Texas Tragedy by Chris Pollock

Rev. Chris Pollock

Another Massacre, Sutherland Springs Church

I am tired of writing letters and blogs making statements regarding our position on these kinds of tragic events. As a result of the last shooting in the Texas church, we brace ourselves, scrambling for answers. But the answers given weren’t satisfying to us in past, are still not satisfying. In fact, we find ourselves to be discouraged even more.

As we enter into the holiday season, there is no sense of “break” regarding these kinds of events.

The prince of darkness and the kingdoms of this world are working hard. Because of this, Paul said that we groan inwardly as we wait outwardly.

Sadness. Fear. Questions.

I understand this.

In our confusion, we hold onto the words that Paul gives in Romans 8. He promises the depth of suffering we bear today is no comparison to the glory that will be presented to us through the ministry of the Son of God. In other words, ours is an outlook of hope: THINGS WILL NOT ALWAYS BE THIS WAY.

So we wait… actively wait.

Paul says, we wait, like a woman who is in the middle of pregnancy…

…we wait.

Anticipation. Pregnancy. A new baby. What a beautiful metaphor.

One of the best shows that has ever been on television is the old 1970’s sit-com MASH; a series based on the Korean War. MASH began as a comedy, but the themes at the end of series became very serious. The writers, who wrote during the height of the Vietnam War, explored issues of war, death, suffering, and even psychological pain.

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In one of the last episodes, a baby is dropped off at the M_A_S*H camp. No one knew where the baby came or to whom the baby belonged. The baby had no name. And yet, the baby, a character with no lines, was the central figure the episode and became the delight of the camp. A baby gave them the ability to continue their work, to make it another day, and to think, “Maybe, just maybe, we’ll make it home.”

At the end of the episode, Hawkeye Pierce, played by Alan Alda, said, “You brought a bit of light into a very dark and confusing place.”

The theological implications here are breathtaking – we too are in a very dark and confusing place… we groan. And yet soon, we will be invited to remember and realize, the presence of a baby – a certain kind of baby, a baby with a NAME! – the Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God.

This baby was born into a world where powerful men killed children. This baby was born into a world where the politics of the day was cutthroat. This baby was born into a world that suffered serious economic shortfalls. This baby was born into a world where religion caused extremist activities.

And yet, this baby was born into the world, and through his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection,he has and will bring light to our very dark and confusing place…

There are no immediate answers to this tragedy. No politician, military leader, or psychologist is going to be able to help us make sense of this.

Nothing will satisfy our grief … yet.

But, someday (we don’t know when but we pray for it) the depth of sadness and grief we know will not compare to the glory – the joy, the love, the peace – that will come in our Savior, Christ Jesus.

So we wait with hope, with our prayers, and with the anticipation that this baby who’s name is Light and can bright light – true Light … God’s Light – to a very dark and confusing world.

Sweet C's 8th Street Dreams by Chris Pollock

While restoration is underway at the 8th Street Church, we are sharing the dreams God has given us for the 8th Street building and our new neighborhood. Sweet C first shared his 8th Street Dreams with us in song during our service on September 17, 2017. He said that Pastors Chris & Michaele and The Wallflowers provided inspiration for this song

Dreaming of 8th street

By Curtis "Sweet-C" McClain

Verse
Pastor shared what was on their mind
What was on their mind
Made the congregation shine
We've been looking for a church
Now we've found one in the search
God answers prayers and it's true
So Lord I thank you

Bridge
This place is temporary
While we're here we're visionaries
Seeing rows of chairs in the sanctuary
Welcoming believers and the ordinary

Chorus
So Now I am dreaming of 8th
Where feet walk, hands greet
Voices speak God's never beat
Where choirs sing as praise bands
Play drums and guitar strings
Preparing hearts for what the message brings
holding out hands, blessing us
For the week
that's my dream 8th street

Verse
Pastor said time for communion
While people came there was a reunion
Some formed groups of parish
to meet and to cherish
Everyone has a story
So to God be the glory

Every one in this place it seems
Has a 8th street dream


It takes work (& money) to make our dreams come true. Will you join us? You can give online through our parent church, Bethany First Church of the Nazarene; make sure to mark your gift for "Midtown- 8th Street Project." You can also send cash or check to PO Box 76266, Oklahoma City, OK 73147. Contact Pastor Chris Pollock at chrispollockokc@gmail.com if you have questions about giving.

What is the Function of the Bible? by Chris Pollock

Rev. Chris Pollock

Over the next few weeks, we are discussing big questions about the Bible. We will be adapting our sermons for this blog. This is part three of our sermon series, "Questions About the Bible".

We’re spending time on these questions of the Bible because The Bible is our primary tool for worship. We are unapologetic in this as it has held a central place in Christian worship since the early church and before.

When 15-year-old Sarah from my youth group wrote an email asking all about the Bible, she pointed to this very important question: What is the function of the Bible? What does the Bible do?

Here’s my short answer: The Holy Scriptures tell us the story of God’s activity in the past, so that we might identify God’s activity in the present, so we might move together into and know our part in God’s future.

Jesus’s own identity and vocation was shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures and he understood his own role within salvation history through the reading of these sacred texts.The Bible does for us what it did in Jesus: to reveal our identity and our holy vocation as we participate with God and God’s people in God’s long-range purpose for creation.”

We don’t read these sacred ancient texts simply to collect data and gain historical understanding – In other words, we don’t just read the scriptures here in worship, or in our individual private time, or for that matter in group bible studies, just to get information. We explore these texts with an “inspired imagination” as we are human beings – creative, insightful, wonderfully made, yet broken and flawed – human beings in the process of transformation.

SHOULD WE INTERPRET THE BIBLE?

And Sarah’s question about interpretation is a very important one in light of what the Bible’s function is among the community of faith. She asks, “Is the Bible open for interpretation?”

And in short, my answer to her is: “Yes. The Bible – The whole thing is and should be interpreted.” But like anything else, this answer needs to be expanded. So let me explain.

I would argue, whether we know it or not, we interpret the Bible – just like we interpret everything that comes across our paths. As human beings we are complex data processors, constantly receiving, translating, and then transmitting communication patterns.

We interpret EVERYTHING – We have our own “interpretive framework” and we come to the biblical text with those “rose colored glasses.” I am an American, white, upper-middle class, male, that is from the Midwest that speaks English, and grew up in a predominantly poor Nazarene church. I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a pastor, a teacher. I’ve had successes and joys, pain and tragedy. Sometimes I’m conscious of my world, but my psychologist friends tell me that most of the time I interpret the world without even knowing why.

But I interpret my world through this lens of who I am. And each person has his or her own rules or each culture/people groups have their own “rules” for language and imagery. And unless everyone plays by the same “rules” then the message can get really misconstrued.

My wife Holly and I have been married for almost 20 years. And if there can still be miscommunication among us, who know one another, speak the same language, live in the same house, raise the same children, have the same set of values -- then how much more confusion can set in when we read these ancient texts that were originally in a language that we don’t speak, in a culture that had values very different than ours, and that saw the world in a very different way?

I don’t know if you know this, but the world has changed a lot in the last 2000 years. In fact it has changed an incredible amount in the last 50-100 years. What was acceptable a few years ago no longer is.

In the early 1960’s, John Wayne was the biggest movie star and his film McLintock was shown in theaters everywhere. The reviews said, “McLintock is Magnificent.”

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But if you watch that movie today you’d be appalled. Notice that the feature line is this: “He can tame the west but can he tame her?” And the central scene is John Wayne actually bending Maureen O’Hara (an adult woman) over his knee and spanking her while a crowd watches in delight. That was only 60 years ago.

Even more recently, in the early 1980’s the most popular television show was called “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

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Throughout the show, iconic images of a dark time in our country’s history were images glorified in the show. It didn’t bother anyone in popular culture of the 1980’s. However, the events of the last several weeks have demonstrated our change of mind and heart regarding our symbols of a racist past.

This was not that long ago. The world has changed quickly.

Two young fish were swimming one day when an older fish swims by and says, “Hey boys, water’s great today.” When he passes, the one young fish says to the other, “What the heck is water?” Sometimes we don’t realize what we carry with us into the text, or the differences between our world and the world of the text.

So we have a task: We MUST DO THE HARD WORK OF INTERPRETATION and we do that together – under the guidance of God’s inspiring Spirit. That is one of the reasons why we read this together in worship.

So the first thing we do in interpretation is we dive into the world behind the text.

The World Behind the Text

Books have come out in the last thirty years showing “new revelations” – secret discoveries, new insights. I’ve driven by churches with signs: NEW SERMON SERIES: “Bible Secrets revealed.” “New discoveries theology,” which, to me, is DANGEROUS theology. In fact, it’s heretical. God is about REVEALING GODSELF. God wants to be known. He hasn’t filled scripture with special codes and puzzles that only a handful can understand thousands of years after it was written.

So here’s one important rule to always remember when reading the biblical text: it cannot mean something for us that it didn’t mean for the original hearers.

We want Christian Orthodoxy – right belief. So we dive deep into the text with “inspired imagination,” acknowledging that we come with our background, but also with our reason and our intellect, honestly exploring what the original author was saying, hearing it with the ears of the characters, feeling what they feel. We work to ask the questions that they would be asking – longing for the same transformation of identity that they longed for. We want to know what this meant to the early church as we believes it makes meaning for us.

So we ask the Historical Questions: What was the time and the culture like? Who was the author? Who was the audience? What were the political issues?

But we also ask the Literary Questions: What is the point? What is this author trying to say about the Nature and Character of God? And why has the church said, Yup! We affirm it.

Why did Isaiah say this? Why did the early church continue to go back to Jeremiah? What was Matthew intending when he wrote down Jesus’s parable? Why did Paul include this poem to the Philippians? Why has the church preserved and protected these documents?

The World Within the Text

The second thing we do when we are interpreting a particular text is to look into the world within the text.

The authors wrote within a particular genre and form. So we read it within the literary structure that is provided and we ask, “What kind of literature is this? What is the structure? How does that impact the way we view the message? Is it a narrative? A letter? A prophetic work?” Is what we are reading a song? Well then, let’s not read it as an instruction manual. Is it law? Well then we can’t read it as apocalyptic literature. We read the poem as a poem. Is it a personal letter? If so, we can’t read it like junk email.

We can’t say you read things literally. We read them literate-ly. We read the Bible within the literary framework(s) with which it comes.

Even though the Psalmist says it, we don’t believe the trees of the forest will clap their hands – because trees don’t have hands. It’s a metaphor. We know that rocks can’t cry out – because they don’t have mouths – and they are not alive.

These images are what English professors call, “personification.” This use of imagery doesn’t negate the glory and praise that God deserves and will receive from creation. In fact, it is just the opposite. The psalmist uses these images because language is so limited. This is the best he could come up with. The glory of God over creation will be so spectacular, so amazing, so ridiculously glorious, our ears have never heard anything like it!

We read all pieces of literature with a rule of interpretation.

I’ll show you what I mean.

What is this?

TextImage.jpg

It is a text. A specific kind of form of “literature.” You know because of the look. The bubbles. The tool bar. You can tell when it was sent: on July 8. You can tell who it was sent to: Margaret Ann… Who sent it? I did!

And there could be a lot of confusion if you don’t know the author. I sent this to Margaret Ann on her 49th Birthday. And if you didn’t get into the world behind the text to know our relationship you wouldn’t know she was a great friend of mine and that teasing is central to our friendship. You might mistake this text for being mean … but instead we both were laughing. I tease her about her age, she teases me about my bald spot. If you can do the work of exegesis, and know the genre and form you can see the message: Friendship. A really good friendship.

Or look at this. What it is?

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A tweet. From @LJBoo. Not a single complete sentence. Now my grandpa doesn’t know what this is. It would take some explaining. Because of new symbols (#) – a new language is created. But if you know the form, the genre, and the language, you know what kind of night we had together and how long we spent together.

Did you know the Greek language didn’t have punctuation? The original Hebrew didn’t have vowels. But once you learn the rules of the language you can understand the message.

The same with this tweet. Now you might say, “that’s weird.” You know what’s weird? Hashtags. Or you know what else is weird? Just using the first letter of words to write a sentence. LOL. BRB. ROTFL. There are literary rules in play when we do exegesis. We are constantly asking, what is the author trying to say?

Finally, What is this? An email.

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But you need to do some exegetical work to discover who the author is – and then in what context it was written – but once you find out you’ll have a physical reaction. Once you do your exegetical work and find out that this is from a 7-year old dyslexic Annabelle trying to type on her ipod while she sat next to me in church on a Sunday night: “Thanks for sitting by me.” your response will be “aww.”

So, Sarah asks - is the Bible up for interpretation? Yes. All of scripture must be interpreted.We get behind the text, we jump into the text, and we do the hard work of interpretation to find a text’s original meaning and importance.

But we interpret EVERYTHING through the love of God demonstrated to the world in his Son Jesus of Nazareth. In fact we could say, that the communion table is our new interpretive lens. What happened here displays and reveals the message of the written word to the whole world.

What is the Bible & Where Did It Come From? by Chris Pollock

Rev. Chris Pollock

Over the next few weeks, we are discussing big questions about the Bible. We will be adapting our sermons for this blog. This is part two of our sermon series, "Questions About the Bible".

Where do we begin to tell the story of how the Bible has come to us? First, we need to remember the order of how God’s revelation has always come to us:

  1. God Reveals Godself to the world, not just in written word, but in living word [God shows up in person]
  2. A people interpret this activity within their own history, their language, their own religion, their own family systems, their own political climate, their own socioeconomic standing, their own healthcare needs
  3. And then they tell the story of this divine and personal encounter – (and they called it good news).

They literally told stories. Both the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) and what has become New Testament scriptures (and the Gospels specifically) began as Oral Tradition.

ORAL TRADITION

Now it is difficult for us to imagine what it feels like to be in an oral culture, because we read constantly. We imagine Oral Tradition like the telephone game we played as kids: Tell one person something, then in secret they tell the next person on and on. When it gets to the end, it’s a completely different result.

But that’s not how an Oral Culture worked. An oral culture was a story-telling culture. And everyone was involved in the story telling. And in our culture today, we are still surrounded by stories. Movies. Books. Events. Songs. All of these contribute to our story telling.

Some of you immediately picture these faces when you hear, “Shut up, Beavis.”

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Or, “I’m not really superstitious. But I am a little stitious.”

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And I would argue that even though we are not an oral culture, we are still shaped by story telling. It’s how we remember things down to the last word. During my sermon last week, I said these three words: “In West Philadelphia…” and two women on the front row immediately jumped in with the rest of the words to the theme song from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

You can tell the story of the Kennedy Assassination, the British invasion, parts of the “I Have a Dream” speech, or 9/11. And my guess is, you didn’t read it. You first heard it, or witnessed it, and then you told and were told the stories over and over again. This is the nature of Oral Tradition and in a culture that could ONLY communicate through spoken words – it is easy to see that, as they claimed God’s revelation to them in their times of joy, trial, rebellion, and exile, that they would tell stories and sing songs about it.

THE OLD TESTAMENT (The Hebrew Scriptures): A VERY, VERY Brief History

Most experts believe that the oldest stories in the Book of Genesis come from Israel’s faith traditions during the days of Moses (13th Century BC). Then a substantial portion of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were a part of Israel’s oral tradition for three or more generations before they were fixed in written form.

This process of “canonization” (canon= reed or stalk, rule or standard of measurement) was not finalized until around AD 100. But once this was done, Judaism took special care in preserving these documents. The scribes (like ancient experts) followed very specific rules when copying these manuscripts.

To the best of their ability, scholars have sketched out this timeline of canonization for the Hebrew Scriptures:

  • 400 BC -- Books of the Law/ Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) were seen as the authoritative Scriptures of Judaism. Perhaps it was because of Ezra, who read and established the law after the Jewish exiles were allowed to come home in the 5th century. (You can read about this in Ezra and Nehemiah).

  • 200 BC -- Judaism accepted and canonized the Former and Later Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Zephaniah, Malachi) as authoritative.

  • 30-95 AD -- Some of the Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Esther, Job) were considered sacred scripture early in the first century AD and official endorsement was given to all 39 OT books by the rabbis at the Council of Jamnia in AD 95.

These are the texts that influenced Jesus of Nazareth. But not only that, it appears that Jesus understood his own vocation and identity in terms of the Hebrew scripture. In other words, Jesus was shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures and understood his own role within salvation history through the reading.

They were also the books that were used in worship in the early church. To Jesus, Paul, John Mark, and Peter these 39 books, were Holy Scripture. They were the authoritative and inspired written word of God – telling a portion of God’s work in a vast salvation history.

When Paul writes to Timothy and says, “The scriptures are God breathed and are useful for teaching, training, rebuking, and correcting…” he is talking about these 39 books! None of the NT writers considered what they were writing as Holy Scripture.

None of them set out to write the Bible! And yet, they wrote what we now have as holy Scripture. How did that happen?

THE NEW TESTAMENT (The Christian Scriptures): A VERY, VERY Brief History

Again, the people who witnessed and experienced the work of God in Jesus told their stories again, and again, and again. Eventually however, people began to write down some of these stories in order to have a keep a proper account of the events, like Luke:

1 ”Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. (oral tradition) 3 With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

--The Gospel According to Luke 1 (NIV)

When Luke says, “many,” that is exactly what he means. MANY! Lots and lots of people attempted to and did write down the events as they saw them. But eventually, 27 texts emerged as authoritative. Now, this wasn’t done willy-nilly. In fact, like the Old Testament, there was a process that took place over time.

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The earliest form of putting together a “canon” (a list of authoritative books) was that of Marcion (85 -160). But Marcion wasn’t a great person for this job. He liked Paul but he hated Jews (so he didn’t include the Gospels of Matthew, Mark or John – they were Jewish); hated the God of the Old Testament – so he did his own cut and paste, dumped the Old Testament, and took the letters of Paul that he liked. And like a sound bite being taken out of context, he ended up creating a whole new theology of Jesus Christ (Christology).

Eventually, he was seen as a heretic yet he forced the church to think about where they really stood and how to tell the story in a faithful way. So, in response to Marcion and the dangers of poor theology – the Church responded, wanting to get it right! They understood that bad theology is very, very dangerous, and that making sure to tell the story right is very important. So they began the process of trying to get it right.

They would consider inclusion in the canon by going with the “rule:” they would wait, pray, and think. They asked questions: Was this written by an eye witness or was there consultation with an eye witness? Does the message of this text line up with apostolic truth (is the message consistent with what the Apostles saw and talked about)? Do the churches (everyone) use this text in worship and is it accepted in the churches?

Over the course of several hundred years of praying and asking these questions, the 27 books of the New Testament were established as authoritative canon:

  • AD 180 -- Irenaeus (Wrote Against Heresies) narrowed the collection to the four Gospels.
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  • A few decades later, the early church father Origen made three lists: authoritative texts that must be included (this was the general makeup of today’s NT); disputed texts that may not be authoritative; and heretical/ unorthodox texts that should be totally rejected.
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  • By A.D. 200, 21 of the 27 books were clearly recognized as being Scripture.

This is a simply amazing thing – the church in its first 200 years had expanded greatly, the people were under severe persecution, and these texts were collectively agreed upon and preserved with diligence and care. Some even gave their lives to protect these books – not because it was the book they worshipped, but because the story was essential and needed to be preserved! As cultural and theological issues would arise, the church would live with the three categories of Origen (accepted, disputed, rejected). By the close of the fourth century the Church made an official statement – declaring and affirming that these 66 were the canonized texts of Holy Scripture.

Why does this matter?

Egg heads like me really like doing the historical work of this process - it is interesting to me. But in a world of chopped up sound bites, talking heads, and 140 character statements, I’d like to argue that it’s not just interesting.

The Church believed that this was the story of How God intends to save the world. All of it. All 66 books. It wasn’t put together flippantly. The stuff that is easy to understand and the stuff that is difficult.

It’s necessary for our survival to understand and pour over how we got here. Without knowing our history or the stories that shape who we are, we cannot live into that which we are called to be.Jesus understood his own identity and vocation within these sacred pages – how dare we think that we can find our identity and vocation if we avoid them?

Scripture identifies God’s activity in the past, to help us recognize God’s activity in the present, so we can move into the future with God. It’s a big story we’ve been given, and a big story we’re invited into. Let’s dig in.

Emily's 8th Street Dreams by Chris Pollock

Emily Auld

While restoration is underway at the8th Street Church, we are sharing the dreams God has given us for the 8th Street building and our new neighborhood. Emily first shared her 8th Street Dreams during our service on August 20, 2017.

When thinking about my 8th street dreams, I first need to share the story of how ended up here and how I am now able to have dreams about a church. Growing up, church was the place were I felt comfortable. It was the place where I spent all of my time and where I grew not only in my faith but as a person. It was a place were I had strong relationships with not only others my age, but people older than me who shared their life experiences with me. Church growing up provided me with a second home where it was ok for me to be me and me to grow.

Then, as an adult living in a large city, I found myself unable to find a church in which I felt recognized and a part of a family who cared about me. In November 2015, I turned 30, and I was extremely lonely. Specifically, I had given up on finding a church. I didn’t see where I fit into the large churches in the metro. I resigned myself to a lonely life, which included work, my dog and home. Luckily, God had other plans for my life.

On Superbowl Sunday 2016, I called my cousins because I wanted to spend time with them and their 2-year-old son. They told me I was welcome to hang out, but they would be going to this new church plant, and I was welcome to come. So I went along thinking I would go to church and after get to spend time with my family. Little did I know that this Sunday would change my life.

In May, during the series on 8th street dreams, I found myself up all night convicted that I needed to give to this new church which had captured my heart. I want to read you my journal entry from that day.

“About a year ago I started attending Midtown Church. Shortly after coming for the first time my grandfather passed away. In the year that followed by sister and her husband moved from OKC to Phoenix, and my cousins who brought me here moved back home. During this time, I have seen less of my family than ever before. My sister is hours away, and my parents have been busy taking care of my grandmother so I see them much less. My whole life my family has been my everything. Being 30 and single, you lean on family because most nights you go home to a quiet and silent house.

In the last several months I have learned that God gives us all family—it just may just look different. Psalm 68:8 says “God sets the lonely in families.” This couldn’t be more true to me. Midtown has truly been a gift to me. God has placed this lonely girl in This Family. It amazes me how in such a short time I have grown to call this place home and family. I look at my parish group like my brothers and sisters. People I know in a minute would be there for me and vice versa. More importantly, they are encouraging me in my walk with Christ. Simply put: I belong at Midtown, and it is purely God-driven."

So you see, my dream for our new church is that God would continue to place the lonely into families. That we as a congregation would reach out to the lonely like Holly Pollock did for me in January and provide the encouragement needed for them to find their home/family. Sometimes it takes a big leap to try something new, and often it is scary, but when God is involved it is always right. Thank you for letting me share and most importantly thank you for being my family.


It takes work (& money) to make our dreams come true. Will you join us? You can give online through our parent church, Bethany First Church of the Nazarene; make sure to mark your gift for "Midtown- 8th Street Project." You can also send cash or check to PO Box 76266, Oklahoma City, OK 73147. Contact Pastor Chris Pollock at chrispollockokc@gmail.com if you have questions about giving.