Monday, September 28, 2009
Friday, September 18, 2009
Thursday, September 17, 2009
As I’ve thought about the overall message of Christ to the seven churches in the vision of Revelation 2 and 3 (see previous blog), I have been particularly struck by Jesus’ warning to the church in Sardis:
“…I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you…” (Rev. 3:1-3)
To give a little background about this church, the city of Sardis was the capital of Lydia, and it stood as a great and prosperous city for many years. It was known in particular for its virtually impenetrable citadel—an acropolis surrounded by cliffs of rock. Interestingly enough, though the fortress was never taken by battle, it was twice captured in the secret of night. The two captures “…while watchmen neglected their duty became a cautionary tale of misguided complacency and lack of vigilance” (ESV Study Bible). This gives the modern-day reader of Revelation 3 new insight into the message Jesus gave to the church at Sardis. Just as the prominent, powerful city of Sardis felt itself alive with splendor and impenetrable by outside forces, the church apparently thought it was doing just fine. Yet both were blinded by their own weaknesses and vulnerable to defeat. “The letter to ‘the angel of the church in Sardis’ (Rev. 3:1–6) suggests that the early Christian community there was imbued with the same spirit as the city, resting on its past reputation and without any present achievement, and failing, as the city had twice failed, to learn from its past and be vigilant” (IVP New Bible Commentary).
I can’t help but wonder how much the American church has become like Sardis. I wonder how much of our supposed “strength” comes from the past. Is our faith really strong and vibrant now? Or have we left ourselves open to attack and destruction because of a lack of vigilance and care for our souls—and for one another as the church? It’s impossible for me to say, of course. I am simply one member of the global church of Christ. But I think it’s a thought worth pondering—and, at very least, a warning worth heeding personally, and within our local body of believers.
“Remember, then, what you received and heard….The one who conquers …I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 3:3-6)
May we have ears to hear, and hearts to follow what the Spirit is saying to us.
About a week ago, I finally decided that I’ve evaded any serious study of the book of Revelation for too long. I’ve always been turned off by pop culture sagas and suspicious interpretations of its message, and as a result have managed to steer clear of any real scrutiny of the text. But, alas, I’ve caved in…and this past week began my own study of the book of Revelation.
To aid me in my pursuit of its message, I decided to use Matthias Media’s study on Revelation called The Vision Statement. It’s a compilation of 9 studies on the book meant either for personal devotion or small group study. I felt like I needed a little direction, but didn’t want anything too pushy about a particular viewpoint—and I have been very pleased with this guide. The book itself states in its opening pages: “Many discussions of Revelation get caught up in particular details of history, in dates and Roman emperors and who the Antichrist might be. But these are often distractions from the actual teaching of the book, which places Jesus Christ firmly at the centre.” It acknowledges, of course, that there is something to gain from different looks at Revelation as well, but this study focuses on the message of Jesus Christ—something that I’m ashamed to say I think I’ve never intently focused on in studying Revelation.
So…preamble aside (Sorry—I always feel the need to give a backdrop for my musings!), I’ve been camped out on Jesus’ message to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 the past couple of days. I use the singular form of message intentionally, because I think there is much to be gained by its meaning. Although the individual churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea certainly had individual characteristics, problems, and even commendations and/or rebukes from Jesus himself, there is something to be gained from looking at Christ’s message to all of the churches collectively. I like what The Vision Statement says:
One overall message emerges as a result of the pattern of the vision. That one message is this: remember who is in control. Do not be deceived into thinking that the world is all there is, that Jesus will not return as judge and king, that God does not have power. Do not let the troubles that come upon you in this evil age deceive you into thinking that God is not in control. He is. We know he is in control, because we know the one who has overcome evil.
How true! Each of these seven churches struggled in its own way. We can find ourselves in each of their weaknesses—and learn from Jesus’ instruction:
…If you have zeal without love—recover your love;
if you are faithful but fearful—endure suffering for the crown of life which awaits you;
if you are seduced by false teaching and immorality—repent;
if you are lazy, asleep or dead in your faith—wake up, come back to life;
if you are feeling weak and weary in your faith—remember that you will be rewarded and protected;
if your obedience is lukewarm and you are complacent in faith—turn back and find your ‘wealth’ in Jesus. (The Vision Statement)
How precious it is to know the One who has conquered it all, and made a way for us to embrace freedom and victory in himself—Jesus Christ! May we heed his wisdom, and embrace this truth.
Friday, September 11, 2009
As a professor of leadership and church ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, one would expect the typical Harvard Business School recipes for "leadership" from Dr. Bredfeldt. However, Great Leader, Great Teacher is a refreshing change focusing more on Scripture than business tactics--true to its sub-title. This volume is not necessarily a comprehensive survey of biblical texts which then interprets leadership in light of those texts (such as O. Sanders' Spiritual Leadership). Instead, Bredfeldt focuses more on the issue of the Bible's authority within leadership. Bredfeldt's thinking is absolutely correct when he argues that those who teach the authoritative word of God will in turn have authority or influence over those whom they are teaching. Many times Christians seem to miss this and believe that authority comes through an office or a title, while authority in the church comes through teaching the authoritative truth. Thus, pastors wonder why their congregations follow faithful Sunday School teachers more than them. This idea largely shapes the structure of the book.
In chapters one through four he exhorts pastors and teachers to commit themselves to teaching the authoritative truth of Scripture and not be distracted by secondary methods. In these chapters he diplomatically and accurately describes the problematic nature of the business school model of church leadership and summons his readers to recognize the sufficiency of the Bible. Addressing the issue of authority, Bredfeldt writes a significant polemic toward postmodernism and the "emerging church." This is understandable since some thinking among these parties (whatever "emerging" means) can be destructive to biblical authority and thereby send leaders looking away from Scripture toward culture, church history, and pragmatism. In chapters five and six he discusses the needed virtues of a leader and their necessary competencies. While both chapters are biblically solid, anyone who has read a book on Christian leadership can probably scan them because of their familiarity. Chapters seven and eight are perhaps the most practical sections of the book, but the most dangerously reductionist as well. Bredfeldt's point is to show the extremes of leadership positions, or "the ditches on the sides of road." He then tries to steer his reader toward a balanced position between existentialism, pragmatism, realism, and idealism. Next, he calls for balanced churches that do not err in being too "seeker sensitive", "program driven", "content/truth oriented" and "post-modern". This call for balance is certainly needed and appropriate, but it is always dangerous to start grouping all leadership styles and churches into four categories (including individuals' names associated with each group).
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is actively involved in church leadership and especially those who are teaching in any capacity. Pastors and ministers will find the 200 pages a light, easy read with some good re-usable illustrations. However, I believe the book would serve its greatest good in the hands of lay-teachers. This is the perfect book for Sunday School teachers, small group leaders, and others teaching regularly in the church. For these individuals, Great Leader, Great Teacher will remind them of the importance of their task, drive them back to the authoritative Word of God and steer them away from some pervading pitfalls. And in so doing, I believe Dr. Bredfeldt will indeed help the church recover a biblical vision for leadership.
Monday, September 7, 2009
When Rusty's not working, we can usually be found outside somewhere, enjoying the first cool days of fall. Here are some pictures of our latest adventures: hiking at Buckeye Lake (next to the Rec. Center where Rusty works), our first family camp-out at Price Lake Campground on the Blue Ridge Parkway, exploring Grandfather Mtn. with family, and enjoying the Mile High Kite Festival atop our own Beech Mtn. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Lawhead, Stephen R. Hood. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006.