Singleness & Spirituality

Singleness & Spirituality

In the 2018 blog posts, I intend to focus on family and relationship matters as they relate to the spiritual life. I plan to share insights by way of both book reviews and devotional thoughts from God’s word. As you seek God in this new year, I hope that you’ll follow along, that you’ll be blessed by the content, and that you’ll receive some direction about where to look further for spiritual wisdom in relational and family matters. Our vision here at West is for Jesus to fill every heart, head, and hand. I pray that these articles may be one way of leaning into that vision.

With Saint Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, love is in the air! I’ve been taking the same beautiful gal out on dates at this time for nearly 13 years now, so for me, the decision of “Who?” has been settled. Now, the decisions are narrowed to “Where?” “When?” and “How do we secure a babysitter before everyone else does?!” However, many of my friends are still asking that first “Who?” question, and they’re not just asking it for February 14th, but they’re asking it about their lifelong partner. “Who?”

Unique Challenges to the Single Life

I want to acknowledge the unique challenges of the single life today, at least the ones I am aware of. I add that disclaimer, because honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be single today. I was single over fourteen years ago. Things have changed. Yet, some things are timeless for any single person of any era. Single people today wrestle with God about their marital status; some single people may be disappointed. You may feel like you missed your only chance to be happy, and you are still blaming yourself. Others wonder if they’ve waited too long. Impatience short-circuits the spiritual development needed to prepare you for what is next. The single person may find it difficult to find his or her place and voice in the church’s vision, mission, and goals. You may be dating someone right now, and you are looking for guidance. Finally, some of you are boiling angry that the thing that people notice most about you is your singleness, instead of the gazillion other wonderful things about you (Cue: SCREAM!!! Go ahead; let it out.).

In 2011, I performed a cultural assessment on the layers of the world’s voice and message to people, particularly in the areas of romance and singleness. The world has something to say to you, but it is the way of folly. The way of folly always leads to a grave of many kinds of spiritual death. The single, faithful Christian set on purity and pursuing God will receive ridicule from the world. Virginity today is mocked instead of treasured and protected. Unfortunately, single people who seek refuge in the church often encounter an even more perplexing, profound, and painful mockery. I have talked to single adults throughout my years and places of ministry who have experienced blindspots in the church when it comes to singles. For example, the church hurts singles when it carries the unspoken “rule” that marriage is the rite of passage into true adulthood.

Unique Joys in the Single Life

I also want to encourage the unique joys of the single life. It can be a season of unique friendship. The single life may provide a unique opportunity for adventure, education, career advancement, and spiritual maturity. It is a time for your skill in living to develop in areas such as finance, responsibilities, exercise, and trades and crafts that will benefit you and others. It most definitely presents a time of unique Christian ministry—particularly in connecting with and edifying children, tweens, and teens. Don’t worry; I’m going to catch myself here: Single adults also have a unique ministry to the church and its adult ministries. A faithful, single Christian adult is able to write, teach, and minister with a clarity, conviction, and boldness that sometimes escapes married people because the affections of our hearts are divided. Paul—a faithful, single Christian—called married people out on this, remember?

He wrote,

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another . . . I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, 26–35).

I have had the privilege to serve with an array of solid, single people throughout my pastoral ministry. They don’t simply acquire joy, but they spread their joy to those around them. They are often very self-less with their time, resources, and giftedness. The church is the body of Christ, and single people are significant members of the body—both historically and today.

Harmonizing with God’s Voice

Single friends, keep seeking God. Harmony is a wonderful sound to experience. God’s voice is clear, constant, reliable, and trustworthy. We must find his voice on the matters of the spiritual life. I’d like to share a number of harmonic voices that have helped me explore God’s wisdom on the single life. This list is by no means conclusive; in fact, I would love to hear from single people about what they’re reading these days on Christian spirituality and the single life. I hope that in the end you are able to find your voice and add it to the harmony. Here are a few resources that impacted my life in a way that matured my spirituality as a single person and a couple of newer ones that I recently encountered:

Oldies But Goodies

  1. The Bible — Well, duh Captain Obvious. I know, but seriously; consider all of the single writers and characters of the Bible (e.g., Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah). Still further, consider the characters whom we observe both as single and married (e.g., Joseph, David, Ruth, Naomi, etc.). Clearly, God employs people who are single to advance his purposes on the world stage. God made us, understands us, and cares for us. What kind of theology of the single life might you gain from studying God’s word from this perspective?
  2. He That Is Spiritual — I’ve read this book several times. I’ve gone back to it again and again when teaching on the spiritual life. It was written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1918. The book is an exposition on the (1) Natural Person, (2) Spiritual Person, (3) Carnal Person (the Christian who should be mature, but isn’t), and (4) Spiritual Infant (a new Christian). For Chafer, the key to the spiritual life is understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit available to you in Christ alone. As a single person, this book helped establish me on a path of seeking the filling of the Spirit and of trusting in his works of grace in my life. It helped me put away some childish things and embrace the responsibility for my spiritual life.
  3. Basic Theology — It doesn’t have to be this particular theology for you, but every single person should work though a volume on basic Christian theology. What do you believe? It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to be able to share. I went through Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology numerous times. I used it for teaching early on in my ministry.
  4. Wild at Heart — Aimee, my wife, reminded me the other day how important this book was to me when we first met. She’s right. Wild at Heart was written by John Eldridge. This book is for men, but ladies, I hope you can find something that is equivalent. There comes a point in every adult’s life where they have to face their past—things that were in our control and things that were not but affected us nonetheless. This book helped me confess, heal, and advance as a man who wanted to experience God.
  5. I Kissed Dating GoodbyeThere are actually some interesting, current developments going on with this 90s–2000s classic. For me in my own experience, it exposed the sexual and emotional sewage in which I had been swimming. It showed me the lies that I’d believed about love, trust, dating, happiness, purity, and more. It helped me discern what matters at 50. It caused me to be honest about the sickness in my heart. It challenged me in the area of genuine friendship. Joshua Harris had some wise things to say back in 1997 that are still relevant today; however, he may be presently fine-tuning his thoughts on IKDG. As a new Christian in 2001 wondering what on earth Christian spirituality in dating was supposed to look like, this book helped me.
  6. The Book of Romance — Harris’ book deconstructed my non-biblical worldview for dating, but Tommy Nelson’s book helped build something new in its place. Nelson looks at the biblical book of the Song of Songs, and paints a beautiful picture of what romance can be like for the person who loves God.
  7. Passion and Purity — Elisabeth Elliot’s book interwove the spiritual life and the romantic life by means of her own story. As a man, the book gave me insight into a woman’s perspective. A new edition was released in 2002. She’s real about our passions; she’s tenacious about purity. She understands that whatever estate we may find ourselves in, our lives must be brought under Christ’s control and lordship.

Newbies

  1. Just Do Something — Every Christian at some point has to have a frank conversation about “God’s will” for their lives. If you’re like me, you needed more than one conversation to clear the fog. John MacArthur has a sermon that I have listened to again and again for years. More recently, Kevin DeYoung authored this book. I love the subtitle: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.
  2. Gospel Fluency — In the Christian’s spiritual life either at the beginning or at a point of revival or re-commitment, he or she must encounter the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING. When it is replaced by some counterfeit, the whole of Christianity crumbles. Jeff Vanderstelt places the gospel on the throne of the spiritual life.
  3. Exploring Christian Theology — If Ryrie is a little too old school for you, then try this three-volume set. Don’t worry; each volume isn’t too terribly long. The authors are professors whom I spent time with in seminary, and they have really put together a great beginner’s theology that also connects with the devotional life.
  4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — And may I add, single guy. Bonhoeffer was engaged, and he has some other books on that particular topic. However, his engagement was cut short. Eric Metaxas’ biography shows how God was at work in Bonhoeffer’s life and how he redeemed the time during evil days.
  5. Your Money Map — This book by Howard Dayton is one in a long line of succession from Larry Burkett’s influence. As a single Christian, one of the most beneficial things I did was to complete a financial workbook that gave me a sense of what God has to say about money. Single or married, a person needs to know how to handle money, or it will handle you!
  6. Living Together — In a world where cohabitation is on the rise and viewed as a smart thing to do, this book offers biblical insight and wisdom on the matter, particularly for those who find themselves in a situation to give advice. It’s written by my former pastor, Jeff VanGoethem. All the research says the same thing—cohabitation lays a poor foundation for marriage as a sacred covenant and as a life-long commitment. Single adults need to wake up about this, and the church needs to know how to approach the trend with grace and truth.

There are many more books that could or should be included. but these are some with which I have become familiar. I hope that you’ll let me know what book or stories God has used in your life as a single person. Face the challenges with courage. Embrace the joys with great delight. Remember that Jesus loves you; he has not lost track of you in the crowd. May the church be blessed by your presence.

Creation and Evolution: Introducing Genesis

Creation Genesis

Creation Evolution Ancient Hebrew Universe

Creation. Evolution. Ancient and Modern people have observe(d) the universe. Above, you’ll see the ancient Hebrew conception of the universe. The ancient Hebrews were also surrounded by various and diverse cultural and theological narratives about the origin of all things. In our day, there are also many opinions — some emphasize theology, some emphasize science, some trying to harmonize the two — regarding the origin of the universe. I hope that the notes and resources shared below assist you in gaining a better grasp at what is being said in the early chapters of Genesis.

 

Helpful Definitions for Creation and Evolution

Evolution

It is the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form. Micro-evolution is evolutionary change within a species or small group of organisms, especially over a short period. Macro-evolution is major evolutionary transition from one type of organism to another occurring at the level of the species and higher taxa.

Natural Selection

The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring is called natural selection. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution. If I understand it correctly, atheistic evolutionists would say that natural selection is the “mind” behind evolution. However, theistic evolutionists would believe that God is the “mind” behind the use of natural selection in the natural processes of evolution.

Creation

Creation is the bringing into existence of the universe, especially when regarded as an act of God ex nihilo (“out of nothing”).

Abiogenesis

It is the original evolution of life or living organisms from inorganic or inanimate substances. Spontaneous Generation was one hypothesis of abiogenesis. This is the supposed production of living organisms from nonliving matter, as inferred from the apparent appearance of life in some supposedly sterile environments. Dismissed in 18th century. Biopoiesis is a more recent articulation of abiogenesis, which is a process by which living organisms are thought to develop from nonliving matter, and the basis of a theory on the origin of life on Earth. According to this theory, conditions were such that, at one time in Earth’s history, life was created from nonliving material, probably in the sea, which contained the necessary chemicals. During this process, molecules slowly grouped, then regrouped, forming ever more efficient means for energy transformation and becoming capable of reproduction.

Epistemology

Epistemology is the study of how humans know things, or acquire knowledge. The Christian understand both science and revelation to be sources of human knowledge.

General Revelation

The universe is believed to be one way in which God has chosen to make himself and certain attributes known to all people.

Special Revelation

The Bible, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, miracles are special ways in which God has chosen to make himself known to people at various places and at various times. We learn many more specifics about God and his nature through special revelation.

Christian Views on Origins and Creation

Theistic Evolution

God created the universe and everything in it by means of natural processes. See BioLogos for detailed articles and videos explaining this view.

Gap Theory

Creation Evolution Gap Theory
from Blue Letter Bible Article “Nine Views of Creation”
God intends the reader of Scripture and Creation to understand an unspecified but implied “Gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. A variation of this theory is called the Restoration Theory. The Scofield Reference Bible study notes explain the Gap Theory, and Dr. Tony Evans articulates the Restoration Theory in his writings and sermons on Spiritual Warfare. Genesis 1:2 describes the earth as an unfurnished, unsightly, wasteland shrouded in darkness. Gap Theory proponents ascribe this to the fall of Satan and its effect upon the earth.

Day-Age Theory

The term “day” in Genesis 1 represents ages or eras of creation rather than literal 24-hour days.

Apparent-Age Theory

God created the universe and everything in it with apparent age. As the wine Jesus created from water in John 2 had apparent age, so then did the universe come into being with maturity.

Punctuated 24-Hour Theory

While the term “day” is a literal, 24-hour day, the Punctuated Theory teaches that there were unspecified “gaps” between each day of creation.

Scientific Creationism

Scientific Creationism aims to provide scientific support for the literal reading of the narrative of Genesis 1 and holds that the earth is young (e.g., approximately 10,000 or so years old). Henry Morris and the group Answers in Genesis are two of the leading proponents of this view.

24-Hour Interpretation

This view, like the one previously mentioned, holds to a straightforward reading of Genesis 1. “Day” means a literal 24-hour day. It does not differ significantly from the previous view. Perhaps, they should be combined. One variation that may occur is that Scientific Creationism may at times look at its particular interpretation of scientific data in order to arrive at the young earth, 24-hour view; whereas, the 24-hour interpretation tries to start with Scripture.

Instantaneous Creation

Some early church writers such as Augustine and Origen believed that God created the universe virtually instantaneously, wondering something like, “Why would it take God a whole day to create the universe by the power of his word?” Therefore, the “day” in Genesis 1 was not literal for them, but different than many Christians today who look to “add” time to the “day,” instead they sought to “shrink” the day to an instant.

Framework Interpretation

Creation Evolution Framework
from Blue Letter Bible article “Nine Views of Creation”
This view also attempts to start with Scripture and work out toward explanation of origins and creation. It views the “days” of creation as providing a framework for understanding creations kingdoms and their respective kings. Therefore, it does not understand the intent of the original author as trying to give us a literal rendering of the origin of the universe, but rather than chronology, the aim of Genesis 1 is to give the theological ordering of the creation.

Historical Creationism

This interesting view, represented most recently by John H. Sailhamer, teaches that the creation of the universe is recorded in Genesis 1:1. The verses following detail God’s creation of Eden and his preparation of it for his people. Theologically, “Eden” continues to function throughout the story of the Bible as the place of blessing to which God is calling his people to return. It shares similarities with the Gap Theory. The “place of blessing” theme can be seen and realized in God’s call of Israel to the promised land and in God’s call of the church into the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem.

Temple Creation

John Walton’s works The Lost World of Genesis One and Genesis 1 As Ancient Cosmology are also theological renderings of Genesis 1. He claims that Genesis 1 describes God creating a temple for himself on the earth, which he calls the garden of Eden. This temple theme can be traced throughout Scripture — the tabernacle, the temple, the church, and finally a “return to Eden” in the new heaven and new earth.

Essential Considerations for the Christian

  1. Christians everywhere for all times have believed that the God of the Bible is the “great Cause” of the universe. The Apostles’ Creed says, “We believe in God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.” We must hold to God as Creator.
  2. Humanity is God’s special, most unique creation. A linguistic analysis of Genesis 1, such as the one performed by Robert Bergen in the book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith?, reveals that the author’s clear intention is to cause the reader to focus on verses 24–31 as the central episode of the narrative. The rest of Scripture affirms the uniqueness of humanity among created things. Therefore, the Christian’s view of origins and creation—whatever it may be—must also affirm the unique place of humanity in God’s creation purposes. I believe this also carries significant ethical implications.
  3. The one man-sin-death theme is carefully woven through the entire biblical narrative. Whether Adam is the literal first man or is the divinely appointed federal head of humanity, the Christian must somehow maintain this theme in his or her view of origins and creation. Further and in my opinion, the most difficult harmonization between Christian theology and evolutionary theory is the role of death in each narrative. There seems to be no way to interpret death as a positive feature or experience in the biblical story. It is an enemy to be overcome by resurrection. Yet, in typical evolutionary theory, death is a vehicle of positive process and development. To some, it is something that helps creation develop and flourish; to others, it is in the very least necessary, even if unpleasant.
  4. The Bible is authoritative, and I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, so long as such a view of inerrancy is informed with regard to literary genres and their required needs for interpretation. The church everywhere and for all times has always believed in the authority of the Scriptures. So, how does today’s Christian manage the authority of Scripture with the authority of Science? It is a delicate walk; yet I believe that there is a way to do it, even to find harmony between the two. I have to, because I believe the same God who revealed himself in the Bible is the same God who makes himself known in study of the universe. May we be humble and astounded by the greatness of our God in our pursuit and study of his world and his word.

The Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

Epistle of James

Epistle of James: Godly Living in an Ungodly World

On Sunday, we concluded our 5-month study of the Epistle of James. What a challenging message! We explored various themes for Godly Living in an Ungodly World. Here, I am providing the title to each sermon, and the basic outline that accompanied each sermon. I hope you are able to use this in your personal Bible study in James and perhaps as you have opportunities to lead others in the study of this book of the Bible.

Epistle of James: Sermon Series Titles and Outline

Introduction: Explore Godly Living in an Ungodly World (1:1) 
  • The Author: James, the brother of Jesus Christ
  • The Date & Place of Writing: Mid-forties A.D. from Palestine
  • The Setting in Life: The difficulties, persecution, economic oppression, and community disharmony of Palestinian and scattered Jewish Christians in the 1st century Roman world.
  • The Form & Content of the Letter: The letter appears to be an edition of James’ own sermons covering such themes as suffering, wisdom, regeneration, a primitive Christology and eschatology echoing the teachings and sayings of Jesus himself, poverty & wealth, the tongue, and the relationship of law, grace, faith, and works of charity. James’ use of “my brothers” or “brothers” is a notable feature and guide throughout the letter.
The Godly Person Endures Tests Joyfully for Maturity (1:2–4).
  • Don’t Divert, but Direct Your Thinking During Tests (1:2–3).
  • Don’t Divert, But Develop Your Endurance During Tests (1:4).
The Godly Person Stays on Track to Maturity by Praying for Wisdom in Testing (1:5–8).
  • Two Problems May Derail Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5a, 6b–8).
  • Two Solutions Will Keep You on Track to Maturing Faith in Testing (1:5b–6a).
The Godly Person Calculates Life by Eternal, Not Temporal, Wealth (1:9–11).
  • The Poor Christian Must Look for Godly Glory Because of Eternal Renewal (1:9, 11).
  • The Rich Person Must Look for Godly Dependance Because of the Eternal Reversal (1:10–11).
The Godly Person Perseveres to Eternal Life through Testing by the New Birth (1:12–18).
  • Persevere to Eternal Life (1:12).
  • Persevere Through Internal Temptation (1:13–15).
  • Persevere by the Internal Transformation of the New Birth (1:16–18).
The Godly Person Heeds Wisdom’s Warning about Anger by Hospitably Hosting the Gospel (1:19–21).
  • Heed Wisdom’s Warning about Anger (1:19).
  • Hunger for God’s Justice Instead of Anger (1:20).
  • Hospitably Host the Regenerating Word for Transformation (1:21).
The Godly Person Perseveres Beyond Hearing to Doing the Word (1:22–25).
  • Beware Deception about the Regenerating Word (1:22).
  • Blessing Belongs to Those Who Persevere Beyond Hearing to Doing (1:23–25).
The Godly Person Awakes to Regenerate Religion (1:26–27).
  • Wake Up from Dead Religion (1:26).
  • Wake Up to Living Religion (1:27).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 1 (2:1–7).
  • Heal Community Poverty (2:1–7).
    • Let Jesus Level You (2:1).
    • Obey Your Calling As a Good Judge (2:2–4).
    • Share God’s Burden for the Poor (2:5).
    • Evaluate Whose Side You’re On (2:6–7).
The Godly Person Pulverizes Partiality Out of His/Her Faith – Part 2 (2:8–13).
  • Heal Spiritual Poverty (2:8–13).
    • Live Under the Royal Law of Liberty (2:8–12).
    • Love Mercy More Than Strict Justice (2:13).
The Godly Person Has a Regenerate Faith That Extends Life (2:14–17).
  • Into Eternity (2:14).
  • To Others (2:15–16).
  • By Works (2:17).
The Godly Person Proves His/Her Faith Profession by Corresponding Works (2:18–26).
  • Close the Gap between Faith and Works (2:18).
  • Complete Your Faith (2:19–25).
  • Capture the Correlation (2:26).
The Godly Person Steers the Tongue to Arrive at Maturity by Limiting and Harnessing It (3:1–5a).
  • Limit Tongues That Teach (3:1–2).
  • Harness the Tongue’s Teaching Influence (3:3–5a).
The Godly Person Sparks a Revival of Words (3:5b–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Spark for Heaven’s Spark (3:5b–6).
  • Trade Hell’s Tongue for Heaven’s Tongue (3:7–12).
  • Trade Hell’s Heart for Heaven’s Heart (cf. 1:18, 21; Mt. 15:7–20).
The Godly Person Harvests Harmony with Heaven’s Wisdom (3:13–18).
  • Evidence Your Leadership (3:13).
  • Evict the Party Spirit (3:14–16).
  • Exchange for Heaven’s Wisdom (3:17).
The Godly Person Weeps over His Words Today for a Better Harvest Tomorrow (4:1–10).
  • Weep over Your Desires for War in the Congregation (4:1–3).
  • Weep Like an Adulterer Discovered by a Jealous Spouse (4:4–5).
  • Weep to Find Grace for a Better Harvest (4:6–10).
The Godly Person Places His Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–17).
  • Place Your Social Words Under God’s Authority (4:11–12).
  • Place Your Vocational Words Under God’s Authority (4:13–17).
The Godly Person B.A.N.K.S. on God’s Justice for the Oppressed (5:1–6).
  • Beware the Miseries of Wealth Gained by Exploitation (5:1–3).
  • Attend to the Cries of the Oppressed (5:4).
  • Neglect Luxury, Not Justice (5:5).
  • Keep the Lord Jesus in View (5:6).
The Godly Person Energizes Endurance in the Church by Elevating Faith in Christ’s Return (5:7–12).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Perseverance of the Saints (5:7–8).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Community Harmony (5:9).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Ancient Hope (5:10–11).
  • Christ’s Return Energizes Daily Truthfulness (5:12)
The Godly Person Cares for the Condition of the Congregation (5:13–20 & Conclusion).
  • Cry Out with the Sufferer (5:13a).
  • Cheer with the Cheerful (5:13b).
  • Confess with the Sick (5:13c–16b).
  • Consider the Powerful Prophet (5:16c–18).
  • Call the Wanderer Home (5:19–20).

2016 WLC Pastoral Intern: Seth Larson

Getting Started

Before I started my internship with Rex Howe, I believed that a pastor’s’ role in a church is to lead the congregation that God has placed him to lead. I still believe this, but I now realize that I thoroughly underplayed the role of a pastor in a church, but I will get back to that later.

I decided to enroll in this internship during the winter of 2015. I had been in close contact with my friend, Mitch Friestad, and he expressed that he enjoyed his time in the year previous with Rex as his intern. Once I told Rex about my ambitions to become his intern, he asked me what I wanted to get out of the internship. I had no idea. I think he could tell by my expressionless look that I was racking my brain to find an answer to a question that, to a normal person, should have required no thought . . . But I’m no normal person. Rex began listing off different things that we could go over as an internship. He mentioned things like biblical theology, pastoral ministries, missions, apologetics, and religious philosophy. My ears perked up when he said apologetics. I have always enjoyed the art of defending the Christian faith. There had been times when I was at work or I was at school, and someone would bring up their doubt or hatred of Christianity, and I was immediately happy, because that meant I had the opportunity to, “Give an answer to anyone who asks me for the reason for the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15b). So, Christian Apologetics is where we decided to focus the internship.

Ministry Description and Experience

Studying 1 Peter 3:15, we discovered that there are two kinds of apologetics—a professional, academic kind and a pastoral, equipping the lay congregation kind. Because of these two distinct paths, we also decided to briefly dive into what it looks like to be a pastor of a church, on account that I would like to be a pastor some day. Through the course of the internship, we read 2 books. One titled, Apologetics for a New Generation by Sean McDowell, and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Both of these books were amazing. We also read most of the Gospel of John. We also watched a series of apologetics videos by Voddie Baucham such as how to use apologetics appropriately and expository apologetics. Towards the end of my internship, we did a project. I asked my peers what they thought was the number one spiritual question that their peers asked. We received a ton of great feedback. When the poll was finished, the most voted question was, “How can a good God allow pain and suffering?” As it turned out, Rex has a friend named Rick Rood (author of Our Story . . . His Story) who was very qualified to answer this question. I then spent a day finding eleven sub-questions[1] related to the main question of God, pain, and suffering. We made contact with Rick through Skype, a computer software that allows face-to-face video chatting, and asked him all of the sub-questions that I developed:

  1. Does God have control over my pain?
  2. If God allows these things to happen (pain and suffering), then does he love/care for me?
  3. Is there a bigger plan to my pain?
  4. Do other religions have an explanation as to why there is pain and suffering? If so, what are they?
  5. Does God understand/sympathize with our pain?
  6. Can God take away my pain or suffering? If so, why doesn’t God take away my pain/suffering?
  7. Does God find joy in my pain and suffering?
  8. Is my pain or suffering always the consequence of something that I have done?
  9. What part do I play in rededying my pain?
  10. How does the theme of pain and suffering develop in God’s story?
  11. How do I become a blessing to those who are in pain and suffering?

We recorded the conversation. I then did a two-week bible study at West Lisbon that involved showing the youth group the footage of the video conference between us and Rick via iMovie, and the second week I talked to the youth group about apologetics. Both of these went very well.

Internship Reflections

I remember at the end of the year thinking “I learned so much about apologetics, but I didn’t learn as much about how to be a pastor.” I didn’t have many one-on-one conversations about what it’s like to be in the pastoral ministry like we did with apologetics. Then I thought, maybe he was teaching me a little differently. Then I realized, I think that he was teaching me, just without talking. He led by example. He showed me how to be a leader by never being afraid to pause our internship to help anyone that came into the church that needed to talk to him. He taught me to be spontaneous by going to subway and reading John just because it was beautiful outside. He taught me to not be afraid to talk in front of people by having me do a bible study in front of my peers for two weeks. He showed me that to do what God calls me to do, I have to be willing to do the hard things, like when he truly showed me how much he preps for a Sunday sermon and how much work that entails. And finally, he showed me the imperativeness of mentoring others and sharing your knowledge with others. He did this by being gracious enough to allow me to study under him for a semester of school and gain some of the knowledge that he holds.

So now, when I think of all of the things that a pastor does, it isn’t a once every seven day gig. It is a nonstop job that only few have been given the gifts from God to carry out. My words can’t do a justice to what this internship has done for me, and I hope and pray that I am not the last to receive all that has been given to me in the last year. And above all, I thank God and Rex for all that I have learned since January.

Sincerely,

Seth Larson

2016 WLC Pastoral Intern

[1] Rick’s answers to these questions are available and can be printed or emailed. Please contact Pastor Rex to get a copy.

Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life – Part 2

Last month in The Messenger, I shared three of six principles that I learned during a season of singleness several years ago: Mission, Love, and Purity. This month, I want to continue writing about the final three—Trust, Loyalty, and Community.
Navigate Trust

The Greek word used in the New Testament for our English verb “to believe” is πιστεύω (pis-teu-O), and its range of meaning is

to entrust oneself to an entity in complete confidence, believe (in), trust, with implication of total commitment to the one who is trusted. In our literature, God and Christ are objects of this type of faith that relies on their power and nearness to help, in addition to being convinced that their revelations or disclosures are true (BDAG entry). 

Growing to trust God’s reliability should be the desire of every Christian, regardless of their marital status. Do you trust him with your singleness? Do you trust him with your marriage? Do you trust him when there’s brokenness? The Scriptures teach that humans were created to believe God and his word. Our depravity tempts us to doubt and reject God’s reliability. The love of God in Christ’s salvation calls us to contrition, so that we turn from unbelief toward belief again. In the restoration at the end, our faith will become sight. My point here is to demonstrate that to believe and trust God is human. Faith is something that grows; it’s dynamic and developing, setting us free from unbelief as we walk with God in the present and remember his past faithfulness. A “mustard seed” of faith can go a long way, because the object of our faith is so strong and steady. A little bit of trust in God can change your life, because he is so trustworthy. So, wherever you find yourself relationally, take the advice of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there.” The purpose of this quote is not to say that the single person should not/will not ever get married, but rather do not fail to exhaust all that God has for you to learn while your single. Trust him with the seasons of your life. Willingly offer to him your dreams by loosening your grip on singleness and marriage, and allow him to fill your hands with his dreams for singleness and marriage (1 Corinthians 7).

Navigate Loyalty

Loyalty to something outside of the self is highly suspect today. To me, there is an obvious connection with this cultural trend and problems in the family and in the church. Christians should be asking, “How does God feel about loyalty? Does he think it is a virtue or a vice?” The Scriptures are clear that God himself is loyal, faithful, and steadfast in his love (Psalm 26:3); however, the Scriptures also testify to the uniqueness of loyalty among humans: 

Many people profess their loyalty, but a faithful person–who can find? (Proverbs 20:6 NET). 

Therefore, God is loyal and desires it among humans who bear his image. 

The single person should practice loyalty. Whether you marry or not, loyalty is a virtue that will benefit you in every walk of life, especially in marriage. One place where you can practice loyalty is your local church—be loyal when it’s hard and even when you disagree. You’ll have plenty of difficult and disagreeing days when you get married. I think that the Scriptures indicate that loyalty can be hard even when we agree in our relationships with God, church, family, and others. We were created by God to experience life through loyalty to him. Sin divided our loyalty into loyalties. Jesus came and is coming again to be Lord of our loyalties. Practice steadfast love and faithfulness now. 

Married people are wise to intentionally practice loyalty to their spouses, by continuing to learn and lean on God’s loyalty. God is loyal to his people in every way, even when it comes to death on a cross to save them. In our world of technology and mobility, there are married people who think that they can get away with living two lives. However, God knows the loyalties of our hearts, sees every action, and is Judge of all. His all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful presence is not hindered by geography or technology. Married people have entered into a covenant with God for one another, and this covenant is a liberating restriction, refining our loyalty. As Paul taught the Galatians about Christian living,

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13). 

The Scriptures are clear that the loyalty expressed to one’s spouse is a parable and picture about God’s loyal love to us in the gospel (Ephesians 5:22–33). Maybe you’re divorced and single. What does the practice of loyalty look like for you? Your situation could be very complex, and I do not feel we should minimize all of the potential difficulties and obstacles to loyalty in some cases. Maybe you were and are loyal, but your husband or wife was not or is not. Maybe you were the one who failed to be loyal. By God’s grace, let’s ask, what does it look like for you to be loyal today? What does it look like for you to imitate the gospel-kind of loyalty that God displays—today? Is God calling you to be loyal to your marriage covenant, even though your spouse has not been? What is God asking you do? Is God asking you to pray? Reach out again? The Scriptures are clear that what God unites as “one flesh,” man is unable to separate—no matter what human law may say. Some of you may already be remarried, or you are single, but your former spouse is already remarried. Wherever you are, be all there, and seek to be full of God and his word. Begin practicing loyalty today. If you’re remarried, be loyal in your current marriage. If you are single, practice loyalty in your church, in your family, and in your friendships. 

Navigate Community

Lastly, I see community as extremely beneficial to the single person and the married person. As a single person, I was on the receiving end of some great advice and counselors. I am very thankful for those men and women who spoke truth into my life as I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a man who walked with God. The community of believers in the local church should be a great resource for the single person; however, too often, a pastor hears horror stories about things that are said to single people in the church. Single people strengthen the community and the mission. The community should also be a greenhouse for the single person to grow in his or her relationship with God, no matter if marriage is or is not in his or her future. The married couple also needs the community. Marriage is enjoyable and hard—it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. The church is a place of support when there is sorrow (Matt. 5:4); the church is a place of counseling when there’s conflict (Rom. 15:14); the church is a place of honest rebuke and correction when there is sin (Matt. 18:15–20); the church is a place of grace when there is repentance about failure (2 Cor. 2:7–11); the church is a place of celebration when families hit milestones and spiritual markers (Philem. 4–5). The married couple and their story also contribute to the community. Young adults need to see decades of joy and perseverance in marriage. The married couple that has children knows how to love other children too. The married couple who does not or cannot have children of their own can become spiritual mothers and fathers to the children of the church. The church needs single and married people. Single and married people need the church. Best of all, single and married people who claim Christ as Savior and King share him in common, and he is our peace. Our marital statuses are different, but our Lord is one.

I hope that these six principles—Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community—will help you navigate the waters of the single life and the married life. I pray that the Spirit of Truth will always be your teacher, for he always seeks to glorify the gospel of Jesus in and through you. May he speak to you through the word of God in the season in which you currently are seeking him.

Navigating Relationships in the Christian Life: Singleness and Marriage

Singleness

A lady wanted to marry four different men in her lifetime. She said each one would help her with the four things she needed most. First, she wanted to marry a banker. Second, a movie star. Next, a clergyman. And finally, a funeral director. When asked why, she answered, “One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!” (Chuck Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life).

Well, that’s certainly one way of looking at it! Last Sunday at West Lisbon, we began the last of four sermon series that have highlighted our core Biblical and Historical Principles: (1) The Worship of God, (2) The Gospel Mission, (3) The Spiritual Life, and (4) The Family. Last week, we sought to recover God’s vision for the family, which starts with recognizing God’s original intent and purpose in creating humanity. He created us to be his image-bearers, singing us into being (Gen.1:27), and he blessed humanity, giving them special power and privilege to fill the earth with the image of God and to carry our his purposes in history. This Sunday, May 15th, we’ll look at how strong singles strengthen the mission of the gospel (1 Cor. 7:25–35).

In light of the series and our current sermon topics, I decided to write to you about navigating relationships in the Christian life. It is my hope to employ my experience and the Bible to give direction to those who are single with no intention to marry right now, others who are single and actively seeking a potential spouse, and even those who are presently engaged to be married to another. At the end, I’ll also reference some further reading on the topic.

At the beginning of 2002, I was a new Christian, in the middle of college and undecided about my degree and career path, and engaged to be married. By the end of 2002, I was still growing in my Christian faith with a new burden to learn from the Bible what it meant to be a Christian man and servant-leader. I also switched colleges in order to study Bible and Theology. I was no longer engaged to be married. I wondered if I ever would get married, if God had called me to a life of singleness, and if I was capable of being a godly husband. In hindsight, I see so many things that I did wrong, but I did one thing that was very helpful to my spiritual growth—I took two years to read, study, pray, and develop relationships with other godly men with the aim of becoming one myself by God’s grace. There was nothing magical about two years, it just happened to be the period of time that God gave to me to figure some things out. There are six principles that I learned to navigate during that time that I want to share with you and which I hope are helpful to your walk with Christ: Mission, Love, Purity, Trust, Loyalty, and Community.

Navigating Mission

Did you know that you were created for a mission? Not just any mission, but God’s mission. Genesis 1:26–28 explains that God made humanity for the purposes of bearing his image and ruling as his representatives on the earth. Image-bearing refers primarily to the spiritual side of our identity. Remember, God is spirit (John 4:24), so the way in which we bear his image is spiritual. In Genesis 1:26 and 28, God also blessed humanity with dominion over the earth. Tony Evans describes this dominion as

ruling on God’s behalf in history so that history comes under God’s authority.

God sang you into existence (Gen. 1:27), and he created you for the ultimate mission. Life is all about this mission. It also implies that there is opposition. Why else would God’s rule and dominion need to be established so that the earth is filled with his image-bearers? Satan opposes God and his rule, and therefore, he opposes humans and their God-given mission. We are God’s representatives sent into enemy territory.

Reading in Genesis 3, we discover that Satan gained what appeared to be a key victory over our first parents. In the temptation, Adam and Eve failed to bear God’s image, and they failed to exercise their dominion over the creatures of the sea, air, and land by submitting themselves to the snake. Sin shattered the image-bearers; humans surrendered their dominion to the enemy. However, God resolved to continue his plan to fill the earth with his glory and dominion. Now, the mission is not so much about procreation as it is spiritual rebirth. Jesus said,

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3; cf. Titus 3:3–7).

Notice how the rule of God is now tied together with the new birth by the Spirit. How do we participate in this mission of new birth leading to a recovery of God’s rule? We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. His faithful death and resurrection regenerates the soul, restores the image-bearing mission of humanity, and makes way for the kingdom of God on the earth.

If you are single, have you methodically and intentionally thought through the implications of the gospel mission on your life? Is God finished utilizing your single years for his “gospel-schooling”? Remember,

For we are his poem, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

If you are considering marriage or are already married, how is God calling you as a couple to give your lives for the gospel mission? Humans were created for image-bearing and for God’s dominion. Jesus saves us to restore this mission. This is bedrock. This is why you exist. It’s why you’re here, and his grace has everything you need to live a life of significance—single or married.

Navigating Love

I once bought—hook, line, and sinker—into our culture’s description of love. Even Merriam-Webster is too simplistic when it comes to defining love,

a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; a person you love in a romantic way.

Notice the words . . . feeling . . . attraction . . . romantic. For sure, this is one side of love—companionship, affection, feeling, and romance—but our American concept of love ignores the key element of love—choice that leads to selfless action. Biblical love is the love that denies oneself for the benefit and interest of others. The love of God for us through the work of Christ is described in this way.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:3–5).

Later, the apostle John writes,

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (1 John 3:16).

This kind of sacrificial love is demanded of husbands in Ephesians 5:25.

When we are born again, believing in Jesus Christ, God begins again to shape us into his image-bearers. The Holy Spirit indwells us, and his presence is accompanied by a fruitfulness, part of which is this kind of love. I learned years ago that the single life is a training ground for this kind of sacrificial love. There are tons of opportunities to learn and yield to the Holy Spirit, so that he may shape you into a person who chooses to love. There are parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins, nephews, nieces, co-workers, friends, fellow Christians, and others with whom you can share life together and develop this Christ-like love. If you’re single, has God finished using your single years to school you in sacrificial love? If you are engaged, are you ready to love in this way? Do you feel that your fiancé is also prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to thrive in your marriage and mission? If you’ve been married awhile, where are you struggling to choose to love? What is preventing you from laying down your life for your spouse?

Navigating Purity

When I was born again in 2001, God opened my eyes to the sexual sewage that I had been swimming in for years. I needed to change my mind about sexuality. Instead of assuming that I knew what was proper, I needed to humbly receive God’s clear teaching on the theme of purity in the spiritual life of one who has been born again and who was being restored in Christ to bear God’s image again. Psalm 119:9 has always stuck with me from those days, “How shall a young man keep his way pure?” asks the Psalmist. He answers, “By keeping it according to your word.” Therefore, God has something to say about purity, and since he is the designer of our sexuality, then it seems best to let him speak into this area of our lives.

As the sexual sewage of the world continues to accumulate more and more, God’s truth about purity continues to set us free. The real question is, do you want purity? Do you really want to be pure? Do you really want what the Holy Spirit wants for your life? Stop treating purity like it’s some line, as if you’re still pure so long as you don’t break some rule you’ve set up for yourself. Purity is a direction of the heart. You either want it, or you don’t. You either love what God loves, or you don’t. If you don’t, find in God the grace you need to repent, and allow the word of God to renew your mind. If you do, then you can trust that he will continue to direct the desires of your heart into paths of purity.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday (Psalms 37:3–6).

Don’t make purity a cloudy mystery. God has not left us to walk around aimlessly in some sexual fog. Be authentic and honest; let’s be real, and stop justifying immorality. God’s will on sexual purity is not confusing; it’s very clear. From the beginning, he designed sexuality to be experienced within the marriage covenant between a man and a woman. He has sanctified the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4; cf. 1 Cor. 7:3–5). He hasn’t changed his view. His design still works best for his glory and our enjoyment. Remember, the works of the sinful nature are obvious—they’re not mysterious—and they are trying to deceive, destroy, and to rob you of genuine sexuality, worship, relationships, and order (Gal. 5:19–21; cf. 1 Thess. 4:3–8).

Do you have a heading? Is the compass of your spiritual life pointed in the direction of purity? It is best to find this heading while you’re single. Establish a direction and a delight in purity before you enter into a relationship. Don’t enter a relationship unprepared. Be ready to lead toward purity. If you are already in a relationship in which you’ve lost purity, take the necessary steps to regain purity. If you’re dating or engaged and purity has been lost, get out of the relationship, or in the very least postpone any big plans. Sexual immorality clouds discernment and vision. Saying the “I-dos” won’t all of a sudden create a culture of purity in your relationship. Remember how urgent Jesus was about handling the temptations of the world, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18:7–9). If you are married and immorality has crept into your marriage, get help quick. Don’t try to bear the burden alone; let spiritually mature brothers and sisters walk alongside you so that you may begin to imagine a pathway into healing and perhaps even restoration.

There’s more to say, but for now, let’s conclude part one of Navigating Singleness and Marriage in the Christian Life. In the June Messenger, we’ll pick up part two and learn to navigate trust, loyalty, and community. Here are a number of books to pick up for further reading and help in navigating the waters of singleness and marriage:

This Momentary Marriage by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/books/this-momentary-marriage)
The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller (http://www.timothykeller.com/books/the-meaning-of-marriage)
Our Story . . . His Story by Rick Rood
I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris (btw, some Christians hate this book; but it helped me tremendously)
Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris
Not Even a Hint by Joshua Harris
Every Man’s Battle by Stephen Arterburn (http://www.everymanministries.com)
Every Woman’s Battle by Shannon Etheridge (http://familylifetoday.com/series/every-woman-s-battle/)
Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot

I hope that part one has been encouraging to you and that these resources equip you for godliness and for experiencing God personally and in your relationships.

Is the Church a Fasting People?

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day (Mark 2:18–20 ESV).

Fasting. Just doesn’t sound all that fun does it? Not something you’re gonna invite your buddies into—“Hey guys, we’re going to do some fasting next week, want to join in?” Yeah right. I’ll take a rain check on that. Hand me my Big Mac, fries, and Coke! What is this fasting thing all about? Is it biblical? Should Christians do it? If so, how do we do it?

One of my favorite theological journals is the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS). In the most recent volume, there is an article from Sigurd Grindheim, a professor of New Testament at Fjellhaug International University College in Oslo, Norway.  The article title is “Fasting That Is Pleasing to the Lord: A NT Theology of Fasting” [JETS, 58/4 (2015) 697–707]. Professor Grindheim addresses the passage above from Mark 2, and extends a challenge to traditional Christian thinking on the spiritual discipline of fasting.

His article seeks to discern whether the NT spiritual life calls for either exceptional or habitual fasting. The exceptional fasting approach is rare rather than routine, and attached to largely significant moments, decisions, or spiritual efforts in the will of God. The habitual fasting approach is routine rather than rare, and in so doing, prepares a person for those bigger moments needing discernment in the will of God. One may say that the exceptional approach is more impulsive, and the habitual approach is more preparatory. In saying this, I don’t mean anything necessary negative about one or the other. For one may say that being impulsive is negative because its reactionary, but another may say being habitual is negative because it is legalistic.

Professor Grindheim attempts to argue for a new kind of fasting, not merely for exceptional practice, but also at the level of motive. He describes Old Testament fasting as accompanying (1) prayer, (2) mourning, (3) humility, (4) repentance of sins, and (5) direction from the Lord (cf., 2 Sam. 12:16–23; Esth. 4:16; 1 Sam. 31:13; 1 Chron. 10:12; Ps. 35:13; 1 Kgs. 21:27–29; 1 Sam. 7:6; Jon. 3:5; Neh. 9:1; Judg. 20:26; Dan. 9:3). The only required fast of the OT accompanied the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27–32). Later on in the Judaism of Jesus’ day, the Jews are practicing the discipline more regularly as indicated by the very early Christian document called The Didache,

And let not your fastings be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and the fifth day of the week; but do ye keep your fast on the fourth and on the preparation (the sixth) day”(Didache 8:1 AFL-E).

Jesus himself references this regular practice of the Jews in his parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14.

Out of this regular practice flows the dismay of both the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist when they approach Jesus in Mark chapter 2:18–20. In other words, they are asking Jesus why his disciples don’t fast twice a week like the rest of us? Most likely for both the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, they participated in regular fasting, which was motivated by eschatological and messianic hopes. So, their question to Jesus is not merely about religious practice but also an indirect inquiry about his identity. So as to say, “Have they stopped fasting because they believe you are the Messiah? Are you the Messiah?”

Grindheim writes,

Whereas the Old Testament (OT) devout were characterized by their longing for the presence of God, New Testament (NT) believers are characterized by their joy at his presence. OT believers were yearning to experience  God’s favor; NT believers rejoice that they always enjoy his favor through Jesus Christ (698).

He goes on to explain that Jesus would fulfill the Day of Atonement on his cross. Therefore, Jesus’ presence includes the complete forgiveness and removal of sin, so that his presence is marked by joy and exultation, not mourning or grief.

We can all agree with such thinking. We can all agree that the disciples had no reason to fast because Jesus was present with them—the bridegroom was there with them—

Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” But what does Jesus mean when he says, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day?

Professor Grindheim argues that this is a matter of debate among scholars,

Scholars debate whether this refers to the relatively short period between Jesus’ death and his resurrection, or whether it refers to the long period between Jesus’ death and his second coming (699).

He spends the next several paragraphs in his article choosing and defending the former interpretation over the latter; that is, the bridegroom’s “taking away” refers to the three days in the tomb, not to the time between Jesus’ ascension and second coming. He references texts such as John 16:20 about the disciples’ grief being transformed into joy. He also appeals to the many promises of Jesus to be with his disciples (eg., Matt. 28:18–20). He claims that the mediated presence of Jesus to the church through the Holy Spirit (John 14:23; Eph. 2:21–22) is also reason to believe that the church age is not a time of mourning for Jesus’ presence, but rather a time of rejoicing because we are indeed experiencing Jesus’ presence. He further and finally builds one final evidence of Christ’s presence with his church—the fellowship of suffering. Grindheim doesn’t see suffering as a sign of Jesus’ absence, but rather as a sign of his presence and intimate fellowship with his people as they suffer for their identification with Jesus (Rom. 8:17; Phi. 3:10; Col. 1:24; 1 Pet. 4:13); further still, such suffering is a cause for joy, not a cause for mourning.

From Grindheim’s perspective, when Jesus calls for “new wine to be put in new wineskins,” he is saying that the old mindset (i.e., anticipating Messiah and eschatological realities) and old practices (twice weekly routine fasting) are obsolete. Now, as I believe Grindheim would say, we have a new mindset (i.e., new wine = the Messiah has come) that requires new practices (i.e., new wineskins = a new kind of fasting).

He then spreads his discussion beyond the Mark passage into the rest of the New Testament and a little bit into the early church writings and practice of fasting. Regarding the early church, he only quotes The Didache 8:1 (see above), which he dates much later than the most recent scholarship would suggest, which would place it possibly in the 40’s. Therefore, the Christian practice of regular fasting on two days a week is very early. It’s early practice doesn’t necessarily make it correct, but it can’t be dismissed because it is late, as Grindheim seems to suggest. It is also demonstrable that a period of fasting accompanied the act of baptism (Did. 7:4).

He takes on several NT texts on fasting (Matt. 4:2; 6:16–18; Col. 2:20–23; Acts 9:9; 13:2–3; 14:23). Regarding the temptation of Jesus, he argues that the 40 day fast is not example for us to follow, but rather a unique undertaking by Jesus to prepare himself to be the second Adam and faithfully endure the temptations of the devil and continue his Messianic mission. In Matthew 6, Jesus is giving instruction about the practice of spiritual disciplines and the danger of hypocrisy. Grindheim is too strong when he writes, “Jesus’ point is not to instruct his disciples to fast, but to warn them against hypocrisy” (703). No, Jesus isn’t teaching them to fast; he assumes that they will fast, so much so that he commands them how to do it regularly without being hypocrites. Paul in Colossians is not directly dismissing fasting as a practice; rather he is dismissing wrong motives behind fasting as a practice—self-imposed piety has no value in opposing self-indulgence. Paul is clear in Romans and Galatians that what the law could not accomplish through the sinful flesh, God himself has accomplished through his Son and by the Spirit. The motive of fasting must be a desire for the control of the Spirit over the flesh, a desire for the word of Christ to dwell in us richly and to become our “food.” Paul’s own practice of fasting in Acts 9:9; 13:2–3; and 14:23 finally forces Grindheim to admit that there are some, exceptional occasions when fasting is legitimate and appropriate for the Christian and the church.

However, in the very next paragraph, Professor Grindheim goes on to say,

The baseline for Christian piety must therefore be that fasting is not an appropriate expression of Christian devotion to the Lord. NT differs from OT piety in that God has now come near in his Son and through his Holy Spirit. Even though believers long for the Second Coming of Christ and the visible manifestation of his rule (Matt. 6:10; 1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20), NT piety is characterized by intimacy, not distance. The predominant sentiment of believers living in the age of fulfillment is joy, not grief (Phi. 3:1; 4:4–7; 1 Thess. 5:16). They therefore have no occasion for fasting (705).

My difficulty with Grindheim is that he struggles to see how joy and fasting can be in continuity and continuation into this new age—a new age to which I feel he attributes too much fulfillment, nearly eliminating some forms of Christian practice and piety. The dominant message of the NT writers is that the kingdom is both already and not yet here, which he finally does acknowledge at the end of his article,

The Christian fulfillment of fasting should therefore be to spread the joy of Christ’s presence and to demonstrate it in action by sharing with the needy (cf. Isa. 58:3–7). Nevertheless, while joy has replaced fasting as a habitual expression of Christian piety, fasting is not prohibited in the NT. Christian experience is still characterized by the tension between the already and the not yet, between the realized and future eschatology. Normal Christian experience will therefore still have room and need for other expressions than manifestations of joy (parentheses mine, 707).

It would be interesting to know whether or not Grindheim feels we should pray habitually or give offerings habitually, or only exceptionally? Proportionately, prayer is spoken of far more in the NT than fasting, and I think that guides us some in our practice of spiritual disciplines. No one disagrees that Mark 2:18–20 is transforming the way that we must think about and practice fasting. It must not become religious ritual that seeks the reward of other religious people, and it’s motive and practice must adjust to the realities of Christ’s work in death and resurrection. It must come—whether habitually or exceptionally—out of the joy and longing we have because of and for Christ. And there is no reason to be rigid in our practice of the discipline, but rather a practice rising from our love and liberty. Isaiah, the OT prophet understood these things,

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to oppress himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:3–7).

So what about you? Have you ever fasted before? What is your motivation to fast? Do your motivations sync with the NT transformation of fasting in light of Jesus’ person and work? What are the exceptional times that you feel require a season of fasting? Do you think habitual fasting is appropriate sometimes? If so when, and how do you prevent it from becoming an empty ritual? May the joy of the Lord become your utmost hunger, and may the Lord renew your minds to discover his aim for you in Christ, using every detail of your life, until the kingdom fully and finally comes.