from Jerusalem” – so this woman is from Jerusalem. This is important, because the first marriage of Solomon’s that we’re told about in 1 Kings 3:1 is his marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh, whom he brought to his palace in Jerusalem.

So the big question is this: Who is the Shulamite woman? Several suggestions have been made, as I will outline in the next section.

Four Possible Interpretations

It has been said that “perhaps no book in the biblical canon has had a greater diversity of interpretative strategies.”[1] Here are the four most popular:

1. Allegorical Interpretation

This view sees the sensuous descriptions of love as a picture of the love between God and his people, and then between Christ and his bride (either the church or the individual soul). This view was very common in the Middle Ages. Its weakness is that it runs the risk of diminishing the book’s endorsement of marital intimacy. Virtually all scholarly interpreters today see the book primarily as a celebration of love and the gift of sexual intimacy, many would say that it also sheds light on the intensity of the spiritual love-relationship between God and his people (see Eph. 5:22–33).

2. Anthology Interpretation

This interpretation views the Song of Solomon as a collection of poems or lyrics, arranged around the common theme of intimate love between a man and a woman—celebrating love’s longing, ecstasy, joy, beauty, and exclusivity. This understanding rejects the idea that the book contains a narrative plot.

3. The Shepherd Hypothesis

This is an interesting hypothesis which became popular in the 1800’s. It says that the Shulamite woman and the shepherd boy are two peasants who are in love, and King Solomon is seeking to win the woman’s into his harem. The woman ultimately resists Solomon’s flattery and returns home to marry the shepherd.

Several evangelical interpreters advocate this interpretation, because it accounts for what we know about Solomon having many wives later in life, but its weakness is that it does not give us any way of knowing when the shepherd is speaking and when Solomon is speaking. In fact, the speech patterns of the main characters (e.g., the descriptive titles they use for each other) favor the idea that there are only two lovers. Also, it would mean that Solomon wrote this song, in which he portrayed himself as the bad guy, and praised the love of this couple. While that’s not impossible, it does seem unlikely.

The following outline shows how the Shepherd Hypothesis understands the structure of the book:

  1. Solomon Meets the Shulammite in His Palace (1:2–2:7)
  2. The Beloved Visits and the Shulammite Searches for Him in the Night (2:8–3:5)
  3. Solomon Displays His Wealth and Sings of His Love (3:6–5:1)
  4. The Shulammite Yearns for the Beloved (5:2–6:3)
  5. The King Fails in His Pursuit of the Shulammite (6:4–8:14)

4. The Solomon-Shulamite Interpretation

The most common interpretation today is that the Song of Solomon a story about King Solomon and the Shulammite woman. Here is the outline:

  1. The Lovers Yearn for Each Other (1:2–3:5)
  2. The Wedding (3:6–5:1)
  3. Temporary Separation and Reunion (5:2–6:3)
  4. Delight in Each Other (6:4–8:4)
  5. Final Affirmations of Love (8:5–14)

The only problem with this view, is that we don’t know who this Shulamite woman is. It is possible, that Solomon is singing this about the daughter of Pharaoh, whom he dubs a “Shulamite”, since he has brought her to Jerusalem. Another suggestion is that prior to his wedding with the daughter of Pharaoh in 1 Kings 3:1, Solomon was married to another woman from Jerusalem, which 1 Kings never tells us about, and this song is a poetic retelling of that relationship.

What About Solomon’s Many Wives?

According to 1 Kings, it was only later in life that Solomon abandoned the monogamous standard of Scripture and started accumulating many wives. So it is entirely possible that at the time he wrote this song, his romantic interests were not yet tainted, and what we read about in this book is indeed the portrayal of something pure and beautiful.

1 Kings 11 makes it clear that Solomon turned away from the Lord in his heart, and the Lord was not pleased with what Solomon did. Many times, especially in the Old Testament, the Bible “reports the news” and leaves it to us to determine if what they did was good or not, based on what we know about God’s character and standards. Clearly, what Solomon did with his many wives was sin, and not an example for us to follow.

For more on this topic, check out: Does the Bible Ever Actually Prohibit Sex Before Marriage? What about Polygamy?

Solomon is a classic example of someone who started well, but did not finish well. Whereas his early life is an inspiration, his later life is a warning.

It has been said, “The last mile is the least crowded.” May we be those who finish well in this life of faith!

 

Project Back to School 2019

boy in brown hoodie carrying red backpack while walking on dirt road near tall trees

Project Back to School: July 7-28, 2019

Did you know that children in the foster system form an at-risk people group without in our own communities?

In almost every case, the reason these children end up in foster care is because of an unsuitable home environment, which may involve violence, neglect, drugs, crime, etc. These environments not only result in trauma many times, but they also tend to result in or be associated with poverty. Many foster care situations are kinship care, which means the child is cared for by a relative, which can create a financial burden.

Poverty has a profound impact on a child’s mental and physical well-being. Children living in poverty have higher rates of absenteeism from school. Students who come from low income families are six times more likely to drop out of high school.  Adults without a high school diploma are 4 times more likely to be unemployed and live in poverty, which means raising their children in poverty, perpetuating a cycle of poverty which may persist for generations: poverty affects education which affects poverty. (source 1, source 2)

One of the ways that we can help kids break out of this cycle of poverty is by encouraging them to stay in school – and one of the ways we can do that is by helping them have the things they need to be confident and excited about going to school, so they can succeed!

Our church, White Fields Community Church, has a history of ministering to children in the foster system, and three years ago we began a new ministry: Project Back to School.

We are working with Weld County Department of Human Services, and this year they have identified 120 at-risk kids who need help with school supplies, clothes and shoes.

We are trusting that God will raise up people to bless these families in the name of Jesus. It’s a way for us to love not only in words and in speech, but in action as well (1 John 3:18).

How to Get Involved and Make a Difference

1. Sign up in person

If you live in or near Longmont, visit White Fields Church on a Sunday morning this July and sign up to sponsor one or more children.

2. Sign up online

If you can’t make it on a Sunday morning, but are still local and could drop off items to us for delivery, leave a comment below, or contact the church here.

3. Contribute Financially

All monies that come in designated for Project Back to School will go directly towards buying school supplies for at risk children. You can make a tax-deductible donation on our church’s website here: whitefieldschurch.com/give/ (choose Project Back to School on the drop-down menu).

Join us in praying for these kids, and that God uses this initiative to bless them.

 

Sam Allberry on Sexual Ethics & Moral Intuition

I spent last week in Southern California for the Calvary Global Network (CGN) international conference. There was a great line up speakers, including Ray OrtlandJared C. Wilson, Mark Sayers, and Sam Allberry.

All the messages from the conference are available online here.

Sam’s message, “Gospel Confidence in a Sexually Shifting Culture” (video below) was particularly helpful.

Image result for sam allberrySam is a pastor from Maidenhead, England, who also works with Ravi Zacharias International Ministry (RZIM), Cedarville University, and writes for The Gospel Coalition.

He recently wrote a short and helpful book about Christian sexual ethics, in which he also talks about his own experience of same-sex attraction, titled “Is God anti-gay?”.

 

Key Points from Sam’s Message

In the West, we live in a place where people’s “moral intuitions” have shifted. People are not morally relative, nor are they amoral. Rather, their “intuition” of what defines morality has changed. People now base their determination of morality on these questions:

  1. Is it fair, or does it discriminate?
  2. Is it freeing, or is it oppressive?
  3. Is it harmful, or benign?

Anything seen as limiting freedom is seen as creating an existential conflict.

As a result, whereas biblical sexual ethics in the 1950’s-1980’s, for example, were considered prudish, they are now considered immoral.

What is needed is for us to learn to listen well, show people the goodness of God and provide a true and better narrative.

It’s worth listening to Sam’s entire message. Here is the video of it, as well as a follow-up interview he did afterward.

Why Hong Kong Protestors Are Singing Christian Hymns

Only 10% of the population of Hong Kong is Christian, and yet in the current protests over a policy change in China, has been characterized by crowds of people singing Christian hymns, primarily, “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord.”

This video explains what’s going on in Hong Kong right now:

From Reuters:

The Christian hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has emerged as the unlikely anthem of Hong Kong’s protests against an extradition bill that have drawn millions of people onto the streets.

For the past week, the hymn has been heard almost non-stop at the main protest site, in front of the city’s Legislative Council, and at marches and even at tense stand-offs with the police.

It started with a group of Christian students who sang several religious songs at the main protest site, with “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” catching on among the crowd.

Religious gatherings can be held without a permit in the financial hub.

“As religious assemblies were exempt, it could protect the protesters. It also shows that it is a peaceful protest,” said Edwin Chow, 19, acting president of the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students.

Changing Demographics and the Growth of Christianity in China

This is reflective of a significant trend taking place in China, in which the number of Christians in the country is growing so fast (mostly by conversion) that experts believe China could have more Christians that the United States by 2030, and that it could actually become a majority-Christian country by 2050. Read that post, and its sources here: Projections for Belief & Secularization Around the World

It will be interesting to see how things progress in Hong Kong and in China in regard to Christianity in the coming years. May God guide and use these Chinese Christians as salt and light for His Kingdom, to bring about a great harvest.

 

Speaking Tips: Manuscript, But Don’t Read

black microphone

Every public speaker, including preachers, tends to develop a system for writing their talks, sermons, or messages which works best for them. Additionally, there are different approaches to what a speaker brings with them up on the stage, ranging from: no notes, an outline, or a manuscript.

Every Speaker/Preacher’s Worst Nightmare

All speakers and preachers are trying to avoid two extremes: a wooden reading of a manuscript, and a rambling failure to say anything coherent, cohesive, or substantial.

I remember watching a friend of mine preach an excellent message to a group of about 80 people, based on 3 bullet points on an index card in his Bible. Not long after that, I attempted to do the same thing: I showed up on a Wednesday night to preach to our fledgling church plant in Eger, Hungary. My text was Mark 7:1-13. I started working through the text and the bullet points I had written down… and, after about 5 minutes, I had run out of things to say. Surely there was more that could have been said;  I had even planned more things to say – but my mind went completely blank, and I couldn’t remember any of it. So what did I do? I just started repeating what I had already said, and rambling. It was a train wreck. God bless those people for being so patient with me, and giving me time and space to grow as a preacher!

In another instance, years later, I witnessed a friend of mine do just the opposite: he stood up to speak, he had great content, however he simply read his notes verbatim, never looking up from them, and never varying the tone of his voice. It was a failure on the other end of the spectrum.

Given the choice between the two: it’s always better to go with good content. But delivery absolutely matters. If you have good things to say, but you present it poorly, you will lose your listeners and fail to achieve your goal.

For more on this, and a great analogy about coffee, check out this conversation I had with Mike Neglia about homiletics (the art of preaching): Episode 45: Telling a Compelling Story

Never Waste Another Moment

As is often the case, the experience of crashing and burning at that Wednesday night Bible caused me change my approach to preaching. Frankly, I had not done justice to the text, nor had I respected the time of my listeners. I determined that I would never waste a single moment of my listeners’ time again, nor would I fail to teach a passage well due to my own lack of preparation.

From that time on, I started making more detailed notes. I began manuscripting my sermons: literally writing down every word I would say.

This process is not without its pitfalls: First of all, it is very time consuming. Secondly, you run the risk of becoming that guy who reads his notes and puts everyone to sleep, because despite the fact that what you have to say may be good, no one cares because your presentation is crushingly boring.

However, there are also many benefits to manuscripting:

The Benefits of Manuscripting Your Talk or Sermon

1. Intentionality and precision

Manuscripting takes time, but it also causes you to slow down and think about every word that you write. There is a level of intentionality and precision which means that no words are wasted. This allows you to fit in more quality content and honor the time of your listeners by never wasting a moment. The result is shorter, more concise, more focused messages.

2. The creation of an archive

By manuscripting my sermons, I have created an archive of now 14 years of sermons. Recently I received a call from a friend who had an emergency and needed someone to fill in for him at his church on a Wednesday night. I was able to pull up a sermon on my iPad and preach it without any stress or preparation, beyond the obvious spiritual preparation of prayer and seeking God about what to share.

Additionally, I can send a manuscript of one of my sermons to someone who has questions about a particular passage, if I have taught on it before. When teaching a passage I have taught before, I can pull up an old manuscript and see exactly what I said about that passage in the past. Having an archive opens up many possibilities, especially when it comes to publishing, or creating a commentary, for example.

Don’t Memorize Your Talk, Know Your Content

A friend reached out to me today asking for tips on how to prepare for a speech he will give to a group of several hundred people tonight. He asked if he should try to memorize his talk. My advice was this: Don’t memorize your talk. That takes too much time, and it can come across just as wooden as someone who reads their manuscript. Instead, write down your opening, your ending and your main points, and then, focus on knowing your content deeply, rather than memorizing it.

A Hybrid Model

Although I manuscript my sermons, I don’t read them. In fact, over time my manuscripts have morphed into a hybrid of an outline and a manuscript. If anything, you might say that they have become very detailed outlines.

I believe that every message should have a progression; your goal is to take people on a journey, moving them from where they are to where you believe they need to be. To do this, beginning with an outline before writing is absolutely essential.

My goal in writing my notes is that if I draw a complete blank while I’m standing up there, I’ll have my notes to fall back on. Another goal is to be able to open those notes up in the future, and have everything I need in that document, to be able to stand up and preach that same message again.

Two Loves and a Question

In the end, every speaker and preacher needs to find the model that works best for them. Good preaching is driven by two loves: love for God and love for people. The question is: how can we best serve God and serve people?

What model has worked best for you? Leave a comment and let me know!