I have viewed two movies in two weeks, and that’s not a regular pattern for me. I’m more for books than films, but I was keenly interested in these two movies for obvious reasons. One was Exodus: Gods and Kings by Ridley Scott. The second was Battle of Five Armies, the final installment in The Hobbit trilogy produced by Peter Jackson. Exodus was originally written by Moses. The Hobbit was originally written by J.R.R. Tolkien. I went to see Exodus with my wife on a much needed date night last Friday. I went last night to the 10:30pm showing of The Hobbit with a group of young men from our church (our third year in a row). I enjoyed both movies, but perhaps The Hobbit more due to the theological train wreck of the theophanies in Ridley Scott’s rendition of Exodus.
The Exodus is a nonfictional story that contains sudden twists and turns of the miraculous. However, it was reduced in many ways to a fictional tale with naturalistic phenomenon. The Hobbit is a fictional story that in many ways communicates the truths of the most heart gripping nonfictional story the world has ever known. I left the theater after watching Exodus with a yearning to read the real story found in the second book of the Bible. I was reminded that all of the power and graphics of Hollywood can’t compete with the heart pounding story of redemption recorded in Exodus. I walked away from the theater early this morning with the reminder that imaginary tales of elves, wizards, orcs, dwarfs, a fire breathing dragon, a mountain of gold, and a hobbit can purposely entice the heart and mind to search out the deeper meaning of life. This deeper meaning is filled with sudden providences, miracles, and the happy ending. Although this deeper meaning surrounds us, often it remains hidden in plain view begging to be discovered.
As we think critically about these stories, we must be reminded that we long for a good story. Our heart yearns for the happy ending. It is by nature that we want to experience what Tolkien coined as “eucatastrophe” – the “good catastrophe.” Tolkien explains eucatastrophe in “On Fairy Stories” as
the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium [gospel], giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.
In many ways, Exodus and The Hobbit provide that for us. The record of the Exodus was written by Moses over 3,000 years ago. The story of The Hobbit was written in the 1930s as a children’s book. Yet, both stories have a modern relevance that appeals to children and adults. The relevance is centered in the message. Both contain the message of hope. Moses is the prophet that points us to Christ in the Exodus. The twists and turns of The Hobbit point us to the overarching providence of God to bring about the sudden and often veiled happy ending that seemed impossible. This is the message of the gospel. This is our hope. True hope transcends luck.
In the narrative of the Exodus, it wasn’t luck that brought the nation of Israel across the Red Sea on dry land. It was something far greater! God rules this world and the worlds that exist beyond the walls of this world. R. C. Sproul has accurately described the power of God, “There is no maverick molecule if God is sovereign.” Every drop of water in the Red Sea was under the transcendent sovereign control of YHWH. Although Ridley Scott appealed to luck, it was God who brought about the happy ending. In The Hobbit, Tolkien weaves into the story the theme of luck. However, he is merely using it as a teaching tool to bring home the heart of his message. Peter Jackson does a good job of capturing this in the final scene that came from the final page of the book as Bilbo and Gandalf converse.
“You don’t really suppose, do you,” the wizard asks the hobbit, “that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit?” Gandalf continues, “You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” To this Bilbo replies with happiness and humility, “Thank goodness!”
We can learn much from a reluctant prophet deliverer named Moses. God intends for us to learn the story of redemption. God has also given us an imagination and gifted people such as J.R.R. Tolkien with an ability to harness this imagination in “fairy stories” to teach us lessons that far transcend the graphics of a movie screen or the pages of a fictional tale involving a strange footed short standing hobbit. Perhaps we can learn poignant lessons about “dragon sickness” or the importance of perseverance as we follow the story. The most important thing we can learn is the nearness of our ubiquitous God who exists in perfect strength and is able to bring about the happy ending, to vanquish the foe, to defeat the dragon, and to do that which seemed impossible such as parting the Red Sea. That is exactly what He did with His Son Jesus Christ. When darkness prevailed, the resurrected Christ burst forth with gospel saving light!
Longing for the happy ending on the final page of history – already accomplished by the Son and recorded by the Spirit in a book – the Bible!
Pastor Josh Buice
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Resources and Reviews:
I love books. I enjoy the texture of the pages and the smell of the pages. I enjoy reading and holding in my hand a good book. I like to sit in my study surrounded by books and research a passage in preparation to preach. However, in my attempt to grow my library and resources in our present digital age, a few years ago I decided to make a leap into the digital world to expand my tools and resources. Before I took that important leap, I researched and used different tools to determine what “pool” I would jump into. After using several other digital tools, I decided that Logos Bible Software worked best for my reading and research needs. I would like to take you on a tour of how I presently use Logos Bible Software and why I think that Logos 6 is a major home run for home Bible study and ministry research needs.
Cloud Based Software
One thing I really enjoy about using my Logos 6 software is that it’s a cloud based operation that allows me to be more efficient. Often I will be reading in a particular commentary on my Logos iPad app, and when I highlight a statement by the author, when I arrive back in my office the highlight is already there and it allows me to find it easily and use it in my sermon preparation. The same thing is true for bookmarks and notes which appear in the resource when I open it on my desktop. This saves a great deal of time, especially when I’m using multiple resources for one sermon.
Visual Tools and Resources
Logos 6 has really increased productivity possibilities through the use of visual resources. The library of visual resources has been dramatically increased by professional artistic rendering of historic places, biblical scenes, and historic biblical structures (such as the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle). When simply reading or researching, these tools are great to give you a better glimpse into the landscape of the biblical text. How many times have you heard someone say that their visit to Jerusalem helped them “see” what is going on in the biblical text in a more insightful way? In a similar manner, this is what the visual tools of Logos 6 attempts to provide for you and the people who experience it as you teach or preach the Bible.
For example, I will be preaching Mark 1:9-11 this Sunday. As I study, if I see something I want to bring to the attention of the church, I can highlight it on my iPad. When I arrive at the office, I can pull up the resource and quickly find the highlighted quote. I can right click with my mouse and an options window appears where I can quickly select “visual copy” and immediately the quote is embedded on a professional visual aid that can be easily saved and imported into a PowerPoint file for the presentation.
I really like the flexibility of Logos 6 and how it allows me to arrange my resources in the best method for my research needs. I setup my desktop to allow me to maximize screen capability when preparing a sermon. I start with Logos 6 on the right and my Word document on the left. This allows me the option to read, research, and study with my resources while never losing sight of my manuscript on the left side of the screen. I constantly know where I am in my research. An example of what my screen looks like can be seen below.
This optional arrangement allows me to highlight, copy, and paste all while never losing sight of my Word document or Logos 6. The automatically formatted footnotes when pasting text into Word is another plus that Logos has provided in their technology for many years. In short, this allows me the flexibility and the productivity tools necessary to increase efficiency when writing a sermon manuscript and preparing my other tools such as a PowerPoint file at the end of my manuscript preparation.
In conclusion, I would highly recommend Logos 6 to you for your personal Bible study or ministry resource needs. With flexible payment options and specifically designed library choices, Logos 6 is the Bible study software that will help you reach goals, become productive, and efficiently complete your work.
After using Logos 6 for several weeks now, I am impressed not only with the functionality but the impressive new tools and resources that have been added to my software tools. The only thing that still remains unclear is how Logos Bible Software would like for you to pronounce it. Is it “Low-Gos” or “La-Gas”? I have heard some people use a middle ground option – “Low-Gas” in order to cover both pronunciations. For now, I will stick with “Low-Gos” when talking about my favorite Bible study software – Logos 6.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
I was recently speaking in a conference held on the campus of a Presbyterian church. One of my Presbyterian pastor friends spoke up in the presence of several other pastors and said, “I’m still working to make Josh a Presbyterian.” I replied, “I’m still waiting on one Bible verse.” The point is – I want to make large decisions like whether we baptize babies on the clear testimony of God’s Word. From the beginning, I want to be clear, I have refused to drink the “Kool-Aid” of the multisite church model because I cannot locate one Bible verse that causes me to elevate multisite church development over church planting.
How does your local church design the worship service? Is the music or the preaching driving the worship services of your local church? Does your church practice the public reading of Scripture during your weekly worship? Is your church led by elders or by a group of deacons? Does your church engage in evangelism? These questions are all relevant, and we find the answers to them in the sufficient Word of God. Therefore, if the Word serves as our only sufficient guide, how do we make decisions about church polity? Should we have multiple services on one campus? Should we have a multisite church model (one church in multiple locations)? Once again, we should seek counsel from God’s Word as we make these important decisions.
Problem #1 – Local Becomes Multiple
The entire New Testament is centered upon the local church in specific cities starting in Jerusalem and spreading throughout the world through the Paul’s missionary journeys. The biblical word translated church is ἐκκλησία. R. C. Sproul defines this word by writing, “The Greek word for church, ecclesia, is made up of a prefix and a root. The prefix is ek—out of. The root is the verb coleo, to call.” The point is clear as you consider the usage of the word throughout the New Testament. Church (ἐκκλησία) has in mind the assembly of a particular group of people (the called out ones) in a specified location which is local in nature (the church at Corinth, Ephesus, etc).
Recently, Mark Driscoll, the megachurch pastor of a multisite congregation known as Mars Hill resigned from his church under a tsunami of controversy. Driscoll, a man who was no rookie to controversy, submitted his letter of resignation on October 14th to the elders of Mars Hill. Driscoll planted the church 18 years ago and has served as the only lead pastor since the beginning. Although his personality often made him a lightening rod for drama and controversy with his salty speech and edgy preaching, it eventually caught up with him when his congregation turned on him. Following his resignation, the elders published a stunning letter explaining that the church known as Mars Hill would dissolve into local churches. The article had three main headings, local decisions, local church, and local mission. The point was clear – Mars Hill multisite church would no longer exist. Each church that remains open will be a local congregation by the end of 2014.
The decision of Mars Hill’s leadership points to the seriousness of defining ἐκκλησία properly in the beginning. What if Mars Hill had merely planted autonomous churches as opposed to building a complex multisite structure? The fact remains, a bride cannot be multiple. She will always be a local specific bride. The family cannot be multiple. Each family will be a local specific family by name and location. The church cannot be multiple either. Although we recognize the way in which Jesus uses the word church in Matthew 16:18 (the universality of the church), but when dealing with specific congregations – the church must remain local.
Problem #2 – Personality Driven?
Not all multisite churches are the same. Some have local teaching pastors while others use modern technology to beam their lead pastor’s live feed onto a screen on stage for people to watch. However, in all cases of the multisite model, we must admit a certain level of personality propels the ship onward. It may be the name of a pastor or it could be the name of a certain church. At times certain churches make the decision to go multisite based on the giftedness of their pastor. Other churches have made similar decisions based on a marketing technique similar to image branding. However, at some level both of these serve as a personality / ego driven decision.
What does the multisite church model communicate to the community? Does it communicate that our pastor is better than yours – so we’re opening another campus? Does it send the message that our church is somehow better than yours so we’re opening another site? The deeper issue may be from within the church itself. What message is communicated to the entire church? Does the main preaching pastor communicate the message that God isn’t capable of raising up other pastors 15 or 20 miles away to do what I do? What is the big deal about multisite church? Why go that direction? Why not just plant an autonomous church in that area and cut it off? Could it have anything to do with church growth numbers and statistics? Certainly it does help boost your church up the ranks in size and growth. Remember, at one point Mark Driscoll boasted of 14,000 members of Mars Hill. Upon a closer investigation, it was 14,000 spread out over 15 campuses in 5 different states. That makes a big difference for the end of the year report.
At the end of the day, are we seeking to build a church around our own personality or the personality of Jesus – the Head of the Church?
Problem #3 – Pragmatic in Design
The world often functions by the rule – “If it feels good – do it.” In many ways, the evangelical church makes decisions based upon the rule – “If it works – do it.” Who can argue with the numbers, right? Thabiti Anyabwile, in his article, Multi-Site Churches Are From The Devil, writes, “As a social scientist, I’m not at all impressed with the pragmatic appeal to these gross numbers because, contrary to public opinion, these kinds of numbers do not ‘tell the story.’ And I think the jury is still out on whether ‘it works.’ That jury won’t be in with a verdict for another several decades, I’m afraid. And theologically, the pragmatic appeals to ‘it works’ persuade very little. Too many other things we’re called to be faithful in doing are simply left undone in this approach. If that’s true, what exactly is this model ‘working’ at?
In many cases, the pastoral staff and the church as a whole has walked off down the road of multisite church structure without a clear biblical conviction to stand upon. It’s more often about how many people they can reach for Christ or how organized they can remain under the multisite model where gifted leaders share leadership and resources under one name – although they meet on different campuses. The pragmatic nature of the multisite model is evident in the language and argument of Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald as they sat down for a conversation with Mark Dever on this issue a while back. The full video conversation can be watched here.
Although from a business or branding model it may seem to work, is it biblical? Statistics tell us that it normally works. According to Ed Stetzer in his article Multisite Churches are Here, and Here, and Here to Stay, “Multisite churches are on the rise. This is not a fad, this is not some sort of temporary trend—multisite churches are here to stay. It’s like the megachurch now—just a part of our church landscape—the new normal.” Note the statistics from Leadership Network released February of 2014:
- In the United States alone, 5 million people worshipped at one of 8,000 multisite churches last weekend.
- That’s 9% of all Protestant churchgoers and 3% of all Protestant churches, respectively.
- If multisite churches were a Protestant denomination, they’d be the fourth largest.
If pragmatics rule the decisions of a local church – it seems that to grow and grow quickly, the multisite model is the way to go. LifeWay Research reports that out of the 100 largest churches, only 12 have a single campus. Although pragmatics often lead the charge, real serious questions must be addressed. If we capitulate to pragmatics when leading a church – it’s a slippery slope downward.
Consider the local church in Acts 2:42-47 and the remainder of the New Testament. They were together for the preaching, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, discipline, and pastoral care. How is that possible under the multisite model?
- How can the church be together for the Lord’s Supper while split up on multiple campuses?
- How can the church be together for the observance of baptism from multiple campuses?
- Is it possible to be a unified church while on separate campuses?
- Is church discipline possible through a multisite campus model?
- Can the lead pastor really shepherd the flock through a multisite model?
Just as with simple decisions about how we plan our worship services each week, we must come to the sufficient Word of God to answer weighty questions about how we structure the church as a whole. If it doesn’t square with the polity taught in the Word of God, we must reject it – no matter if it works or not. The decision must not be based upon popularity. The decision must be based upon chapter and verse. People of the Book must follow the Book when leading a church.
In the vicious cycle of church growth techniques, I’m reminded that I once heard Mark Dever describe the 19th century Scottish pastor, John Brown who was addressing younger pastors as he stated: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.”
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
Today is Reformation Day – October 31st. It was this day in the year 1517 that God used an Augustinian monk to spark what we know as the Protestant Reformation. As I have written before, something greater than Halloween happened on October 31st.
It was a common thing in Martin Luther’s day to nail documents to the castle door in Wittenberg. The large door served as a bulletin board for community debate. It’s unlikely that Luther intended to burst the bowels of the Roman Catholic Church with the sword of the Spirit, but that is exactly what happened. The rest is history.
It was the Word of God that changed this Catholic monk. Romans 1:16-17 was the great text that opened his eyes to see the truth. At first, it angered Luther, but eventually it brought him to the realization that he needed a righteousness that was outside of himself – namely the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Luther describes the period of time of his wrestling with God in his works:
“Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, ‘As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!’ Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted. (Luther’s Works, Volume 34, P336-337).”
Luther would become hated and despised by the Roman Catholic Church. The pope of Luther’s day called him a “wild boar” because of his unwillingness to submit to the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings. Once Luther’s eyes were opened, he preached the gospel, translated the Bible into German, wrote books, and penned songs for God’s glory. Luther’s doctrine was centered upon the sovereignty of God. He once called Erasmus’ writings on free will “dung served on gold plates.”
As I reflect upon Luther and his life, I am often brought to the centerpiece of Luther’s own doctrine and teaching - Sola Fide – faith alone in Christ alone for the remission of sins. This past week, Dr. Steven Lawson preached to our congregation on Reformation Sunday from Romans 1:17. He referenced Luther and the history of the Reformation, however, his text was this grand Scripture that once opened the eyes of Martin Luther. I recommend this sermon to you. If your eyes have not been opened to the reality of your need for the perfect righteousness of Christ, may God cause you to see it today.
Pastor Josh Buice
Perhaps one of the most frightening verses in the Bible appears in Mark’s gospel chapter twelve. In verses 28-34, we are told the story of a scribe who stepped out from a crowd and hurled a question at Christ. Can you imagine being in the crowd to hear the Q&A with Jesus? The scribe’s question, while simple and perhaps politically motivated, came back to haunt him. The scribe asked Jesus “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Perhaps he never saw it coming. Perhaps he never realized what Jesus said. Perhaps he missed what Jesus said at the end because he was so focused on the fact that he got the answer right. Either way, Jesus’ response to the scribe is one of the most frightening statements that ever proceed from Jesus’ mouth in holy Scripture.
Jesus was being peppered with questions from the Pharisees and Sadducees when this scribe stepped out and asked his question. It’s widely believed to have originated out of a heart of deceit. Perhaps he was seeking to lay a trap for Jesus. Would Jesus contradict the law of Moses? Certainly that was the intent of many people in the crowd on that day. Interestingly enough, the scribe’s question was turned back toward him when Jesus quoted from Moses. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6. The point was this:
- Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus’ point was that the greatest commandment is not in the 613 points that appear in successive format in the Talmud. Jesus was in one sense summarizing the whole law and demonstrating the fact that no fake follower of God would be able to fulfill those two commandments. Why not? Because they focus on the inner man rather than the external checkboxes of man’s religious system.
In a striking response of clear wisdom, the scribe responded to Jesus’ statement by saying, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.  And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices (32-33).” Apparently this scribe had studied the law well. It’s apparent that he knew the difference between the external and the internal forms of religion. His answer to Jesus’ quiz was exactly right.
The Sad Reality
The sad reality to this entire scene is centered upon Jesus’ response to the scribe’s answer. Mark records the scene for us by writing, “And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.‘ And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” Although the man got the point and was accurate with his answer to Jesus, he was still not a true child of God. He had an abundance of head knowledge, but he was disconnected from God inwardly. In fact, this scribe was guilty of the very thing he spoke about in his answer. He had the external answer right with his lips, but his life was separated from God.
Do you know people like this scribe? Could it be that you resemble this man? We have all heard people who can pray with big religious words and spiritual talk on the external. We have all been around people in small group Bible studies that flaunted their wisdom and intellectual knowledge about God’s Word openly while being disconnected from God. We have all read Facebook status updates by people who speak of praying to God while in the update just prior to that one they were celebrating a lifestyle of open rebellion to God’s Word. J.C. Ryle has given us a clear warning! He writes, “Let us beware of resting our hopes of salvation on mere intellectual knowledge.”
As a pastor, I have personally witnessed many people who were “not far from the kingdom of God.” However, as it pertains to eternal life, to be close is to be an eternity away. When A.W. Tozer claimed that he believed 90% of all church members were unconverted, we must be moved to examine ourselves. Is our religion a checkbox religion? Kent Hughes writes, “Nothing is of greater importance than loving God! If we fail to take this seriously, we may find at the end of our lives that all of our works counted for nothing.”
One of the most dangerous things about “Bible Belt” America is the fact that many people know just enough about God to send them to one of the hottest parts of hell. Remember, Jesus once warned the most religious groups that the judgment would be more tolerable for Sodom than for those who had heard the gospel over and over and over again (Matthew 11:20-24). Nominal Christianity is a death nail.
It would do us all well today to examine our faith to see if it is genuine. Are you close to the kingdom of God? Jesus’ words to this scribe continue to echo throughout history. He was not the only one in human history to be close. Call out for mercy to God today and He will cleanse you from your transgressions. In the words of Paul Tripp – “‘What can wash away my sin?’ (Not people, possessions, theology, performance, experience, etc…) ‘Nothing but the blood of Jesus.’”
Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Josh Buice
Denny Burk on Women Deacons
Although good churches and close friends in the ministry often disagree on the interpretation of “women” or “wives” in 1 Timothy 3 within the context of deacons, it is required to land on a specific position. Denny Burk does a good job of pointing out the issues of the debate and his own position through proper exegesis and application. Read and listen to Denny Burk’s position here.
Expositor Magazine, a great new magazine has recently been released by Dr. Steven Lawson and OnePassion Ministries. This is an invaluable resource for pastors. Visit their website and subscribe to the bi-monthly magazine (1 yr. = $30).
- Exodus and The Hobbit: Luck and the Happy Ending
- Denny Burk on Women Deacons
- Logos 6
- Expositor Magazine
- G3 Conference
- Multiple Multisite Problems
- #6 of 95
- Free Reformation Day – Ligonier
- Reformation Day – Sola Fide
- Frightening Words By Jesus
- John Flavel Once Said…
- 4.5 Million Dollar Wrongful Birth Lawsuit [Abortion]