New Testament Christological Hymns: Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance

I was recently having a conversation with someone over how much place academics have within the realm of Christianity. Personally, I believe that in order for us to be disciples of Jesus Christ, today, there has to be a level of constant academic work in order for us to connect with our roots. Then I realized, it has been a while since the Heart Man Blog Book Reviews took on an academic work. So for this month the book is New Testament Christological Hymns: Exploring Texts, Contexts, and Significance by Matthew E Gordley published by InterVarsity Press in August of last year. Gordley seeks to look at several passages that have been recognized as possible hymns and helps us to re-connect with our faith’s past and beginnings.

“The prophets promised an outpouring of joy when God began to fulfill his promises of restoration (Joel 2:26-27; Zeph 3:14-15; Zech 9:9-10; Is 66:7-11). Mary’s praise thus begins the joyous symphony that follows. In this respect Mary may be considered a model for early Christian worship.”

Matthew Gordley

Gordley seeks to argue that there is a significant usage of hymns within the New Testament. Though it is impossible to know if the hymnic passages are original to author or assimilated from hymns being used, the study of these hymns is important for understanding the worship practices of the Early Church. After chapters that set the reasoning for this type of study, and an overview of hymns that are used elsewhere during the same period (Greek hymns, Jewish psalms, and others), he turns to engage with particular passages. The major passages under his lense are Phillipians 2:6-11, Collosians 1:15-20, and John 1:1-18. The sixth chapter of this book is a survey of several other passages found within the New Testament, but he does not spend as much time with these has he does with the previous three passages. His final chapter is the summation of this entire study where he declares that “worship is, in its broadest scope, an intentional practice of affirming, proclaiming, and confessing an allegiance to God that, among other things, enables the worshiper to see himself or herself as part of a reality that is larger than the visible reality on offer within the world in which the worshiper lives.” Meaning that worship is a truly cosmic event where the worshiper must be able to recognize their place and glorifying God in their submission to Him.

“For who is ignorant of the books of Irenaeus, Melito, and the rest who proclaim Christ as God and man, and how many psalms and odes, written from the beginning by brothers in the faith, hymn Christ, the word of God, proclaiming his as a god?”

Eusebius of Caesarea, Histoire Ecclésiastique

Personally, I found this book very interesting. I’m fairly certain it is because I am an academic that also serves as a worship leader within my church. I find it interesting to look to the Christians that have come before us to see how it is they worshiped God in “spirit and truth.” Gordley does a fantastic job to setting the stage of the thought world of Paul, John, and the early Christians as they are writing these passages. It shows that the Church worked really hard to insure that Jesus was lifted up as the name above every other name and to which every knee will bow. However, I’m finding it hard to figure out who to recommend this book to. I think it has tremendous academic value for someone looking to study these types of passages, yet I am not convinced there are many non-academics that would find this book appealing. Yet, I personally find it extremely helpful in my worship ministry as I seek to understand worship practices and convey them to the congregation I serve. At times this book gets very scholarly, but I do not feel that this is a detrement to the work. Maybe if you are in one of the schools that have a worship ministry program, this might be a great supplimental book to add to your reading. I can also see where this book works well as a text book for a course. Either way, pick yourself up a copy by clicking the link below and learn about these special passages of Scripture this month.

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What is a “Life Verse?”

I was recently listening to a pastor speak and he used the phrase “my life verse is…” and it got me thinking, what exactly is a life verse and why does it matter? Admittedly, this is not the first time I have ever heard the concept as I have had one of my own for a few years. Yet the question still bugged me as a Christian peculiarity that I wanted to learn where it came from.

I was recently listening to a pastor speak and he used the phrase “my life verse is…” and it got me thinking, what exactly is a life verse and why does it matter? Admittedly, this is not the first time I have ever heard the concept as I have had one of my own for a few years. Yet the question still bugged me as a Christian peculiarity that I wanted to learn where it came from. Continue reading “What is a “Life Verse?””

The Gospel of John: John 2

Continuing our study of the Gospel of John.

Last week we took a look at the beginning chapter of John’s Gospel. We talked about how Jesus is the reason for Creation and how John shows people pointing the way for others to reach Christ. I ended by encouraging you to reach out to a non-believer, and hopefully, you have had the time to do that this week. This week, the testimonies continue but they are not coming from others, rather they come from the actions of Jesus. His own actions become proof that he is who he claims to be. Continue reading “The Gospel of John: John 2”

The Gospel of John: John 1

Continuing our study of the Gospel of John.

The Bible begins at the beginning of everything. Genesis opens with words that are very commonly known. I’m fairly certain that they might be so well known that most anyone could tell you it starts, “In the beginning.” This phrase lets us know where the story of God begins. It is not in some period that exists after a previous period. It is the beginning. Nothing before it. Everything that has ever happened is after. In this opening chapter of the Gospel of John, we find the same phrase. Where Genesis shows that God created, the beginning of the Gospel of John shows us that Jesus was at the beginning, participating with God in the act of creation. Continue reading “The Gospel of John: John 1”

Intro to John

The most major component I find in my spiritual life is the discipline of Bible Study. While I do this both professionally and academically, there is a need for it to be done for a personal purpose. No matter how you study the Bible, as Christians we must remember that our goal is ultimately to learn more of God. After all, we claim to have a relationship with God, how can we say that if we are not paying attention to the actual words we have of Him. Because of this, I believe it is foundational here at the HMB that we have fairly regular Bible studies. Starting today we will begin our study of the Gospel of John. This week will be an overview of the Gospel and some general ideas. Starting next week we will be working through the book a chapter at a time, week-by-week. Continue reading “Intro to John”

Stay Strong (Isaiah 36-39)

Book of Isaiah

In today’s reading we leave behind all of God’s messages to the nations of the world, and enter into a story. We find that Assyria has invaded Judah and is preparing to hold Jerusalem under siege. The king sends a messenger to speak with messengers from King Hezekiah. King Sennacherib, of Assyria, began to taunt the people of Jerusalem and offer them anything in order to survive this siege if they only let the Assyrian army into Jerusalem. Hezekiah and his people refuse, and the king sends for the prophet Isaiah. The king asks for Isaiah to intercede for the people with God, and he delivers a message, “This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” (37:6-7, NLT). After receiving more messages from Sennacherib, Hezekiah begins to pray to God for deliverance. That night God killed 185,000 members of the Assyrian army. When the surviving members awoke, they fled back to Assyria and the king went back to Nineveh. While the Sennacherib was worshiping his god, two of his son came and killed him. Then King Hezekiah became extremely ill, and was dying. Isaiah told the king that he would not survive this illness. Hezekiah then prayed to God, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” (28:3, NLT).  After hearing his prayer, God decided to bring Hezekiah out of his illness and give him 15 more years to live. After the news of Hezekiah’s recovery, King Merodach-baladan of Babylon sent envoys to give his best wishes and a gift. Hezekiah became so delighted by the gesture that he showed the envoys everything that he owned. Isaiah came to the king and asked about the men he showed around. Isaiah then delivered a message from God, “The time is coming when everything in your palace — all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now — will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left. Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” (39:6-7, NLT).

The thing I loved about this section was how it started. King Sennacherib threatens the people of Jerusalem by saying, “But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem … Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you. Don’t let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying ‘The Lord will surely rescue us. This city will never fall into the hands of the Assyrian kin! … Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will rescue us!’ Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria? … What God of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (36:7, 14-15, 18, 20, NLT). Some of these comments seem very familiar to me, they just sound a little differently to us today.

As a Christian, my main filter in life is the Bible and my faith in Jesus Christ. This fact is the founding principle of my entire worldview. Because of this, I can seem to be an “idiot”, or “hypocrite”, or “bigot” (I’ve never personally been called this, but other Christians have). The problem is a world that doesn’t understand why I believe what I believe. The world wants to teach that there is no God, let alone salvation from our sins. It wants to teach that the only right way, is the way you decide is right and no one else. It wants to teach us that we cannot stand up for what is right when it stands in contrast of others. The problem is that with me there is a sense of wrong, but the world wants to teach us that there is no wrong.

I love this passage from Isaiah because it shows me that there will always be someone trying to convince us our beliefs are wrong. Sennacherib was trying to convince the people of Jerusalem that they were wrong to trust in God. Today people tell Christians they are wrong for trusting in God as well. I encourage you to stay faithful in your beliefs (so long as they are biblical). If you are facing difficulty, make sure to pray for the strength to get through these hard times. Stay in the Word, and spend some time in worship. God is powerful enough to help you overcome adversity. So what the world tells you you’re wrong? So long you stay true to the Word of God, and show love to everyone, that’s what matters most.

 

Also in this Series

The Testing of Israel (Judges 2)

PrayingHands2a

As we discussed yesterday, the author of the Book of Judges uses the first chapter to set up the historical context of the rest of the book. In the second chapter, the author does something similar. Rather than discuss historical events, he begins to set up the cycle that is about to take place within the book.

After having failed to completely take over the Promised Land, God spoke to the Israelites and said, “I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you. for your part, you were not to make any covenants with the people living in this land; instead, you were to destroy their altars. But you disobeyed my command. Why did you do this? So now I declare that I will no longer drive out the people living in your land. They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a constant temptation to you.” (2:1-3, NLT). God recognized that His people had made agreements with the people who were already living in the Promised Land. They allowed the people to continue on living in their pagan ways, and God knew this would be a stumbling block for His people.

Aren’t we stuck in this same position today? The Bible is fairly clear on how we are to live our lives, but there is a world around us that tempt us to believe differently. The world tells us to become super rich, while the Bible tells us to use all that we have and give it away to the glory of God. The world tells us that we must look out for #1, while the Bible tells us to love and care for each other. The world tells us that we cannot tell someone they are wrong, the Bible tells us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The list goes on and on.

I believe that we live in a world that is full of other “gods” tempting us to give our lives to their pursuit. God wants us to follow Him and no one else, it’s even the first Commandment! So we must choose, daily, to follow God and not the ways of the world. It’s tough. The world makes a very convincing argument. Even to the point that some strong Christians I know begin to question their faith because it stands contrary to the Bible. It get scary to tell people they are in the wrong when, without the Bible, you might take the same stance.

I will close this post with a psalm that is well-known and is read often. But it speaks well of following God because He knows what is best for us. He will care for us. We don’t know what is best, but He does.

“The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
–Psalm 23, NASB

Also in this series

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 39-41

The Letter to Laodicea

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The last letter written in John’s Revelation was for the Church at Laodicea. This church had a problem that I believe most of us get into at some point in our faith journey. Laodicea was “lukewarm”, meaning that they had no passion for God, yet they still had faith. Jesus says to them, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.” (Revelation 3:15, NASB). Jesus is using cold to describe a dead faith, while hot means one that is alive. Jesus tells them towards the end of the letter, “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” (Revelation 3:19, NLT). Jesus and John really wanted to send this church the message that their indifference is not okay.

What does this mean for us today? DON’T BE LUKEWARM!!!!!! There I said it, post over.

I’m just kidding. Just saying that is easy, but how to we keep our passion for Christ. So many of us are fired up when we first meet Christ, but somewhere along the line the fire dies down a bit. I believe the biggest cause of this is our expectation when we enter into this Christian lifestyle. Many people think that life will be easy, but it’s not. Being a Christian is a life of hardship, and when we discover this we draw away from God instead of running closer to Him. The second reason I think this happens, actually comes from one of my cures for the problem. I think people also lose their fire when they realize that the Bible actually teaches things that are against the world’s view. It makes it hard for people because then you come to a decision; do I follow Christ, or the world? When we choose the world, our passion for Christ dies a little, and when we chose it enough, the light goes out entirely.

So open up your Bible and read it. That is the best way to hear God’s word, reading it! Also spend time in prayer. How can you expect to hear from God, unless you talk to Him? These two activities are essential in the life of a Christian. If you aren’t doing even one of these, we run the risk of being exactly like Laodicea. This is what help us light our fire again, and keep us from being cold or getting lukewarm. So friends, let’s pick up our Bibles and spend time in prayer everyday, for the rest of our lives!

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Trusting the Lord

IMGP0564 01 Trust in the Lord

So I must admit, I have a problem of letting things go and trusting God to take care of me. You could even ask my wife. Aside from “I love you” and “Can you help me with this?”, it’s probably the thing my wife tells me the most. When times get rough, it is the most important thing for us to remember, but the easiest for us to forget.

It seems to me that most people when they have trust issues with the Lord get referred to Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on you own understanding” (NASB). This really is a great verse from a great book. Solomon is trying to help us become wise. The reason we cannot lean on our own understanding goes back to our sinful nature. Even though we want to follow and obey God, our bodies and minds have an inclination to trust ourselves and put us above God. I tend to say a lot “I can fix this” or “How can I help?”. Statements like these are not inherently bad, but I don’t see much room for God to act in them; they are very me-centered. But when I have to hardest time in trusting the Lord is when my family is having financial difficulties.

I recently decided to re-read Isaiah. I found a verse that helps me more than Proverbs does, “If you will only obey [God], you will have plenty to eat” (Isaiah 1:19 NLT). I read that and thought to myself “ain’t that the truth”. There’s even a story about that in the Bible. In the Exodus 15-16, God decides to provide water, manna, and quail for His people. God’s instruction was for them to eat all of it in a day, and when they didn’t, it was rotten by morning. I’m reminded of a song by Kristian Stanfill called The Lord Our God. The lyric in my mind says “Our provision through the desert”. It’s a reference to the story in Exodus. God will provide for us. Today, He is asking us, through the words of Isaiah, to obey Him and He will provide for us.

So simply trusting God is necessary for our lives. And trusting Him through our rough times is even more important in our lives. I get stuck thinking I have to be the provider for myself and my family, but the truth is that God is that provider. Yes, he works through me for the provision, but it is ultimately Him that is the provider. So place your trust in Lord, and let Him help you through the days of your life.

UPDATE: I also thought of this hymn while I was driving today. I had heard a somewhat Jazz version of it while shopping at Hobby Lobby, but I thought that it would fit with this post as well. I thought this was a pretty good arrangement of this hymn.

Mindless Reading?

read-books

Hey guys, guess what. I’m back!!!!!! Today’s post is going to be short, and that’s okay.

I just had someone say something to me that I couldn’t understand. “I am going to read something that I don’t have to use my brain.” WHAT?! I can’t wrap my head around such statement. Now I know that plenty of people want to have mindless reading from time to time. I work in a library, so I see people’s reading habits very well. But I don’t get mindless reading. This person’s comment came from a place where they are a college student, and didn’t want to read something that made her think like college does. I understand that. I went to college for 6 years, and the last 3 I was an online student (if you want to read and think A LOT in college, be an online student). But I have never felt that way. Most of the things that people read “mindlessly” are actually pretty bad for us. Something I’ve seen during my days at the library, is that mindless reading usually equals something involving lots of sex and promiscuity, drugs, and profanity. So if we read these things mindlessly (aka when our defenses are down), is there really any wonder why these things are so prevalent in our society?

Maybe my problem with mindless reading comes from what I read when I need an escape from what I have to read. I turn to the Bible. This was especially difficult when I was studying the Bible, but I did it anyway. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16 NIV). I equate this to the words I’m reading, God is actually saying them to me. Have you ever been captivated by a public speaker. I have, and I always seem to love what they have to say. But the greatest speaker there is and ever will be is God. You can’t read the Bible “mindlessly”. You have to think. It causes you to think. It isn’t just words on a page. It is the words of the God that created everything there is and ever will be. I love reading His Word. I can’t imagine any reason I wouldn’t.

So mindless reading really confuses me. I don’t read mindlessly; I can’t. I understand why people think this is what they need to read when they want an escape. But do we really need to mindlessly enter a place full of sin? My encouragement is to read the Bible when you want to escape. To me, reading Scripture is just like going to the Throne Room of God and listening to Him speak these words and tell these stories. That, my friends, is so much better than escaping to a fantasy world full of the things God would not be proud of.

PS Please don’t think I’m criticizing this person. I fully understand their viewpoint. It just brought forth a topic that I thought I would share with the blog!