Some Lenten Posts Worth Reading

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Since Lent starts today, which you may or may not care about, I thought I would share some posts about Lent that I find helpful, written from various perspectives.

Ash Wednesday: Picking and Choosing our Piety by Carl Trueman

An American Lent by James K A Smith

Lent, Individualism, and Christian Piety–An Email Conversation by Jake Meador and Alastair Roberts

In a nutshell, Trueman says if you are celebrating Lent you’ve got something wrong. Smith, who wants us to celebrate Lent, says we are doing it wrong. And Meador and Roberts discuss Lent in the context of a secular, individualistic society. Plenty of brilliant one-liners in this one.

Houses of Prayer, Not Houses of Prayer

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Takeaway for those who don’t know about IHOP – use caution when following Christian movements
Takeaway for those who do – urge caution as well as redefining IHOP’s mission

If you are not familiar with the International House of Prayer (IHOP), it is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week prayer and worship ministry in Kansas City, Missouri that started in 1999. To get a feel for the size of the ministry, their annual youth conference has around 25,000 attendees and their main prayer room is on television somewhere in the world round the clock. Mike Bickle, the leader, is a wonderful man who has an exceptional gift for calling people to devote their lives to Jesus. From ’99 through about 2010 I was heavily invested in their ministry – going to most of their conferences, reading their materials, listening to hundreds of sermons, as were many of my Charismatic friends. One of his main messages during that time was that God was going to raise up thousands of houses of prayer all over the Earth.

This week I listened to Bickle’s message entitled “Toronto: The Convergence of the Missions and Prayer Movements.” In this message, from 20:10 – 26:30, he radically redefines the latter part of this message.  He says, “A house of prayer is not what I’m doing in Kansas City with IHOP – the International House of Prayer…That is not the house of prayer in Kansas City.” What?! Instead, “the house of prayer in Kansas City is the whole body of Christ, the thousand congregations that call on the name of Jesus in truth.”  As to the number of ministries like IHOP, he said “I don’t believe it will be thousands. I believe it will be tens.” At 23:50 – 24:30 of the message he relates why IHOP can be bad for the prayer movement. “If they come and want to be IHOP we’ve probably set them back ten years.” Indeed.

To clarify – houses of prayer are the local churches in a city who truly trust in Jesus and prayer. Houses of prayer, like IHOP, are not houses of prayer, but instead are boot camps to train people to live lives of prayer and then send them out to their cities to live the message in the local church.

Everyone I know who heard Bickle preach in the early days assumed that he meant that there would be thousands of IHOPs all over the world. This message pained me because I know many people who devoted their lives and fortunes to implementing Mike Bickle’s message, and suffered badly. The problem is not what he says in this message – I like the idea of having regional prayer boot camps where people can learn how to cultivate lives of prayer and then get sent out – the problem is that he said this in 2010, not 1999. The problem is that he didn’t say sorry. In the message, he repeatedly says things like “I say this all the time.” Maybe he said those things in private conversations, but not in public. At least, that’s not the way anyone I know understood him. At the very least, he should acknowledge that using the phrase “house of prayer” to mean two different things without ever clarifying which one you are talking about is poor communication.

Be careful about giving your heart to a movement that isn’t pastorally oriented, meaning the organization is more important than the people in the organization. Some ministries churn through people, particularly ones that are good at drawing people as those who leave can always be replaced. Also, don’t give your life to a message that isn’t absolutely clear in the Bible. In this case, in my city of 100,000 we had two or three ministries at one time trying to set up a 24/7 prayer room based on their understanding of Bickle’s message.  They all ended in frustration, as Mike says they would (after the fact).

For leaders, be quick to say you’re sorry. We are all human, and apologizing for failures, even unintentional failures, is a sign of strength not weakness.

Why I Am Still Going to Learn From IHOP
Having read the above you might assume that I don’t like IHOP or Mike Bickle. Actually, I love both the ministry and the man. Modeling sustainable, continual prayer and worship is incredibly helpful and important. There is value there, and if we cut off every ministry that does something poorly we will be staying home on Sunday morning. Recognize that every ministry has pluses and minuses as the ministers are broken people just like us. Receive the good things and reject the bad things.

Praising God with Your Dancing Skills

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This morning, Andrew Wilson posted a response to Jonathan Leeman, who had written that dancing in church was not acceptable. Leeman put forward a “freedom from” principle in worship, which includes freedom from being in the same room as people dancing. Wilson’s reply is well worth reading, and do take the three minutes to watch the video at the bottom.

This led me to do a study on dancing, both from the Bible as well as from a dissertation on dancing done at Reformed Theological Seminary. Like Leeman, the author of the dissertation said dancing shouldn’t be allowed during corporate worship. As a Charismatic my gut reaction was “this is ridiculous,” but after doing a study on dancing I can see where they are coming from. There’s nothing about it in the New Testament. There is also very little in the Old Testament, say ten verses. There are only two verses that explicitly command praising God with dancing Psalm 149:3 “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!” and Psalm 150:4 “Praise him with tambourine and dance!”

But as I was thinking how little mention of dancing there is, it occurred to me that my whole search was misguided. Should I next look for commands to smile at church? Do sports fans need a command to jump up and down when their team scores? Smiling and jumping up and down are natural responses to good things in life. No commandment needed. It’s the same with dancing. Dancing is to the limbs as shouting is to the vocal cords. I wonder if people who say you shouldn’t dance in church ever shout in church (no one is going to deny passages on shouting in praise still apply)?

Praising God can take many forms: singing, shouting for joy, banging on the drums, and, yes, dancing. The people of God may want to dance because God has freed them from bondage in Egypt (Ex. 15) or because they were bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6/1 Chron 15) or because God has given them a job or protected their children.

God, give your church greater joy in you so that dancing will seem like the natural response.

Can/Should Christians Drink Alcohol

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Here is an article by Greg Price entitled The Bible and Alcoholic Beverages. His presentation of the Bible’s teaching on alcoholic beverages appears decisive to me.

The one caveat I have is that I prefer giving people the option of grape juice or wine during the Lord’s Supper. Grape juice wouldn’t have been available during the time of the Passover; it would have spoiled by then without modern technology. Who knows if grape juice would have been chosen if it had been available. Unless we see some redemptive significance in the fermentation process, I don’t see any reason to force wine on people who aren’t comfortable drinking it, regardless of their reasons.

The Person Who Speaks in Tongues Should (Usually) Interpret

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My daily Bible reading took me to 1 Corinthians 14 this morning. This is Paul’s chapter on prophecy, tongues, and order in the gathering of the church. I noticed something I hadn’t grasped before related to tongues and interpretation I want to share with you. Here is the passage:

1 Cor 14:13-19 (ESV) Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

For some reason, I separated speaking/singing with our minds from speaking/singing with our spirits in my thinking. I was reading this to mean we should spend some time speaking/singing with our native language and we should spend some time speaking/singing in tongues, and had based my private prayers times on this notion. I had ripped these statements from the context in which they were made. Paul’s guidance is about interpreting tongues in the gathering of the church.

Years ago I wrote a post on interpretation of tongues, having been assigned this chapter in my Greek 3 seminary class. I find I understood this connection at that time, but hadn’t internalized it.

The practice of churches coming out of the Assembly of God tradition seems to be exclusively shaped by 1 Cor. 12:10 “… to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” As I said in my previous post on interpretation, the supposed implications of this verse shouldn’t be allowed to override how Paul says the process does work. I included the disclaimer “usually” in the title to allow room for 1 Cor 12:10, but want Paul’s explicit guidance to shape our practice. Since people usually have an Assembly of God-like process in mind – someone speaks in tongues during the singing portion and you wait for someone else to call out the interpretation – when thinking about interpretation of tongues, it is worth quoting Paul’s guidance on the interpretation in chapter 14:

1 Cor 14:5 “The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be built up.”

1 Cor 14:13 “Therefore, let the one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret.”

1 Corinthians 14:15 “What is the outcome then? I will pray with my spirit and I will pray with my mind also; I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my mind also.”

1 Cor 14:27-28 “If someone speaks in a tongue, let only two or at the most three speak in turn, and let the one who speaks interpret. But if he is not an interpreter let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.” (Standard English translations do strange things here for some reason, probably copying the RSV. I address this in my previous post, linked above.)

As you can see, when Paul talks about the person who is to interpret tongues in worship, it is always the person who speaks or sings the tongue that is to interpret. We need to take Paul’s instruction into account in our churches.

Christian Blogs Worth Reading

One of the best things I got out of seminary was learning how to discern the great from the not-so-great in the overwhelming ocean of Christian resources in internet world. Before seminary my thinking was basically a compilation of the sermons and books I came across, having little ability to separate the edifying from the misleading.

Below are the online Christian resources I find most consistently helpful.

My Must Reads/Listens
Carl Trueman – Presbyterian pastor and historical theology scholar
My go-to guy. Knows so much about history and modern culture that he can speak with great insight into current issues in the church.
Podcast and Blog
First Thing Contributions

Mark Jones – Presbyterian pastor and historical theology scholar
Devout and incredibly knowledgeable. Intense focus on Christ, which is unfortunately rare.
Reformation21 Contributions

Andrew Wilson – Charismatic pastor
Just found Wilson’s blog. The guy I aspire to be (ministry wise)
Blog

Bishop Robert Barron – Catholic Bishop
Always thoughtful and wise. The best of the Catholic tradition, which is saying something
YouTube Channel 

Excellent Blogs I Regularly Follow
Michael Bird – Anglican scholar
My favorite pure scholar. His writing always seems correct to me.
Blog

Scot McKnight – Anglican scholar
The best guy on the gospel in the world
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Kevin DeYoung – Presbyterian pastor and historical theology scholar
Thoughtful pastor and a great communicator. His series on justification is essential reading.
Blog

Justin Taylor
I don’t know much about him, but his blog is a collection of amazing resources
Blog

Super-Brilliant Charismatic Blogger Alert

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I’ve gotten to the point where I only read cessationists. Not intentionally, but the people I find most insightful just happen to all be cessationists. Personally, I don’t have much sympathy with cessationism, which is why that pains me. Therefore, I’m excited to have found Andrew Wilson’s blog. He’s pastor of an NFI church in England, and knows his stuff. A charismatic who quotes Carl Trueman…brings tears to my eyes.

List of his posts –
http://thinktheology.co.uk/authors/21

Cessationism and Strange Fire (Wilson refutes Cessationism here) – http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/cessationism_and_strange_fire

Brief History of Grace (try to read the whole series if you can) – http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/paul_and_the_gift_a_brief_history_of_grace

Choosing the Right Seminary as a Charismatic Christian

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Today, Kevin DeYoung posted tips to help you choose the right seminary that I want to pass along to you. Quite helpful. To his list I would add “How Will You Fit At the Seminary?” The trouble with recommending a seminary for charismatic believers is I don’t know any top seminaries that are charismatic. Therefore, DeYoung’s question Have you thought about the tradition you want to be a part of? doesn’t have an obvious answer for us charismatics. What you have to do then is find a solid school that will, at the very least, accept you as you are. I’m solidly in the Reformed camp at this time, but historically the Reformed church has been cessationist. If you pick a staunchly Reformed seminary, they might not accept you, even if you present good support for your beliefs. Personally, I can recommend Covenant Theological Seminary having graduated from there myself. They were extremely supportive and helpful, even the professors that completely disagreed with me. If Covenant doesn’t work for you I’d check out Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, or RTS. Before picking RTS, though, I would confirm their position on charismatic believers as they seem to lean more conservatively Reformed than Covenant.

Don’t Truncate the Grace of God

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John 1:14, 16-17 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Was Jesus gracious when he talked about final judgment by works or spoke of those who don’t use their talents being thrown into hell (Mat 25)? Was Jesus a legalist when he intensified our understanding of God’s requirements? Was Paul gracious when he wrote over 300 commands to believers or warned them of judgment or told the church to hand a believer over to Satan?

The most common Biblical interpretation error I come across is setting one truth against another. For example, some like human freedom and so diminish God’s sovereignty and vice versa. Some are excited by the truths of Christianity but are wary of emotion. Some are moved by the emotional side of the faith but are suspicious of doctrine.

Correct understanding allows us to embrace all truths simultaneously, even the ones that initially seem to be in tension. In fact, a good check of the quality of our thinking is how often we come across verses that challenge our doctrine or that require us to perform tricks to conform them to our understanding.

Justification through grace by faith alone is awesome. Jesus dying a terrible death so that sinners like you and me can become part of his family is breathtaking. We must always teach and celebrate these truths. But we must also praise God that he tells us what he expects of us, how we will be judged, empowers us to live holy lives, and warns us when we are going astray. These are gracious too, and our understanding of grace isn’t complete until it makes room for them.

Intensive Bible Reading Strategy

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This morning I listened to a message by Mike Bickle on cultivating devotion to the Lord. One thing he emphasized was putting ourselves before God’s word on a consistent basis, instead of trying to approach God in a blank, mystical way. He noted that we can read through the New Testament every month by reading ten chapters a day, six days a week. The reading should be done prayerfully, as opposed to trying to simply get through it.

I wondered if this approach could be expanded to the Old Testament (OT). At first I didn’t think so as it has 929 chapters. However, if you break the OT into sections – law, narrative, wisdom, and prophecy – this method works well. The chapter breakdowns are below:

Section           # of Chapters
Law               187
Narrative         249
Wisdom           243
Prophets          250
NT                260

10 chapters a day, 6 days a week equates to 260 chapters a month on average, which is enough for each of these sections.

Have you heard of spaced repetition? It’s an important learning technique. Briefly, our memories are converted from short term to long term storage by frequent repetition initially and then by occasional reminders later. To remember anything, review daily until you can recall the information then review weekly until you remember then monthly and so on. Having seasons where we approximate this method on sections of the Bible allows us to internalize it much better than reading a passage once a year.

Reading through the Bible in a year takes about 4 chapters a day, 6 days a week.  Ten chapters a day is a bigger commitment, but still very doable. Consider taking seasons where you read a section of the Bible monthly for three or four months. As noted above, read devotionally. I trust you will see leaps in your understanding and love for God.