For church on Christmas Eve morning, I went to the 9 A.M. service at what I call the “Word of Faith” church. The Missouri Synod Lutheran church was having a 10 A.M. service, rather than its usual 8:30 A.M. traditional service and 11:00 A.M. contemporary service (which I often attend after going to the 9 A.M. “Word of Faith” service). Consequently, I did not go there. I was thinking of going to the “Pen church’s” (or so I call it) 11:30 A.M. service, but the “Word of Faith” service got out at 10 A.M., which was earlier than usual. I do not have a car, and I was not going to walk for an hour-and-thirty-minutes in cold and snow. Thus, I went home.
I was still hungry for another church service, so I visited the web
site for John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church to catch the live 10:30
A.M. service. But I had to get Adobe Flashplayer to watch that, and I
am hesitant to download that right now. I may later. I tried the audio
service, and that came through, but I could hardly hear it, even though
my volume was all the way up.
It was almost 11:00 A.M., and I was looking at my Word document that
has links to live- streaming of services, just in case I am snowed or
rained in and decide to have church at home. I saw Rick Warren’s
Saddleback church was there, so I tried that. Although the Saddleback
service initially struck me as too “hip,” or as trying to be “hip,” I
kind of liked it. It had a welcoming, friendly quality to it. I
especially liked how Rick said that our needs are important to the
church, and he encouraged people to put their prayer requests on cards.
Those watching the service online also could fill that out online, if
they so desired.
Here are some thoughts:
A. There were common themes between the “Word of Faith” service and
the Saddleback service. First, there was the theme of distress. At the
“Word of Faith” service, we were lighting the candles, and the pastor
was saying that some of us are candles that are flickering—-and we was
not talking about our spiritual condition, but he probably had in mind
Matthew 12:20, which applies Isaiah 43:3 to Jesus: a smoldering wick he
will not quench. The pastor also talked about how Jesus was light in
the midst of the darkness.
Similarly, Rick Warren talked about how, for many of us, it has been a
difficult year—-in some cases, extremely difficult. There have been
natural and human-made disasters. He cited the overt racism that was
expressed in 2017. Yet, he noted that there have been good things
happening in 2017, such as the increasing recognition that sexual
harassment and sexual assault are serious problems.
Rick then discussed how, for a number of characters in the Christmas
story, it was not initially a “Merry Christmas.” Not all of the events
that he discussed took place on a single day, or even on the same day,
but his examples are worth considering. Mary was troubled when the
angel Gabriel appeared to her (Luke 1:26). The shepherds were terrified
when they saw the angel (Luke 2:9). Joseph was probably hurt when he
learned that Mary was pregnant, and not with his baby. But they had joy
when they looked up to heaven and focused on what God was doing.
Warren encouraged us to look up, and he shared about the tragic suicide
of his son four years ago.
Another common theme was that of personal change. At the “Word of
Faith” service, we were shown on the big screen people in the church who
initially had problems, but then their situation looked better. They
were initially lonely or isolated, but they found acceptance or a sense
of purpose at the church. They were depressed at first, but now they
have joy. At Saddleback, Rick said that he knew thousands of people who
have been changed through a relationship with Jesus Christ. They can
testify that they were once one way, but now they are different, and
different in a good way.
B. This second item is actually a conglomeration of items. They include issues that the services got me thinking about.
(1.) Rick Warren asked how we can be sure that we have met Jesus. He
said that we can be sure when we are humbler and lacking in narcissism,
when we gladly worship God, and when we offer God our plans and dreams
(or something to that effect, for the last one). These are the
characteristics of the people in the Christmas story after their
encounter with God.
I am not devoid of pride and narcissism, since my feelings get hurt
easily. I also doubt that other Christians are devoid of pride and
narcissism. Still, I have to admit: when Christians are enamored with
God, that at least has the potential to lessen their pride and
narcissism, or to put it into perspective.
But I wonder something: Why do we have to prove to ourselves that we
have met Jesus? If we met him, we met him, right? I do not have to
prove that I met a person: if I met the person, I met the person. If it
needs to be proven, is that because one may have doubts about whether
he or she met Jesus? Or perhaps he or she is attempting to interpret an
authentic spiritual experience that he or she has had?
(2.) Rick quoted Matthew 11:29, where Jesus encourages people to take
his yoke upon them, for his yoke is easy. Rick said that yokes were
ways for two animals to share their labor, which lessened the burden of
the labor for both of them. Jesus’ point, according to Rick Warren, is
that Jesus does not want us to carry our problems all by themselves.
Jesus wants to share that burden with us.
I wonder if that meaning would have made sense to Jesus’ audience at
that time. The resurrected Jesus is one who carries our burdens with
us. But the human Jesus at that time? I doubt that Jesus’ audience
would have seen him that way. “How can this man carry my burdens?”,
they would have asked.
Perhaps the passage was written for a Christian audience, implicitly
encouraging them to let the risen Jesus carry their burdens. Or could
it be that even the human Jesus was offering to carry people’s burdens,
on some level, by imparting teaching that could help them?
(3.) The “Word of Faith” pastor was saying how he believed that
Jesus was present in every book of the Bible. I found some of these
lists on the Internet, and some of them overlapped with what the “Word
of Faith” pastor said, and some of them did not.
My historical-critical tendencies recoil somewhat from this approach:
Haggai is not about Jesus restoring worship, I thought, but it is about
post-exilic Jews restoring worship. Still, I think that it is possible
to preserve the historical-critical readings and the Christian ones.
Something in the Hebrew Bible can remind a Christian of what Jesus did,
according to the Christian religion. There is also typology: that one
event can foreshadow another event—-in the case of Christianity, an
event that has to do with Jesus. The ancient Antiochian school of
biblical interpretation was rather literalistic and historicist in its
approach to the Hebrew Bible, but it was open to typology. Typology
preserves the historical-literal meanings of Old Testament passages,
while allowing them to foreshadow the New Testament. Where I have a
problem is when people suppress or ignore the distinct message of a
passage or book in the Hebrew Bible, so that it conforms to a Christian
theme. I-II Chronicles separates between the royal and priestly
offices, for example, whereas Jesus in the New Testament unites the
roles in himself (particularly in Hebrews). One should let Chronicles
be Chronicles and Hebrews be Hebrews, rather than downplaying the
Chronicler’s message in an attempt to make its good kings a type of
Jesus. See my post here.
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