- ReadPastor's NewsNovember 29, 2020
Dear Saints in Christ Jesus, especially those in Ruston,
I hope this message finds you all well and filled with thankful hearts. Tomorrow is a celebration in America of history, present, and social gatherings. I pray you all to have a wonderful day and use it to cultivate a heart of thankfulness. The riches we have in Christ grants us a place of peace to cultivate thankfulness in our hearts and lives: Col 3:15, "And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful."
While 2020 has seen constant frustrations and complaining from many, my prayer for you is that you and your words will be an avenue of peace, hope, and thankfulness to all around you.
This Sunday, we continue in Philippians with 2:12-18. On a prima facia reading, the passage can be scary and unsettling. However, when we take our time, there is a healthy exhortation to rely solely on Christ's present gifts, the Father's present work, and the Holy Spirit's presence. Let us come together to celebrate the gift of the Word that points us to the riches of the triune God.
- ReadPastor's NewsNovember 22, 2020
Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
I pray you are all well and progressing in the joy of the faith. While many of you prepare to travel to see family and friends, please remember our call in Phil 2:3-4 is to seek the well-being of others. Many people have fallen into depression and fear in 2020, but we are agents of the Messianic light to a dark and hurting world. Let us build up family, friends, and neighbors with a hope that looks to the surety of the imperishable (1 Peter 1:3-4). I, too, have been challenged of late to think about what dominates my 'small talk' with folks. They won't benefit from my thoughts on the weather, tractors, or greenhouses (all things that are trying to dominate my thoughts). Conversely, hearing me express thankfulness that God is still enthroned and I am secure in his hands may prick their hearts. Give that a try around town.
This week we continue in the pre-confessional poem of Phil 2:6-11. We move from the tomb to triumph, from hell to heaven. We will focus on the exaltation of Jesus, who was and continues to be the crucified Messiah. As you prepare, think about what comfort and provocation you feel from the heavenly exaltation of the one who died for you? Come hungry and be feed.
As a little preview, Ms. Marcia and I have a plan hatching to hold a 'Friends and Family Day' on December 6 and 13. Please stay tuned and ask how you can help invite others.
- ReadPastor's NewsNovember 15, 2020
To the Saints in Christ, especially those in Ruston,
I apologize for the lateness of the weekly newsletter. As many of you know, I injured my eye last week, but our wonderful in-house doc and his team have taken great care of me and I am thankful for healing. Unfortunately, it has caused severe headaches and light sensitivity all week that led to forgetfulness of the newsletter. I am sorry for that.
There is a lot going on around John Knox. As some saw last week, we began a new Sunday School Series that will survey the Bible in a unique, colorful, and fun way. Please join at 9:30. Also, we continue in Philippians and come to a very famous passage in Chapter 2:5-11. The passage is used broadly in church history, creedal, biblical, and philosophical studies. For us, what does it mean that Christ 'emptied' himself? What does that mean for me and us today? Come hungry and be filled with the word of wisdom.
Also, please note some announcements below.
Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World by Tom Holland
Tom Holland is famous for writing large volumes on history in an age when many people do not read big books or care (ignorant?) about anything before the invention of Facebook. Despite such trends, Holland has found a strong following. In his newest volume, Dominion, Holland covers about three millennia in an engaging style. His thesis and aim catch the eye of any cultural analyst and Christian who likes to read. The premise is that “Time itself has been Christianised,” therefore, Holland’s “ambition is hubristic enough as it is: to explore how we in the West came to be what we are, and to think the way we do” (p. 12). In short, the book attempts to trace the influence Christianity had on Western thought and its embeddedness in Western societal structures.
I found Holland’s writing very well-researched, engaging, at times humorous, and despite being 543 pages of material, to be a page-turner. While not my favorite style, he writes in circular patterns to display the interconnectedness of events and movements. For those who do not like dull history books, you will find the writing style enjoyable and informative. I want to offer two points; one is the reason for my enjoying the book, and the other is my critic.
On a positive note, I like many parts of the book. I like that there appears to be an audience in the world that still cares to hear about Christian history. As a Christian with a history degree and serving in scholarly engagement, the book hits a sweet spot for me. But more importantly, I like how Holland looks at Christian history with a different lens than those from within the guild of Theological Studies or as a church historian. He portrays events more bluntly, which I find refreshing. For instance, he colorfully highlights the irony of Roman Catholicism’s tyranny against any who infringed on her authority. Holland says, “Such exclusivity was sternly guarded. Those who disturbed it, and refused to repent, might expect to be silenced, expelled or put to death. A Church that worshipped a God executed by heedless authorities presided over what has aptly been termed ‘a persecuting society’” (p. 11). Holland continues to make pointed and unique observations through the middle-ages, the Reformation, Enlightenment, the rise of modern science, Marx, Lenin and John Lennon, and right up to Pulp Fiction and Donald Trump. Many readers will find lots of facets of the story to enjoy.
On the flip side, as a Christian pastor-scholar, I was often curious precisely Holland meant by describing something as being very much in the vein of Christianity. For instance, to place Voltaire, the Quakers, the Collegiants, and Spinoza in the same stream as Constantine, John Paul, and Luther does seem rather odd. However, Holland does attempt to make his case that “Voltaire’s dream of a brotherhood of man, even as it cast Christianity as something factious, parochial, murderous, could not help but betray its Christian roots” (p. 392). Holland sees Marx, Lenin, and Lennon as having similar paradoxical roots as Voltaire. To be sure, Holland is not claiming people or movements were Christian, but that what was driving them was the spirit (Geist) of Christianity.
In short, what Holland sees as an essential spirit--not Holy Spirit-- of Christianity is an engine for change. For Holland, Christianity functions as a means to criticize the perceived wrongs of society and recast the way society should evolve. However, Holland betrays that his version of Christianity is not the one faith proclaimed around the world for two millennia, but the version of Christianity known in America as Modern Liberalism (note the capitalization). Modern Liberalism attempts to address the felt needs of the present moment with the elements of Jesus believed to be most applicable to evoke change, but it often lacks roots or long-term direction.
As a Christian pastor, I do not participate in this version of Christianity. While I agree that Christians should call out the ills of society and spread a message of change, it is not a wild free for all to address felt needs. Instead, Biblical Christianity is anchored in the covenant document of the one God who rules over all time and place. The document of the scriptures is a rule-governed basis for Christian thought and practice. It is broad and deep enough to be applicable in different times and places, but there is still a clearly defined basis. Therefore, Biblically-based Christianity can say that Spinoza and Voltaire were not developing in a Christian vein, even if they were influenced by Christianity. Holland’s approach neuters the capacity of Christianity to determine if something is wrong or right, or in other words, if something is orthodox and orthopraxis or not.
As Christians called to discern rightly, we need to read and think deeply about what is claimed to be a ‘Christian thing.’ We need to think deeply about what it means to change the world, be in the world, and be against the world. These are different things, and Christians are called to engage in all three in different ways.
In conclusion, I think folks in my circles will enjoy Dominion. They will enjoy reading one perspective on the history of Christianity, even if we may demure if it is authentic Christianity or not.
Rev. Dr. Chris S. Stevens
John Knox in Ruston
- ReadPastor's NewsNovember 8, 2020
To the Saints in Christ, especially those in Ruston,
Sometimes the OT can feel foreign, but I want you to think of the covenant community in exile. They felt confused by the things around them, concerned with their safety and their future, and convinced the world was in turmoil. To be honest, that doesn't seem so foreign. Yet the truth was for them and is for us, that the King reigns supreme. The enthroned God has fixed his plans, and nothing shall rent them asunder. God was sovereign over the mighty nations and is still mighty over the whole cosmos. So let us gather to worship and rejoice.
As we continue in Philippians, we come to 2:1-4 where we are called to adopt the mind and attitude of Christ. Wow! It is starting to get to the point where saying, 'to die is gain,' is more accessible than we thought. Let us gather and encourage one another to have the unity we are given in Christ.
SPECIAL NOTE: Sunday School begins a new series: The Bible's Self-Revelation. It is what I previewed when I visited back in summer. I promise you will enjoy a unique peek into the Bible as a speaking book, where the past will help us remember the future. Join me for coffee and fun at 9:30.
The very notion of work is something that tires Americans. The morning trudge to work is undoubtedly not something that brightens the morning for most people. There are certainly a few matters at play but bearing it with an insufferable attitude is not an appropriate Christian response. After reading Tom Nelson’s light read, Work Matters, I wanted to provide a few briefs thoughts to encourage us to have a better biblical perspective on work.
First, scripture explains our current condition. Reading Genesis 1-3, we find humans were crafted and designed in a manner to work. In the beginning, humans were assigned a profitable workload. Working and keeping the Garden-Temple of God’s holy presence was intrinsically valuable, and the reward of spending time in God’s presence would have been exhilarating. However, the consequences of sin were damaging. Adam and Eve were told at least three consequences: a) being driven from God’s presence robbed us of our daily reward; b) our labors will be toilsome (i.e., thorns and thistles); our labor lost a lot of its intrinsic value as we are striving not for holy presence but daily sustenance.
Second, people do not live for bread (i.e., things of the world), but to commune with God (Matt 4:4). If we think biblically about having j-o-b-s, we find work has value. While that value is not equal to guarding and keeping the holy Garden-Temple, it is valuable. We work not only to have stuff (truck, boat, books, etc.), but more importantly, to provide (food, shelter, education, etc.). Parents work to provide for children and for their own needs (2 Thess 3:12). All Christians work to provide for the outposts of heaven to shine a heavenly light into darkness, aka., the local church. Work has value because it is an instrument to an end, and it also provides a place to carry out a more profound office.
Third, all Christians have the role of the office of believer. We carry this office out in every sphere we live and serve. Having a secular job gives a Christian permission to bring love, mercy, and the gospel into places outside of the church building. As a pastor, I can’t just walk into any workplace, but the Messianic Kingdom Participants who work there do.
Nelson has a good quote, “a proper biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to ‘full-time Christian work,’ doing good work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation” (p. 45). I think Nelson offers a good reminder. Ultimately, we should consciously be mindful that we take God’s work with us everywhere we go, including our secular vocations.
Fourth, you might not be preaching the gospel during a coffee break, but your conduct at work reflects poorly or appropriately on Christ. If you are an insufferable human, the boss is trying to fire because no one wants to be around, I bet your pastor doesn’t want you to pass our church fliers. But if you are a quality worker, marked by the fruits of the spirit, please pass out fliers for John Knox! A Christian who works with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control is a blessing to the work environment and a positive reflection on Christ and his church (Gal 5:22-23). Likewise, the willingness to apologize when imperfect in these fruits at work also reflects well on Christ.
Fifth, work has a positive end for the world. Martin Luther contended that ‘God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.’ Work that is not sinful is good for society. Remember that when God’s people were in Babylonian exile, he told them, ‘build houses … plant gardens … have sons and daughters … Pursue the well-being of the city; Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you thrive” (Jer 29:5-7). Our good labor is good for society.
So tomorrow, and the next day, when the alarm goes off, know that your work has value both for the present felt needs and for longer-term purposes. If you struggle with work, then give Work Matters a quick glance to encourage you.
- Chris Stevens JKP published a newsletterReadPastor's News11-1-20
To the saints of Christ, especially those in Ruston,
Well, the weather finally cooled down. Ruston has officially turned to hunting season ... I mean fall. Time for hot chocolate and s'mores. Remember how warm and cozy time around a fire can be with neighbors. Let us use the season to deepen relationships and forge new ones.
As we continue in Philippians this Sunday, we turn to Phil 1:27-30. It is a passage that challenges us to think about what it means to be worthy of the Gospel but also turns us to the comfort of his gifts. I pray I may present to you the comfort the passage has always brought me.
This month we also change the background theme of our liturgy. Last month we used the imagery of our Father calling to speak with us; this month, we incorporate the awesome vision of the heavenly court from Revelation 3. It will serve as the guiding imagery as we dramatically interact with God through the liturgy of covenant renewal. Revelation 3 speaks about the future, but I think it prepares us well for Advent too. Advent is a celebration of remembering the future by rejoicing in the past. I hope we see and feel this drama in our worship and enjoyment of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I love you all and hope to see you as we gather for our progress and joy in the faith.