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Why Sign Language Interpretation at High Point Church?

by Linda Sey

Hearing loss and deafness are largely invisible and isolating disabilities. Those with hearing loss learn at a very young age to mimic, nod, and laugh along, often completely lost as to the details, if not all, of the dialogue darting around them at breakneck speeds. They laugh at jokes they don’t hear (and therefore don’t understand), they nod yes in feigned understanding, wanting to fit in and be accepted, or thinking sincerely they truly did understand, because in reality, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’

“But, deaf people do speech therapy, talk, and learn to be really great lip readers, so it all works out in the end, right?!” Contrary to popular belief, the English language, at best has only 50% (and at worst, 30%) of the phonetic sounds formed and made visible on the speaker’s lips. This means ‘I love you’, ‘olive juice’, and ‘elephant shoes’ appear identically on the lips, as do the phrases ‘you have talent’ and ‘you have salad’.

Continue reading Why Sign Language Interpretation at High Point Church?

5 Difficulties Believing and Their Treatments

When I was in college, I came to talk to one of the pastors at my church about how we could reach more college students. We talked about moving our only service from 9am to a later time. We talked about including applications and questions relevant to college students, as well as some other possibilities. He listened politely and expressed his concern for the college students I was working with. However, when I finished, he had a fairly brief answer for me. He said something like, “Nic, I know that you want to reach students and give them answers to their questions. But you need to understand that at bottom, their rejection of the gospel isn’t about philosophy, apologetics or better preaching; it’s about unbelief. They don’t want to believe. And when people don’t want to believe there is no reason good enough and no information complete enough. And the university is septic with that kind of unbelief.”

I knew there was something wrong with that answer, but I had a hard time teasing it out. On the one hand, I knew he was partly right. Unbelief is the most recurring sin in the Bible and the most predictable attitude of the human heart. God talks about it constantly, and the narratives of the Bible show us everywhere what it looks like. The prophets explain its fruit and Jesus attacks it regularly. Unbelief is the great sin.

Yet I also knew he was partly wrong. Not every difficulty believing in the Bible is unbelief. Jude says to be “merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). Even where the word “unbelief” (apistis) is used, there are situations where is it not considered a sin. Like the father that said, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Yet, even for Christians, unbelief is still the greatest enemy in the mind and heart. It says it this way in Hebrews 3:12-15:

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

The author calls the unbelieving heart the “sinful” heart and says that it is the result of our hearts being hardened by “sin’s deceitfulness.” That is, unbelief is a kind of dishonesty and unreality. It is a rebellion against God’s truth: a “turning away from the living God.”

Five biblical categories for difficulty believing in God

  1. Ignorance: A lack of education. Not knowing about God’s truth.
  2. Doubt: A weakness of heart. When knowledge fails to strengthen the heart with the courage of faith.
  3. Non-belief: Having information, we remain unpersuaded. Lack of persuasive reasons to believe.
  4. Disbelief: A lack of conceivability. The gospel seems too good to be true, or too bad to be considered.
  5. Unbelief: A moral failure to believe what should be believed. A refusal to believe and a subversive attitude. A turning away from God.

Continue reading 5 Difficulties Believing and Their Treatments

When your table hosts a divided America

by Dietrich Gruen, Bridge Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Columbus

Engaging controversial issues from the pulpit is difficult for me, but so is the dilemma faced by many at the dinner table, post-election.  Our problem and opportunity are how to talk politics with family and friends who disagree on today’s political flash points.  To help in that regard, I shall share wisdom gleaned from several bloggers, family, and holy scripture.

First, to graciously discuss hot topics, get permission to go deeper.  When friends & family gather at the table for Thanksgiving or Christmas, keep the food hot and the rhetoric cool.  IF more heat than light is being generated, that’s time to back up, read the body language, and get permission to go further.  Once you have permission, agree on rules of engagement.  You could start with these: Continue reading When your table hosts a divided America

Our Changing Church

Every church is changing. Even though the gospel is unchanging, every church is an expression of the gospel through their language, culture and time. But as the culture, language and time outside of the church continues to change, and each church’s cultural expression will fall behind if it does not change. No church that prevails in this culture can measure itself by other normal, or even “successful,” churches. Even growing churches tend to grow because they are “better” when compared with other churches, which means that often these churches grow because people transfer from other churches. There is some growth by conversion, but very little even in most growing churches. Continue reading Our Changing Church

Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

For 2000 years Christians have believed in the authority of the Bible as an inspired document. Christians have believed that God’s inspiration of the Scriptures has left us with a written word that is both infallible and inerrant. That is, that the original manuscripts of the original authors are inspired by God while simultaneously being the product of the intellect and personality of the human biblical author. This means that the Scripture is both the product of the writing of men and the inspiration of God. Yet, because Scriptures are inspired by God, they are fully trustworthy and without error in the original manuscripts.

To confirm or deny this belief, we can look and see if there is anything in Scripture that can be proven false or that is self-contradictory. Because of this, those who have resisted believing in the authority of the Bible have often pointed out passages that they believe are in contradiction to each other—what we might call “apparent contradictions.”

I have been considering dozens of these apparent contradictions for more than 20 years. In general, I find that they are very easily resolved and are not contradictions at all. However, the solutions to some are easier than others. The most difficult I have ever come across is the apparent contradiction of Mark 6:8 compared to Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10.

Mark 6:8-9 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic.

Matthew 10:10 Take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

Luke 9:3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.

The apparent contradiction is that in Mark the disciples are instructed to take a staff, and in Matthew and Luke they are instructed not to take a staff. This appears to be as obvious and direct a contradiction as could be possible. Perhaps the best analysis of solutions to this problem is still the article “Staff or No Staff?” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly by Barnabas Ahern from July 1943. Continue reading Staff or no staff: the worst Bible “contradiction”

Embracing your lot and toil

In the sermon on Sunday, February 4, I attempted to explain that as humans we crave meaning, and that Ecclesiastes teaches we must learn meaning from the bottom up like creatures, rather than from the top down like gods. Hopefully the reason for this is self-evident: we are creatures, not gods. Recognizing and embracing this reality is essential in our pursuit of virtuous freedom, which is a key element in our fight for joy.

One of the main themes of Ecclesiastes is that human life is “meaningless.” Yet it doesn’t mean meaningless in the way we normally use that word. When we say meaningless, we usually mean “without any meaning,” but that is not what Solomon means. The Hebrew word translated “meaninglessness” is a word that literally means “vapor.” If everything is vaporous, that means that it is insubstantial and temporary.  Consequently, if life is insubstantial and temporary, then pursuing it as though it was ultimate and eternal is foolishness. It is to pretend life is something that it isn’t. The word we used to use for this was “vanity.” And if you look at an older translation of the Bible, that is precisely how the word is translated.

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Think about it. What is the opposite of spiritual substance? Vanity. To treat what is insubstantial and temporary in life as though it is ultimate and eternal. You might reasonably think that the solution for this is to trust in God, and that is Solomon’s solutionbut not in the way we might think. He argues that the ultimate meaning of many of the things in our lives are not revealed by God, nor discernible by science, philosophy, or human reflection. He even goes so far as to say that we long for these ultimate meanings, yet we can’t reach them. He calls this the “burden God has laid on men” (Ecclesiastes 3:10) and he tells us that this frustration is for our healing and maturity. He says that “God does this so that men will revere him” (Ecclesiastes 3:14).

I think that means something like this: if we understood the meaning of everything from beginning to end, we would think that we were part of eternitythat we are ourselves the ultimate meaning. He says at one point when discussing wisdom that “God made man upright, but we have gone after many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). That is, we are not good enough for ultimate wisdom. We are idolaters who seek to ourselves be gods. Therefore, if we were able to figure out all of ultimate meaning it would destroy and damn us.

So God withholds it. He frustrates our idolatrous desire to understand all things in order to feel good about our lives. He allows us to believe in himself as a person, and then forces us to grapple with our creature-hood by embracing the ordinary. The vocabulary he chooses for this is our “lot” and “toil”: the real situation of our daily lives (lot) and the work of our daily purpose (toil).

We start with faith by believing in the God who holds in himself ultimate meaning. Life may be full of vaporous vanity, but God is substantial and completely worthwhile. Still, our faith in him does not give us access to all of his knowledge and therefore all of the meaning we desire. God calls us to discover our meaning from the bottom up, trusting him to reveal himself in the midst of our lot and toil. This requires enormous faith,  because he is demanding that we find meaning in precisely the thing we wish meaning would allow us to escape.

It is only in embracing our lot and toil that we will find satisfaction and happiness in the things that actually make up our lives as creatures. God claims that it is in this experience that we not only find joyful satisfaction; it is also where we find knowledge and wisdom. The pursuit of anything else is the pursuit of vapor. And the pursuit of vaporous vanity will never produce substance.

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Can I do this work any faster?

You might wonder if that means we can’t study, reflect and learn our way into satisfaction, wisdom and meaning. I think we can, so long as we do it while embracing the toil and lot of our real lives. In fact, this is precisely what the rest of the book of Ecclesiastes is. It is a series of reflections on what makes up our real lives and how we should engage with those things as creatures rather than as gods or idolaters.

There are a number of examples of how to embrace our lot and toil in the book of Ecclesiastes, and in this sermon, I talk about nine of them. I am not saying that there are only nine parts of our lot and toil discussed in the book of Ecclesiastes. These are just nine examples I have pulled out to demonstrate how we can combine study and reflection with the practice of daily embracing our lot and toil with joyful satisfaction.

I encourage you to listen to the sermon for these nine examples. Then, read the passages and reflect on them by journaling about how they specifically relate to you embracing the realities of your own real life. Don’t just think theological and philosophical thoughts. Think intensely personal thoughts focused on daily repetitive application. Some of those thoughts should be hurtful and humiliating. They should reveal how unsophisticated our sin often is. Some will also be a beautiful as we realize how much we have overlooked all that we have to be thankful for. Yet you must also trust that God is with you in every step of finding satisfaction in the lot and toil of your vaporous life under the sun. It is not only he who gives you this life, but is also he who “lengthens your days like a shadow” into eternity (see Ecclesiastes 8:13).


Edited June 1, 2018: Originally, I had promised to write nine blog posts about each of the nine examples of embracing our lot and toil throughout Ecclesiastes, but have yet to be able to get to writing these. Since I cover each of these examples in a sermon and haven’t followed up with the blog posts, I suggest listening to the sermon and reading them in the Bible for yourself.