Josh Yaeger’s Blog


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Every now and again, deacons are selected at a church.  Depending on your upbringing or church tradition, that could mean several things.  It could be the deacon board.  The ones who make the big decisions.  It could mean that there are a bunch of things at your church that nobody wants to do, so let’s get some guys together who will do them.  It could even mean that the John Smith’s of our church who are there for Worship and Sunday school but they don’t do anything, are elected to the office of deacon because they should be doing something. 
In my heritage, choosing deacons is easy.  Figuring out what they do is a little harder.  I bet that many deacons feel like the man in the picture above.  OK, now I’m a deacon, what do I do now?  My goal in this blog is to call us to a Scripturally dependent way of going about choosing those who ought to be deacons.  I believe that if we allow Scripture to inform us in this way, we can naturally eliminate some of the unhealthy ways we go about this process and we may even have a lead on what deacons should be doing. 
The first thing to realize is the very meaning of the word.  The word deacon in Greek (the original language of the New Testament) simply means servant or minister.  In Acts chapter 6, we find the Twelve Apostles being overwhelmed by the problem of food distribution, so they need someone to oversee this ministry while they devote themselves to a ministry of the Word and Prayer.  So the believers choose seven men who are well-respected and full of the Spirit and wisdom.  Many people believe that the seven men chosen here are the precursors of the office of deacon in 1 Timothy 3.  I tend to agree, but even if they do not become future deacons, it shows that there is a need in the church for people to serve, and in my opinion there is nothing better to call them than deacons (servants). 
By the time Paul writes 1 Timothy, deacons are part of the church culture, at least they are in Ephesus.  There is a lot of overlap between deacons and elders (mentioned in the first part of the chapter 3), but there are a few significant differences in the lists.  First, the elder is called to be hospitable.  In other words, the home is a primary place for ministry.  It would seem that the deacon’s primary place of ministry is somewhere else. 
Second, the elder must not be a recent convert.  Does that mean that deacons can be recent converts?  I would say yes, though the other qualities Paul mentions would suggest that there should be a level of maturity in the deacon that rises above that of a juvenile. 
Finally, for some reason Paul feels the need to talk about deacons’ wives.  There are several opinions on why this is the case.  Some have argued that Paul is not actually talking about deacons’ wives since the word here in Greek could be translated “wives” or “women”.  To translate it as women would mean that it is possible for a woman to serve as a deacon at Ephesus.  But since we (at Tenth & Broad) are not going to be installing women deacons until we study this passage more in depth, I will simply focus on the implications of Paul wanting deacons’ wives to have certain qualities.  It shows that Paul is envisioning that this is very much a team ministry (as is the elder’s role since he must be hospitable).  Paul is honoring the fact that a wife who is not supportive of her husband’s service could make a very qualified individual unable to serve.  Regardless of whether this is what Paul is intending, we know this is true. 
Before I finish up, I want to draw us away from the “deacon” passages and simply consider what Jesus said about greatness in the kingdom in the gospel of Mark.  In chapter 10, Jesus makes his third death and resurrection prediction.  And right after this in verse 35, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come to Jesus asking if they can sit on his right and his left in glory.  These are positions of great prestige in a kingdom. 
Jesus tells them that these are not positions that are his to grant, but he does tell them what it looks like to become great in the kingdom of God. 
…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.        -Mark 10:43-44
As we nominate men to the official role of servant, and as we look at the qualities of servants in Acts, in 1 Timothy, and in the words of Jesus, there are significant implications for who we should and shouldn’t choose for the role of deacon.  There are also implications for what they should be doing.   
First, we should probably choose somebody who has a servant’s heart and does a lot of things already in an unofficial role.  We are setting ourselves up for failure if we choose somebody who who is a good attender but doesn’t serve others in any capacity that we know of without being asked to. 
Second, we should choose people who are striving to look like Jesus.  They are willing to give up certain things in their lives in order to benefit others. 
Therefore, if these first two things are true about the men that we choose, we should probably empower them to keep doing those things that they feel called to do, but in a larger and more official capacity.  The simplicity of it all is shocking.  Let’s not make it complicated!  Let’s call them deacons and give them more resources and a congregational stamp of approval! 
Expectations For A Deacon At T&B
If people have asked you to consider being a deacon here at Tenth & Broad, here are the expectations that come with the role.  These aren’t necessarily from scripture, but they support the things that are currently happening in our church. 
  • To lead or join a service team in their desired area of service. 
  • Provide support for ministers if able. 
  • Oversee fiscal management of a ministry if applicable. 
  • Be willing to accompany elders on monthly visitations (usually the third Tuesday of the month).
  • Be willing to mentor families or individuals.
  • Be committed to weekly attendance of our worship gatherings.
  • Commit to a regular level of financial stewardship.
  • Be available for other opportunities and areas of service. 
To wrap this up, I hope that we pray over and prepare to make the nominations for this very important role in our church.  I also hope that we will ALL aspire to be deacons (servants).  May we all allow Jesus’ vision of greatness in the kingdom lead us to a place where we can truly view servanthood as the greatest honor that anyone could have. 


The Good Life

What does it look like to be blessed?  I think many of us would agree on some standards of blessing.  Or if you don’t really like that churchy word “blessing”, you might ask, what would it look like to live “the good life”?
In addition to a great family, most of us would agree that a good job where we make enough money to be both comfortable and generous is important.  We might also want to make sure that necessities are taken care.  A minimal amount of sorrow and tragedy would also contribute to living the good life.  And finally, it would be nice if everybody likes you! 
Even though we strive for these often, and believe that having them is equivalent to being  blessed or living the good life, we also realize that everyone who achieves these things does not feel blessed.  In fact, many people sit in their wealth and wonder who lied to them.  They feel gypped and cheated because they have achieved everything they wanted and feel lonely, depressed, or fearful. 
So what works?  Is there something that we can bank on?  Is there a way to feel like we are blessed regardless of life’s circumstances? 
Enter a first century Jew.  Now before you get all, “No Jesus!” on me, hear me out.  What he teaches in regard to this incredibly important area of life works whether you have decided to follow him or not.  But he starts by turning everything upside down. 
In Luke 6, Jesus chooses twelve men who are to be his messengers.  They are to take this incredibly important news and spread it around.  But before he sends them out in chapter 9, he gives them a little classroom training.  They need a lot more than three chapters of training, but, I suppose, some is better than none.
Jesus comes off the mountain and down to a level place and teaches a bunch of things that sound a little like the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) but not quite the same.  Jesus starts out like this in Luke 6:20.  Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the mourning people, and the ones that everybody hates.  Oh, and by the way, a curse is upon the rich, the ones with enough food, the ones who are always laughing and the ones who everybody likes. 
Not a great way to start a speech if you are running for president…oh wait, I mean the Messiah.  Especially since he has just chosen his twelve princes who are going to sit beside him after he kicks the Romans out, which is what every Jew new the Messiah was going to do.  But as you will see, that is not what Jesus is going to do at all. He goes on. 
Now hits them hard with a shocking statement.  He tells them to love their enemies (even the Romans?) and do good to those who hate you.  What?!  Bear their insult rather than retaliating.  If they tax you or steal from you, give them more than they require.  Oh and by the way, lend to everyone who asks of you and don’t expect it back! 
Jesus, in his unique way, shows us what a “blessed” life looks like.  It looks like us being a blessing rather than seeking a blessing.  We should seek to bless everyone around us, even our enemies! 
Do you realize what difference this would make in the world?!  What if everybody lived like this?  Wow!  There would be no need for government, rules, locked doors, or police officers.  But alas, we live in a broken and selfish world, but Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of heaven.  What if God’s people rose up and lived a truly blessed life? 
If you are not a Christian, I would challenge you to try this teaching out.  You don’t have to believe everything there is to believe about Jesus, but you know this makes sense.  Try for one week to be a blessing to one person every single day.  How might your life change?  How might you change the world?  


Spiritual Gifts

Are Spiritual Gifts for today?  Or, at best, are some of them for today while others are not?  There has been a lots of ink and cyberspace devoted to answering these questions.  In my particular tradition, churches of Christ, we have generally been uncomfortable with miraculous gifts of the Spirit.  I’m not sure where this discomfort came from, perhaps if I knew my American Restoration history better I could answer that.  I suppose that would make this article better.  But alas, I am not going to go into that mostly because I just don’t want to take the time! 
In this blog, I want to share what I was taught growing up in a very brief way and push back on it a little based on what I read in Scripture now many years, experiences, and college courses later.
My Early Years
I had friends that went to charismatic churches (tongue speaking was very common place at the places where I visited) and sometimes I would go with them.  Don’t ask me how my parents agreed to me doing that.  Maybe they didn’t and I just went.  Regardless, I remember discussions with my parents afterwards and perhaps people at my church.  I don’t always remember who said what, as I have a tendency to remember content and not faces in my conversations.  But I remember getting the distinct impression that miraculous gifts like healing, miracles, or tongues could only be passed on by the laying on of the hands of the apostles.  Therefore, since there haven’t been any apostles or people they laid their hands on in nearly 2000 years, there won’t be any miracles.  The best explanation I can find for this view is in Acts 8:15-17:
15 As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. 16 The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit. (NLT)
So here it seems that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are passed on only when the apostles arrive and lay hands on the people who had been converted through Philip’s preaching.  To add to this, I was also taught that since we have the completed NT, the whole counsel or Word of God, then we had no need for the affirmation provided by miraculous gifts.  This came primarily from one NT text in 1 Cor 13:8-10.  Paul had just finished pontificating on what should guide the use of Spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church.  The short yet difficult answer for that guiding factor is love.  And then he goes on to say this: 
Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. (TNIV)
I was taught that completeness was the completed Word of God.  Therefore, when the last word of Scripture was written the need for miraculous gifts ceased.  If you are familiar with the debate and the terminology, this is a form of the cessationist viewpoint.  Since this lined up with my lack of miraculous experiences and the tongues that I experienced in my friends charismatic church was weird and non-inspiring, I was OK with it. 
Foundation Cracked
Then I went to college and studied to be a minister where I learned about the the cannonization process of Scripture and how it was shrouded in mystery and how the NT books together as a whole were not seen as authoritative until a couple centuries after their writing.  That along with the fact that for at least a couple hundred years, people became Christians without a completed Bible was enough to shake my confidence in my position, though I didn’t take time to evaluate it.  It was just one of those uncomfortable things that I tried not to think too hard about. 
After beginning my first job in Youth Ministry in Cordell, OK, I went to NCYM (National Conference on Youth Ministries) and it was here that I heard a teaching that finally connected the dots for me.  Chris Seidman of the Farmer’s Branch Church in Dallas was teaching a class on this subject.  He was of course familiar with the traditional teaching in our churches.  I don’t remember much of what he taught on the subject, but I do remember the moment when he took us through 1 Cor 13:8-12. 
8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  12For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (TNIV)
Paul is pretty clear about what “completeness” is.  It’s the moment when we see clearly and know as we are fully known.  My assumption here is that we will know fully as we are fully known by God. I think that assumption is much more compatible with the context here than assuming that “completeness” is somehow the completed Word of God.  Therefore, completeness would be the return of Jesus when all things are set right! 
It didn’t take long for me to dismantle the second half of the argument.  A couple chapters down from the episode with Philip and the apostles in Acts 8, you have Acts 10 where the Holy Spirit is poured out on Cornelius the centurion and he and his family speak in tongues before they are baptized and before anybody lays hands on them to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  You can also turn over to Romans 12 where Paul speaks of the gifts (same word as used in 1 Corinthians) being present in that church before Paul and probably any other apostle had visited. 
A Conclusion
So if the miraculous gifts of the Spirit can manifest without the apostles laying their hands on people and if “completeness” is the return of Jesus, then all the gifts are still in play!  So what does that mean?  Why doesn’t my experience line up with what I read?  There could be many reasons for that. 
First, it could be that we have simply shut the windows and are not letting the Spirit in.  It is possible that he wants to do something big but since we don’t believe he can, he doesn’t. 
Second, it’s possible that he doesn’t need to manifest himself in this way in our culture and there are better ways for him to work. 
You might be able to come up with another reason or two.  Regardless of his reasoning, don’t put a box around what the Spirit does!  Don’t force him into a predetermined set of rules that you have created with your finite mind from Scripture.  There is hardly a “normal” that he is bound to.  And finally, trust him that he will do the work in you to make you a part of the body of Christ!  You have a role!  Don’t miss out on it!
Make sure you take your spiritual gifts survey for next week at T&B.  Try this one for $10 or this one for free. 


The Amazing Body

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The human body is a fascinating thing.  It is a picture of unity in the midst of diversity.  Think about the diverse shapes, colors, hues, etc. that go into every human body.  And that is just the stuff that we can all see!  But when you get under the skin into organs, blood, veins, the nervous system, bones, digestion, and on and on we could go, there are so many different things working together to make you able to run, jump, embrace, talk, eat, sleep, and many other natural functions.  The human body is extremely diverse yet united. 

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul latches on to this incredible unity in diversity.  He says that the church should be like this too.  Each member should have a role in the body that contributes to the building up of the body.  He calls for all members to acknowledge their importance AND the importance of others.  The Corinthian Christians were having a variety of issues in this area.  They weren’t working together.  They were making distinction between the rich and the poor and between the “well-gifted” and the “poorly gifted”. 
When I read the letter to the Corinthian Christians, it’s easy for me to look down on them.  I don’t get drunk while eating the Lord’s Supper, neither do we have a disorderly assembly filled with people showing off their gifts and looking down on those with less superior gifts.  However, I have learned the hard way that whenever I feel superior to the people in Scripture, I need to look a little deeper at the text and at myself. 
The realization that stunned me last week as I was preparing for this sermon was that the root of the Corinthian problems are just as much a part of my picture and the church’s picture today as it was then.  Even though we don’t exhibit the same symptoms, we still have the same problem.  They were self-centered.  And while my self-centeredness doesn’t manifest itself in the same way as it did in the Corinthians context, it is still very much alive.  Perhaps you can see it in yourself. 
I am self-centered when I say something like, “I just didn’t get anything out of that service today.”  I am self-centered when I choose to pursue cycling, exercise, and entertainment over and above the mission of Jesus.  I am self-centered when I fear the awkwardness of engaging in conversation with my neighbors.  Perhaps you can join me in acknowledging the self-centered tendency most members of the human race possess. 
So here’s the cool thing.  Paul’s answer to self-centeredness doesn’t change.  Whether it is the Corinthian symptoms or my symptoms, he calls us to address it the same way.  Here it is in my own words. 
First, we must ask, “What does love require of me?”  In 1 Cor 13, Paul says that everything is useless without love.  When I find myself being self-absorbed, this question will help to recenter me. 
Second, based on 1 Cor 12:12 we must ask “What part of the body am I?”  Or we could ask, “What’s my role?”  The sooner we can answer the question, the more we can see how we fit into the bigger picture.  Sadly, I see many Christians unable to answer this question.  And when they do have a role, I hear lots of complaining about how they have to do things all by themselves or how tired they are.  Hey listen, I get it.  There are times when the pulpit gets very lonely.  But in those moments, if I lean into love and my role, perspective comes crashing in and I can avoid being a disembodied member of the body (which is really gross by the way!). 


Is humility a bad word?

Humility is one of those ideas that sound good but no one really wants.  At least that is the attitude that I perceive in most Americans, specifically of the male persuasion.  We tend to equate humility with low self-esteem and a soft and pliable temperament.  We may even believe that humble people lack ambition and minimize or downplay their accomplishments.  In short, humble people are pansies. 

But this is not what is meant by biblical humility.  So what is it?  How do we define it?  Probably the best place to start is by stating what biblical humility is not. 

First, it’s not low self-esteem.  For example, look at Jesus.  He had a pretty high opinion of himself.  He believed he was the Son of God.  Yet he humbled himself and washed dirty feet and died on a cross.  Daniel and his friends were good-looking and had aptitude for all kinds of learning.  They wouldn’t have made it in the king’s palace if they didn’t believe in their God-given abilities. 

Second, biblical humility is not a lack of ambition.  Daniel and his friends had to work hard to graduate at the top of their class and be considered ten times better than everyone else.  Daniel also sought high positions for his friends as administrators over provinces in Babylon.  Notice that in Matt. 20:20-28 when Peter and John commit the mother of all momma’s boy moves and ask Jesus through their mother for positions of prominence in the kingdom that Jesus doesn’t rebuke their ambition.  Instead he rebukes them for their chosen path to get there.  You do not become great in the Kingdom of God through a prominent position, rather you become great through humble service. 

Finally, biblical humility does not mean you downplay your accomplishments.  Paul regularly speaks of his accomplishments among the saints and his position as an apostle to gain credibility, but at the same time he doesn’t do this to glorify himself.  Instead, Paul seeks to point to God through his “boasting.”  It seems to me that if we downplay or ignore our accomplishments, we are ignoring and downplaying the incredible work of God in fallible human beings.  Talking about our accomplishments becomes wrong when we try to glorify ourselves. 

So what is it?  What is biblical humility?  As we can see through the example of Daniel and especially Jesus, it is simply serving others by putting their needs and interests above our own.  It is not becoming a doormat.  It is becoming a servant.  Consider Abraham and Lot when they realized that their flocks and herds were too much for the land to support.  Abraham gave up his right as the older patriarch to allow Lot first choice of the land. 

Biblical humility is giving up our rights for the benefit of others.  I have the right to say whatever I want, but humility is knowing when to exercise that right and when not to.  What I say may do more harm than good even if what I am going to say is the truth. 

Biblical humility even calls us to serve our enemies.  Daniel served his captors.  He made their kingdoms better because he was there. 

I don’t know which of our two most recent presidents you supported.  I saw Christians on both sides of the political spectrum in the last two presidencies.  So if you were against President Obama, what would you say to a Christian who served in the cabinet of a socialistic, abortion-supporting liberal?  Or if you are against President Trump, what would you say if a Christian served in the cabinet of a sexist pig of a man whose god seems to be money and only gives Christianity props when it benefits him?

I don’t say this to attack your favorite candidate or to create a feeling of smugness in who you voted for in the last elections.  I say this because I believe that a Daniel may be heavily criticized in our Christian bubble these days because the church has more often than not adopted the practice of isolation rather than infiltration.  If something is wrong, we often stand from afar and criticize it.  And we don’t let our children stray too close because they might get infected.  Daniel humbly infiltrated the royal courts of four pagan kings.  He served God but he also served these kings and made their reigns better. 

I think it’s important that we give humility another try in both our homes and in our workplaces.  How can we follow Daniel’s example?  This is key to being people of faith who infiltrate and transform Babylon. 




Willing to Die in the Furnace

What would you die for?  If you are a father like me you would almost certainly die for your kids or your wife.  If you are a teacher, you might die for the children in your class.  There are numerous examples of teachers shielding their students when disaster hits.  Many have died for their country.  But would you be willing to die for your faith? 
In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are willing to die for their faith.  They will not bow down to an image that Nebuchadnezzar has commanded them to bow down to.  In fact, they actually get tossed in the fire before they realize that God is actually going to save them.  There’s no booming voice saying, “Stop Nebuchadnezzar!”  There’s no incredible sign showing the three Jews that they will be saved.  God is just silent until they find themselves in the fire and then they get to walk around with some kind of heavenly being.  Even their words indicate that they do not know what is going to happen.
If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.                         -Daniel 3:17-18
My question is this: How do we develop a faith that looks like that?  How do we develop a faith that stands firm even to the point of death? 
I found an interesting answer in a book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale called
Jesus Among Secular Gods. 
In this book, Zacharias records a conversation he had with a Muslim who had converted to Christianity.  This convert tried to describe the difference between his Muslim faith and Western Christianity (We live in a Westernized country. Look it up if you don’t know what I mean).  To describe the difference, this ex-Muslim drew two circles and put a dot in the middle of both and said this: 
As a Muslim, I believed the circle to be my faith and the little dot to be my life…To many Westerners, the circle is his life and the dot his faith (p. 11). 
This led me to a watershed moment in my faith.  I would actually use the same illustration that this ex-Muslim used, but I would define the picture this way.  The circle is God’s eternal story.  The dot is me and my story.
  When I realize that my entire life has been planted into the grand story of God creating, interacting with and saving humanity, I begin to grasp that there cannot be compartments in my life.  My faith and my God is bigger than me.  He is not in me, I am in him.  Therefore, I can die for him, knowing that the story is not jeopardized.  However, if my story is the only one I am aware of, I would surely bow to whatever idol stands before me in order to survive. 
It’s the same with my family.  I would never want this, but if we were to face a life or death situation where I had the choice of dying so my family could live, I would gladly put my life on the line because my family is bigger than me.  It is our challenge in a narcissistic, me-centered culture to take the focus off of ourselves and place it firmly on God and His story.  


Grizzlies, Walking Sticks, Safe Rooms and Possums

What do these four, seemingly unrelated things have in common? The answer: they are representative of how American Christians often respond to a culture that no longer claims to hold their values. 
Sometimes Christians respond with aggression like a grizzly bear. 
Even if we don’t respond to the extent pictured, there are still times that we react angrily to somebody pushing against our beliefs and values with an opposing set of beliefs and values.  We assemble our arguments and we are ready to respond whenever somebody makes statements contrary to “God’s laws” or our beliefs. 
Sometimes Christians respond by simply trying to blend in like a walking stick (the insect) on a tree branch. 
If you were to compare us with our neighbor who isn’t a Christian, there wouldn’t be many decipherable differences. We would live our lives with similar goals and schedules, many of which would revolve around our career and leisure activities.  The only difference would be in attending a church periodically. 
Some Christians have adopted a safe room technique. They isolate themselves.
  They try to keep all the bad stuff out to the extent that they completely lose touch with the world and have very little chance of making a difference in the lives of ordinary every-day people.  Once again, we may not be at the extent pictured, yet we may have still made a Christian bubble in which we exist.  We rarely venture past the safety of those walls into the world.  All our friends are Christians.  All of our social functions are Christian functions.  All of our activities are with people who think, act, talk and look like us.   
Finally, some Christians just give up like a possum playing dead. 
With this group, it’s less about blending in and it’s more about giving up on the Christian ideals whenever they clash with what our culture says.  They compromise whenever they are faced with an opposition to their beliefs.  Pretty soon, their Christianity is almost unrecognizable and sometimes they leave faith altogether. 
None of these responses look like Daniel.  He was not aggressive even though he had every right to be.  He did not try to blend in.  In fact, he actually stood out.  Daniel and his friends were found to be ten times better than everybody else interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel did not isolate himself.  Somehow he managed to serve God while also serving in Babylon.  Amazingly, during his service, we have no record of Daniel compromising on the things that mattered most, though his definition of those things may look a little different from our definition.  Daniel was a man of good faith in Babylon.  He was a man of wisdom, love and humility in one of the most godless nations to ever exist on earth.  Let’s follow Daniel’s example in America. 
Jesus called his disciples to be Salt and Light.  Can we seek to be people who live out our faith in ways that influence and change the landscape around us rather than reacting with aggression, assimilation, isolation or compromise?  


Could It Get Any Worse?

Many Christians in America seem to be all worked up these days about “the direction our country is going.”  I hear people say things regularly about some recent political event with a despondent voice and a shake of their head.
In the coming weeks as we journey through the book of Daniel in my blog posts and sermons, my hope is to show that there is a way forward.  There is a way to be people who live out our convictions without being obnoxious and there is a way to do this while actually making a difference in the world around us.  The first six chapters of Daniel deal with this very issue.  But in order to understand that, it helps to grasp the circumstances that gave rise to the work that we now find in our Bibles. 
Like every book that makes up our Bible, there was an occasion that led to the writing of Daniel.  The stories of Daniel and his friends serving in the the courts of various kings were told and retold for centuries before they were actually written down.  Based on literary, linguistic and historical evidence I believe that Daniel was most likely finished in its present form during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, also known as Antiochus IV.  (I don’t have the time or the space to go into detail about why I think this is the case, so you can either trust me on this or do your own research and see where you land.)  Antiochus was the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire (reigned 175 -164 B.C.) who claimed the name Epiphanes which means illustrious one, or god manifest.  The simple fact that he claimed this title for himself gives us a glimpse into his personality. 
During his reign, he tried to conquer Egypt but was stopped when a Roman ambassador showed up and told him that if he attacked Egypt, Rome would declare war.  Antiochus withdrew, but as you can imagine this made the illustrious one piping mad.   So what do you do when you get mad at the big bully with bulging muscles and black belts in seven different martial arts disciplines?  You take it out on the skinny kid with glasses (that was me on the playground by the way which has nothing to do with this blog post) which in this case happens to be what’s left of Israel. 
In Palestine, Antiochus noticed that there was a feud going on between two sects of Jews.  The first sect was known as the traditionalists.  They sought to be faithful to the Mosaic laws and the old ways of the Jews.  But the other sect was known as the Hellenists (Still a thing in the NT by the way.  See Acts 9:29).  The Hellenists were trying to mesh pagan Greek culture and the Mosaic culture.  As you can imagine, this resulted in some pretty hot debates between these two sects.  Think about the debates going on between churches that hold the traditional view of marriage versus churches that are accepting gay marriage and even ordaining gay pastors and I think you will have a pretty good picture of how heated these debates were. 
So Antiochus decides to flex his muscles a bit and thinks he is going to come in and solve all this.  He made a decree, that was reportedly to avert a civil war, which outlawed all Jewish rites and worship.  This decree also stated that Jews must worship Zeus instead of Yahweh.  Perhaps this decree did avert a civil war but it also united the Jews against Antiochus.  The conflict escalated to the point where Antiochus raided the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, stealing treasures and setting up an altar to Zeus on which he sacrificed a pig.  He killed many Jews and sold many others into slavery. 
Eventually this would lead to the Maccabean revolt in which Judas Maccabaeus would lead the Jews through a series of victories and eventually to a short-lived freedom. 
It was during this time that the book of Daniel came to it’s final form.  It was probably written by a group known as the “the wise” who believed that God’s people could live faithfully in a culture that did not share their values but they also believed that God’s people could influence that culture without armed conflict.  The latter chapters of Daniel, the apocalyptic parts, were also written to encourage an oppressed people since that is often the circumstance that spawned this type of literature.  
So, can it get any worse than what we are seeing in our country right now?  I believe the circumstances that led to the book of Daniel should cause us to answer with a resounding “Yes!”  However, with the move away from Christianity that our country is experiencing, I also believe that there is probably not a better place to go for the 21st century American church than the book of Daniel.  We certainly don’t want armed conflict between Christians and atheists, but I am convinced that Christianity practiced in it’s purest form has the potential to remake this world into a place without violence and saturated with unconditional love. I hope you enjoy our journey through Daniel. 


Neighbor Is A Verb!

I saw something amazing last weekend.  I saw my church ‘neighbor’ our neighbors. 
Like most downtown churches, the majority of people that make up Tenth & Broad Church of Christ look significantly different than the people living in the neighborhood surrounding us.  These differences can be seen in a variety of ways.  Values are different.  Social and economic status is different.  Race is different.  Family units are different.  And when something is different, it often results in fear and judgment. 
When churches fall into this trap of fear and judgment, they cease to be the church.  They forfeit the opportunity to be salt and light in their neighborhoods and they hide the two greatest commands under a web of excuses.  Jesus says the greatest command is to love God and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.  To love your neighbor is to love God.  To love God is to love your neighbor. 
We have been exploring “How to Neighbor” in a recent series of sermons where we covered racism, loneliness, poverty and orphans in an effort to prepare us for stepping out into our neighborhood here in downtown Wichita Falls.  
Reaching into our neighborhood this summer is being done in three phases.  The first phase was to canvas our neighborhood asking what we can do.  We didn’t want to arrogantly claim to know what was needed in our neighborhood since many of us don’t live here.  The second phase was to have a block party at our church.  And the last phase (yet to be accomplished) is to set up service days based on the cards that we received (we received 15 by the way and we passed them out to about 350 residences).  
The thing that touched me this weekend was our block party.  We got the word out through a mailing to the postal route surrounding our church building and a big sign in the empty lot next to our church building.  Rain threatened the event, but the weather held and we had a solid party where we provided snow cones, hot dogs, a jump house, a train to ride, yard games, kite flying, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, a dunk tank (which resulted in our only injury to our children’s minister), give-a-way baskets, and live music.  We had 20 family units sign up for the give-a-way baskets, and our best guess was that 40+ people showed up from our neighborhood.  And the most touching thing I saw, was the people of our church engaging their neighbors in the most respectful and kind ways imaginable.  I saw one of our members holding an infant for over an hour so the parents could play with their older child.  I saw another one of our members sitting and talking for an hour and a half with a man who literally walked across the street to come to the block party.  I saw person after person from our church engaged in conversation and neighboring our neighbors. 
We already had a few guests on Sunday morning as a result of the neighboring that went on and my hope and prayer is that this is the beginning of transformed lives and families. 


New Eyes In Tragedy

Tragedy is difficult.  Nobody looks for it.  Nobody wants it.  But some day you will find it.  We have had tragedy at our church in downtown Wichita Falls.  And it hit us with tremendous force.  One day we woke up and everything was normal.  When we went to sleep that night, everything was changed and a family was left mourning the loss of a 13-year-old son. 
What do we do in the midst of tragedy?  What does tragedy do to the way we see God?  Tragedy has been happening since the beginning of time.  Death and destruction are a normal part of life on this planet.  What do we do with it?   What do we learn about God in the midst of it? 
There are three options.  First, we leave our faith.  Second, we ignore it and try to continue on without thinking about it too much.  Or the third option is we change our perspective.  For me, the last option is the best option.  There are too many evidences pointing to God for me to throw my faith out the window. But neither can I pretend that this does not affect the way that I see God.  Therefore, I must change my perspective and develop new eyes.  
Did you know that eagles, hawks and other birds of prey have vision that is about 3-4 times sharper than our own?  They can spot rabbits and prey from several miles away.  They can cruise at a height of 10-15,000 feet, spot a tasty rodent and dive at over 100mph and still keep their target in complete focus! 
We will never have the physical eyes of an eagle, but I believe that our spiritual sight can get sharper as we experience life especially in the midst of tragedy. 
I think of the Apostle Paul whose life was kind of like one giant mishap after another.  He got stoned, rejected, arrested, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, and put under house arrest.  And those are just some of the things we know about! 
And yet he wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (TNIV). 
“…we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
We must develop new eyes in the midst of trying circumstances.  We must see all of life, especially tragedy, through eternal eyes.  It doesn’t make the tragedy okay.  Neither does it make everything fine.  But it does help us see beyond our hurt to something greater.