The Pursuit of Happiness

Many of y’all will know our story. We have been in ministry for many years, and our last church was forced to shut its doors over a year ago. For the past 14 months, Rachel and I have been praying and seeking Gods direction for our family. We have been blessed to be in a local church we could serve in, and rest a bit to find this next stage in our ministry. It’s been a trying time, and we have finally come to the end of a long road and are ready to step into our “next.” 

We have been looking at taking another church for some time, we said no to some, some said no to us, but ultimately no place has turned out to be the right place. Rachel and I have taken quite a long time to pray and seek the Lord to figure out what we had to walk in next.  Out of that time we have really felt the Lord pushing us in the following ways: we are going to pursue life in a location that we feel the Lord has laid on our heart for sometime now, the greater Gainesville, GA area. We have felt a pull there for about a year, and have not pushed forward into it because we were still looking for a church to pastor.  We have decided that the Lord gave us this area because He has prepared us for life and ministry there. We don’t necessarily know why, but it is a place we undeniably know we need to be. Our entire family is ecstatic over this decision, which is rare when you have 6 people with 6 different opinions, who are not shy about expressing them! 

The obvious question for us, of course, was what are going to do there? This question has been a daunting one to me for sometime. I have two great passions in ministry: teaching and building Gospel community. I have thought and felt that those two existed in isolation. In fact, I asked my brother in law recently if he saw me as more of a professor or a pastor and he said “be both,” which has been a catalyst for changing thought patterns in my mind. God wants to use both of those passions that I have in our next place of service. 

There are two things we are going to be working on: the first being I am going to finish my PHD and pursue a professorship in the Atlanta metro. One of my goals as a pastor and teacher had always been to empower young people to be thinking Christ-Followers who are able to engage the Scripture and culture for the Gospel. By instructing those who are pursuing a higher education, I will be able to pour in knowledge and experience to the next generation of ministers. This is something that I believe all ministers need to do, and it’s a great outlet for my gifts. 

Secondly, we are going to be city missionaries seeking to build and establish Gospel centered communities in our area. We have served in church planting for many years, and using some of that philosophy, combined with the philosophy of being outward living disciples, we are going to seek to be catalysts of starting Gospel centered communities. This is not typical church planting, but gospel immersion. This is a slow burn strategy to engage people with the idea of Kingdom and gospel mission, and if the Lord births a church or churches out of it, it will be amazing. We want to see people on mission for Jesus, and will see how God uses that to grow His kingdom. 

This type of ministry dovetails with our gifts, and a ministry Rachel is pursuing to instruct women on how to build deep and abiding relationships, and training churches to accomplish this task in their midst. We will leverage our passion for adoption and foster care in this pursuit as well, hopefully starting many communities that embrace this passion to see the command found in James to care for orphans and widows.

We are quite excited and see the Lord in this, so much so, that we are removing some things from our lives that have provided some financial stability, though keeping my full time job.  I have also had to put away ideas of what my life in ministry would look like to walk in the mission the Lord has given my family. My amazing wife had encouraged me to do this for so long, it’s an absolute blessing that her patience and grace had reached through the “me” in my vision of service. 

This will be a fast transition for us, but one we cannot wait to get walking in. We covet your prayers as we face the task of relocating, finding partners in our vision for our new community, a home church for us to give to and partner with in this vision, and for all the things in the future we seek to see the Lord do.

We love you all,

The Hewitt Family

True Love

Today is Valentines Day. Rachel and I have never celebrated Valentines Day in the traditional way. If we go out to dinner, it’s because we would go out to dinner anyway. We do not need a made up holiday to remember that we love each other.

On this Valentines Day, however; I have been really focused on love, and specifically the love of adoption. I woke up this morning to my smiling (alright screaming) little man. I got an amazing hug from him as he declared “Daddy, it’s Thanksgiving!” After a quick correction, and a discussion about Valentines Day, he gave me another amazing hug. I told him to give Mommy one, and he said “No, La-La (Elaina) is my Valentine, she gets all my hugs.” I just love that kid to pieces. Adoption made my family so much better, because I got to experience the love of such a wonderful child. God gave so much to me because of him. Rachel and I advocate for adoption exactly for this reason: people need to be blessed by children who need love (to give and receive), and the receiving part is always the bigger blessing.

Adoption is also the perfect picture of what God did for His people. Ephesians 1:3-6 maybe the passage I most identify with in all of Scripture, because Rachel and I have been blessed with adoption of a son.

Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will— to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

Think about the process of adoption for a second: people choose to bring a child that is not theirs into their home: to love them, to raise them, to train them, and when the parents die, to bless them as their own child. To me, it seems like the purest act of love. God showed people His heart, expressed through the tangible process of adoption. This is what God chose to do for His people. God chose His people, He loves his people, He brings us into His family, He trains us, and He gives us an inheritance. It was an act of pure love completely on God’s part. We are His, and He loves so very well.

On this day, I remember that I have been blessed supremely in my relationships with my wife, and my wonderful children. I get the unmitigated blessing of having all my children, regardless of how they were brought into my family. I am so thankful that the feelings of love and joy that I have for my son through adoption, are the same feelings God has for me (times a billion), and that I am truly loved.

Today can be tough for many, but I want to encourage you with the idea that God chose to love, and His love is available through His Son because He chose to reconcile His people. Do not settle for the lies that no one loves you, or that the love of God isn’t as good as the love of a [man, woman, child, mother, father, dog, etc…]. You are not outside it, too far from it, or unable to receive it. He calls and He makes you His own. His love is the best, and all you really need to the praise of His glorious grace.

Just a note to my amazing wife today: thank you for taking me on this journey of life, but specifically for the calling to adopt. Your heart is huge, and I love that I get to experience you completely. You are certainly a picture of God’s love to me!

 

The Seed of the Woman

The first three chapters of the Book of Genesis set the stage for the drama that unfolds throughout the rest of the Bible. We have the overview of Creation: God making everything ex nihilo, culminating with the creation of humans. The second chapter is a recapitulation of the first chapter, and concludes with the institution of marriage. In chapter three the conflict is presented that will frame the main struggle for the rest of the Bible: people reject God and elevate themselves into His place. This decision by Adam and Eve to sin brought the consequence of separation and struggle for the remainder of their (and by extension, our) existence. The key verse is Genesis 3:15 where God tells the serpent that the “seed of the woman will bruise his head,” while the serpent would “bruise his heel.” This is commonly called the protoevangelium where deliverance from the punishments given is promised.

I think we often miss the point; however, of what is really going on in this passage and throughout the rest of Genesis. When we read Genesis, it is easy to overlook certain things because they are confusing (the names of people, and family relationships, and just what are the Nephilim?), but one word that we can easily miss is the Hebrew word transliterated toledoth which is found throughout the book. The word means “generations,” and gives us the insight to what God is really talking about, the continuation of the generations of “the woman” to get the promised seed. It is one of the the themes of Genesis, and the meta-narrative of the Scripture – preservation of the Seed of woman. This is why Genesis records the family lines the way it does, and why there is always tension that the seed might be forsaken, or lost (the Flood, Jacob/Esau, Joseph). Missing the idea that the Seed is the most important thing, allows us to misapply and wrongly conclude many things from Genesis 1-3.

Why is this important, or what is an application for rightly understanding the seed theme of Genesis? One of the primary arguments for women being submissive to men comes from Genesis 1-3, and Paul’s argumentation in his writings that God instituted a created order. Specifically cited is the statement of God in Genesis 3:16

To the woman He said,
‘I will greatly multiply
Your pain in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.'”

First, notice what is in view: childbearing. God is reinforcing the idea that the seed is primary, stating that even though there will be pain in bearing children, your desire will be for your husband. This statement has given rise to many ideas about the nature of women: they were built to be co-dependent, they have to have a man, they want to dominate men (read this passage in the NET), etc… The seemingly obvious conclusion based on the theme of Genesis, is that God is referring to the need to procreate and make more “seeds.” Despite the pain in childbirth the woman, and other women, will seek to have children.

Secondly, God says “and he [her husband] will rule over you.” Notice that everything in the passage from 14-19 is a new punishment, and changes the original design that God had planned. At the end of Genesis 2, the husband and the wife are one, but now in Genesis 3:16 they are separated. When they are one, the preservation of the human race would not seem to be an issue; however, when they are separated by their desires, the safety of the seed is in doubt. The woman (the helper from 2:18, his corresponding sexual partner), will suffer for the seed; but will be brought back to her husband for its sustenance (this is part of the promise of deliverance in the midst of the Curse). The rule of a husband over his wife, is not part of the marriage relationship until the Curse is given; and as a punishment a man’s rule will put the seed in jeopardy also, because it creates a struggle in the relationship.

From this point on, the struggle for the seeds protection graces the pages of Scripture, culminating in Jesus. If we miss that fact, it is very easy to turn to Genesis 3, see that a man will rule over his wife, and conclude that it is good and proper. God’s design was very different. He wanted husband and wife to be one, not in a hierarchical struggle, but truly one entity. Understanding the story of Scripture, and this one major theme, helps us to get to the right conclusion from Genesis 3:16: Fight against the punishment for sin that causes men to rule their wives, and seek to be one in Christ.

It is high time that evangelicals repudiated the idea that husbands are meant to rule their wives. Rule was a judgement not an endorsement. The Lord wants one thing above all others in our marriages: oneness. The unity of the husband and wife, sex and the continuance of the seed both declare that God’s promise is fulfilled: the seed will come and crush the serpent.

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I Am the Famous One

My wife and I discuss the state of the Church quite a bit. Having been involved in many facets of ministry for our entire marriage, it’s just something we do. I know that there is now a clamor among all those reading this to get in on these amazing conversations, but you are probably not cool enough. HOWEVER, feel free to start one next time we are hanging out!

One of the things that we come back to over and over is the rampant idolatry in our church settings. When I hear the word “idolatry,” I think of a bunch of people gathered around a golden idol. They bow down and worship it, expecting it to do magic tricks for them. The thought is almost so humorous it can be difficult for me to really identify with it. When I am being “spiritual,” my mind runs to Israel in the Old Testament as they constantly struggled with idol worship. Just reading the book of Judges, will make your head spin with their constant merry-go-round of idol worship-repent-deliverance-repeat. We do not identify with this either, because most of us aren’t dabbling in the polytheistic religions of the Ancient Near East, and we think we are superior to the Jews because of the whole New Covenant thing.

However, I think we are equally as idolatrous as the Jews were. 

The difference between the modern church and other idolaters is the object of what we worship, not that we are somehow devoid of idolatry. We don’t worship sticks, or objects, or a pantheon of gods and goddess; but we do worship things in the place of God. While there are many, many idols I could focus on for this discussion; the one that has really been bothering me for some time is “Celebrity Christianity.” I picked just a few reasons why I think this has been, and will be severely damaging to the American church.

The first is that it is antithetical to how Jesus lived. Jesus was sought out by crowds, but He never sought the crowds to build His brand. Jesus told people to keep quiet about Him. How many Celebrity Christians does that sound like? Jesus was concerned about one thing: the Kingdom. Celebrity turns very quickly into being concerned with one thing also: our kingdom. If we claim to be Christ-followers, shouldn’t we follow Christ?

Secondly, Celebrity Christianity teaches people that there are levels of Christians. The famous ones are looked up, everyone else is just ordinary. The truth of Scripture teaches us that no Christian is better or worse than any other. In fact, the Bible teaches us that there aren’t good and bad people, just bad people and a good God. Paul rebukes this type of foolishness, especially when it comes to factions caused by worshipping people other than Christ.

Lastly, the idea of Celebrity pushes people away from THE place of discipleship and growth: the local church. Celebrity teaching replaces pastoral teaching and involvement in the Missio Dei, because one no longer has to be involved in a church to get “solid teaching.” I believe one of the reasons the local church is declining is because people no longer NEED to be connected: get your spiritual scraps from the Celebrity’s table; and you are alleviated from the burden of having to be in the messiness of church life. This also leads to the idea that these famous people speak for Christianity as a whole. There are many people I respect who are “big names” in the Christian sub-culture, but I agree with none of them on everything. This is insidious because people hear a Celebrity Christian speak and do not bother to study to even see if they agree with them; especially when it mirrors their own presuppositions or feelings.

Rachel and I have been talking about this for a long time, and I don’t know that I have a solution. Americans seem to need to fixate on someone/something they can worship that is real. The only way to reverse course is not to miss the fact that God was tangible, and still is if we walk in His truth, and are His hands and feet. God is tangible when we decide we aren’t all that important, and push everything aside to elevate His name. God is still very real when we recognize the truth that the local church is more important than conferences, and conference speakers, and is THE engine for real discipleship. God is the only suitable object for our worship.

We must repent and seek Him, not our brand, not our “hero,” and not ourselves.

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Review: The Polygamist’s Daughter

book

My wife has lots of really cool friends and some of her friends are writers. This is really cool because she often gets books in advance that she reads and reviews. Recently, her friend Anna LeBaron (FacebookTwitter) wrote a memoir about her life and how she escaped a polygamist cult. This is not a book that I normally would read but I picked it up and read the first few pages, and I was hooked.

The story is about Anna’s life from a young age, and details the ins and outs of her experience. Her story is riveting, and captures you from the first few chapters. I have always been curious of life inside these cults. I have watched documentaries on Jonestown and David Koresh; but this story was unique because it comes through the eyes of a child who grew up in this environment. Her story is full of tension, fear, heartache, and shows the struggle that she went through to survive. Her journey is one that we can all relate to in some form or fashion, and it culminates with her finding God through His Son Jesus Christ.

There are many people in her story who helped her along the way, but what I loved most about this book was that the hero of it is definitely Jesus. You can see how He protected her, and provided deliverance even before she knew Him as her Savior. Anna was open with the struggles she had both during and after her time in the cult. Experiences like hers leave scars, and she is open with the process it took for her to deal with them. It’s abundantly clear that the physical, mental, and emotional healing she needed, she received through God’s loving care, and the ministry of His people. Seeing her walk through the struggles she had after her escape should give hope to all of us who have been through literal hell on earth at some point in our lives. God loved and pursued her, that is clear; and He does the same for all His children.

I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone!

You can buy the book Here.

You can read more about Anna’s father here

We Must Grasp God’s Word

I am probably the worst person to attend your church if you are a preacher. I analyze everything you say. I research everything you teach. When I disagree with you, you are going to know, especially if it’s a Bible issue. I also cannot hide my thoughts on what you are saying well (my face shows if I think you are crazy). I have received many an elbow from my sweet wife when my displeasure with someone’s statements becomes too visible. I like to think this comes from preaching/teaching/studying for so long, and being so very wise (sometimes I am just a jerk to be honest). I have a low tolerance for deviation what I think is Scriptural. Some think this is bad, but I think it is actually a good thing, and one I want to encourage people to engage in.

I believe that much of what we believe about Christianity is based on other people’s opinions of what Christianity is. Those people are often parents, mentors, small group leaders/members, and primarily pastors. We trust these people, and their opinions on the Faith matter to us. For most believers, this is the bedrock of what they believe. Unfortunately, this can often lead us astray, especially when the opinions of the people we trust are based on other people’s opinions, which may or may not be based on Scripture. We can quickly build a regress of thought, which we think is great; but is based on nothing more than conjecture by some old guy a few hundred years ago. As Christians, we should desire all our beliefs to be Biblically sourced.

We believe in the Trinity, for example, because someone told us it was true, threw some Bible verses at us, and made it sound good (maybe they threw in the word Orthodox as well). Most of us are probably unaware that the word “trinity” does not appear in the Scripture, nor are we aware of two guys who made a big deal about it (Athanasius and Arius) a few hundred years after Jesus’ death. Many of us don’t know that until 325 AD no formal declaration of Christ’s deity was stated by the church, and that it wasn’t until the Council of Constantinople, 60ish years later, that the formal doctrine of the Trinity existed (though the Trinitarian understanding existed very early in church history). We take it for granted, which is great, but we have lost hold of it somehow due to a lack of personal investment in learning it for ourselves.

I was in church not too long ago, and a worship song was sung that talked about how God created Jesus, which most theologians would define as anti-Trinitarian Arianism. People sang this song, got their worship on, and never gave thought to the idea that they were promulgating an ancient heresy condemned by the church for 1700ish years. I am reasonably sure that all in attendance would say they believed in the trinity, but it was not grasped enough to know what it meant. If so, the emotional investment and enjoyment of this song would have been replaced by revulsion. Pastors, leaders, teachers, and regular old church people demoted Jesus in a single phrase. Granted the Trinity is hard to understand, and I don’t believe any of us will fully grasp it this side of heaven, but we SHOULD know that Jesus exists eternally (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed). We are not Christian if we do not know that. This is the problem with unstudied beliefs. We don’t really know them, and because we do not, it is easy to be led astray.

The Bible is the source and authority for belief in the Christian faith. We should only believe what it says, not what our pastor thinks it says, or you think it says, or even what I think it says. Many of us accept the words of people over the Word of God because we are too lazy to do the reading and the studying, so we can do the grasping and internalizing. I want to encourage you to analyze and study the teachings that you hear from the Bible. Do not accept the old line “the Bible says” without researching what the Bible actually says. This leads to people who say they believe a lot of things, but live like they believe very little of them. This will take work, if you are going to do it right; but at the end of the day you will KNOW what you believe, and grasp it. The grasping is where action will follow belief, because you have become convinced by the Truth.

 

 

 

 

The Sweet Spot

Rachel and I got our start in church planting in the later half of the last decade. I was in the process of graduating from Seminary, we did not really find any cushy church jobs to take (I am NOT a youth pastor), and I connected with a church-planting group in Virginia. We talked, we prayed, and we planted. We experienced the ups and downs that most every plant walks through; we navigated some well, and some not so well. We had a ton of fun, and we had a ton of sorrow. After three years, our church was no longer viable. We had no money, no staff, and most of our team had transitioned out. This is a common thing in the church-planting world. Churches start, and churches fail. We fell into the “ran out of time” failure reason: like a baby with a critical disease, we just didn’t have enough life behind us to fight off the problems we faced.

We are almost a decade removed from that time, so I probably have a better view now. One of the things that I have struggled with is the statistic that we learned before we planted, and experienced: over 50% of your team that you planted with, will not be there 1-3 years later. It seems to me this is a gigantic problem. The people you are on mission with, suddenly no longer feel like the church they poured their blood, sweat, and tears into, is for them. I have put some effort into figuring out why this is. When I look at my first planting experience, I notice an almost duplicitous aspect in my actions. In order to start our church, we recruited friends, and friends of friends. We spent time talking, dreaming, planning. We spent time together doing life. We were on a mission and we were excited about. Then something changed. We had to launch a church. Those sweet times where we invested in each other were gone, and replaced by the church grind. Once that happened, the times that I cherished most were gone. I wish I had known that  time spent planning was the most authentic church I have ever experienced. Now I don’t know that this was the reason that our team moved on, but I do know that when we launched it never felt the same as when we were together in my living room. I wasn’t mature enough then, I hadn’t seen enough or lived enough to know that WE HAD CHURCH right there. (Let’s be honest, no planter goes out and dreams of planting a church of 20 or 40 with all the dang kids we had J). There are many, many things I wish I could do over again, but pushing and moving our team into “church” eats at me more than most.

As planters we are always told that more is better. We need to recruit more people, raise more money, have THE BEST worship experience; the drive is always more and bigger. I disagree strongly with this idea at this stage of my ministry. What is the best is to be on mission with a team; a team you can pour into, be real with, and love doing life with. Let me encourage the planter who may be where Rachel and I were so many years ago with this thought: Jesus loves you, and He wants your ministry to be successful. Remember though: He defines the ministry; He defines success. It may not look like you want it to; it may not be the envy of all your friends from Seminary, and it may not ever get you on stage at Exponential teaching. Take it from me, no matter what the sweet spot is, it is better than living with the “I wish I would have’s.”

Theology Matters

I read a tweet today that said this is the season when people are most likely to come to church, so invite them. I think this is something we hear at Christmas and Easter every year. When we hear this, I think our response is usually, “yeah, that makes sense.” I mean, nothing screams the need for repentance like investing a small fortune in the commercialization of our faith OR believing that bunnies lay eggs.

When I read that this year, I started to think “NO.” I hate that we have begun to view every new season as an opportunity to grow the church, buying into the marketing schemes of people who have successfully manipulated the masses into attending their “big push” services. This focus isn’t new. We used to have “Friend Day” or “High Attendance Sunday.” Now we have the attractional sermon series, or giveaways to get people to church so that they can get Jesus!

The problem I have with that is an ecclesiological one. What we believe about the church is off. We believe that church is a place where something magical happens. People have to come inside to meet God. The New Testament, however, never views the church as a place, but as a people. I would agree that exposure to the church should be how most people find God, but the church is you and I, not a Sunday morning “experience.” We continue to perpetuate this false equivalence and the Christ-Followers in our churches begin to act myopically “WE MUST GET THEM TO CHURCH.” Like little robots, the people who should be the transformative agent in their friends and families lives, seek only to get them to where the magic happens. Instead, we should be teaching our people that they are the church. They should be speaking the truth of the Lord into their people’s lives. They should be the ones who get to experience the joy of seeing their friends coming to Christ through their own influence. They should be the ones who get to lead their people through breakthroughs in their faith. I know, I know, it’s difficult to “count” those things for our church growth to be “real,” but those are the situations that matter. That is where true, New Testament discipleship happens. I have read the New Testament a hundred times or more, and never seen a thought like “get them to church [a place] to find God.”

Theology matters. If we have incorrect views of what the church is, the way we operate (based on those beliefs) will be incorrect. Sometimes those incorrect methods will reap some rewards (like when we buy a horrible stock that goes up anyway), but most times it won’t. If you don’t believe that we are doing this church marketing thing all wrong, think about this: we spend more money on marketing than the church has ever done in the United States and our impact into the culture is continually declining.  We have tried the seasonal focus. We have tried the seeker-sensitive rock concert / dog and pony show. Isn’t it time to get back to what the Bible teaches about church, and train our people to view themselves as the change agent in people’s lives? The church is the most powerful force in the world, because it operates in the power of the Holy Spirit; but the church isn’t an organized fiefdom, it’s the collection of believers working on mission for God.

The Acquiescing Church?

I did not grow up in church. The only times I really went to church when I was a kid were when someone died, or at Christmas, or if Mom got on a kick to hit church for a bit. It was boring, and I am reasonably sure I fell asleep every time I went. When I started going for real, I was 18, and I went to a really conservative church with my fiancé. I vividly remember being in church and standing to sing the hymns each Sunday morning, and not knowing any of them. I mean, I probably knew that a song called Amazing Grace existed, but I wouldn’t have known it if I heard it. After a month or so, I started to recognize a few of the songs. One day, I was coming home from playing basketball, and I heard a church bell arrangement of a song, and I knew it!

Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling for you and for me.

At this moment I felt like I might be getting a handle on this whole church thing. That hymn was a favorite of mine from that moment forward.

Fast-forward a few years, I was in seminary studying the idea of God’s sovereignty, that a God who was to be worshiped and that I would devote my life to, was by necessity a sovereign Lord. He had to be in charge, and powerful. If He wasn’t, what kind of God was He? I remembered this song, and the second verse, the one where Jesus is described as a school girl pining over a boyfriend who won’t come to her and do what she wants. Jesus pleading, with the implication that He isn’t powerful enough to get what He wants accomplished. I had a real struggle at that moment to believe the Bible (which I believe teaches God’s sovereignty), or this song that I had sung and enjoyed for years.

Music is a powerful tool for the glory of God. It helps make God tangible, and experiential. We are able to connect to God in a way that many of us do not experience apart from the musical expression of worship. The worship gathering is enhanced exponentially by the inclusion of music. However, we also have to be very careful, because music can be insidious. If the songs that are sung in worship teach or suggest a theme contrary to Scripture, we may set our congregants up for failure at rightly discerning truth. There are a lot of songs out there that have a great beat, have great lyrics, but have heretical undertones (or outright heretical lyrics). Too often we see these songs show up on the church playlist, and the words and themes make their way into our minds, corrupting the Bible’s teachings. Music, like anything else, can be an idol that we love more than God. Even music that is supposedly about Him! True worship music should be pleasing to the ear, stirring to the soul, but also must reflect what the Bible teaches.

I am personally at a quandary with much of what we see in the modern American church. We exalt form over substance, we exalt catchy over transformational, and we exalt “sings good” over “soul good.” When I think about my old song Softly and Tenderly I don’t really want to throw out the whole song, because I really love it. It was something that I could latch onto as a non-believer, a foot in the door to the church magisterium if you will. At the same time, I know that I don’t want people thinking that Jesus isn’t powerful enough to take care of their needs, and that we mortals can thwart the plans of an Almighty God. What do we do? How do we bridge the gap between form and substance? There is a tension between good poetry, good life experience, and sound theology. I tend to think that there isn’t a hard and fast rule, but more of a negotiation. You see I know what the author of my hymn is trying to communicate: the deep love and care that Jesus has for His people. How much freedom do I give him to do that, to connect life experience to catch people’s attention? I have usually erred on the side of freedom in this area in my ministry, trusting that I can explain or address unresolved tension in the words of songs and sound biblical teaching. Lately though, I hear the words of 2 Timothy 4:1-5 constantly, and I wonder if we need to be way more selective in our relevancy when it comes to the musical beast. What a great and powerful gift, but we have to be so careful with!

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

What Did That Say?

Interpreting language is one of the more difficult things that we as people do.
We read words and processes those words to discover the meaning that someone is attempting to communicate. The problem can be that we read and understand language the way we think, not necessarily how they are thinking.
This can lead to mis-understanding, or a failure to communicate. That problem is exacerbated when we consider translation from language to language.
The goal of the translation is not to generate the right words to correspond to the words written, but to translate the thoughts of the author to the hearer.
This may or may not be a literal translation, depending on many factors including culture, idiomatic expressions, etc… The problem is even worse when the words we are reading are very old. Not only do we have to get the translation of thought correctly, but it has to be the translation of thought in the proper time context. Words change meaning over time in all languages.

Good translators take all these things into account when trying to determine the original intent of an author. This is just one facet of hermeneutics: understanding what is being said. There are many others, any of which can radically alter the meaning of a text. This is why it is so critical to listen to educated people on what translations of bible texts mean.
It is very easy to go wrong, and without thorough, thoughtful, and correct study; we will very easily go astray. A good rule of thumb is: if what you are reading is radically new, or super culturally hip, or something that no one ever thought of before, its probably wrong.

If you are serious about understanding Scripture, I mean really understanding it, the people whose opinions you listen to, the people who teach you, the people who preach to you, who you read and study have to know what they are doing. Education is a great way to make that happen, study hermeneutics, and validate the credentials of those voices you let into your head!