Exegesis

Resurrection: Death has been defeated

Easter.

It’s a story of Light shattering the Darkness. A story of the God who so loved the world that He would offer the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. It’s a story about Jesus, who held such a resolve in his heart to rescue the world that was bound up in sin, shame, lies and darkness, that He would pour his life out for us completely.  It’s a story of Death being defeated. It’s now a story of a people shaped by resurrection, a story that binds us up in hope. It’s our story.

Its also a story that our hearts should never tire of. As is often life, Easter weekend is upon us and we can just blow by it without truly pausing and considering the magnitude of what has happened on our behalf. We need to remember all that was given and all that was won by our God. The Lord has rescued our souls but He also defeated Death once and for all. Let the Message version of 1 Corinthians 15 remind you of the power of Resurrection.

1 Corinthians 15:21-28   There is a nice symmetry in this: Death initially came by a man, and resurrection from death came by a man.  Everybody dies in Adam; everybody comes alive in Christ.  But we have to wait our turn: Christ is first, then those with him at his Coming,  the grand consummation when, after crushing the opposition, he hands over his kingdom to God the Father.  He won’t let up until the last enemy is down—  and the very last enemy is death! As the psalmist said, “He laid them low, one and all; he walked all over them.” When Scripture says that “he walked all over them,” it’s obvious that he couldn’t at the same time be walked on.  When everything and everyone is finally under God’s rule, the Son will step down, taking his place with everyone else, showing that God’s rule is absolutely comprehensive—a perfect ending!

We need to remember that in the resurrection of Jesus, God defeated Death once and for all.  “According to Paul, death has entered the world as a personified power, has penetrated to all humanity like an epidemic, and has incited all to sin. Thus from the fall of Adam and as a result of the fall death has established a domain of sovereignty, in which in its turn sin came to power among humankind, who deserved the judgment of death through their conduct and had to die.” (EDNT)

Death was never part of the original design in Gen 1, yet through sin, death has inflicted humanity since the time of Adam. Understanding death as a “personified power” transforms our understanding of it from being a common human experience to an infliction that must be cleansed if any hope is to be realized. NT Wright explains, “as the present age is inflicted by death, who is an intruder, a violator of the creator’s good world. The creator’s answer to death cannot be to reach some kind of agreement or compromise. Death, must be, and in the Messiah has been and will be, defeated.”

So this is way more than a story of some dude who seemed kind and was faithful, and if we think about it he might be a good role model for us. NO! This is the story of the Son of God who obliterated His enemies and as a result rescued his people. This story sparked a revolution of love and its a story that we draw strength from when our world gets turned upside down. In the resurrection we remember that God rescued us and will rescue us again.

This story never grows old or gets stale. It should paint a picture in your hearts of Jesus that is so compelling that it draws you daily to follow him. But our hearts can grow cold, can grow stale and so we need to remember this story and remember how BIG it is.

Death has been defeated | He has truly rescued us.

So my prayer for you is the same one Paul had for the church of Ephesus 1:19-23   I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power  that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.  Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come.  God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is his body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor

Taming the Tongue: Speaking and Teaching

Reading: James 3:2-6

It can be rather instructive to read how the Bible describes certain items in a sort of systematic overview. The tongue, for instance, is given all manner of descriptors throughout scripture. It is poisonous (James 3:8). It is a sharp razor and a plotter of destruction (Psalm 52:2). It can be perverse (Proverbs 10:31). It can be backbiting (Proverbs 25:23). While there are also positive connotations, many of the mentions of the mouth and tongue use descriptors such as profane, unclean, boastful, slanderous, and many more along these same lines. It becomes apparent very quickly the Bible is telling us that our speech can be a prime sign of sin.

There’s no doubt if we do not guard our speech as commanded throughout God’s Word, we can run into some serious trouble. James makes it clear in verse 2 that “we all stumble”, and that not being perfect, we all obviously are going to have issues with curbing our tongue.  In verses 3 and 4, James uses some of his outdoor imagery to compare the tongue to a horse’s bridle and ship’s rudder—two relatively small things that control a much larger object. So it is with our tongue and our body. The tongue might be tiny compared to the rest of the body, but the words it forms can control and ruin an entire life.

We see this again in verse 5, when James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (ESV). Anyone who has ever seen a malicious rumor or “harmless” bit of gossip run rampant understands this to be a perfect analogy to what even a few words can do. The great Puritan writer Richard Baxter wrote “Words and actions are transient things, and being once past, are nothing; but the effect of them on an immortal soul may be endless”. Writing earlier, John Calvin suggested “since the tongue cannot be restrained, there must be some secret fire of hell hidden in it”. Just as a single smoldering matchstick may destroy an entire forest, one unkind word, one vicious volley, one bit of jealous gossip, can devastate relationships and endeavors that took years to build up.

There is another central aspect to these verses, one that cannot be overlooked. If we look at the verse immediately preceding this passage, James 3:1 states “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (ESV). Whether we’re teaching our children, our friends, our small group, we are going to be held to account for what we teach. It’s not by coincidence that this verse is followed by the stern requirements of watching what one says. We live in a world where many of the most popular preachers do not hold to the Bible on many teachings. The words that come out of their mouths are not scriptural, or perhaps worse, twist scripture to focus on health, wealth, and prosperity or treating God like some sort of cosmic genie for acquiring things or rationalizing away sin. The church today in general often substitutes speaking in catchphrases, “easy-believism”, and worldly self-help ideas in the place of firm, scripturally-based teaching and exegesis.

As James says later in this section, “My brothers, these things ought not be” (v. 10). Before we ever open our mouths in any sort of teaching capacity, we need to follow the New Testament example of the Bereans, who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If we were explaining to someone on how to defuse a bomb or perform open-heart surgery, we’d make sure every word was correct. God’s Word deserves an even higher level of respect when we share it. It’s easy to slide into “church-isms”—little phrases we like to use in fellowship that are nowhere in the Bible. With no basis in scripture, these can range from the culturally common (no, we don’t turn into angels when we die) to the self-indulgent (“God just wants you to be happy”). We can take nothing for granted, but have to truly read our Bibles and align our speech and teaching with the instructions we find therein.

In verse 6, James states the tongue is “a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life and set on fire by hell” (ESV). In the Greek, “hell” in this passage refers to Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinom, where a large, filthy trash fire continually burned just outside the city of Jerusalem. It was used by Christ (Matthew 5:22, Mark 9:43) as a representation of the sort of eternal torment that awaits the unregenerate sinful. In fact, in one of those passages, Matthew 5:22, Christ stated that those who utter verbal abuse to others are “in danger of the fire of hell” (ESV). These are not softball images, but hard, challenging concepts. Words are carelessly thrown about in our culture. Verbal abuse is thought high comedy or an art form. The name of the Lord is uttered in vain by individuals of all walks of life, without a thought to what is being said. Nasty, angry, careless, sinful thoughts are shared on social media, 140 letters at a time, status update by status update, a modern-day Gehenna that never stops burning.

Friends, curbing our tongue, watching what we say, thinking before we speak, and not instructing without firm knowledge are counter-cultural. The stakes are high, as the Bible reinforces time and time again, from Exodus 20:7 to Ephesians 5:3-5. It’s not just a sort of vapid, moralistic “speak nicely, because that’s nice” sentiment. It’s understanding that what we say is heard before a Holy God, and that those words will have an impact not just on our spiritual life, but on the spiritual lives of those around us. It’s remembering back in 1:26, James calls the religion of someone who cannot curb their tongue “worthless”. Before we ever speak, let us “take captive every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5), and remember this is not optional. Christians are called to a standard that is not that of the world (Ephesians 5:1-2, Romans 12:2). It’s not just saying the right thing, or going through a verbal checklist, but understanding God’s grace and pure holiness, the need for repentance and forgiveness, and continuing to abide in Him through prayer, hearing and reading His word, and acknowledging Him as sovereign over all.

-Zachary Houghton

Who Has Ears To Hear…

I don’t know where you find yourself this week, but our study in James has been landing some spiritual haymakers on me as we work through this first chapter. The half-brother of Jesus is never more direct than when he is discussing the way the Christian’s life should look. As we continue in James chapter 1, we find inspired words on a topic that is of vital importance in the church.

James 1:19-20 states, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (ESV). It’s easy at first glance to simply conclude this is simply a verse about a certain basic morality, and of course, it is good advice. After all, don’t most people want individuals to listen to them, to be patient, to not lose their temper at the first provocation?

However, let’s go on to James 1:21, and see the deeper principle at work here: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (ESV).

Verse 21, along with the bracketing verses of 18 and 22, are important because they link these practices, particularly listening, to receiving the “implanted word”—that is, the Gospel. Thinking about this in my life, I have to own to many times sitting in the pew at church, catching myself thinking about something else entirely or assuming because they’re reading out of a certain book of the Bible that I know what’s going to be said. Even in church, it is immensely easy to let worldly distractions leak in and take away our focus on hearing the Word of God. When we’re talking about the divine Word of God, James tell us it should be received with “meekness”. This word implies a respectful humility and focus in the hearing of God’s Word, and affording it the full weightiness and consideration it deserves. In a world where every year seems to offer more distractions, this type of focus doubtless seems harder than ever before.

I remember as a teenager (in the days where cell phones still were essentially a two-man lift) sitting in church, doodling what were in all likelihood rather unsuitable doodles for that particular time and place. My Mom would elbow me and tell me to put it away, the same as she would if I brought something not church-related to read or mess with during the service. In the same way, we need to put away outside distractions and thoughts aside when we’re hearing the Word of God. Thinking back to my early 20s, when I seemed so far from following the Lord, this was one of the ways I shut out anything outside the self as much as possible. Not content with limiting God’s Word in my life to the occasional Sunday I did go to church, I further limited it to the odd syllable that might slip in between my daydreaming, messing with electronics, or whatever way in which I was determined to show my complete indifference to what was being preached.

Of course, that’s a (hopefully) extreme example. For many of us, focusing in on the hearing of God’s Word is something we intend to do, but our lives just have so much else, don’t they? Much of it can even be church-related. After all, besides finding a babysitter for Tuesday, there’s the Discipleship Group meeting after the service, then we have to drop off the neighbor kids before picking them up for their Sunday night small group, then make lasagna for Mom’s Group, find someone to help with our youth sports team, and then, of course, someone is going to have to share that picture on Facebook that urges everyone to pass it on to 10 “Angels” in their lives. And before long, distraction has taken out that important core of knowing God through His Scripture, and changed it into a social melee that is missing something vital.

The rest of the Bible does not mince words on the importance of listening to God’s Word any more than James does. In fact, it’s a veritable broadside of verses, each citing the absolute necessity of this hearing. Romans 10:17 states “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. The old favorite, Psalm 119:105, proclaims “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path”. Matthew 4:4 speaks of living “by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. Hebrews 2:1 warns “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it”. The references continue. It is clear regularly hearing and receiving God’s Word is a necessity in the church.

Perhaps the most urgent verse again on listening to the Word of God preached comes from Romans 10:14, which states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” The Scripture simply does not leave any room for a vision of a church where the hearing of the Word is not of central importance.

We are indeed called to do life together, which includes a full dose of service and community, but not at the cost of focusing on God’s Word. What a sad thing it would be, to attend church and yet somehow miss out on the very thing we are to hide in each of our hearts! (Psalm 119:11). As busy as we are, we need that respite, that renewing of our minds and hearts by taking time to listen to God’s wonderful plans and promises. As brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s also something we need to ensure others in our church family have the opportunity to do, too. This isn’t just about ensuring we personally have the opportunity to listen and engage God’s Word, but in acting as a church family to ensure everyone among us has that opportunity. Galatians 5:13 reminds us that we are to “through love serve one another” (ESV). 1 Peter 4:10 speaks of using our gifts for the same reason. The Bible’s picture of the church is one in which the Word is heard and our brothers and sisters are served. Maybe it means staying for the later service and serving with the youth ministry, or volunteering to help with the actual service itself. The more helping hands that apply themselves to service, the more likely it is that someone will get to sit down, open themselves fully to God’s Word, and have that important, peaceful, convicting time hearing that message.

Whether it’s examining our own listening habits, or helping another have the time to hear expository preaching, James’ principle has a particular application for listening to the preaching from Scripture in our churches. In a humble, receptive, and thankful spirit, we are to receive God’s Word. The Bible is also clear we should be doing what we can do to serve and lift up others in our church, and one of the best ways to do that is to volunteer to give them that respite, that precious time to hear of God’s incredible promises. As a church family, each of us has an awesome responsibility and opportunity to hear and let be heard the word of God, and to let it “cut” (Hebrews 4:12) so very beautifully through all the distractions life throws in in our path.

-Zachary Houghton

The Story – Chapter 2: “God Builds a Nation”

After reading this chapter, you can’t help but wonder whether God was going about this nation-building business in entirely the wrong way. Consider:

  • Asking a successful, prosperous and God-fearing 75-year-old man to leave his homeland, pack up his family, servants, livestock and possessions and move to an unfamiliar land filled with pagans and unbelievers.
  • Promising him that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth and the stars of the sky – even though he and his wife were well past child-bearing age.
  • Making him and his wife wait for 25 years after this promise before their baby boy was finally born.
  • And then, testing the old man by ordering him to kill the boy as a sacrifice to God.

I mean, really? Is this any way to build a nation through whom “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed”? God could not have stacked the odds against the success of this nation-building enterprise any more than this. He took a big risk by placing an incredible amount of faith and trust in one man, Abram (later re-named Abraham), to kick off this important project.

And yet….

Abraham believed God through faith. In the New Testament book of Hebrews, the author defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This was the faith that was “credited to (Abraham) as righteousness,” which simply means that he was in right standing with God. To me, that’s a pretty good place to be.

Abraham’s faith was not without its flaws, however. In his impatience with God’s apparently slow timing, he decided (with the consent of his wife, Sarah) to have a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar. It may have been an accepted custom in that day, but this was not God’s plan. Nonetheless, God still showed grace and favor to Hagar and her son, Ishmael. But note the consequences: Sarah became jealous of Hagar and eventually insisted that she and her child, Ishmael, be banished from the family.

And God also showed grace and mercy to Abraham throughout the remainder of his life. It reminds me of the wonderful description of God found in Psalm 108: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will he keep his anger forever…For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward those who fear him.”

For me, the story of Abraham is another timely reminder of the concept of “asah shamah,” which means, “We will do, then we will understand.” It’s how we show God that we love and trust him, even and especially when things happen in life, both good and bad, that we just cannot comprehend.

As we will read in later chapters, this story is just one of several instances in which God takes a seemingly confusing, confounding, impossible and surprising path toward eventually fulfilling the covenant he made with Abraham.

And the good news is, you and I are part of this same amazing story. 

Ponder that.

In brotherly love,
Lew Middleton

The Story & Biblical Literacy

As a church, we are embarking on a 31-week adventure of reading The Story. During these weeks, we will experience the majority of the biblical narratives and gain a better understanding of God’s great plan to redeem his creation. It is our hope that this journey will not only awaken your heart to experience the brilliance of the Bible, but will also give you a deeper confidence in your knowledge of Scripture.

It is important for us as a culture to reengage the Scriptures with a new fervency. It is my belief that the good people of Hamilton County hold a respect for the Scriptures; however, for the most part, we do not know about the Grand Story of the Bible, nor about the God who is at work in our midst. So many of our attempts to get the gospel message out have resulted in whittling down of the Scriptures to look like nice and tight formulas. But the Bible isn’t a book of equations; rather, it a love story that God is writing with and through his creation. In this book, we experience a God who interacts with his people, leading them toward justice, mercy, forgiveness and love. 

One of our goals as a church is to increase the level of biblical literacy in our community. Our working definition of biblical literacy at WRCC is to “have the skill set to study Scripture and the wisdom to apply it to life.” There is a direct correlation between how often a person engages the Scriptures and his or her development as a disciple.

So what does it mean to be biblically literate? Does knowing Scripture equal knowing every fact and detail in the Bible? Does it mean that we are going to start having “sword drills” in our worship services and watch Keith Comp go through a battle royale with fellow church members? As enjoyable as this might be, this is not what biblical literacy means.

Having a skill set to study Scripture means that you know what sorts of questions you should be asking of the text. Questions like:

  • What is the context of the passage?
  • What is the historical, cultural, and economic backdrop to the text?
  • What type of literature is this? Is it poetry, prose, history, parable, letter?
  • What was the author, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, trying to tell the readers?

These are not questions we expect you to ask or answer on your own. The Scriptures were written with the intent of being read and understood within a community. While we should all be reading on our own, we come together every week to try to unpack these things together. This is why we encourage you to attend corporate worship and participate in a life group. It is only within a community that we can properly engage the Scriptures and gain the wisdom we need to apply them to our lives.

We encourage you to journey through The Story with us, learning about and experiencing the great plan of redemption that includes you and me and everyone around us. It is my prayer that we would each find our place within this great story as we venture through God’s word together.

 

Tom Rich
Discipleship Pastor