Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America

 Under the Overpass is the story of two men who intentionally decided to live on the streets of America so they could better relate to and understand the homeless population of our country and see how the church is relating to them. The book was originally published in 2005 and this copy is an updated version of the original with Francis Chan writing a forward. I wanted to read this book mostly because it appeared to be unlike anything I have ever read before. I wanted to hear what they learned on the streets.

I must say, I am a bit skeptical when it comes to the homeless. Mike Yankoski acknowledges towards the end of the book that most people think the homeless are on the streets by choice. I guess I am (was) one of them. I guess I have, somewhat wrongly, attributed their life on the streets as a result of years of bad choices, like drugs and alcohol. Much of his book would do little to reverse that thought in my mind. It seemed like most cities where Mike and Sam traveled, the people they spent time with were high or drunk.

However, I guess what I took from this book is that not ALL of those on the streets are like that. Some are there because of horrible situations. Some are there because their dad had beaten them silly (the story of Nikki on page 167 ripped my heart out). Some have never had a break in their life. And I walk past them as if they do not exist. Or even at the best times, I give money so they can be taken care of. Mike writes of the problem with only giving money: "That helps, of course. But too often money is insulation--it conveniently keeps us from ever having to come face-to-face with a man or woman whose life is in tatters" (37). That so adequately describes the American church. We can give our money, but let's not get our hands dirty.

They left on their journey with the hopes of learning about the homeless, but also to learn what it means to trust and depend on God in all things. I do think this is something that I have not understood. And honestly, in my flesh, I am not sure I want to. In my spirit I do, but my flesh enjoys knowing where my head will rest tonight and where my next meal is coming from.

I went to Moody Bible Institute, living downtown Chicago, for three years. I came in contact with countless homeless people. I bought the occasional meal (probably reluctantly). But I often walked by them as if they did not exist. After reading this book, I hope I never look at someone asking for money the same way. I hope I will be more generous. I hope I can look past the external appearance and be willing to have a conversation with them. I hope I can see them as a man or woman who has been created in the Image of God. Mike writes, "If we as believers choose to forget that everyone--even the shrunken soul lying in the doorway--is made int eh image of God, can we say we know our Creator? If we respond to others based on their outward appearance, haven't we entirely missed the point of the gospel" (103)?

I appreciate at the end of the book, he gives what he thinks we should do when we encounter the homeless. If you want to know, read the book. In fact, if you live in a city context, you should read this book. You should read it because it will soften your hard heart.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Books: An Introduction

About five months ago, a friend of mine ran a series of blog posts mentioning the 25 books that had most impacted him. He called it 25 books in 25 days (although it took him much longer than 25 days to complete the series of blog posts). While he was writing these, he challenged me for my list. Well, Josh, here it is! During the month of January, I will be doing a series of blog posts I am simply calling The Books!

As he writes in his, I did have a bit of a struggle determining how I would rank the books. In the end, I decided to list the books, in the best order that I could, as to how they have affected me personally. Some of them are theological, some are very practical. Some were read before ministry life, some have been read recently. While I think that everyone should pick a book or two from this list and read them in 2011, I am not saying that this list is my greatest books list. It is a list of the books that have helped shape who I am as a Christian and follower of Jesus.

This list of 31 books contains 26 different authors. There are some that have been written in the past ten years and some that have been around for hundreds. The one obvious point that needs to be made is that these are 31 books other than the Bible. My son, Karsten, thought I should entitle this series: Great Books, but not the Greatest. It took me a while to get it, but what he was saying is that none of these books are equal to the Bible (Thanks bud for that great reminder). These books have changed my thinking. They have molded me into the theologian and pastor that I am today. But they all bow to the Holy Scriptures, as should we. Please don't read any of these books if you are not reading the Bible.

So, I will start on January 1, 2011 with the 31st most impactful book and work my way towards January 31, 2011 when I will share the most impactful book. Throughout the month, I promise that I will give away several books. But I'm not going to be sharing now which days the free giveaway's will come. You will just have to keep checking back to find out.

I thought I would finish this initial blog post with some of the books that just missed the cut.

#35 - Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free by F. F. Bruce

I first read this book in seminary and it has forever shaped my thinking of the Apostle Paul. If you know me, you know that I love to study and teach on character studies in the Bible. This book got me started. I learned so much reading how Paul interacted on all his missionary journeys with so many people and places. If you are a student of the New Testament, this is a MUST read!

#34 - Point Man by Steve Farrar

This was a book that I had always heard about, but was finally forced to read it for a doctoral of ministries class about three years ago. It was a class on discipling men in the church for ministry. I have passed this book out & recommended it to several men since that time. I would highly recommend it to any man to read. His introduction is worth the cost of the book itself.

#33 - Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian

I have said on my blog that this is probably the best book I have read this year. I will not say much about it here now, but you can read my full review HERE! It is a great book and probably will be one that will only climb on my list as the years go by.

#32 - PsychoBabble by Richard Ganz

You know a book is impactful to you if you can remember where you were when you read it. I remember reading this book in preparation for an elective class I was teaching called Psychology, Self-Esteem, & the Bible. I remember sitting in my living room over the Christmas holidays in 2002 with my family all around me. I do not remember what they were doing because I was so consumed by this book. This book really helped shape in my mind a good biblical view of the study of the soul.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Favorite Earthly Gift This Year

Christmas is about JESUS! I have said that, preached that, & tweeted that. Everything beyond that is just a bonus. As a family, we just finished unwrapping a few gifts for each other and I wanted to share with you probably my favorite of the year. It actually wasn't a gift, but it was a card.

My son, J.T., had brought a gift from school that he had made. He asked if it could be opened up as the last gift of the morning. As we started to open it up, he said, "But aren't you going to open the card first." This is what it said, no comments after this. Enjoy it:

Dear Family,

I am glad you are part of me. I am glad to have Karsten to play with and to wrestle with of course. I am glad to have Anni because she is funny and is good to laugh at. And mom and dad, you're the best because you take care of me and love me and I love you too.

Merry Christmas,

Love J.T.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Home = Place of Ministry

I announced on Sunday that the Lord is moving us in ministry. We have greatly enjoyed our time in Hutchinson, Kansas and we are certainly looking forward to what the Lord would have for us in Middlefield, Ohio. One of the things that we need to do in this transition is sell our house. We would certainly ask you to pray for this to happen (you can find out information about our house if you want to spread the word and help us sell it: check it out HERE!). We have been busy the past couple weeks getting it ready to sell. My experience has always been that our house is never finished until we get ready to sell it. You know, all those little details are finally taken care of. For instance, we have lived in our house six years and I finally painted our master bedroom. I finally like our room.

Well, as I put that sign in the yard this morning, I was a bit sad. We love our house. Not because of the carpet or the new color in our bedroom. I will miss this house because so much ministry has happened there. This got me thinking as to what has happened at our house over the past six years.

  • We have seen people challenge each other in the faith there.
  • We have seen people develope Christ-centered marriages after first meeting there
  • We have seen people been taught theology and practical living there
  • We have had numerous conversations about Jesus there
  • We have prayed for the hurting there
  • We have met with several couples in pre-marital counseling sessions there
  • We have heard great feedback from new people to our church about our church there
  • We have seen many dear friendships cultivated there
The list can keep going on and on. I love our home because our home has been a place of ministry. From the time my wife and I were married, we have always had a vision of using our home as a place where people can be impacted for the sake of the gospel. We have always wanted to use the resources the Lord has blessed us with to minister to others. I know that sometimes, it wasn't all that serious, maybe just a game on TV or the kids playing with each other. But during those times, the relationships that we have formed with so many of you have become so dear to our heart!

God tells us consistently that we should be hospitable (Rom 12:13; Heb 13:2; 1 Pet 4:9). My prayer is that all of us who have places we call a home, will see it as more than a covering from the wind and rain. I pray that we will see it as a place for ministry to happen. Will you? Do you? Never underestimate the significance that a lunch or dinner can have on someone. And may God give you a love for your house because of the ministry, not because of it's beauty!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My New Announcement

I can't believe that it has been over a month since I last posted something on my blog. That was never my intention when I started this blog site. I told myself that I was not going to be one of those people that start to blog and then only blog once a month or so. Well, I am one of those people, I guess. But there has been good reason. I announced on Sunday at our church that the Lord is moving us in ministry. Below is the announcement that I made. More will come in future posts, but for now, we would certainly appreciate your prayers for our family and for Grace Bible Church.

I asked Pastor Rick if I could take a minute this morning and share with you some things that have been going on in my life. Over the past year, the Lord has really placed a burden on my heart to be involved in more of a preaching and leading ministry. This burden, when discussed by those closest to me, has been overwhelmingly affirmed.

As I have been praying about this desire, the Lord has opened up a door for ministry where I feel this burden and my giftedness can best be used for the Kingdom of God. This last week, I accepted a position of Senior Pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church in Middlefield, Ohio.

There are many reasons why Monique and I have chosen to take this position, and I would be glad to share them with you at some point. For now, please listen very closely to what I am going to say. My leaving has nothing to do with Grace Bible Church, the people or the leadership of this church. For over six years, I have counted it a privilege to be able to serve with you and for you in the progress of the gospel in Hutchinson and Reno County.

My desire to leave has everything to do with a calling upon my life to lead and preach. And in that, I would certainly covet your prayers. I remember the first day driving into town as Monique and I had no idea what was in store for us. We were moving to Kansas, a place I honestly thought we would never live. Well, because I’m now a Kansan, I guess I can say, it’s been “a wild ride, baby!”

As far as a transition, that has not been decided as of yet. I will meet with the elders tonight to discuss what they would like to see of me in this transition and the timing of it.

So many of you have meant so much to us on a very personal level. We love you and will continue to pray for you as a church. I am confident of this one thing: that those of you who have been closest to us, I know it was God that began the work in your life and it will be God that will perfect it in the end.

We love you!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Thoughts from a Commentary

As I study a text of Scripture, I usually read between 6-12 commentaries to gain insight into the meaning of the passage. One of my favorite commentators is Homer A. Kent. You can check out some of his commentaries HERE! I have always enjoyed his simplicity and clarity in biblical exposition. He has nuggets of practical wisdom, but for the most part, his commentaries stick to the meaning of the text.

As I was studying Colossians 3 this week, I came across this quote. I thought I would let you ponder it as I am doing. I loved this quote so much for two reasons. First, because of the name of this blog (changed by the gospel). Second, I have preached many sermons recently on the Importance of Theology. In those sermons, I have tried to show how practical it is what we believe. Well, anyways, take a few minutes and really read this quote and contemplate it for your life. Enjoy!

"Scripture is clear that there is a practical side to Christian doctrine. Christianity is not just a creed. It is a 'Way' (this was one of the earliest names that Christians used for their movement). Conversion implies a changed life. Consequently, the believer must never forget that his salvation experience involves much more than just a past event in his life. That was merely the beginning. The new birth initiates the believer into a life to be lived. It provides the dynamic to energize this new life, and continual guidance from the Scripture to direct it along the proper channels. Only when the Christian ignores what God has provided does he find his Christian faith a disappointment."

~ Homer Kent, Treasures of Wisdom: Studies in Colossians & Philemon, (103-104).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Grace for Orphans

This past Sunday, our church launched a new ministry called Grace for Orphans. It is a ministry that was birthed out of a passion by several people in our church. Check out the website, where you can watch some videos and find out more about the ministry. This is the purpose of Grace for Orphans: According to our biblical mandate to defend and care for the fatherless, we purpose to imitate our Heavenly Father's adoptive love through an orphan care and adoption culture at Grace Bible Church (Isa 1:17; Jas 1:27). It is a ministry to orphans. It is a ministry to those who cannot take care of themselves. My heart breaks every time I see a child who is fatherless or in need or hurting. I am praying that God does amazing things through the hearts of those at Grace Bible Church.

In preparation for this, we ordered several books to have on hand to suggest to people to read. I wanted to take a minute and point out these books. The only unfortunate thing about this list is that they are primarily all books on adoption. We have been very careful to point out that the ministry we have launched is not exclusively an adoption ministry. While we hope and pray that many will eventually adopt children, it is our hope and prayer that all are involved in orphan care in our city and the world. That being said, I hope you understand that these books, while dealing with adoption, only hit one aspect of orphan care ministry. Yet that one aspect is greatly needed. Maybe you will pick up one of these books in due time and read it and be moved to help those who cannot take care of themselves.

Adopted for Life by Russell D. Moore is one of the best books I have read this year, maybe at some point, I will do a full review of this book. If you have not read it, you should. I think it is a must for anyone who is a believer in Jesus. It is not just a book on adoption, it is a book on theology on what it means to be adopted in Christ. The back cover of the book gives an adequate summary as to the importance of adoption in light of the gospel: "The gospel of Jesus Christ means our families and churches ought to be at the forefront of the adoption of orphans close to home and around the world." Please pick up this book and read it, it might just change your life.

Fields of the Fatherless by Tom Davis is a book that I greatly look forward to reading very soon. Of all the other books on this list that I have not read, this one is at the top. At the very beginning of the book, Davis writes, "In this world you are an orphan-eagerly anticipating your adoption as God's child. In this world you are a widow-longing for reunion with your Bridegroom. In this world you are a stranger-a pilgrim waiting to become a citizen of heaven. And in this world, God has called you to care for the orphan, the stranger, and the widow. Fields of the Fatherless is a journey that brings you back to what Christianity is really about: Giving yourself to others, Being Christ to a hurting world, And living for the one that comes next." Sounds good, doesn't it?

Heirs with Christ by Joel Beeke is a great little book on what the Puritans believed in regards to our spiritual adoption. This is a theology of our adoption and should be the basis for why we would want to care for those who are not our own and can't help themselves. The theology helps shape our thinking so we are not just benevolent people, but people with a plan that flows from the heart of God. One publisher comment on the back of the book states: "This little book lets the Puritans speak for themselves, showing how they recognized adoption's far-reaching, transforming power and comfort for the children of God." As someone who has read many puritan writings, this book is not for the light of heart. But the journey will really be worth it.

Speaking of theology and adoption, Adopted into God's Family by Trevor Burke is a theological treatise on this issue. The general editor of the New Studies in Biblical Theology, D.A. Carson has this to say about this book: "Not only the importance of God's family, but also the enormous privilege of belonging to it, are powerfully underscored by Paul's understanding of what it means to be the adopted sons of God. With such themes in view, a wide array of pastoral implications soon springs to light. In other words, this volume not only probes a neglected theme - it also edifies." Got it? Well, maybe there are some of you who read my blog that are really into the deeper theological mysteries. This is the book for you.

Successful Adoption: A Guide for Christian Families by Natalie Nichols Gillespie is probably the most practical book our Grace for Orphans team has recommended for those looking to adopt. This book includes everything that you might think about in regards to adoption: Do I adopt locally or internationally? How much is an adoption going to cost? What are some of the blessings and hardships of adoption? What is the process like? What is life going to be like after I adopt? If you are interested in adoption, then grab this book.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Thoughts Concerning Birthdays

Most of you that read my blog probably already know this, but yesterday was my birthday. Before getting into what I want to write about, I wanted to take a moment and thank all of you who took the time to wish me happy birthday. Specifically those of you who do it because we are friends on Facebook or Twitter. Social Networking has made it much easier than before to wish people happy birthday. For that I am thankful. I know that while many of you who have posted something on my wall on FB, I have not done that for you. I truly am sorry and DO WISH that whenever your birthday falls, you will have a good day!

Now that I have said that, let me tell you a bit about my birthday's every year. I have always been a bit of a pessimist, and that comes out a little bit on November 1st every year. I had one person yesterday say, "another year the Lord has given you," to which I would like to reply "that means one less year." I am sure that wrapped up in my attitude every year is a bit of selfishness and pride. In fact, I am sure that there is a bit of those things (among others) wrapped up in almost everything that I do.

When I say "that means one less year," what I do NOT mean is that I am scared of dying or that I am depressed that my life is one year closer to eternity. What I do mean is that while I am grateful for this past year the Lord has given me (and I am so thankful for it), every November 1st is a stinging reminder to me that I need to take seriously my calling in life because I have one less year to be productive for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Maybe it is just hard for me to express in words, but I have this longing, this desire to make every moment of my life count for something. Maybe that is why I am driven to accomplish things in my life.

I hope I am not depressing you, but here are a few verses that always beat me up regarding this matter.

"Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:15-16). I am commanded to make the most of my time because the time that I have is not long. John MacArthur, in his commentary on Ephesians says this: "For His own reasons, God allows some of His children to live and serve far into old age. Others He grants only a few years or even a few weeks. But none of us knows how long or short his own allocation of time will be." None of us know how much time we have in this life (James 4:13-15). This really puts into perspective my time watching TV, surfing the Internet, or even playing FB games (actually I don't play those games, but thought you might be convicted by it).

"So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Galatians 6:10). What does Paul mean by "while we have opportunity?" Could it be that at some point we will not have the opportunity to do good? Could it be that at some point the chance to do good to all people, especially the household of faith, will be stripped away from us? It means that we only have one shot at this life.

I apologize if this is depressing, but I want to make my life count, don't you? So, maybe November 1st of every year is a day of frustration in my own heart because I am convicted of all the times I have failed to make the most of my opportunities during this past year. It is a day of repentance. It is a day of introspection. But most of all, what I need the most, is that this is a day of the gospel! That even in my sins of missing opportunities and wasting time, I have acceptance and redemption because of what Jesus did on the cross. So, it's November 2nd and I am back upon the horse trying to run hard and fast for Jesus and being faithful to what He has called me to do.

Does any of this make sense?

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Morning After: Jesus-Centered Religion

Okay, so I have done a very poor job of blogging over the past couple of weeks. I started strong and then have slipped into a bad habit of only blogging once a week or so. I promise all of you out there that care (probably only my wife) that I will do better in the coming month. I am going to try to do something every day this month. We will see if it works or not.

Well, on to what really matters. Yesterday, I continued my series that I have been teaching on the book of Colossians. The purpose of the book of Colossians is to paint the picture of Jesus Christ so beautifully and perfectly that we would understand that He is indeed sufficient for anything that we could need in life. That is why I have entitled our series: It's All About Jesus! The past two weeks have been a short mini-series in that we have been contrasting Jesus and religion. Our main focus over the past couple weeks has been that any religion that focuses on what people do versus what Jesus has done produces death!

There were false teachers in the church in Colossae who were beginning to influence the doctrine of the church and undermining the sufficiency of Jesus. They were saying that Jesus was not enough for them to be considered a part of God's people. They were saying there were other things the people needed to do in order to be accepted by God. So, in Colossians 2:8-23, Paul writes to warn the people to not be taken captive by these teachings, but instead to be taken captive by Jesus.

Talking about the greatness of Jesus Christ never gets tiring to me. Not sure about you, but I don't think I can ever talk enough about what Jesus has done for me. Paul begins in vs. 8 by warning them not to be taken captive by this false teaching, but says that it is okay to be taking captive by Christ. Then Paul launches into why it is okay to be taken captive by Jesus in vs. 9-15. Then Paul returns to his original thought in vs. 16 to warn them of the specific errors that they needed to be careful to avoid.

First, we are warned against the Legalistic Religion (vs. 16-17). This is the attempt to work in order to gain God's favor. It is a religion of human achievement. It is the religion that fails to realize the importance and centrality of God's grace. It says that if we do certain things, worship at certain times, wear certain things, then God will think of us as more holy and accept us better. Second, we are warned against the Emotional Religion (vs. 18-19). This is the religion based on experience, not objective truth. It is the religion based on visions and dreams and worship of angels as opposed to Jesus. Third, we are warned against the Self-Denial Religion (vs. 20-23). This is the religion that says if you really want to be spiritual, you need to abstain from even good gifts given by the Lord and maybe even do harmful things to yourself.

All of those produce death! But what Jesus has done is my only hope for true life! That is what Paul teaches in vs. 9-15. He lists several evidences why the work of Jesus is indeed sufficient.

  1. Jesus is the perfect God-man (vs. 9)
  2. Jesus is the completer of mankind (vs. 10a)
  3. Jesus is the ruler (vs. 10b)
  4. Jesus is the changer of hearts (vs. 11-12)
  5. Jesus is the forgiver (vs. 13-14)
  6. Jesus is the victor (vs. 15)
Let me tell you why the forgiving aspect of Jesus means so much to me. This is one aspect of motivation for me in regards to christian ministry. When I am in Christ, when I am in a relationship with Jesus, God has wiped away all of my sins. He has done it by taking care of my certificate of debt. In 1996, I spent six weeks in China teaching English. One day we heard sirens and police cars began racing up down the streets of this small village we were staying in. Our host told us that we needed to get out of the city. That was the day they were planning on doing public punishment for the criminals of the city. I will never forget one of the police trucks that passed by our hotel. It carried several criminals who were bound and displayed in the back of the truck. Around their neck hung a sign, which our guide told me was the list of offenses they had committed.

Whenever I think about a certificate of debt, that is what I think of. That is because every person wears that same sort of list around our necks before a Holy God. Around my neck hangs this list of sins that only God sees. It is a list of every sin that I have ever committed and will ever commit. This is what Jesus has done, He has taken very long list . . . all of my imperfections, all those wrong motives, all those lustful and hateful thoughts, all those moments of pride, all those times giving into temptation. He has taken those things out of the way, nailing them to the cross! He has taken those things that are offensive to God and stood between me and Him and said, "I'll take that. Put that on my account!"

Good works won't do that! Visions and dreams won't take away my sins! Self-denial of food or drink or harming myself won't take my sins away! But the cross of Jesus does. That is why I talk about the cross and the gospel all the time. It is my only hope and I hope it is yours as well! May we all live this week in light of Jesus and the cross that He died upon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Youngest Son: Jackson Tyler (J.T.)

Sorry buddy, but someone had to be last. I picked him because he would care the least about being last in a series of blog posts about my family. I have talked about my wife, Monique; my little girl, Anni; my oldest son, Karsten. Now onto my youngest son: Jackson Tyler Bergmeier.

I will never forget when he was born. I had just blown my knee out and was on crutches. But honestly, that is what made his birth so awesome. After he was born, I couldn't be busy. I had to sit around and hold my new little boy. I know it does not look like it now, but when J.T. was born, he looked exactly like his big brother, Karsten. Obviously that is not the case now. Now when I look at J.T., I feel like I am looking right into a mirror. He is the image of his dad, which is really cool. When he was younger, all he wanted was his mom. But recently, he has grown to become a daddy's guy!

As with the others in my family, here's my list of the reasons why I love this cool, young dude!

  1. He is a very gentle young man. He is very sensitive to the needs of others.
  2. He is extremely intelligent (like I said, he is just like his dad).
  3. He can bury his head playing a video game and not even know what is going on around him. Every now and then he will pick up his head and ask what was going on. I just laugh at how he can be so totally focused.
  4. His big gut belly laugh is just awesome.
  5. He loves basketball.
  6. He is very attentive when I try to teach him how to do things. He longs to be a learner.
  7. He so much wants the approval of his dad, maybe even at some points too much.
  8. He loves to have his hair buzzed short because he wants to have hair like his dads.
  9. I love to listen to him pray. This morning we were praying and he prayed for his weakness, his struggles, his issues. He didn't even concern himself with the issues of others.
  10. He loves to sleep. When he sleeps, he is totally out, which leads to sometimes doing some crazy things (like sleep walking).
  11. He is the person in his classes at school that everyone wants to be his friend. I think that is because he is so kind.
  12. Like his brother, he is very protective of his mother and sister.
  13. When he puts his mind to do something, he becomes very dedicated. He will work at something for hours by himself so that he can become good at it (like playing basketball out in the driveway by himself).
  14. If I let him, I bet he could put away an entire pizza.
  15. I could see him being a pastor someday. Once he told me that he wanted to be a pastor when he grows up or "get a real job." I am praying that someday he doesn't have a real job then!
Well, that's my guy! That's my bubba! I love him so much that sometimes it hurts!

Well, since this is the last post of my family, let me leave everyone with one of my favorite pictures of the special four! This was taken on our trip this past summer out to my graduation. We were traveling through Pittsburgh and it just happened that the Cubs were playing in town. I cannot think of someone more fortunate than me. God has really blessed me with an incredible family. I cherish them with all that is in my heart! I pray that God continually draws us closer to each other as He draws us all closer to Him individually.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

My Oldest Son: Karsten Lee

Okay, so over the previous weeks, I have been talking about my family. I started by telling everyone what I felt about my wife. Then last week, I shared my thoughts on my little girl, Anni. Well, this week, I want to write a little bit about my oldest son, Karsten Lee Bergmeier.

Do you remember back to the beginning of the millennium? Do you remember the uncertainty of the unknown? With all the fear and whoopla about what was going to happen on that day, our lives were definitely changed forever. That's right, Karsten is our millennium baby, born on January 1, 2000. From the moment that he was born and I saw him, he has been in my heart. Just before he was born, Phil Collins released his song, "You'll be in my heart," as part of the movie Tarzan. I remember as a young dad sitting in a chair with my little boy in my arms with that song being played and crying. He is so very special to me. But you may ask why. What is it about him now that he is grown up that I love about him so much? Let me make a short list for you! As the other lists, it is not in any particular order and is in no way a complete list.

  1. He loves to read probably even more than his dad.
  2. He is so very clever and smart, loving to play practical jokes. It always seems to happen when he takes something of  mine and hides it.
  3. I love that he likes and asks to have his hair longer. I guess it is because I was never allowed to that I want him to be able to.
  4. He is growing into a great leader. Every time I leave the family to go out of town, I talk to him about leading the house. He loves it and takes the challenge.
  5. He loves soccer and baseball the most, which are probably my two favorite sports (the picture above is him wearing a Spain jersey after we watched a world cup soccer game).
  6. He is very sensitive to his sin and correction.
  7. He has a deep sense of wanting to protect his mom.
  8. He wanted to pass out tracts about Jesus at the Kansas State Fair.
  9. Even though he is ten years old, he is not too old to sit with me on the couch to watch some sports or a good movie.
  10. He enjoys talking about the things of the Bible with me.
  11. He always wants to be around the adults (I see so much of me in his character like that).
  12. He is very competitive.
  13. He is not too old to give dad hugs or kisses.
  14. He is very wise for his age on who he spends time with. He chooses his friends well.
  15. His smile when he sees this list. He so very much wants me to affirm him and I love doing it. He will love this!

That's my boy! I can't wait to see what God has in store for him in the future. He is being molded into a young man who is kind to others. I can't believe that he is already ten, soon to turn eleven. I am brought to tears when I think we only have seven more years with him at home before college. But I know the Lord will do amazing things with him as he gives himself to Jesus with all that he has.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Morning After: Jesus-Centered Spiritual Growth

Last week, I was challenged with a question as I studied the book of Colossians: am I growing in my relationship with Jesus? It reminded me when our first son, Karsten was 14 months old. He was diagnosed as "failure to thrive." It is a condition in a young infant when they stop growing. I wonder if I would ever be diagnosed as "failure to thrive" in my spiritual life. Would you? What I see in the Scriptures is that the Christian is expected to grow. The Christian is expected to produce fruit. When the sower sows the seed of the Word of God and some falls on the soft soil, it always produces fruit. Now, not all Christians produce the same amount of fruit, for Jesus says that some bring forth fruit thirty, some sixty, and some a hundredfold (Matt 13:23). But they all produce fruit.

What I learned this past week is that "how I came to Jesus for salvation is the way in which I grow in Him." It is not that I come to Jesus with one heart attitude and then progress to the deeper attitudes that really help me grow. It is the same attitudes. The Christian life is a continuous learning and submitting to Jesus, first in salvation and later in sanctification. Let me explain.

In Colossians 2:6, Paul writes, "Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in Him." It is the same attitudes that we had when we first heard about Jesus and were brought into a relationship with Him that are important if we are going to continue to grow in Him. Actually that phrase "walk in Him" could be translated "keep walking in Him." I figure you do as well, but I want to keep walking (or growing) in my relationship with Jesus. So what are some of the attitudes that are necessary to grow spiritually?

First, how about the attitude of HUMILITY?

The first words of Jesus in His first sermon have to do with the humility that it takes in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. He says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 5:3). To be poor means to be a complete destitute beggar. It means that if someone does not help you, you will not survive. Being a beggar is the foundation that drives me to the feet of Jesus. I know that I cannot do this salvation thing on my own. And that attitude is necessary to grow in Christ as well. I need to realize that I did not enter the kingdom on my own and I will not grow on my own. I need His help!

Second, how about the attitude of FAITH?

I say this a lot, but the attitude of faith is what is necessary in order to enter the kingdom, but it also is the heart attitude that I need in order to grow. What is it that will move me to obey Jesus when all the world around me says to seek out my own glory? It is the belief that His will for me is better, even if I can't see it. Paul wrote the same thing, that "the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God" (Gal 2:20). It is not that he believed and then moved on. All of the Christian life is one of faith.

Third, how about the attitude of JOY?

Sometimes, I think Christians are some of the saddest people I have met. That is unfortunate and makes me question the reality of their salvation. Jesus and the gospel is that precious treasure that we find in a field and the joy we have for it moves us to sell all that we have, every single possession, so we can purchase that field (Matt 13:44-46). I need to remember the cross and the forgiveness I have been shown, that will remind me of the joy I should have that will help me to obey my savior.

Fourth, how about the attitude of REPENTANCE?

I enter repenting of my sin and I need to daily repent. I grow when I repent! When I turn from my sin towards Jesus, I am taking one step in holiness to what I was created to be.

So, are you growing? If you were to take your measurement from last month or last year, would you say that you are closer to Jesus or have you become stale in your spiritual growth? I pray you keep growing and I beg of you to pray for me that I would continue to grow as well. That's the church! We need to help each other pursue Jesus with all that we have so that we can grow to become like Him! To Him be the glory.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Daughter: Annika Mae Bergmeier

Last week, I wrote a short blog about my wife. This week, I want to write some thoughts about my little girl, Anni! There is something very special about being a dad to sons. But there is something particularly special about being a dad to a little girl. Over the last couple of days, Anni has been carrying around a few of the pictures we have taken together when we have gone on our daddy dates. As we talked about those pictures, I realized she needed some daddy time. So, last night, we went on a little date.

I told her on Monday night that we would go out on a date on Tuesday night, so from the moment I got home from work last night, she was cuddling up to me asking when we were going to leave. I usually let her pick where to go for dinner and last night, she picked Freddy's Frozen Custard. After dinner, we spent some time walking through the Hutchinson Mall (which is not really that much). But we did take some time for her to go horse back riding. After this, we got our picture taken at one of those photo booths at the mall. Even though we could not figure out how to look at the camera and not the screen, it was a great time and we got some good pictures. We even had some time to get some ice cream from the DQ.

I love this little girl, who is growing up way too fast. She told me about her day at school. I asked her what she wanted to do when she grows up. She said, "I want to be a mom. Well, actually a teacher and a mom. Well, I think I want to really teach doctors and be a mom." Not sure where she got that, but I just smiled. This got me thinking, what do I love about my daughter. So here is my list, in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive:
  1. She has those big blue eyes (that are starting to turn a bit green, but that is okay) that can almost get daddy to do anything
  2. She always has a song in her heart and one on her tongue
  3. She allows me to have a secret name for her (and she has one for me)
  4. She wants to be around her daddy
  5. She loves her mom
  6. She likes to wrestle with me and her brothers
  7. She likes to talk about Jesus and pray to Him
  8. She would rather watch Scooby Doo than Dora
  9. She has the best hair, which she doesn't like to get brushed by the way
  10. She makes me laugh
  11. When she falls asleep not in her bed and I carry her to bed, she unknowingly wraps her arms around my neck very tight
  12. She says very funny things (I call them Anni-isms)
  13. She loves to get her picture taken, so I have lots of pictures of her in my office
  14. We have our song together and anytime it comes on the radio, she stops everything she is doing to be with me
  15. She is a treasured gift from God
I could keep going on and on. I love having a daughter and wouldn't trade it for anything. Having a girl softens my heart. It makes me more sensitive. It makes me more gentle. It makes me more loving of my wife. I thought it interesting that yesterday, The Resurgence posted a blog called "Daughters are a Gift from God." In that short blog, they mentioned two books. I have ordered both of them and can't wait to read them and to use them to pray for my daughter.

Do you have a daughter? What do you love about her?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Morning After: Jesus-Centered Ministry

Do you have a philosophy of ministry? Do you have guidelines that shape and direct how you do ministry? Since I can remember being in ministry, Colossians 1:28-29 have been vitally important to me personally and ministerially. Yesterday, I was able to teach on this passage and I was once again reminded how vitally important it is to have a good base as to how ministry should be run. In keeping with my series on Colossians, I have called it a "Jesus-Centered Ministry" because Paul's goal and my goal is to have Jesus at the center of all that we do when ministering to other people. This passage is short, so I wanted to quote it in this blog:

"And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom so that we might present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power which mightily works within me."

Ministry is not just for those who have gone to Bible college or seminary. It is not something the professionals do, but it is something that every Christian is called to do. In fact, Ephesians 4:11-12 says that it is the ministry of the pastors to equip people to do their ministry. My ministry is to help others do their ministry. I never want whatever ministry I am involved in to be about me. I do not want it to be built and shaped and dependent upon my gifts or skills. I want to be a cog in the wheel, but not the wheel. For instance, I want people in our ABF to take ownership of our ABF. Mostly, I think it is biblical but also I think it is healthy. There were Six Keys we talked about yesterday in order to help us think though a biblical philosophy of ministry.

1. Preach Jesus!

Paul's message was primarily a message of Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection. What better message could be upon our tongues than the message of Jesus. Sometimes I wonder if I talk about Jesus too much, but then I am reminded it is the name of Jesus that the Father has said is above any other name and "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow" (Phil 2:9-10). He is my savior. He is my deliverer. He is my reconciler. He is my God. He is my all in all. He is my hope of glory, being inside of me (Col 1:27). Therefore, in order to have a great ministry, we do not need to have great music, good food, coffee, certain clothes, nice buildings, and so on. What we need is the biblical message of Jesus Christ!

We know that message is found in the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus is seen and spoken about in a glorious way. We need to communicate Jesus-centered messages to people. What would our ministries look like if we talked about Jesus more than we talked about sports, politics, taxes, weather, school, food, or anything else? Would it make a difference in the lives of people? I think so!

2. Be Strategic!

For Paul, he proclaimed (a missionary word for preaching), admonished (give counsel in view of sin and judgment), and taught (instruction of truth) the message of Jesus. I need to find ways to communicate the truth of Jesus to the people I minister to. For some, it will be preaching, for others one-on-one conversations, for others confrontation of their sins. I need to use these different methods with all wisdom to communicate this life-giving message so that they understand their sin and the savior. I love Psalm 119:12-13 which says, "Blessed are You, O Lord; teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Your mouth." The student becomes the teacher. That is what I want to be. What I have learned, I communicate to others.

3. Don't Discriminate!

Paul repeats three times that his ministry was for "every man." I fear I might discriminate more than I think I do. A Jesus-centered ministry will not happen if we only talk to those who look like us, wear the clothes we wear, have the same color of skin as us, or are the same age as us. I understand there will be some people that you click with better than others, but we cannot ever be comfortable with our circle of friends.

For instance, every week in ABF, I tell our people to stand up and meet someone they do not know. There are some people who do a great job of putting themselves out there, but there are also others who are very comfortable with the same couples they always sit with. We need to go outside our comfort zones to reach every man (and woman) with this message of Jesus.

4. Have a Goal!

Paul's goal was to see them become complete in Christ. He wanted to see spiritual growth and maturity in the people he ministered to. For me to develop a goal with others, I need to know them. I need to know where they are at with their Lord. I need to know what they struggle with. I need to know in what areas they need to grow. I need to invest time and energy into their lives. Which leads to the next point.

5. Work Hard!

Paul labors for the purpose of seeing others grow to the point of spiritual maturity. To labor sounds hard, doesn't it? It sounds like it means work. I often wonder if too many pastors enter pastoral ministry because they think it is easy. And honestly, maybe it is easy for them because they do not work hard. But the same principle also applies to all Christians. Living the Christian life is hard work and helping others grow in their Christian life is hard work as well.

As I studied this, I realized that I would want Paul to say about my ministry what he said about some unknown woman  named Mary in Rome. He told the Romans to "Greet Mary, who has worked (verb form of labor) hard for you" (Rom 16:6). I want to labor hard for those in our ministry. Will you join me? Will we give up our time, our energy, our hobbies, our money so that we can help others walk with Jesus?

6. Trust God!

Paul knew in the end that it was all about God's strength. At the end of the day, if there was anything successful in his ministry, it was NOT because he was a hard worker, but because God is a gracious God. If someone were to ask the question: "Where do we see God most powerful at work?" The answer would be "Where we see people laboring intensely for Him." Am I willing to trust God to do His work? I hope so.

So, that's ministry! You in?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Morning After: Jesus-Centered Afflictions

Usually, every Monday morning, I post a short review of what I was able to teach on Sunday and what I learned from it. Since I was spending the day with my wife for her birthday on Monday, I did not get to writing that article. So today, I wanted to that opportunity. I suppose you could call this one "Three mornings after", but you understand...

On Sunday, our ABF was continuing our series through the book of Colossians, a series I have called It's All About Jesus! As I read and study this book, one thing has become very clear to me about American Christianity. Our view of Jesus and the gospel is soft and sheltered. We hardly ever suffer for the name of Jesus and when we do, it usually hinders our future gospel proclamation. My main thought from Colossians 1:24-27 was that afflictions are not meant to keep us from sharing Jesus, but should motivate gospel proclamation!

I think that in order for me to be motivated by the suffering I experience, there are a few things I need to understand. I need some perspective in my life. This is what Paul said when he rejoiced in his sufferings for the sake of others (vs. 24, 25). This is what he had when he realized that he was "filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Now, I know this is a highly debated statement by Paul. I do not believe that Paul meant by this that there was something lacking in the depth of the afflictions that Jesus suffered. As if there was something that Paul did or I do when I suffer that makes the atonement more applicable to my cause before a holy God.

What I do think Paul meant by this was that when he suffered afflictions for Jesus, he was extending the suffering of Jesus to those who have not heard. John Piper has really helped me understand this when he wrote:

“What is lacking in the afflictions of Christ is not that they are deficient in worth, as though they could not sufficiently cover the sins of all who believe. What is lacking is that the infinite value of Christ’s afflictions is not known and trusted in the world. These afflictions and what they mean are still hidden to most peoples. And God’s intention is that the mystery be revealed to all the nations. So the afflictions of Christ are ‘lacking’ in the sense that they are not seen and known and loved among the nations . . . God intends for the afflictions of Christ to be presented to the world through the afflictions of his people. God really means for the body of Christ, the church, to experience some of the suffering he experienced so that when we proclaim the cross as the way to life, people will see the marks of the cross in us and feel the love of the cross from us. Our calling is to make the afflictions of Christ real for people by the afflictions we experience in bringing them the message of salvation" (Filling Up The Afflictions of Christ, 22-4).
The perspective I need in suffering for Jesus is that when I endure it in a godly way, I am showing those that are persecuting me, as well as a watching world, that Jesus is worth being afflicted for. He is worth it because He was afflicted. When I say that Jesus came and suffered for the sins of people and then I am willing to suffer for that message, I am in some way a living message to a watching world. And in so doing, I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ--that others will come to know and see the afflictions of Jesus through the suffering I endure.

This puts a new perspective of suffering in my life. I know that if I were to endure suffering for Jesus, it will encourage, motivate, purify, and focus the church. It also will make the church dependent upon Jesus, driving them to pray. But it will also encourage others to share the message. This is the perspective that I need to have to endure sufferings for Jesus' sake.

I love my country. I love the fact that I have religious freedom. I really do not want to suffer or be persecuted. Do you? But there are times (probably when I am feeling really bold for Jesus) that I want the American church to endure some persecution. Some of the persecution that we hear about in Turkey, India, China, and other countries. Why? Because I think that if the church here was persecuted more, it will only go to produce more solid believers in Jesus! That is my hope, that is my prayer.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Wife: Monique Bergmeier

Okay, I wanted to take just a couple minutes this morning and tell you about my wife. Her name is Monique Bergmeier and she is going to hate this blog post. Yesterday, I spent most of the day with her in Wichita, KS, celebrating her birthday which was on Sunday, October 3rd. I will not tell you how old she is, but if you ask our kids, they think she was born in the 1700's or even maybe the 1800's. If that is true, she is holding her age very well! Anyways, spending the day with her made me think about her and what she means to me. So here goes.

I will never forget the first time I saw her. I was a new student at Moody Bible Institute and was led to a church in the western suburbs of Chicago (Grace Church of DuPage). I remember being there the week before most of the other college students were back from school. I remember visiting this church with a friend of mine, Caleb Mitchell. I also remember a young lady with really short hair singing as part of the worship team for the college ministry. She was wearing a dark navy dress with white dots (how am I doing so far). I also remember leaving and telling my friend that I was really impressed and drawn to her because of how she worshipped during the music time, or at least appeared to worship.

Well, it was just a matter of weeks and it seemed like our paths crossed every Sunday. I am not the sort of person that likes being forced into something and everytime I was at church, I felt like everyone was forcing me to date Monique (many stories about that). In response to that, I withdrew and tried to stay away from her. She was nice, but because everyone wanted us to date, I didn't want too.

The good part of the story is that eventually I saw the light. We spent three years being friends and then after I graduated Moody, I finally asked her out on a date. We were married about a year later. It has now been 12 years and each year it gets better and better. I can honestly say that our marriage is great because she is a godly woman!

Let me end with a list of the things I love about my wife. Don't read into these, they are just off the top of my  head and certainly do not encompass all there is to say about her. As well, they are not in any particular order.

  1. She is forgiving of my mistakes
  2. She now has longer hair
  3. She has an incredible heart to serve others
  4. She is the best mom that I know (my mom is a very close 2nd--probably 1a & 1b, you know what I mean)
  5. She is so very forgiving of my mistakes
  6. She laughs at all my jokes. I thought it was just to impress me when we are dating, but I sort of like it these days
  7. She has a beautiful smile
  8. She is older than I am (that just means more wisdom)
  9. She supports me in anything I want to do
  10. She sacrifices for me everyday
  11. She is musically gifted (essential for every pastor's wife)
  12. She is so very forgiving of all my mistakes
  13. She is a good cook
  14. She really takes an interest in young mothers and is eager to share with them the mistakes she has learned
  15. She is fairly organized
  16. She is willing to be shepherded and challenged in the faith
  17. She loves the sports teams I love (essential part of marriage)
  18. She gives me time with the guys or by myself
  19. She is better looking today than the day we married
  20. She is so very forgiving of all my mistakes I make all the time!
I could keep going, but you are tired of reading them now and she is completely embarrassed. I guess I love the fact that she is going to not like this blog post. She is most of all seeking the glory of her Lord Jesus and then lives to make me successful in all I do. For that, I am honored and humbled. Love you babe!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday's Random Thoughts (Oct 1, 2010)

Here are some things that I have heard about or read about the past week.

1. There is a new publishing company called Cruciform Press that has just released their first two books. I would encourage you to take a look at them. Their model is somewhat different from traditional publishers as they try to get ahead of the publishing trends. They will feature shorter books published as needed (print-on-demand) as well as making a name in the digital book & audio book markets. For those from GBC, you should know that our very own Jason Younger will be doing some of the audio books for them. They will be available on ChristianAudio. He read their second book, Wrestling with an Angel, that should be released very soon. He said he loved the book. If you are an audio book person, check it out soon!

2. The 2010 Desiring God National Conference starts today. I have never been to this conference, but this year I was really close to making the trip up to Minneapolis. Unfortunately, things did not work out. The title of the conference is THINK: The Life of the Mind & the Love of God. Well, it is too late to make it to the conference if you are not already there. But it is not too late to get John Piper's latest book that was just released by the same name. Here is a short summary of the book:

John Piper’s newest book will help Christians think about thinking. Focusing on the life of the mind helps us to know God better, love him more, and care for the world. Along with an emphasis on emotions and the experience of God, we also need to practice careful thinking about God. Piper contends that “thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God.” So how are we to maintain a healthy balance of mind and heart, thinking and feeling? Piper urges us to think for the glory of God. He demonstrates from Scripture that glorifying God with our minds and hearts is not either-or, but both-and. Thinking carefully about God fuels passion and affections for God. Likewise, Christ-exalting emotion leads to disciplined thinking. Readers will be reminded that “the mind serves to know the truth that fuels the fires of the heart.”
3. Not sure if many of you have heard of CCEF (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). They are one of the most trusted resources for biblical counseling that I have found. They have written many books that I have used and have been impacted by in my walk with the Lord. I have posted a very short video by Ed Welch on the issue of fear. Do you live in constant anxiety or fear? Watch the video and check out their resources for help if you do.

4. Finally, I am very happy to give away Surprised by Grace by Tullian Tchividjian. Thank you for all the comments. I wish I had the resources to give a copy away to each one of you, but unfortunately that is not the case. But the winner this week is Chris Thomson. In order to claim your prize, please send me your contact information HERE! Thank you and I will get it out in the mail soon! Keep coming back as I am trying to give away some sort of resource every week.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Surprised By Grace by Tullian Tchividjian

Let me say at the beginning that everyone needs to read this book (details below of how you can get it for free)! Of all the books that I have read this year, this has to be one of the best ones. As the subtitles states, Surprised by Grace is the story of God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. Many people might not know who Tullian Tchividjian is. He is pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. That might not mean anything to you,  but this might: he is also the grandson of Billy Graham.

In this book, Tullian recounts the story of the prophet Jonah, a story that most churchgoers have been taught since their youth. But they have not been taught this story. They have not been taught the grace of God in the book of Jonah. Most of us have not been taught the gospel that is taught in Jonah. Tullian says, "Jonah's story is God's message of sin and grace, of desperation and deliverance. It's a message that reveals how quick we all are to run from God and how quick God is to run after us. It's a message revealing that God's capacity to forgive is greater than our capacity to sin; while our sin reaches far, God's grace reaches farther. It's a message revealing the radical contrast between the sinful heart of mankind and the gracious heart of mankind's Creator" (143-4).

The story of Jonah is of course the story of a prophet of God that didn't want to go pronounce judgment upon his enemies because he knew that God might be merciful to them. He wanted them to be punished. He wanted them to suffer at the hand of his God. He did not want God to treat them like He treated His people, the Israelites. And so Jonah runs from God. Eventually through a great storm and a great fish, we see God aggressively running to get Jonah's attention. He does eventually go to pronounce judgment upon the city of Nineveh, but we see that his heart was never into it. When they repent, Jonah gets depressed. Tullian makes the point that "there's such a thing as running from God in our obedience as well as in our disobedience. Even when Jonah obeys God's call, it becomes clear that his heart's not in it" (122).

He does a great job of bridging the gap between an old-time story that most people have heard and what it means for us today. He showed me that I am not much different from this guy. I run from God. I want to be self-justified. He shows that the gospel message is just as important for the person who believes in God as the person who doesn't. God sought out Nineveh, but He also sought after Jonah. Maybe the book of Jonah is more about God being the rescuer than it is about a fish and a great city repenting. Maybe the book of Jonah is more about God going after His prophet than it is about God being merciful to a great city repenting. Maybe the story of Jonah is about you and me who know the gospel needing to be reminded of the gospel again and again. Maybe the story of Jonah is to show how patient God is with us!

"God never gives up on you. There's no one whose patience and forebearance toward you will ever be greater or longer-lasting than God's. Your wife or husband won't be this patient with you--your kids won't, your friends won't, your coworkers won't, your pastor won't. They'll all fail you at some point. You'll feel dehumanized, cheapened, discouraged, depressed, or radically disappointed by everyone and everything in this world. But not by God" (138-9).

In the end, I loved this book so much because it kept telling me the gospel on every page. It kept telling me about my sin and idolatry and the patience, grace, mercy of God. And in the end, it points me to Jesus once again. Jesus of course in the NT compares Himself with Jonah. He tells the people that the only sign He will give them will be the sign of Jonah (Matt 12:40) and that something greater than Jonah was in their midst (Matt 12:41). Tullian says that Jesus "went on this mission because he wanted to--not because he had to . . . Jonah is all about self-protection; this new messenger is all about joyful self-sacrifice. No wonder Jesus say that he is 'greater than Jonah'! Jesus is the greater-than-Jonah who succeeded where Jonah failed. Yes, Jesus is all over this story of Jonah" (181).

The only thing in the book that I did not really get was his continual commitment to the artistic dramatizations of Jonah over the years. It seemed that at every move of the story, he would describe another drawing or painting of Jonah from over the years. I guess what this proves is that I am not as well refined as I think I might be. There is a part in the middle of the book that he shows many of the artistic drawings he had made reference to, but I still did not get it. I wonder if it would have helped if the pictures would have been on the page that he was referencing them instead of all together in the middle of the book. In the end, this is a very minor issue and does not change the content of his message.

Want a free copy of this book? This book is so good that I want to give away a free copy to someone. If you want to win it, all you need to do is to post a comment as to why you would want this book. The winner will be chosen at random (not based on the comment) from those that post a comment. You have until 10 A.M. CST on Friday to enter the drawing. The winner will be announced on my blog post on Friday. Trust me, you want to win this book. So post away!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Morning After: Jesus-Centered Reconciliation

We are plodding our way through the book of Colossians in our ABF. The past two weeks, we spent our time dealing with the greatness of Jesus Christ. We looked at His greatness through who He is and what He has done. It was such a great study, very refreshing to my soul. There is nothing greater than to sit and study Jesus Christ!

Well, this week, we once again see the glories of the reconciliation that He offers and what He has accomplished. We spent the bulk of our time in Colossians 1:21-23, a study of Jesus-Centered Reconciliation.

As I studied this, I realized once again how much I need Jesus to reconcile me! In vs. 21, Paul tells my story (and the story of every person who ever lived). He says that we are alienated, hostile in mind, and engaged in evil deeds. I am a sinner of nature, thoughts, and deeds. But when God created the world, it was not for that purpose. Mankind was created to be in a perfect relationship with God. Read Genesis 1-2 and you will notice that they were perfectly free and engaged with God. But Genesis 3 ruined everything for mankind.

If you know me, I am not much into modern day gospel presentation. I think they are often shallow and do not tell the entire picture. However, there is one picture that is often drawn to help people realize their separation from God because of sin. You know the picture, it is the cliff picture. This is actually a pretty good picture of what happens because of sin. We are separated from the One who made us. I was separated from Him.

I have heard Matt Chandler say that we are stuck in the cul-de-sac of stupidity (check out his sermon from 4.04.10 called "From Alienation to Reconciliation). He describes it as the pursuit of more of what does not satisfy in the hopes of satisfaction. This is me because of my alienation. I looked for happiness in all the wrong places. I was a living example of the book of Ecclesiastes. And I failed to find that satisfaction outside of Jesus. The problem those stuck in the cul-de-sac of stupidity is that they do not ever think they are looking in the wrong place, but they think they do not have enough of what already did not satisfy. They need more money, more friendships, more sex, more alcohol, more education, more laughter, more sports and so on. The real problem we know from the Scriptures is that we are alienated from God. This useless pursuit makes us mad at God (hostile in mind) and those thoughts come out in evil deeds.

What do I need? I need someone to come and rescue me and bring me into a relationship with God. That is what Jesus did in reconciliation. That picture is often shown with a cross as a bridge. I love that, this is why we need the gospel. We need it because we cannot do anything to bridge the gap that our sin has caused. We need Jesus to bridge the gap, and that is what happened on the cross. Paul says in vs. 22 that He reconciled us in his fleshly body through death. When Jesus was hanging on that cross, He was making it possible that my alienation, my hatred of God could be taken away. When the Father forsook the Son for those moments, it was so that my lust and my anger and my evil deeds could be changed. When the soldiers whipped, beat, mocked, spit,a nd ridiculed Jesus, He endured it so that He could take the hand that hated Him and put it with the hand of His eternal Father.

What I often do not like about that picture of the cross bridging the gap is that it is often told that Jesus made the bridge so we can walk across to God. That is not the biblical picture of the gospel. Jesus did not make it able so that I could walk across to God. He came across and took my hand and took me to the Father! What happened in the gospel is that I was once alienated, but now have been brought together with God. I was once hostile in mind, but now have been given peace of mind. I was once engaged in evil deeds, but now I should be producing good deeds.

This is how the gospel has changed my life. And you?

In vs. 21, Paul says that we prove that reconciliation has taken place when we find our stability in the faith of the gospel message. If I try to find my stability in my spouse and they do not act the way I want them to act, I could move one step away from the hope of the gospel. If I try to find my hope in a job and the economy tanks or I lose it or I cannot find one, I could move one step away from the gospel. If I try to find my stability in my kids and they do not become the athlete I want them to be or they disappoint me, I could move one step away from the gospel.

I hold onto the gospel as my stability because if I take one step and then another and another and another, I do not want to wake up one morning and ask myself "was this ever real? Did I really believe this? Has my life been a lie?" Look, we can be good fakers of reconciliation. We can play the game well. This is why I keep talking about the gospel. I need to remind myself that I cannot run even one step. I need to keep running towards Jesus, not away from Him.

To God Be The Glory!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday's Random Thoughts (Sept. 24, 2010)

Once again, another week is coming to a close. This week has seen for me the start of our Wednesday night electives at church, which means for me another time of preparation to teach. If you follow this blog, you know that on Sunday mornings, I am teaching through the book of Colossians. But now on Wednesday nights I am teaching through the book of Titus. If you want to, you can follow along with the audio HERE! And now to some random thoughts of what is going on in the world or other things in my life.

1. I have been finalizing some details about a trip to Russia that I will be taking in November. It looks like I am going to be leaving on November 26th (the day after Thanksgiving, which means no left over turkey sandwiches...I guess I will sacrifice for the gospel) and returning on December 4th. I will be heading with my good friend, Steve Balding, and I will be teaching a class to pastors on "The Family." I am really excited about that topic, since after all, I have a family and really love them! More details to come...

2. I have started to read another book which I will probably review and give away next Wednesday. It is the latest book by Tullian Tchividjian. I bet you skipped right over that name, didn't you? You didn't even try to pronounce it? Anyways, he is the grandson of Billy Graham. The book is called Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. It is his take on the story of Jonah. Since I have really enjoyed it so far, I want to give you a teaser. Here is one quote that I greatly appreciated:

That's why, if we're honest, we can start already to identify with Jonah. His runaway posture is our posture, every time we sin, whether in thought, word, or deed, whether it's something we consider big or small, whether it's doing something we shouldn't or failing to do something we should. Every time we sin, we're telling God, "My way of navigating this particular situation is better than yours. My wisdom and skill are more efficient and more effective in this moment than your wisdom and skill." It's not that we stop believing. It's just that what we believe has shifted (33).
3. As to the video for the week. I can honestly say my stomach was in my throat on this one. I was really scared. But check it out, maybe the world's scariest job?

4. Finally, my dad is coming to visit next week. I am very excited as we will get some time to spend with each other as well as do some projects around the house. What do I have waiting for him? Putting in a few new windows, some plumbing (I'm not telling him that till he gets here), and some time with the grandkids. They are looking forward to that as well!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Least Among You (DVD) by Lionsgate Publishers

The Least Among You is based on a true story of Richard Kelly, a young intelligent black man, who was arrested during the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles, California. He was able to avoid prison if he attended an all-white seminary. His mother had always desired him to become a pastor. Initially, the president of the seminary had hoped he would break the social barrier, but when Kelly's ideals come up against his funding for a new technology building, the president sides against him. Kelly finds friendship and counsel in the "gardener in the basement" as Kelly describes Samuel Benton. In the end, Kelly is forced to make a decision: should he stand for what he believes or go against what he believes so that he might avoid going back to prison. I will leave you to guess what he chooses.

Honestly, if this movie was not based on a true story, I would have not thought it very realistic. Who avoids prison time by being forced to attend seminary? It sounds like a Seinfeld episode to me. But beyond that, this movie certainly did not paint a very good picture of Christian leadership or seminaries. I am unsure what kind of seminary it was that he attended, but they certainly questioned the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. Even at one point, the president of the seminary referred to himself as "the one who prunes the branches," a reference to John 15 (where Jesus is vine and we are the branches). Certainly it does paint a picture of a moral dilemma that Kelly is faced with. Should he do what he thinks is right or coward to save himself.

I have never been very fond of too many Christian movies and this one stacks right up there. The quality was not as bad as some Christian movies I have seen, but the plot line just left me bored and not interested. It is almost 100 minutes long, 100 minutes that could be put to something better productive for your Christian life and the Kingdom of God.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Evangelism at the Kansas State Fair

As many of you know, last week was the Kansas State Fair. Our church, for the fourth straight year, used the fair as an opportunity to share Jesus. Here are my thoughts after the 120 hours that GBC spent at the fair.

First, I am so thankful for the gospel. I walked around the fair a lot this year. I spent one whole day with my son's fifth grade class. I saw just about everything the fair had to offer (even the birthing barns, wow!). And from my perspective, there were many cool things that were for sale. There were many technological items that would make our lives so much more fun. But there was only one thing that was given away for free that can change a person for eternity: the gospel!

I did notice there were a few other religious booths at the fair this year. I did not get a chance to talk to them. Maybe you did. I hope they were preaching a biblical gospel. I hope they were showing people their need for a righteousness not of their own. I hope they were telling people they cannot do it on their own. I hope they were offering grace and mercy as Jesus did upon the cross. I hope WE DID! I just can't talk enough about the gospel. I know for some of you, I sound like a dripping faucet. But as I spent several hours telling person after person about the good news of Jesus, my heart was renewed. How could God forgive a sinner like ME? How could He offer me something that I do not deserve? I do not have that answer, but after sharing the gospel again, I was driven to be so thankful for what He has done in my life.

Second, My heart is broken at the countless lost people we talked to. Maybe if you served at the fair you had more positive conversations with people than I did (I did have some good ones). But I was stunned once again how many people think they can work their way to heaven. I know it should not surprise me, but as I asked that last question: "do you avoid hell by living a good life?" almost every single person said "YES." I have heard it said before that all religion can be boiled down into two questions: What can I do or what has Jesus done? 
The tub of surveys that were filled out
Jesus says the road is wide that leads to destruction but narrow that leads to life. I saw that in living color the past ten days. So many people are deceived. So many people think that if they just live a good enough life, they can make it to heaven. That is not true. The standard is perfection! But we can receive the perfect righteousness of Jesus when we come to Him in faith.

We talked to thousands of people. We had almost 600 surveys filled out by people, which means that over 600 people went all the way through the gospel message. But I would be that we talk to 2 or 3 times as many people as those that fill out the surveys. In addition to that, we hand out 10 times as many gospel tracts as we do talk to people. The message was proclaimed loud and hopefully clear.

Third, I rejoice at the 60 people that served at the tent this year. That's right. We had 60 different people spend time at the State Fair Booth this year. Our church is just over 500 people, which means, that we had over 10% of our church serve this year. That is great! There were many people who did this for the first time and many who have done it every year. There are some who were scared and timid and others who are evangelism soldiers, not scared at anything.

One particular person I am so proud of is my son, Karsten. He is 10 years old and he thinks it is totally cool to go to the fair and pass out tracts. He is not talking to people, but he wants to pass out literature about Jesus. I suppose that he has not matured to the point to realize that it is a scary thing to give spiritual literature to others. He spent a couple hours with me on Wednesday afternoon. After we were done, as we were driving home. I told him my prayer for him is that he will never lose that desire to pass out tracts or tell people about Jesus. I am praying that he will be an evangelist that is eager to share Jesus with others every day!

Fourth, I am sad that many others did not serve. Sixty people is a lot of people, but I wish there had been more. Each year, there are so many new people that serve. But that means that those who have served in the past are not doing it again. I have tried to ask myself why that is the case. I know for some it was work, for some it was kid issues, and for others, it was just that this year was really just too busy. What was your reason? Was it a good one? Really, I mean was it a really, valid reason? I hope it was not that you were scared or timid. We all are. My prayer is that next year, you will do it.

Dean Fast talking to some young ladies that he had
talked to last year. He told me he had just taken her off
his prayer list, but that she was going back on!
Fifth, I am hopeful that many were brought to faith. We are not about getting people to pray a prayer as if it is some magical incantation. We want to be faithful to share the gospel, point them to Jesus, and let the Spirit of God do His drawing works. Don't get me wrong, we want them to get right with God. We do pray with many people. But we do not think that praying some sort of prayer is saving.

I know there were many people that we have talked to the past couple of years that have come back and told us how much they appreciated their time with us. One couple I talked to this year left saying, "I really needed to hear that. Thank you for sharing that message with me. I am so glad I walked into your tent." Dean Fast had a conversation with a couple young ladies this year that he talked to last year. It is our prayer that God does His work through us as we are faithful to spreading the seed of His gospel! I fully expect to spend some time in heaven with some that we shared with. I truly believe God will use us as a link in the chain to seeing others come to faith. We do not do this to expand Grace Bible Church, we do it to help others see the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sixth, I am sorrowful that we do not share the gospel like this every week. I hope I do not live my calling to be an evangelist only on the state fair. I hope I don't have the attitude "well, I shared with so many people, that's my quota for the year." I hope I take every opportunity that I have this coming year. Do you feel the same way?

Let me end with a copy of the letter that Pastor Rick read on Sunday morning. I have taken the names out as I am sure they were not expecting it to be broadcast on the internet. I hope this moves you to thankfulness as well as excitement for what we did and what we have left to do.
My husband and I were at the fair last Wednesday (19th) and just happened by your booth on our way out about 6:30 or so.  Your sign was so 'catchy' that I talked Jack into going in to find out if he was a good person or a bad person.  (He's a very good person) 

I didn't get the name of the young lady who was talking with us, but I certainly wish I had.  She was so pleasant and gracious.  I told her [my  husband] was hard of hearing so she moved her chair closer to him and talked right into his good, right ear.  I couldn't believe my ears when she asked the first question--'do you consider yourself a religious person?"   But her final question is one I have wanted someone to ask him for years!  If you died today, are you certain you will go to Heaven?  I could have cried at his answer--"I don't know". 

[My husband] and I have been married 56 years this November and he has always been faithful to go to church with me.  We have always been active in a church and Sunday school.  But all of that still hasn't penetrated into a living relationship with Christ that he will admit to. 

But I think your booth is ingenious.  There is no 'hard sell' and who knows what might happen to those who are not believers?  The seed is sown.  God bless each of your members who have put their time into your venture.