Month: December 2019

Sermon Script: Small Christmas Rebellions – Preached on 12/22/19

Jonathan David Faulkner 

 You can listen here:

Reading of the Text:

Micah 5:2-5a

2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3 Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. 4 And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. 5 And he shall be their peace.

6:6-8

6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

May God Bless to our hearts this reading of His Holy Word.

Introduction: This morning I want to once again peel back the curtain for you, to give you just another glimpse into the pastor’s tool bag and show you another of the tools they equip us with in Seminary. I have told you about the tool of Biblical Theology, searching the full council of scripture one a topic and hopefully have demonstrated that to you. Now I want to tell you about the tool of what is called “Cultural Exegesis” The tool of Cultural Exegesis. What Cultural Exegesis is for the pastor, his ability to read what is happening in the culture and interpret the popular ideas and even, as C. Gene Wilkes puts it in his book “Jesus on Leadership” see the future in a manner of speaking. It is, as Karl Barth put it, preaching with: “The Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Cultural Exegesis shows us too things, 1. What the trends and changes in the culture at large are and 2. The tools which God is using to reach the culture at large. In our time we have been blessed with incredible Cultural Exegetes such as the Barna group and Pew Research Center who give us a fairly clear picture of both of these things. Many of you have heard me talk about statistics like 98% of people who come to church, and stay are invited by a church member and only 2% are invited by the pastor. That is cultural exegesis. It is also from cultural exegesis that we learn that there has never been a bigger difference between the oldest generation in the work force, and now the second youngest, my own generation and the reason for that is the internet and smart phones. But it also shows us the unique ways God is using the tools of the day to reach the younger generation and gives us a good blueprint for how to join in Him in that task. That is why you should read books like David Kinnemen’s “You Lost Me” or James Emory White’s “Meet Generation Z” Or look at what a mission we support, Network Beyond is doing in Fort Collins to reach their neighborhood, I can tell you after talking to Steve a few weeks ago, it is pretty exciting and all of it is applicable here in Buffalo Center, believe it or not.

God Reaching the World: Now, many of you may be wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas and especially with the Christ Child and our text for today. Well, there is no better time to talk about how God is reaching the world than when we celebrate the season when God’s plan for reaching the world was unveiled through the incarnation of Jesus Christ as a Baby. In fact, it says in verse Micah 5:3: “He will give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel.” Jesus coming was meant to be one that reconciled God to man and man to each other. And our text this morning gives us a closer look at that, so let’s dive in.

As we come to the book of Micah we are dealing with a contemporary of Isaiah, in fact, there are a lot of parallels between Micah and Isaiah, Isaiah the court prophet and Micah the wilderness prophet, both preaching in the time of Hezekiah and both witnessing the carrying off into exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They both speak of Israel and Judah’s sins and the coming punishment for those sins, they also speak of the way to renewal that God himself has laid out for them and is laying out for them. We all know the famous parallel passage to our text this morning, Isaiah 7:14 where Isaiah tells Ahaz, “The Lord Himself shall give you a sign and Behold, a virgin shall give birth and you shall call his name Emmanuel, God with Us, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace and the Government shall be upon His shoulders.” In Micah 5 then God reveals where that counselor will be born, Bethlehem Ephrathah, the city where the great King David had been born and lived and where Solomon even ruled for a time in 1 Kings 3. Yet by the time of Jesus birth it would become the “least of the cities in Judah” so small it likely was not even counted among the tribe of Judah. Matthew Henry writes this about Bethlehem: “having down how low the house of David should be brought and how viley the shield of that mighty family should be cast away as through it had not been anointed with Oil. To encourage the faith of God’s people who might be tempted now to think that His covenant with David and his house had been abrogated he add an illustrious description of the Messiah and His Kingdom, in whom the remnant should be established and the honors of that house should be revived, advanced and perpetuated.” Bethlehem, which had become so low it was nothing more than a hamlet, Mary and Joseph, from a family that had been so humbled they may as well have never been kings. All of this because of the breaking of the Covenant and disobedience of God’s chosen people. Yet, through this humbled family would come the Great Shepherd, the one Servant King of Isaiah 53, the one who would lead God’s people back, the one from whom the remnant would be formed. He would rule with the strength and name of the Lord, bring glory to God, in Him they would dwell secure and be at peace. God would continue his work of lifting up the lowly as he had done time and time again form the raising of a lowly shepherd boy from Bethlehem as king, to the choice of a poor virgin girl in Galilee who proclaimed in Luke 1:52 “God lifts up the lowly.”

Peace with God: But Judah had a problem, a problem that comes out again both in the book of Isaiah and in our second passage for today, that is they kept trying to attain peace with God through their own sacrifices. They kept seeking peace in the blood of one year old calves, in the blood of thousands of bulls, Micah even goes so far as to suggest in verse 7 that they were offering their children as the Pagans did, the fruit of their wombs, all to achieve peace with God, to get on His good side. It is interesting because if you look at the sins of Israel it is very clear that they were not just sins against God, but sins against others, against one another and against the foreigner. Or they were sins of misplaced trust, turning to Egypt as Ahaz did in Isaiah 7 for protection from the Assyrians instead of trusting in God for peace and deliverance. Now they had turned to the daily slaughter in the temple, the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and even the fruit of their wombs, burning incense, thinking that this was the way to stay the wrath of GOD. Yet God himself says both in Isaiah and in Micah that these are not the way to renewal and are in fact an abomination to him as He says in Isaiah 1. One of Micah’s key concepts is that Spiritual Renewal begins not with the spilling of blood or burning or incense but with the ending of ones unjust treatment of others. This is not all there is of course, but it is the essential first step. Micah concludes his section on renewal that starts in 5:2 with 6:8 “He has told you oh man, what is good, to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” This should take us all the way back to God’s first promises to Abraham in Genesis, before the sacrificial system was enacted at Sinai under Moses, that his descendants are to be a light to the nations not through sacrifices but by their obedience to GOD. Yet by the time Micah was prophesying they had abandoned obedience to the word of God in favor of seeking wealth, hording up for themselves the riches of this world, even boasting in it, they mistreated and abused the sojourner, refusing to care for those who came in the midst, indeed, even refusing to care for their own poor, turning to the might of the king instead of the greater might of God. Everyone was out to get his own and it did not matter who got in the way. That is why Micah appeals here to the two tables of the covenant in reverse order: “Love people” “Do justice, love mercy” and “Love God” “And walk humbly with your God.” God does not desire sacrifices but right relationship. It is the horizontal and vertical beams of salvation that we talked about a few weeks ago, out of their relationship with God Judah should become a just and upright people who because they walk humbly with God do justice and love mercy and kindness.

Christmas: and that brings me to Christmas, a time when we like to quote from Micah 5, Isaiah 7 and many other passages but we never really stop to think of them in their context. Yet when you combine Micah’s words in 5 and 6 you end up with this: God has made a way for Peace with Him and that is through the lowliest of babes, from the lowliest city and a once great family brought so low they were unrecognizable compared to their former glory. Yet from this family would come Emmanuel, God with Us, Mighty Counselor, Prince of Peace, and He would shepherd God’s people with the might to the Lord and those who dwelt in Him would dwell secure and be at peace and because they did this, because they were in relationship with Him they would do justice and love mercy as a natural outpouring of their relationship with the coming baby foretold and who has now come, lived, died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. The one who is coming back to judge the living and the dead and who through the Holy Spirit who dwells inside us, makes it possible for us even today to walk humbly with God and to do justice, love mercy.

Application: Now, I have heard it said in this church, by some, that what we need is a big revival, one along the lines of the tent revivals of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries to bring people back to Church. We gather everyone in and they come and hear the dynamic evangelist preach and souls will be saved and boom, we will turn back the tide of secularism. Yet this is where cultural exegesis helps us because it tells us that those kinds of tactics do not work on the younger generations. In fact, the opposite is true, most younger people will not darken the doors of a church until they have had a lengthy relationship with its members. Now, there are obviously exceptions to this, but in most cases people want nothing to do with a Christianity where people think if they go to church on Sunday they are all set, they want to see that we live what we believe and they want to see us live what we believe in the public square. Many young people, and this is true of both young Christians and Non-Christians alike look at the church and see a parallel with the sins of Israel. They see us clamor for political power, putting our trust in man’s government rather than God, even at times conflating the two. They read op-eds written by prominent theologians and pastors against foreigners of any kind, they see us pursue wealth and the power it buys us and they see us act as if that has given us peace with God. They see us acting out of fear of what might happen when we lose our position of power rather than trusting in God and going to more and more unjust and immoral means to achieve that. Brothers and Sisters, this is not the way to have peace with God, this is the way to enmity with God, this is the path to our downfall, it always has been and it always will be and I tell you that with the authority of the Holy Word of God and the testimony of History behind me. You want peace with God, you want to see His blessings follow this church, you want to reach your town? Stop worrying about who is in power and start listening to the one in your heart. Have a relationship with God that, out of gratitude draws you to care for your neighbor, no matter the ramifications. You want to see this church grow, start reaching out to your neighbors, invite them to your table, get to know them, connect with them on a deep level, support them, whether they are a believer or not. Stop bemoaning how the times have changed and do what God has put before you to do. Don’t just bring people to church to hear me preach, be the church to them. Do Justice, Love mercy and walk humbly with God. God is not reaching people through big revivals but through small gatherings at your dinner table. Depoliticize your faith and search again the baby in the manger, the lowly, servant king. Oh, brothers and sisters, I beg of you, as one who has a heart for both my generation and yours to hear the Gospel, please hear what I am saying. We think we are on the path to peace, but we are on the path to destruction, please hear me.

Jars of Clay calls these things Small Rebellions, and the best example in history I can think of is the original St. Nicholas the bishop of Nyrsa who, when he still lived in his home town of Patara, after losing his wealthy parents to the plague heard of a father of three girls who had fallen on hard times, so much so he could not afford to pay dowries for his girls. Hearing this, Nicholas took a bag of gold and threw it through the window at night, when the family awoke they found the gold, paid off some of the family debts and paid the dowry price for the first girl. This happened two more times before the father finally caught Nicholas after he placed the third bag. Throughout his life he was known for his exceeding generosity and care, especially for the poor. So much so that when three Roman Generals were freed because of the work of Nicholas and came to bestow gold and treasures on them, he distributed to the poor. That is how the legend we know today of Santa Claus began. He trusted GOD more than man, he cared for others more than he cared for himself, he did justice and he loved mercy because he walked humbly with God. These are the small rebellions we can commit year-round, not just at Christmas time, but every day. Like Scrooge at the end of A Christian Carol who kept Christmas well by his care for others, Dicken’s writes: “All year-round.”

Brothers and Sisters, I love you, you who are made in the image of God and have been called into relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ who came as a baby to the lowliest place to lift up the lowly. May you daily commit small rebellions against the world through choosing to live as Christ in this world reaching this world with love, by doing justice and loving mercy as you walk humbly with God. Lifting up the lowly, caring for the widow and the orphan and the refugee, the single mother and the abused and trafficked women, the homeless man who comes to your door or who you see on the street. May you care for the least of these for in doing so you will have done it to Christ. May you follow the greatest rebellion of Christ, who came into the world as a baby and died for you so you could live.

Let’s pray

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

 

“Small Christmas Rebellions” – A Reflection on Micah 5:2-5a, 6:6-8

“Give us days to be filled with Small Rebellions, senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all, as we stand between the fear and firm foundations, push against the current and the fall” – Jars of Clay

Jonathan David Faulkner

This week I have giving great attention to the words of Micah 5:2-5 and 6:6-8 as I prepare a Sermon on them for Christmas Sunday. These passages are ones we hear quoted often but we rarely are encouraged to meditate over, so here they are:

Micah 5:2-5a

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth. And he shall be their peace.

And 6:6-8

“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Again, two passages we all hear and maybe even have memorized but rarely do we really meditate on and even rarer do we see them placed side by side or consider their placement in Micah’s prophesy.

Consider the state of Judah and Israel at the time of Micah’s writing. They have broken their covenant with God, they are in danger of being carried off by Assyria. Micah, the wilderness prophet writes at the same time as Isaiah the Court Prophet, both have startlingly similar messages. Judah has disobeyed, they have broken covenant with God and have killed the Prophets who have warned them, but they have continued to offer their sacrifices to Him in a vain attempt to appease him, they desperately want peace with him, but they done injustice, they have been ungrateful for all that God has given them. Isaiah has warned them that God really hates their burned offering, the blood of their bulls is even an “Abomination” to him (Isaiah 1:10-20). God does not want their worship, He does not want their sacrifice, especially devoid of the very thing He desires above all, a relationship marked by obedience to His Word. The Sin of God’s people was so egregious that even the righteous prophet Isaiah was not unstained (Isaiah 6:1-7).

Here we find the prophet Micah echoing much of what Isaiah himself prophesied. You can almost put the two passages (Micah 5 and Isaiah 7) together.

Israel and Judah will be abandoned by God until God himself gives them a sign, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and His name will be called Emmanuel, God with us, and he will rule Israel as a shepherd who shows the majesty of God and the Government will be on his shoulders and He who is eternally begotten of the Father, the one who existed from before antiquity, will be born to a women in Bethlehem Ephrathah which is the lowliest of the cities of Judah, so small it may not even be counted among her thousands of cities in Judah. From this town is where the one who would bring us “Shalom” peace, wholeness, completeness, this is where He would come from. If you Add in Micah 6:6-8 you can say: “You will not achieve peace with God through burnt offerings, through calves, or tithes or dedicating your children to the Lord, only by relationship with God, through this baby that is prophesied about in the previous chapter, through doing Justice, loving mercy and kindness, walking humbly with Him, then you can have peace with God, through having a contrite heart, a repentant spirit, through doing what His Word has told us to do. You want peace with God, stop worshiping Him apart from Obeying Him.

Bethlehem was so insignificant and so lowly and yet that was where the Savior was going to come from. He was going to come from a place which Matthew Henry writes had been: “having down how low the house of David should be brought and how viley the shield of that mighty family should be cast away as through it had not been anointed with Oil. To encourage the faith of God’s people who might be tempted now to think that His covenant with David and his house had been abrogated he add an illustrious description of the Messiah and His Kingdom, in whom the remnant should be established and the honors of that house should be revived, advanced and perpetuated.” The very one who by being in relationship with Him we have peace with God and peace with one another. His coming lifts up the lowest of the low, the house of David, brought into obscure poverty so that the one found from the lineage of David was a Virgin girl and a Carpenter living in Galilee. A man and his betrothed, they were not even married yet. Yet it was through them God was going to work His amazing power of opening the womb of the Virgin. God is going to do what science and common-sense say is impossible.

Yet, God in His wisdom made a way, not for us to worship him, that should be our default, but for us to have a relationship with Him. We do that by walking humbly with Him, by doing Justice and loving mercy. We live in relationship with Him through doing what Jars of Clay called “Small Rebellions” those: “Senseless brutal acts of kindness from us all.” We follow the example of St. Nicholas of Nyrsa who when he heard about a father who could not provide dowries for his three daughters. So in the middle of the night he snuck up to the window and dropped a bag of gold in for the first daughter. He did this two more times, providing dowries for the other two daughters before the father finally caught him. This is a small rebellion, it goes against what is considered normative, it goes against what we consider safe, especially in our individualism driven culture. It is a rebellion against the attitude of both Nicholas’s day and our own, that we get our own, get what the god of self informs us we deserve. At Christmas time these rebellions should be foremost on our minds, these are the natural rebellions of a Christian in relationship with the Christ Child. These rebellions do justice but correcting injustice, correct the merciless acts of others by doing mercy to those who have been abused. This is the rebellion St. Nicholas and the legend that rose up around him gave us, that like God giving His son, it is more important for us to give to others and to give of ourselves for the sake of others than to receive what would be most self-gratifying.

The World is looking at the church and wondering why we are doing the opposite of this rebellion, they look at us and say: “Your scriptures say you believe in this, why do you not practice it? Your God tells you to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” it even tells you that you can do that because of and through Christ, so why do you not do it?” This is the great indictment against us, a sad reality that makes reaching this world so much harder. When we turn to politics or power or man’s philosophies to determine the life of the church we are actually killing it, doing harm to Christ, rebelling against the wrong kingdom. Christ’s coming is for you, so you can have relationship with God and from that relationship with God you can live in relationship with others, Just relationships, where mercy is enacted and we walk together humbly with God. God doesn’t want our worship, he wants our relationship and for us to be in relationship with others. Justice and Mercy come from God, they are meant to be lived out for others. What God has done is merciful and Just and you are meant to show that to one another.

Small Christmas Rebellions happen when you invite your neighbor over for dinner, even if that neighbor is less fortunate than you, doesn’t fit your view of normal, does not look like you, does not have the same socio-economic status as you. Small Christmas Rebellions start at your table, caring for the poor, the needy among us. Not letting the organizations do all the heavy lifting because: “that’s what they’re for” but doing it yourself. Just like God raising up Bethlehem to honor, we should raise up the lowly among us, for as Luke 1:52 says: “God lifts up the lowly” so should we. They are, after-all, made in the image of GOD and worthy of the dignity that this sinful world denies them and which through Christ, His body should work to restore to them.

Peace with God means you are free and clear to rebel against the world, to choose the things of God over and against the things of this world. That we do not have to fear the consequence that the world may enact against us for living out what we believe. They can kill us, but we will not die. So, commit the small Christmas rebellions, go and do what God has commanded, love your neighbor, have them at table, who cares what the world thinks, the secular world will pass away, but Christ and His Kingdom, which includes you, will not.

So, this Christmas, volunteer at the shelter, have your neighbor over for dinner, even if that neighbor looks differently from you, go visit the nursing home. Love your neighbor as yourself because God has first loved you. Do all that Christ has put before you to do in Scripture with the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. These are small rebellions against the world, for the sake of showing Christ to the world, and they are carried out through us, God’s chosen people. All because Christ came as a baby, the one who was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah and Micah and so many others.

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

Top 20 Christian Albums of the Decade: 2010-2019

The Top 20 Christian Albums of the Decade

Jonathan Faulkner

After I left ARLCMG in 2013 it is true that I have not been as up to date on the Christian Music Scene outside of the bands I regularly listen too. That is not to say I do not still get updates and am not still on the mailing lists for several of my old music industry contacts. I still get their pre-releases and have even occasionally released reviews of various albums. Still, I want to post a top 20 of the decades (and some honorable mentions) because this has actually been a great decade for Christian Music across the spectrum. In fact, from Lecrae, to Third Day, to Demon Hunter to Thousand Foot Krutch to Tenth Avenue North, and across all sorts of genres from Ska to Metal to CCM to Rap, it has been an incredible decade. So let’s lay out the criterion, or dust it off as it were, for what makes an album worthy of a top 20 list, or even for a top review.

  1. It must have staying power: It must be one you come back and listen to over and over
  2. It must show the creativity of the band: No cookie cutter albums here
  3. It must be relevant to the times: This is the hardest category
  4. It must have clear Christian themes and messages: Like, from the Bible.

So, with these in mind, let’s start working through our top 20 of the Decade. They are listed as Album, Title, Year.

Honorable Mentions: “I Quit Church” Matt & Toby, “Love Letter Killshot” Disciple, “Come In” Children 18:3, “The Things We’ve Been To Afraid to Say” Tenth Avenue North, “The Mountaintop” The City Harmonic, “Good News” Rend Collective

20. Between Pavement and Stars, Five Iron Frenzy, 2015: This EP really makes the list for one reason, it is the only time in Christian Music when an artist has properly addressed the problems with Westboro Baptist. Well…that’s not the only reason, but “God Hates Flags” is one of the few songs of the decade that tries to deal both in grace and truthfulness with the so-called church in Topeka. Every song on this EP except for the fun “To Astoria!” addresses some issue of the culture which they have seen in abundance at their church in Denver called “Scum of the Earth Church.”

19. Blacklight, Tedashi, 2011: One of the many albums I reviewed at ARL still makes its way into my CD player (an old music listening device) today. The album has not only increased in relevance as times have changed, “Burn This House Down” feels more relevant than it did when it came out as Tedashi and other Christian Rappers both Black and White have moved away from cultural Evangelicalims/Christianity. This album is a work of art from start to finish with few exceptions (there is actually only one), the more you listen the more you learn.

18. How to be Human, The Classic Crime, 2017: Some might be surprised to find this album here given that it actually moves away from American Christian Orthodoxy, but in this case, that is a good thing as the band wrestles with their move away from simple faith to one of people questioning faith and even questioning all that they’ve been told. This is relevant for the same reason Matt and Toby’s “I Quit Church” is, it reflects the feelings and thoughts of the current generation. Helping us better understand the culture into which we are ministering. Authors note:“I Quit Church” is an honorable mention.

17. Extremist, Demon Hunter, 2014: There have been six Demon Hunter albums between 2010 and 2019 and two of them make this list. “Extremist” first because it addresses Christian Music’s tendency towards easy, irrelevant answers that point people to conventional, feel good, wisdom, not the truth of the Gospel. It starts with out “Artificial Light” and ends with the natural resting place of worldly wisdom: “The Heart of a Graveyard.” It addresses our modern religious western Pharisaic (“Cross to Bear”) and shows the bands ability to transition their sound while staying true to what makes them Demon Hunter.

16, Neon Steeple, Crowder, 2014: Another artist with two albums making this list is Crowder. I am not sure any of us expected such a solid first outing from the man once he left The David Crowder Band, and yet, here we are with two. Crowder shows he is not just a pawn on the industry, that he can speak to issues within the Christian Community. He does so in a way that points us to Christ and to the Scriptures. Something sorely missing in CCM today.

15. Inland, Jars of Clay, 2013: Can you believe this is the only Jars Album to come out this decade? It just confirms I am pushing 30…. Anyway…. Jars of Clay was known for their relevancy and Inland does not disappoint. From “After the Fight” to “Loneliness and Alcohol” which addresses our cultures isolation and alcoholism to the haunting “Human Race” and the need for a “Reckless Forgiver” This album speaks into the darkness and dissolution of our lives in ways lost on much of CCM.

14. American Prodigal, Crowder, 2016: There are certain albums you start to listen to and realize you need to wait because by the end you are going to be crying. This was one of them, and if you got the Deluxe Edition, well you were probably crying even harder when “Praise the Lord” came on and you realized that all your cultural Christianity had failed you. For Crowder this album seems like an unworking of all he worked to build, his next album feels more so, but this one knocks down the foundations to take us “Back to the Garden” when Christian Music was good and God was the focus. This album challenged Christian Music’s fundamental assertions and for that it did not get quite the credit it deserves.

13. You Were Never Alone, Emery, 2015: It’s hard to think of a band more accomplished in the last decade than Emery or a musician more accomplished then Toby Morrell who has gone unnoticed by the wider market. The first independent record from Emery was quite a showing and in true Emery style, completely different than what they had ever done before. “Rock, Pebel, Stone” was probably one of the best songs of the decade, as were “Thrash” and “To The Deep.” I should pause here and say that a lot of bands could learn from Emery’s business model. I have never been part of a community of fans were the artists connect better and address topics better than the BadChristian brand does. Forget Christian music learning something from this, the Church as a whole should.

12. Blurryface, Twenty-One Pilots, 2015: From one of the most underappreciated bands of the decade, to one of the two most appreciated. I had to catch myself one day recently when I almost referred to Twenty-One Pilots as a “new phenomenon.” I forgot that they have been around for over 10 years now and have only grown in popularity. Blurryface, a record about the artists inner mental health struggle and sins speaks to our generation in a way we understand and can identify with while seeking to point us to God, even when we feel He is absent.

11. Move, Third Day, 2010: This wasn’t the best Third Day Album of their long and historic career, but it was the best of the decade and deserves a spot on this list, it also holds the distinction of being the only album from 2010 on the list. This was a return to Third Day’s Southern Rock roots which made them famous. Yet it showed they could blend their propensity for worship with scripture-based encouragement. Oh and the beginning of “Lift Up Your Face” still grabs my attention and kind gives me chills, ten years later. Third Day may be gone, but their music is not forgotten.

10. Until We Have Faces, Red, 2011: Back in the day I stood in the front row and covered the Redvolution Tour with TFK, Manafest, Kiros and Nine Lashes. RED’s “The Machine” still stands out in my mind as the greatest stage prop I have ever seen and whenever I listen to this album now I still see that thing, I mean, it was incredible. That being said, of all the RED albums released this decade (5), and I know some will disagree, it was probably the best of them all in regard to message and cohesiveness. It also became the launching point for the next two or three albums. It was also the best balance (in this decade) of RED’s incredible rock and string arrangements.

9. Mansion, NF, 2015: Has it really been four years since a friend popped this album into the car CD player on our way to a “The Classic Crime” concert in Wichita? Or better question, has it really been an album a year since then? The first album by NF is the album that launched the career of one of the greatest wordslingers the world has ever seen (yes, he is better than M&M). I know a lot of parents complain about NF and his music, but maybe they should be asking why their kids identify so completely with the songs he is writing on everything from depression to trauma to the fallout of the Opioid Crisis. Mansion started a journey for Nate’s fans, and we all feel we have grown with him on this journey.

8. Anomaly, Lecrea, 2014: I have jokingly referred to this album as the one that woke up the “Gospel Coalition” but as one who has sat at the feet and learned from people like Lecrae Anomaly only shows how much more we have to learn, and that is okay. The weightiness of the issues discussed on this album are issues we need to make a greater effort to discuss and talk about with biblical truth and love in mind.

7. Long Live the Rebels, Disciple, 2016: Disciple has been making scripturally based, relevant music since creation…or so it seems…and their new role as an independent artist has only made them more so. Not only that, but they have become the epitome of Christian Rock bands, that is, all the veterans of the industry have played with them or been a part of them. Just when you think they are done, they come back with another one. That is the case with LLR, it shows again their staying power and ability to move seamlessly between themes while incorporating new sounds into a tested and true formula that keeps them relevant and on top.

6. Cathedrals, Tenth Avenue North, 2014: Maybe worthy of a top 5, but coming in here at number six is Tenth Avenue North’s 2014 outing “Cathedrals” which began the move towards albums with more relevant content rather than just the fun “Uplifting and Encouraging” anthems that made them famous. Songs like: “We Won’t Number the Pain and “For Those Who Can’t Speak” which features one of our top 5 artists, helped CCM gain back a small amount of relevance on modern social issues while addressing them in a gospel centric way. We need a lot more of that and Tenth Avenue is heading in the right direction, especially with their brave follow up EP that came out this year “The Things We’ve Been Afraid to Say” which was is among the honorable mentions.

5. The End is Where We Begin, Thousand Foot Krutch, 2012: I know, I get flack all the time about my bias towards the Canadian Rockers, but I really think that TFK’s reinvention as they moved from Label to Independent deserves to be here. Especially since they continued a trend of Christian Artists going independent and then releasing the best music of their careers. The fact that this album thrust TFK back into the spotlight and headlining tours again only makes it more important. The entire premise of the album, that we end before the throne of God and also begin their as new creatures, is profound in a world desperately trying to be somebody relevant even though Christ bids us to come and die. The album also shows that TFK’s reinvention was really a rediscovery of the very style that made them famous. Rawk on guys!

4. True Defiance, Demon Hunter, 2012: I do not think this album would have been here if I had not been listening to it a few weeks ago (by the way I reviewed this when it came out and did not catch this) and realized how cohesive the theme is from “Crucifix” to “I Am A Stone” the haunting ballad that closes the deluxe edition. The True Defiance Demon Hunter talked about in their return to “true metal” was the defiance of the Cross, yet we are defiant when we blaspheme the cross by continuing to live as if the Crucifixion did not happen. We mock Christ and Christ’s work when we continue in sin. The end result of a lifelong rebellion of the person who claims Christ is “A stone, unaffected, rain hell down onto me” a person worthy of judgment because they have claimed Christ and His cross but not been changed by it. This is theologically powerful, and it only makes the album more powerful once one picks this up. This is interestingly enough part of the message of 1 John 1:5-10, go look it, and this album, up.

3. Today We Rebel, KB, 2017: While one could maybe argue that Tedashi, Lecrea and NF have a bigger share of the spotlight than KB, this list isn’t about the number of albums sold alone, nor is it about how many awards the album or artist won. But about how the album has impacted the Christian Music Scene and how relevant the album is. KB may not have sold the albums the other rappers or artists on this list did, but Today We Rebel, with its stinging critique of White Evangelicalism (“New Portrait”) to the haunting and honest (“Art of Hope”) to the anthems for the rebellious against the world and the status quo, especially the quo of white-nationalism, like kB (“Rebel, Rebel 88”) This is an album worthy of a deep listen and its themes worthy of deep consideration by those outside of KB’s traditional listener base.

2. Resurrection Letters Vol 1, Andrew Peterson, 2018: When I worked at ARL I was not allowed to give a perfect rating, but if there were albums in the top 20 of the year that would have earned perfect ratings, the top three on this list would have perfect ratings, were I allowed to give them. That being said, Andrew Peterson is CCM’s best kept secret, and when I say that I mean you have undoubtedly by now heard “Is He Worthy” sung by Chris Tomlin or Shane and Shane and not know that the song originated on this album. Not only that, the album brings out the fullness of the resurrection and all its implications for Christianity both historically and in our present times. Have you ever considered what happened at the time Jesus awoke from the dead? The full implications? Andrew Peterson has, and its entrenched here in just under an hour of music.

1. On the Altar of Love, Downhere, 2012: Like Jars of Clay’s Who We Are Instead in the late 2000’s every decade there is an album that qualifies as an absolute gem. As in, yes it deserves a perfect rating and it often ends up being the one that the radio stations overlooked. Downhere’s “On the Altar of Love” is one such album, musically, message-wise, this is one of those albums that though under considered at the time of its release, gets better with every listen and though it did not produce a hit, it holds a special place in the Downhere fanbase

 

So, there you have it, the top 20 albums of the decade, you may disagree with my placements and choices, but you’re allowed to do this, it’s a non-essential issue. Still I hope you will give these albums a fair listen if you have not already, they are worth the time and energy you can put into them. Now, if you’re not a fan of some of these genre’s that okay too, I have extremely eclectic music tastes, I own that, just enjoy what you enjoy and we will maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity.

Christian Music can have a bright future, provided we listen to the people who God has given a voice too. Here is to another decade of great music!

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.

If We Believe the Word of God is Authoritative

 

Jonathan David Faulkner

The irony here is that Christians are supposed to be a light to the world and are supposed to influence culture…

We live in a modern and now post-modern world. The idea that man can attain the highest precipice of knowledge is giving way to the idea that man can know nothing in certainty at all. We are moving from a pluralistic society to one driven by primal emotionalism, so even post-modernism is breaking down. Now groups share their tribal beliefs and gravitate towards others who share those same tribal beliefs. Each thinking their tribe has all the answers to cure what ills us and the one who screams loudest gets heard while each claims to stand up for their own “Little-guy.”

This is a bleak picture, but should it surprise us in the Church and as Church leaders? After all, if we study the trajectory of the Church in the United States do we not see the same trends starting from the moment we set up the first church in the colonies to today with all those above forces still at work today. As my friend and fellow Historian Cameron Brock once said: “We are swimming in the soup the Church created.” Now, before you call me a cynic, go and study the history of theological debate in our country. From Puritan separatists to Fundamentalism, to the Internecene controversies of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries you will see Modernism devolve into Post-Modernism with the advent of the German Higher Textual Criticism Method to Tribalism with the rise of Fundamentalism and Reconstructionism to primal-emotionalism evidenced in second, third and fourth wave Pentecostalism, the Health and Wealth Gospel and the continued revialistic traditions started in the 1730’s. Go and read Charles Hodge’s arguments in favor sect and schism or Rev. Thornton’s arguments in favor of Slavery and Segregation. You will quickly see that the world learned all this and more from us. If Church tech is 20 years behind the culture, the church is about 100 years ahead of the culture as cultural Christianity (I say cultural because the number of actual Bible believing Christians is growing at the same rate as secularism, See Timothy Keller’s “The Reason for God”) shrinks and cultural secularism grows (as does religious curiosity) these trends affected the Church after 1955 and now here they are in the culture. Even the culture’s look towards Politics as savior is something that secular tribes learned from watching the Church produce the “Moral Majority” and the Religious Right which has descended into all sorts of delirium and delusion in recent years, place its hope in politics rather than God, leaving the sheep in the pews to be devoured by the wolves.

Whether we like it or not, we are to blame for the mess our culture is in. As one of my professors once said: “As the Church goes, so goes the culture.” Now, my secular readers may say: “You’re giving yourself a little too much credit here aren’t you?” And to them I would say, go back and study what I have outlined above, there’s more research than ever on this topic, some of which I have written. Now, this does not hold 100% true for 100% of churches 100% of the time, but there is an over arching narrative that has contributed to our ever-shrinking influence over our culture in America.

The solutions then have been to 1. clamor for more influence and power 2. Slip into auhindered legalism that makes us Pharisees or go the opposite direction and embrace Antinomialism, rejecting both the teachings of Jesus and the Bible from whence they come or 3. reform back to a biblically informed and biblically based Christianity which holds to biblical authority but does so with love and grace and from a place of transformation where we are actually “In Christ” and seeking to be transformed by Him through the Holy Spirit.

The current spokespeople for Christianity, as I have commented in the past, have chosen this first option so that the Mouth of the Body of Christ is rejecting the brain and allows the masses to be fed to the wolves. In their clamor for power they have embraced ideologies and politicians who scripture would likely, in fact- label as “Antichrists.” They have mastered the art of hermeneutical gymnastics to make biblical texts mean things they were never meant to say and have never said in history. They are Pharisees, imposing the laws of man and employing the strategies of men to advance not Christ, but a political agenda that holds morals over the secular world that the secular world does not want. If we cannot legislate morality, then why are we trying?

The second group are the John MacArthur’s and Rob Bell’s of the world, two different ends of the same spectrum. MacArthur sees the higher critical method as a threat to biblical authority and so has rejected the hermeneutical spiral altogether. He has chosen a legalistic “Plain reading” of the text that comes from the English and though he is one of the most learned men of his age, he has rejected that education in favor of a legalistic interpretation and then doubled down on it. He believes in the authority of scripture, but that authority these days seems to be limited to the “English Text” and disregard any type of cultural or historical backgrounds that might accompany and in fact aid our interpretation. Rob Bell on the other hand has let the Higher Critical Method do exactly what Charles Hodge and now John MacArthur fear it would do. He has used it to stand over the text and dictate to the text what the text does and does not say rather than letting the text stand over him and dictate to him what He should believe and using the whole council of Church History to help him understand how that applies to his life now. The ironic thing here is John MacArthur is doing the same thing, bringing a cultural presupposition that scripture in context would not recognize, nor would its writers, and placing that ideology in the text or into two or three verses in the text while ignoring a large swath of biblical council.

The irony here is that Christians are supposed to be a light to the world and are supposed to influence culture, we should, if we are able, participate in the government of men, so long as we do so first and foremost as citizen’s of God’s kingdom. The laws and morals and teachings of God’s kingdom should inform how we interact in those spheres, they are not weapons meant to destroy our opponents in secular arenas, but bread and wine for those who are starving to literal death and who need Jesus who made them and loves them, bread that to a secular world will at first taste bitter until they see demonstrated for them their life giving properties as we who partake of them daily are transformed by the Word who dwells inside us as the Holy Spirit.

It is also true that methods of higher criticism can be extremely helpful, especially in exegeting difficult passages such as 1 Timothy 2:12-15 or the entire book of Romans. But when we approach text criticism assuming our superiority over that of the superiority of the text we are always going to fail at biblical interpretation. We also have to remember that the modern chapter verse structure was not the way the writers intended scripture to be read. That is a helpful way of breaking up the text until you start pulling texts out of their context and dealing with them as if they are singular units unrelated to the whole from which they were taken. Every Christian can be a biblical theologian, meaning we can all consider the whole and full council of scripture. Biblical Theology and broader hermeneutics require us to orient ourselves not just on one text in a vacuum, but within its surrounding texts, it’s chapter, it’s book, its testament, it’s place in all of scripture Old and New Testament. When we boil scripture down to morals or a book outlining good things to do, we make it about ourselves, but the Bible is not about us, it is about Christ and all that He has done. The Old Testament is pregnant with it, the new testament explains and expounds upon it. But scripture was also written into a specific context, for specific reasons, it’s writers responding to specific issues, some of which we still have issues with today, such as the Elitism in John’s community and the elitism of modern pietistic, certain charismatic and fundamentalist movements and even in some forms of modern Christian Conservativism and Liberalism (1 John 1:6-7).

We, as man, do not get to decide what an almighty God may or may not have said and unless it is expressly said to Israel or has found complete fulfillment in Christ, such as the Ceremonial and Sacrificial Laws, then it is still binding on us today. In our modern individualistic and consumeristic mindsets, we tend to look for the parts of scripture that “suit me” and throw out the rest. Like Benjamin Franklin cutting out all the things he did not think Jesus actually said or did, we want to dictate to the text what it should and shouldn’t say and especially what it should or should not tell us to do. It is a reality though that if we actually went to scripture and read it and let it stand over us many of us would either have to stop calling ourselves Christians or repent of a histories worth of sins that the American Church has openly and intentionally engaged in.. We would find things like Dominionism and the Discovery Doctrine are in fact sinful because they deny the image of God in His creation and destroy human flourishing and dignity through stark and totalitarian injustice. These are not “Liberal” terms mind you, they are inherent in God’s original creation, back to Genesis 1 and 2 where we were made in the “Image of God” and told to cover the Earth with “Image bearers” as we were “Fruitful and Multiplied” (See Genesis 1-3). That means that all humans, by nature of being made in the image of God, have dignity and worthy of respect. Even though the fall has happened, the image of God is still there and through Christ we are transformed back into what is already inherent in us. The Transformation of Christ is not as much a recreation but a restoration in the manner which is described in Revelation 20.

We have all read Genesis 1-3 and we know there are a myriad of interpretations out there and we tend to chose which one fits us best, but when outside opinion and individual preference reigns, unity is destroyed. Individual opinion must be brought in and held against the entire council of scripture and church History and if it does not hold up to these two, the Special Revelation of Christ in His Word and the General Revelation of God in History then the opinion should be relegated to the ash-heap of history, not a new denomination formed around the opinion that both Scripture and Church History reject. But unlike Christ, we prefer to please ourselves (Romans 15:3) and go after “every wind of doctrine”” (Eph 4:10) that “tell them what their itching ears are longing to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). When we try to make scripture about us and our preferences, when we approach scripture with the hopes that it will justify our own egocentricism and elitism or theological position we are apt to twist scripture to say something it does not say, nor has it ever said.

Yet, if we really believed in the Authority of Scripture, not Solo Scriptura mind you, but actual Authority that these are God’s words written down to testify to Christ and to show us how to do the same. If we actually believed scripture was authoritative we would let it stand over us and inform us about God and His works and show us the way to live instead of looking to culture and recent inventions of history such as revivalism that appeal to emotionalism before and over scriptural authority, or an attractional model of Church that looks good on Paper, but as Josh Wilson discussed in his book “The Gospel Driven Church” rely not on scripture but on tricks and gimmicks over and above scripture, so much so in both cases that scripture is often lost completely. If we are doing good Cultural Exegesis we know that these are placebos, they do not work, they do not proclaim Christ, they do not make disciples, all they do is glitter the way to eternity in outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:52, Matthew 13:42).

Pastors, believing the authority of the Word of God must start with us. And if we truly confess the word is authoritative, we need to expend every orthodox resource available to learn about the Word and its surrounding and varying contexts. If we stand up in our pulpits on Sunday’s and read a text and then spend 15-20 minutes telling fanciful stories or trying to sanitize the text we will only lead the people entrusted to us astray and then we get to stand before God and explain why our congregations are lost. There are two reasons why James says that those who aspire to teach will be judged more harshly (James 3:1), we will be judged harshly by men and we will be held to a higher standard before the throne of God, we who served as Under Shepherds of Christ. May it be said of us that we led them to The Word, that is, to Christ who is the Living Word (John 1:1-15) and not to the wolves as too many of us have today. We should be as careful handling scripture because of its authority as St. Francis tells us to be when handling the actual bible itself: “If you see that the Holy Scriptures have fallen from the alter you should walk to them and put them back neatly and in order on the Altar out of respect for their being the very word of God” (The rule of 1221). We should be careful exegetes, letting scripture stand over us and dictate to us because we have reverence for the text and more importantly for the one whose authority is behind the text, Jesus Christ (Rev 22:21). But we also must avoid legalism in our applications of the text, pursuing the life-giving nature of the living word and not the death-giving nature of the dead, man-made, letter. That means we need to approach the Holy Word of God in communion, through prayer, with the Paraclete who leads us into all truth, the Holy Spirit who makes our divine Union with the Word (Jesus) possible in the first place. If we seek to interpret the Word of God without the third person of the trinity, we are no better than the Pharisees who enforce their own interpretations of the law rather than God’s intentions behind the Law. The Holy Spirit is meant to lead us into all truth, and they will, if we let them. We need to remember that the scriptures show us not a list of morals, but how to live a life that points to, testifies to and bears witness to Christ, the one whom the entirety of scripture are about. Not how to build better humans, or be the ‘best version of ourselves’ but how to bring glory to the Triune God.

To the Lay Person, the scriptures are a gift to you, as they also are to the pastor, You are meant to be in them daily, reading them, discussing them with other believers, hearing them taught and expounded upon. The early church did this daily and for many of us it has become a burden to even do this once a week. If we read scripture as a self-help book, we are going to find it sorely lacking in self-help material. Given that it is not about us, it s about Christ and carries behind it the authority of Christ. Scriptures job is not to make you a more moral person, it is meant to show you Christ, point you to Him and then guide you, through the Holy Spirit, into deeper communion with Him that leads you to a life overflowing with Joy and love (John 13-17) and so by default you testify to, bring glory to and bear witness to Christ and what He has done. This is the singular calling of the Church that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4:1-6. It is for this calling that we should be “eager to maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity” (4:3) and that we are “One Body, with One Spirit.” Living by scripture and in the Holy Spirit should make us naturally care for one another and for those who are not part of the church. It was this outward care that was evidence of an inward reality that caused the incredible expansion of the Church in the first century and it is precisely this kind of fellowship, deep and intimate, “having everything in common” (Acts 2:44) that the cultural exegetes are telling us unbelievers in our nation are looking for, the family atmosphere that is described in Acts, but is sorely lacking in much of the church in the United States. We should grieve when gangs and secular clubs are better at living in community than Christians are, and in many cases, they are. Read Francis Chan’s book Letters to the Church” for some stories that should shock us and make us mourn. I have been in secular communities that were better at loving one another than the church has been in history, one of which, the All-Ohio State Fair Youth Choir I still have friends who I am regular contact with. One even sang at our wedding and two wrote for 10:31 Life Ministries during college. It baffles me that God has laid out what His expectations are and we who claim His name prefer to replace those with our own preferences and our own authority rather than God’s. This is rebellion against Him, and it is rebellion we will answer for one day.

One of the underlying issues here is that most people have a relationship with the church as institutions and not a relationship with Christ which includes them in the organic body of Christ. If you read scripture outside of a relationship with Christ, you end up like one of my Atheist friends from my choir days who read the bible daily because it had “good morals.” The requires you to reject a large swath of what scripture says about the one who gave it to us, Christ, the Son of God and second member of the Trinity. We should make sure we actually have a relationship with Christ before we apply scripture to our lives and apply through the paradigm of one who is in mystical, divine union with Christ. Just as we come under Christ then we should come under the authority of His word and let it stand over us to teach us how to live as Christ.

If we believed in the authority of scripture, what would happen? Christian, stop praying for revival and start living as one revived. Lay down your moralism and start living as one transformed, give up your dead-letter legalism for the life-giving words of the living God. Stop claiming the name of Christ and actually have a relationship with Him and above all else: “Let the word of God dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossian 3:16).

 

Jonathan D12973040_10154269785339245_3845786340930956602_oavid Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.