Praying like Daniel?

I recently participated in an encouraging and delightful bible study where we studied the famous story of Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6). In particular, the fact that Daniel prayed three times a day was very intriguing to most of us. To pray three times a day is not a biblical command or a doctrine. But the New Testament tells me: “Be unceasing in prayer.” Thus, a very straightforward application from Daniel’s story could have been: “Go and do like-wise.”

But I have to admit that something in my heart went against it. Continue reading →

When Apple lost its founder…

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” – John Armstrong, during a meeting at Chicago UBF

Every once in a while a company is so deeply impacted and shaped by a single leader that this person becomes the very identity of the entire organization. There can be no doubt that such has been the case with Apple and the recently deceased Steve Jobs. Newspaper headlines were overflowing with discussions on how Apple will continue without their charismatic genius and their most creative brain. There was one article in particular, published in the New York Times, which I found very interesting and relevant. One must not stretch analogies too far but I immediately had to wonder whether there are parallels between how to run a company and a church. The question is: can churches be (functional) one-man shows as it had been the case with Apple and Steve Jobs or Microsoft and Bill Gates? And the answer to that question is a very emphatic “yes”.

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The Difficulties of Genesis 1 (Part 2 of 2)

In my previous article, I tried to show why the first chapter of the Bible is an exceedingly difficult passage for Bible students. The complexity of this chapter is reflected in the vast diversity of interpretations. One could write volumes on how Christians have dealt with Genesis 1 over the course of church history. Here I would like to give you four interpretations by well known preachers of our time. Three of these four men are active pastors ministering to great churches. I am particularly interested in how church pastors deal with the difficulties of Genesis 1, because my concern is not only about the theological debates but also about their practical implications for the church.

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The Difficulties of Genesis 1 (Part 1 of 2)

One of my last articles on UBFriends was a book review on Stewart and Fee’s How to Read the Bible for all its Worth. The authors, who are not only great scholars but also committed and Jesus-loving Christians, laid down some sensible ground rules that ought to be observed by everyone who approaches Scripture. In this article, I would like to put those rules into practice by applying them to Genesis chapter 1. The reasons why I want to look at Genesis 1 are plentiful.

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Who Is Our Worship Service For?

Having been a faithful UBF worship service attendee for almost 30 years, I have seen all kinds of reactions to our worship services. I have seen people being moved and edified. And I have seen newcomers sitting in the service and shaking their heads and leaving early because they couldn’t stand it. I have seen other newcomers laughing at and ridiculing us as we were worshiping. I have seen people coming in just once and never ever showing up again.

So I grew up with the notion that worship service must be the weirdest thing on earth for people who are unaccustomed to it. Perhaps it is. But why is that the case? And who is the worship service really for?

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How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth

Yes, I know. There are tons of books out there dealing with the subject of how to study the Bible. And you may have read some of them and may feel that you don’t want to be bothered with yet another book on this subject. But before you lose interest and stop reading right here, let me tell you why this book — How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Stewart and Fee — not only is absolutely worth reading, but ranks among the “must-read books” for every committed and devoted lay Bible student or teacher.

We all know the importance of interpreting the Bible correctly. Our understanding of Scripture deeply influences our Christian lives, our families, our ministries, etc. To give you an example, I heard of a church in Germany where in which women are still required to cover their heads with scarves before coming to church, because Paul talks about a sign of authority on their heads (1 Co 11:10). In a similar vein, Paul forbade women to preach (1Tim 2:11-15). Some churches obey this command literally, forbidding women to preach or to teach men. We in UBF do not literally follow such verses; women are allowed to publicly speak in our congregations and teach and preach from time to time. This implies that we have understood these passages in a different way. If we adhere to a certain interpretation, we should have good and sound reasons why we understood a passage in one way and not another.

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Idolizing Mission?

Reading through the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament has always been a frustrating experience for me. Here’s the reason: The #1 sin that appears in every chapter of Israel’s history is the sin of idolatry. My spontaneous thoughts were: “It’s as simple as this: ‘You shall not have other gods before me!’ Why on earth didn’t they get it? Couldn’t they just NOT bow down before golden calves and Baals and Asherahs? How could they be so ludicrously dim-witted?!?” It took me a long time to appreciate the repetitiveness of the tragic history of God’s chosen people. By dismissing their idolatry as plain stupidity — a stupidity that was beyond the reach of any help — I missed a crucial point that the OT seems to convey.

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Good works done for wrong reasons are evil

When I was saying goodbye to my friends in Hannover, I invited them for pizza and Bible study. Surprisingly, some came. And so we had an interesting group consisting of two Hindus, one Muslim, two agnostics/atheists, one Buddhist and one Protestant. With the exception of one, they were all non-Christian by any reasonable definition.

We studied the parable of the lost sons. Hearing the doctrine of forgiveness of sins didn’t shock them at all. It made no particular impression on them. It was something they had heard before. (Perhaps it was also the result of my poor gospel presentation.) However, when I mentioned Jesus’ teaching that good works done with bad intentions are evil, they were dumbstruck. How on earth could it be possible that good deeds become evil?

I was glad to see that Jesus’ teachings can still be breathtaking even in our day.

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Jamie Oliver and Evangelism

Have you heard of Jamie Oliver? Jamie is a charismatic, passionate TV chef from Great Britain who knows how to cook and cares about social issues and the well-being of others. (Needless to say, I am a great fan!) Recently, ABC aired a series called Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which documented an experiment to change the cooking and eating habits of local schools and people in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington had recently been named America’s unhealthiest city. And so Jamie arrives, trying to abolish processed food in school cafeterias, including chicken nuggets (his “favorite”), French fries (which were actually counted as vegetables by the USDA), flavored milk (which contains more sugar than soda), and pizza for breakfast.

Jamie’s website states: “This food revolution is about saving America’s health by changing the way you eat. It’s not just a TV show, it’s a movement for you, your family and your community.” I found this show extremely interesting, not only because it deals with food, but also because it teaches some valuable lessons on evangelism. In fact, Jamie is a perfect evangelist for his cause.

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